The Need For SetUp

I attended a professional conference this week at a government building.  The meeting kicked off with a few building facts, including a side comment that they had been having fire drills on a daily basis.  The participants in the audience were instructed to listen to the announcement and determine whether the fire hazard related to only specific floors or if the entire building must be evacuated.   Sure enough, several hours later an alarm sounded and floors 12 through 14 were asked to vacate the building.  Ever since 9-11 when I heard that occupants of the twin towers were advised to remain in the building and, those that followed instructions, perished, I have wondered whether or not I would listen to a nameless voice that asked me to remain inside.  I honestly don’t know how I will respond to a given an emergency, so had I not had the heads up about the fire drill, I may very well have left the premises.   

The point of this anecdote is that an advance warning was given which set the stage for a forthcoming event, something that is critical in a good novel.  If you have a cat that is about to thwart a killer by batting away the murder weapon, said cat must be introduced to the room at the beginning of the scene.  If it magically appears at the 11th hour, readers are likely to be annoyed that there was a cat in the room all along and the writer never bothered to mention its presence.   Likewise, if a long lost boyfriend is going to appear at a wedding to stop the ceremony, this event should be preceded by both the introduction of the boyfriend as a character and some indication of the bride-to- be’s feelings for the interloper.  Not only will the reader not feel cheated by the sudden turn of events, but the setup can lend itself for more story tension.

Have you ever read a book or a story where you felt cheated by the appearance of an undisclosed character?

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