How to tell Chekhov's gun from a "prop"?

I wonder if there is a term for something included in a story just for purposes of setting the mood or establishing an authentic feeling reality?

If it is mentioned that an elderly wizard fought in the magi wars as a youth, would you as a reader/viewer feel cheated if this was not expanded on? Or see it as a way to quickly clue the reader in that this old man has seen combat before and war is not unknown in this setting?

Almost that exact example, Star Wars fans were fine for decades not knowing the details of the Clone Wars, just that Obi-Wan and Annakin had fought in them.

I don’t care what Chekhov said, a gun over the fireplace can be used to establish character or otherwise set the scene. When you see Sherlock Holmes in the midst of a busy, cluttered room (as was the style in his era), do you feel every single prop has to be used in the story? Of course not. Likewise with that confining dictat of Mr C’s.

I think the point of Chekov’s gun is that it’s something that’s incongruous.

If the protagonists are coming in from hunting, the wall is covered in deer heads, and there’s a gun, then it’s background.

But if it’s there but there is nothing else is on the wall apart from a gun, and it is never referred to otherwise, then it’s going to pique the interest of the audience and prove distracting unless it has something to do with the story. I’m fairly sure that’s what he meant.

On a Sherlock Holmes theme, you can see this at work in the new Sherlock Holmes. In at least two episodes the seemingly trivial questions from prospective clients that he dismisses at the start turn out to be integral to the plot by the end. People complaining that their dead relatives aren’t who they seem to be, and the luminous rabbit.

I’ve wanted to use Chekhov’s Mantlepiece as a central macguffin in a story. You know, that thing that everyone dismisses as just background and which turns out to be of central importance.

Well, it refers only to a particular type of backdrop item and not the more general term you want, but there is the term “Cow Tools”. It’s a Far Side reference; it means miscellaneous items that are meant to look interesting & possibly important, but don’t have any purpose or backstory. Like the various widgets and bubbling tubes in a mad scientist’s lab.

William Archer, in his book Playwriting, commented upon the misuse of “Chekhov’s Gun”. He talked about a play in which the set consisated of a bare room that was supposed to be a sdea captain’s room. The bare room itself is pretty unrealistic, but hanging conspicuously on one wall was a barometer. The damned thing not only drew your attention, it downright demanded it by its ostentatious loneliness. The whole audience spent the act wondering what the hell that barometer was doing there on the wall, especially as no one ever referred to it.

Finally, at the end of the scene, as the captain left, he went over and consuloted the barometer. As Archer tells it*, there was no dialogue associated with it.

Like Sam, I think that Chekhov should’ve been shot with his own gun. Props can establish a scene and give a sense of texture and reality to a scene – that captain’s room could’ve done with some realistic clutter. it would have made the room look believable, and would have made that barometer not such a distraction that it ruined the scene.

I similarly feel that people who loved drama with “not a wasted line” ought to be condemned to live in a world where they can only speak words of dire import, and don’t get to have any idle chatter.
*I think he wrote in 1909. These ideas have been around for a long time.

Mind you – I agree that you ought to set up the use of an item, and provide needed foreshadowing, but to insist that everything shown be used is palpably absurd. And I know that there are Dopers out there who aren’t bothered by this, but when a character even on a lowly sitcom suddenly shows a passion for something he/she has never shown such a passion for before, it’s suc an obvious telegraphing of plot (and often dialogue and character) that I immediately lose interest. Good lord, if you’re going to write a teleplay, at least make an effort not to be completely artificial.

It depends on how skillful the author is. If we are talking about something Gene Wolfe wrote, an object he troubled to describe has some significance. OTOH, if we are talking about Ayn Rand, nearly everything is superfluous, repetitious detail.

Yes, because sitcoms are an accurate portrayal of Real Life. :rolleyes:

But Chekov was not talking about set decoration. It’s talking about bringing up the element in a way that the characters draw notice to it. If there’s a gun on the wall, then there’s usually no need to do anything. If one character says, “That’s a nice gun you have on the wall,” then that line of dialog needs to be there for a reason.

Yeah – but, if you read what I wrote, I say that even the sitcoms ought to do it better.
I know Chekhov wasn’t talking about set decoratioon, but it effectively was the same thing. Lots of playwites do des cribe an element of the set in detail, if they think it’s important, rather than rendering everything in dialogue. I’ll bet in Archer’s example, it was a ham-handed director who saw the writer’s stage direction “looks at barometer” and hung that damned barometer on the wall for just that reason, but I’m not familiar with the play.

Chekhov carried a phaser not a gun.