For a few weeks now I’ve been talking about the difference between what an author knows is coming and what a reader can’t possibly been expected to know. This week, I took full advantage of knowing this is a book that’ll be finished, and included conversations that don’t really make sense on their own and wouldn’t work well in a finished product. I’d say “please bear with me” but I’ve taken a needlessly apologetic tone when it comes to my own writing which I feel only accidentally invites more nitpicks, so instead I’ll say, if you like the story you’ll know there will be a payoff. If you don’t, oh well, I appreciate you giving it a chance.
When doing setups and callbacks in stories, I like to categorize them into two uses – toyboxes and promises. There are likely technical terms for these, but I don’t know them, so I just use these shorthands. A toybox is just a mental idea of what I have already introduced in the story, and what I can “play” with in the scene. For example, there are throwaway lines about the characters’ pets in previous chapters, and both of the pets happened to appear in this chapter. Some authors think that if you introduce something into a story, you have to reincorporate it later, but I don’t like the idea of “having to” do anything. I just happened to reincorporate them because it felt nice. So, from the moment I mention Nuo for the first time, her mere inclusion is a toy in the toybox. If I want to include her, I can, because I already introduced her.
A promise is something that is communicated with the express purpose of payoff at a later point. Morgan’s clear outburst at the end of this chapter is a promise. So was Megan spying on Adam and Nicole in Being More Social. They’re announced with either such weight or such clear changes in stakes, or even with such specificity, that it would be weird to never mention them again. It would be less weird to not mention the pets again. No one was sending me angry emails demanding I bring back Cheesecake. You may not enjoy the tension of a promise, or maybe you don’t even care about the drama and rolled your eyes at Morgan’s outburst. No matter what, it needs to be addressed later for the sake of the story.
These aren’t binary values either. The drum room from Being More Social is both a toy and a kind of promise. It was so out-of-nowhere that not reincorporating it would have been weird (which was interesting, since I did a blog post on the drum room and how I never intended to reincorporate it. That was the universe saving me from being a bad writer). At the same time, it was just a thing that was established at this party that I could play around with.
Again, these aren’t hard defintions, these are just the ways I like to think about what I introduce into stories. Every story written will have an endless amount of toys, and those toys can create endless possibilities for fleshing out a story. Plus, people like reincorporation. They like being rewarded for paying attention. There are posts upon posts, both on the community page of my Patreon and forums of past websites I used, that try to determine the time period where my stories take place. Time itself, through reference, is used as a toy. Isn’t that neat?
Do you need to apply these themes into your writing? Of course not. Write how you like. But if you’re a writer and like the idea of reincorporation, I hope these ideas are intriguing to you. I’ll talk to you all next week. Enjoy the chapter.