In keeping with my comment discussion yesterday with J.S. about false balance, a post that synthesizes some previous posts:
Pay off is what goes into the trailer, but you should spend
most of your actual screentime on set-up.
It takes a lot longer to roll the rock up the hill than it does to roll it back down
. In fact, by the time you’ve done all that setting up and paying
off, that you won’t have much time for anything else.
You can’t have “slow character scenes” and “fast plot
You have “set-up” scenes
in which tension slowly builds as the characters reveal themselves in ways that
put them in opposition, then, when the tension twists too tight, you burst into a
big plot-filled pay-off.
This can happen within one scene or over the course of
several… you can devote ten minutes of screentime to one long wind-up that ends
in a big confrontation, or you can devote that same time to six short character
interactions, set over the course of six months, that culminate in a big showdown at
the end of that sequence.
As I said here
, there is another type of slow scene other than
set-up: aftermath or “fallout” scenes, but these should mostly be avoided.
You should just skip right to the next
This is especially true for comedy.
A dialogue exchange or even a whole
scene that sets up a comedic pay-off is great: the audience will get more and
more excited as they anticipate the coming joke, then go crazy when it
But if you show the
aftermath of the joke, or let the characters discuss the punchline after it’s
been delivered, everything deflates.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is actually very unrealistic:
In real life, nobody ignores a devastating zinger or a massive pratfall, but it’s
standard in comedy, because it’s necessary in order to keep things moving at a
fast, funny clip.
be in too much of a hurry to set up the next joke.
Here’s a strange example of this principle at work: As
predicted by Network
programming now see itself primarily as entertainment
Sure enough, they
follow this rule religiously, even thought it results in terrible
About ten years ago, cable news totally transformed
Previously, the news model
had always been to tell people what happened over the course of the previous 24
But these days the networks
almost never do that.
of their airtime is devoted to speculation about what might
happen in the next
This is true for several
- Even if something only happened an hour ago, the networks
are terrified that it will be considered old news because it’s already appeared
on the internet.
- They’re even more terrified of seeming biased towards one
political party or the other, and nothing is more biased than actual facts: Either the president delivered on his promise or he
didn’t. Either the opposition
party’s prediction came true or it didn’t. (And of course, what terrifies the networks the most is the notion that both parties may be wrong.) But if all you ever talk about is what might happen, then you can be totally
even-handed: perhaps one party will
turn our right, or perhaps the other
one will. Who can say?
- But the most important reason is this: talking about the
future is far more dramatic. Since their goal is to entertain, they
have no interest in fallout (aka: the actual news). “What’s done is done,” they now say, “but the question of
what will happen next is so much more dramatically
This is a principal that makes for horrible journalism, but it
undeniably makes for great entertainment, so you should do as they do: keep the focus
on what’s going