[00:00:11] Today I'm giving you some tips that I hope that you can apply to your own writing, things that are aha moments that I have learned over the course of my career.
[00:00:20] This is one of the best tips that I can give you. Truly, this is worth its weight in gold. If you learn this principle it is truly life changing in terms of what you can do in your story.
[00:00:33] One of the most important things in story is to be able to do setups and payoffs. Setups and payoffs. It's just a critical skill in terms of telling a story.
[00:00:45] And the problem is, is that a setup needs to be a barely noticeable clue. It's something that the audience shouldn't expect.
[00:00:55] And the problem is the audience is so sophisticated today that they see them coming a thousand miles away. They know when they've been set up.
[00:01:05] The audience shelves that information, but they hold on to it waiting for it to come back into play. They expect you to do something with it later.
[00:01:14] So how do you fool your audience? How do you do an invisible setup so the audience doesn't know they've been set up?
[00:01:22] Because part of the key of good setups and payoffs is to surprise and delight your audience. They shouldn't see it coming. If they see it coming, you've failed to do a good set up and pay off.
[00:01:36] How do you do that? It's simple, simple, simple. And here's how you do it.
[00:01:43] When you have a setup, when you have something that specifically is important to the story itself, that's going to come back into play later on in the story, the way that you make it invisible is you make sure that it accomplishes something emotionally at the time that you use it.
[00:02:01] One of the best examples that I know of, of good setups and payoffs is in the film Aliens. It's just brilliant. And so here's what happens. At the start of Aliens, you have the character of Ripley played by the wonderful Sigourney Weaver. She has been the sole survivor of this encounter with an alien in the first movie.
[00:02:26] We find out that the powers that be that she reported this incident to sort of dismissed her. And in fact, she's been marginalized. And she suffers from PTSD. And so she struggled to maintain her job. She's been demoted. She's no longer captain, that sort of thing.
[00:02:43] Well, what happens is the powers that be put a colony on that same planet where the alien is. And don't you know it? They've lost contact with the colonists.
[00:02:52] So now they're like, "Oh well maybe Ripley was right."
[00:02:55] So now they go to her and ask her to basically participate in this marine op as an advisor and go back to that planet since she's the only one who has any first hand knowledge of the creature that resides there.
[00:03:11] So a company man is meeting with Ripley trying to persuade her to be part of this team, but nothing that he is saying is persuading her.
[00:03:20] And then he brings up something and it turns out it is a really important setup for us. Because what he says is, I understand that you work down at the docks now as a loader. Which is a demotion for her, right? Because she used to be a captain.
[00:03:35] And Ripley gets defensive. Yeah, so? No, no, there's no shame in that. And I know it's the only thing you can get. And that gets Ripley's attention for the first time.
[00:03:46] He's used it as a manipulative tool. So, see, because he's used it, we feel like the whole thing about the loader, we don't even really realize that it's a setup. We don't know that it's important in that moment.
[00:03:59] It was invisible to us. So that's a great setup.
[00:04:03] Cut to later in the film where Ripley is now with all of these Marines, only she is out of sorts with them, right? She doesn't fit in. They call her Snow White.
[00:04:13] And so at one point she comes to the guy in charge and says, "I feel like a third wheel around here. Is there anything I can do?"
[00:04:22] And the guy says, "I don't know. Is there anything you can do?"
[00:04:26] Which again is a challenge, right? And there's a moment where Ripley pauses and then she says, "Well, I can use that loader over there."
[00:04:36] And the gentleman in charge looks at his buddy like, right. And he says, "Well, be my guest."
[00:04:42] And so she does. She gets in a loader. We take our time showing all of the bells and whistles of it. She picks up a big box and says, "Where do you want it?"
[00:04:52] At which point the guys laugh. "Ha ha ha."
[00:04:55] And she has successfully proven herself. She's been accepted. So it accomplishes a goal.
[00:05:03] So again, we know the loader was a setup from before and yet we weren't expecting it to come back up because they already paid it off.
[00:05:14] So now it comes back up, but we buy it because we were already set up for it. But notice it accomplishes a goal. It helps her to fit in. It's a perfect, brilliant execution of a setup and a payoff.
[00:05:29] And if that's the only way they would have used it in the story, we would have loved it. But that's not. In fact, they were so brilliant that it comes back into play one more time.
[00:05:40] And by the time it comes back into play, we've completely forgotten about it because it had already paid off emotionally. It had paid off emotionally by helping her fit in with the team, helping her earn her place of acceptance.
[00:05:55] So we let it go and we don't expect it to come up anymore. And that's why when it does come up, we cheered. I mean, cheered in the theater. That doesn't happen very often. But it was wonderful.
[00:06:08] That's how you do a good setup and payoff.
[00:06:12] I hope that that has been helpful for you. For more tips like this, check out the Storyteller's Mission podcast or our website.
[00:06:20] In the meantime, thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.