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Exponential Plot Delay

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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, it may well lead to the audience giving up on the work, especially if years go by without the characters making any kind of meaningful progress in the main plot and it's determined that any attempt by the characters to make progress will meet with failure.


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 Author Existence Failure. 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.


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    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.
  • Naruto: Averted. The two main plots are A. the Title Character'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 is (as of this writing) is both the manga and anime's longest story arc, having gone on for at least two years.
  • The Pokémon anime 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.
  • 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.
  • Reflections of Eterna 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 in 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 ammount 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 gets stretched across the remaining thirty-eight episodes, but this is because this is when 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. Walt's kidnapping may be the worst offender, since we get absolutely nothing on it for eight solid episodes, only for it to come back suddenly and blow up toward the end of the season (in a very controversial way).

    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 half across the world to find out how to use the shiny paperweight you fetched, then treking 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 captures 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.
  • Some of the quest series in Runescape. The main examples are Elves, Menaphos and Morytania quest series. They started at 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. Later though a few of the quest series have still been wrapped up.
  • 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.

  • Homestuck
    • It's been well-telegraphed that the story will 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. Then the end of Act 6 Act 5 turns into the introduction of Act 6 Act 5 Act 2. Which then becomes part of a greater joke when the story goes back to Act 6 Act 5 Act 1, and then becomes Act 6 Act 5 Act 1 x2 Combo. Then Act 6 Intermission 5 has 6 intermissions. Then Act 6 Act 6 will also have six sub-sub-acts, with their own sub-sub-intermissions. The ultimate plan for a final resolution is "It will be done when it's done."
    • In all, Act 6 was about as long as the previous five acts combined, but Act 7 was just one page long. Well, one video long.
  • 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


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