Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Delayed Drop

By Shaun McCoy


You've seen this before. It's worse than a stereotype. You could even call it a trope (the dirtiest of all words):


It's a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western and some cowboy has just burst into the bar. You can hear his spurs chinking as he walks across the wooden floor boards. He confronts the bartender and asks for something to drink. It's going to be whisky. They always want whiskey.

The bartender's eyes widen, he's seen something, something important. But what? He pours the whiskey shot in silence as the camera picks up epic close-ups of the unshaven and pock-marked faces of the clientele.

As the cowboy lifts up his drink we see… the music swells… he has manacles about his wrists.


That was what Leone called a delayed drop, and that particular one has gotten more play than a Best of Queen CD.

As hesitant as I am to take conventions of one storytelling medium and place them in another, the delayed drop is perfect for writing. Leone used the narrowed perspective of a camera to achieve his delayed drops, but writers have even more freedom. We can show an epic landscape in 3D and still leave out the one important detail that will shock the reader into exuberance.

Using a delayed drop is as simple as thinking about cause and effect. The writer can create suspense, surprise, or wonder in a reader by showing the effect before the cause.

Now go ahead, you haven't seen this one before:


"I'm too old for this sh*&!t," the damsel muttered to herself before calling down from the tower in a frightened voice, "Save me! Save me!"

She could feel her room shaking from the final heartbeats of the slain dragon, each quake softer than the last, as the silver armored knight guided his white stallion to the base of her tower.

The knight removed his shiny helmet, revealing the face of an exuberant boy.

"Jeffries, is that you?" she shouted, her eyes opened wide.

"Hi mom!"


A delayed drop can spice up many a dull action scene and can be a vital tool in your storytelling. It also helps build a consistent reality in your work. One of the first things we learn as children is that events occur because of causes. The more cause and effect relationships you can create, the stronger your illusion of reality will be. If your character eats lasagna, they should get heartburn. If they eat Taco Bell… well you get the idea. Otherwise, readers will get the sneaking suspicion that things are happening for the purpose of the plot, and it's probably best we never tell them that.

1 comment:

Ginny said...

I love the new twist to the Rapunzle tale!