Creative Writing Tutorials

Plants and Payoffs (also known as Setups and Payoffs) is a technique where information is given early on, then brought back later.

"If, in the first chapter, you say there is a gun hanging on the wall, you should make quite sure that it is going to be used further on in the story." - Anton Chekhov. (This can also count as suspense.)


Here are some examples of different types of plants and payoffs.


  • In Stephen King's The Shining, adjusting the pressure relief valve on the Overlook Hotel's unstable boiler is mentioned early on as one of Jack Torrence's jobs as caretaker. In the end, the unstable boiler explodes, killing Jack and allowing the family to escape his madness.
  • In Philipp Meyer's American Rust, Isaac English leaves his hometown, taking with him his father's rainy day fund of several thousand dollars. Late in the novel, the money, being Isaac's only means of escaping his miserable life and starting anew, is stolen by a drifter in whom Isaac naively places his trust, forcing him to shamefully return to his father's home after several hard weeks on the road.


  • Indiana Jones is scared by a snake early in the story (plant), then some time later has to deal with a tomb filled with them (payoff)
  • In Jaws, the protagonist accidentally sends the oxygen tanks tumbling onto the deck of the boat, and the rest of the crew reveal that those could've blown up the boat (plant). Later, he kills the shark by blowing up one of the tanks (payoff).


Ernest Hemingway said that this is not a hard rule.

Enter two broads as in Shakespeare, and they go out of the story. This is unlike what you will hear from your instructors, that if a broad comes into a story in the first paragraph, she must reappear later to justify her original presence. This is untrue, gentlemen. You may dispense with here, just as in life. It is also untrue that if a gun hangs on the wall when you open up the story, it must be fired by page fourteen. The chances are, gentelmen, that if it hangs upon the wall, it will not even shoot [...] Yes, the unfireable gun may be a symbol. That is true. But with a good enough writer, the chances are some jerk just hung it there to look at. Gentlemen, you can't be sure. Maybe he is queer for guns, or maybe an interior decorator put it there. Or both.