Created By: Rognik on July 26, 2012 Last Edited By: Rognik on August 3, 2012

Tangentially Related Plot

A bunch of separate plots, held together only by a loose theme

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I'm not really certain how best to describe this trope, but basically I've noticed a few movies recently which have what might be best defined as a "Plot Pile-up". You have a bunch of characters, mostly played by A-list stars. Each character has a plot line, but they are mostly independent and separate, with the characters only occasionally crossing over into the other story lines, if at all. All the plots progress at the same pace, with the scenes bouncing from one storyline to the next without The only thing really tying the movie together is a general theme, which all the story lines will share. Mostly unique to the film genre, but may be found in other media.

Not to be confused with Four Lines, All Waiting, where the different plot lines are separate, but also lack any unifying theme outside of the characters themselves. Contrast Anthology Film, which is a bunch of shorts back-to-back.

Examples:

Film:

Live-Action TV:
  • Undressed: Each episode had 3 storylines: one occuring during high school, one at university, and one with young 20-somethings. When one story line ends, new characters are introduced who were generally not seen before.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • July 26, 2012
    abk0100
    Do you think Pulp Fiction would count?

    Actually, this is probably Anthology Film.
  • July 26, 2012
    Rognik
    I didn't explain it very well, but this is definitely not Anthology Film. In those movies, the entire story is told, and then we cut to the next story. In this trope, the stories are interspersed with each other. They show one scene, they cut to the next story, and this keeps cycling as the story demands, more or less taking place in chronological order. Think The Amazing Race, but they're all doing something different.

    I haven't seen Pulp Fiction myself, but I think the whole story centers around John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson's characters, yes? If so, it's not this trope. In this, there is no one main star, but a bunch of people with more or less equal billing.
  • July 27, 2012
    abk0100
    It has a few different sub-plots. There's the Trovalta and Jackson segments, a Trovalta and Uma Thurman segment, a Christopher Walken segment, a Bruce Willis segment, and a segment with Tim Roth that ends up tying into the Trovalta and Jackson segment. All the characters are related in some way, but the different subplots stand on their own, and it all plays out in anachronistic order.

    Are you saying this trope only about when a movie keeps cutting back and forth between different subplots throughout the movie, with them all finishing at around the same time?
  • July 27, 2012
    Rognik
    I would say that the main trait of this trope is that there is no main character. You could say that this big-named star is the main character of his story, but that other big star is the main character of hers. The storyline doesn't necessarily have to wrap up at the same time, but it does need to have frequent cuts back to it throughout the film.

    Take, for example, the Undressed TV show. It was kind of a teen soap opera, and each of the story lines showed up between commercial breaks. However, the story line would just end after a bit and introduce new characters who may or may not have known those in the last one.

    I kind of want to say that Horton Hears A Who kind of fits this trope, except that there's only 2 story lines going on. Horton, who find this speck on top of a flower, tried to tell people that there's something living on it but no one believes him. Meanwhile, Steve Carrell's character, the mayor of Whoville, tries to convince everyone that there is a big, invisible elephant in the sky and they are all just on a tiny speck. Aside from the occasional conversation between the mayor and Horton, the two story lines never cross. Well, until the ending. Still, that movie is more Two Lines No Waiting, which this is Five Lines, Take A Number.
  • July 27, 2012
    Koveras
    Not to be confused with Four Lines All Waiting, which is about simultaneous but unrelated plotlines.
  • July 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • The Love Boat had three (or sometimes four) plots in any given episode, and the focus cut back and forth between each throughout. The guest characters rarely interacted with each other's plots, but the crew of the ship would often appear in more than one.
    • Fantasy Island normally had two plots per episode, with no interaction between the guests stars.
  • July 27, 2012
    abk0100
    Requiem For A Dream? The characters are together at the beginning, but they split up to each have their own misadventures involving drug abuse.
  • July 27, 2012
    Rognik
    ^^How involved were the regular cast in the guests' plots? Were there ever plots centering around the cast mates? The shows were just a little bit before my time, so I never watched it myself.

    ^Were all the misadventures started by the same event, then going off to deal with the aftermath? Or were they all just family members who all happened to run afoul of drugs? If it's the latter, this trope applies. Otherwise, they are all tied together by something, and the plot is dealing with it. In this trope, the characters are more or less oblivious to the other characters' plots as they develop.

    I know I'm doing a lousy job of trying to explain it, and I was hoping the examples alone would be able to explain it. To have a more mainstream example, one people might have actually seen, I want to say that Heroes demonstrated this trope. Each of the heroes generally had their own storyline for the season, separate from the overarching plot of the season, and were usually kept far away from each other. Claire didn't know that her father worked for a secret government agency, Mohinder rarely talked to the actual heroes (at least in the first season), Peter and Nathan often interacted with each other due to being brothers, but they didn't generally talk to the rest of the cast. Syler, when he wasn't trying to cut open people's heads, had his own problems to deal with. Yes, there was crossover, and it probably had more interconnectedness than any of the other examples on the list so far, but it's at least close to what I'm getting at. It's definitely more of a film trope, and a fairly recent one. I'd be surprised if there was an example from before 2004 or so.

    Edit: Also, if anyone thinks they understand the trope could try and write a better description of the trope, it'd be welcome. I have the idea clear in my head, but I'm having trouble expressing it without resorting to examples.
  • July 27, 2012
    abk0100
    ^it's the latter

    I think the description as it is is actually pretty good. Probably my fault for not reading it carefully enough. But if I think of a way to improve it, I'll give it ago.
  • July 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^^Both shows varied how much the regular cast interacted with the guest cast. On The Love Boat the regulars usually were involved in at least one or two of the plots pretty heavily, and quite often at least one of the plots would be all about a crew member and his/her interaction with one of the guests. On Fantasy Island Mr. Rourke would interact with the guest Fantasy-er, usually as a Voice Of Reason and/or Temptation. He had assistants who would occasionally have a C-plot to themselves besides helping Rourke with his duties.
  • July 27, 2012
    Rognik
    ^In that case, I think I'm going to leave them out of it. Those shows are more "client-based", where the client/guest star comes in, has their adventure, learns a morale and then leaves a better person. This trope isn't client based. In Valentines Day (and I might be getting the exact details wrong), a guy buys flowers for a girl, and the florist is worried about his own love interest, who is a teacher who has a student with a Precocious Crush on her, whose mother is annoyed with her husband, whose best friend... well, you get the point. Each of the stories revolve around finding love on Valentine's Day, but aside from either an off-hand comment or a brief cross-over, the characters stuck to their own threads, completely unaware of the other drama.

    I think I remember another movie which might fit this. I remember it was sort of an independent film, and there were four cameras on screen at all times. They were all filmed in (what appeared to be) one take, and it was a full-length feature. I can't remember what the name of it is now. Anyone got a clue?
  • July 28, 2012
    JoeG
    Compare this to a Hyperlink Story, where what appear to be separate stories turn out to be parts of a single, overarching story.
  • July 28, 2012
    Rognik
    ^Would this be compare or contrast? I didn't know about Hyperlink Story before now, but I don't think they're that similar. I also admit I haven't actually seen Love Actually, which I notice is on that page, so I might be wrong about its source. I wrote this trope after seeing What To Expect When Youre Expecting, where the many story lines are almost completely separate, only connected by pregnancies (the main story lines) or becoming a parent (a couple of the minor sideplots).
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