I have good news and I have bad news. Let’s assume you have a killer story idea. It offers unique plot developments and totally unexpected plot twists. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that these deliciously original plot elements just aren’t going to end up working out for your readers. Why? For one simple reason: they don’t include proper story foreshadowing.
Story Foreshadowing, Pt. 2: The Payoff
Nope, that “Pt. 2” isn’t a typo.
When we think of awesome plot developments, sometimes that’s as far as we think. After all, the development, the happening of the event, the scene in which it actually takes place, that’s the whole point of the story. That’s where our energy and focus tends to flow.
When speaking of story foreshadowing, this is what’s known as the payoff. But the payoff is only half of a very important equation in foreshadowing.
If you have something worth foreshadowing, it must be foreshadowed.
Story Foreshadowing, Pt. 1: The Setup
That’s where the setup comes into play. Obviously, this is “Pt. 1” of the equation, since it must take place prior to the payoff. The payoff is where all the fireworks go off, but the setup is what makes it work.
The setup is the foreshadowing itself. It’s created by the clues, the tone, and the framing introduced in the early part of your story—especially the First Act. It doesn’t prepare readers for the specifics of what will happen later (’cuz spoilers!). Rather, its chief job is to prepare readers for the fact that a particular brand of something will happen later on.
Warning! This is What Happens When Your Payoff Has No Setup
Setup is the advertisement for the big show at the end of your story. If readers don’t see the advertisement, how will they know there’s even going to be a show?
Take this for an example: I recently watched a movie, the two halves of which felt like completely different stories. The first half was, frankly, dull. It hit every cliché in the book and had me anticipating an equally clichéd ending—to the point I almost turned it off.
Then the second half hit with a whirlwind of surprises. The story veered into a totally different direction, time-jumped about twenty years, and ended up presenting some very interesting scenarios and themes.
The payoff was awesome. The setup? Not so much.
Two problems resulted from this:
1. Since it gave no hint of its awesome second-half potential, the first half gave me no incentive to keep watching. Readers are even less patient than viewers, and as writers, we can never assume our readers will hang with us for fully half the story until we finally get to the good stuff.
2. Even the dramatically better second half couldn’t save the overall story, due to the simple fact that its poor setup left it feeling fragmented, incohesive, and less than resonant.
There’s no reason this has to happen in your story. If you have an awesome payoff in the second half of the story (and rah-rah to you if you do!), then make sure you’re setting it up with equal care in the first half. You’ll not only keep your readers’ attention riveted throughout, you’ll also get twice the bang for your buck out of your payoff!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What elements in your work-in-progress’s second half need story foreshadowing? Have you already set it up? Tell me in the comments!