If you haven't read the prior post about setups, you might want to click the blue Prior button above and read it now. I don't know if it's kosher, but today 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.
"A promise made is a debt unpaid."
(From a poem by Robert W. Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee.)
Service's poem has an excellent warm payoff with a setup that he stokes to the climax. Every setup in a tale or joke makes a promise that there will be closure, a payoff. The previous blog post on 2017.08.08, for Day 0.06.07 in Diary of a Robot, contains a subtle setup:
...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 [said Nan]. When an actor lies…” She thought more 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.”
Setups make us curious; that's their job. The setup I've recalled above is for the payoff you'll see below. I don't know how many readers of the previous page got curious about movies, but it may not matter. That setup has a nice joke, and should play well even if readers don't know it's a setup until they get the payoff.
With some authors their style is so good that there is less need for setups and payoffs. The words coming out of their faucet are so interesting, and can be treated--edited--to be even more interesting without taking over the story. Sometimes an author of that kind may scribble out a great payoff, but realize there is no setup for it. Then the question comes: Does this payoff need a setup? If you have to ask that question, it usually does, and then the important questions become: "Where does the setup go?" And: "Which characters get to do it?"
So: Curiosity drives readers to turn pages. Setups and payoffs are the fuel of that engine. Sometimes one or the other seems missing, but it's there--or should be. And the fuel quality should have an octane value appropriate for that place in the story.
• • Day 0.06.26
“…Time Bandits was another bad movie with a good title. I didn’t like it,” Tim said emphatically to Robey, the company's Thinking Machine.
Bobby’s testing lab could be a boring place when you weren’t testing. You weren’t allowed to just log on to any of its computers and do what you wanted. And fiddling with interesting things there could also get you into trouble. And talking with testers as if the lab were a break room wasn’t advisable either… unless the tester was Robey.
Tim was waiting, so he and the machine were talking about odd movies. It would have been enjoyable to any movie buff, but not Tim. The man’s last comment about Time Bandits had been a throw-away. He didn’t expect any argument. But now Robey asked a question.
“Are there any bad movies you like, Mr. Tim?”
“I don’t like bad movies. I thought I was clear about that,” said Tim absently. The last few minutes had been another of the machine’s attempts at light conversation. This seemed to be happening more under the Doctor’s new rules. Tim guessed from its question that his enjoyment was about to end, and his first signs of clam-up appeared.
Robey guessed Tim was done with that question, so it asked a different one: “How is a movie good or bad?”
Tim had just answered that question too, and thought it unnecessary to answer again. Instead, making an attempt to volley the question, he asked, “Are there any movies you don’t like, Robey?”
“Which don’t you like?”
“I do not like any movie that tells lies as though they were the truth.”
“You watch a lot of movies, Robey. You know the characters often tell lies, but they’re just part of the story. The audience knows—eventually—which characters are lying.”
“No, Mr. Tim, I am not talking about the characters lying, I am talking about movies lying. They can misrepresent reality so pleasantly or powerfully, yet so egregiously wrong that millions of people adopt skewed ideas or attitudes. Sometimes movies become like propaganda for or against something; they conveniently ignore clarifying data or competing ideas.”
Bob couldn’t stand it anymore. “None of that makes a movie good or bad,” he interrupted.
The machine still wasn’t quite used to this. Before the Doctor’s new rules, Robey mostly talked with one person at a time. Now, however, people nearby didn’t routinely disappear. Now the machine often had more than one person to deal with in conversation. It was a good test. Everyone had to know if Robey could hold conversational threads from several respondents at one time outside the brief, tame, anonymous structure of a Turing Test.
“I did not say they were bad movies,” countered the machine, turning from Tim to Bob, “I said I did not like them.”
“Do you know why?” Bob asked.
Tim loved the question. He winked at Bobby, expecting Robey to say something like I thought I already answered that. But Bob’s question had made the machine pause a while before answering. Bob acknowledged Tim’s wink with a shrug and tried to work.
Finally and happily Robey asked, “Do I know why they are bad, or do I know why I did not like them, or do I know why I said it? Which do you mean? I cannot decide.”
“Take your pick,” said Bob. He considered it less exhausting now to follow the machine than to force it in any particular direction; when he got tired, he would tell it to buzz off.
The machine didn’t have a preference among its three choices, so it tackled the first one first: “Movies are bad if most of the viewer pool never watches, or walks out during the show, or does not want to watch it again.”
“No,” Bob said, finally stopping his work, “that only makes a movie unpopular.”
“And unprofitable,” interjected Tim. “To producers, movies are only good if they make lots of money, because they aren’t making movies, they are making money.” This two cents worth of opinion plus the movie talk, he felt, justified charging at least a quarter of an hour to Doc’s new job number. Like nearly everyone now who wasn’t behind in their work, Tim often enjoyed getting paid to sling BS with—or at—the machine.
“Not necessarily, though,” Bob continued, “the Wizard of Oz was a bad movie by those definitions when it first came out.” [a]
Robey started to say something. The men looked at it, giving it the floor. “Never mind,” it said, “please continue, Mr. Bob.”
“Movies are ‘bad’,” Bob resumed, “when there is no spine to it, no coherent plot or a plot with holes. Or it has bad characterizations, wooden dialogue, poor cinematography, miscasting, poor performances, poor or inappropriate music, poor sound, bad blocking, bad lighting, editing that ignores continuity and video grammar, and a dozen other really bad things. When a movie has too many of those flaws it’s a bad movie, like it or not.”
Both men again saw that Robey wanted to say something. They waited for it, exchanging knowing looks, but were merely guessing. That was part of the fun.
Robey finally asked, “Are there any bad movies you like, Mr. Bob?”
“A couple,” he answered after a moment.
“Which are they?”
“Plan Nine from Outer Space, for one. Anything that makes a movie bad is in there. It’s so terrible it’s funny. The more you know about movies, the funnier and more gawd-awful it is.”
“It’s a matter of opinion,” Tim countered. “I watched until I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s not funny, it’s stupid.”
“Well, yeah, you don’t like it, and it is stupid, but that doesn’t make it bad. Just about everyone who touched it made it bad.”
Robey thought to say, “made it badly,” but decided, given Bob’s insights about movie making, that both bad and badly were appropriate
Tim was now curious. “When did you learn about all of that, Bobby?”
“Oh, I had credits to get to graduate. It didn’t matter what they were, so I took a film-making course. We had to make a film—a video built like a film, actually. It was fun, but a lot more work than I thought it would be.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Tim chuckled.
“Was it bad?” asked Robey.
Bob’s face had a far-away look as he searched for something to say.
“That bad, was it?!” Tim concluded.
“Oooh yeah,” Bob agreed. “No redeeming social value. But it was a great movie until we watched audiences watching it.”
[a] The Princess Bride is another. Both are popular now, and there are others. –Ed.
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