A cop out is when a story builds to a certain climax and the writer suddenly wusses out and chooses a different, less ambitious or less satisfying ending, or worse, chooses not to end the story at all. This may come out of Executive Meddling, Real Life Writes the Plot, Creator Breakdown, lack of talent, or simply an incomprehensible creative choice. Often results in a Broken Base.
According to That Other Wiki, "Cop out is an idiom meaning to avoid taking responsibility for an action or to avoid fulfilling a duty." (Which, of course, is not related in the slightest to the other idiomatic meaning of "cop" as in Cops and Detectives, nor to the film Cop Out.)
It should be added that not all cases of the below are always "cop outs"; to provide two examples, a particularly heinous bit of Offstage Villainy can be used to make a vile villain even worse with very little effort ("What is it with you heroes and fathers? I killed my father too, and you don't hear me whining about it!"), or a Disney Death being treated as highly suspicious at the time ("I won't believe he's actually dead unless you actually saw his corpse, after so many false reports of him being killed.").
Compare with Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
Different from an Anticlimax in that a story with a Writer Cop Out can have a climax, just not necessarily the one that would be the most dramatically satisfying. In the right (or wrong) context, a Climactic Battle Resurrection could be the easy way out. It may also be seen as a Writer Cop Out if a film adaptation of a work with a Downer Ending goes for something slightly happier (or vice versa). Expect cries of They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot. The flip side of Author's Saving Throw.
This is a bit of an umbrella trope as there are many different ways to cop out. Some of the most infamous are:
- Aborted Arc: The series never gets around to resolving a story arc that was started earlier.
- All Just a Dream: All the events of the story are rendered irrelevant by revealing that the protagonist was only dreaming.
- Ass Pull: The story comes to an end because of a revelation or solution that comes out of nowhere and completely disregards what has already been established in the story. The name comes from the idea that the author just pulled an answer from their ass out of desperation for a quick and convenient way to end the conflict.
- Cliffhanger Copout: A story ends on a cliffhanger with the rest of the series never explaining the outcome of the cliffhanger.
- Convenient Miscarriage: Might not be convenient for the character if she actually wanted children, but it is convenient for the writers to have the mother-to-be miscarry if the character having a child would make the storytelling more complicated.
- Debate and Switch: When a debate is short-circuited by another consideration. Not always a full cop-out.
- Deus ex Machina
- Deus Exit Machina
- Diabolus ex Machina
- Disney Death: A character initially appears to die, but subsequently turns out to still be alive or is miraculously brought back to life.
- Ending Aversion: A common reaction to these tropes is for the audience to voice their dislike of how the work ended.
- Gainax Ending
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope
- Like You Would Really Do It: The character's importance prevents the audience from actually believing that the character will be killed off, no matter how convincing the creators make the character's apparent death.
- No Ending
- Not Blood Siblings
- Not Himself
- Now What?
- Only the Author Can Save Them Now
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome
- Offstage Villainy
- Reset Button
- Relationship Writing Fumble
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: A story that ends with the protagonist's efforts turning out to be pointless.
- Shocking Swerve: A Plot Twist without any set up, and very little payoff.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: A story where the protagonist ends up dying and their efforts are rendered pointless to add insult to injury.
- Stupid Sacrifice: A character sacrifices themselves even though they had no reason to.
- Sudden Downer Ending: The story ends on a tragic note at the very last minute.
- Third Act Stupidity
- Villain: Exit, Stage Left: At the end of the story, the bad guy escapes before he can be punished.
- A Wizard Did It: The creator hastily explains inconsistencies as happening because of magic.