Friday 5 – Plant and Pay off – how to make your reader go “aha!”

I almost titled this post, How to turn your date night into research, but I realized all the different ways that could be misconstrued.

Fade in: Friday night at the Pauling house. Kids in bed. Time for pizza and a movie.

Me: I totally forgot about this movie. I must have always missed it at Red Box.

Hubbie: What is it?

Me: You’ll have to wait and see. (I’m so mysterious.)

Later, curled up on the couch, hubbie presses play.

Hubbie: Ah, we’ve seen this one.

Me: No way. It just showed up on Red Box. It must be new.

As we watched, I acknowledged that we had seen it. (Yes, I often do this.) But this time, after months of studying structure, I noticed some things worth sharing. Revelations.

Revelations from THE GHOST OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST. (A man is haunted by girlfriends from the past at his younger brother’s wedding.)

The plant and pay off that Alex Sokoloff talks about is very similar to the six flaws/problems that Blake Snyder talks about.

1. At the start, Connor (Matthew McConaughey) photographs woman in their underwear  (and he’s a jerk) and at the end he’s photographing his brother’s wedding.

2. At the start, we see an image of the empty swing set; in the middle we see the main leads (Matthew and Jennifer Garner) as kids on the swings; and at the end we see them again, with the male lead changed.

3. At the start, after choking when asking Jenny (Jennifer Garner)  to dance, his uncle picks him up in this old car and first instills the wrong idea that falling in love is not the way to go. Basically, love them and leave them. At the end, Connor uses that same car, breaking out of the garage, to track down his brother’s fiancé as she leaves the wedding. Complete turn around.

4. Somewhat at the beginning, Connor, in his selfishness, accidentally destroys the five-layer wedding cake. At the end, they show it repaired.

5. At the start, in the rehearsal dinner, Connor refuses to do the toast the next day and basically destroys the idea of marriage with his harsh words. At the end, in a moving, heart felt speech, he gives the toast to true love.

Wow. Talk about change. And because of all these plants or flaws/problems at the start; at the end, I was saying “aha”. And, of course, proceeded to share with my Hubbie the genius of the plant and pay off concept.  (He’s used to it.)

It’s not just a gimmick. It’s a tool to show the change in a character. It wouldn’t have meant as much if he’d changed jobs and became an interior decorator, or if he’d used his own car to chase down the fiancé, or if they’d bought a new cake, or if someone else had given the toast, or if the final moments were in the garden and not by the swing set.

These plants brought out symbolism, theme, and emotional power and made the movie emotional satisfying. And this concept can do the same for your story.

Have you seen this movie? It’s a tiny bit cheesy, but there were many other plants that I didn’t even mention. Worth a date night to watch.  Have you seen this concept in books or movie done well?

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28 Responses to Friday 5 – Plant and Pay off – how to make your reader go “aha!”

  1. anne gallagher March 11, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Haven’t seen the movie but have used the technicque. It’s great if you can remember where you put all the plants so you can hit a big pay-off at the end. (I forget things quickly.)

  2. Stina Lindenblatt March 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I haven’t seen the movie.

    I did this in the book I’m querying. There are a number of connections between what happens in the first pages to the final chapter.

    Great post as always, Laura. 😀

  3. Kris March 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I love this technique–always sort of gives me the chills. 🙂

  4. Anna March 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I did see this movie and you’re right that it was a bit cheesy, but it really does show the set-up and pay-off concept really well. I love stories that do that; they’re just so satisfying.

    • Laura March 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Anne – I’m sure with all the rereading – you’ll catch them!

      Stina – It took me a while thought to realize that it’s more than just foreshadowing or coming full circle but actually using certain settings or actions or object. I’m a slow learner.

      Kris – I love it in movies esp.!

      Anna – It was cheesy but I still loved it because the emotional arc was so great!

  5. Jennifer Hoffine March 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Great examples! And a good reason to re-watch movies and re-read books!

    I think the line between cheesy and effective comes in how blatant the examples are. I didn’t notice half of these during my one watching of this movie, but they were probably still satisfying to me on a subconscious level.

    And, I’ll admit, that I’m sappy enough to find them satisfying even when they are more obvious/cheesy.

  6. Patti Nielson March 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I do notice that technique a lot in romantic comedies. I think it’s more subtle in novels.

    • Laura March 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

      Jennifer – Me too. Satisfying enough that I didn’t care. The emotion was so well done!

      Patti – They can be subtle in novels but why not add them in if they’ll help with the emotional arc – without your reader even knowing why?

  7. Laura Marcella March 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    I haven’t seen this movie, but I like this technique!

  8. Lisa Green March 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    Haven’t seen it, but I’m VERY impressed that you noticed all of that! Especially the car. I tend to get rather caught up in the movie.. I’ll have to start analyzing movies as I watch them too.

  9. Tana Adams March 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    I’m going to have to evaluate the symbolism in my new WIP. Great stuff here.

  10. Cindy R. Wilson March 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    I haven’t seen this movie, but I totally agree we can learn a lot from films, even cheesy ones.

    I’ve used this technique before but I always have to intentionally remind myself about it, and I really want those realizations in the end to come off natural but moving. Thanks for the reminder–and I’d love to work on it more in my upcoming novels 🙂

    • Laura March 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

      cindy – A lot of things I have to intentionally go back during rewrites and add in – theme and symbolism def. falls into that category.

      Tana – Thanks!

      Lisa – Maybe because I’d seen the movie before? I was able to notice these things.

      Laura – if you like rom coms it was a great movie.

  11. Sherrie Petersen March 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I haven’t seen this movie, but I do love the plant and payoff. It helps make everything complete.

  12. angela ackerman March 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    I haven’t seen this movie, but I have to say that the writing is brilliant to use these symbols to show a transformation of character growth and thought processes. Thanks for sharing what you learned!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. Ansha Kotyk March 11, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I’m a sucker for the plant. any movie or book that manages it well is one that I adore. When I outline my stories I always try to find ways to place the plant and reveal the change at the end…It makes me feel smart. 🙂

  14. Lydia K March 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I haven’t seen the movie but I think about character arcs like these. I think mine need to be a little stronger.
    Have a great weekend!

  15. Margo March 11, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Laura, you’ve done it again. I am picking up so much good stuff from your blog! And I LOVE your alternative post title 🙂

    Saving this post in my collection of “most worthy writing articles”

  16. Carolina Valdez Miller March 12, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Definitely a bit cheesy! The dialogue could’ve used a little work, for sure. But love the breakdown of the plant-and-payoff. This is one of the things we were taught in Creative Writing. I think I do it now, although I’m not sure I do it on a conscious level. I will now, though! Great stuff here, Laura.

  17. Jemi Fraser March 12, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Nothing wrong with a good cheesy movie! I haven’t seen this one yet, but I will 🙂

  18. christine danek March 12, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    I haven’t seen this movie, but I’ve see the concept done. This is a great post Laura. Thanks.

  19. Terri Tffany March 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    I did see this movie and I love this concept as I’ve never heard it said this way. Thank you!

  20. Patti Mallett March 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Having never heard of the terms Plant and Payoff, I’m intrigued. As I watch “Rudy” again today I will have pen and paper in hand to note these things as they show up. Thanks, Laura, for the super examples and pointers!

  21. Dawn Simon March 13, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I like it when I see that type of thing in a book or movie. Very cool. 🙂

  22. Julie Musil March 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    I learn something new every day. I’ve never heard of plant and pay off! Now I’ll look for it in movies. I saw this movie and loved it. I’m a big fan of cheesy chick flicks.

  23. Jennifer Lane March 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    Thanks for the insightful post! Movies are very inspiring to me as a writer. I like to use a similar setting for the first and last chapter (like meeting with a parole officer) but these are some good ideas to strengthen the punch of the characters’ development.

  24. Susan Kaye Quinn March 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I love this concept! Symbolism carries such power. (also: catching up on reading your blogs! )

  25. Tara March 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Haven’t seen the movie, but it sounds like they did a great job with the plants. I worked hard to make sure all my plants were in place for the novel I’m about to query.

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