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Plot Detour

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"So! This little girl, it's all about her! Who was she?... Or we could go off and have some adventures..."
The Doctor in an uncharacteristic turn, Doctor Who, "Day of the Moon"

There is something that The Protagonist must do, something that should not, must not, be ignored. The objective is in sight and they are ready, right now, to accomplish their task. In fact, there are no reasons at all to avoid the challenge ahead of them.

Except that is just what they are going to do. They are going to take a Plot Detour.

Here's one way it could happen; Bob has just received a message that Alice and Charlie are in grave danger at the hands of the antagonist, and that it would be in his best interest to get to them as soon as possible if he wants to secure their safety. But instead of immediately rushing to help his friends, Bob gets side-tracked by more minor concerns, like stopping some street-level thugs the police could've handled, helping organize a children's fundraiser, or writing trope entries for the newest episode of his favourite show.

This trope covers all circumstances where a character ignores a major objective in order to tackle a seemingly less important one. Reasoning can vary. Sometimes, it's because the writer wants to include some more light-hearted and character-focused scenes to break up the heavy plot activity. Sometimes it's a matter of padding - for whatever reason, the plot needs to be deferred for a little while longer. And if there's a character with Chronic Hero Syndrome in the cast, expect this trope to show up sooner or later. Executive Meddling can also be to blame if the detour was supposed to happen at a much more sensible time but the episodes got shuffled.

In a video game, players can easily invoke this if it has Loads and Loads of Sidequests, over futile cries of Continue Your Mission, Dammit!. The opposite of this trope in video games is a Plot Tunnel, where the mandatory plot advancement precludes any detours for a while. Compare and contrast Off the Rails, Take Your Time, Sidetracked By The Golden Saucer and Trapped by Mountain Lions. Not to be confused with Filler or Padding, though those can cause this. If a character is forced to tackle the lesser objective before the greater one, that is likely Railroading.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Parodied in Bleach where the main characters basically appeared in an omake and outright said that they were putting the main plot on hold for a filler arc or two.
  • Naruto's filler can be like this at times. Often times, Naruto gets sidetracked by a filler character when he's on a way to a mission that he was told was "extremely important".
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi has done this on several occasions. Examples include a Hot Springs Chapter when the characters should be focused on fighting and several of them are in slavery and should logically be working, not enjoying themselves at a hot spring, as well as a chapter about the three main male characters going to karaoke with girls when they're supposed to be meeting high-ranking government officials.
  • In Ratman, several of the Jackies randomly get involved in a soccer game while in the middle of running away from a pursuer.
  • In the anime Soul Eater, Death the Kid stops in the middle of a massive long chase that has the fate of the world at stake and is incredibly important. In order to have a conversation. They they start the chase again after a couple of minutes of nail-biting time-wasting. Possibly a bad example, but still a massive detour that costs them.

    Comic Books 
  • Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk is a one-shot explaining how Bruce Banner gets involved in the event despite his title being mostly self-contained and far away from the events of the event.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: The crew of the Lost Light set out at the beginning of the series to find the legendary Knights of Cybertron, in the hopes that they will help rebuild post-war Cybertron and usher in a new age of goodness and suchlike. By the end of the first "season" (twenty-two issues and one annual in) the crew has made a grand total of zero percent progress on their mission. In fairness, they got distracted by things like a blood-thirsty Super-Soldier running amuck on-board, crew members going mad and holding the ship psychiatrist hostage, obstructive fleshling bureaucrats, and the occasional attempted genocide on half their species. And they sort of completely broke the MacGuffin they were supposed to use to find the Knights, in order to prevent said genocide.
    • It gets them into trouble when they try to recruit the religious group the Circle of Light to help them. The members just accuse them of not doing anything important and getting into situations "only (they) find funny", and absolutely none of them agree to join the quest.

  • In the novel Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Lori hears of a previously unmentioned neighbour whose property borders on her father-in-law's. She intends to ask her neighbours about him, since she's lived in the area a decade and never heard him mentioned. Prime oportunities to query the residents of Finch slip past repeatedly, partly because she has her new infant daughter, and partly because she wants to rejoin the social circle (or gossip circle) of Finch (having spent recent months at home with said infant). It is fairly late in the book before she even hears of a well-known and long-standing feud between the residents of Finch and those of a nearby village, a feud which centers around this mysterious neighbour.
  • The Belgariad's Polgara the Sorceress is another good example. Polgara gives refuge to the heir of a kingdom. Most people would just wait until he was 'of age' before trying to retake the kingdom, teaching the boy about the world so that he governs well. Polgara waits a couple of thousand years, literally waiting for generation after generation to die. Eventually (almost at the end of the book) she finally decides a bit of assassination is in order and kills off the great, great, great, (etc.) grandson of the usurper she should have killed, installing the descendant of the original king with little fuss. This basis of this story may be Older Than Feudalism, probably way, way older.
    • That said, at least this time she had a schedule, in the form of a couple prophecies. Though, that said, this is just a flat-out excuse to spin it out a story that was already an alternate-viewpoint tie-in to another very similar book.
      • David and Leigh Eddings uses this trope quite all the time, you could pick any of their books and this would apply.
  • This is used egregiously, though mercifully briefly, at the end of Firekeeper Saga's Wolf Hunting. The main characters are right about to go to the final battle, the climax of the book is all ready to get underway, and... they stop and sit down to hear Plik's backstory. They delay the plot for something that has nothing to do with the plot.
  • Eragon's main quest in the Inheritance Cycle is to defeat the evil king Galbatorix. The second book is almost entirely devoted to him learning poetry in a forest.
  • The Redemption of Althalus is this trope. Althalus is recruited (read: abducted) by a talking cat who turns out to be the goddess Dweia, he then spends thousands of years sleeping, learning magic, sleeping, looking out the window, sleeping, musing about his past life, sleeping, talking to the cat, and sleeping. Let's not forget the sleeping here. After a few millennia he finally decides he'd better get up (else the whole aeon would be just wasted) and do something about the plot. He assembles a team to combat the enemy, Dweia's brother, and spends a long time doing so. Ultimately this is a complete waste of time since the book ends in an utterly incredible moment of anti-climax in which Dweia's brother bursts into the bedroom where they spent almost the entire book and Althalus simply tells the dimensional portal they use as a door to suck the entire enemy party into the void Dweia told him never to open. Thus completely negating any need for him to have even gotten out of bed, let alone assemble an entire party of 'chosen one' adventures. The absolute biggest and most meaningful adventure Althalus undertakes is when he pops back in time to go get a cool cloak he left in the Iron Age. This book is, quite literally, seven hundred and four pages of fannying about.
  • Twilight does this in Eclipse with the newspaper filled with mysterious deaths that are quite obviously the creation of a newborn vampire army. Bella and the Cullens choose to ignore the hundreds, or thousands, of people dying nearby and majority of the book is spent on the Love Triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward. When it isn't focusing on the subplot of Edward demanding Bella to marry him, if she wants to be turned into a vampire, while she wants to be turned without having to get married to him. The Cullens decide to only start caring about the uprising vampire army, when it's made clear that they are coming for Bella and this will directly affect them.

    Live Action TV 
  • This forms the basis of Burn Notice. No matter what problem Michael has in the main story arc, he will always accept a new client that needs his help with an unrelated issue. This is frequently lampshaded and explained by the fact that Michael is very obsessive about things and needs these 'distractions' to deal with the frustration of his situation.
  • Minute to Win It managed to pull this at least Once an Episode (if not 2 or 3 times) in later seasons, despite being a Game Show. They would suddenly slam on the brakes and make the game come to a screeching halt, just to showcase some sort of sob story about the contestant, complete with a Sentimental Music Cue.
  • Supernatural. Even when the season's arc plot is something as crucial and time-sensitive as 'prevent the end of the world', Sam and Dean still find time for some Monster of the Week episodes.

    New Media 
  • Back when it had a suggestion box, Homestuck got sidetracked several times by the players losing interest and going off on random tangents. Probably the most notable was the Wayward Vagabond becoming distracted from the mysterious time-bending computer in front of him and focusing on being the imaginary mayor of CAN-TOWN (aka. a bunch of cans the players had him stack on top of each other). This happening a little too much ultimately resulted in Andrew Hussie removing the suggestion box since there was more detours than actual plot development. Though this hasn't stopped Hussie from abusing the trope himself, often gleefully Lampshading it just to Troll the readers.
  • How to Write Badly Well satirizes this.

    Video Games 
Note: If the player can choose whether or not the main character ignores the plot, rather than this being mandatory, that is Take Your Time, not this trope.

  • Baldur's Gate II puts the plot on hold at the start of chapter 2 until the player character has enough gold to buy the assistance of a shady organization that can stand up to the Cowled Wizards. The game expects you to raise the required amount by doing unrelated side quests, of which it fortunately offers plenty. The shady contact even leaves you with a hint on where to find the job that suits your character's class best. The plot kicks in again as soon as you have raised most of the required amount.
  • A Dance with Rogues contains a rather egregious example near the end of Part I: after most of the Family's leaders are captured by the Dhorn, the Princess breaks into the nearby Dhorn high-security facility, only to be captured herself and roped into a scheme to steal the late Betancurian king's treasury. The whole mission could have been skipped entirely with zero impact on the plot, and the only reason for its inclusions seems to be that it was the dev's last opportunity to stage a major heist in Betancuria... and to have the Princess run around in birthday suit in front of a handsome Dhornish crown prince.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 avoids having any real over-arching plot for most of the game thanks to an early statement that Luso's best bet of getting home is to do random quests.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind at several points in the early main quest, Caius will recommend that the player go off and do side quests in order to keep up his/her public identity as a freelance adventurer, and also to gain money and experience. It's not strictly mandatory, but one of the instances has a level requirement for the next quest to be offered that you are unlikely to fulfil if you have been sticking strictly to what the main quest has you do and nothing more.
  • The plot of Lost Odyssey comes to a screeching halt on multiple occasions as the heroes must halt their world-saving tasks to spend several hours looking for children that wandered off.
  • Among its other issues, Metroid: Other M is guilty of this. After the squad gets attacked by the Little Birdie's second form later revealed to be the adolescent form of a Ridley clone, Adam orders Samus to hunt down the creature. Her pursuit comes to a screeching halt when the only path requires use of a grapple point, which Adam has not authorized yet. Rather than let Samus activate the requisite suit upgrade, which in this game is only a mobility tool, Adam decides that she can't follow it any further and sends her off to the Cryosphere to search for possible survivors.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time requires a certain number of stars to unlock the portal to the next level. The player can either complete challenges to get the number of stars, or pay to unlock it.
  • In Saints Row and Saints Row 2, you build respect by doing the side activities, which is then spent to start the story missions. In Saints Rows 3 and 4, Respect forms the basis of a more traditional level up system.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X outright requires you to complete sidequests before it will let you start the next story mission. Sometimes you need to complete specific quests, sometimes any will do. The fact that certain characters' personal quests are mandatory before continuing the main plot can heavily hint at deaths or betrayals.

    Western Animation 
  • The third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender starts with the main group having to travel across the Fire Nation to rendezvous with an army to prepare for an attack on the day of the Eclipse. During their travels:
    • Aang enrolls in a Fire Nation school for a bit to channel Footloose.
    • Then Katara spends three days trying to help a village that is suffering from a bad case of pollution.
    • Sokka takes a week or two to learn how to use a sword, though this admittedly allowed Sokka to Take a Level in Badass.
    • Toph runs a few scams to get them some money, resulting in about three more days of wasted time.
    • Discussed in the second half of the season, after the eclipse invasion. The group has gone back to the original plan of "Aang needs to learn all four elements before the Comet of Doom arrives", but Zuko notices that they're goofing off and attacks Aang in frustration. Katara says that Aang's not ready and they could just wait until later, when the Fire Nation won't have the powerup that the comet grants. Zuko then explains why that really isn't an option.
  • The Gravity Falls episode "Roadside Attraction" comes across as this. The Myth Arc is moving swiftly, reality itself is at risk, and the previous episode featured the protagonists setting up a magic spell which would protect them from the Big Bad as long as they were inside the Shack... so here's a Breather Episode where they suddenly go on a road trip, and the show's villain isn't even mentioned in passing. Itís later explained in Gravity Falls: Journal 3 that Ford was working on a plan to prevent the Big Bad from taking over and had Stan take the kids on the road trip to get them out of the house.
  • The characters in Wacky Races sometimes get temporarily sidetracked by things like baseball games instead of racing.


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Alternative Title(s): Filler Is A Free Action


"And Now, A Fake Moon Landing"

During his reenactment of the 1969 moon landing, he ends up going off the rails with his LEGOs.

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