Follow TV Tropes


Exponential Plot Delay

Go To

The plots of some serial works can often take as much time getting to the three-quarter mark as they did getting to the half-way mark. And then as much time again on the next eighth. And so on. This phenomenon is known as Exponential Plot Delay, and it is a common trend among particularly long-running works.

The main storyline advances initially, but soon slows down until it all but comes to a halt. The rate at which Plot Coupons are collected drops dramatically, until it reaches a point where, for the A-story, Status Quo Is God. This can follow from the writer's understandable desire to avoid resolving the overarching plotline — the one that is providing the core tension sustaining the work. Other times, it's because the work has become popular enough to become a Cash-Cow Franchise and either the writer or their management doesn't want the story to end — a lack of progress sometimes translates into good business.

There are several ways to make this work. First and foremost are sub-plots. And sub-sub-plots, etc. The advantage is twofold: sub-plots take the weight off the main plot and they provide an opportunity for storytelling in their own right. For maximum effect this trope is combined with multiple Plot Threads, advancing each sub-plot in turn. If too many threads are left unresolved, however, a Kudzu Plot may develop.

Another way to keep the A-story stable is the repeated discovery of The Man Behind the Man, often coupled with the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. As The Hero triumphs over a foe, he repeatedly finds out about an even worse foe out to get him. If all else fails, the writers can resort to filler. note 

A measure of caution must be taken when employing this trope, however. As the plot slows down, Arc Fatigue may make itself felt, and if it's done particularly badly, the Chris Carter Effect may well take hold; as patient as audiences can be, if years go by without the characters making any kind of meaningful progress in the main plot and the audience determines that any attempt by the characters to make progress will meet with failure, they may well give up on the work.

All series must end eventually, one way or the other. Sadly, some series are Cut Short; Real Life Writes the Plot and it's Left Hanging because of money problems and/or the creator's death. Sometimes a series is not profitable enough to continue, but a short work is made to Wrap It Up. Other series end more naturally; the A-plot is taken out of the freezer, lightly microwaved with some lead-up and given a satisfying resolution.

Compare and contrast Cosmic Deadline.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Akagi: The Washizu Mahjong arc began in 1997, with the match itself starting in chapter 70. As of chapter 284 (mid-2016) the match's progression looked like this - note how the sixth and last hanchan has lasted over twice as long as the rest of the arc.
  • Bleach: The bad guys introduced at around Volume 20 take up the next 15 volumes by themselves, with a further six split between those enemies and the Big Bad's big invasion.
  • Inuyasha Episode 1: Kagome travels back in time. Episode 3: Kagome and Inuyasha start searching for shards of the Shikon jewel. Episode 24: All of the major protagonists have been introduced, except Koga. Episode 36: Koga. Episodes 96 - 101: Individual filler episodes. 102 - 122: Fighting. Episode 167: The show Overtook the Manga so they just don't make any more episodes. It wasn't until the manga finally ended when the anime was Un-Cancelled to adapt the rest.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • The manga plays this trope series wide, as Part 1 consisted of just 44 chapters, while Part 2 clocked at 69 chapters. Part 3 then makes a massive leap with 153 chapters, which became the standard for up to Part 6 (Part 4 has 174 chapters, Part 5 got 155 chapters, and Part 6 had 158 chapters).
    • As Part 7 changed into Ultra Jump's monthly schedule, each part took a lot longer to conclude compared to previous ones, as the 3/4 year runs extended into 8-10 years. Despite the smaller number of chapters of Steel Ball Run at 95, the page count and duration is much longer than that every previous part (clocking at 4290 pages compared to Stone Ocean's 3260 pages.
    • Part 8: Jojolion took this even further, acting as the longest Part of the whole series, clocking at 110 monthly chapters and 4741 pages.
    • The anime zig-zags this trope, as it starts as usual with Part 1 clocking at 9 episodes and Part 2 running with 17 episodes, Part 3 takes a massive leap with 48 episodes, being much longer than both parts combined and lasting two seasons. Parts 4 and 5 reverse this at clocking at 39 episodes, keeping pace more consistent with the runtime of Parts 1 and 2.
  • Naruto: Averted. The two main plots are A. Naruto's plan to advance up the ninja ladder and ultimately reach the highest ranking possible; and B. The Big Bad's master plan to collect 9 Sealed Evils in a Can and bring about The End of the World as We Know It. These two plots — and the genre — obviously and readily lend themselves to this sort of plot progression, but A. For nearly all of the manga Naruto never gets to advance past even the most basic ranking, getting closer to his goal by other means; and B. The Big Bad collects the first on screen, then 6 of the remaining 8 Sealed Evils off-panel and without much fanfare, and his desire to get his hands on the last two pretty much sits there in the background without dictating the plot pace at all until he finds a way to complete his plans, again, by other means. Then Naruto sets a main goal for 300+ episodes to bring back Sasuke, which happens to be the plot with the least advancement of any of them and is effectively resolved by somebody else with almost no input from Naruto at all.
  • One Piece. Going through East Blue to get to the Grand Line took 62 episodes. They are past 500 episodes and are still in the Grand Line. Eiichiro Oda supposedly said the series was halfway through at or before the Marineford War, but with both the anime and the manga slowing in pacing, with many dangling plot threads, the second half seems to be much longer than the first. It doesn't help that the Dressrosa arc was both the manga and anime's longest story arc, having gone on for at least two years.
  • Pokémon: The Series follows the above formula almost exactly. Originally it was working up to a conclusion, then it got a popularity explosion and the executives wouldn't let it finish... until Pokémon Journeys: The Series, which proves to be the Grand Finale of Ash and Pikachu's journey. The next anime series, Pokémon Horizons: The Series, is unrelated to Ash's adventures save for the possibility of a Shared Universe.
  • Ranma ½ does this to focus on being an episodic comedy series without worrying about maintaining any sort of continuity or major plot arc.

  • This seems to be where Safehold is headed as of the fourth book. Characters are added faster than they're killed off, and with all the checking in on minor figures like Gorjah, hundreds of pages can pass before the big players like Nahrman so much as make an appearance. And of course, since many of those big players are spying on everyone else, they spend a lot of pages discussing new developments before they actually decide to take action on any given situation.
    • Book 5 finishes what was originally going to be book 1. Honor Harrington has just his the second half of the story in book 14.
    • Safehold gets better by the end of book five and as of book six it gets more speed, as various Character Development story arcs are wrapped up and long-awaited war on the main continent finally starts.
    • David Weber in the past couple years became an adopted parent, and thus has stated between his own tendency for doorstoppers and a need to pay for college he's deliberately splitting up novels.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: When the first book was written, it was intended as part of a trilogy. It then ballooned out into a trilogy in its own right. After the end of the "first" book, there was supposed to be a five-year timeskip allowing George RR Martin to cut out a lot of tedious backstory and leap right into the action of the "second" (now fourth) book, but the time skip didn't work so he instead went back and started writing all the tedious backstory. There was so much of it he had to split the characters in half and put their chapters in two separate books, the fourth and fifth. Even then, the big battles that were supposed to be the culmination of the individual plot strands ended up being held over for the sixth book, making the fourth and fifth books feel like giant teases and/or exercises in pointlessness. Martin has said it'll be done in seven books, his editor says it'll be eight, but given how each book of his original trilogy is now a trilogy in its own right, the smart money is on nine.
  • Gleams of Aeterna is infamous for this. It was originally planned as a duology, but expanded into five books of roughly the same length after Kamsha started actually writing them. The first three were published within two years. The next one was split into three volumes, which took just as long. The last book was initially split in four volumes, spread out over five years, then the last volume of that went on a four-year hiatus, reemerging as a six-parter (?) itself — read: the final bit of the final part of the fifth novel is now alone about as long as everything that came before it. The amount of in-universe time they cover is also inversely proportional to page count devoted to it.
  • The Wheel of Time: Robert Jordan originally planned for the series to be a trilogy. Before too long had passed he realized he would need six books to finish. He died working on a twelfth and final volume. Brandon Sanderson, hired to complete it, needed three to get it all done, though at least the pace has picked up and we're no longer getting books that are entirely missing one of the three male leads. Book ten is set almost entirely in the week preceding the end of the ninth book and contains quite literally no plot developments for any of the twenty or thirty storylines it checks in on more or less just to remind you they exist. The one actual thing that actually happened occurred at the end of the previous book, making volume 10 such an epic waste of the reader's time that it crosses over into being essentially a self-referential joke.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider Agito follows this trope exactly. The first one-third to half is pretty interesting, and then the Arc Fatigue kicks in and things go unresolved for a long while, after which they're tied up in a hurry in the finale. Unfortunately, this happens to be a Signature Style of the main writer, Toshiki Inoue. A similar condition returns in Kamen Rider 555, also by Inoue, only with less favorable results.
  • Kamen Rider Ghost has this happen in-universe but not out: the main character is on a 99-day time limit, which runs out within twelve episodes and gets reset. The second 99 days get stretched across the remaining thirty-eight episodes, but this is where the main plot actually starts.
  • This is a major problem in the first two seasons of Lost. Season 1 has the mystery of how to get into the hatch, and what's inside it. Season 2 has two overarching plotlines: entering the code in the Swan station and Walt's kidnapping. All three of these plotlines suffered from the writers clearly wanting to resolve them at the end of the respective seasons, resulting in a lot of filler episodes being thrown in.

    Video Games 
  • The first half of Final Fantasy VI builds up the entire setting, has all the major conflicts, sets up the Big Bad, and (except for a couple of stragglers) introduces all the party members and characters. The entire second-half of the game is a fetch-quest to recover your party (and it's optional), and the final dungeon.
  • Final Fantasy XII: The first quarter of the game has you breaking into a palace, escaping, getting arrested, meeting the guy who killed your brother, escaping from there, your girlfriend getting kidnapped, you go to rescue her, get arrested again, and escape again. The second quarter has you going on a longish fetch quest, then one of your party members betrays you and dies. The third and most of the fourth quarter has you trek halfway across the world to find out how to use the shiny paperweight you fetched, then trekking across the other half of the world to find out how to destroy it, then trekking across the entire map to destroy the rest, then trekking back across the map to find out how to make more. It's only in the second-last dungeon that the plot finds itself again and the plot threads that have been left hanging for half the game are resolved.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords does this. On one planet, you're trying to deal with the local mob. When you return to your ship, you're asked to meet the local boss of the mob. On your way, you get accosted by a woman who drugs you, takes your place then she gets captured so you have to rescue her, then you get captured so your party has to rescue you, but first they have to gather the items you need to draw the mob boss out of hiding, then storm his ship. At this point you've probably been on the planet for quite a while and have every reason to believe that you're almost done when you finally get that initial summons.
  • From mid 2000s to mid-2010s, some of the quest series in Runescape had that kind of pacing. The main examples are Elvesnote , Menaphos and Morytania quest series. They started at a rather fast pace when they were released, but each installment will either grant less progress than the previous installment of the quest series or suffers from Schedule Slip. The pace of the quest series started to speed up again after that period.
    • Old School Runescape, on the other hand, thoroughly averts this: previously "filler" quests that were added after the backup of the game it was taken from were rewritten, often adding or altering things to increase the pace (for example, the quest A Taste of Hope (which was based around the Legacy of Seergaze quest) has you publicly kill vampire Ranis Drakan in front of a crowd of humans to show them the vampires can be stopped by humans), rather than it happening in the next quest, and uneventfully at that.
  • Assassin's Creed has been more or less stalling since the end of the the third game, where Juno was released and Desmond, the previous protagonist of the game's framing narrative, was killed. Since then, it's been more or less stagnant.

  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: Season 4 is about as long as the other three combined, and contains three full arcs before the final quest, the confrontation in which is about a hundred chapters long because of the monologues, flashbacks, showing what unnamed Dicers are doing, and Deawoong complaining about every step of heroes' Xanatos Speed Chess before letting them explain.
  • MS Paint Adventures:
    • In Problem Sleuth, more than half of the entire comic is spent fighting the final boss, Demonhead Mobster Kingpin. This is Played for Laughs, of course, with the boss requiring ridiculously complex strategies to even hurt, let alone defeat, and one of the last moves used against him being an unpleasant note complaining about how long he takes to fight.
    • It was well-telegraphed that Homestuck would take place in 7 acts. But Act 5 consists of Act 5 Act 1, which quadruple the main cast size, and Act 5 Act 2, almost as long as the previous four-plus-one acts combined. Then Act 6 doubles the cast size again and consists of six acts, each of which is followed by a comparably long intermission. In the end, Act 6 ends up being half of the entire comic, and in fact replicates the comic's structure like a fractal by having Act 6 Act 5 split into two acts and Act 6 Act 6 split into 6 more acts with their own intermissions, thus being half of all of Act 6! (Act 7, on the other hand, is very very short.)
    • While the above (dealing with page count) is knowingly invoking this trope by playing with the structure, the actual time it took to make all those pages also slowed down over the course of Homestuck due to issues behind-the-scenes of other projects and the author's life. The first half of the comic by pagecount took around two and a half years to make, updating almost daily, while the second half took four and a half years and had frequent pauses where no pages were posted, sometimes lasting a whole year.
  • Girl Genius: Agatha spent nearly four years (12/26/07-11/02/11) taking control of and repairing her family castle. During said arc, Tarvek was critically ill and about to die for just short of 15 months. The general concept is lampshaded in this strip. And again here, "It only seem like deyz been in de kestle a long time!"

    Western Animation 
  • In Pirates of Dark Water, the crew got their hands on the first two of the thirteen treasures of rule in the five-episode mini-series, five more in the next eight episode 1st season, before taking the entirety of the second season to get their hands on one more. Then came cancellation with only 8/13 found note .

Alternative Title(s): Zenos Race