An Unhuman Journey
Many authors break various literary rules as part of their signature writing style. For some, it’s a grammatical quirk, for others it’s in the way they craft their characters. For me, it’s part of the way I construct the mystery around my plot.
The principle of Chekhov’s gun says: If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
And then there’s the opposite, the red herring: A literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion.
We’ll start with Checkhov, because it’s unfortunate he used a gun as his example. I’ve shot guns most of my life. I have a carry license and I have a weapon with me more often than not, and I’m in the range every six or eight weeks so I can remain a good shot — and yet I’ve never shot a living thing, even though I’ve been shooting more than forty years. Firearms are a ubiquitous part of my life, and for many of my characters too.
Part of developing a character’s personality is in the reader knowing where, when, and what they carry. It’s in seeing them go to the range to practice, and time spent maintaining their equipment with proper care. In the case of weapons, none are a red herring when we get to the end of a book and no one’s been shot. The gun is there because this character chooses to be armed, not because this character is going to need to shoot someone later. Though, of course that possibility is always there, and does happen in some of my books — you just aren’t guaranteed it’s going to happen because they’re carrying a gun in the first chapter.
I often know the basic outline of a book I’m reading early on, and it’s because of Checkhov’s principle. Authors who follow this rule give so much away, and in my opinion it cheapens the reading experience. If you only show us the items relevant to the storyline, then the plot isn’t much of a mystery. If, however, the author shows us items significant to character development but not necessarily the plot, or tells us possibilities that could easily happen but may or may not, then the reader is kept on their toes and doesn’t know what might happen.
If you see a gun in my book then you know someone might get shot, but you don’t know for sure. In fact, someone is almost fatally shot in one of my books when no one’s seen a gun the entire series involving those characters. Real life doesn’t give things away so easily, and neither do my stories.
I never use red herrings on purpose though. Some of my writing may appear to be foreshadowing when it isn’t, but the possibilities I mention are there for a reason — character development, or a way to build the world without spouting boring facts, or any number of other reasons.
My goal is to provide an entertaining reading experience. I want the reader immersed in my world with no idea what will happen next. Following Chekhov’s principle doesn’t work for my goals, so I choose to ignore it.
Have you noticed something your favorite authors do to break the rules?
Aaron has gone missing, and Mordecai has taken over Kirsten’s training. She’s learning by leaps and bounds under the god-of-old’s not-so-gentle tutelage, but with Nathan in charge of Drake Security during The Dragon King’s unplanned absence, everything is upside down.
The evil Celrau vampires were banned from creating new offspring, but they’ve bargained for permission to do so in the Underworld, where the Concilio has no authority. As part of their army-building, the Celrau vampires kidnap Kirsten and take her to the Underworld with the intention of making her one of them. Alone in another realm, Kirsten must form unexpected alliances to survive a most Unhuman Journey.
Join bestselling author Candace Blevins on a thrilling adventure into the critically acclaimed sequel to Only Human.
An Unhuman Journey (June 2016)
Unhuman Acts (late 2016)
Chattanooga Supernaturals (Paranormal Romance)
Nix (Novella, Summer 2016)
Dark erotica shorts from the world of The Chattanooga Supernaturals
Safeword series (Contemporary BDSM Romance)
Safeword: Mayday (TBA)