You have your standard plot, with all the drama and conflict and what have you. But when everything is resolved and wrapped up, the characters realize that much of the plot, if not every bit of it, could have been avoided if they had done something different. That's right — it's an In-Universe realization on behalf of the characters, not the audience.
It often happens due to Poor Communication Kills (talking things out would've helped majorly), but it's not restricted to that. Whatever it is, it must be something that would've rendered the plot unnecessary at a reasonably early point in the episode/work, thus it is oftentimes dismissed as being "the easy way out".
It may serve as An Aesop if doing the moral/ethical thing from the start would've improved everything. If the drama happened because a character or more behaved in an uncharacteristically dumb or aggressive way, then the Idiot Ball or the Conflict Ball was used, respectively. If everybody involved was being stupid, you may have an Idiot Plot or Plot-Induced Stupidity.
Frequently lamp-shaded by a You Didn't Ask exchange.
Compare Didn't Think This Through, where a plan proves to have crippling flaws after its execution, and Stating the Simple Solution, when a character points out that a plan is impractical and offers a much easier one before carrying it out. Can overlap with "Shaggy Dog" Story. Please remember this trope allows In-Universe Examples Only, and do not confuse with events unfolding according to the Theory of Narrative Causality.
- In the Russian fairy tale, "Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf", Ivan has to retrieve first a firebird, then a magic horse. In both cases, he breaks into the palace of the Tsar that owns the object and is caught. Afterwards, both Tsars tell him that if he'd simply come to court and asked like a prince, rather than sneaking in like a thief, they would have given him what he needed as a gesture of friendship.
- Downplayed in Frozen as Anna (who admittedly is missing some important context) complains that her sister didn't need to run away in shame after accidentally freezing half the castle. She doesn't say any of this to Elsa herself, though.
Anna: Of course, none of this would have happened if she had just told me her secret. She's a stinker.
- In The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Ariel acknowledges that just telling Melody that Morgana would kill her if she were to explore the sea probably would've stopped Melody from running away to go explore the sea.
- In The Nightmare Before Christmas, after Oogie Boogie's defeat, Santa Claus berates Jack for trying to steal Christmas, angrily claiming he should listen to Sally ("the only one who makes any sense in this insane asylum" and who'd repeatedly tried to warn Jack that his version of Christmas would not go over well) the next time he gets the urge to take over someone else's holiday. This would lead Jack to have his Love Epiphany as he looked at Sally in wonder.
- Over the Hedge: Verne tells RJ that he only needed to tell them he needed food to placate an angry bear, because they'd adopted him as a member of the family and would have helped him without question. He then admitted Poor Communication Kills is a part of being in a family, too.
- The Pagemaster: In yet another example of It's the Journey That Counts, when Richard Tyler, Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror all reach the exit and finally meet the Pagemaster in person, Richard berates him for making him go through all the hell he had to go through until the Pagemaster reveals that the point of the whole adventure was to help Richard learn to face his fears. If he'd just been brought to the exit right from the start, he wouldn't have learned anything and his friends still wouldn't have been checked out.
- As noted in DVD commentary, most of Brother Bear wouldn't have happened if Kenai had made a proper knot to keep the fish basket hanging out of a bear's reach.
- 22 July: A commission panel investigating the July 22nd attacks reveals that the attacks could've been stopped, or at least the destructive effects mitigated, had they beefed up the security and taken steps to monitor Breivik beforehand.
- In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin Hood's first meeting with Friar Tuck results in the two of them crossing blades in the middle of a small lake. After a few minutes of requisite Flynning, Robin offers Tuck free food and ale if he joins his Merry Men. Tuck answers, "If you had said so sooner you could have saved us both a wetting!"
- In Andhadhun, Simi berates Manohar for bringing his gun to their tryst, saying that they wouldn't be in the mess they're in with her husband dead and them trying to avoid getting caught if he hadn't.
- In Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine's plan made at the end of Before Sunrise to meet each other again in six months is revealed to have failed because Celine's grandmother died close to their agreed-on date and she had no way to contact Jesse to tell him. The two of them acknowledge that if they had just exchanged phone numbers before parting instead of being romantic fools who thought they could just magically reunite with no problems, they wouldn't have had to wait nine years to find each other again.
- Black Panther (2018): The entire conflict could be blamed on T'Chaka. Had T'Chaka brought his orphaned nephew N'Jadaka back home instead of abandoning him in the slums of Oakland to preserve Wakanda's secrecy, N'Jadaka wouldn't have turned into the super-terrorist Killmonger and the Wakandan civil war would never have happened. Needless to say, his son T'Challa angrily calls him out on his poor judgement in the spirit realm.
- Captain Blood: Peter Blood and his band of prisoners became pirates after being unjustly imprisoned thanks to King James. They find themselves near Port Royal, under attack by the French. Lord Willoughby says he was sent to find Blood and offer a pardon and a commission as privateers in the King's navy. Naturally, Blood and his men refuse, putting down the King constantly with Willoughby thrown by how upset they are. It takes a line from Blood for Willoughby to realize the pirates have no idea the Glorious Revolution has taken place, James exiled and King William III offering the pardon. In seconds, the pirates have joined up, with Blood openly saying, "Why didn't you just tell us this in the first place?"
- In Django Unchained, after their plan to rescue Broomhilda fails, Calvin Candie spells out to Django and Schultz that he would have sold her to them for next to nothing if they had just been honest about wanting to buy her in the first place. Sure, Candie and Steven would still be alive and Candyland would still be in operation, but at least Django and Broomhilda would be reunited and Schultz wouldn't be dead. Sadly, Schultz had to come up with a needlessly complicated plan that got him killed and nearly got Django sold back into slavery.
- The D Train: The entire "Fawlty Towers" Plot that serves as the main conflict of the movie could've been solved if Dan had just told his boss why he was really going to Los Angeles instead of coming up with a convoluted plan that causes the company he works for to nearly go bankrupt, all because he didn't want to tell his wife the real reason he went. As Dan's boss notes when he finds out the truth, he would've understood and given Dan a few days off of work, and he could've just claimed to his wife that he was going on a business trip.
- All of the mayhem in First Blood wouldn't have gone on had a small-town sheriff allowed a Vietnam War veteran to eat at a restaurant within town limits, instead of arresting him on trumped-up charges of "vagrancy" (i.e. being homeless) among others and letting his deputies rough him up. The veteran's former commander has to show up to lend his aid in getting him to surrender, and the first time they talk, the veteran explains himself in part:
Rambo: There wouldn't be no trouble except for that king-shit cop. All I wanted was something to eat, but the man kept pushing, sir.
- The Framing Device of Forrest Gump fits. The story is him telling his life story while waiting at a bus stop to several other folks waiting, the listeners rotating as passengers board the bus and others come to wait for theirs. Eventually, he gets to the here and now and tells the current listener that he's waiting for a bus to Jenny's new house, having gotten a letter from her. The woman currently listening tells him the place he wants is only a few blocks away, and he doesn't need the bus; he quickly excuses himself and starts walking there, leading to the finale.
- Good Boys: When Hannah learns why the boys were spying on her with the drone, she observes that they could have just looked up 'How to Kiss' online rather than go to all this trouble.
- The Guilty: After he finds out the truth, Asger asks Michael why he did not simply call the police. Michael replies that he has no faith in the societal institutions that have failed him in the past.
- Honeymoon in Vegas: The movie starts with Jack, a private eye, telling the audience, via voice over, that he has an amazing story to tell, and it begins with him stringing along his girlfriend, Betsy, because he promised his dying mother he would never marry anyone. When she threatens to break up with him due to his fear of commitment issues, he decides to take her to Las Vegas to get married in a chapel and have a nice honeymoon at the same time. He tells the audience he could have taken to city hall, but the story would have ended right there.
- John Wick: Chapter 2: Winston tells Santino D'antonio that had he the sense to just leave John alone, especially after hearing about what he did to the Tarasovs a few days prior, then the events second movie (and by extension the third) would not have come to pass.
- Knives Out: As Detective Blanc points out near the end of the film, Harlan's death could have been avoided if he had simply listened to Marta and let her call an ambulance. But he had to be dramatic....
- Godzilla (2014): Ford questions why Monarch, who had access to the male MUTO's cocoon for fifteen years while studying it, didn't just kill it while they had the chance before it hatched (which if successful, would've probably also stopped the female's awakening without the male calling out to its formerly-dormant egg). Graham states that they didn't know what the cocoon was doing with all the radiation it absorbed and they feared killing it could've had Chernobyl-level global consequences. Nevertheless, the look on Serizawa's face suggests it was partly Just Think of the Potential! and that he now regrets it.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Ultimately averted. Early on in the film, Dr. Mark Russell (who is no fan of Titans) points out they wouldn't be dealing with the threat of all the dormant Titans being awakened by Western Terrorists (or for that matter the later threat of King Ghidorah controlling the other Titans and attempting to eradicate man and nature with an extinction event) if Monarch had done the job it was commissioned to do and killed the Titans whilst they were still dormant. His points are simply dismissed by Monarch's leaders, who have an almost religious reverence for the Titans. However, it's heavily implied in the film and outright confirmed by the Godzilla vs. Kong novelization that if humanity had attempted to kill the dormant Titans it would've only awoken them and provoked them into attacking — not to mention that King of the Monsters establishes that the Titans' deaths would likely cause even more problems for the world in the long term than awakening them would have due to their essential role maintaining the balance of the planet's ecosphere. In the novelization, Mark following his Break the Haughty phase when things go From Bad to Worse contemplates that Monarch could've probably avoided the threat of Ghidorah entirely if they tried to kill it while it was frozen, but concedes that attempting to do that likely would've only awoken the living extinction event.
- Godzilla vs. Kong: As it turns out, the reason Godzilla seemingly turns feral is actually because Apex Cybernetics was trying to create Mechagodzilla to replace him as the new Alpha. Worse, they use one of the heads of Godzilla's archnemesis King Ghidorah to do it. Madison even calls Walter Simmons out on this later in the movie, saying that Godzilla was on neutral terms with humanity until Apex tried to give him a challenger. The entire conflict, and indeed even Godzilla's feud with Kong, could have been avoided if Mechagodzilla was never created.
- Not Okay: When Harper confronts Danni with the evidence of her lies, Danni tries to justify herself by stating that she had no idea the terrorist attack would happen. Harper retorts with questioning why Danni would find it better to uphold the lie rather than admit she faked the trip to Paris the second the terrorist attack happened.
- In The Sandlot, after half a movie and substantial destruction, the boys manage to retrieve an autographed baseball from The Beast. The dog's owner points out he would have given them the ball back if they'd just asked. Scotty had suggested that at the outset, but the others insisted it wouldn't work.
- Spider-Man: No Way Home: The main plot starts when M.I.T. rejects Peter, Ned, and MJ's applications because of the controversy over Peter's secret identity being exposed, and Peter's reaction is to ask Doctor Strange to cast a spell to make everyone forget he's Spider-Man. After Peter then screws up the spell by continuing to add more people he wants to be exempt from it, thereby beginning the process of bringing people from across The Multiverse to the MCU, Strange brings up how Peter could have just appealed the admissions board's decision, and is enraged when he realizes that Peter never even considered that, instead jumping right to trying to use magic to fix his problems.
- Those Who Wish Me Dead: A villainous example. Jack repeatedly and frustratedly notes that if his boss hadn't been too cheap to hire a second team of hitmen, then the two teams could have killed Owen and the D.A. (and their families) at the same time. Instead, Owen hears about the D.A.'s murder on the news and immediately goes on the run with his son while the Blackwells drive toward his house after the first hit, kicking the plot into motion.
- Played for Drama in Us. Red tells Adelaide this in their final confrontation, during The Reveal that Adelaide is the real Red who switched places with her. However, the idea itself is very dramatically central to the plot, as it's really about how there must always be a "Tethered" who lives a miserable life underground so that Adelaide can have her happy above-ground life.
I never stopped thinking about you. How things could have been. How you could have taken me with you.
- Summed up by the final lines of Valdez is Coming:
Frank Tanner: I shoulda killed you three days ago.
El Segundo: Or gone to Nogales.
Bob Valdez: Or paid the hundred dollars.
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: If Blanche had come clean about being behind the wheel the night of her accident, her torture and eventual death at the hands of her sister Jane would have been avoided.
Jane Hudson: "You mean all this time, we could have been friends?"
- Into the Woods:
- Probably one of the most blatant examples in theater history. When the characters all encounter the Giantess who is looking for the lad Jack who killed her husband, they decide to offer her somebody else as a sacrifice. Unable to figure out what to do, they decide to offer the Narrator. The Narrator reminds them that if he is wiped out, they won't know the outcome of the story. Regardless of this, however, the Witch herself gives the Narrator to the Giantess. Seeing that the Narrator isn't Jack, the Giantess drops the Narrator and he is killed. The Baker's Wife, apparently concerned about how the story will go along without the Narrator, inevitably points out: "We might have thought of something else."
- Though a more or less justifiable example would be after the Witch lays a major Reason You Suck Song on Cinderella, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Baker pointing out what their actions from Act I have gotten them into:
Jack: Maybe I shouldn't have stolen from the Giant.
Little Red Riding Hood: Maybe I shouldn't have strayed from the path.
Cinderella: Maybe I shouldn't have attended the ball.
Baker: Yes, maybe you shouldn't have.
- The events of King Lear are set in motion by a completely avoidable decision by Lear to disown Cordelia and give the kingdom to Regan and Goneril simply on account of his vanity. As early as scene 4 he realizes that this was a terrible mistake.
Lear: Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in,
[Striking his head]
And thy dear judgment out!
- The Matchmaker has a subplot in which Ermengarde is sent to stay with an old family friend, Miss Van Huysen, to keep her away from her boyfriend Ambrose, who her uncle and guardian disapproves of. This inspires Ermengarde to run off with Ambrose instead of going to Miss Van Huysen's house, and they face various difficulties all through the play while they try to figure out where they're going to go and how they're going to straighten things out with Uncle Horace. In the final scene of the play, they finally end up at Miss Van Huysen's house, where it turns out that she's entirely in sympathy with them and if Ermengarde had gone to her house as planned Ambrose would have had no trouble visiting and they could have spent the same amount of time making plans in comfort and with Miss Van Huysen's help.
- Ace Attorney:
- In the final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations, Godot admits to Phoenix Wright that if he had warned Wright about the plot to kill Maya from the get-go, they would have avoided all of the drama, to say nothing of the death of Maya's mother. He even admits that he cared more about proving himself to his dead lover, Wright's mentor and Maya's sister Mia, than he did about Maya herself. He basically set up the whole scheme as a way to make up for sleeping through her death due to being in a coma.
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix was disbarred seven years ago (not long after Trials & Tribulations) because a rival tricked him into presenting forged evidence. When he meets the client from that case in the present day, said client, Zak Gramarye, reveals he had the real evidence, to Phoenix's shock. The evidence didn't even incriminate Zak; it instead bequeathed Troupe Gramarye's performance rights to him.
- Phoenix notes in Spirit of Justice that both Tahrust's death and Maya's trial could have been completely avoided if Tahrust had asked Phoenix to defend his wife of murder accusations for Puhray Zeh'lot's death, which was simply on self-defense because Zeh'lot was trying to kill her. Instead, Tahrust, knowing that his wife would likely be sentenced to death for being a rebel and that any lawyer who defended her would share her fate, hid Zehlot's body under snow to hide the time of death and killed himself in order to frame Maya for his and Zeh'lot's deaths. As a result, Maya(and by extension, Phoenix) is convicted for killing Tahrust, and is nearly convicted for killing Zeh'lot before Phoenix uncovers the truth. Tahrust admits this, but says that he didn't trust lawyers that much.
- A Little Lily Princess: Mariette's route causes this to happen with a Contrived Coincidence that is present in the plot regardless of player choices. Focusing on Mariette during Act 2 results in her turning out to still be in London and eventually getting hired by Mr. Carrisford as he's preparing to move to France to follow one of his leads in searching for Sara. At the end of the story, Mariette realizes that paying more attention to the reasons for the eventual move to France could have potentially allowed her to tell Mr. Carrisford where Sara was much earlier. Sara points out that there were plenty of other missed opportunities to set things staight, such as Sara and Ram Dass forgetting to tell each other their respective names, which is an event common to all routes.
- Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair plays this for tragedy. If Momoko had believed Kamen when she warned her about Hiro trying to cheat on Momoko with Kamen(which might have been helped by Kamen telling Momoko about being a lesbian) or at least not jumped to conclusions upon seeing Hiro's texts to Kamen, she would never have snapped and started a Murder-Suicide plot to kill herself and Hiro to frame Kamen for their deaths. Raiko herself points this out in the denouement, and concludes that the tragedy was a result of people failing to understand one another.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Gohan asks Krillin if "he used his Kienzan to chop Freeza in half" after using his Solar Flare. Krillin didn't.
- How It Should Have Ended:
- In the Avatar video, the human scientists tell Jake that instead of leading the Na'vi to war, he could just have told them about the Unobtainium beneath their home tree, which would have led to a peaceful solution to the conflict. Jake admits he forgot about that just to hook up with Neytiri; and when one of the scientists remarks that people died, Jake can only sheepishly apologize.
- In the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice video, Superman says that Batman could have just talked to him, instead of trying to kill him.
- In the Winter Soldier video, Steve and Natasha have successfully escaped from all the HYDRA goons, and are now planning their next move. She then mentions the mask allowing her to mimic any face. Once they discuss it, they realize that they could have both avoided all that escape, and that there was a much simpler way to defeat HYDRA.
- Red vs. Blue: Forced to undertake Mental Time Travel, Washington tries to discover where Carolina was hiding when she faked her death. His problem is that the Freelancers he used to work with, especially Carolina, don't respect him enough to want to listen to him. At his wits end, he vents his troubles to the three worst Freelancers. It's the most mentally-challenged Freelancer in the entire program who points out that Wash could just travel to a point in time where he and Carolina are friends and ask her directly. When Wash does that and discovers Carolina is indeed receptive to his question, he can't hold back his frustration◊ at having missed such an easy solution.
- Considering that Duels Decide Everything and many of the characters (usually the antagonists) tend to have Complexity Addictions, this trope frequently occurs in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series. One example would be Yami ranting to Pegasus about all the unnecessary death, expense and pointless angst he caused by setting up the Duelist Kingdom tournament just to try and cheat Yugi out of the Millennium Puzzle.
"Did you ever consider just asking me for it? I mean, do you have any idea how much time and money you've wasted with this whole façade? People have died because you wanted a necklace! I killed a gay clown for Ra's sake!"
- Cucumber Quest mixes this with an Armor-Piercing Response. The original objective was to stop the Big Bad from collecting all the Disaster Stones, which would allow her to summon the Nightmare Knight. However, she eventually does get all the stones and resurrect the Knight. When Cucumber's sister Almond tries to shame him for his attempts at talking things out with one of the antagonists and he tries to defend himself, she tries to taunt him by asking if he thinks everything is her fault then. He bluntly says yes; the world wouldn't even need saving if Almond hadn't treated their quest as a game and voluntarily given one of the villains the last Disaster Stone just because she wanted to go on an adventure.
- 8-Bit Theater: After traveling through a poison swamp, poison tundra, and plains of poison, the Light Warriors finally return to the entrance of Sarda's cave. He immediately teleports them inside.
Black Mage: Wait one damn second. Could you have done that at any time?
Sarda: No, not at any time. Don't be so stupid. Just any time I felt like it.
Black Mage: YEARGHBLEBLE!
- Of course, the 'irony' of this particular example is mitigated somewhat due to the later revelation that the sage Sarda — beyond simply being a general jerk — actually holds a bitterly vitriolic, personal grudge against most of the members of the Light Warriors and actively desires to see them suffer, making this seem less like an accidental oversight on Sarda's part and more like a contemptuously purposeful snub...
- In the El Goonish Shive storyline "So A Date At The Mall", Tara the gryphon attacks Elliot because an Immortal has told her that he's responsible for her wife Andrea not returning, and she believes Immortals can't lie, since this is the case in her plane of reality where they're called Ancients. After this has been resolved and they find Andrea, she says she told Tara about the difference between Immortals and Ancients, and Tara remembers a conversation she wasn't really listening to. Elliot and Nanase are not amused that Tara almost killed Elliot over a misconception that she was told otherwise about.
Tara: Whoops.Elliot and Nanase: "Whoops"?!
- The plot of The Mansion of E is kickstarted by two of the main characters going down the Basement to retrieve some siege equipment. Said equipment is stored much closer, in the barracks, as the third main character tells them by the end of the day, some 3500 strips later. By this time their actions have irreversibly changed lives of hundreds of the Basement dwellers.
- In The Order of the Stick, dwarven cleric Durkon Thundershield was exiled from his homeland because of a prophecy that his next return would bring disaster to his people. Except that this prophecy was never told to Durkon himself, and this led to a buried resentment for his seemingly inexplicable exile developing over the years. When his adventuring career ends due to his being turned into a vampire, the evil spirit that takes over his body as part of that is fueled by this resentment, giving it an edge in controlling him. And by that point, he'd actually successfully petitioned for permission to return, which was granted because nobody outside of a small circle knew about the prophecy. That not telling the Lawful Good dwarf about the reason he was exiled was a bad idea is pointed out in universe in comic #1096:
Roy Greenhilt: You've met Durkon! I'm pretty sure if you'd told him it would help innocent people, he'd break his leg trying to boot his own ass out the door!
- Scarlet Lady: At the end of the "Lady Wi-Fi" arc, Marinette points out to Alya that, had she bothered to think for two seconds and remembered that Marinette had been there during Scarlet Lady's debut or just asked her about the stuff she accidentally saw, she would have saved herself her problems and akumatization.
- The Shark Pool trailer is based around this. There's a shark in the pool. They have no idea how to stop the deaths.
Girl: I can't believe she's dead. How many more people is this thing going to kill?
Guy: What? Uh, none. Just don't go in the pool.
- During JonTron's "StarCade" series, Jon's confused as to why Arin went through all of this trouble to capture him and stick him in the Millennium Falcon for six months playing bad Star Wars games, he tells him that he just wanted to play games for old time's sake. Jon responds by saying that he had his phone number, he could have called.
- Sword Art Online Abridged: Kayaba locked the players in Sword Art Online to cover up a glitch that accidentally killed people by making it look intentional. That part was justified by Exhaustion-Induced Idiocy, as he had been awake for several weeks due to the launch crunch. However, Asuna asks him why he didn't just blame his actions on hackers pretending to be him, since that would make more sense than the actual reason, and then he could get real help from the government. Kayaba says the problem with that plan is that he didn't think of it and wished he did two years ago.
(Beat)Kayaba: Anywho, on that sobering note, I think I'm gonna go scream into that uncaring void for a bit...