Here are some tips for satisfying story payoffs:
- allude to, and resolve--one way or another--the story's major conflict. Notice this means your story must have a major conflict. Actually, this also means your protagonist must have a goal and motivation (and the reader needs to know these). The conflict is what stops him/her from achieving this goal.
- are a consequence of the protagonist's actions. Notice this means your protagonist must act. Note, too, the protag can succeed or fail, but it must be because of what he/she does.
- are integrated with the story elements. All the parts of the story should be intertwined, should mesh together. Even surprise endings should utilize story elements--they're a surprise because they alter our perception of existing elements.
- evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. I admit this is tricky. The idea here is readers become the characters when reading fiction. Authors want the reader to empathize with the characters, to feel what they feel, and to understand them.
- speaks to the beginning. I like to look at my first page and my last page, and make sure they have some theme, phrase, or other element in common. Some people call this circularity. Some people call it bookending. This works great with novels, too.
- Your tip here. What do you think?