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Narrative Backpedaling

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A sure way to veer a story into Mind Screw territory is to have something completely shocking or nonsensical occur, then say "just kidding, none of that happened". Possibly the undone events were hallucinated by one character, or occurred in an alternate timeline, or the narrator was just pushing your buttons.

A common calling card of the Unreliable Narrator. Can overlap with All Just a Dream, but that trope does not fully include this one. Compare Daydream Surprise and Once More, with Clarity. If one of the listeners forces this you could be entering Derailed Fairy Tale territory. Often a variety of Flashback Twist.

Warning: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, which means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and most of them will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.


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    Fan Works 
  • Commonly used in YouTube Poop to undo a joke that ends in characters dying or the world ending.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects keeps backpedaling and changing his narrative at Kujan's prompting. The end of the film reveals the whole story was probably made up on the fly.
  • In George of the Jungle, the narrator tells us that Ursula told the fact that she no longer wants to marry Lyle to her parents, "who took it extremely well." We then see a scene showing exactly that. Then the narrator says, "Just kidding!", and Ursula's mother is shown screaming in a horrified manner.
  • At the very end of Mean Girls, the narrator talks about "knowing how to deal" with anyone who would disturb her newly-found peace. We then see the three "Junior Plastics" hit by a bus, just as the Alpha Bitch was earlier in the film. Then we see the same shot but with the girls hurriedly stepping back from the speeding bus instead, and the narrator says "just kidding!".
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Olaf is shown being put through all the horrible things he put the Baudelaires through. Then it cuts to the kids in Mr. Poe's car, where it's revealed that he actually escaped after being discredited and is on the loose. A cut scene actually showed his escape, right from the scene just before the fake retribution scenes.

  • At one point in the third Captain Underpants book, The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds), the author tells about the three main characters falling to their death from a UFO after an attempted escape. The first sentence on the next page? "Just kidding."
  • This happens a few times in House of Leaves, to the point where one narrator makes up an entire chapter and then laughs at the reader for believing it.
  • Goosebumps does this frequently to achieve a Cat Scare:
    • In "Why I'm Afraid Of Bees", chapter 19 ends with Gary in bee form being eaten by a dragonfly. The first page of chapter 20 reveals that it was just his imagination.
    • In "The Headless Ghost", chapter 1 ends with a huge animal chewing off Duane's head. Chapter 2 starts by stating that the creature didn't really bite of his head, and it was really Stephanie in her costume.
  • Redshirts ends with the narrator declaring that they all lived happily ever after...for six months, until the ship was destroyed by an asteroid and everyone on board died. The very short next chapter says "Just kidding, they're fine."

    Live-Action TV 
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Future Ted (the Narrator) tells his kids that a stripper he vaguely met once is their mum. They react ("WHAT!?!?!?"), he then says "Just Kidding".
    • Future Ted also messes up a story about his 30th birthday. It's near the end of the series and as he messes the story up he keeps correcting himself. He (finally) remembers, says 'Oh, wait, this is what actually happened' - then remembers it's the wrong story, actually happening a year later and another at an unrevealed time in the future (but Future Ted's past). Not only does this remind the viewer that, hey, it was twenty years ago - Ted's memory's not perfect - but it also makes them want to keep watching (what's with the goat? and when will Lily be pregnant?) as they've only been shown some random stuff and want to know that story.
  • Stargate SG-1 episode 200 begins with SG1 finally meeting the legendary Furlings, only to lead the Goa'uld to their planet which is destroyed as a thermodynamic loop feeds back into the planet's core!
    Carter: Well, that never happened!
    • 200 manages to pull the same trick again even after it becomes clear that the episode is a framing story for flights of fancy and what if scenarios. In what appears to be the "real" world of the framing story, the Stargate overloads leading to massive damage and the evacuation of the base. And then Cheyenne Mountain explodes. Cut to conference room.
    Martin: And that is the end of Act Two!

    Video Games 
  • A variant can occur in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The majority of the game uses a How We Got Here framing device, with Guybrush explaining everything to Elaine; if the player lets Guybrush die during the acid pit sequence, Elaine calls him out on the obvious contradiction, and Guybrush is forced to backtrack and explain how it really went.
    • This can happen in Return to Monkey Island as well (with Guybrush's son in place of Elaine) if you let Guybrush drown... unless you let him drown three times, in which case it cuts to the bench where Guybrush was telling the story, which is now empty, and a narration reveals that Guybrush died and never had any children.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is framed as a tale the Prince is telling. If you die, he says something to the effect of "No, wait, that's not what happened," then the game reverts to the last save point. Considering one of the central gameplay mechanics is the ability to rewind time, which the player will use to avoid dying in combat or death courses, it makes sense for the Prince's memory to be a little scrambled.
  • In Tex Murphy: Overseer, the game is a prequel framed by Tex telling his date about his first case. Whenever the player 'dies' in the game Tex will quickly mumble something about "no wait, that's not right" and the game will pick up at an earlier point in the game allowing the player to replay the section.
  • Happens at least twice in Dragon Age II, when Varric lapses too far into the Tall Tale genre and Cassandra interrupts him to start over again and tell the real story. The first time is A Taste of Power, with Hawke and their sibling being veritable gods amongst men, complete with Regenerating Health, very quick cooldowns, and Infinity Minus One Swords. After Cassandra calls Varric on his crap, he tells her the real story. Varric does this again where he storms his brother's mansion late in the game and effortlessly takes out the guards, though there it's because he wants to leave out "the gory details."
  • Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is full of these. Even the very first Showdown at High Noon turns out to be an example of this. One great example is when Silas tells of how he found himself surrounded by Apaches. An audience member asks him what happened to the attacking cowboys he spoke of a moment ago, and Silas quickly corrects himself to saying that the cowboys attacked him in Apache style. At the same moment the gunslinging Indians the player is fighting are suddenly replaced by cowboys.
  • Eternal Darkness will start to pull this trope on you, the player, if your Sanity Meter gets too low. Examples include your character's limbs falling off one-by-one, standing on the ceiling, or the game mimicking a crash, all before the game snaps back to the start of the room with your character saying "This isn't really happening!"
  • Ratchet & Clank (2016) is narrated by Captain Qwark, who's naturally prone to exaggerating. At the end of an early planet, he claims Ratchet and Clank were attacked by a giant zombie T-Rex, before the cell-mate he's telling the story to questions it, and the story promptly re-winds.
  • Getting killed by the ghost in Shoujo Kidan will prompt the protagonist, who is recounting the events of the game to an unseen character, to claim that everything she said is a lie and leave. The implication given The Reveal is that, should the ghost/Kanako catch up to Minako, the former rewrites the memories of the latter entirely.

    Visual Novels 
  • Introduced retroactively after the first bad ending of Melody. After the title character quits, leaving the protagonist to go back with Bethany, a note appears in the game, saying that that’s not what really happened. Then, the game cuts to the scene directly after the “correct” scene, in which Melody rips into Bethany for her abusiveness and kisses the protagonist (on her romantic path) right in front of her.

  • In Homestuck, stand-in narrator Doc Scratch, after telling of Jack Noir finding and slaying all the trolls in one fell swoop, explains: "What sort of story would this be, with our Knight and Seer made to stay cadavers? Certainly not one the alpha timeline would allow. And not one she'd allow either." This reveals that the events he'd just told the reader were actually an alternate timeline that Terezi foresaw and averted.
  • Questionable Content:When Momo asks Marten how he and Pintsize met, Marten starts to tell her about when he applied for a Robot Buddy. When the story suddenly veers into pornographic territory, it cuts back to Momo and Marten looking disgustedly at an impish Pintsize. Marten then tells her how the application process actually happened.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Lost Our Lisa", Lenny and Carl are horrified that Homer let Lisa take a bus alone, but Homer assures them that Lisa's smart enough to handle it, and proceeds to tell a story about her brain being used to power a supercomputer. Carl says "that never, uh, happened, did it Homer?" Homer says, "Yes, but now I have to leave on a totally unrelated matter."
    • In the second part of "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" Kent Brockman, in universe as news anchor but out of universe as a recap, reports on Mr. Burns being shot.
      At 3:00 p.m. Friday, local autocrat C. Montgomery Burns was shot following a tense confrontation at town hall. Burns was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was then transferred to a better hospital where doctors upgraded his condition to "alive."
    • In "And Maggie Makes Three", Homer is telling a flashback story of when Maggie was born; when Homer finds out that Marge is pregnant his head explodes. We then find out that Bart had been narrating that part. The flashback continues for a moment with Homer headless; after Marge reminds him that he had a head, his head pops back up.
      Marge: (voiceover) And your bottom was a little bigger.
      (Homer in-flashback gains weight.)
      • Later in the same episode Homer tells of an idea he had to make more people come to the bowling alley - shoot a rifle in the air while shouting "Bowling here!"
        Lisa: (in the present) Mom, make Dad tell the story right!
        Marge: That's what really happened.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "An Indirect Kiss", when Steven is telling the story of healing Amethyst's cracked gem to Connie in flashback form and learns he doesn't have his Gem mother's healing tears:
    Pearl: Oh, Steven. You don't have healing tears. You'll never have any real magic powers, and we don't want anything more to do with you.
    Connie: (in the present) She didn't really say that.
    Steven: No, but that's what it felt like.


An Indirect Kiss

Steven's projections hijack the flashback.

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