Created By: Ronka87 on February 10, 2011 Last Edited By: Ronka87 on March 1, 2011

Off Screen Phone Call

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Formerly "Plot Relevant Vaudeville Hook"

Any quick, cheap device that serves to remove a character from a scene so a plot point can take place.

Example: A kid wanders into an antiques store, and the owner tells him not to touch anything. Suddenly, the phone rings. When the owner leaves to answer it, the kid touches something and it breaks. Cue plot. The "off-screen phone call" in this scene is the off-screen phone call-- it draws the owner out of the scene so the kid can break the antique.

The Off Screen Phone Calls are generally things that require immediate attention, so the character has to rush out quickly. It doesn't have to be a literal phone call, but those are used frequently nowadays. Other urgent excuses include oven timers, guests arriving, someone calling for the character, forgetting an item and having to go back for it...

See also Room Shuffle, which has examples of characters making excuses for leaving as opposed to the plot making them. May be induced by others when We Need a Distraction.


  • Used twice in the TV adaptation of Goosebumps' "The Haunted Mask", both with a ringing phone-- the first time, the mask shop owner is called away, allowing Carly-Beth to explore the forbidden section of the mask shop where she finds the haunted mask. Second time, Carly-Beth's mother wants to check on her costume (she thinks Carly-Beth is going out as a duck), but a phone call draws her into another room, allowing Carly-Beth to slip out.
  • Wonderfalls uses this from time to time. Once, Eric faints at a wedding chapel and the receptionist goes to help him, allowing Jaye time to steal info from their records. Another episode, Jaye's mother leaves suddenly because she "has to pee like a racehorse;" once she's gone, Jaye can speak privately with her therapist.

Needs A Better Name

Some suggestions: Deus Ex Phone, Conspicuously Convenient Call, Deus Ex Motorola. My problem with these (and the current one) is this isn't specifically about phones and the name might throw people off.

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