Created By: RhetoricalTurtle on September 26, 2017 Last Edited By: RhetoricalTurtle on October 3, 2017
Troped

Plot-Inciting Infidelity

Story starts with main character walking in on a cheating partner.

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So, you're writing a story and you need your character to be both immediately sympathetic to the audience and motivated to suddenly change their life in a dramatic way: How about you have them walk in on their partner in the middle of having sex with someone else? Witnessing this infidelity shows that the protagonist as down on their luck and implies that their personal life was unhappy and/or unfulfilling, paving the way for the drastic change that comprises the work's gimmick. It also establishes them as single, just in time for the introduction of the work's Love Interest.

Works that use this trope rarely focus on the ex or the causes of the affair (if they do, the ex is rarely portrayed as a Sympathetic Adulterer, since the audience needs to root for the protagonist, and may become a villain with this trope as an Establishing Character Moment), and generally do not try to salvage the previous relationship after it has served its purpose.

Subtrope of Your Cheating Heart. The protagonist might find out through a Bedroom Adultery Scene.


Examples:

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sliding Doors: While the two timelines split with Helen missing the titular doors, the more important catalyst for divergence is when the Helen who caught the train walks in on her boyfriend cheating on her.
  • Mr. Right: Martha begins the film by breaking up with her boyfriend after catching him cheating on her. This conveniently leaves her free to start dating ex-hitman Francis.
  • Head Over Heels: Amanda walking in on her boyfriend cheating on her is what leads her to moving in with her friends, and eventually, start spying on her neighbour.
  • Something To Talk About: Grace finds out her husband is cheating on her, which causes her to move into her parent's ranch.
  • Love Actually: Jamie (Colin Firth), a dissatisfied writer, walks in on his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother. This makes him go to France to write for some time, where he meets his love interest Aurelia.
  • Old School opens with Luke Wilson's character coming home early from a business trip to find his girlfriend watching pornography. He initially thinks this is actually a turn-on and gets excited... until several naked people enter the room and her cheating becomes apparent. And then he goes and moves out and begins a frat for old people.
  • Lucky Number Slevin: Slevin is staying at Nick's place because he walked in on his wife cheating on him. This leads him to being mistaken for Nick and asked to Work Off the Debt that Nick had with a mob boss. Subverted by the fact that it turns out Slevin was lying about this story.
  • This Is Where I Leave You: Judd's (Jason Bateman) misfortunes begin with him finding out his wife is cheating on him... with his boss, leading him to lose his job.

     Live Action TV 
  • Me Myself And I: The series follows the events of Alex's life following three separate life-defining incidents that occurred in 1991, 2017 and 2042. The middle storyline follows Alex's life after he walked in on his wife sleeping with a paramedic.
  • The Orville: The series opens with Ed walking in on his wife Kelly having sex with an alien. The subsequent breakdown is why his career is so far off track for the rest of the pilot. It is revealed at the end of the pilot that the entire series can be traced to this event, as it is Kelly's guilt that led her to pull the strings to get Ed his post as Captain of the Orville.
  • New Girl: The series begins with Jessica Day coming home early to surprise her boyfriend while wearing nothing but a trenchcoat (and a ribbon). Unfortunately for her, he's cheating on her with another girl and she winds up moving out, leading to the Roommate Com premise of the show.
  • She isn't the protagonist, but Jane the Virgin's convoluted plot is kickstarted when Luisa walks in on her wife cheating on her. The fragile state of mind this puts her in leads to Luisa making the crucial mistake of accidentally artificially inseminating Jane instead of Petra. Luisa herself takes the split badly - she returns to her former alcoholism, goes soul-searching in some temples abroad, and hooks up with her ex-slash-stepmom.
  • Crashing: Semi-autobiographical, this series stars Pete Holmes As Himself. After walking in on his wife (played by Lauren Lapkus) cheating on him, Pete decides to try his hand at Stand Up comedy and must crash on the couch of his comedian friends as he no longer has anywhere to live.
  • Necessary Roughness: Dani finds out that her husband has been having affairs right under her nose. She promptly kicks him out of the house, files for divorce, and gets a job as a therapist for a professional football team.

    Web Original 
  • Referenced in an episode of Cracked's Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder. In the episode "6 Bizarrely Specific Scenes Hollywood Won't Quit Using, this trope is covered and examples from several works are given and reasoning behind it is explored. The basic conclusion is that it's often used as an excuse for the (almost invariably male) lead to leave his old life behind and start anew.

Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • September 26, 2017
    eroock
    So this is when Home Early Surprise happens at the start of a story?
  • September 26, 2017
    Synchronicity
    • She isn't the protagonist, but Jane The Virgin's convoluted plot is kickstarted when Luisa walks in on her wife cheating on her. The fragile state of mind this puts her in leads to Luisa making the crucial mistake of accidentally artificially inseminating Jane instead of Petra. Luisa herself takes the split badly — she returns to her former alcoholism, goes soul-searching in some temples abroad, and hooks up with her ex-slash-stepmom.
    • Love Actually: Jamie (Colin Firth), a dissatisfied writer, walks in on his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother. This makes him go to France to write for some time, where he meets his love interest Aurelia.
  • September 26, 2017
    RhetoricalTurtle
    > So this is when Home Early Surprise happens at the start of a story?

    Essentially, yeah. More specifically, it's when the event of being cheated on is the catalyst for the story; why the main character decided to change their life in some significant way. For example, while both versions of "Film/Wanted" feature main character being cheated on as part of his introduction, in those stories the main character knows about the infidelity and doesn't do anything. Catching his partner isn't the inciting incident of the story.

    I think it's a common enough trope to be included separately.
  • September 27, 2017
    Arivne
    • Corrected spelling (Infedility, occured).
    • Corrected punctuation (added periods at the ends of sentences).
    • Examples section

    Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

    Please don't give this proposal any hats until all of the Zero Context Examples have been corrected.
  • September 27, 2017
    GreenDog3
    I would call this trope 'Cleat Cheat' because they're walking in on someone and when you walk you have shoes. Cleats are shoes, And Cleat Cheat is an easier name to remember than Inciting Infidelity.
  • September 27, 2017
    Larkmarn
    ^ That... is a terrible name.

    • Referenced in an episode of Cracked's Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder. In the episode "6 Bizarrely Specific Scenes Hollywood Won't Quit Using, this trope is covered and examples from several works are given and reasoning behind it is explored. The basic conclusion is that it's often used as an excuse for the (almost invariably male) lead to leave his old life behind and start anew.

    • Old School opens with Luke Wilson's character coming home early from a business trip to find his girlfriend watching pornography. He initially thinks this is actually a turn-on and gets excited... until several naked people enter the room and her cheating becomes apparent. And then he goes and moves out and begins a frat for old people.
    • New Girl: The series begins with Jessica Day coming home early to surprise her boyfriend while wearing nothing but a trenchcoat (and a ribbon). Unfortunately for her, he's cheating on her with another girl and she winds up moving out, leading to the Roommate Com premise of the show.
  • September 28, 2017
    RhetoricalTurtle
    @ Arivne Sorry, first time doing this.
  • September 28, 2017
    Badger96
    Essentially a subtrope of Home Early Surprise. I don't think it's distinct enough to have its own page. However, I'd change the trope name to something like Plot-Inciting Infidelity to make it more clear that this act of cheating is what kickstarts the entire work's plot, as opposed to infidelity that incites something else (like a Roaring Rampage of Revenge) or an action that incites someone to cheat.
  • September 28, 2017
    Synchronicity
    Current name is good. Here's my attempt at lengthening the description a bit:

    So, you're writing a story and you need your character to be both immediately sympathetic to the audience and motivated to suddenly change their life in a dramatic way: How about you have them walk in on their partner in the middle of having sex with someone else? Witnessing this infidelity shows that the protagonist as down on their luck and implies that their personal life was unhappy and/or unfulfilling, paving the way for the drastic change that comprises the work's gimmick. It also establishes them as single, just in time for the introduction of the work's Love Interest.

    Works that use this trope rarely focus on the ex or the causes of the affair (if they do, the ex is rarely portrayed as a Sympathetic Adulterer, since the audience needs to root for the protagonist, and may become a villain with this trope as an Establishing Character Moment), and generally do not try to salvage the previous relationship after it has served its purpose.

    Subtrope of Your Cheating Heart. The protagonist might find out through a Bedroom Adultery Scene.

    • Necessary Roughness: Dani finds out that her husband has been having affairs right under her nose. She promptly kicks him out of the house, files for divorce, and gets a job as a therapist for a professional football team.
  • September 28, 2017
    RhetoricalTurtle
    @Badger: This scene is used constantly, for the specific purpose of inciting the plot. It's common enough to people outside of TV Tropes have taken notice, with the Cracked example above. That seems meaningfully different to me from the other trope, which is still in YKTTW stage.
  • September 29, 2017
    Koveras
    Current name has a nice alliteration, but is semantically ambiguous, as it can be read as both "[plot-]inciting infidelity" or "[a character] inciting infidelity [in someone else]", e.g. by neglecting or cheating on them. Part of the problem seems to be that the title is inspired by Inciting Incident, which is not a very widely known term, and doesn't have the ambiguous meaning because you usually "cause" incidents, not "incite" them.
  • September 29, 2017
    Larkmarn
    @Badger 96: I think it's sufficiently distinct because so long as it's not about the Home Early Surprise, it's about using the Home Early Surprise to kickstart a plot.

    Really, this is a plot about a character having a new beginning of sorts and Home Early Surprise is just a device being used to kickstart that.
  • September 29, 2017
    NubianSatyress
    See also Cuckold.
  • October 2, 2017
    RhetoricalTurtle
    So, it sounds like people want to change the name to "Plot-Inciting Infidelity". Any objections?
  • October 3, 2017
    Synchronicity
    None from me.
  • October 3, 2017
    Koveras
    Sounds good. :)
  • October 3, 2017
    Larkmarn
    Throwing in a hat. This looks pretty good.

    ... know what doesn't look very good? Bedroom Adultery Scene. Jesus, that's a mess.
  • October 3, 2017
    Synchronicity
    ^It needs another image rather than one that focuses on Apologizes A Lot, for one, and a description that isn't Example As A Thesis.

    Indices this can go under: Sex Tropes, Scenes, Your Cheating Heart,Beginning Tropes
  • October 3, 2017
    RhetoricalTurtle
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=a7uv7o18blvaxi0l91iqsy9i