Posts Tagged ‘payoff’

Watch Out!! Something May Happen…!

October 4th, 2010 Comments off

There’s a lot of press being generated these days about a vague terrorist threat dealing with Europe. The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert today involving Europe, especially Germany, England and France, and, without offering any greater details, suggested U.S. citizens abroad check in with their local embassies, avoid large public gatherings and avoid discussing their plans in public. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I feel safer already… (Not.) Late in the afternoon I heard a tiny bit of  ‘detail’ provided by the State Department, which hinted that Americans in Europe should “avoid public transportation.” Great – there goes the budget!!

Frankly, what the press and media in general are doing is the same thing a good screenwriter does: setting a strong tone to their story. In the case of the current warnings, the tone is clear: foreboding. It’s a potent tone, and TV, the internet and radio have run with it – whether or not it really means anything. Foreboding is a great for a story, but it presents a problem: once you’ve scared the audience, where do you go from there? “Keep being scared,” you instruct the crowd sitting in the dark watching your story – by increasing the risks its characters face – until its ‘payoff.’ In a dramatic story, if there is no dramatic payoff, the audience will be disappointed. In a ‘real’ story, if there is no dramatic ‘payoff,’ we are relieved.

So life is mirroring art these days – replete with ‘terrorist chatter,’ drone attacks and intelligence warnings. And in an election year, no less. It’s the stuff of great drama – but manipulative real life.

Let’s hope that the current atmosphere of dread passes soon – but it should offer a solid example of how important tone and mood are to a story. True, dread, foreboding and wariness aren’t the most fun of moods to set – but they force folks to pay attention, don’t they? And for that reason, they are valuable (and manipulative) weapons in your arsenal as a writer…