"So! This little girl, it's all about her! Who was she?... Or we could go off and have some adventures..."
— The Doctor
in an uncharacteristic turn, Doctor Who
, "Day of the Moon"
There is something that The Protagonist
must do, something that should not, must not, be ignored. The objective is in sight and they are ready, right now, to accomplish their task. In fact, there are no reasons at all to avoid the challenge ahead of them.
Except that is just what they are going to do. They are going to take a Plot Detour.
Here's one way it could happen: Bob has just found a message from the future sitting beside a time machine, an urgent plea for help that must be answered. Instead of immediately rushing to provide the needed help, Bob gets side-tracked and takes the time machine to other places for a few episodes.
This trope covers all circumstances where a character ignores a major objective in order to tackle a seemingly less important one.
In a video game, this can easily happen if it has Loads And Loads Of Sidequests
. Compare and contrast Off the Rails
, Take Your Time
. Not to be confused with Filler
, though it can result in varying amounts it.
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Anime & Manga
- In the anime Soul Eater, Death the Kid stops in the middle of a massive long chase that has the fate of the world at stake and is incredibly important. In order to have a conversation. They they start the chase again after a couple of minutes of nail-biting time-wasting. Possibly a bad example, but still a massive detour that costs them.
- Negima! has done this on several occasions. Examples include a Hot Springs Chapter when the characters should be focused on fighting and several of them are in slavery and should logically be working, not enjoying themselves at a hot spring, as well as a chapter about the three main male characters going to karaoke with girls when they're supposed to be meeting high-ranking government officials.
- Naruto's filler can be like this at times. Often times, Naruto gets sidetracked by a filler character when he's on a way to a mission that he was told was "extremely important".
- Parodied in Bleach where the main characters basically appeared in an omake and outright said that they were putting the main plot on hold for a filler arc or two.
- In Ratman, several of the Jackies randomly get involved in a soccer game while in the middle of running away from a pursuer.
- The Big Lebowski: The Dude is supposed to be investigating the disappearance of Mr. Lebowski's wife, but instead goes bowling.
- Polgara The Sorceress is another good example. Polgara gives refuge to the heir of a kingdom. Most people would just wait until he was 'of age' before trying to retake the kingdom, teaching the boy about the world so that he governs well. Polgara waits a couple of thousand years, literally waiting for generation after generation to die. Eventually (almost at the end of the book) she finally decides a bit of assassination is in order and kills off the great, great, great, (etc.) grandson of the usurper she should have killed, installing the descendant of the original king with little fuss. This basis of this story may be Older Than Feudalism, probably way, way older.
- That said, at least this time she had a schedule, in the form of a couple prophecies. Though, that said, this is just a flat-out excuse to spin it out a story that was already an alternate-viewpoint tie-in to another very similar book.
- David and Leigh Eddings uses this trope quite all the time, you could pick any of their books and this would apply.
- The Redemption of Althalus is this trope. Althalus is recruited (read: abducted) by a talking cat who turns out to be the goddess Dweia, he then spends thousands of years sleeping, learning magic, sleeping, looking out the window, sleeping, musing about his past life, sleeping, talking to the cat, and sleeping. Let's not forget the sleeping here. After a few millennia he finally decides he'd better get up (else the whole aeon would be just wasted) and do something about the plot. He assembles a team to combat the enemy, Dweia's brother, and spends a long time doing so. Ultimately this is a complete waste of time since the book ends in an utterly incredible moment of anti-climax in which Dweia's brother bursts into the bedroom where they spent almost the entire book and Althalus simply tells the dimensional portal they use as a door to suck the entire enemy party into the void Dweia told him never to open. Thus completely negating any need for him to have even gotten out of bed, let alone assemble an entire party of 'chosen one' adventures. The absolute biggest and most meaningful adventure Althalus undertakes is when he pops back in time to go get a cool cloak he left in the Iron Age. This book is, quite literally, seven hundred and four pages of fannying about.
- This is used egregiously, though mercifully briefly, at the end of Wolf Hunting. The main characters are right about to go to the final battle, the climax of the book is all ready to get underway, and...they stop and sit down to hear Plik's backstory. They delay the plot for something that has nothing to do with the plot.
- Eragon's main quest in the Inheritance Cycle is to defeat the evil king Galbatorix. The second book is almost entirely devoted to him learning poetry in a forest.
Live Action TV
- LOST (arguably) uses the 'spam the audience with meaningless leads' method to lengthen the series. Most people, even die-hard fans of the series will tell you that it really doesn't look like the creators knew where they were going with it.
- Supernatural. Even when the season's arc plot is something as crucial and time-sensitive as 'prevent the end of the world', Sam and Dean still find time for some Monster of the Week episodes.
- This forms the basis of Burn Notice. No matter what problem Michael has in the main story arc, he will always accept a new client that needs his help with an unrelated issue. This is frequently lampshaded and explained by the fact that Michael is very obsessive about things and needs these 'distractions' to deal with the frustration of his situation.
- Minute to Win It managed to pull this at least Once an Episode (if not 2 or 3 times) in later seasons, despite being a Game Show. They would suddenly slam on the brakes and make the game come to a screeching halt, just to showcase some sort of sob story about the contestant, complete with Full House Music.
- How To Write Badly Well satirizes this.
- Back when it had a suggestion box, Homestuck got sidetracked several times by the players losing interest and going off on random tangents. Probably the most notable was the Wayward Vagabond becoming distracted from the mysterious time-bending computer in front of him and focusing on being the imaginary mayor of CAN-TOWN (aka. a bunch of cans the players had him stack on top of each other). This happening a little too much ultimately resulted in Andrew Hussie removing the suggestion box since there was more detours than actual plot development.
If the player can choose whether or not the main character ignores the plot, rather than this being mandatory, that is Take Your Time
, not this trope.
- Final Fantasy Tactics A2 avoids having any real over-arching plot for most of the game thanks to an early statement that Luso's best bet of getting home is to do random quests.
- Morrowind flat out tells the player to go do sidequests to unlock the next part of the main plot.
- Plants vs. Zombies 2 requires a certain number of stars to unlock the portal to the next level. The player can either complete challenges to get the number of stars, or Pay to unlock it.
- The third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender starts with the main group having to travel across the Fire Nation to rendezvous with an army to prepare for an attack on the day of the Eclipse. During their travels:
- Aang enrolls in a Fire Nation school for a bit to channel Footloose.
- Then Katara spends three days trying to help a village that is suffering.
- Sokka takes a week or two to learn how to use a sword.
- Toph runs a few scams to get them some money, resulting in about three more days of wasted time.
- This is kind of lampshaded by Sokka, who constantly says that he has to rework their travel schedule and change the number of stops they make. Despite this, they get where they need to be 4 days in advance.
- Directly lampshaded in the finale: After the eclipse invasion, the group goes back to the original plan of "Aang needs to learn all four elements before the Comet of Doom arrives", but Zuko notices that they're stalling and attacks Aang in frustration. Katara says that Aang's not ready and they'll wait until later, when the Fire Nation won't have the powerup that the comet grants, but Zuko then explains why that really isn't an option.
- Sonic Sat AM tended to do this alot. Considering the direness of Robotnik's takeover, the heroes always had time for snarky banter and antics. Played with in "Sonic Boom", within all of Antoine's goofiness, Sally searching for her father (with the trail being cold for at least ten years anyway) and of course, the usual playful banter between Sonic and Sally, they seem to almost completely forget about the other Freedom Fighter captured by Robotnik. When they do come back for him, it's too late (none of this of course is recognised as the cause in universe).
- The characters in Wacky Races sometimes get temporarily sidetracked by things like baseball games instead of racing.