Callbacks and Chekov’s Gun

How to leave clues for your readers the right way

Traverse Davies


There are spoilers for the show The Curfew and the movie A Quiet Place in this article. Also for the Sixth Sense, but that’s an old, old movie. Having said that, if you haven’t seen the Sixth Sense, go and watch it now. Most of the time I don’t care about spoilers, but for that movie, the twist is essential. I’m going to talk about about how to do callbacks well, setting things up for later. There are some brilliant ones in The Curfew (I am watching it as I type this, it inspired me).

What is Chekov’s Gun?

Chekov’s gun is an idea that when you set something up, you then pay it off. The exact way of stating it was if you show a gun hanging over the mantle in act one, it has to go off in act three. The name comes from the playwright Anton Chekov, who originated the idea.

The key to this is that if the gun is going to be the resolution to the story, you should present it early on. That way, the reader will recognize that they have seen this item; they will have a strong sense of closure at it being the instrument of resolution.

How to Use it

Include a detail early in the story, have that detail be important to the story later, but do it with a touch of subtlety. When you describe the room in act one, describe the gun over the mantle. Make it part of the background. At the end of the story, somebody is going to get shot with that gun, and that is going to be the resolution. It’s pretty simple.

In the Sixth Sense, the callbacks are incredibly subtle. They use the colour red in any scene with a ghost and only scenes with a ghost. The lead character shows up a lot in scenes with red.

An incredibly creative use of a callback

So the sixth sense is subtle. The Curfew isn’t as subtle. It’s creative though because they use the Chekov’s Bazooka early in the show. It’s a throwaway solution to a small issue in an early episode. They take out a bazooka and send a pulse to draw the mooks (zombies by any other name) to a roadblock they need to get past. That causes a massive conflict between the zombies and the guards, which clears the barrier for them. It makes…



Traverse Davies

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