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Real Life Writes the Plot

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"Fundamentally, a Red Dwarf script is a battle plan for making a TV show, and as Napoléon Bonapartenote  once remarked, 'No battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy'. In Red Dwarf's case the enemy is what's possible, given a tight budget, a short production period, and the physical laws of the natural universe."
Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf: The Least Worst Scripts

This covers a number of areas where real life circumstances alter the plot of an episode, e.g. the lack of suitable locations, timing when filming, the pregnancy of a lead actress (which happens a lot). Occurs often in Professional Wrestling.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a particularly prominent example; not only has it affected the ability to produce movies and TV shows, but it's also being incorporated into media that takes place in 2020 and further.

Not to be confused with Very Loosely Based on a True Story, Roman à Clef, Patched Together from the Headlines, or Ripped from the Headlines, where real-life events merely provide inspiration for a plot.

Specific instances:

  • Aborted Arc: That story arc couldn't be resolved because the work got cancelled or changed management before anything could be done.
  • Actor Existence Limbo: Animated works have characters reduced to voiceless cameos when their voice actors become unavailable for whatever reason.
  • Actor Leaves, Character Dies: A character is killed off after the actor leaves the production rather than put that character on the bus.
  • Adaptational Hairstyle Change: Not all hairstyles are practical for actors in live-action, and can be difficult to animate in animation, resulting in a character's changed hairstyle between adaptations. This is also a case of Real Life Writes the Hairstyle.
  • Adaptational Protagonist: A minor or major character becomes The Protagonist in an adaptation or Continuity Reboot. The reason is often that the promoted protagonist proves to be as (or even more) popular as the original lead.
  • Audience Participation: The audience, rather than the creator, determines the ending of a work (or some other aspect of it) by voting between two or more potential outcomes.
  • Author Appeal: Content included in the work because it is what the creator likes.
  • Author Catchphrase: A line that the author tends to use.
  • Author Phobia: The author's personal fears influence their work.
  • Based on a Dream: A work that is based on a dream/nightmare the creator had.
  • Bottle Episode: An episode filmed with limited resources — one location, Minimalist Cast, etc. While it may be a deliberate choice, it can also happen when a show is nearly over budget and needs to save money.
  • Bus Crash: A character who was written out of the show with the potential to return gets killed offscreen, which could be because their actor cannot or will not come back.
  • The Cast Showoff: The work finds an excuse to showcase an actor's other talents (singing, juggling, bareback riding, etc.)
  • Character Aged with the Actor: The actor's character ages as the actor does (as opposed to simply replacing them with a younger model).
  • The Character Died with Him: When a show handles the death of an actor by having the character they portrayed die as well.
  • Christmas Rushed: Production of the work was hurried so that the final product could be released in time for the holidays.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: A character abruptly vanishes from the show and is nowhere to be seen or mentioned again. Can be a result of the creators deciding to drop the character for whatever reason and not bothering to provide an explanation for the character's sudden absence.
  • Couple Bomb: A work is either made by or is built around a Real Life couple, but is considered a failure.
  • Creator Breakdown: The creator was suffering depression or hardship during the work's development.
  • Creator Recovery: Good events or circumstances of a creator's life influence their work.
  • Demoted to Extra: A major character is reduced to only having a minor role. One possible reason could be that the studio is trying to save money by avoiding paying the character's actor as frequently as they used to. Another is the writers want to downplay a character that turned out to be unpopular with fans.
  • Died During Production: The work is cancelled, put in Development Hell or forced to make do with replacements because the creator died during the process.
  • Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: Hiring an actor who has the same disability as the character they're playing can be done to make things more believable.
  • Distanced from Current Events: A scene is altered or removed to avoid making it look like they're making light of a recent tragedy.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Using techniques to force a genuine reaction from the actor.
  • Executive Meddling: The creator is forced to make changes to what they intended to do with the work by the executives.
  • Fake Shemp: The actor is unavailable, but the studio utilizes archived footage, archived audio and/or body doubles to simulate the actor's presence.
  • Fatal Method Acting: An actor ends up dying during production of the work.
  • Final Season Casting: A show experiences unusual and significant cast changes for its final season.
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin: Flashback sequences depict scenes that take place earlier in the show, but weren't established to have happened until after the character was recast, so the scene is shot with the character's new actor by necessity.
  • Fleeting Demographic Rule: It's assumed that the target audience will be replaced periodically as they age or lose interest, so the work can reuse material on a similar cycle.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: The actress is pregnant with techniques used to avoid making it look like her character is also pregnant.
  • Injured Limb Episode: An actor suffers an injury on set, and said injury is worked into the show.
  • Issue Drift: An apolitical work turns political.
  • Killed by Request: The actor asks for their character to be killed off so they don't have to play the role anymore.
  • Killed Off for Real: A character is permanently killed off in a setting where resurrections are possible.
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: If a series lasts long enough, it will be unavoidable to recast, replace or remove a bunch of characters.
  • Non-Gameplay Elimination: Contestants of a game show or reality show leave for reasons unrelated to the competition.
  • The Nth Doctor: A character is recast and an in-universe explanation is given for why they look and/or sound different.
  • On-Set Injury: An actor is injured during production, causing delays in the production.
  • The Other Darrin: A character ends up played by a different actor, often because the original quit, retired, was unavailable or died.
  • Out of Focus: One character gets the spotlight, and others tend to disappear or fade into the background.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: When the author dies before their work is completed, other people do their best to bring the project to fruition using whatever material the author managed to produce before they died.
  • Post-Script Season: A show ends up renewed for more episodes after it was supposed to end.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: An adaptation making changes to the original story out of necessity can be the result of real-life circumstances that the production team cannot control.
  • Present Day: When a show is set in the same year it is produced in.
  • Put on a Bus: A character is temporarily removed from the show (usually with a specific explanation) by having them leave the setting in a way that they could eventually return if the writers willed it.
  • Put on a Bus to Hell: The character being phased out of the show leaves through rather spiteful means.
  • Real Life Writes the Hairstyle: A character's hairstyle is different because the actor changed it—either on a whim or for a different role. This can cause an Adaptational Hairstyle Change.
  • Real-Time Timeskip: The amount of time passed between two releases is reflected in the work.
  • Reality Subtext: When Real Life issues mirror the production, but don't significantly affect it.
  • Restricted Expanded Universe: The Expanded Universe has rules (imposed by the executives or the original creators) it is not allowed to break.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: A person involved with the production gets fired because they committed a crime or did something that the powers-that-be did not approve of.
  • Screwed by the Lawyers: Production or distribution of a work is ceased or hindered by legal issues.
  • Screwed by the Network: The show gets cancelled because the network didn't give it enough promotion or airtime, or they straight-up hated it and used scummy tactics to justify its cancellation.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot: The work's decisions are because they had to work around limitations.
  • The Shelf of Movie Languishment: The movie has been finished, but has its release delayed for some time, if it ever gets released at all.
  • Temporary Substitute: A character is replaced when their actor is unavailable at the moment.
  • Throw It In!: An improvised joke or mistake is left in the final version because the creators find it amusing.
  • Troubled Production: The work has finally been released, but the development team faced some problems so harrowing that it's a miracle the work saw the light of day at all.
  • Two Decades Behind: Fictional depictions of pop culture are prone to Anachronism Stew, blending the modern day with an earlier time period that the author is more familiar with.
  • What Could Have Been: A work undergoes changes during development (or is prevented from being made in the first place) because of the production team changing their minds, encountering potential legal issues or because of an unanticipated misfortune (such as one of the people planned to be involved dying before they could contribute, or the company behind the project going bankrupt before they could finish and release the work).
  • Write Who You Hate: The characters are based on real people that the creator hated.
  • Write Who You Know: The characters are based on real people that the creator knew.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: A work (or an adaptation/rerelease/etc. of it) is about to be released, but some things in the work have apparently been trademarked by other people/shown in another work. Better change it/obscure it/etc before the deadline!
  • Written-In Absence: When a character can't appear because of their actor being unavailable, an in-universe explanation for the character's absence is given.
  • Written-In Infirmity: The actor suffers an injury and the work is revised so that the character suffers the same injury in order to avoid production being delayed by waiting for the actor to recover.


Video Example(s):


Cobra Kai- Tommy's Body Bag

Tommy famously said in Karate Kid that Daniel would need a body bag after facing Johnny. Decades later, his return for Cobra Kai ends with him in one (reflecting the real-life terminal cancer of the actor, Rob Garrison).

How well does it match the trope?

4.73 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ContinuityNod

Media sources: