Writer Anton Chekov once said that if there is a gun on the wall in act 1, it must go off by act 3. In this instance, Chekov’s gun is what we will refer to as an inventory item. The inventory of a story appears in the small details that a writer chooses to include in the story. These details most commonly appear as important details in a scene, background information, or character description and provide jumping off points for major and minor plot points in a story.
In a short story, the inventory items usually make their first appearance in the introductory paragraphs, however, the longer the intended narrative, the more time the writer has to introduce the inventory for the story. In book length narrative, these details can appear anywhere in the first few chapters. In an epic, the major inventory mostly appears in the first book and carries over to the other books, while inventory specific to the individual books appears in the introductory chapters similar to the single book model. In a prolonged series, major inventory that appears in the first book will carry over to the next few books, however, these details are subject to change and additional inventory is added gradually throughout the series to continually build plot and keep the storyline fresh.
Failure to fully utilize a story’s inventory can leave the story feeling incomplete because the reader has grown to expect that details are important and will play a later part in the story. At the same time, failing to introduce details earlier in a story, can often give a feeling that something just appeared out of nowhere and can interrupt the fluidity of the story.
A good example of inventory introduction and use is the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. If you’ve read through the entire series, pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and read through the first five chapters carefully. You should notice a huge amount of significant details that you didn’t realize were important at the time. These details not only provide the building blocks for this book, but for the entire series. Also, did you notice the significance of the colors green and purple?
If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, pick any book from any major author and you’ll find the same things.
This assignment is with editing. Look through one of the stories you have written and make a list of the inventory items you introduce. Then as you read through the rest of the story, make notes of which items are used and which ones have been given closure. If you have not given closure to an item, should you? If there is an inventory item that you introduce, but don’t use later, is it really necessary for the story or can it be cut?