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It Began with a Twist of Fate

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"It started like any other night..."
— Tagline of Collateral

When the main character of a story becomes involved in its ridiculous events due to a simple, everyday decision.

In fiction, not every main character has an astounding backstory that will make you want to bawl your eyes out for someone who doesn't actually exist. Sometimes, the best main character is a character the audience can relate to. But at the same time, the audience likes the idea of being mixed up in such fantastic adventures. Sometimes they like the idea that anytime, anywhere, anyone can find themselves in an epic journey to Save the World.

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Now, that isn't to say that this character won't turn out to actually be central to this story's events, or won't go through tragic and/or spectacular events as the story goes on, or even that this inadvertent adventure won't wind up revealing important things about their past and destiny. In fact, doing so is a common method of avoiding having the story being told through the eyes of The Ishmael. The character can be anyone, anywhere. The key is that this character's random, everyday, completely not worthwhile decision is what pulls them into the events of the story.

Compare The Everyman, Audience Surrogate, Right Man in the Wrong Place, Spanner in the Works, and Unlikely Hero. Expect this character to take a level in badass.

Sub trope of For Want of a Nail and Stumbled Into the Plot.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Code Geass, had Lelouch not decided to play the Heroic Bystander, he wouldn't have met C.C. and gained the powers he needed to initiate the rebellion.
  • Death Note happens when a Shinigami gets bored and drops his eponymous notebook in the human world to see what will happen, and it just so happens to get picked up by a genius high school student with a god complex.
  • Gaist Crusher: Recka being in the right place at the right time.
  • In Guilty Crown, had Shu gone straight home instead of to his usual hangout, he wouldn't have encountered Inori and set off the chain of events that would result in gaining the incredibly powerful Void Genome.
  • Similar to the Forrest Gump example, Gene and Jim of Outlaw Star begin their adventure by accepting an ordinary offer to be bodyguards for a client.
  • In My Hero Academia, Izuku would have never met All Might and get placed on the road to becoming the world's greatest hero if he hadn't decided to walk under that shady bridge that day.
  • Lampshaded in the opening narration of Shakugan no Shana. Yuji wonders how different his life would have been had he not decided to go to the CD store on the fateful afternoon where he met Shana and found out that he's a Torch with incredible magical power.
  • Rozen Maiden started with Jun answering that yes, he will wind. Rozen Maiden Tale was initially about what would happen if Jun answered otherwise, before the series became a Stealth Sequel.
  • Lina Inverse from Slayers is hardly an everygirl, being one of the most powerful magic-users of her world. However, her usual modus vivendi is just being a wandering mercenary and treasure hunter; all that unwanted Saving the World stuff happens to her due to seemingly insignificant choices, such as not agreeing to sell a particular statuette for cheap.
  • Sword Art Online: Before the beginning of the game, Asuna had never played in a MMO, but chose to play her brother's Sword Art Online just to see what it was about (her brother being out on an unexpected business trip). Then she got trapped in the Death Game - and she eventually became one of the most powerful players, as well as the fastest.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City: Sarah Brandeis was a lab technician when she was kidnapped by the sinister Hellsignor during his attack on Earth. To foil his plans, the Point Man stole the Gem of Thebis from him, then tossed it around Sarah's neck. She instantly became the new Cleopatra and banished Hellsignor to another dimension.
  • Jay Garrick, the original Flash gets his superpowers when he bumps into a table while smoking, knocks bottles of chemicals to the floor, and inhales the vapors thus released. Barry Allen, the next Flash, originally got his powers from a similar lab accident, though this was later retconned so that the origin of his powers is his time-traveling future self.
  • It varies based on universe and continuity, but Spider-Man generally gets bitten by a certain spider and gains his superpowers through a genuine twist of fate—by simply being in the right place at the right time.
  • Watchmen: If Jon Osterman hadn't forgotten his girlfriend's watch in the lab, he wouldn't have gone back to get it, gotten locked inside the experiment chamber, been ripped apart, and been reborn as Dr. Manhattan.
    • Jon actually gets really caught up in this, asking if the man who stepped on the watch after its strap broke is actually responsible, or his father for throwing away his watchmaking tools and making him become a physicist, or Einstein for driving his father to despair by creating the atomic bomb, etc. His first conclusion is that none of it means a damned thing, and it takes a shared Epiphany Therapy with his ex to realize that we all share responsibility for creating the world.
    • The ambiguously canonical "Before Watchmen" shows that, after traveling through time to investigate the circumstances behind the incidence, it is Dr. Manhattan himself who realizes he must/must've create/created a stable time loop by which he misplaces the watch his past/present/future self will return into the testing chamber for. It's confusing.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Izuku gets his spider powers by turning down an alleyway out of curiosity rather than walking under a shady underpass.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Inko and Hisashi Midoriya would have never found their adoptive Kryptonian son if they had decided to camp somewhere other than Mt. Fuji on that fateful night.
  • In Of Quirks and Magic, the story begins when Izuku takes a dare to sneak into an abandoned mansion rather than chickening out as Bakugo anticipated.
  • Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: Two of the protagonists, Rowena and Tsuji, are brought into the adventure by pure chance after deciding to go on a group mission to Holland with Maka, Soul, and everybody else. In another twist of fate, they are among the random students selected to go on a VIP mission to Cobra Island. Lastly, Caius arguably brings the canon protagonists into his ongoing conflict with Cancer the minute he joins the group. The chain of events that follow must be read to be believed.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door, the Shadow Queen's rise to power and evil unlike the world ever knew - at the time - would have been prevented had a town simply not refused the pleas of three starving and homeless children begging for food. note 
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    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Chronicle, three teenagers accidentally get superpowers just because they decide to check out a weird-looking grave. The source of their superpowers is never even explained.
  • Cloverfield: The film would have been very different had Rob not insisted on going to save his girlfriend. While NYC was in the middle of an attack by a giant Eldritch Abomination. And, if Hud hadn't insisted on recording "for posterity," no one would have seen any footage at all.
  • Cab driver Max in Collateral gets pulled into the plot simply by picking up the wrong passenger: a sociopathic hitman named Vincent who forces Max to drive him to his targets.
  • In The Knowledge: Chris goes on The Knowledge after he and Janet wander into a cafe, where they overhear Knowledge boys earnestly discussing the subject.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) begins with a literal twist—that of Johnny twisting the radio dial to "OFF" just as the news bulletin comes on announcing the unfolding emergency. If Johnny had listened to the emergency broadcast, he might have piled himself and Barbara back into the car and driven to a shelter. That probably wouldn't have changed anything that happens to the other characters in the film (or the terrible situation facing humanity at large), but since Barbara (and the audience) never would have been introduced to them, the story on the screen undoubtedly would have been different, and perhaps she and Johnny would even have survived.
  • Near the beginning of North By Northwest, advertising executive Roger Thornhill shares a taxi to the Plaza Hotel with his secretary and asks her to phone his mother for him; it is not until the taxi pulls away that he remembers his mother is unreachable by phone and will need to be contacted by telegram. So he flags down a pageboy who is calling for a Mr. George Kaplan to ask about sending a telegram, unaware that two henchmen for a criminal organisation are on the lookout for Kaplan and interpret Thornhill's action to mean that he is Kaplan and is responding to the page. They proceed to abduct Thornhill at gunpoint and take him to their boss to see how much "Kaplan" knows about them, and things snowball from there...
  • And then there's the time Luke Skywalker's uncle bought a couple of droids in Star Wars: A New Hope.
    • And what if, years earlier, a couple of Jedi and their companions hadn't crossed paths with a certain pod-racing slave boy?
  • Last Passenger starts with Lewis Shaler boarding a late-night train home with his young son. After some talking with the few remaining passengers, they notice that the train isn't stopping at any stations...

    Literature 
  • How did the plot of Animorphs get kicked off? A group of kids decided to take a short-cut through an abandoned construction site instead of taking the long way home. If they hadn't, they never would have discovered the aliens.
    • In Megamorphs #4: Back To Before, the Drode gives Jake the chance to change the past so that they didn't take the shortcut, and thus never became Animorphs. The results? All the would-have-been Animorphs die, except for Jake and Ax, but the Drode stops the alternate timeline in frustration, since they have just killed Visser Three and Ax is about to use the Visser's Blade ship to destroy the Pool ship and thereby the invasion. The death-blow to Visser Three, though, is only delivered by Cassie after she self-reincarnates due to being a temporal anomaly that has been slowly breaking the alternate timeline, so if they had done this in the real timeline, they might not have won.
  • In The Saga of Darren Shan, the title character made an odd move in a competition between his friends over a ticket to a circus, ended up winning the ticket and going to the circus. Throughout the first book, he can't stop talking about how much he regrets every little thing he did, how he wishes he had done anything differently — he's writing this down in his diary just after being forced to become a vampire, fake his death, and leave his happy childhood behind.
  • Pretty much the entire plot of Codex Alera happened because Tavi decided to get some flowers for a girl.
  • Ciaphas Cain: Nearly every important plot event stems from Cain looking for a quiet, routine assignment away from the front line. All it does is allow him to run into the secret cult/the backdoor entrance into their base/ the unseen flanking attack which only leads him into greater danger as a result. Pretty much everyone, including his Battle Butler who's right there beside him, thinks he's doing this on purpose; this is largely because the excuses he contrives to justify staying away from the front line always end up panning out.
  • In the original book version of Forrest Gump most of Forrest's adventures start with some variation of the following: "So I was just sitting there minding my own business and a guy comes up to me and says 'Do you want to [join the army/be in a play/play college football/get shot into space/star in a movie/etc.]?' Well, I had nothing else to do that day so I said OK."
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss literally volunteers to be thrown into the life-or-death fight to the finish battle that is the Hunger Games. The twist is that she did so to keep her little sister out of the ring. Comes full circle when the events that her participation in the Games set in motion eventually lead to her sister's death.
  • The catalyst for the events of Let Me Call You Sweetheart is Robin getting her face cut by flying glass, when her father pulled out of his driveway too quickly and another car slammed into them. Dr Smith was recommended to Robin's mother Kerry to treat the cuts and it just so happened that during two of Robin's appointments, Kerry also happened to see two different patients who bear an uncanny resemblance to an infamous murder victim, piquing Kerry's interest. Kerry herself acknowledges that if it weren't for these events, she would likely never have looked into the Sweetheart Murder Case.
  • The Seven Realms Series: Han Alister never would have found himself pulled into a struggle for control over the Fells and the truth behind the Demon King's legend if he hadn't decided to steal Micah Bayar's amulet, an artifact that once belonged to the infamous Demon King.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • This tends to be the standard way Companions end up stuck on the TARDIS. Ian and Barbara just wanted to talk to Susan's grandpa to figure out why she was so odd. Jamie took a wrong turn from what would have been certain doom fighting with his unit. Bill Potts was curious enough to sit in on the new professor's lectures, even though she was too poor to actually attend university. Ace was just testing a new mixture of explosives and got herself blown clear across the galaxy. Amy Pond was a small kid who decided to feed an eccentric lost stranger. Grace Holloway was just the heart surgeon on call the night a dying Seven landed in the ER. The Brigadier's grandfather was picked up for a one-shot adventure for refusing to shoot an enemy soldier.
    • In "Turn Left", it's revealed that the only reason Donna Noble ever got embroiled in the Doctor's life at all was because one day, she turned left, not right. Good thing she did, too; that same episode reveals that turning right led to the Doctor's death, the nuclear destruction of London, and the end of reality itself. Yikes.
  • The Mandalorian opens with the titular character, a bounty hunter, taking up mundane bounties and deciding to take up an especially sensitive bounty because he needs to pay the metaphorical bills. Then the episode ends with him discovering that the bounty is an orphaned child.
  • On Psych, after Jules finds out that Shawn's not really psychic and dumps him, Shawn suffers a Heroic BSoD that causes him to fantasize about what might have happened if he'd made one different decision (offering Jules Da Chief's pashmina instead of his own jacket, as the contents of the jacket pocket were responsible for Jules realizing that he was a fraud). The fantasy version of events and the reality veer off in wildly different directions.
  • In Thunderbolt Fantasy, a traveler gets caught in the rain and decides to take an umbrella left as an offering to a Buddha statue. A man under a tree nearby points out the blasphemy of the act and challenges the traveler Sho Fukan to show kindness to the next person he meets in lieu of the Buddha. That person turns out to be the key to a Legendary Weapon who is being hunted by an evil organization, and now Sho has made himself their target for helping her.
  • The Time Variance Agency in Loki is dedicated to prevent all changes to the Sacred Timeline, which includes hunting for this kind of small divergence. Their Instructional Film gives the example of how arriving late for work can be enough to cause a branch in the Sacred Timeline, and mark the person responsible as a Variant to be pruned.

    Video Games 
  • Digimon World DS: If your character had chosen to ignore the rumors about the "fighting monsters that are friends with humans" he or she (you can choose your character's gender) never would have been placed on the chain of events that would culminate in saving the Digital World from destruction.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Ritsuka Fujimaru became a Master candidate for Chaldea in rather odd circumstances (i.e. The First Order booklet that came with the First Order Blu-Ray). An employee of Chaldea was searching for candidates in Japan, via a blood donation event. Fujimaru decided to donate their blood and turns out, they have 100% affinity for being a Master. The employee then pressured them to accept the job, even chasing them to their home. The turas:réalta manga exaggerates this to the point the courtesy lunch he was given after donating blood was drugged, and he got immediately shipped to Chaldea. Mash chides Lev for trying to soften the fact that he got kidnapped and basically shoved into the Master position with no preparation or any idea of what was to come.
    • During the SE.RA.PH chapter, this gains vastly more sinister undertones, as it is revealed that Chaldea had been recruiting Master candidates for some time prior to the Fuyuki Point F crisis... but these Master candidates met with a far, far darker fate than the ones who went to the Chaldea complex proper. Sheer timing is mostly what prevented Ritsuka from becoming part of the Seraphix experiments.
  • Most Final Fantasy games are built on this trope.
    • Final Fantasy II: Four orphans running from the Empire get curbstomped. Three are rescued by the resistance and join it.
    • Final Fantasy III: Four orphans fall into a cave after an earthquake and are charged with saving the world by a sentient jewel.
    • Final Fantasy IV: Cecil's punishment for questioning his orders—which had been to sack a city—leads to him being stranded in the city he'd raided not long ago, and then he's roped into stopping the plan he'd been unwittingly aiding.
    • Final Fantasy V: Bartz and Boko, a wanderer and his mount, rescue a girl and an old man from goblins. Before they know it, the three humans are trying to steal a pirate ship, and just a day later, they're travelling with the pirate to find out just what's going on with the Wind Crystal.
    • Final Fantasy VI: An Imperial patrol investigates rumors of a frozen Esper. The survivor joins the resistance. Then the entire world gets trashed.
    • Final Fantasy VII: Random acts of eco-terrorism lead to a desperate struggle against a madman trying to destroy the planet.
    • Final Fantasy VIII: Who knew liberating one tiny little town would leave a few unremarkable new members of an elite paramilitary organization burdened with so much yak-shaving?
    • Final Fantasy IX: It's never a good sign when the princess wants to be kidnapped. It's an even worse sign when her mother and some pretty-boy sorcerer are seen plotting to take over the entire world.
    • Final Fantasy X inverts this trope, as a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere enacts a Cosmic Horror Story on the world, starting in the city the protagonist happens to be in. From there, the protagonist makes a big choice to help the actual heroes save the post-apocalyptic world.
    • Final Fantasy XI: It starts as a few trivial assignments suitable for newbie adventurers. It unfolds into an epic of ancient wrath, fanatical precursors, suicidal deities, political intrigue, law vs. chaos, time travel, alternate realities, extradimensional horrors, age-old curses, demonic invaders, and more would-be gods than you can shake an Onion Sword at.
    • Final Fantasy XII: Vaan just happens to decide to break into the palace on the same night La Résistance tries to take it back and the dashing Sky Pirate Balthier and his partner Fran also attempt to steal something from its hidden treasure troves.
    • Four out of six protagonists of Final Fantasy XIII are forced on an adventure by pure chance of being in Bodhum when the Pulse Fal'cie Anima awakened near the city. What followed was a chain reaction of events that either killed or crystallized their loved ones, driving the four into an ill-fated attempt to rescue/avenge them.
    • Final Fantasy XIV The player character begins as a simple adventurer looking for some work. After holding their own against some voidsent, they get noticed by the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, who then discover that the player character is blessed with the Echo. The player character is eventually dragged into battles against primals, which are godlike beings that threaten the existence of the world by absorbing its aether. The player character also deals with The Empire, which aims to subjugate Eorzea, and the mysterious Ascians, which seem to breed further chaos between the good guys and bad guys in order to resurrect their dark god, Zodiark.
    • Final Fantasy XV: The crown prince and his bodyguards decided to go on one last road trip before the big wedding. Turns out, they missed the raid on their kingdom and subsequent assassination of the king, effectively saving them from the purge and setting them on a quest to stop the empire before they do something that everyone is going to regret. They fail.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Had Byleth not made the split-second decision to take the axe for Edelgard (before they even knew that she was heir to the Adrestian Empire) in the prologue, their involvement with the game's plot would have ended right there, as her death would have made Byleth and Jeralt's employment at Garreg Mach very unlikely. More importantly, without Edelgard, the Flame Emperor's war of conquest against the Church and all of Fodlan, which drives the bulk of the plot, would have never broken out for lack of a leader.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 's Link, unlike his predecessors, was not chosen by the gods to become the next wielder of the master sword and Ganondorf's demise. He was just a normal kid who just so happened to be the older brother of Aryll, an adorable little girl who Ganondorf kidnapped by accident, prompting Link to begin his quest to save her and deliver a royal beatdown on whoever dared to touch her.
  • Arthur's story in We Happy Few started like any other day in the office until one of the papers he discovered was of him and his brother, triggering memories of his brother who went missing after the war.
  • White Knight Chronicles: Leonard and co sneak into the palace on a whim. The guards just left the front doors open when they were delivering wine to Princess Cisna's ball. (No, seriously. That's how it happens.) Then he decides to rescue the princess from an assassin as the palace is under attack. Then he decides to take control of the incredibly powerful White Knight in order to defend his home town.

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