Created By: KJMackley on July 2, 2012

Writing Into A Corner

There is no way out, someone has to hold the Idiot Ball

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A story has "written itself into a corner" means that it had established a situation that can only be resolved through the use of the Deus ex Machina, Idiot Ball, Informed Ability or forgotten powers. Stories are usually not written sequentially and trying to go from point A to point B results in some snags.

The basic writing dilemma in place is that you have to establish certain rules of consistency regarding both the characters and the situation they are in. If a car breaking down is vital to the plot there has to be some reason why the resident Mr. Fixit (who was stranded along with the others riding along) can't make repairs. If you have a Master Swordsman who is outclassed by another that doesn't automatically explain why they make rookie sword fighting mistakes.

Thus the term "writing yourself into a corner" means that you haven't given the story a logical way out.

  • As a character the Riddler from Batman generally falls under this. He is supposed to be a genius who crafts riddles so clever only a greater genius like Batman can figure them out. Thus it usually results in a Bat Deduction, cause that means creating a puzzle the average reader can't decipher but one a genius could. Most writers are not geniuses, so creating a plausible story from that situation is virtually impossible.
  • In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, the highly educated characters go on to a "Physics Bowl" competition as part of a bout of egos over who was smarter (Sheldon vs everyone else). The final question was solving a Feyman Diagram, which had been used often already in the series on the characters white boards, but was deemed by the characters as being beyond them. They act as though they had never seen such a thing but the truth is solving it in your head is generally impossible, so it isn't so bad as other examples.
  • In Burn Notice, protagonist Michael Westen is famous for his ability to out think his opponents and Batman Gambit his way out of problems. In season five they finally discover a Big Bad who is so crafty and skilled at manipulation that he leaves Michael in the dust, but the inherent nature of that premise is that Michael is forced to hold the Idiot Ball at times.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • July 2, 2012
    Grant Morrison famously wrote himself into the storyline of Animal Man to apologize to the character for screwing his life up, and then reversed the storyline where Animal Man's family had died.

  • July 2, 2012
  • July 3, 2012
    Closely related but that is more of a subtrope. Writing into a Corner is an actual term involving setting up a situation that is virtually impossible to resolve without fudging the competence of the people involved. That trope is setting up a threat as being so monstrous that a Deus Ex Machina is the only way to resolve it. For a simple demonstration, none of my examples fit under Only The Author Can Save Them Now.
  • July 3, 2012
    There is a short story ( by Mark Twain? I am not sure) where the character gets tangled into an increasingly dangerous scheme. At the climax of the story, the autor ends it abruptly, apologising for writing the character into a corner and admitting that he has no idea how to save her.
  • July 3, 2012
    Only The Author Can Screw Them Now? On the Wall Banger page, under literature, someone's complaining about this happening in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. I personally disagree with them, so maybe it should be chalked up to YMMV, but it's worth checking to see if it fits what you're thinking of.
  • July 3, 2012
    Indeed, I think Only The Author Can Save Them Now might be a subtrope of what we're working on here.
  • July 3, 2012
  • July 3, 2012
    I would say it blurs the line between trope and trivia. It is observing fiction from a slightly more meta-perspective but otherwise has easily identifiable components. It isn't really YMMV as it doesn't involve having to make a judgement call. On that note I am thinking that Only The Author Can Save Them Now could very well have been modified to BE this trope, but at it's core is a complaining trope about the use of Deus Ex Machina to resolve stories.
  • July 4, 2012
    I have a feeling this is going to turn into a complaining trope.
  • July 4, 2012
    In an issue of The Incredible Hulk Rick Jones is trapped on a exploding Skrull spaceship. It crashes and everyone assumes he's dead - but then he appears with no damage. It turns out he always wears a parachute under his clothes just in case he's ever trapped on an exploding Skrull spaceship. Out Of Universe, writer Peter David admits that he had written himself into a corner and that was the only way he could think of for Rick to survive.
  • July 4, 2012
    As titles go, Written Into A Corner might work better, although it's still not as good as the actual term mentioned in the opening line -- "writing oneself into a corner" (which is a very important semantic note, because it's always something you the author do to yourself).

    Laconic doesn't sound right though.