Setups and Payoffs: In our own work

We’re looking at Setups and Payoffs this week, and today we’re going to see if we can come up with some Setups and Payoffs for the one-liners we’ve been working on.  Here we go.

1. Our human-rights-attorney story:

Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.

One of the reveals in this story is a Reversal, in that the managing partner is not the savior Hero thinks he is.  And I think we should reveal it through Revelation, that is, we’ll have a character give this information to Hero, and I think the managing partner should self-disclose.  It helps show Hero (and us) that Managing Partner’s not afraid of Hero. Not at all.

So, let’s come up with some things that would affirm for Hero (and Reader) that the managing partner is Hero’s savior:

  • Managing Partner seeks out Hero.  MP’s been following the case; he understands Hero’s financial troubles; he wants to help.  He is, in action, a savior.
  • MP tells Hero some story about having a friend or relative who’s in a similar situation to Hero’s transgender client/partner.  In this way, Hero and MP bond at a personal level.
  • MP sets Hero up with a position at his firm.
  • MP gives Hero the firm’s best paralegal, and maybe one of the better offices and a company car.
  • MP gives Hero a case allowance… and it’s quite generous.
  • MP gives Hero advice, legal and maybe personal, that strikes Hero as brilliant.

Now, let’s come up with some reasons Hero (and Reader) might start thinking MP is too good to be true:

  • Unexplained Appearances.  Maybe Hero sees government people who are loosely involved with Hero’s case hanging around the firm’s office building… but it’s a big building, and it’s shared, so Hero let’s this go… but then maybe Hero sees these guys on the firm’s floor.  “Whoops, wrong floor.”  Back in the elevator the government people go.
  • Weird Objects.  Maybe Hero finds strange things in his office.  Things that hold bugs unbeknownst to Hero. Wait, did they have bugs in the 50’s?  Maybe they’re really big tape recorders, and they’re hidden in really big things.
  • Weird Reactions to Objects.  Maybe Hero tries to get rid of these big things because they’re not his style or they’re distracting or they’re just too big, but MP tells Hero that they’re gifts, special gifts from his trips to India or whatever.  MP thought they’d help Hero become more zen, which is good for legal thinking.  Trust MP–he knows these things.  And, thus, the strange objects with the bugs…er…tape recorders stay in Hero’s office.
  • Weird Priorities. And Maybe Hero catches Paralegal in his office.  It’s not totally out of the norm for Paralegal to be there, but she’s messing with his huge zen objects.  “They’re dusty.”  She’s actually just finished up changing the tape… and maybe the batteries.
  • Weird Ways of Doing Things. And Maybe Hero gets a glimpse at Paralegal’s notes, and he’s confused a bit, because they’re phrased in ways different from how Hero would say things… because she’s really taking notes for MP, not for Hero.

But, of course, it’s not until the advice MP gives Hero results in undesirable legal consequences and MP is smiling about it that Hero finally realizes that MP is a bad guy.  And, just in case Hero (or Reader) missed the midpoint shift, Bad Guy MP can rub salt into Hero’s wound with a nice Revelation:  “Yup, it was me. I set you up. You and your case are finished. Mwahahaha!” and the like… preferably a more eloquent and less cliched like.

2. Our diamond bullets story:

When his brother’s Pacific Northwest gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Yakima, Washington Chief of Police.

So, last week, we said that maybe the Hero is led to believe that the police chief is responsible for Dad’s death, but it was really a gang member, maybe even Hero’s brother. I think this is good fodder for a Twist, and I think we should reveal it through Discovery, that is, we’ll let Hero find the physical proof of this fact through his own action.  And let’s let the real killer be the brother, ’cause that’s worst for our hero.

So, let’s use our XYZ Twist Setup Technique:

  • Show X:  We show Dad has died.  Maybe they have a service for him or they’re packing up his stuff or passing the baton to Brother.
  • Assume Y:  The whole gang assumes that the police chief did it, the bastard, so much so that they’re going to make the Police Chief die for what he’s done.  Hero believes all of their assumptions are true, and there’s no reason for him not to.
  • Setup Z: Meanwhile, we plant some hints that Brother did it:
    • Parallel Foreshadowing. Maybe there’s a kid at Hero’s school who’s been complaining that some rival kid stole his cell phone, and it turns out that his dad, a family member, took it.
    • Out-of-place remarks.  Maybe Brother is constantly complaining about the police chief and the Yakima PD in general, but not in relation to Dad’s death.  Maybe he complains about them on a more personal basis… which explains why he chose the police chief to be the scapegoat for his own dirty deed.  It’s revenge, but for a wrong done to Brother, not to Dad.
    • Secondary Character.  There’s a lot of agriculture in Eastern Washington.  Mmm… Washington Apples. Best in the World they say.  And so maybe the six degrees of a diamond smuggler comes in the form of an international traveling apple salesman who makes his way to Africa or Russia or wherever the diamond trades are made.  He’s gone a lot, but maybe when Dad was killed, Brother says he was helping our apple salesman; that’s Brother’s alibi.  And maybe our Hero strikes up a conversation about traveling with our apple salesman, who says he was in Botswana the day Dad died and for weeks before and after.  This should tip off our hero, but maybe our apple salesman backtracks, knowing he’s slipped and that he needs to cover for Brother, and so, being the smooth talking salesman that he is, he smooths things over.  Phew for Brother.
    • Misplaced Object.  We need Hero to stumble on some evidence, some proof, something we can see.  What might that be?  Special gun?  To obvious?  Something stolen off Dad?  Like what? No, wait, how about this: Maybe Brother tried to get out of the gang, too (adding more antagonism between the brothers), and maybe Brother applied to be in the YPD, but the police chief denied his application because of Dad’s gang.  Police Chief thought Brother had spy or obstruction intentions (maybe relating to the diamond bullets).  This isn’t true–Brother really wanted to be a cop–but Brother couldn’t convince the Police Chief.  And maybe that’s why Brother shot Dad, because Dad was pissed Brother had even tried to be a cop; Dad felt he couldn’t trust Brother anymore; Brother shot dad before Dad could kill Brother.  And so maybe Hero finds the YPD rejection letter.  And maybe it’s got a bit of blood splatter on it.  Hey, why not?
  • Reveal Z:  This then, the blood splattered rejection letter, is our final piece of the puzzle, the trigger, and–BOOM! PAYOFF! TWIST!–Hero puts it all together. He recalls the above stuff. He remembers some things Dad said before he died, angry things about Brother and the YPD and whatever.  Yes, Brother did it, and maybe this can also give Hero some insight into how Brother will play the final showdown where Hero has to decide whether to save his girlfriend or save her police chief dad and his scholarship.

Yeah?  Eh… it’s a start.

Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  What sorts of better plants do you think would be awesome here?  And what sorts of setups and payoffs are you using in your own stories?  Tell us in the comments!


The Inner Journey.  See you then!

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