There’s an old story-telling maxim called Chekhov’s Gun that goes if you show a gun on the mantle someone better get shot with it shortly after. This is as good as any maxim and also known as foreshadowing.
|Nope, not what I meant by Chekhov's gun.|
But, why let the object just hint at what’s to come. Why not let an object tell you about a person’s past and/or character. I call this aft-shadowing, and I’ll explain how it works.
Humans have all sorts of weird tendencies. One of the many is to personalize or even personify objects. We name our cars and other important objects in our lives. We personalize to an excessive amount, and we often don’t give a thought to what this says about us.
|If you have this truck you should think about it. Think hard.|
Imagine for a moment that you met a young lady who drove a pink Mercedes with a personalized license plat that read “PRINCESS”. You might make assumptions about this young lady and even her past.
If you met a 40 year old man who drove the same car, you might also fill in some of this person’s personal history and lifestyle choices.
Another weird tendency of humans is that they jump to conclusions.
We can take advantage of this tendency to judge and use it like a dirty little trick in our writing.
Quentin Tarantino is one of the masters of this story telling technique.
Who can forget the yellow and pink eyesore from the first Kill Bill that was the Pussy-Wagon?
Any young ladies want to hang out with the man who drives this truck? Me either. We’ve both made assumptions based on an artifact. In this case a very poorly named truck.
Tarantino goes on to use this truck for a bit of humor when his protagonist has to drive this truck. Genius.
This artifact technique can also be used to establish characters who aren’t even in the story.
Recently, the girlfriend and I were watching The Bling Ring. There’s a scene in which some young people break into Paris Hilton’s house. We see that Ms. Hilton (at least the film version) has her face on multiple pillows.
Even though Ms. Hilton never appears in the film, we all diagnose her with the same thing, clinical narcissism.
Whether we need to do some character development for a character who is not present or we just want to develop a character quickly, this is a great tool and we should use it.
The great thing about aft-shadowing is you let the reader make their own judgments about a character. This is what a great story does. It makes the reader a part of it.