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Reading Ahead in the Script

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Fourth Wall? What Fourth Wall?

"I didn't look too far into it since I don't like spoilers, y'know, ruins the fun in the story."

The actors have to read the script in order to know what to act. That's just a given. This, however, is when the characters read the script so that they know what's going to happen next.

Usually a comedy trope, and a part of behind the scenes comedy. But sometimes this trope can be played straight with something else standing in for the script, such as when a children's show is doing a "Reading Is Cool" Aesop story which rips off from one of the classics, and the children in the show are outright reading the classic book in question to see what comes next in their plot.

A type of Medium Awareness (and, by extension, often a sign of No Fourth Wall in the comedy variation). Closely related to Noticing the Fourth Wall; also compare Genre Savvy, This Is the Part Where..., and Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud. Will often prompt a "Who Writes This Crap?!" reaction in Self Parodying works. Contrast both Surprisingly Realistic Outcome and This Is Reality. Can overlap with Animated Actors.

Comedic examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Superlópez: Superlópez in one of the short stories of La aventura está en la esquina:
    Superlópez: I have a feeling that Al Trapone is behind this! It's in the script!

    Comic Strips 
  • In Bloom County, Opus was once lost without direction in a desert, and finally got a script, and edited it so that the inbred psycho who's picked him up hitchhiking turns into Zsa Zsa Gabor. Then when Zsa Zsa drops him off in Vegas, he leaves the script in the car, and is stuck back in the desert again.

    Fan Works 
  • Thinking In Little Green Boxes ends the Philosopher's Stone arc when Harry reads ahead in the book to find that Quirrel was Voldemort. Disappointed by this, Deadpool, Harry's father, punishes Harry by banning him from Breaking the Fourth Wall for five whole chapters. Harry kept to it... mostly.
  • The Infinite Loops takes this trope and does the tango. Looping universes are backed up on the Hub universe, our reality, which causes the natives to write fiction about the backed up worlds and results in a lot of Mutually Fictional scenarios. Savvy loopers gather as much fiction as they can, so they can quickly acquaint themselves with any other world they end up in; some loopers even keep their own scripts on hand to offer to newcomers.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Genie from Aladdin pulls out a copy of the movie's script and tries to feed Aladdin his next lines, which will have him use his third wish to free the Genie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dead Don't Die: During the climax, Ronnie reveals to Cliff that the reason he's been so pessimistic throughout the movie is that he read the script and knew it was going to end badly. Cliff is pissed at this, as the director only gave him his own scenes instead of the whole thing.
  • Mel Brooks uses this from time to time, always Played for Laughs:
    • In the climax of Blazing Saddles, after the battle spills over into the film studio, Lamarr runs away and finds a movie theater showing Blazing Saddles. He buys a ticket and sees a later point in the film — showing him that Bart is on his trail. He runs outside to have a final confrontation with Bart. After Bart wins, he and the Kid go back into the theater to see the end of the movie.
    • In Spaceballs, when the eponymous villains lose track of Lone Star and Princess Vespa, they try to find her by watching ahead in the film. Dark Helmet wonders how that's possible if they're still making the movie, but future tech takes care of that. But they do have to fast-forward through the whole movie to the point they want to see, leading to Helmet having to relive his Ludicrous Speed escapade ("No no no, go past this, past this part. In fact, never play this again."), and a memorable sequence when they're in real time and looking at "now" (confusing the hell out of Helmet).
    • During the archery contest in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when Lucky Lucha bests Robin by splitting his arrow, Robin is so stunned that he lost that he pulls out the movie's script in disbelief ("I'm not supposed to lose!") — and finds out that he gets another shot. Prince John and the Sheriff of Rottingham consult their own scripts and begrudgingly admit that he's right. Cue Robin's "Patriot Arrow".
  • In Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, Miss Petrie calls up Professor Williams to tell him that she's sure that something is wrong, adding, "I read ahead in the script!"
  • In The Muppet Movie, rather than explain the whole complicated story so far, Kermit simply hands the Electric Mayhem the movie script, and they read up to the point where they are now. This comes back as a Brick Joke when the gang gets stranded in the desert and the Electric Mayhem comes to their rescue. How did they knew they were there? Kermit left the script behind.note 
    Kermit: How did you know where to find us?
    Dr. Teeth: We just read the script. [holds up script] "EXT. DESERT — NIGHT." We knew right where you were.
  • In Rubber, Sheriff Chad, the only actual character who knows he's in a movie, has to do something similar to remind himself of the outcome. This is after his accomplice failed at ending the movie by poisoning the audience.

  • In one of the Xanth novels, the main characters come across a character whose talent is to read the chapter name. Unfortunately for them, this occurs in a chapter titled "X".
    • The Muses are the ones who decide on chapter titles in the volumes of history they record so a minor character knowing this stuff is less Breaking the Fourth Wall and more of a weird form of clairvoyance. At least one main character has had the good fortune to be in the library of the Muses when some of the safeties were turned off, so the book titles for about a dozen of the novels in the series, including those about future events, became public knowledge in-universe.
  • In the Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, Bromosel, the Boromir parody, displays this ability a few times, once even taking note of how much of the book was still in the reader's right hand.
  • A variation in Dracula. After Mina transcribes everyone's notes and voice recordings, Van Helsing orders the vampire hunters to read the compiled book. Because the book is epistolary at that moment, the reader and the characters have both read the same 2/3 or Bram Stoker's novel.
  • The Neverending Story: Subverted when the Childlike Empress asks the Old Man of Wandering Mountain to read ahead in the Neverending Story that he is writing. He tells her there is nothing but empty pages.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens in the Red Dwarf miniseries Back to Earth. The characters then start writing the script to make each other do humiliating slapstick routines.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look features fly-on-the-wall style sections with the actors having chats as themselves on the set. In one of them, David Mitchell points out that these are as scripted as the rest of the show, and shows Robert Webb the script for the sketch they're in, which includes the direction "Cut to a close-up of the script. It reads: cut to a close-up of the script. It reads:..."
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: In several episodes characters would read the script to find out what was going on or what they (or another character) were supposed to do.
  • In an episode of Raumschiff GameStar, Captain Langer figures out the villains' Evil Plan by reading it from the script of the episode.
  • In the series finale of Small Wonder, Vanessa (posing as Vicki) does this, to the chagrin of the film director.
  • In the Douglas Adams episode of The South Bank Show, Ford Prefect reads the draft of Mostly Harmless and casually mentions the existence of Random Frequent Flyer Dent to Arthur. He then tells Arthur to try to look surprised when it happens.

  • Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back has a weird variation — the characters from RENT read ahead in the script for La Bohème to see what they should do next. Of course, since the plot of Rent is only very loosely based on La Bohème, it's not a reliable guide.
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has the song Go, go, go Joseph with the line "Go, go, go Joseph, fight till you drop/We've read the book, and you come out on top." Not to mention, "Don’t give up Joseph, wait and you’ll see/We’ve been outside, and you’re on the marquee."
  • A Strange Loop: At one point the Thoughts, who are very skeptical of Usher's writing choices, are thumbing through the script of the play he's writing, A Strange Loop. Thought 3 gets to the end, where Usher turns his back to the audience, and says "That's seriously how the show ends?"
    Usher: Possibly. In this draft at least.
    Thought 3: Hmm. Well, that's certainly a choice.

    Video Games 
  • Played with in The Simpsons Game twice. Early in the game, the manual for the game itself falls in front of Bart which helps move the plot forward. Later, Bart looks up the walkthrough for the game online to find out what they have to do next. Subverted in that he gets cut off before he actually says what they need to do by aliens attacking the house, and the rest of the plot evolves from there.
  • The game of The Emperor's New Groove does this. For example, defeating Yzma at the end of the River series of levels earns this exchange:
    Pacha: Phew! I hope that's the last we'll see of her.
    Kuzco: She'll be back. I've seen it in the script!

    Web Animation 
  • Turnabout Storm: Pinkie doesn't waste any time; she already had a good part of the script read beforehand, thus she already knew what one of Phoenix's next destinations was, and that "something strange" was going to happen there. At least she had the courtesy of not reading too far into it to avoid spoilers.

  • Proto Man, in this Bob and George strip, reveals a device he uses to read ahead in the webcomic.
  • Played with in DM of the Rings #29 where the DM reads a script he was supposed to read later. When he realizes his mistake he tells the players to forget what they just heard. But given the players' dislike of the Wall of Text backstory and NPC monologues, they weren't listening anyway.
  • L's Empire has one character become an author, so they can read the comic's buffer to counteract any plan set in motion against them. The other authors manage to get around this by deliberately posting the page that details the character's downfall late.
  • In El Goonish Shive, during a Fourth-Wall Mail Slot storyline, Tedd reads what he thinks is the script for the upcoming stories only for it to be subverted when he is informed what he was actually reading was the author's sketchbook.
  • A variant is common in Final Fantasy VII: The Sevening. Rather than read ahead, the characters are usually checking the script to make sure that the impossible thing, plot-hole, or out-of-character dialogue they just experienced was not some kind of mistake on their part. At times they're reduced to tears.
    Cloud: [to a copy of the script] You monster!!
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • The 04/08/01 strip has Captain Tagon tell the Interactive Narrator to start reading the script again after everybody got distracted trying to figure out what the heck happened in the last six strips. (There was a weird segue in mid-story where Tagon and Brad got captured by aliens, interrogated, and disintegrated.) Then he cuts the narrator off on account of they'd reached the last panel; the narrator says he's going to go have a word with the author.
    • Here Breya guesses that the terrorists they captured in the last story arc were trying to stop the wormgate aliens, meaning they're on the same side as the mercenaries.
      Tagon: Breya, I know you're smart, but that's quite an intuitive leap.
      Narrator: I bet she's been reading the author's back-story notes.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In the short "Wind-Blown Hare", The Big Bad Wolf reads a copy of The Three Little Pigs to know what to do. When Bugs Bunny pretends to be Little Red Riding Hood, he gives the wolf a copy of that book to catch up.
    • In "Ain't That Ducky", Daffy Duck interrupts a chase scene to point out that someone forgot to put a barrel on the scene for him to hide in, and pulls out his copy of the script as proof.
  • In the Drawn Together movie, when trapped in a slowly-filling underwater carriage and at a loss for what to do next, the housemates listen to the DVD commentary.
  • In an episode of Aladdin: The Series, Genie is seen watching Aladdin's latest predicament on a TV in his lamp and reads the script to see where he'll come in.
    Genie: Let's see, "Al plummets. Al says 'Oh no'. Genie poofs to the rescue." Sort of predictable. [his pocket watch rings] I'M LATE! [poofs to the rescue]
    Aladdin: Genie, thanks.
    Genie: Oh, just doing my part, Al. I think.
  • Inverted in the Taz-Mania episode "Retakes Not Included". Bull and Axl realise that they have digressed too long and that the plot has moved on without them. They flip backwards through the script in order to catch up and prevent Taz from eating a cute fluffy bunny.
  • In the Tex Avery cartoon King Size Canary, a mouse cautions an alley cat against eating him, explaining he'd seen the picture before and that he'd save the cat's life before it was through.
  • Danger Mouse knows that the acronym C.H.M.F.F.G. stands for "Car Holding Magnetic Force Field Generator" (episode "Journey To The Earth's 'Cor!") because he read the script.
  • One episode of Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series had resident Meta Guy Nosedive showing he had the script to the episode, and when Klegghorn questions it, Nosedive reads the line the policeman was about to say.

Serious examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In Swamp Thing, as the world undergoes a Time Crash, the real-life Depression-era bank robber Clyde Barrow tearfully watches his and Bonnie Parker's death on a videotape of the 1967 biopic, and wonders if he should tell her about their fate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Mouth of Madness: When Linda Styles realizes that Sutter Cane's latest novel is in fact their own reality, she reads ahead to see the ending for herself. The revelation turns her into one of Cane's minions, and she's later retconned out of the story.
  • A film script in Southland Tales turns out to be unconsciously prescient, and the characters increasingly realize they have no choice but to play their parts.

  • This kind of happens in the novel Lanark, when the title character meets the author and learns about some of the things that are in store for him.
  • In The Neverending Story, the Childlike Empress seeks out the Old Man of Wandering Mountain, who writes the book that contains all of Fantastica. She asks if he can look ahead in the book to see what will happen, and gets the reply, "Empty pages". There's nothing ahead in the book, because it hasn't happened yet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Heroes:
    • The entire story of the series, a sci-fi drama based on comic books, exists in-universe as... a comic book, drawn by a man with precognitive powers. This is an important plot point early on — Hiro finds the comic and reads ahead a little, effectively consulting the oracle before their quest.
    • Later, Hiro is so confused that he hunts down a comic book store to find out what happens next, only for a couple of comic book geeks to recognize him from a scene they just read. They answer some of his questions about plot details and share some fan theories, which may or may not have been based on actual fan theories from people watching the TV show.
  • Rocky Jones, Space Ranger's episode "Rocky's Odyssey", as the name implies, rips off the plot of Homer's epic of the same name. The Tagalong Kid, who is reading said book as homework, quickly figures out that their adventure is suspiciously similar to the adventure he's reading, and by the third act he's outright reading ahead in the book to figure out what they should do next.
  • In The Famous Jett Jackson: The Movie, actor Jett Jackson meets his Refugee from TV Land counterpart Silverstone and informs him that the shooting script has Silverstone Killed Off for Real in the last episode, meaning the real Silverstone is doomed if his world continues to mimic the televised fiction.
  • A variation occurs in the Doctor Who episode "The Angels Take Manhattan". The events of the episode are written down in a book the Doctor found. Amy is quick to realize that reading ahead gives them some warning about what will happen, only for the Doctor to tell her not to do it. This is because it becomes close to impossible to Screw Destiny once you've read it. Reading ahead would seal their fate, with no way to know if it would be for better or for worse. As a balance between the two, they read the table of contents to see the chapter titles. To their horror, though, one of the chapter titles still gives away plenty.

    Visual Novels 

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels: In "The Creepy Case of the Creaky Charter Boat", the Teen Angels find a copy of the script for the play in which one of the ship's passengers, a famous stage actor, is starring. As the girls realize that their situation follows the script exactly, Taffy finds that one page has been torn out. Reading the last page of the script, the girls discover that their actor friend is named as the perpetrator.


Video Example(s):

Top've lied to everyone else

Aladdin retracts his promise to free the Genie leading to the Genie falling out with him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / PlotMandatedFriendshipFailure

Media sources: