Objects in novels

Discussion in 'Writing' started by SilentDan, Sep 12, 2012.

  1. SilentDan

    SilentDan Registered User

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    I know about Chekhov's gun, the rule that states that in a short story, if a gun is present, it must be used. But is that true in novels as well? Or is the rule much more lenient in longer fiction?
     
  2. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    No, the principal is just as important in a novel. Maybe even more important, in a sense. Long works tend to give us the illusion that we can stick in lots of any old detail. But a novel also demands compression, so that the essential vibrant detail will stand out.

    The saying, as I recall it, is that "the gun on the wall must be fired." A lot of beginners take this verbal flourish ("fired") literally. That's wrong. The gun may be used to indicate character, of (say) the owner, that s/he considered it important to display a weapon to visitors. And the nature of the gun tells even more about hi/r character. Is it a priceless antique in a display case? Or an old dusty weapon casually tossed onto a mantel?

    It can be used lots of other ways as well, such as a plot red-herring.
     
  3. SilentDan

    SilentDan Registered User

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    That's pretty much what I thought. Although it's interesting that you say it doesn't have to be used literally, that it can show character.

    In the example I'm writing, I was thinking of what characters would take with them into a mall (in my post-apocalyptic setting) to get them to the top floor to retrieve what they need for their client. [On that note, I was originally thinking some Virtual Reality stuff, originally for military training, however my second idea was for a film projector, which I suppose these days might be roughly the same as a classroom/boardroom projector only with a bigger area... I actually like the second idea better, now.]

    Items: Backpacks, for obvious reasons, but what else is a bit trickier and depends on what I throw at the characters. Ropes are one thing, for getting up levels where the stairs are blocked. Torches, to see. Bolt cutters or lock picks for locked doors (like the gates they pull down at closing time). Not sure what else is necessary, really, for the mission, other than maybe spare side-arm weapons (pistol and/or knife). Only other thing that I can currently think of a use for is a baton or pipe or some over length of material to push, poke or prod stuff without getting their hands dirty. I could use them, but then I could probably just make do with the bottoms of their boots for that part.

    Finally, I would like robots in the mall. Being near-future, they aren't far off from common use - if what I'm told is true. Robots watching movies? Nah, that's silly talk. Actually...
     
  4. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    For a year at Boeing I actually worked at programming a manufacturing robot. You're right. Today's robots (even the advanced model I worked on) are dumber than a cockroach.

    But why limit yourself to a NEAR future? Post-apocalyptic futures are all about a future where a disaster sets the clock back for much or most of the population. You can thus have settings with a wild mix of technology, some VERY far future, some very primitive, some in-between. Choose whatever mix you want to suit your story. Bows and arrows, flintlocks, modern hunting rifles, laser rifles which shoot a mile, etc.

    Which also include the robots. You can have your characters whisper among themselves when encountering a robot which type it is. And thus what kind of attack to make on one which opposes them - or whether it WILL oppose them and totally ignore them. Or even become a helping part of the party.
     
  5. Jon Sprunk

    Jon Sprunk Book of the Black Earth

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    An excellent point. Everything in prose should serve double- (or triple-, or quadruple-, etc) duty, and significant details are key. A gun doesn't need to be fired to be significant.
     
  6. SilentDan

    SilentDan Registered User

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    Hmm, an individual robot in a sea of dumb ones? Who not only doesn't oppose the heroes but wants to join them? I like it. Now, what to call it...
     
  7. Motley

    Motley Registered User

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    Great points. When I'm critiquing others work, the misuse or non-use of described objects is one of the things I see a lot. Don't bother drawing my attention to something it it's not significant to the story in some way.
     
  8. PeteMC

    PeteMC @PeteMC666

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    Laer is right, but I would also expand his point to say description of objects/settings can enrich the story as a whole in terms of setting, place and time. Say you're writing a steampunk war story - you're going to want to place and describe your steam-powered ironclad land-dreadnaughts even if your hero never sets foot in one. It's atmosphere, and world-building.

    Endless, pointless description of clothes, for example (mentioning no Jordans), not so much, unless you’re going to do something like Martin did and make a very specific detail of those clothes very plot-important shortly afterwards.