Chekhov’s Gun and Writing Backwards
So, a bit like Merlin in The Sword in the Stone, my characters are living life backwards. Sort of. I had to do something unusual-for-me with Shikhari #5, that being write the first chunk, then jump to the end, then work backwards. The reason is Chekhov’s Gun*.
Several objects appeared in the first four chapters of the book. I needed to ensure that they reappeared at the end of the book, so I jumped and wrote the climactic scene. OK, that and a new rock/epic music recording that didn’t fit a courtroom-type scene. I established the Dramatic End with Objects. Yeah me. Except then I had to go back and fill everything in. Why were certain characters separated from others. Why was one child here, and the other there? Why didn’t the adult just use Other Device? And how to make certain it was foreshadowed properly? Where’s the dog?
This is not how I normally write. I tend to do start to finish, with a few scenes tucked in here and there in my really broad sketch of what will happen. Then I just write up to those scenes, trim them to fit as needed, then continue on. This book required working backwards for several thousand words, to get people and objects where they needed to be. Only then could I return to where I’d left off (the courtroom) and resume writing.
I have a strange feeling that I will alternate writing backwards and forwards until everything meets in the middle. It makes my writer brain itch to do it this way, but necessary bits keep popping up at odd moments and I have to fit them in so I can then keep writing the main flow of events.
The worst part is I’ll write something, back up my work, close the files and go on about my business. Then hours or a day later, something pops up from the depths of my subconscious not unlike a beach-ball popping up from the water. “Oh, I need to account for [person]. What if they are doing [that thing]? And I can add wombeasts, which will explain [vaguely sort of plot-shaped idea] that might be foreshadowed in chapter two?” Of course, I am 2/3 asleep, or at Day Job, when this happens and I have to remember it for later use.
Granted, if all works properly, I will not have alpha readers red-lining the manuscript and demanding to know where THAT came from, and why isn’t So-and-so in the scene, because So-and-So was just there, and their job is to deal with THAT, or to guard the protagonist, or So-and-so is the expert so why not ask them…
So, how do you keep track of the McGuffin, or Chekhov’s Gun, or the character who should be there but isn’t?
*For those unfamiliar with the term, the Russian writer Chekhov was most insistent that the gun that appeared in Act One of the play must be used in Act Three. Conversely, the gun in Act Three should be on the mantle, or referred to, or mentioned in passing in Act One.