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From ‘The Road from Setup to Payoff’ by Karen Barr, (Writers Village University, MFA 250-261 Story Focus series based on the book by Lisa Cron)

One of our most hardwired expectations is that anything that reads like the beginning of a new pattern—that is a setup—will in fact, be a setup, with a corresponding payoff.
A setup is a fact, an act, a person, an event—something that implies future action. (It is) a piece of information the reader needs well in advance of the payoff so the payoff will be believable.
To the reader, everything in a story is either a setup, a payoff, or the road in between.
Setups, when done well, read like fate.

From the student’s private notes.
Setups contain both clues and red herrings.

*
It was a dark and stormy night
A diversity (clue or red herring) gothic screenplay

By
Joy Manné

Cast:
the Countess von Ravensblakk (East European) – Weird Owner
Growly (English, of course) – the Butler
Norbert E. Temple (American) – Architect
Burly Dwarf (Caucasian) – Camera Man
Tyke Mison (black) – Director
Producer (race: none of the above) – in wheelchair
Woman (none of the above and different from the Producer) – in Red-high-heels
Gorilla (Africa) – in frock coat
Thin man who looks like David Niven (obvious) – Thin man who looks like David Niven


ACT I.

Scene 1.

It is a dark and stormy night.

The rain falls in torrents except when a violent gust of wind hurls it in face-stinging spray. 

Lightning flashes, illuminating a man’s face in the attic window of a turreted mansion built in American Gothic style for Malcolm Nudgeridge III by the Chicago architect Norbert E. Temple.

It is the last mansion Temple built before his sudden disappearance.

Someone’s hiding or imprisoned.



Scene 2.

Lightning flashes again.

This time it illuminates the wrinkled face of an elderly woman with disordered grey hair, peering out of a ground floor window.

‘I am the Countess von Ravensblakk,’ she says, as if to remind herself.

Is that her real name?

Thunder rolls.

Behind the woman, a growly voice says, ‘I hear the car, Modom.’

‘Madam, Growly!’ the elderly woman snarls. ‘I said you were to call me Madam not Modom.’

If there’s a butler, he must have done it (or not).
And, what is their relationship?
Did the butler help her kill the Count von Ravensblakk—if indeed he is dead? 



Scene 3

Lightning flashes yet again.
The face in the attic has disappeared.
It must be found.



Scene 4

Lightning makes sparks fly off the gleaming mirror-surface of a crimson limousine, its headlights almost drowned by the pouring rain.
Have they lost their way?
Who are ‘they’?



Scene 5

The limousine halts at the bottom of the front steps in a shrieking peacock’s tail of skidded gravel, its headlights flashing like disco lights.

Above the sound of a loudspeaker playing punk, a voice shouts ‘We’re here.’

They have not lost their way.

‘We can hear and see that,’ rasps Modom’s raspy voice.

[‘Madam,’ Modom reminds the author in a voice full of menace. ‘Call me ”Madam’ or you may not tell my story.’]

Is the author a character in this drama?

Madam complains to Growly, ‘What I only have to do to keep this old mansion that has been in my family for centuries repaired, Growly!’

The Countess yearns to keep the mansion.

‘Decades, perhaps, Modom. Not Centuries,’ Growly growls.

Does the butler know all the family secrets?



ACT II

Scene 1

Growly opens the front door warily and wearily. He presses the releaser-button of a black umbrella eight feet in diameter as he thrusts it out of the doorway. The umbrella bursts open, sounding like a gunshot.

A thin man with a fine-line moustache—

Someone’s gotta look like David Niven—

But is he a good guy or a bad guy as well as a smooth guy?


—has a foot out of the door of the limousine. He hears a gunshot and, fast as a bullet, retreats his foot and slams the door. It too sounds like a gunshot.

Growly raises the hand that doesn’t hold the umbrella.

[Author. This could go on at least three times, to suit the director.]

At last the foot belonging to the man who looks like David Niven touches the ground and he steps out of the limousine. A rainbow coloured golf umbrella with the name of a famous golf course on it thrusts out of the passenger door like a sword and opens in a flash with a menacing click-whoosh and the opening notes of the Ride of the Valkyries (by Wagner).

This umbrella does not hide a sword, but Growly’s may, or it may hide something worse.

Growly peers to see who else is in the limo.

As the disco lights refract from the sheets of solid rain, Growly’s gaze cannot penetrate the limo windows.

‘Where’s the money?’ Growly shouts at the thin man. ‘No entry without money.’

‘You are vulgaire, Growly,’ the Countess von Ravensblakk says, sighs, and then hisses, ‘But unfortunately you are necessaire.’

She is French? She is Russian? She is …?

[Author. This is not My Fair Lady.]


In the dim flickering candlelight coming from within the mansion, the thin man sees a blunderbuss in Growly’s hands. Growly has transformed his umbrella with one click—a silent one this time.

By Chekhov’s Law, the gun must be fired before the end of the drama.

The thin man holds his hands up above his head. In each is a pale green money bag labeled with a $ sign in deeper green.

‘Bring them here. Put them down,’ Growly growls.

Are the notes numbered? Is there a microchip in each bag?



Scene 2

The thin man wades through the turbulent streams that are now removing the gravel from the gravel path and carrying it downstream.

The mansion stands on a hill.

[Author. ‘Removing’ is irony: streams cannot remove. Hence it is a metaphor. Also, it is sinister: gangsters remove their enemies. See Lesson on Subtext.]


He mounts the stairs to the wooden front door which has been blackened to prove its great age.

He places the moneybags just within the doorway.

Growly kicks them further inside and shuts the door with the kind of thud that shows it is not real oak.

Is it a real mansion?

The thin man’s moustache twitches nervously as he strokes a hard L-shaped outline in his jacket pocket.

Is he armed?
Is it a gun?
Is it a real gun?
What else could a hard L-shaped outline in a man’s jacket be?


Scene 3

Growly opens the door. ‘You get thirty minutes,’ he says. ‘Not a second more.’

What’s the deal?

‘All the way to the attic?’ The thin man asks.

‘All the way,’ Growly says, ‘but don’t force open locked doors.’

Someone or something is hidden behind a locked door.

‘Cameras,’ the thin man shouts. ‘Action.’

Have they hired the mansion as a film set?



Scene 4

The various doors of the limousine burst open.

Burly Dwarf, the cameraman, bounces out in his unique burly fashion. His clothes are burly too.

Tyke Mison, the director leaps out athletically. He has an uncanny resemblance to a famous boxer.

The producer rolls out in an orange wheelchair which has its own umbrella.

Is it a real umbrella?

‘We’ve observed diversity,’ the thin man shouts as he leads the way into the mansion.

Diversity takes its rightful place.

[Author: They won’t film anything unless there’s diversity these days.]


‘No you haven’t.’ Countess von Ravensblakk says. ‘Where’s the real woman?’ Her voice is so cold it turns the rain to sleet.

Diversity doesn’t take its rightful place.

Plus, she is a dangerous woman.


‘I had my sex changed,’ Tyke Mison shouts as he and the film crew push past Countess von Ravensblakk. ‘I’m an ex-broad.’

No one is who they seem to be.

The Woman in Red high heels and the Gorilla in a frock coat emerge from the limousine and run in to the mansion.

‘I am a lesbian,’ the woman shouts.

‘I am not,’ the Gorilla shouts gayly.

The Gorilla is not what he seems to be.

The wheelchair rolls up the stairs, two at a time.

‘You have already used five minutes,’ A metallic voice announces.

Is this an electronically controlled mansion?

Are there traps, like collapsing staircases? Doors that open to a five-story drop?

Who is the Woman in the Red High Heels?

What colour is the Gorilla’s frock?

[Author’s personal reminder. Ooops. This belongs in the Lesson in Description. Take out.]



Scene 5

Growly throws open the door to a bedroom dense with spiderwebs.

The door comes off its hinges and flies across the room.

The film crew rushes in.

They haven’t noticed the flying door.

The Gorilla in a frock coat runs a bath for the Woman in Red High Heels.

The bath runs over.

Fulfilling the contract. Oops, this should be in the lesson on Your deal with the Reader.

‘You’ve had 23 minutes,’ the metallic voice computer-speaks. ‘Only seven to go.’

What will happen to them in seven minutes time?

‘The attic! The attic!’ yells the man in the wheelchair. He leaps out of it and bounds up the stairs at least three at a time.

He doesn’t need his wheelchair.

He, too, isn’t who he seems to be.


The wheelchair follows him.

The wheelchair isn’t what it seems to be either.

And don’t forget the face in the attic.



Scene 6

Countess von Ravensblakk and Growly slip into an elevator concealed in a pot holding an immense potted cycad, a direct sibling of the Encephalartos altensteninii cycad collected in the early 1770s from the Eastern Cape in South Africa by Kew's first plant hunter, Frances Masson, that grows in Kew Garden’s Palm Mansion.

No one notices.

The baddies are on the way.

‘At last, the attic,’ the Thin Man says, reaching a locked door at the top of five flights of stairs. ‘Now let’s find Temple. We’ve searched the other thirty-five rooms. He must be in the attic.’

Remember the disappearance of Temple?

‘I’m here. I’m here.’ A man’s voice comes from behind a double-lined maroon velvet curtain.

[Author. He is not the Wizard of Oz.]

The Gorilla tears down the curtain.

Behind it is a door.

‘Oak,’ Tike Myson, the ex-broad, says. ‘At least a hundred years old. And the tree it came from was two centuries old and a hundred feet in diameter. I know because my grandmother was a maidservant in this mansion when I was a girl.’

Myson punches the door. The lock explodes with a firework display.

The door and the lock are props made of cardboard.

The team surges into the room.



ACT III

Scene 1

A skeleton with a microphone in its hand stands dead-still on a black marble plinth.

On the plinth is a bronze plaque with TEMPLE engraved into it.

Payoff, payoff, payoff. Ooops. I’m not supposed to tell you this.

The film crew dash up to it.

Behind them a metal door slides across, screeching like claws scratching down hard on a very long black slate blackboard or the scream of a frightened ghost.



Scene 2

‘Gotta keep a legend alive,’ rasps the Countess von Ravensblakk to Growly in her nasty raspy voice. ‘Next appointment in a month.’

Real Gothic baddies.
Potential sequel: Will the next limousine contain more suckers or will they catch out the Countess and Growly?
(Author: This is not important as long as the audience is having fun. Chances are they won’t understand anyway. Keep ’em laughing. Keep ’em wondering. Keep ‘em confused)


‘What shall I do with the car, Modom,’ Growly says.

‘Madam,’ Countess von Ravensblakk snarls. ‘I said you were to call me Madam, not Modom.’

‘Madam.’

Thank you, Growly.’

The rain stops. The disco lights make sensual patterns against the ancient forest that surrounds the mansion.

Countess von Ravensblakk rips off her grey wig and shakes out her floor-length raven-black hair.

‘The rain’s stopped. The disco lights make me wild,’ she growls in a husky voice.

She rips off her mask.

Ah, she’s the famous actress, Carion M’rane

She rips open the Velcro on her old-fashioned clothes, revealing …

[The author will leave that to the reader’s imagination …]

‘The music’s groovy, Growly,’ she growls – no, she snarls– no, she’s trying to purr. ‘Let’s have a party.’

The actress who played the Countess von Ravensblakk grabs a mike and sings, ‘Send to the store. Let’s buy some more. Let’s have a party tonight.’

Growly rips off his wig, eyebrows, over-clothes …

An Elvis impersonator or the real Elvis?

The man who played Growly bows.

‘Before we rock,’ the woman who was the Countess von Ravensblakk says, ‘roll the limo into the lake with all the others, will ya, Growly.’

It turns out his real name is Growly and he is a famous magician playing his first role in cinema.



THE END

The Student will now read through this story marking all the setups and payoffs.
The student will mark clues and red herrings.
All students will hand in their coursework by



AAAARGHHHH
AAAARGHHHH
AAAARGHHHH

The student would have been grateful to the teacher for encouragement, intelligent suggestions, and especially for recognising that there was a story worth telling, but this is authentic gothic horror.

Teacher: I could not allow my best student to survive.

THE END

OR NOT QUITE


About the teacher

Teacher: Karen’s short stories have appeared in various online literary magazines in the U.S. and the UK.

Student: Please name at least 3. Teachers must inspire students. Teachers need not be modest and may boast

Teacher: But the teacher has less publishing experience than the student.

Student: is not convinced. Never mind. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Teacher: Karen has developed a number of MFA courses and classes for Writer’s Village University where she is currently working on her 3-year MFA and serves as Administrative Assistant and Staff Adviser.

Student: (silent in awe).

About the Student

Joy Manné’s flash fiction flashes in print (Lakeview Literary, 100 Voices, Sleep is a Beautiful Colour, the UK National Flash Fiction Day collection 2017) and online (Pygmy Giant, Cafe Aphra, Chicago Literati). Joy won the Writer’s Forum first Flash Fiction competition and the Geneva Writers Group 2015 prize for Memoir.
PS. Teacher says I’m an experimental writer but I’m just another eccentric English woman and of an unrestrained age.


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by

Brigitte Whiting

Last spring, a wild turkey hen incubated her eggs for twenty-eight days. When they hatched, she scrambled to keep up with them. Poults to scientific literature. Babies to her. She didn't need to teach them to scratch for bugs—they came with that instinct. Nighttimes during their first four weeks, ...

Read more: Seasons in a Wild Turkey Hen's Life

 

 

 

Lesson in Subtext

by

Joy Manné and Karen Barr

Roles

Teacher – Karen Barr

Student – Joy Manné

Teacher

WELCOME TO WEEK 8 OF SUBTEXT.

There is no word count, but the challenge is to get all ten types of subtext in as few words as possible. Here they are:

Show don’t...

Read more: Lesson in Subtext

 

 

 

Teenage Escape Plan

by

Danielle Dayney

I woke to warm, gooey air smothering me even though the ceiling fan was spinning on high. Dangling lightpulls smacked and banged the glass globe with each rotation of the blades. The base of the fan swayed and groaned, ready to jump from its screws in the drywall any second.

...

Read more: Teenage Escape Plan

 

 

 

Miracle Baby

by

Harry C. Hobbs

The mother and father watched as the sun rose on a cold morning in February 1945, wondering if their four-month-old son had lived through the night. Could miracles really happen? Perhaps this child they had wanted so badly wanted wasn’t meant to survive. His mother was a month past her...

Read more: Miracle Baby

 

 

 

Ylva the Úlfr

by

Cynthia Reed

When I flew to California in September, the golden archipelago summer, verdant below and mazarine above, still held sway. Twenty-three days and eleven thousand two hundred and forty miles later, if you’d sat here with me on the back deck this afternoon--you’d know, too--autumn now envelopes Sweden in...

Read more: Ylva the Úlfr

 

 

 

Late Summer

by

Debbie Noland

The winner of the April 2019 Poetry Contest!

  
Summer gasps its last hot breaths,
panting...

Read more: Late Summer

 

 

 

Teenage Turmoil - (Aged 16)

by

Miss Natalie Sackstein.

Part of the series: #1 THREE AGES OF WOMAN

TEENAGE TURMOIL
by (Aged 16)

My mind is but...

Read more: Teenage Turmoil - (Aged 16)

 

 

 

Frustration - (Aged 28)

by

Mrs. Natalie Liknaitzky

Part of the series: #2 THREE AGES OF WOMAN


FRUSTRATION
BY (Aged 28)

Creation stifled. Each...

Read more: Frustration - (Aged 28)

 

 

 

Multipotentailite - (Aged 80)

by

Natalie Knight

Part of the series: #3 THREE AGES OF WOMAN.

MULTIPOTENTAILITE
(Inspired by Lydia Davis to write...

Read more: Multipotentailite - (Aged 80)

 

 

 

By Late Winter

by

Brigitte Whiting


My unfinished deck waits beneath two feet of snow.
The driveway is one long strip of ice,
and...

Read more: By Late Winter

 

 

 

Joy Crawls Out Of Her Bag

by

Louise Sawyer




In memoriam of Joy, my animal companion, who died January 9, 2018.

Joy crawls out of her sleeping bag,
...

Read more: Joy Crawls Out Of Her Bag

 

 

 

Cyber Sisters

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs

we meet in online classes,
strangers in cyber space,
we share
a love of poetry,
a desire...

Read more: Cyber Sisters

 

 

 

Winter Ballet

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs




snowflakes swirl in a dance
hurl themselves against the window
pine trees rock branches to and fro,
gently, then furiously
...

Read more: Winter Ballet

 

 

 

Computers and Catspeak

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs


I move the mouse
over the pad
type in password

mouse?
did I hear the word mouse?
where...

Read more: Computers and Catspeak

 

 

 

A Soldier’s Letter Home – A Found Poem

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs



Based on letters by Private George Walker, written June 12, 1918-July 17, 1918

I got your letter just about lights...

Read more: A Soldier’s Letter Home – A Found Poem

 

 

 

Ottawa Reverie

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs



As I leaf through my manuscript of Ottawa poems, “In the Shadow of the Tower,” I decide to check...

Read more: Ottawa Reverie

 

 

 

The Room

by

rolly




I hear little drips the leaky faucet makes
amid violent silence of the passing night

how I long for that...

Read more: The Room

 

 

 

Speedy, My Reptilian Twin

by

Lina Sophia Rossi




The house seems different, quiet and empty
despite being filled with people, cats, and dogs.
No longer swishing or pitter-patter,
...

Read more: Speedy, My Reptilian Twin

 

 

 

Metaphorically Speaking

by

Lina Sophia Rossi




They say life is like a bowl of cherries
sweet, juicy, tasty. Watch out for the pits.
Isn’t that what...

Read more: Metaphorically Speaking

 

 

 

Ligature Ideations

by

Lina Sophia Rossi




From the doorjamb, staff had to cut her down,
now she was an amorphous, lifeless mound,
large form lying on...

Read more: Ligature Ideations

 

 

 

Never Sober, Always Arguing

by

Lina Sophia Rossi




Arguing chips away at my soul.
How can I feel half, when part of a whole?
Drink yet another beer, ...

Read more: Never Sober, Always Arguing

 

 

 

Your Call to Say Hi, Gone to Hell

by

Lina Sophia Rossi




Why call, then yell I interrupted?
To talk to you, gives me great displeasure.
My personal peace has been disrupted.
...

Read more: Your Call to Say Hi, Gone to Hell

 

 

 

Waiting for the Rain

by

Helen Rossiter



Mavis Bone with her face as crinkled as a brown paper bag sits quiet and still in the ancestor’s rocker, ...

Read more: Waiting for the Rain

 

 

 

Christmas Birds

by

Debbie Noland



Just above the power lines
that stretch along the road, the birds
on Christmas morning swarm, and then

at some...

Read more: Christmas Birds

 

 

 

Stragglers

by

Debbie Noland



Two pelicans left in the cove
this brisk November afternoon
must surely know it’s time to leave.

The dock marina...

Read more: Stragglers

 

 

 

San Luis Valley Sunshine

by

Frankie Colton




Summer sky azure
Thunderheads billow rain falls
Warm sunshine-filled days

Golden leaves falling
Fall breeze whispers winter comes
Crisp morning...

Read more: San Luis Valley Sunshine

 

 

 

Bathroom Ekphrastic

by

Debbie Noland



It’s dank and dark and dingy
in the old cabin bathroom.
The narrow steps stretch downward
with their cold, metal...

Read more: Bathroom Ekphrastic

 

 

 

Ice-Breaking Revisited

by

Christina Huizar



I met my love – my love was fair
His most chance word fascinating
His every move a mystery
I...

Read more: Ice-Breaking Revisited

 

 

 

Boardwalk Stroll – A Prose Poem

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs (Glennis Hobbs)

My morning stroll leads me to the east end of Flinty’s Boardwalk by Del’s Cairn. A replica of ...

Read more: Boardwalk Stroll – A Prose Poem

 

 

 

Adventuring — An Unrhymed Heroic Couplet

by

Brigitte Whiting




I've been where no red squirr'l has gone before,
toheights and depths, despair. Until an opened...

Read more: Adventuring — An Unrhymed Heroic Couplet

 

 

 

Ode To A Poem

by

Glenda Walker-Hobbs (Glennis Hobbs)

you start as a blank screen
or a sheet of pristine paper,
words elude me, then
tantalize, taunt...

Read more: Ode To A Poem

 

 

 

The People’s Princess ~An Elegy

by

Louise Sawyer

There was a day never forgotten
When the world, including me, watched from afar
the fairytale wedding of...

Read more: The People’s Princess ~An Elegy

 

 

 

Crystalized Fog ~a Pastoral Poem

by

Gerardine Gail Baugh

Of cold air hitting a warmer ground
Yesterday ended in a rising fog
Or was it the other...

Read more: Crystalized Fog ~a Pastoral Poem

 

 

 

Elegy for Judy

by

Gerardine Gail Baugh


I try to hear her voice; its sound has faded.
I see her hair, shining dark, brushing her...

Read more: Elegy for Judy

 

 

 

Portrait of Solitude

by

Albert Orejuela

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Break Time

by

RJ Hembree

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Colors

by

Maggie Fieland

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Wild Horses with the Snow Covered Mountains

by

RJ Hembree

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Color Cubes

by

Maggie Fieland

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Rest

by

Albert Orejuela

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Camera Smile

by

RJ Hembree

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To Relax Wild Horses Before a Photo Shoot, I Find it Helpful to Tell a Couple of Jokes

by

RJ Hembree

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First Step

by

Karen Barr

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Orchid Alone

by

Albert Orejuela

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Veg 2

by

Maggie Fieland

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All Along the Watchtower

by

RJ Hembree

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Ham

by

Karen Barr

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Winter

by

Maggie Fieland

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Backlit Great White Egret

by

RJ Hembree

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White Lightning

by

Karen Barr

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Wild Horses

by

RJ Hembree

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Cow Gossip

by

Karen Barr

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Cooper's Town

by

Albert Orejuela

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Along with the Sandhill Cranes, American Wigeons Filled the Sky

by

RJ Hembree

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Aleyne Desert

by

Maggie Fieland

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A Favorite Fishing Spot for the Ospreys

by

RJ Hembree

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Wearing a Coating of Ice

by

Gerardine (Gail) Baugh

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Long Way 'Til Spring

by

Brigitte Whiting

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