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Chandler's Law

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The readers will never see this coming!
Kaguya: We've got a problem, Eirin. There are no more plot ideas for this manga.
Eirin: Not to worry, Your Highness. Just have the characters say any old thing, then in the last panel, show the Scarlet Devil Mansion or the Hakurei Shrine's offertory box exploding, and you've got yourself a Touhou manga.
Kaguya: I knew you could do it, Eirin...
[Scarlet Devil Mansion blows up. Hakurei Shrine's offertory box blows up. Sakuya's breast pads blow up.]
— Bomber Grape's Touhou: "Punch Line"
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When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.

As codified by pulp novelist Raymond Chandler, Chandler's Law is a concise but evocative piece of advice for writers who have somehow painted themselves into a corner, plotwise. The addition of a new opponent or complication, usually amidst a burst of violence, can free a protagonist from where they have become mired in the current plot.

Although expressed in a form very specific to the genre in which Chandler was writing, the Law can be easily generalized to handle any type of story. It should be noted that Chandler was not presenting this as unqualified, universal advice, but rather describing it as a kind of constraint the pulp formula of the time imposed on him. Though he did occasionally use it even in his more "literary" stories, he was more ambivalent about it than anything.

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Participants in National Novel Writing Month (which emphasizes wordcount over quality) know this law by a similar mantra: "If all else fails, have Ninjas burst through the wall and attack someone", as the writer should be able to get at least a few hundred words out of the characters suddenly questioning "Ninjas? What the hell is going on here?"

This undoubtedly finds some origin in the Rule of Drama. If guns are too dramatic for you, try dropping a cow for the Rule of Funny version. If an entirely new plotline results, see Halfway Plot Switch. Both Diabolus ex Machina and Diabolus ex Nihilo can operate on this principle (with varying levels of success). Conflict Killer is often a result of this. See also Code Silver (which is this trope applied to medical and law dramas and otherwise non-action-packed series).

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The Giant Space Flea from Nowhere is a video game-specific subtrope when the game has to provide some kind of challenge, even if the monster has no relation to the scene and the characters ignore it once the fight ends.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Naruto, The Chunin Exam Finals culminate in a series of seven one-on-one single-elimination fights between the remaining eight participants. By the middle of the third battle, the Tournament was no longer progressing the story by itself, so the author chose that moment for Orochimaru to reveal his Evil Plan to destroy the Leaf Village.
  • In season 1 of the Hetalia: Axis Powers anime, France, feeling left out and insecure, goes through a rather long series of flashbacks while trying to assure the viewers (and himself) that he was and is a powerful military nation. After a number of clips covering such events as the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, The defeat of Spain's armada by England and the War of Austrian Succession, France finally snaps back to reality just as Germany walks in/bursts through the door with a rifle in his hands, demanding France's surrender. The Dub even has Germany sarcastically apologizing for interrupting France and asking him mock nicely to put his hands up.
  • Episode 8 of Hyouka references Chandler's laws by name.
  • Bleach. Tite Kubo has stated that when he gets writer's block, making new characters helps overcome it. The trouble is, he doesn't create one or two characters, he creates entire groups which introduces a new Cast Herd leaving the story with Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Sailor Moon: Initially the series was supposed to end after the first arc, but because of it's popularity Naoko Takeuchi was asked to continue the series. The result is that the manga's first arc ends with Usagi going on a date with her boyfriend after the Big Bad is defeated. That's when a little girl falls from the sky and points a gun at Usagi.
  • The Synchro Dimension Arc in Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V introduced the Friendship Cup as a means of allowing The Lancers to win that dimension's alliance against the Fusion Dimension. This resulted in new plot points being introduced (the Commons rebellion and Jean Michel Roget's use of mind controlling brain implants) and older plotpoints being concluded (Dennis being exposed as The Mole). Eventually, the Fusion Dimension invaded right as the tournament lost the ability to progress the plot by itself.
  • Tokyo Godfathers invokes this trope as part of the plot. When the main trio is bickering and threatening to split up, they are forced to continue on their quest by a runaway truck crashing into the store they just left.

    Comic Books 
  • Mark Waid
    • Take two characters who would otherwise have nothing in common or anything to discuss and put them into the same room.
    • Make a list of all the horrible things that could possibly happen to your character and consider going down the list.
    • To see this concept in action, read Waid's Justice League of America arc "Tower of Babel", in which the League especially Batman go right on down the list.
  • There was an issue of The Flash where Wally was involved with an uncomfortable relationship talk with his girlfriend. The captions really sum it up best:
    Then — out of the blue — ninjas attack.
    Thank God.
  • In the early Nineties, the writers of Superman were gearing up for Lois and Clark's wedding when they were suddenly told to delay it for several months, so it would match up with their wedding in Lois & Clark. Unable to think of anything to fill the sudden gap, they eventually settled on having a Generic Doomsday Villain drop from the sky, fight off the entire Justice League, and (temporarily) kill the Man of Steel.

    Fan Works 
  • In Power Girl fic A Force of Four, Wonder Woman has just been said her daughter has a lover. Before Diana can berate Lyta for keeping things from her, Paradise Island is under attack... which Lyta Trevor is actually grateful for.
    Wonder Woman's eyes widened. "Mother, what are you saying? Are you saying that Lyta has—"
    Lyta's eyes were widening at the same time that her skin was flushing crimson.
    Diana finally finished the sentence. "—has given herself to a man?"
    "Ohhhhhhh, hell," muttered Lyta, and hid her face in her hands.
    That was when a warning siren went off.
    Lyta was never so grateful for such a sound in her entire life.
  • My Immortal abuses the concept so much that it becomes a Random Events Plot very quickly. It's pretty coherent (Ebony and Draco meet, date, screw like bunnies, break up) until Voldemort shows up. And Snape becomes a pedophile. And Draco gets captured. And Dumbledore turns evil. And Draco commits suicide. And comes back to life. This is all in about 2,000 words, by the way.
  • This is something that's acknowledged (and even encouraged) in the Touhou Project fandom. Behold, the existence of templates (which are forbidden)!
    Magic. note 
    Eirin's shady new drug. note 
    Yukari is fooling around again. note 
    It's a Moriya Shrine conspiracy. note 
  • Used to end the Breather Episode in Mass Effect: Human Revolution. In a twist the gang of mercs are not there after the Cowboy Cop, Mad Scientist, Playful Hackers and any of the Marines.
    DO YOU HEAR ME, JAKE ARMITAGE?!
  • Invoked in X-Men: The Early Years when Scott is having dinner with Jean's parents and he wishes for a Sentinel attack.
    Scott ate his dinner slowly, wondering where the Sentinels were when you really needed them. The Greys were studying him with an expression that most people reserved for rather distasteful insects.
  • In X-Men 1970, Jean Grey's temp job is so boring she actually prays for super-villains attacking.
    The temporary supervisor walked off. Lord, if You are listening, she thought, have Factor Three assault the main gate so I can put on my green miniskirt and yellow mask and save the day and not have to finish all this dad-blamed steno work.
    Neither Factor Three nor any other sort of registered super-villain made an attack on the electric company that day. Sighing, Jean grasped her coat with frazzled fingers at 5:45 and resolved to hit church on Sunday with a prayer request for evil mutants.
    Them was the days.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Last Action Hero, this is lampshaded when the protagonists lose track of the Big Bad; said Big Bad just keeps going about his business unfettered instead of giving them another lead to chase. Only by dropping Action Hero tropes for a while and considering the situation carefully do they find him Just in Time.
  • The Boondock Saints: While the film is practically made of "People Busting Through Doors and Shooting At People," there is one scene that particularly feels like this trope: The main characters are even bored, and the plot is kinda on hold; suddenly, their best friend kicks through the door and starts waving his gun around and screaming for everyone to pack their shit.
  • In The Expendables 2, our heroes are trapped under gunfire and the enemy has pulled out a tank. Suddenly, the enemy is quickly butchered by some unseen force. Considering the nature of the movie, this was likely a parody of this trope's place in action films. Oh, and it was Chuck Norris.
  • Saving Private Ryan has a scene that also feels like this trope. The squad regroups with an American unit in a building, only to have a wall collapse, revealing German soldiers occupying an adjacent room, resulting in a standoff. Captain Hamill (Ted Danson) and one of his men show up with Thompsons unnoticed and shoot all the German soldiers, ending the standoff.
  • Happens in Casino Royale (2006), when Bond is being tortured by Le Chiffre for information. Bond points out that he will never give up the information, and Le Chiffre can't kill him without it, so he decides to castrate Bond. Before he can do so, armed men (working for the Nebulous Evil Organization that Le Chiffre would have gladly snitched on to MI6 as a Plan B out of his situation) enter and kill Le Chiffre and his henchmen.
    • This basically happens in the original novel too.
  • Aquaman: Several moments of dialogue are cut off by a huge explosion or attack of some sort.

    Literature 

Authors:

  • Lawrence Block also does this. In a book on writing, he illustrated how to maintain conflict between a protagonist and a grizzly bear until the protagonist starts escaping down the river. "Then you give the bear a canoe..."
  • Chuck Palahniuk has said that, if you want to move a plot along, the best way is to just have another character enter the room and make them say something disturbing.

Works:

  • The Dresden Files: In Changes, Harry has been strapped to a bed by his friends (It's a Long Story, and not what it sounds like), and a hitman, presumably sent by the vampires, walks in. Naturally, the shit hits the fan almost immediately.
  • Used in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, naturally. Even lampshaded viciously in The Lady in the Lake when Marlowe confronts a character and they pull a pistol:
    "I've never liked this scene," I said. "Detective confronts murderer. Murderer produces gun, points same at detective. Murderer tells detective the whole sad story, with the idea of shooting him at the end of it. Thus wasting a lot of valuable time, even if in the end murderer did shoot detective. Only murderer never does. Something always happens to prevent it. The gods don't like this scene either. They always manage to spoil it."
  • Chandler's successor, Robert B. Parker, used this trope often with Spenser. Being Spenser, he usually turns the tables on his attackers. He ran into this so often that you kind of started to think that if the bad guys had just sat tight, Spenser wouldn't have had any leads to follow.
  • In Stephen King's book on writing appropriately titled On Writing, he mentions the use of this rule to overcome a serious case of writer's block when working on The Stand, namely, by having Harold and Nadine place a bomb and kill several of the main characters, including Nick Andros. And then another bomb, this one nuclear, killing tons more characters.
  • Thursday Next: Justified and Lampshaded in The Well of Lost Plots: early in the book, Thursday purchases a 'Suddenly, a shot rang out!' plot device from one of the Well's wordsmiths. Later, when she's in a situation she can't get out of, she cracks it open...and Suddenly A Shot Rings Out! The Bookworld being what it is, there's also a logical, in-universe reason for this to happen, besides Thursday using the device.

    Live-Action TV 

Creators:

  • Jim Henson once commented on his pre-Muppet puppet sketches that when he couldn't think of how to close a sketch, he'd either have an explosion or have one character eat the other. It's pretty clear that this carried over to The Muppet Show.
  • Joss Whedon has been quoted as saying that whenever they needed to add to the drama in Firefly, they'd get someone to point a gun at Kaylee.
    • ...which was a variation of his tactic from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "When in doubt, put Willow in danger."
      • Season 2 of Buffy also got a lot more interesting when Angel lost his soul. In general, each season upped the drama once the Big Bad was revealed.

Series:

  • The Season 2 finale of Prison Break had all of its character arcs finished, its main plot finished, and most of its side plot threads tied up... but it still had ten minutes of airtime to burn and the network wanted a third season. So guess what happened next.
  • Seasons 3+ of Once Upon a Time would very consistently pull something like this at the end of every half-season: "have the Wicked Witch come out of nowhere", "have Elsa from Frozen come out of nowhere", "have Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella come out of nowhere", "have Emma Swan turn into the Dark One out of nowhere" etc...
  • Occurs in the Breaking Bad episode, "Dead Freight". Walter, Jesse, Mike, and new Nice Guy Todd, rob a train to get a massive amount of methylamine. The robbery goes off without a hitch, but as the crew are celebrating they see a young boy on a dirt bike watching them. Cue seemingly Nice Guy Todd calmly pulling out a gun and executing the kid with no warning whatsoever, to end the episode.
  • Season 6 of the aforementioned Buffy has a literal example; they beat the bad guys, and Buffy and Xander are happily reuniting in her garden after the stresses of the last few weeks, and Willow and Tara are back together after the stresses of the last few months... then Warren turns up with a gun and starts shooting.
    • Season 5 meanwhile has the Knights Of Byzantium, whose purpose seems mainly to be to stall the Glory arc (which many considered overlong). Their execution, introduced mid-season in a burst of violence and disposed of just before the season's end, looks in retrospect very much like the writers were channelling this trope.
  • Subverted on Cheers. One eleventh season episode opens with Norm and Cliff lazily wondering what they're going to do since they're rather bored. While they're thinking this over, Andy Schroeder note  bursts in wearing a belt made of dynamite and demands to see Diane. After Woody informs him that Diane hasn't worked there in years, Andy just leaves and Norm and Cliff go back to discussing what they're doing that day.
  • Doctor Who relies a lot on this, which ranges in execution from masterful tension-risers to Wacky Wayside Tribe Padding.
    • In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", Ian holes up with a group of survivors and things are looking quite optimistic for him, so he and the others are promptly attached by a horrible flailing monster called a Slyther that apparently the Dalek Supreme keeps as a pet. At around the same time, Susan is attempting to go through sewers with resistance members and is attacked by some stock footage of a rather small alligator.
    • "Genesis of the Daleks" has a truly amazing sequence where the Doctor and Harry are being about five minutes too efficient at infiltrating Davros' lab, and so get attacked by a giant orange polystyrene land clam when Harry steps in it after the Doctor points out to him that it should be avoided. The clams are apparently one of Davros' experiments, but what purpose they could possibly have is never explained.
    • "The Big Bang" has the stone Dalek that chases the characters around the museum, handily breaking up exposition three times. Its existence is a plot-relevant clue, at least.
  • Many sketches on Monty Python's Flying Circus would end with a knight coming in and hitting someone on the head with a rubber chicken. Or a sixteen-ton weight would fall on somebody. Or The Colonel would come in when things got too silly.
  • In the American version of The Office, Michael Scott misuses this trope constantly at his improv class. Any time he is called to act in a scene, he pulls out a gun to increase drama because "you can't top it". Of course, nobody can top it and it ruins every improv exercise the class attempts.
    • In fact, improv classes usually state as one of the first rules of scenework that pulling a gun is a "weak choice" — as pointed out above, it keeps everyone else in the scene from contributing anything. Not to say it never happens, of course, or that it can't work when it does happen.
  • Lampshaded in The Pretender. Jarod narrates that when in doubt, have a man walk in with a gun. A man walks in with some ice cream. As he corrects himself in the narration, the man asks Jarod whether he is Dick Dickson (who Jarod is currently pretending to be). When Jarod answers in the affirmative, the man promptly draws a gun.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Manhunt", Captain Picard indulges in a holodeck session as Dixon Hill, but he's only there to relax and kill time, not to engage in a story. Despite his objections, the holodeck interrupts his reverie with increasingly disruptive plot hooks—the last of which is literally a thug bursting through the door with a Tommy gun—because "the flexibility of the program is limited to the parameters of the Dixon Hill novels". Raymond Chandler was a major influence on the Dixon Hill "franchise".
  • Two and a Half Men has Alan, while writing a movie in a coffee shop, getting writer's block several times and solving it by having a meteor hit the characters.
  • Westworld: In-universe, the park's narratives are clearly designed to interrupt any potential lull in the plot with violent plot twist. After having a party he attends turn sour from a doublecross, William accuses the creator of perpetuating a sense of urgency so the guest will be too consumed with their base urges to think.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons adventure Whispers of the Vampire's Blade suggests using this trope, and includes a table of possibilities for who exactly is kicking down the door and why.
  • Mentioned by name in the Tabletop RPG Feng Shui, in the "GM's advice" section.
  • This is one of the most emphasized pieces of advice for Spirit of the Century GMs.
  • Warhammer 40,000. When in doubt, have another Tyranid/Ork/Chaos/Necron invasion or an Imperial Crusade or have it turn out that the governer/inquisitor/whatever was actually an agent of chaos/tyranids/generic evil all along.
  • Unknown Armies alludes to it in the GMs section when explaining how to plot a game, suggesting that GMs throw in another faction "in case you need somebody to come through the door with a gun"
  • Quoted and explained in GURPS: Mysteries.
  • The Ninja Burger RPG has a chart to determine what kind of new violence can throw spice up your mission.
  • The RPG.net forums give us this gem: Screw it, ninjas attack!
  • The Random Events table in Maid runs on this. It's also somewhat unusual in that, in addition to the GM using it, the players can pay Favor in order to trigger a roll on the Random Event table (assuming that the GM isn't enforcing their Rule Zero rights and saying "you can't do that", which the rulebook advises for more structured scenarios).
  • This is very common advice for GMs, newbie and veteran alike. Any GM of any description has experienced the awful feeling of their table group starting to screw around and make their own fun because they've grown bored with the plot. This is the smart GM's cue to have a surprise, unknown antagonist leap into the king's throne room and immediately start cracking heads or, if the party is bored of constant fighting instead of talking, to suddenly have the monster's boss walk in, surrender and attempt to talk it out.
  • Battletech canon plays this straight. When the plot stops feeling like a twisted web of lies, betrayal, and deceit, assassinate a random major protagonist. Has happened at least 8 times.
  • A similar mechanic exists in Fiasco - at exactly halfway through the game, an event called the Tilt happens where a bunch of extra conflict elements (e.g. "a dangerous animal gets loose", "love rears its ugly head", "someone develops a conscience", "something precious is on fire")are taken from a table and thrown into the game. Played properly, everything should be going horribly wrong already, and the Tilt elements are intended to create a Halfway Plot Switch.
  • Like many other pulp settings, Rocket Age encourages its use to keep things lively.
  • The FATE adaptation of Atomic Robo calls this tactic the Big Damn Explosion, because usually that's the most visible way to do it.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 
  • Darths & Droids:
    • This page uses the explosion version with an additional gas trap, as the GM needs to get the action moving because Qui-Gon's player is insisting on searching the room.
    • Used again, and explicitly named, much later; when the GM interrupts Finn and Rey's conversation with a couple of Stormtroopers. The Rant also advises that the Law is an excellent device to use to kickstart an RPG campaign that's stalling.
    • And again not long after, where Finn, Rey, and BB-8 have started arguing and the GM distracts them with something breaking and starting to smoke on the Millennium Falcon. The GM quips that, rather than invoking Chandler's Law, he "just wanted to vent."
  • Girl Genius: uses the rather natural combination of this trope and Moment Killer here.
    • The later side story about Ivo Sharktooth is all about this trope (alongside being Trope Overdosed on Private Detective story tropes). Ivo is a Private Jäger, which is to say a Jägermonster who moonlights as a Private Detective. What happens when you hire him? Usually, he blunders around the crime scene(s) until the people who did the crime try to have him silenced via this trope, allowing him to eventually track down who did it through tracing the people currently trying to kill him back to the source.
  • Irregular Webcomic!...
  • Ménage à 3 had perhaps fallen into something of a rut by the end of volume 5, although lead character Gary had at least just escaped from a protracted car-crash relationship. So the writers applied this principal twice over, perhaps even to excess. First, another of the lead characters' boyfriend came through a door (and into the middle of a lesbian orgy) with a startled expression, and then, one strip later, it turned out that Gary had just come through an international plane flight with a naked transgender lingerie model.
  • Nale of The Order of the Stick spells it out in-character here.
  • In Sluggy Freelance Zoe gets pissed off at how much this trope turns up in her life.
    Zoe: I don't believe this! Just when I think we might be having a nice, ordinary issue to deal with, like adultery, you come in screaming about vampires! What happened to normal problems, like credit-card debt?
  • Strip Tease is a decent slice of life comic, until the writer decides to throw in some "drama" and has the main character's girlfriend kidnapped... three times... by the same people...
  • Waterworks pulls this off when the plot seems to stall, and even the main character comments on how nothing vital seems to be happening. All of a sudden, after the readers have been fooled into thinking that a leisurely talk scene is about to follow, the hitherto Shrouded in Myth powerful villain bursts through a door, wrestling with a Mini-Mecha. Awesome three-on-one fight scene follows.
  • This Wiki's Lessons In Life comic applies this principle to conversations.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed on Cracked here at entry #5 where the author Ray Dolin was using his hitchhiking across America experiences to write a book up until a mysterious man shot him in the arm on a drive by shooting, creating a whole new turn of events. It turns out the mysterious shooter never existed, Dolin had just shot himself on the arm to either draw publicity to his upcoming book or because he needed a plot twist to make his story more interesting.
  • A variation is discussed in Counter Monkey, wherein Spoony suggests that if a campaign is getting stagnant or the PCs are getting distracted from the main plot, a DM can have someone steal something from the PCs. He does warn that this tactic only works once.
  • Happened during Season One of The Massive Multi-Fandom RPG. The game stalled due to one of the players going Villain Sue (there being little prior GM oversight regarding the players' power levels), attacking the other players and easily withstanding everything they threw at him. The GM resolved the stalemate by having a meteor suddenly appear in the sky and crush the player character. This not only got rid of the Sue, but also jump-started a new plot arc with a Borg Cube following after the meteor and attacking the city.
  • Discussed by Matt Colville in his Running the Game web series on roleplaying games. He calls this "Orcs Attack!" and recommends having monsters show up and put the party in danger if they don't have clear goals or are feeling stuck.

    Western Animation 
  • Regular Show uses this a lot, the episode starts with Mordecai and Rigby taking part of something plain or mundane, then before you know it, an Eldritch Abomination comes out of nowhere, a normal person exhibits supernatural powers, a normal object comes to life...and more.


 
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