True story: I did a happy dance over the course of several days when I paid my car off.
Granted, said monstrosity decided to break down within a week of payoff, but I think we all knew that was inevitable.
Enough about me and my terrible taste in used cars. Our NaNo month is half over and something exciting happens when the story shifts into its second half. Not only does the pace ramp up as the characters start hurtling themselves towards the climax, but all those hints and story seeds we’ve been planting start growing. We get to enjoy some payoff.
If I said “payoff feels good” that would be the equivalent to saying “tasty foods are tasty.” Payoff is fun to read. We love when that shotgun finally gets fired or when that runaway ferret is discovered with all the loot our protagonist was accused of stealing (okay, maybe I’ve never seen that, but I’d like to).
Payoff is fun to write. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who giggles maniacally as I plant clues in the story for later use and abuse. It’s exciting and turning that clue into something bigger is satisfying.
We like getting paid. We like feeling like we’ve earned something, and that’s exactly what payoff in stories triggers inside of us when we read or write it.
Here’s a link that explains Setup and Payoff: Where The Map Ends – Writing Tips #11 and #12
In the original Star Wars movie, we think Luke Skywalker is pretty much toast in the Death Star trench because his wingmen have been taken away and Darth Vader is moving in for the kill. As far as we know, he’s completely unprotected. But then in swoops Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon to save the day. “Oh, yeah!” we say. “Han didn’t come with them. He would’ve been unaccounted for. That totally works! Go, Luke, go!”
The plant was that Han Solo was in the area but not with the attack group. The payoff was him arriving just in time.
Perhaps you’re not able to really look forward to great payoffs in your story just yet because you’re writing longer than 50k and your midpoint is a week or two away. But I hope you can look forward to your Aha! moments and even seek payoff in other ways.
I’ve been writing out of order so my word count has “stalled” while half a dozen scenes run loose on my hard drive. So today, I’m paying myself by patching those scenes together with a new, shinier word total. Because even though it’s not really about the word count, having one continuous story is more satisfying to me than a jumble of files. I don’t get the sense that I’ve completed any of those scenes until they are laced together.
If you’re slogging through your story about now and feeling a little less than shiny, why not create a way to pay yourself? Set a goal, plan for a story milestone, or heck, just skip ahead and write a payoff scene. Maybe set out to enjoy another cup of coffee once the scene is complete. Ya know, whatever it takes.
How are you using the concept of payoffs in your writing/writing life today?