Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Story check (Setups, payoffs, and the clues in between), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
- View Offline
We know that every setup must have a corresponding well-earned payoff. So as you comb through your story, here are a few handy questions to ask. First, are there any inadvertent setups hiding in your story? Are you sure nothing whispers, implies, or suggests setup without actually meaning it? If there is, cut it out. Remember, an if without a then becomes an elephant roaming the halls of your story, diverting attention from what's the really important.
Second, is there a road from your setup to your payoff? Are you absolutely sure you never tell us about the problem at the very instant it's being solved? Remember, the reader won't care it's been solved unless they know what it cost the protagonists both emotionally and logistically to arrive at the solution, because that's where the attention, anticipation, and suspense comes from. Third, are there clues along the road from setup to payoff? Make sure you aren't assuming that the reader will intuit unwritten clues.
Readers love connecting the dots, but they don't want to have to invent them first. Fourth, do your clues build? When taken together, do the clues form an escalating pattern from which the reader can draw conclusions and anticipate what might happen next. Speaking of what's going to happen next, now it's time for you to go to your exercise files where we have set you up with an example. It's your job to pay it off.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots