Complaining: Idiot Plot

Deadlock Clock: 17th Dec 2012 11:59:00 PM
Total posts: [73]
1 2 3
There's a vast quantity of complaining and misuse in the Idiot Plot examples section.

An idiot plot isn't one character being stupid; that's an Idiot Ball, and dozens of examples are actually this. It's only an Idiot Plot if, as the description says, "[the plot] would be resolved in five minutes if everyone in the story were not an idiot."

Also, is it really an example of an Idiot Plot when it's intentionally done for comedy? For example, the fact that nobody can tell that Chicken Boo is a giant chicken (except for one Cassandra who can), or a Spongebob episode that revolves around everyone making the same stupidly obvious mistake?

Seems weird to apply this trope when the whole of the plot is "laugh at the idiots".

edited 20th Sep '12 8:58:43 AM by Escher

I think you're reading too much into the "everyone being an idiot" part. That's not what's important here. What's important are obvious solutions for a plot conflict not being acted upon or realized by anybody (be it the protagonist(s), antagonist(s), or both) for no discernible reason, apart from that the story would otherwise be over way more quickly than intended.

If even one character could resolve a conflict with a simple, obvious action that he never takes, it would still make the basis for a plot that depends entirely on characters not making that sensible decision—or deliberately not doing those sensible things until after 90 minutes (or however long the work was intended to be) had already passed and it's time to conclude everything, anyway.

edited 20th Sep '12 9:09:08 AM by SeanMurrayI

If only one character being logical for half a minute would solve the plot, that's just an Idiot Ball. An Idiot Plot seems like a higher bar; it could be solved by one character not being stupid, but it's not one specific character; anyone in the cast (or at least any of the focus characters) could fulfil the roll of "being not dumb".

So, for example: In the example given for "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes", the whole plot could have been solved if Tony Stark had been forthright about his intentions and motivations. Nobody else is acting like an idiot; the plot happens because Tony has the Idiot Ball and Poor Communication Kills.

To my mind, that is NOT an Idiot Plot.

By contrast, your basic episode of Scooby-Doo is an Idiot Plot: They've run into dozens of quote-unquote "monsters" that are actually old men dressed in a suit or something. If any of the five main characters — not all of them, just one — stopped running away for long enough to swing a crowbar at the monster-of-the-week, the whole story would end in the first five minutes.

edited 20th Sep '12 9:19:43 AM by Escher

It should not make any difference at all how many characters are behaving like idiots if the intention is just to prevent a story from being resolved too quickly. Be it one character or one hundred, if the only reason a plot or conflict that has a simple solution is not resolved is because those simple solutions are being avoided by the character(s) with no rational explanation in the narrative provided as to why those simple solutions are being avoided, we're only outlining ONE basic concept here.

Dividing between one character and multiple characters made to behave like this so that a story could work as a writer intended is needless. It's splitting hairs.

edited 20th Sep '12 11:19:42 AM by SeanMurrayI

Then why do we have Idiot Ball and Idiot Plot as two different tropes?

From the description of Idiot Ball:

"If multiple characters have the Idiot Ball it becomes an Idiot Plot."

edited 20th Sep '12 1:18:40 PM by Escher

Hell if I know, but looking over both pages, I'd say these definitions overlap so much that they're utterly redundant. I haven't looked at any examples or wicks of either page yet, but if these definitions are anything to go by, I really wouldn't be surprised if many examples of Idiot Plot are mistaken for (or even duplicates of) Idiot Ball, based on the divide of "one irrationally written/motivated character and many".

There is one significant detail about Idiot Ball that I think, in part, separates it from Idiot Plot. The credited Trope Namer ("Coined by Hank Azaria on Herman's Head: Azaria would ask the writing staff, 'Who's carrying the idiot ball this week?'") suggests a role or function filled by any one of a number of different characters from amongst an ensemble cast which generally sees the character filling the role will vary from story to story, episode to episode (i.e. Bob 'carries the idiot ball' in one given week's episode, Alice carries it in another).

edited 20th Sep '12 2:23:24 PM by SeanMurrayI

Well, that is the idea, yes. Like I was saying before — the distinction is one versus many. And I don't think it's a meaningless distinction.

If Alice allows everyone to believe she's gotten pregnant, when a simple denial could resolve things, and hilarity allegedly ensues as Bob and Charlie, who both suspect they are the father, acting intelligently according to their personalities (Bob trying to work up the courage to marry her; Charlie trying desperately not to be around Alice at any time and becoming increasingly paranoid that she's trying to get his DNA for paternity tests) — that is not an idiot plot. The plot happens because of idiocy, but only on one person's part. (Or two, perhaps, depending on the story.)

An idiot plot requires — per Ebert's and the Turkey City Lexicon's original definitions — that the WHOLE CAST is being stupid. It's not just one idiot; nobody is being rational, because even one person with an ounce of common sense could solve things right away.
Tropes Are Flexible, and to distinguish between just ONE character and the WHOLE CAST of characters behaving irrationally just so a plot could unfold in a certain way, as you are doing, would be such a stark black and white distinction that it leave room anywhere for everything in the gray area (For instance, just two characters in a work behave irrationally, or three or four or any other number of characters between "one" and "all of them"). No matter how many characters there are in a work that you're looking to call idiots, if the plot only functions with any one of them, two of them, three of them, or all of them acting as such, it's all still the same basic concept. The exact number of idiots that an Idiot Plot hinges on is completely irrelevant.

And while that little example you whipped up about Alice and her fake pregnancy doesn't outline an Idiot Plot, it doesn't demonstrate any single character "carrying an Idiot Ball", either. You expect me to believe that Alice allowing people to think she's pregnant is simply a matter of idiocy (and on her part, no less) when your entire outline is so vague that this conflict could have believably developed from any number of circumstances (which don't necessarily need to have anything to do with idiocy) and have any number of plausible explanations being given as to why the matter wasn't fixed in less than 30 seconds after the title card.

edited 21st Sep '12 8:04:13 AM by SeanMurrayI

9 SeptimusHeap21st Sep 2012 03:46:45 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
Sean, mind to reduce the hyperbole a bit?

Idiot Plot seems to be clearly "the plot hinges on people acting dumb". Idiot Ball are more like "single moments of stupidity", or at least that is what I've seen it being used.
What hyperbole? Where? And what, may I ask, would be so wrong with hyperbole if you did actually come across it?

If you had just laid out the differences you see between Idiot Plot and Idiot Ball, I'd have only said, "That sounds fair, and I can agree with that." But now I also have to ask, "What the heck are you talking about?"

edited 21st Sep '12 8:13:56 AM by SeanMurrayI

[up][up][up] I'm assuming, in my example, that Alice is aware of the mistake and that it is causing chaos and discord but doesn't come clean, and for no discernable reason (such as 'she likes the attention' or 'Alice is evil').

Sean, you seem to be arguing with the way the tropes are currently defined.

edited 21st Sep '12 8:18:18 AM by Escher

12 SeptimusHeap21st Sep 2012 08:23:50 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
[up][up]Mostly the bold statements in your posts. They come off as shouts.

By the way, how do we identify misuse in Idiot Plot?
[up]I'm known for Bold Inflation to distinguish different elements at play and emphasize the most basic points that I am making, not screaming. Were you yourself just screaming when you typed "bold" just now, or just adding emphasis to that word, as I would?

Even if you do read it as screaming, you must admit that this is very articulate screaming that still stays completely on message. (You imagine me screaming, "Articulate!" at the top of my lungs now?)

And that still has nothing to do with hyperbole.

edited 21st Sep '12 8:44:03 AM by SeanMurrayI

14 SeptimusHeap21st Sep 2012 08:43:40 AM from Laniakea , Relationship Status: Mu
Ok, what is the proposed course of action here?
[up][up] Well, Sean will clearly disagree, but I would define it as misuse any time you have (A) only one person being dumb for no clear reason, or (B) the plot does not revolve around everyone being abominably stupid. (That is to say — everyone can be stupid at one point and make a bad decision that allows the story to continue, but it's not an idiot plot. An idiot plot requires that the story could pretty much be resolved at any point.) An example of the latter is the 28DaysLater example, where everyone IS being an idiot, but the example clearly states that it didn't even matter to the plot; it could've been cut without changing anything but a few lines of dialogue.

Just my thoughts.

edited 21st Sep '12 8:57:52 AM by Escher

Then what trope page do examples where the plot hinges on more than one character (as in A) and less than everybody (as in B) behaving irrationally for no discernible reason? Or should those just vanish?

You gotta be more flexible. Tropes Are Flexible.

edited 21st Sep '12 9:02:51 AM by SeanMurrayI

I AM being flexible. It's an idiot plot when you have lots of people being stupid, doesn't have to be literally everyone. If it's just one or two I'd say that's just idiot ball.

My point of view is that Idiot Plot should be a fairly high bar; it's a serious problem with the story if it's not being done intentionally for humor.

edited 21st Sep '12 9:02:04 AM by Escher

[up]You radically altered your previous message after I already responded to it. But here's how I am understanding your distinctions:

  • Plot hinges on Alice being irrational: Idiot Ball
  • Plot hinges on Alice and Bob being irrational: Not a trope at all, any existing examples of Idiot Plot on these lines are are misuse.
  • Plot hinges on Alice, Bob, and Carl being irrational: Not a trope at all, any existing examples of Idiot Plot on these lines are are misuse.
  • Plot hinges on Alice, Bob, Carl... and every other character all the way to Zachary being irrational: Idiot Plot

This is pretty faulty. You are only distinguishing between just one character and the entire cast of characters and leave absolutely no room for all the gray area in between. This is what I mean by Tropes Are Flexible. You can't divide this in stark black and white terms as extreme as "one person" and "everybody" and completely leave out everything else in the middle. Most examples of a thing like Idiot Plot are bound to fall somewhere in that middle, and they're still perfectly fine examples.

It's an idiot plot when you have lots of people being stupid, doesn't have to be literally everyone.

Why, one of the qualifiers you just laid out for identifying misuse is, "the plot does not revolve around everyone being abominably stupid." Earlier, you even said that the definition of Idiot Plot must require both the "WHOLE CAST" (the caps are yours) behaving like idiots, as well as "nobody being rational". Now you're going back on this?

This does beg a few questions though. How many people does one have to consider being "lots of people"? And if the plot directly hinges on just one character missing the obviously simple solutions, but no other characters ever call that one idiot out on it and they all just go along with what that idiot is already doing, is that enough to logically conclude that there are, in fact, multiple idiots in the work, anyway?

edited 21st Sep '12 9:36:30 AM by SeanMurrayI

I'd say it's this:

A statistical majority of people or groups who have the power to either end the problem or make substantial improvements and fail to do so.

So that includes a government which is not part of the major cast or may not be mentioned at all, but do not step in, as well as a populace of people who really should know better.
Yeah, it's all very simple.
  • Idiot Ball: A singular moment of stupidity that causes unnecessary conflict.
  • Idiot Plot: A cascade effect of stupid choices where the entire plot would be inert if someone behaved intelligently at key points.

You can think of it like the Idiot Ball being the Plucky Comic Relief playing with a statue and causing a Collapsing Lair Booby Trap, after being told not to touch anything. Quite often with an Idiot Ball the character is called out on their stupid behavior.

On the other hand, an Idiot Plot is often where things are falling apart and no one has an intelligent thought on how to end the conflict. Every choice seems to be the worst one to make in that situation and is largely based on miscommunication and misunderstandings. In this case, since it hinges more on the writing demanding more conflict it is left unmentioned.

The problem is that Idiot Plot is used for basically "A story I thought was stupid" and not based on stupid choices made by the characters. Most of the Star Wars examples fall into that area, it even says that the Ewok support turning the tide of the Battle of Endor would have made more sense if it was Wookiees like originally planned... how is that "stupid choices?"
[up]Would it be fair to argue that the Battle of Endor relies on the Empire acting stupidly or inconceivably inept just so that Ewok support could benefit the good guys?

I'll acknowledge that what you highlight is not how examples of Idiot Plot should be written or presented, but there would still be a way of writing it that can attribute any part of the editor's original remarks to character stupidity (Although I'm still not sure if character stupidity in this particular example you highlight has to do with an driving the brunt of a narrative, as Idiot Plot probably should be focused on, or just an isolated incident within the narrative, which is probably closer to Idiot Ball).

edited 21st Sep '12 1:40:49 PM by SeanMurrayI

How did the Empire act stupidly? Argumentatively they were inept but there is a huge difference between making a stupid choice and your enemy getting a lucky break (having the Ewoks as back-up) or being outwitted (via the walkers comm system). Cause the reality is that if no one slips up in competence then (all other things being equal) every conflict will end in a stalemate. An Idiot Plot should not be about competence or lack thereof, but the idea that there would be no story without those bad decisions.
Rather than argue about how many people have to be (acting like) idiots for it to qualify as Idiot Plot, may I suggest this alternative distinction:

  • If a character, who is not normally an idiot, does something idiotic because the plot requires it, that character has the Idiot Ball. Any number of characters may have the Idiot Ball at any given time. Characters can have the Idiot Ball for as little as one action, or as much as one Story Arc, but a character who is always an idiot is The Ditz or, if they're lucky, The Fool. A character who is normally not an idiot but does something idiotic for Watsonian reasons is also not suffering from the Idiot Ball (we have lots of other tropes for situational idiocy that might apply).

  • The Idiot Plot requires that at least one character be an idiot for the entire course of the plot. Those characters don't necessarily have the Idiot Ball. Damon Knight's "second order idiot plot" occurs when you have an entire society who are idiots all the time — i.e. they are all The Ditz.

Here are some contrasting examples:

  • In Brütal Legend, at one point Eddie decides, based solely on something the Big Bad (whom Eddie knows is a Manipulative Bastard) said, that Ophelia is not to be trusted, thus kicking off the second story arc within the game. That's Eddie carrying the Idiot Ball. It is not an Idiot Plot, because one can imagine several other ways to get the second story arc to happen without anyone having to do anything idiotic (suicidally overconfident, perhaps, but it's a World of Ham, so the writers could get away with that).

  • Romeo and Juliet is an Idiot Plot, because both title characters constantly do idiotic things throughout the play, and the central tragedy could have been avoided if, at any point, either title character had just spent a little more time considering the consequences of their actions. However, they don't have the Idiot Ball, they have romantic impulsiveness as their Tragic Flaw. (This example should also demonstrate that even this trope is not necessarily bad.)

... That said, Idiot Plot most certainly does have a ton of complaining and natter on it, but I wouldn't go farther than an example cleanup and a description rewrite. Idiot Ball seems far more problematic as a trope to me, in that I can't think of any case where it wouldn't be bad writing.

edited 4th Oct '12 3:17:50 PM by elwoz

[up]That's essentially my take. An Idiot Plot is one that depends on the characters not doing the obvious thing that would solve their problem immediately because they are idiots. An Idiot Ball is when a character in an ongoing series, who is not usually an idiot, becomes an idiot so the show can do an idiot plot for an episode.
[up] I think that's the wrong way to analyze the tropes. If an in-story event depends on someone being an idiot, it's not necessarily either Idiot Ball or Idiot Plot. It's only the Idiot Ball if it's out of character: the character is not normally an idiot and has no in-character reason to behave like an idiot right then. It's only an Idiot Plot if the idiocy is necessary to the plot—you could not rewrite the story to remove the idiocy but preserve the same sequence of events.

Idiot Plot is not necessarily a bad thing. Idiocy can be a Tragic Flaw (pace Romeo and Juliet). Idiocy can be the flaw that the adversary exploits to their advantage. Some versions of the Lovable Rogue wouldn't be nearly as funny if they ever learned anything from their mistakes (consider Bart Simpson). Even the second-order idiot plot can be made to work: consider Surrounded by Idiots. Actually I'm coming round to the notion that it's more likely to be a bad thing when you have idiocy but it's not necessary to the plot.

Idiot Ball, however, I can't think of any case where that wouldn't be a bad thing.

edited 5th Oct '12 8:19:46 AM by elwoz

Total posts: 73
1 2 3