A plot device is an object or character in the story whose purpose is purely to drive the Plot, maintain its flow, or resolve situations within it. It could be something everybody wants to obtain, a device that must be destroyed, or an annoying teenager who must be protected at all costs.
It may also be an object or gadget introduced early in the story for the sole purpose of solving a sticky situation later on.
The term is commonly used in a derisory manner, on the grounds that the best stories are character-driven, and using an object to make things happen is thus seen as a sign of bad writing. However, there are plenty of good stories which do indeed revolve around a plot device; equally, a plot device can very easily be used to generate conflict and thus spark a character-driven story.
Whenever someone uses the term derisively they often mean that something is being used as a gimmick (or worse, an Ass Pull) to Hand Wave resolutions to Plot Holes in a way that breaks the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
- Amplifier Artifact: An item that serves to magnify one's already existing abilities.
- Artifact of Attraction: An item which magically causes everybody to lust after it, generating conflict.
- Artifact of Death: A powerful item that leads to its owner's death.
- Artifact of Doom: A powerful item that causes corruption in all who use it.
- Chekhov's Gun: A plot device that the heroes have been carrying around since the first five minutes finally gets used.
- Convenient Eclipse
- Death Trap: A trap employed by villains to heighten drama instead of merely shooting the heroes and getting it over with.
- Deus ex Machina: A plot device that gets the heroes out of danger.
- Diabolus ex Machina: A plot device that gets the heroes into danger.
- Everything Sensor: A plot device that tells the heroes what and where the danger is.
- Fakin' MacGuffin: A decoy that's not the object wanted by someone.
- Gotta Catch Them All: A set of items which the characters all want to collect.
- Laser-Guided Broadcast: A plot device where a message is sent to one specific person through a wide broadcast.
- MacGuffin: A plot device which nobody actually uses, and whose nature and identity are basically irrelevant.
- Magnetic Plot Device: A plot device whose very presence causes things to happen.
- Plot Coupon: An object necessary to continue or resolve the plot.
- Plot Coupon That Does Something: A plot coupon that has uses beyond clearing a particular obstacle.
- Suspiciously Specific Sermon
- Sword of Plot Advancement: A plot device that can kill stuff.
- Translator Microbes: A plot device that lets everybody communicate clearly.
Lampshade Hangings and Other References:
Almost by definition, stories have plot devices. Examples should be limited to lampshade hangings and references to the term.
- One Captain Marvel comic, starring Genis-Vell, featured a very clever Kree fellow named "Plaht," whose "device" cleared away several plot inconveniences.
- Mentioned in The Muppet Movie, when Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem discuss how they can help Kermit and Fozzie avoid Doc Hopper:
Janice: Oh man, what can we do?
Floyd: Well if this were the movies...
Dr. Teeth: Which it is!
Floyd: Then we'd think of some clever plot device.
Scooter: Like painting their car so Doc Hopper and his men can't recognize it!
- In Redshirts, there is a mysterious device resembling a present-day microwave oven on the Intrepid called simply "the Box". Putting a sample from a xenobiological problem inside it will cause it to produce a solution Just in Time to provide a dramatic resolution to the current problem. Essentially, it's a handwave to make the "real world" experienced by the characters work out consistently with the "Narrative" cranked out by some modestly-talented writers.
- The Lords of the Underworld series has Pandora's Box, which is the only way the titular immortals can be killed. The Lords- not being interested in dying- search for it.
- In The Dresden Files RPG, certain characters are noted as being "plot device level" characters. Most of them are considered Plot Devices because they're so ridiculously powerful that no Player Party would ever reasonably be able to take them on directly, making stats meaningless, and thus would have to outmanuever, work around, or run away from them; these include the Faerie Queens, Angels, and Dragons. A handful, however, are noted as being a Plot Device because they're so far down on the other side of the scale that they can only really provide one specific and specialized purpose, such as Elidee, a tiny pixie—even by pixie standards—who shows up briefly in one book to serve as a guide/flashlight for Dresden.
- This is one of the functions of Secrets Mistborn Adventure Game. For example, the secret formula for a new Allomantic metal, which gives the heroes bizarre new powers at the cost of drawing the attention of the Canton Of Inquisition.
- One of the various Mac Guffins that City of Heroes radio missions will occasionally ask you to retrieve is a "P.L.O.T. Device." Its description:
The Phased Linear Oscillation Transducer is a miraculous device, capable of producing such a variety of effects that many find it simply unbelievable. However, overusing a P.L.O.T. device can have serious consequences, and the more egregious uses can strain the very fabric of reality. P.L.O.T devices have fallen out of favor overall, but many a young and reckless pioneer has picked up a well-used P.L.O.T. device and run with it.
- Mr. Mighty of Everyday Heroes realizes that he can subject Matt O'Morph to a bit of Harmless Freezing with a carbon-dioxide fire extinguisher ... which has a label on the side that reads, "Warning, Plot Device!"
- A literal plot device can be seen here in this Cyanide & Happiness strip.
- In Nip and Tuck, when a character complains of an obvious plot device in the Show Within a Show, someone else informs him it was Real Life.
- Dr. Bill Ernoehazy, an Orion's Arm contributor'', wrote another story with a Faster-Than-Light Travel system called the Plott-deVice drive.
- This short by Seth Worley features a device called Plot Device, which is a yellow box with large friendly letters reading "Plot Device" with a Big Red Button on its top and enables the user to turn his life in a movie and travel between different film genres.
- The Imperial Hereditary Seal in Farce of the Three Kingdoms. Sun Ce openly refers to it as one, and later the narrator steals it from Cao Cao's effects in order to use it to legitimize Liu Bei.
- There is a character in Sheep in the Big City, literally called The Plot Device, which is a robot that can cause nearly anything to happen to advance the plot.