On Writing & Publishing by Robin D. Owens

Personal notes on writing techniques, writing a novel, my writing career and threading your way through publishing a book.

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Location: Denver, United States

RITA Award Winning Author -- that's like the Oscar, folks! Futuristic/Fantasy Romance and Fantasy with Romantic Subplots.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Payoffs and a slice of life

If you only want Writing info go directly to Payoffs. I don't know if you all want to hear much about my life or not, so I'll probably keep it at a minimum. Actually, I don't have much of a life right now outside writing and dayjob. Anyway, there was another dead mouse today in my office. Enough to give me the jitters because it was unexpected, as always, and Diva gets so snotty when I don't admire her gifts. At least it wasn't in the dim (shutters against the sun, I don't have a/c) living room where I stepped on it barefoot. I've done that before, too. Ick.

Anyway, now that I've totally grossed you out, I'll talk about Payoffs.


A payoff is when you leave a thread dangling in the first part of the story (a set-up) that you need to wrap up later. I have a friend who keeps a list of her payoffs, but I usually do my usual "write in the margin 'pay off later'" or insert a comment in the computer ms. or even my ** which I use to tell myself I have something to revise.

In HeartMate and Heart Thief, I tried hard to cover all my payoffs. In Heart Duel, I deliberately left a major thread hanging, and since the Lladrana series covers several books, I've left a few hanging there, too.

Readers expect payoffs, and when an item or clue or plot point is mentioned, many like to take mental notes and see how the author DOES pay the item off. For instance, the standard "Bob died but his body wasn't found." Doesn't that set off all the alarm bells in your head ringing? Don't you expect Bob to show up later?

In Guardian of Honor, I have Bastien feel like someone was watching him - I later pay this off by introducing Sinafin (the shape shifting fairy) who is very interested in him and my heroine, Alexa -which is a tip-off that readers will note, too. "Hmmm Sinafin is Alexa's companion and she's interested in Bastien..." One of the things I most regret about Guardian is that I added an integral thread after the draft was done and since I was hurrying at the time and not reading
it straight through, I put in a problem and hinted at the solution together in one scene (this is natural to do - oh, Susie needs to get a clue from Jake later in the book - oh, here's Jake right now).

So I have a problem/hint at solution which I thought was too easy. In my defense, I was requested to turn around the copy edits of Guardian in 3 business days, and I did so, but there are bits I WOULD change.

One of the things I left hanging in Guardian (that I've only heard about from one person) is an "atom-ball" walnut. It falls to the floor in the first chapter of Guardian and you never see it again. OF COURSE it shows up in a major way in Sorceress of Faith - and yes I left threads
dangling in Sorceress, too.

I recently read a book by one of my favorite authors, and it drove me crazy. At the end, I totalled up about seven questions that I had that weren't explained, something the author set up and didn't TIE UP in the end. Since this author writes single title, I don't anticipate the next book to have anything to do with this one. So, as a reader, I am disappointed in this book and the author. Ok, I don't mind silly plots if the characters are captivating enough, but you darn well better payoff all your set-ups.

Very busy day, critique group is at my house (thus the cleansing of the office) and a get-together tonight (can't say more 'cause it's a surprise and I don't know if you-probably-don't-know-who reads this blog).

Love to all,


Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm wondering, since you seem like an intuitive writer as well, do your dangling threads happen without your meaning them to? Mine do all the time, and it always takes a few revisions to figure out what they all mean...

I rarely delete them though; about 99 percent of them end up meaning something in the end...

8:10 AM  
Blogger moonhart said...

Dear nice Robin,

Perhaps one reason why only one reader called you on the dangling thread atom-walnut, is because your readers instinctively trust you to explain it at some later time.

Maybe YOU are the Sorceress of Faith.



8:16 AM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Unintentional setups happen all the time to writers, as if our subconscious is taking care of our stories and us -- maybe it's a Muse thing.

I wrote the scene, the atom-ball fell on the floor, and I wondered what could be done with it. As I wrote the story, ideas played in my mind about giving it to Alexa or Sinafin picking it up (which she did -- but what did she do with it?) but when I really started thinking about Sorceress I knew exactly what must happen to it.

Sometimes my dangling threads are deliberate, sometimes not.


1:06 PM  
Anonymous Danica/Dream said...

Hi Robin, I keep meaning to stop in and say hi since you've mentioned your blog a couple of times on the loops. I love your blog and site, lots of great info. The payoff stuff is really interesting, I never had a name for it before. :)

In case you don't remember me, I'm from CRW, from Sharon's other critique group. Also a host on eharlequin, but I'm not sure we've met there since I'm in a different area, although Sharon may have introduced me to you as such.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Hey, Danica, yes Sharon often mentioned you, and, you know, she's the one that keeps a list of her payoffs...


8:58 AM  

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