I don't know if it's kosher, but I'm adding intros to two previous blog posts. Maybe that takes it from being a blog to being something else, but I'm doing it. So there. I'm adding these blue words to this post because I just found something a well-known thriller/mystery author wrote all the way back in 2012. This old post of mine is absolutely on the right track, but his older post nails the Setup issue completely.
Curiosity is why people keep turning pages. All this talk about giving readers something to care about is so much bunk, at least for guys--or a guy like me. A reader's curiosity is piqued by something, so the pages turn until boredom sets in. What prevents boredom? Simple: Give readers something else to be curious about. It's easy to say, "Give 'em something else." I've just said it. The hard part is for an author to know how to sustain the string of curiosity that keeps readers turning pages. That's simple too, as it turns out, but I can't say it half as well as Lee Child did in a blog post. If you remember, he's the author of the Jack Reacher series of books, and, like me, he also says that creating a character readers can care for is not the best way to keep curiosity going.
Don't get me wrong: Care is okay. It's a form of curiosity, and while readers may not care for a character, if an author makes him/her/it interesting, or gives readers a sense that retribution could be coming, then they'll turn pages for a while. But giving me something to care about isn't the end of it. As the story progresses I may see what's happening to a character, or the story, or to me, and refuse to be manipulated emotionally. I still care about the something, but I'm no longer curious, so I stop turning pages.
A diet of only setups gets boring, like one hand clapping. Or breathing only in. To fulfill its destiny, a setup needs a matching payoff. These pairs may cover only one paragraph, or they may keep readers curious from the first page to the last, but a good story has plenty of them--more of them than there are pages in the book.
We can't care for people who have not been set up well enough for us to care about, but if we know them well enough, we are likely to be curious about what happens to them. Mysteries are setups, and the clues are both a payoff and the next setup on the way to the final resolution. We can't enjoy mysteries that have no clues, or have clues so well hidden that no one can find them until it's all over. ...Unless...
Unlike "care" and "clue" and other labels we use for it, our curiosity can also be a mono-pole. For example, a writer's style can be so engaging or odd that for it there is no setup; there is only payoff--at the next surprise, or LOL, or interesting idea. The setup is that we know the author.
Did you skip over this paragraph looking for the next blue one? Well, here it is but it's not blue. Sorry, but I'm trying to illustrate the point Mr. Child makes in his post. Here's the link to it: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/a-simple-way-to-create-suspense/. I won't be offended if you skipped my stuff looking for his.
Setups need not be one-time things. The excerpt below is from a scene in Diary of a Robot, a scene that continues setting up the crooks, the Bob/Nan thing, and Robey's quest to understand human feelings. It initiates just one setup, a small one about movies, which will be paid off in the next blog post.
Nan came in wanting to know more about the bomb Bobby had dropped during the Turing Test, and she faked casual looks out his test lab windows. “You saw people spying on us from another building?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Turcote.
“I’ve been looking for them the last couple of weeks,” she added, “but I never saw anyone spying. Did you? Anywhere?”
“Yes,” he said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder at the nearest building.
“We could put some of Guy’s gadgets to work looking and getting pix of their faces,” she suggested.
“Good,” he said.
“…Does Security know about this?”
“…Are they getting pix?”
His curt answers gnawed at her. Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get him to talk. In this regard her next question was as poorly designed as the others had been. “…Do you have any video or still pix of them?” she asked.
“Doh,” he replied.
Now Nan thought of a better question. It wasn’t on point, but she asked it anyway. “How are you feeling today, Bobby?”
He blew his nose and deposited the tissue in a waste basket by his desk.
“I’m fied,” he said, rubbing at his eyes with another tissue.
“Yes. I feel fied. It’s just ad allergy. I sat in front of adair cuditioner at a fred’s house this bornig and they have a cat. That bust be the reasod I’b stuffed ub.” As he threw the second tissue away he realized Robey was watching intently. It sidled over to the waste basket and peered in using a hand-held mirror.
“What are you loogigat?” the man demanded.
The machine looked at him and blinked. “I notice a statistically significant correlation between human feeling and those tissue papers.”
It peered down again, adjusted the mirror for a better view, and asked, “Are they essential to your emotional well-being or sense of touch in some way? I notice that people often pull out those things during times of physical and emotional discomfort or joy.”
A memory dump would have shown the machine’s suppressed urge to pick the tissue up and analyze it. Bob and Nan looked at each other as if sharing the thought, Here we go again. Bob dodged first. “By dose ad eyes are geddig worse by the secud. I’b goig to wash ub.”
“You shouldn’t rub them,” she said, “that makes it worse.”
“If I’d knowd dere was cat dander on by face I would’t have rubbed theb,” he replied as curtly as possible.
She sighed. After he had gone she confided to Robey, “It would also have done no good to mention that he should wash the cat out of his hair too.”
The machine had begun to recognize human “feeling” as a brain thing, and it deduced she had “feelings” for Bob because it could see her face much better than people do. By now, more or less, Robey had acquired techniques of reading people. The results, however, were by no means guaranteed. Yesterday it started a study of blood chemistry with particular attention to how emotions were expressed and modified.
Nan interrupted its thoughts about Mr. Bob washing cats.
“Robey,” she said, “peoples’ feelings are their emotional senses and sensibilities, not their physical sense of touch…” She had felt compelled finally to correct the machine’s error, but now saw a different need.
“Did you understand any of what Mr. Bob said?”
It replied quickly, “I thig so.”
Her eyes widened and she smiled. “D’you have questions about the recent conversation?” she asked, trying to hurry things along.
Robey saw the various changes in her face before saying, “I thig he likes you, too.”
“What?” she said, shocked at its completely irrelevant comment. She felt the way anyone might after talking to someone who had a working crystal ball interface. In a stage whisper she started to complain, “How?”
The machine waited while the woman gathered her thoughts. It preferred to discover conversation rather than make it.
Robey’s statement was more of a segué toward a question it didn’t quite know how to ask than toward a juicy secret revelation about someone. To the machine, after all, the signs of people’s attitudes were freely given and plain enough to see, so how could they be considered a secret?
Nan glanced around the room and then asked, “Stop guessing about people like that. What are you trying to do?”
“Why,” asked Robey, “do you like each other, yet not act like it?”
“What do you mean by ‘it’?”
“ ‘It’ like they act in the movies,” it replied.
“Well, there’s your answer. They’re acting. Real life is not the movies. The movies are not real life—unless you’re making the movie, I suppose. In real life people aren’t acting, they are ‘being’ whether they are actors, or acting, or not. Get used to it.”
“But,” the machine objected, “I know people often pretend in real life. They pretend something they do not agree with—or vice-versa. They lie and pretend that is okay. They steal something and pretend they are entitled to it, just as in the movies.”
“You still don’t understand the difference. When an actor lies…” She thought a moment before going on. “Maybe you should talk to Bobby.”
“Does Mr. Bob know more about lies?”
She resisted the cheap shot and answered, “No, he knows more about movies.”
“Why do you like each other, yet pretend you do not?”
“We’re—I’m not pretending,” she said, looking around the room again. “I’m… being cautious. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that. It took me several tries to understand it myself.”
Robey was pleased with itself—well, more accurately it was pleased with the situation even though she appeared to miss its observation about Bob’s feelings toward her.
...At this point Bob walked in. The machine nodded a greeting as Nan gave him a finger wave and a look that said, “Just shoot me.”
This paragraph is a blue herring. The link to Lee Child's blog post on how to create and maintain page-turning suspense is elsewhere in this post of mine.
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On