World Limited to the Plot
- "No questions asked. Up we get and off at a gallop, fearful lest we come too late!"
- "Too late for what?"
- "How would I know? We haven't got there yet."
The story is its own little world: It's not merely secluded from the context, there is
no context. It is not merely the morality that is centered on the protagonists
, the world itself revolves around them.
Usually a result of limited storytelling, but can also be actively invoked as some kind of absurdity or postmodern deconstruction. In either case, when a show or webcomic or other work starts this way, it usually melts away at the same pace as Cerebus Syndrome
takes a hold on the plotline. In shorter storylines, it can instead be a existential twist to some Ontological Mystery
The stories where the world is limited to the plot are instead the stories where the characters have no backstory, no anchors outside the plot, and whatever they do, there will be no outside forces of any kind reacting to it. Characters irrelevant to the plot are highly unlikely to exist at all, and if they do then they won't have names
. The story does not have to take place in a pocket dimension or even a secluded town: Rather than being shown to not exist, The Outside World
is simply unmentioned and discarded as irrelevant.
Commonly, these stories feature a failed escape sequence, and none of the outside world will be seen during the escape. The characters are inevitably led right back to the plot's world.
This is not
when a story takes place in a Small Secluded World
such as an island
or a box
: In those cases there is
still a universe outside the place where the characters are trapped
. The characters are still connected to the outside world by their memories, and there are people in the outside world who could miss them.
Defying this trope is a common way to deconstruct
or avert other
tropes: It's easy to be The Omniscient
when there is so little to know in the first place, just add more information and the character turns out to be Not So Omniscient After All
. On the flipside of this coin, philosophical thought-experiments often ask us to accept a World Limited to the Plot
, making the most outrageous oversimplifications look like valid Aesops
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Anime & Manga
- In the Age of X storyline in the X-Men line, a clue that something is wrong with the alternate reality the characters find themselves in is that there is nothing outside the walls of their compound, and the soldiers that attack seem to only have a few names, repeated over and over.
Films — Live-Action
- Played straight in Cemetery Man at the end. Francesco tries to leave town, only to discover that the rest of the world doesn't exist.
- Deliberately invoked in the Cube series. The inconsistent internal logic from movie to movie is designed to eliminate the possibility of a wider world beyond the Cube.
- Averted in Cube Zero, where it's shown to basically be a last-chance experimentation chamber for death-row prisoners. At least until one of the operators helps someone escape and ends up with a forged "confession" and a lobotomy before getting thrown in himself, with heavy hints throughout that that's basically how everyone ended up in there. Then we find out that what we see in the prequel is basically a first generation prototype compared to the later Cubes, which seem to have less and less of a plausible reason to exist.
- Dogville plays this for drama. It turns out that Grace could have escaped all along — she was just too stubborn.
- In Bruges toys with this. The entire film takes place in Bruges (apart from two very short establishing character shots). Ray hates Bruges. When he finally manages to escape, only the inside of the train is shown, and he's led right back to Bruges again anyway.
- Ridley Scott's Legend takes place almost entirely within a magical forest and Darkness's palace. There's virtually no indication of what the world outside the forest is like.
- Pleasantville shows what happens to such a world when the outside does manifest itself in a meaningful way.
- Deconstructed in The Thirteenth Floor. As the cover says: "Question reality".
- The Truman Show has two plotlines that eventually merge. The "inner" plotline suffers heavily from World Limited to the Plot, but the "outer" plotline reveals that this is caused by manipulation rather than bad storytelling.
- In Coraline, the Other Mother's world seems to be limited to the immediate vicinity of the house. More obvious in the movie, where the world fades out into featureless white space after a certain point and is small enough to be walked around in the course of one conversation.
- A minor Finnish High Fantasy wannabe novel called Kuolleet kaupungit ("The Dead Cities") may have averted this trope in some other ways, but certainly embodied it in one sense. There was a world map included with various locations marked all around its two continents. In the course of the story, the protagonists visit pretty much every single one of these locations. Looking at the map after that, one is left with the impression there isn't anyplace else left to go in the whole world, and even if there is, it must still be a rather small world.
- The Polish novel Gniazdo swiatow uses this as a plot point or rather, as the basis of the entire plot. The protagonist is an ordinary guy who turns out to be an inexplicable Walking Disaster Area: any people he has talked to, come in contact with, or just caught a glimpse of, tend to die from unrelated causes within days. Strangely, it's mentioned that before he turned up, the city where he lives had recorded no deaths at all for over a year. He eventually realizes the reason for all that: his entire world is setting for a novel, and he himself is the main character. It's not that he attracts disaster—on the contrary: nothing significant or dramatic ever happens in his world if he isn't involved in it somehow. Also, it turns out he is protected from death by some very heavy-duty Plot Armor (that tends to also leave hundreds dead with collateral damage), until he decides to make a Heroic Sacrifice to save his world from himself.
- Masters of Horror: This is the Cruel Twist Ending of the episode Valerie on the Stairs. When the main characters manage to escape the building they are confined in, they realize that they are fictional characters that are not expected to exist outside and vanish accordingly.
- Moral dilemmas in academic philosophy usually rely heavily on this trope: You are supposed to accept, or even take for granted, the premise that the characters and situations involved have no social context whatsoever (some are set on deserted islands, or in rafts adrift on the ocean). This tends to make it unreasonably impossible to Take a Third Option.
- One instance is in a class on torture where students debate on the permissibility of torturing a person if that person holds information on a bomb's location, then the bomb cannot be a city-destroying level of power or greater.
- In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this is pretty much the entire point of the play, as the two characters do not realize that they are fictional characters and thus are confused at why they don't remember anything except for what's relevant to their scenes.
- Samuel Beckett loved this one: Endgame, Waiting for Godot (Estragon's character as opposed to Vladimir's) , probably others.
- Beckett's one-act play, Play, can be an extreme version, with the world limited to a spotlight. To explain, the entirety of the dialogue is spoken by three heads sticking out of large, unmoving funeral urns which can only speak if the spotlight is on them. There is often nothing else on stage and no other lighting. (The RTÉ "Beckett on Film" version, however, averts this trope by replacing the spotlight with the camera's gaze and including a set—a barren landscape filled with similar heads-sticking-out-of-urns.)
- One of the favorite tropes of the Theatre of the Absurd in general. In addition to the aforementioned Stoppard and Beckett plays, Ionesco comes to mind, especially The Bald Soprano.
- Homestuck: the world outside of the main characters' lives appears almost desolate. None of them seem to have any other friends apart from themselves and characters on the periphery of their interpersonal interactions (their guardians) appear almost vacant and robotic. And they're not really very affected by Earth's imminent and unavoidable destruction either.
- On the other hand, there are cases where we do have a glimpse outside the plot, with current events like how Barack Obama is the president, and other people completely irrelevant to the plot, like the Serious Business and GameFAQs users, are still shown to actually exist, even if they are never shown. We also see maps of the entire planet, and the plot does, in fact, make an impact in places irrelevant to the main characters.
- At one point Jade is shown browsing a real artist's gallery on Fur Affinity.
- The Order of the Stick lived by this trope until the foreshadowing at the end of book one. (Strip 120 in the online version.) Only then, when the dungeon in which the entire plot has taken place is destroyed, do the plot and the dungeon turn out to have some relevance outside of itself.
- Later, it turns out that characters who aren't relevant enough to the plot to be named actually don't even have names... at least not until they become relevant to the plot.
- The Bremen Avenue Experience is a short-lived series about a Funny Animal Garage Band. The entire series is set in the suburban living room where the group rehearses, and the only character besides the band members is the drummer's father, who appears in one episode.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy takes place in the Cul-de-Sac they live in with the other neighbouring kids and no one else. Later on in the 5th and last season, they all go back to school once the summer ends, but even then it's just them ...except for the movie where Eddy's big brother appeared.
- Teen Titans is set in an unnamed city where, aside from the eponymous superheroes and the supervillains they fight, the population consists entirely of unnamed people who exist solely to be terrorized by the villains and rescued by the heroes. The closest we get to worldbuilding are a few references to Batman's mythos (a couple of mentions of Gotham City, a fight taking place on a Wayne Enterprise building, and hints about Robin's past), a Wacky Racing cross-country episode, and an episode where Robin goes off to train somewhere in a vague Asian country. Downplayed in Season 5 when the Teen Titans turn into Heroes Unlimited and start traveling the world: we meet the teen superheroes of the world while they're traveling, but little else. We get nothing of the teams' non-spandex lives. The Powers That Be were deliberate about this.
- Total Drama. Justified in the first two seasons, where the whole thing was a Show Within a Show trapping the teens in an island and on a film lot, but even in the third season, where they're in a different country each week, they still run into no one except those that work on the show, even in the middle of New York (except for one woman sitting on a bench and her baby).