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World Limited to the Plot

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"No questions asked. Up we get and off at a gallop, fearful lest we come too late!"
"Too late for what?"
"How would I know? We haven't got there yet."

The story is its own little world: It's not merely secluded from the context, there is no context. It is not merely the morality that is centered on the protagonist, the world itself revolves around them.

Usually a result of limited storytelling, but can also be actively invoked as some kind of absurdity or postmodern deconstruction. In either case, when a show or webcomic or other work starts this way, it usually melts away at the same pace as Cerebus Syndrome takes a hold on the plotline. In shorter storylines, it can instead be a existential twist to some Ontological Mystery.


The stories where the world is limited to the plot are instead the stories where the characters have no backstory, no anchors outside the plot, and whatever they do, there will be no outside forces of any kind reacting to it. Characters irrelevant to the plot are highly unlikely to exist at all, and if they do then they won't have names. The story does not have to take place in a pocket dimension or even a secluded town: Rather than being shown to not exist, The Outside World is simply unmentioned and discarded as irrelevant.

Commonly, these stories feature a failed escape sequence, and none of the outside world will be seen during the escape. The characters are inevitably led right back to the plot's world.

This is not when a story takes place in a Small, Secluded World such as an island or a box: In those cases there is still a universe outside the place where the characters are trapped. The characters are still connected to the outside world by their memories, and there are people in the outside world who could miss them.


Defying this trope is a common way to deconstruct or avert other tropes: It's easy to be The Omniscient when there is so little to know in the first place, just add more information and the character turns out to be Not So Omniscient After All. On the flipside of this coin, philosophical thought-experiments often ask us to accept a World Limited To The Plot, making the most outrageous oversimplifications look like valid Aesops.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Big O, there does seem to be some reason for this but it's never adequately explained.
  • The story in My Hero Academia is set solely in the scope of Japan (extending to any villainous plot to Take Over the World, or vaguely similar plots really translating to "Take Over/Destroy Japan"), the outside world is only very rarely alluded to (almost entirely in backstories at that), it's never indicated how the rest of the world manages Quirks, and how the events of the story exist on a global scale is never mentioned at all. Excluding non-canonical material, everything outside of Japan only seems to exist tangentially, and otherwise is ignored for the purpose of the general story.
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero takes place in a universe where only an island of Japan survives. Not Japan as a whole, just the region the main characters live in. The Plague killed off everyone and Shinju-sama protected Shikoku by building a wall. The outside world doesn't even exist anymore. It's just an Acid-Trip Dimension full of monsters. When Togo learns the Awful Truth about how Heroes are in a Hopeless War against these creatures, she decides to perform a worldwide Mercy Kill.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Age of X storyline in the X-Men line, a clue that something is wrong with the alternate reality the characters find themselves in is that there is nothing outside the walls of their compound, and the soldiers that attack seem to only have a few names, repeated over and over.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played straight in Cemetery Man at the end. Francesco tries to leave town, only to discover that the rest of the world doesn't exist.
  • Deliberately invoked in the Cube series. The inconsistent internal logic from movie to movie is designed to eliminate the possibility of a wider world beyond the Cube.
    • Averted in Cube Zero, where it's shown to basically be a last-chance experimentation chamber for death-row prisoners. At least until one of the operators helps someone escape and ends up with a forged "confession" and a lobotomy before getting thrown in himself, with heavy hints throughout that that's basically how everyone ended up in there. Then we find out that what we see in the prequel is basically a first generation prototype compared to the later Cubes, which seem to have less and less of a plausible reason to exist.
  • Dogville plays this for drama. It turns out that Grace could have escaped all along — she was just too stubborn.
  • In Bruges toys with this. The entire film takes place in Bruges (apart from two very short establishing character shots). Ray hates Bruges. When he finally manages to escape, only the inside of the train is shown, and he's led right back to Bruges again anyway.
  • Ridley Scott's Legend (1985) takes place almost entirely within a magical forest and Darkness's palace. There's virtually no indication of what the world outside the forest is like.
  • Pleasantville shows what happens to such a world when the outside does manifest itself in a meaningful way.
  • Deconstructed in The Thirteenth Floor. As the cover says: "Question reality".
  • The Truman Show has two plotlines that eventually merge. The "inner" plotline suffers heavily from World Limited to the Plot, but the "outer" plotline reveals that this is caused by manipulation rather than bad storytelling.

  • In Coraline, the Other Mother's world seems to be limited to the immediate vicinity of the house. More obvious in the movie, where the world fades out into featureless white space after a certain point and is small enough to be walked around in the course of one conversation.
  • A Finnish High Fantasy novel called Kuolleet kaupungit ("The Dead Cities") is a zigzag on this trope. There was a world map included with various locations marked all around its two continents. In the course of the story, the main cast visits every single one of these locations. Looking at the map after that, one is left with the impression there isn't anyplace else left to go in the whole world, and even if there is, it must still be a rather small world.
  • The Polish novel Nest of Worlds uses this as a plot point or rather, as the basis of the entire plot. The protagonist is an ordinary guy who turns out to be an inexplicable Walking Disaster Area: anyone he has talked to, come in contact with, or just caught a glimpse of, tend to die from unrelated causes within days. Strangely, it's mentioned that before he turned up, the city where he lives had recorded no deaths at all for over a year. He eventually realizes the reason for all that: his entire world is a setting for a novel, and he himself is the main character. It's not that he attracts disaster—on the contrary: nothing significant or dramatic ever happens in his world if he isn't involved in it somehow. Also, it turns out he is protected from death by some very heavy-duty Plot Armor (that tends to also leave hundreds dead with collateral damage), until he decides to make a Heroic Sacrifice to save his world from himself.
  • In the Animorphs prequel The Andalite Chronicles, Elfangor, Loren and the future Visser Three accidentally create a small alternate universe out of their memories. It basically looks like a Patchwork World based on their respective homes, populated by "people" who act like robotic caricatures. At one point Elfangor opens a book in Loren's fake room and finds half the pages blank—she never finished the book, so her memories couldn't complete it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Masters of Horror: This is the Cruel Twist Ending of the episode Valerie on the Stairs. When the main characters manage to escape the building they are confined in, they realize that they are fictional characters that are not expected to exist outside and vanish accordingly.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the audio spin-off The Holy Terror, the Doctor arrives in what at first appears to be a castle with the 'quirk' that the current reigning emperor is considered to be a literal god, but as the story unfolds he realises that the entire castle is actually part of an elaborate prison created for one man, who weaves this elaborate world to hide from his guilt until he is forced to face his crime and commit it all over again.
  • Deconstructed/Justified in Westworld, where the main characters are Artificial Humans in a narrative-based theme park where they play out pre-programmed stories unless interrupted by the guests.
  • Holograms in Star Trek for the most part - characters in holonovels only know enough to simulate a character in the story, but for the most part are programmed to believe there is nothing beyond their world. The exceptions are ones that are programmed, either accidentally or deliberately, to be "self aware" that they are a hologram in a world of fiction (Moriarty, Vic Fontaine) or ones programmed for real-world work like the Emergency Medical Holograms.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" has this as the twist. None of the characters can remember who they are or where they were before waking up in a featureless room, because they're just children's dolls sitting in a donation bucket. Outside of the episode's narrative conceit that gives them personalities and interactions with each other, they're simply inanimate objects.
  • WandaVision centers around an illusion created by Wanda Maximoff that turned an entire city into a sitcom recreation. And when Vision strays far enough, he discovers whoever is outside of Wanda's immediate field of vision seems to be left standing there, waiting for their "cue", reduced to repetitive actions or downright being frozen.

  • Moral dilemmas in academic philosophy usually rely heavily on this trope: You are supposed to accept, or even take for granted, the premise that the characters and situations involved have no social context whatsoever (some are set on deserted islands, or in rafts adrift on the ocean). This tends to make it unreasonably impossible to Take a Third Option.
    • One instance is in a class on torture where students debate on the permissibility of torturing a person if that person holds information on a bomb's location, then the bomb cannot be a city-destroying level of power or greater.


  • In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this is pretty much the entire point of the play, as the two characters do not realize that they are fictional characters and thus are confused at why they don't remember anything except for what's relevant to their scenes.
  • Samuel Beckett loved this one: Endgame, Waiting for Godot (Estragon's character as opposed to Vladimir's) , probably others.
    • Beckett's one-act play, Play, can be an extreme version, with the world limited to a spotlight. To explain, the entirety of the dialogue is spoken by three heads sticking out of large, unmoving funeral urns which can only speak if the spotlight is on them. There is often nothing else on stage and no other lighting. (The RTÉ "Beckett on Film" version, however, averts this trope by replacing the spotlight with the camera's gaze and including a set—a barren landscape filled with similar heads-sticking-out-of-urns.)
  • One of the favorite tropes of the Theatre of the Absurd in general. In addition to the aforementioned Stoppard and Beckett plays, Eugène Ionesco comes to mind, especially The Bald Soprano.

    Video Games 
  • Bastion features a world that actually builds itself under the protagonist's feet as he advances.

    Visual Novels 
  • OZMAFIA!! takes place in an isolated town ruled by mobsters with seemingly no other nearby settlements and no wider governance. It's a Pocket Dimension built by a Reality Warper.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! plays this both story and meta-wise, only five characters are present, other people are alluded to, but never appear. The main characters spend time preparing something for a school festival, but it never comes to that. Meta-Wise there really is nothing outside the main character's world and by the time Act 3 rolls around, you're left in a single room floating in empty space with the last remaining character.

    Web Comics 
  • Homestuck: the world outside of the main characters' lives appears almost desolate. None of them seem to have any other friends apart from themselves and characters on the periphery of their interpersonal interactions (their guardians) appear almost vacant and robotic. And they're not really very affected by Earth's imminent and unavoidable destruction either.
    • On the other hand, there are cases where we do have a glimpse outside the plot, with current events like how Barack Obama is the president, and other people completely irrelevant to the plot, like the Serious Business and GameFAQs users, are still shown to actually exist, even if they are never shown. We also see maps of the entire planet, and the plot does, in fact, make an impact in places irrelevant to the main characters.
    • At one point Jade is shown browsing a real artist's gallery on Fur Affinity.
  • The Order of the Stick lived by this trope until the foreshadowing at the end of book one. (Strip 120 in the online version.) Only then, when the dungeon in which the entire plot has taken place is destroyed, do the plot and the dungeon turn out to have some relevance outside of itself. Even before that, half the team didn't even realize they had a specific quest beyond stand-alone gags until several pages in.
    • Later, it turns out that characters who aren't relevant enough to the plot to be named actually don't even have names... at least not until they become relevant to the plot.

    Western Animation 
  • Total Drama. Justified in the first two seasons, where the whole thing was a Show Within a Show trapping the teens in an island and on a film lot, but even in the third season, where they're in a different country each week, they still run into no one except those that work on the show, even in the middle of New York (except for one woman sitting on a bench and her baby).
  • Tends to happen in Batman: The Brave and the Bold for various reasons. For example, Superman and Wonder Woman were totally absent during Starro's invasion of Earth; they were Exiled from Continuity at the time, but there's no indication of where they were and if Starro was controlling them or not.
  • Used for a joke in The Simpsons. At one point Homer leaves Moe's and Moe says that that means he and everyone else will stop moving until he comes back.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy, much like Peanuts, takes place in a small suburb and pretty much never shows anyone apart from the central group of kids (least of all adults; simply having the kids in school in the last season was considered a massive status quo shake-up). Taken Up to Eleven in one episode, where the neighborhood itself is limited to the plot, as Ed and Eddy constantly try to fight Sarah for access to Ed's TV - despite Double D's reminders that they could just watch the one at his house.


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