Monday, March 23, 2009

set-up

set-up--a strategy for initiating a dramatic event; a means of introducing a character with a particular attitude, skill, or defect into a story; establishing a set of circumstances either beneficial or hostile to a character's goals and welfare.

Characters rarely go where they should or take up with individuals who are likely associates or lovers; persons in real life may do such things to a significant degree, but not in drama or fiction. Set-up is the generic name for an elaborate foreshadowing or dramatic description of a physical or emotional landscape; set-up is background that will be of interest to the reader (because the reader can begin to see the complications and inherent traps for the characters.

Set-up is dramatic, situational, tense if not suspenseful. A high-energy character wanting to take her boyfriend home to meet parents and relatives is such a set-up, the very mention of it causes the reader to envision older brothers who have no sense of humor and who shake hands as though they mean to hurt fingers of anyone unlucky enough to shake hands with them. Set-up is nearly concept, bordering on wanting to be story, certainly an added energy to one or more scenes. Set-up legitimatizes consequences, a warning that the protagonist either should have known better or had no choice.

Set-up is analogous to setting a trap for a major character, allowing the reader to see how he or she behaves, how he or she is regarded by others. Neil Simon claims not to have known on a conscious level what the consequences of having a character named Felix Unger would be, nevertheless having such a character with such a name allows Simon to cause Felix Unger to leave a scolding note for his roommate, signed with his initials, FU, thus another way in which Felix Unger worked as a set-up.

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