Plot device

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Jump to: navigation, search A plot device is an element introduced into a story solely to advance or resolve the plot of the story. In the hands of a skilled writer, the reader or viewer will not notice that the device is a construction of the author; it will seem to follow naturally from the setting or characters in the story. A poorly-written story, on the other hand, may have such awkward or contrived plot devices that the reader has serious trouble maintaining suspension of disbelief. Calling an element of a work a 'plot device' is generally derogatory, implying a lack of complexity in the work. Judging something as a plot device is always subjective, and depends on the degree to which the 'item' serves other purposes or is well-integrated into the tale. For example the 'magic item' which the protagonists of a fantasy novel have to find or destroy is often a plot device; however one might hesitate to apply the term to the Ring of The Lord of the Rings, since it also serves many other purposes in the book.

[edit] MacGuffins and related matters
One of the most common plot devices is the MacGuffin (a term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock). A MacGuffin is an object (or character) which drives the actions of the characters, but whose actual nature is not important to the story; another object would work just as well, if the characters treated it with the same importance. Hitchcock said that "in a thriller the MacGuffin is usually 'the necklace'; in a spy story it is 'the papers'". MacGuffins are frequently found in 'quest' fantasy stories; the magic artifact which the hero must recover in order to save his village, world or family is a MacGuffin (unless, like Tolkien's Ring, its nature is a significant part of the story). The labours of Hercules might well qualify. MacGuffins are sometimes referred to as "plot coupons" (especially if multiple ones are required) as the protagonist only needs to "collect enough plot coupons and trade them in for a denouement". The term was coined by Nick Lowe. Another common form of plot device is the object, typically given to the protagonist shortly before, that allows them to escape from a situation that would be otherwise impossible. Nick Lowe coined the term 'plot voucher' for these, as the protagonist needs to "save the voucher and cash it in at the appropriate time". Examples of this might include the object given to a character which later deflects an otherwise fatal bullet. Most of the devices given to James Bond by Q could fall into this category. The gifts given to Perseus could also count, as could the sacrifice Harry Potter's mother made shortly before Voldemort's attempt on his life, since it saved him. Other plot devices are simply one-offs to get the protagonist to the next scene of the story. The enemy spy, who suddenly appears, defects, reveals the location of the secret headquarters and is never heard of again, would be an extreme example. Without this 'device' the hero would never find the headquarters and be unable to reach the climactic scene; however the character becomes less of a plot device if the author gives them a back-story and a plausible motivation for defecting, and makes them an interesting character in their own right. Many video games rely hugely on plot devices; lesser games are sometimes entirely centred around characters performing arbitrary tasks in order to 'win' the game. Even relatively wellplotted games often involve the protagonist in a series of relatively unconnected and unjustified tasks.

Some other plot devices include:
• • • • •

Deathtrap — overly complicated method of killing a character, used solely to provide a means of escape Deus ex machina — artificial or improbable means of resolving a story, such as having it turn out to be a dream Quest — complicated search for capture or return of an object or person Quibble — following the exact terms of an agreement to escape what would normally be expected Red herring — a person, event or object which deflects attention from the real thing Stupidity — a character wilfully ignores an obvious and convenient solution to a problem

In humor-themed forms of entertainment, particularly those that break the fourth wall in pursuit of comedy, plot devices or the concept itself may be deliberately pointed out to the audience for a joke. For example, in the one-shot DC comic book Blasters, written by Peter David, one of the protagonists is shown installing a device, made by an alien race known as the "Plaht", into her spacecraft that will allow herself and her companion to locate the other protagonists, which was required to forward the plot of the story. Her companion then seemingly turned to face the reader and said, "Oh, I get it. It's a Plaht device." (In this case, the "Plaht device" would be considered a deus ex machina.) The animated series Sheep in the Big City even featured a robot character actually named "Plot Device", who apparently worked for the antagonists and served no other purpose than to advance the plot when it arrived at an apparent standstill (usually by coming up with ridiculous plans to capture Sheep). The popular card game munchkin contains a literal "plot device" that dramatically turns the tide of a game.

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