Due to the omnipresence of this trope, please limit examples to in-universe references or Lampshade Hangings of the principle.
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Anime & Manga
The Bigger Bad of Medaka BoxAjimu is fully aware that the narrative causality of shounen manga is in effect, and avoids directly fighting The Hero Medaka because of it. If the Bigger Bad stepped down to Big Bad, her loss would be inevitable. So the Bigger Bad arranges a falling out between Medaka and her Supporting Protagonist Zenkichi which leads to Zenkichi's Face-Heel Turn. Since he's the other main character, he's the only one who could conceivably defeat Medaka. Ajimu even believes Zenkichi will win because he's more heroic than Medaka because Medaka apparently murdered someone in the past.
In one story from Mazinger Z, Butt Monkey Boss reassures his friends -Nuke and Mucha-, as facing a dire situation, telling that they will not die because they are the Plucky Comic Relief characters, and joke characters never die.
Played with in Princess Tutu. Fakir is (apparently) capable of Rewriting Reality, but it's never quite clear if he's making things happen by writing them down, just writing down what would have happened anyway, or a little bit of both.
Briefly discussed in the first issue of the DCUCrisis CrossoverFinal Crisis. One Monitor says to another, "Behold: we monitors who were faceless once... We all have names now, and stories. There are heroes and villains... secrets and lovers." Translation: Nothing happened to us as long as they didn't write us into the stories. Now we're in them, and all hell is breaking loose.
In JLA: Earth-2, Grant Morrison's Post-Crisis reimagining of the DC Universe'sMirror Universe (Earth-3), the twist was that even narrative causality was inverted, so that all good deeds were doomed to failure in the mirror universe (just as evil was doomed to ultimate failure in the regular DCU).
In many cases it came down to character motivations. In the evil universe, humans would toady up to any power that came along whether it was good or evil and would continue to be corrupt and self-serving. In the good universe, Owlman discovered his alternate counterpart's father was dead and found he couldn't keep fighting because there was no one left to hurt.
A sequel had the mirror universe supervillains realizing that the narrative causality law had failed, giving them a chance to win in their alternates' world. Of course the heroes, once they quickly figured it out, went on the attack themselves in the mirror universe.
In another sequel, Owlman flat out urges his teammates to leave the Justice League alone, as he realizes they'll never be able to defeat them due to outside forces.
In Marvel 1602, Reed Richards attempts to formulate this theory. "Benjamin Grimm won't be changed back into a man, since he is much more interesting as a monster."
His brother Destiny, on the other hand, invites people over to his place for no reason other than the story (that is, THE story) requires them to be in his realm at that particular point in time. The invitation might be expressed as "Destiny requires your presence." Literally.
In Monica's series Smudge (Cascão), the title character asks why he's been kidnapped and the answer is "Because of the hero of this comic book. If I kidnapped Robertinho or other, there would be no fun.".
In Harry Kipling (Deceased), the return of the gods has turned science into a mere suggestion; the mythic ideas are the ones that actually work.
The Joker believes that life is basically set up to be one big cruel joke. One of the reasons he's a villain is that he wants everyone else to believe this too. In Death Of The Family, Bruce privately admits to Alfred that the reason he never tried to kill the Joker is because he also believes his life follows a narrative, with Gotham city itself as the Big Bad. Killing Joker would only force Gotham to send someone worse to challenge Batman.
Loki: Agent of Asgard makes use of this theory. It's Loki's prime motivator, since as long as those stories of all the evil and cruelty he inflicted in the past exist, he will be drawn back to them, and pointless self-defeating schemes, which he currently hates, so he does work for the All-Mother in return for the erasure of those stories. In the first issue, he erases all the knowledge the Avengers have on him as part of this plan.
The Hunter seems to be aware of this in With Strings Attached, and that he's a secondary character; he talks several times about how his participation in the story of the four will not be very long.
Uninvited Guests has the characters attempting to discern what the plot wants them do. Aizen even weaponizes it in order to give himself and his minions Plot Armor.
Kyon, in The Emiya Clan, can basically contrive this on the spot. His EX ranked Common Sense give him full knowledge of all possible outcomes for a certain situation. If he Lampshades a certain one, chances are almost exact that it will happen.
Films — Live Action
Explicitly referenced in the introduction to Nanny McPhee, where the opening narration states "If the [mother's] chair was not empty, we would not have a story."
This is subverted in Galaxy Quest, where one of the characters was a guest star who played a Red Shirt in the original program. He repeatedly insists that he's "expendable", and could get killed at any moment (his character never even had a last name). Ironically, he provides a role of Plucky Comic Relief (another character even suggests to him this might be the case), and in the epilogue, is added to the show's revival as a full-time character with an actual last name!
Near the end of the film, when a disguised alien goes on a shooting spree, this character is the only one that doesn't get shot.
One of the villains kills the manager of a convenience store and expects the police to arrive immediately. When they do not, he is puzzled.
In Enchanted, the way Giselle seems to teleport from place to place during her musical numbers (not to mention the infectious singing or Spontaneous Choreography of said numbers); makes elaborate and beautiful dresses in no time at all, out of curtains and blankets; and somehow manages to climb up the side of a skyscraper and onto the roof to save Robert from Narissa, when there is no apparent way for her to have climbed up there. Really, anything that Giselle does that makes little sense outside of an animated feature.
Austin Powers' father irritatedly lectures a Mook about to attack him that he's an obvious Red Shirt who doesn't even have a name tag, and should just lie down right now. He complies.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights: After losing an archery contest against a master archer, Robin double-checks the script, confirming he's "not supposed to lose."
The Cabin in the Woods is basically an explanation for why Narrative Causality exists, at least in horror movies: all the tropes and cliches of horror movies are actually part of an elaborate ritual needed to keep some Eldritch Abominations happy, and there's a massive conspiracy manipulating people into fulfilling those ritual cliches.
The Matrix Reloaded constantly notes this trope. The Merovingian openly mocks the heroes for their not knowing why they came to see him beyond the Oracle telling them to meet with him, Morpheus concludes that their disastrous meeting with the Merovingian occured exactly as it should have gone because they are still alive, and the Keymaker knows about all the failsafes guarding the door to the Architect because "I know, because I must know. It's the reason I'm here. Same reason we're all here."
The Matrix Revolutions subverts this trope when Trinity threatens to shoot the Merovingian instead of accepting another errand.
Naturally, the Discworld series is full of examples of how the theory manifests:
A one-in-a-million chance crops up nine times out of ten. (There's a point in one of the video games where to complete a task, you have to determine, and then implement, the right set of circumstances that will give you exactly a one-in-a-million chance of success. Based on the Guards! Guards! example below.)
In the Science of Discworld books, the wizards of Unseen University examine "Roundworld" (i.e. Earth) and are surprised to learn that it contains no Narrativium — this being scientifically impossible (by Discworld standards).
Doubly subverted in Guards! Guards!! when Nobby and Colon get all Genre Savvy and try to adjust the odds such that they achieve a Million to One Chance to hit a dragon's male "voonerables". It doesn't work, but this isn't because of the theory failing- it turns out the dragon was a she, so they had a 0% chance all along. They promptly survive the ensuing explosion, the odds of which were exactly a million to one.
Since the reveal of the real reason they failed is still some way off, it also mentions that since they were just a bunch of random guys trying to figure out what circumstances would make Fred's chances exactly a million to one by blindly guessing, they missed the mark somewhat and got a million-and-pocket-change chance, which, not being exactly a million to one, had only about a million-and-pocket-change to one chance of actually happening.
Still in Guards! Guards!!, Vimes is about to be arrested. The several armed men who come to do so immediately notice that he is a) unarmed and b) smiling. They conclude he's very bad news and refuse to take him, assuming he'd start to swing on the chandeliers and break things at any moment. Luckily for them, he agrees to come along quietly.
Twoflower: "When seven men go out to fight an army 180,000 times bigger there's only one way it can end." Rincewind: "Right. I'm glad you see sense." Twoflower: "They'll win. They've got to. Otherwise the world's just not working properly."
That was more like mocking than lampshading, as it's well known Twoflower is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander with rosy spectacles.
It's at least someone Justified because the coincidences aren't just contrived for story purposes, the ta'veren are also followed around everywhere they go by bizarre random chance, which often has nothing to do with the story. Sometimes it's a Contrived Coincidence in a plot-furthering way, like a very unlikely reunion with an old acquaintance, but then again sometimes it's important to other characters in-universe but completely unimportant to the main plot, like an Innocent Bystander tripping over a tiny rock and breaking his neck, and sometimes it's not important to anyone at all, like a sandbag breaking and the sand just happening to fall a perfect shape of a Ying/Yang (of great symbolic importance).
In RPG terms. If one of the main characters needs to roll a six to make it past the next challenge, then everyone around them will continue to roll sixes constantly until the ta'veren leaves the area.
In-universe philosophers actually theorize that things balance each other, so there would rather be only sixes and ones in equal proportion until the character leaves.
The world in Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series is governed by this trope (named "The Tradition" in this instance). The characters are aware of this and spend a great deal of time trying to manipulate/subvert/redirect this force for their own goals.
Craig Shaw Gardner's The Cineverse Cycle, although in this case the universe is suffering from a breakdown such that you can't rely on the rules to work properly.
Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle makes a point of narrative causality at the beginning (Sophie, as the eldest of three daughters, is expected to never succeed in anything, while her youngest sister is sent off to accrue her "inevitable" fame and fortune), and then steadily works at subverting it.
No such use of this in the movie, unfortunately.
In large part because Japan has different narrative traditions and so some of the bits might be rather hard to understand. Then there's the whole thing with the poem...
Robertson Davies' The Lyre Of Orpheus suggests that this happens in Real Life, using the idea that there are only a certain number of plots in the universe. He compares them to wax, and that each human life is just a unique impression on the same wax. His characters - by putting on an opera about King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere - find their lives conforming to that tragic love triangle.
The entire plot of Redshirts by John Scalzi hinges on this. The main characters, a group of red-shirts on the Intrepid, go about finding a way to stop 'The Narrative' that is ruining lives and killing them all off.
Live Action TV
In Babylon 5, Marcus knows exactly the right time to hide and set up an ambush before some guards appear. When asked how he knew, he says it would have been the most inconvenient time to be discovered, so of course that's when it would happen.
In the Buffy episode "This Year's Girl", Faith taunts Joyce while holding her prisoner in Buffy's room, saying "do you think Buffy's going to just leap through that window?". She continues to monologue, with Buffy a no-show, until Buffy eventually does leap through the window later than expected.
The MUSICAL episode "Once More, With Feeling" forces the town to run on the rules of Musicals. The characters are compelled to break into dance and/or sing about their private thoughts, misgivings, and secrets. Unlike in a normal musical, everyone around can hear their secrets. This forces characters to deal with problems they were repressing and moves the plot forward in leaps.
"Life's a show, and we all play a part, and when the music starts - we open up our hearts." ~ Buffy
In Doctor Who, The season five finale The Big Bang The Doctor, upon facing annihilation and erasure from time itself, a surprisingly common situation for him, says to Amy:
"I'll be a story in your head. That's okay, we're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one 'aye."
Narrator: It was day like many another, and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brainsample were a perfectly ordinary couple, leading perfectly ordinary lives; the sort of people to whom nothing extraordinary ever happened, and not the kind of people to be at the center of one of the most astounding incidents in the history of mankind. So let's forget about them, and follow instead...
This being Monty Python, they of course turn out to be very significant indeed.
How I Met Your Mother: After Ted says he's pretty sure the universe has bigger things to worry about than his dating life, Marshall (in keeping with his Agent Mulder role) suggests that perhaps Ted's dating life is "the glue that holds the universe together." Since it really is the driving force of the show's storylines, that's actually true, for that universe.
In the Community episode "Curriculum Unavailable", a therapist tries to convince the gang that they're all insane and that the entire series was All Just A Psychotic Delusion. One of the things he cites to support this theory is the fact that no matter what, the most important events at the school somehow always revolve around them, and never any of the other students.
Scrubs: The narration for the episode My Old Lady starts with the fact that in hospital, one in three patients who are admitted (with a couple of exceptions) will die there. Our three POV doctors each get a patient and so we "know" that one of them will die. In fact, all three die.
On The Vampire Diaries, Qetsiyah tells Damon that Silas and Amara's doppelgangers - Stefan and Elena - have been finding each other and falling in love throughout the ages. Destiny will always push them together and, as she bitterly states, people like her and Damon are 'just the conflict that makes their story interesting'.
In an episode of The Young Ones, Rick asks why heroes like Dan Dare and Batman don't use more practical, sensible solutions to solve their problems, rather than mindless fisticuffs that never really fix anything. Vyvyan retorts by bluntly stating that the heroes always resort to violence because otherwise, there'd be no story in the first place.
In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio "The Holy Terror", the entire society the story is set in is built around these principles, its Deadly Decadent Court modelled after a collection of Shakespearean cliché elevated to the point of ritual - for instance, queens must always give birth to two sons, a good but gentle older son and a corrupt and disfigured younger son, and the law of succession is such that when the king dies, the older son is instated as king and the younger son will betray and assassinate him and succeed him as the rightful heir. This at first seems like laws instated upon this world, until the Wham Line when the Doctor, who is attempting to escape with a seemingly helpful character, tells that character that he knows he'll betray him "because you're a stereotype". Told his role in the story is to be the person who seems helpful but betrays the heroes when pressed, the character attempts to defy this characterisation but is powerless against it, revealing that the particular universe is actually a story built as a prison for one of the characters and narrative causality is necessary to keep it on the rails.
A common mechanic in tabletop roleplaying games is the sporadic, limited ability to break the rules by automatically declaring success on a roll (or failure on a roll against them) or by granting a reroll in a desperate situation. Some enemies have a similar mechanic as well. These are sometimes called plot points.
Top Secret! was the first tabletop RPG to incorporate such points, in the form of luck points; every character started with 1-10 of them.
Alternity has the last resort point, which allows a hero to increase their level of success by one grade, or to decrease an enemy roll's level of success against them by one grade; the free agent has the ability to spend two points to change success by two grades. This allows a hero to turn a failure into success, a good roll into an amazing one, or alternatively an enemy's amazing roll into a good one. This ability comes in particular handy as amazing attack rolls can inflict mortal damage, severely injuring and (on rare occasion) outright killing players and enemies. Very important NPCs may have these as well, to prevent one lucky or unlucky roll from instantly (and anticlimactically) defeating them.
Dungeons & Dragons has this in 4th edition in the form of Action Points; ordinarily, action points are used to gain an extra standard action on your turn, allowing you (in most cases) to immediately make an extra attack roll. At paragon tier (level 11+), most characters gain additional benefits from the use of these as well; some paragon paths allow you to use them to grant yourself rerolls on attacks instead, or grant multiple move actions, or other things; others grant bonuses in addition to their usual effect, such as the extra action dealing extra damage or being more likely to hit. Others just grant extra benefits on top of what they normally grant, such as allowing the character an extra bit of movement, teleporting them, dealing damage to enemies around them, and so on. There are even some abilities which grant action points, or which allow action points to be spent more often, or to be spent on granting lesser actions (such as moves) without expending them. Characters are expected to spend their action points, and gain them throughout the adventure on a regular basis, but are generally restricted to using one per encounter, and are reset after every adventure to discourage hoarding. Boss and sub-boss type monsters generally have 1-2 action points themselves, which makes them considerably more dangerous (though it also becomes obvious when a foe you're facing is more powerful than usual, as if they spend an action point, it means they're bad news).
Pathfinder incorporates hero points as an optional rule, which are granted for various in-character tasks and can be spent to grant bonuses to rolls, reuse expended spells, avoid dying, get a hint, or attempt the extremely improbable.
Some roleplaying games grant players the sporadic ability to outright alter the narrative of the game directly, such as by saying that there is some new feature or object in a room that wasn't there before which allows them to escape some difficulty. In some cases they can even make things harder on themselves by adding things working against them, for a bonus later.
Perhaps the most extreme version of this is The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which is a game which centers entirely around this mechanic. Every player begins with a pool of coins or chips, and each player tells some story of their adventures, based on a question asked to them by one of the other players. The other players, during the story, may interfere by asking questions which add some sort of twist to the story and pushing forward a number of coins in challenge; the person telling the story must then incorporate some means of overcoming the challenge into the story (and thus take the coins) or push forward as many coins of their own and give them to the challenger, informing them that they are mistaken. At the end of the game, the players then must "vote" with their coins for the best stories; thus accumulating more coins gives you more votes at the end.
The Fair Folk from Exalted live their lives according entirely to what's dramatically appropriate. Their Shaping Combat works entirely by "rewriting" someone or something else's story. The Wyld even has paths known as "waypoints" which operate not by distance, but by where a person is in a particular story.
Creation works like this in some ways, too. Many Sidereal effects work by setting someone in a particular role in a story... a role that happens to fit with the Sidereal's plans.
The Discworld GURPS Role-Playing Game actually has rules for invoking this: A spell that lets you twist narrative tropes, as well as a caution that just because you set yourself up as the Hero Who Saves the World From the Evil Troll doesn't mean you're not actually One of the Dozen Hapless Characters Who Get Killed by the Troll Before the Hero Shows Up or, if the story is being told from a troll perspective, The Devious Little Human Squashed By The Troll Hero. ("Troll fairy-stories are not very subtle.")
It also includes the character sheet of a Grand Vizier who was pushed by narrative causality into growing a pointy beard and cackling, when he's really a good, quiet person who'd really rather make sure the budget is balanced.
Changeling: The Lost features the art of Talecrafting. A savvy enough changeling with a proper knowledge of legend and lore can call upon the motifs and themes of stories to ensure victory in his efforts (e.g., setting it up so that if the first two attempts failed, then the third time has a much better chance to succeed).
Changeling (and by extension, the entire World of Darkness) embodies this trope, as the Wyrd, which is the life's blood of all things fae and of which Faerie and the True Fae are essentially manifestations, is the fundamental narrative force of the universe, incorporating time and fate, destiny and chance, predestination and free will. The above-mentioned Talecrafting works because, due to the Wyrd, the World of Darkness runs on tropes.
Dungeon Masters trying to prod the players into taking a certain track is such a common behavior it has a nickname. It's called "railroading."
The Serenity tabletop game has acquirable "plot" points that the game master can distribute to players as reward, usually for doing things in a more creative way than expected. They exist out of character, and the players can choose to spend them to force plot conveniences or twists beyond the normal scope of their characters skillsets. For example, if a character who doesn't know machines very well is required to do repairs on an engine or die, a player might spend a plot point, and suddenly their character finds a handy user manual stowed nearby.
Shadowrun includes a stat known as Edge which is summed up as "luck, or that certain something that makes a Runner more than just a mook." Once per point per session/adventure a Runner's player can opt to spend Edge and add a number of dice equal to their Edge stat to the dice pool. And when Edge is spent, the Rule of Sixes applies, allowing for "exploding crits" and vastly more "hits" than usual. And since humans get extra Edge at creation, one can easily create a normal human without cyberware or magic that can compete with the most minmaxed Troll Sammie or Elven Adept. ("Okay, you spend a point of Edge, roll... reroll the sixes... reroll THOSE sixes... reroll... ah hah... okay, yeah. Congratulations, you just destroyed the battle tank drone possessed by an evil spirit with one shot from your light pistol.")
Alan Wake revolves around this trope. The Dark Presence abducts artists and tries to use their works to warp reality so it can escape. The artist can escape by inserting themselves into the work, but they must obey the internal laws of their own creations. The writer before Alan, Thomas Zane, tried to simply bring his wife back to life, but since this destroyed the story's internal logic she Came Back Wrong. Alan simply writes himself in as the protagonist, but since it's a horror-thriller, it has to appear that he could lose or die at any point, and has to give Equivalent Exchange to rescue Alice from the Dark Place instead of conjuring up an Esoteric Happy Ending.
Disgaea 3 has fun with this. Mao, after intense study on superhero stories, comes to the conclusion that if he's going to defeat his father the Overlord and take over, he must become the hero because heroes always win. Being a demon, he doesn't bother to change himself for the better, and just steals the title of 'Hero' from some hapless passerby. Naturally, the plan works as well as you can guess. However, the title soon affects Mao's mind, subtly making him more heroic.
While the only plot-centric one, this is hardly the only instance of this in the Disgaea series. The Fourth Wall is flimsy at best in the 'verse and major players are very aware of main character privileges, occasionally attempting to usurp the position. In the remake of Disgaea 2, this can even succeed and net you a Nonstandard Game Over.
Video games in general deconstruct this trope. Any game with lives, save points, or both, allow the audience to fail to move the story line forward upon either death or failure, thus ending the narrative. Successful completion of the task at hand, however, will usually lead to a dictated outcome. Furthermore, games with branching storyline or "sandbox" structure allow for a bizarre form of aversion for this trope.
Balthier of Final Fantasy XIIbelieves that he is the leading man of the story, and invokes this on several occasions. Once, he warns Vaan to take care of his ship in the case that something "untoward" should happen to him because he "might have to do something heroic." He also assures Ashe that because of this trope, he can never die. He is eventually shown to right on both counts, despite his lack of leading man status.
Elan in particular is extremely well versed in tropes due to being a bard, and is the fastest and most clever in exploiting them. When he doesn't get distracted.
Elan's father Tarquin has also demonstrated the same level of awareness as Elan, if not higher; he rationalizes that if a hero always rises to oppose the Evil Empire, that means there's always going to be an Evil Empire to oppose, so why not be the one running it? He uses his trope-awareness to secretly control most of a continent and keep it firmly under his boot with an aim to keep expanding his influence. He even gloats about how his eventual and inevitable defeat will be meaningless because he gets to live the good life for years if not decades until that happens and then his story will live on forever, inspiring generations of new villains.
Deconstructed when its revealed that Tarquin can't fathom any plot that doesn't revolve around ''him''. He refuses to believe that he is just a side villain in comparison to the Big Bad and Bigger Bad. When he is (at least temporarily) defeated, its in the middle of a desert where no one will be inspired should he die on the way back home. He doesn't take it well.
The webcomic Footloose is built around this trope, with the Plot being an active force in the universe that can be predicted by the Fae.
Fuzzy Knights, like Discworld, has The Story as a tangible force - it's originally introduced in the context of the tabetop RPGs that the fuzzies play (and frequently run Off the Rails) but it becomes important in the Tournament War storyline with Mossfoot and HamaEstra fighting to influence and control it. When plot-convenient coincidences start happening a lot, it's best to pay attention.
Get ready for this, the villains in Mixed Mythh use a filmic version of this. The elves worship a power called "Cynamatik" and use it to fuel their magic. As the name suggests, the elves have a limited ability to control this force, because it will always cause the most dramatically appropriate circumstances — so the elves are only on top for as long as it's dramatically appropriate, and the instant the story calls for their defeat, it's impossible that they won't lose the battle.
Wanda Firebaugh of Erfworld is a firm believer in what is called in-universe "Fatalism." Functionally, Fatalism teaches that if you have a Fate, that Fate will come to pass no matter what you do. You can make your life easier by seeking out your Fate and sticking to its dictates, or pointlessly torment yourself by trying to work against your Fate, which does absolutely nothing besides make more trouble and pain for you and everyone you care about.
And her backstory indicates that not only is this the case, but Fate will brainwash everyone else into making your Fate come true.
In the Patchwork Champions universe, narrative is as fundamental a law as physics. In the final story arc, the Big Bad nearly succeeds in his Take Over the World plot when he creates a device that can rewrite narrative laws to work in his advantage.
How the world of That Guy with the Glasses functions. All the reviewers are able to interact with the things they review, and their lives echo the tropes the dissect- ie. Linkara deals with convoluted comic book plots, The Nostalgia Chick finds her side-kick being possessed, and The Nostalgia Critic is often facing off against all sorts of aliens, ghosts and Mickey Mouse.
Directly acknowledged in the fourth year anniversary, To Boldly Flee, by the fact that their version of the Force is the Plot.
An In-Universe example: one of Film Brain's catch phrases for when the actions of the characters in the movies he reviews don't make sense: "and he did that because..."
"Because the plot says so!"
The the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to college, he treats the entire situation like he's a character in an 80's college movie. To elaborate, he keeps pulling pranks, insulting and demonizing the Dean (who's the nicest guy in the whole campus) and never studies, simply because that's how he's seen it in fiction and believes that its what he's meant to do. Reality ensues.