Chekhov’s Gun

Applied throughout literature, Chekhov’s gun states that if you describe a loaded gun, that gun better go off later in the novel.

If the gun is never fired, you are unnecessarily distracting the reader. So, edit the gun out. It does not advance the story.

Same idea applies to movies.

And journal articles.

But academics who misuse Chekhov’s gun are not only distracting the reader, they are attempting to strengthen their work. However, the opposite outcome is achieved–the work becomes weaker, wasting the reader’s time.

For example, I recently read a paper where the authors used force-based frame elements within a multi-physics simulation. In the “Element Formulation” section of the paper, the authors spent a fair amount of time describing fiber sections. They even showed a figure with fiber-discretized cross-sections at each element integration point and threw up a few equations and brief discussion about state determination with fiber sections.

Later, in the “Numerical Examples” section of the paper, every model used force-based elements with elastic sections–you know, the ones defined by E, A, and I.

They showed a loaded gun and it never went off.

Here is an explanation of Chekhov’s gun and its use and misuse in movies.

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