Plants and Payoffs

Hi Gang. Craig with you once again. Since today isn’t a holiday, I feel no compulsion to make some kind of arbitrary holiday tie in. That can be almost scary.

Last night (Writing this days ahead) I spotted a great example of plants and payoffs. This is a frequent topic of writing blogs, but it could use a modern facelift. I think I have one.

The first Plants & Payoffs lesson most people get is about Chekhov’s Gun. It goes something like this, “If you show a gun in the first act, it needs to go off in the third act.” I’m sure I didn’t get it quite right, but you get the idea.

This plays into foreshadowing, in that your heroes aren’t pulling weapons out of thin air when they’re needed. The reader already knows the guns are present. Readers need to suspect the hero is genuine before he pulls the sword from the stone and removes all doubt.

We’re writing in the 21st century, and it seems to me my example should be more modern. Which brings me to a little silver knob. Not the metal silver, but the color. Honestly, after this episode, it could be made of Beskar steel. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m going back to the Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian seems to be the story of a single father trying to make a living. He’s all but adopted Baby Yoda, who has the name Grogu now. Mando is a good father, but doesn’t spend a lot of time at Toys R Us.

The little sphere first showed up as a knob on some lever in the cockpit of the ship they virtually live on. Baby Yoda snitched it for a toy. There was a cute father/son moment, then Mando gave in and let the kid play with it. It really didn’t need to be more than that, but it became so much more.

Subsequent episodes show Mando using this as a kind of pacifier for the kid when he needs more attention than Mando can give at the time.

Part of Mando’s mission is to deliver Baby Yoda to the Jedi, if there are any left. Eventually, he finds one and she wants to test the kid. She attempts to have Grogu move a small stone using the Force.

We know he can do this. We’ve already seen him lift a rhino-thing to save Mando’s life.

As the kid is failing, Mando tempts him with the little silver knob. We can feel this moment, and Grogu uses the Force to move the knob into his own hands.

The knob is more than a fitting for a lever. It’s more than a pacifier. It’s a bonding point between the two characters.

This week, the big bad made his play to kidnap Grogu for some Naziesque experiments. It’s Star Wars, so there was a big shootout and lots of small spaceships along with some new evil droids.

At the end of the day, Grogu was kidnapped, and Mando’s ship/home was destroyed. When he sorted through the rubble and found that silver knob, we didn’t need a lot of dialog about what it meant to him.

This is because the emotional tie was built up over time. The knob was planted in our minds last year, and built up from there. It was heart wrenching and we all felt it. I’m on pins and needles for the next episode, which will probably air before this goes live.

This one silver knob does multiple duty in the story. First, it’s a piece of equipment. It belongs to Mando. It builds his character, because the lever will function without it and he let’s the kid play with it anyway.

It establishes more character by what it isn’t. Mando didn’t stop by some store and buy the kid a Beany Baby. It’s a stupid metal ball.

Grogu’ s eyes sparkle as he puts it in his mouth. This shows a bit about how he feels toward Mando. I have to guess a little bit here, but maybe it means more because it’s Mando’s than any regular toy could. (You want your readers to start drawing conclusions.)

Now it’s become the focal point of all of our heartbreak. One object, very few words, tons of value in the story.

This heartbreaking moment was planted last year, then paid off late this year. Timing is important and it means more by making us wait to receive it.

As an author, I not only enjoy reading and viewing, I also watch for things I could do better. You can bet Grogu’s silver ball will be lodged in my mind somewhere.

How about you guys? Do you study the fiction you read or view? Do you have your own Buddy Poppy, or loose button that could do double duty in your own stories? We’d like to hear about them.

47 thoughts on “Plants and Payoffs

  1. I have not watched The Mandalorian yet, but do plan to. Maybe some holiday viewing! You gave some great examples. Planting can come early, but it definitely needs to provide a payoff later. Thank you for this great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good example. Only saw the first season, so I only knew about the knob as a pacifier. I can’t think of many other plants that have such staying power. Typically, they seem to be around and then disappear after one use. That or they act primarily as a symbol for the character instead of a plot-related item.

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  3. It is very satisfying when something that seemed unimportant comes back later important in a story. I haven’t watched The Mandalorian, but my kids keep insisting I do. Great post Craig.

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  4. Superb post, Craig. I love when a McGuffin morphs into something else entirely, and impacts the MC in a big, big way. To answer your question, absolutely! I’m constantly dissecting movies, TV series, and books for new techniques. It blows my husband’s mind when I say, “Remember that shoe (or whatever). It’s gonna be important later.” #writerslife 🙂

    In my novels I plant a lot of breadcrumbs to exploit later. To the reader it may seem inconsequential at the time, but I focused on object for a reason. The trick, IMHO, is to draw the reader’s attention to the item without giving away our ultimate objective.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post. I’ve never watched The Mandalorian, but it must do a lot of things well. With mysteries, I guess I mostly think about planting clues and distractions. I hope I end up with smaller “aha” moments rather than one big, gut wrenching one. I’ll have to think if there’s a way to do that:)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post, Craig. These kinds of little details are what make some books (and movies) memorable. Less can be more sometimes, and although I haven’t watched the Mandalorian yet (I’m looking forward to it), the small things can make a big difference.

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  7. Great post, Craig! I don’t have Disney+, so I haven’t seen the Mandalorian yet, but I’ve heard amazing things about it. I have become a bit more observant when I’m reading about other’s styles. I’m nowhere near your level, but I do see the value of it. 🙂

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  8. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Ever use plants and payoffs in your writing? I’ll be honest and say I’ve never even thought about them–but I’m sure thinking about them now! After reading Craig Boyack’s excellent post on Story Empire, I realize I’ve missed some great opportunities, but I intend to be much more aware of these going forward. Do yourself a favor and check out Craig’s post. You’ll be glad you did! And then pass it along, if you would, so others can enjoy and learn, too. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for an eye-opening post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Well now you’ve got me thinking, Craig. Do I catch plants when I read them? I think I do much of the time, but then again, some are far more obvious than others. Do I use them when I write? Not so sure. Heck, I’m often not even sure where my story is going until I get there myself, which could mean I’d have to go BACK to add plants, and then they’d probably stick out like a sore thumb. Do I use clichés like “sore thumb” way too much? Depends on who’s doing the talking. 😀

    Now I need to revisit a few things to see if I’ve been using plants/payoffs by instinct, or just skipping these lovely teasers altogether. Thanks for taking the time to give us a very good, relatable example of how they work. I’m going to be very aware of how I might use them in my current WIP, and already have an idea or two. Super post! Sharing!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Intriguing post, Craig. You’ve given me much to think about. I doubt I would have picked up the subtlety you write of, but now I will be more alert. In movies, a plant is more obvious (a missing set of keys, a crumpled note at the side of the bed, grandma’s buried firearm) and usually, I guess its purpose early on. Wow, now I’m deep into thought and I’m only on my first cup of coffee! Well done, Craig.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Pingback: Plants and Payoffs | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  12. Excellent post, Craig. I love the way Favreau and Filoni have done so much with so little. Mando emotes quite a bit, and we can’t even see his face. And he’s become the father figure we’ve needed in the Star Wars franchise. That tiny beskar sphere has come to symbolize so much. And with so few words. Really, with so few screen appearances. And I’d Grogu is tempted to the dark side of the Force, it could be a big enough reminder to pull him back to the light.

    Great insights.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Pingback: Plants and Payoffs – Face The Truth

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