When you're writing and you describe a gun sitting on the nightstand. . . does that mean it has to be used? Can we be unpredictable or do readers get upset at this? I do like skirting around the established "rules." After all, how are we to become unique literary creatures if we pale to copy? Then again, I read Naked Lunch I said to myself, "What the F- - - was that?"

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Comment by Dennis Webster on July 3, 2009 at 10:43am
Thank you all for the great feedback. I guess it all comes down to the style of the writer.
Comment by John McFetridge on July 3, 2009 at 1:52am
Writing fiction is just a series of choices, isn't it? You choose to put the gun there, you choose to use it or not. You have to make the choices that are right for you.

I'm going to guess that Dan Brown made the choice that was right for him. I agree with IJ that the character was silly and didn't work for me at all. We're in the minority. Recently I read something Stephen King wrote where he said he wanted to explore certain thematic elements in his book, "but because I'm me, that means there are monsters." He makes the right choices for him.

I think you only run into trouble when you start making choices that you don't like, but you think others will. But like I said, I'm often in the minority.
Comment by Dana King on July 2, 2009 at 11:48pm
Agreed, there has to be a reason for the gun to be on the nightstand in the first place, and there has to be a reason for it not to be used. There are still lots of stories that could use such a situation.

Example off the top of my head: Man cleans gun, is preparing to ut it away when the phone rings. Lays the gun on the nightstand. Phone call takes him downstairs for some reason. He forgets about the gun. (It would have to be a pretty important phone call, but it could be done.) Whatever happens happens. The reader is aware of the gun, and the man may be aare of it because he needs it and can't get to it, but a successful story could be written where the gun is never touched.
Comment by Flic Manning on July 2, 2009 at 6:38pm
It is entirely up to you how you play these sorts of things out in your stories. I think that symbolism can be a lot of fun to play with - you do not have to use the gun, but you can allow it to add a certain atmosphere for the reader. Just the fact that it is there in the story brings both a subtle element into the picture - however you can turn it into a pivotol misleading tool, or ignore it entirely. Either way it adds something. I enjoy reading a piece that plays wih my mind a little bit, but I do find it annoying when I am played with in every chapter - so sometimes less is more with these little tricks. That's my two cents anyway!
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on July 2, 2009 at 1:18pm
Short answer: yes.

Now here's the long answer.

In the real world, firearms shouldn't be laying around on tables where they can easily be knocked off. Even home defense books don't recommend the ".44 on the nightstand" routine. A firearm should be cased, put away or in the hands of its owner.

So the fact it is on the nightstand suggests it's out of place. Why? Because the owner is going to use it? Because the owner is irresponsible? Because all the other paper weights were unavailable? You've got some explaining to do.
Comment by I. J. Parker on July 2, 2009 at 7:59am
Still sounds like a bit of a cheap trick unless the failure to use it is tied to plot or character. I'm reminded of Dan Brown's Albino giant monk killer. Creating a monster just to fill readers with horror is another cheap trick. The book would have been improved immensely if the killer had been an ordinary, inoffensive looking cleric.
Comment by Dana King on July 2, 2009 at 7:06am
The old "rule" says you have to, but I don't think so. It can be very effective as a way to keep the reader focused on it while you do what you want. They can keep thinking, "It's okay, there's a gun on the nightstand," or even, "I hope the bad guy doesn't see the gun on the nightstand," or any of a dozen things. You might not want to spend too much time on it then ignore it, but it can be useful to build tension, whether anything happens with it or not.

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