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Sometimes, failure is the only option. Other times, you'll wish it was.

These tropes are about situations where actions taken to achieve a beneficial outcome end up having the opposite effect instead.


  • Advice Backfire: A piece of advice that seemed sensible and necessary at the time ruins the advised person's life instead.
  • Aerosol Spray Backfire: A sprayed substance winds up affecting the user too.
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  • Analogy Backfire: An attempt to compare the current situation to a similar scenario from history or fiction ends up being derailed by someone else getting persnickety about some detail that doesn't makes it quite fit in their eyes.
  • Assimilation Backfire: The attempt to assimilate something goes wrong because the assimilated being added an unwanted weakness to the gestalt.
  • Assurance Backfire: Unknown to the person attempting to reassure someone, the plot is getting ready to prove them wrong mere seconds after the assurance is made. Best case scenario this will only make the attempted recipient of the assurance even more nervous/angry/sad. Worst will often have them in immediate danger.
  • Attack Backfire: An attack helps the target instead.
  • Backstab Backfire: An attempt to treasonously hurt someone ends up with the traitor being hurt/killed instead.
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  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A person makes a wish. Once the wish is granted, they learn the hard way that there are downsides to what they wished for.
  • "Better if Not Born" Plot: A Guardian Angel or similar entity tries to show a person what life would be like if they were never born. To the person's despair and the entity's shock/embarrassment, the lives of others are improved or even beneficial without them in it.
  • Bilingual Backfire: An attempt to use another language to pass a secret message doesn't works because the eavesdropper was (unknown to the people trying to communitcate) fluent in that language.
  • Blackmail Backfire: An attempt to blackmail a person goes horribly wrong because of unforeseen circumstances (up to and including the blackmailed person having no problem killing the blackmailer).
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  • Bluff Worked Too Well: An attempted bluff goes horribly right and causes unintended consequences for the person making it.
  • Bribe Backfire: An attempt to bribe an official goes awry becuase the official gets pissed at the briber for any reason (usually either valuing honor over money or the briber not providing enough money).
  • Compliment Backfire: Something about the compliment given to a person pisses that person off instead.
  • Consolation Backfire: An attempt to console a person backfires because it either pisses off that person or makes him feel even more despair.
  • D.I.Y. Disaster: Someone decides to perform a construction work by himself to save himself some money or bolster his sense of pride, only to prove so colossally awful at handiwork that repairs (or replacing) will have to be made.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Killing someone goes wrong because the deceased person becomes much more powerful as a symbol of rebellion in death that he ever was in life.
  • Don't Shoot the Message: An attempt at adding An Aesop to a work goes wrong because the viewers argue at the practicality or correctness of the message.
  • Excuse Boomerang: Someone makes an excuse to try and avoid getting in trouble, only for the excuse to be used against them as an excuse for punishing them anyway.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Bringing a flamethrower to a fight sounds like a pretty awesome idea until someone shoots its fuel tank.
  • Genocide Backfire: An attempt at exterminating a race results in a single survivor now wanting to avenge their race by killing those responsible.
  • Gone Horribly Right: A solution becomes a new problem due to working too well.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: A person turned to crime in the first place only because they were wrongly put in jail.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A character (usually a villain) who is defeated and possibly killed as a result of his or her own plan, weapon, et cetera.
  • Insult Backfire: Someone tries to insult another person, but the other person either takes the insult as a compliment or is too stupid to understand the insult.
  • Insult Friendly Fire: Someone tries to insult another person, but they inadvertently insult one of their own allies.
  • I Was Just Joking: A word of advice to those who want to be sarcastic: never leave the fact that you're making a joke as implication, otherwise those idiots who don't get the joke will react, and badly, to the alleged fact.
  • A Lesson Learned Too Well: A character who learns a lesson takes it to heart to the degree that they fail to recognize when the guideline or rule is unnecessary or inapplicable or when they are enforcing it to an excessive extent.
  • Made Out to Be a Jerkass: Retaliating against a jerk results in uninformed bystanders attacking you because they think you are the one being mean.
  • Mediation Backfire: An attempt to mediate between two foes only ends with the foes deciding to team up to get rid of the mediator.
  • Neutrality Backlash: An attempt to stay out of a conflict only ends with all hostile sides deciding to make the neutral party a priority target.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The hero's attempts to save the day only make things worse.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Plans that depend on killing one or many children go wrong more often than not, with the child growing up to raise hell on those who tried to kill it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Rivals!: The attempt to ruin a rival ends up creating an opening for unwanted humiliation to happen, with chances split 50/50 in it being the other rival or some unexpected third party.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The villain's attempt at thwarting the good guys ends up unintentionally shifting things toward the heroes' favor.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A person does something kind or morally good, but it ends up bringing negative consequences upon them in some way.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: A person takes an action that is morally right, but it ends up having unforeseen negative consequences.
  • Pacifism Backfire: The hero's attempts to settle a conflict without violence end up causing more violence than would have otherwise happened.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: A kidnapper regrets kidnapping a person when the person they kidnapped starts driving them crazy.
  • Prank Gone Too Far: The victim of the Practical Joke is not impressed. Better be ready to do damage control.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat (my-quote-trumps-your-quote version)
  • Reassignment Backfire: Someone's attempt to send another person somewhere out of the way backfires when they end up back in the way.
  • Revealing Cover Up: Someone's attempt to hide something just makes it more obvious.
  • Reverse Psychology Backfire: An attempt to manipulate someone through Reverse Psychology goes awry because the other person is too stupid or too clever to follow the implied order.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: People without imagination or too much sarcasm will answer a rhethorical question by providing a blunt, awful answer.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: Never say an order aloud, for you don't know what kind of idiot may listen and try to follow it and cause doom.
  • Self-Damaging Attack Backfire: Your attack ends up hurting you instead.
  • Self-Offense: An attempt at Self Defense goes horribly wrong and gets the wrong guy.
  • Springtime for Hitler: A deliberate attempt at failure instead results in an unintentional success.
  • Streisand Effect: Attempts to hide or suppress something only make it more widely known.
  • Surrender Backfire: Someone's attempt to avoid a horrible fate by surrendering discovers, far too late, that he is either going to suffer it anyway or suffer an even worse one because the other party hates "cowards".
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: If a person who's trying to be good is mistreated enough, they'll submit to being as bad as (if not WORSE than) people accused them of being.
  • Therapy Backfire: An attempt to fix a bad social/mental situation through therapy goes wrong because the therapist either finds nothing wrong, finds something wrong but not on the patient, or the patient breaks the therapist.
  • Threat Backfire: A person is threatened with something they would enjoy.
  • Tiger by the Tail: A person manages to get control of a dangerous situation... and the danger now is solely focused on ripping the controller apart. And it will happen if the controller lets go of the situation for any reason.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian (when the attempt to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number employs methods that wind up creating a hell on earth)
  • Tragically Misguided Favor: Doing an uncalled-for favor for your loved one leads to a disaster.
  • Two Rights Make a Wrong: Someone did what was correct, and someone else did what was correct. Unfortunately, the results of one correct thing automatically cancel the results of the other, placing everybody back in square one.
  • Unishment: A person is faced with a punishment that they actually enjoy.
  • Vandalism Backfire: Someone tries to get to a person by destroying something they assume to belong to that person, but it turns out that the destroyed object wasn't even theirs.
  • Vehicular Turnabout: An attempt to kill someone with a vehicle goes horribly wrong because the victim manages to hijack the vehicle right out from under the driver.
  • Weight Loss Horror (for voluntary versions)
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: A person feels ashamed when someone commends them for doing something bad.


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