back to list

On plot armor

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, July 8, 2023

Ok yes. Plot armor in general is considered a mistake. With good reason. Enough plot armor and there are no stakes left in your plot, and the audience isn't worried your plot-armored characters may not make it. And if there's no suspense, there's no engagement or the engagement you get may not be what you were shooting for.

You don't want your audience to react this way when you're telling them to be afraid for the characters.

But let's be real here. Every story has plot armor within the character buildup. Even the ones that chop of character heads early on.

You were expecting a GoT gif here weren't you.

What I mean to say is that even in stories where the author genuinely invests in stripping plot armor from their characters, there is some level of protection from death (or whatever stakes there are) until it is the appropriate dramatic or pacing or plot development time to allow the (thin or not) armor to fail.

She could have died several times already, but this is when it happens

The secret isn't on whether plot armor exists, but on how well it is camouflaged by the character design as well as the circumstances. All it takes for plot armor to be invisible is for that suspension of disbelief to hold that death could plausibly have been avoided in a particular instance.

And that varies from setting to setting and plot to plot. A larger than life adventure can hide thicker plot armor than a gritty, serious fantasy.

Which is why this flies

…and this doesn't.

But even in a comic book level story (i.e. a story where characters are extra sturdy as a rule) plot armor has to be hidden enough for the escape from death to be acceptable even by the standards of that world. That's why the fridge-in-nuclear-blast premise feels like blatant plot armor for Indy whereas the fall off a cliff on a tank with a nazi doesn't.

In a serious, gritty ‘fight the nazis’ story Indy's surviving of the tank cliff drop wouldn't be acceptable, but in Indiana Jones where magic is present if you squint, it is. Not so much though that a nuclear bomb isn't strong enough to cook someone in a fridge. You have to respect the limits of your own fantasy, is what I'm saying.


And this is a big BUT.

There is a place and time for blatant plot armor, where it is acceptable and even fun. But it's a tricky thing to accomplish- it's when the plot armor is the premise of the plot. A character that is impervious to damage or immune to death for some reason, is a character with blatant plot armor that an audience could enjoy.

From the movie Sisu- the MC with a fine suit of plot armor we love to see

This plot armor could last throughout the story or only up until the endgame scene, but it exists, it's acknowledged, and explained away in some manner. It could be pure grit. It could be some kind of magical gift. It could be sheer luck. It could be ‘godlike skill’ for which the mc is legendary. Whatever it is, it's keeping the main character protected and (often) annihilating their opposition in inventive ways. This is what the audience is there to see. To have the main character survive against all odds, and mow down their enemies.

And that can be immensely satisfying- enough for the audience to roll with it and like it. The setup for it has to be appropriate. Everyone in the cast must acknowledge the reason for the character's plot armor. Like ‘godlike skill’:

Or actual godlike plot armor (magic dunking in magic river):

Or berserker madness.

Anything that will convince your audience to accept that one character is impervious to damage everyone else in the cast can and does take, is when you get to flaunt that plot armor and make it part of the plot. Any instance where a character should have died but survived instead, but the audience accepts it as logical enough, is you concealing their plot armor successfully.

Which of the two have you been doing the most?

Don’t forget you can now advertise on DrunkDuck for just $2 in whichever ad spot you like! The money goes straight into running the site. Want to know more? Click this link here! Or, if you want to help us keep the lights on you can sponsor us on Patreon. Every bit helps us!

Special thanks to our patrons!!

Justnopoint - Banes - RMccool - Abt_Nihil - Gunwallace - PaulEberhardt - Emma_Clare - FunctionCreep - SinJinsoku - Smkinoshita - jerrie - Chickfighter - Andreas_Helixfinger - Tantz_Aerine - Genejoke - Davey Do - Gullas - Roma - NanoCritters - Teh Andeh - Peipei - Digital_Genesis - Hushicho - Palouka - cheeko - Paneltastic - L.C.Stein - dpat57 - Bravo1102 - The Jagged - LoliGen - OrcGirl - Miss Judged - Fallopiancrusader - arborcides - ChipperChartreuse - Mogtrost - InkyMoondrop - Jgib99 - Hirokari - Orgivemedeath Ind - Mks Monsters - GregJ - HawkandFloAdventures



usedbooks at 4:30AM, July 11, 2023

The creator of Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch, talked about stakes in his DVD commentary. In the setting, it was obvious that at least death was not a risk for the main characters (just not that kind of series), so the higher stakes for a climax was the threat that the kids would have to leave town and return to their parents or that Uncle Stan would be arrested. Plot or genre armor can change the stakes. A way to avoid plot armor is by figuring out what risks are realistic in the setting. It is also good that if something truly epic and catastrophic is threatened, carry through with it -- in a way that the characters can mitigate their post-disaster circumstances. Another comment from Hirsch is that any conflict should leave its mark, not be reset, which is why the "Mystery Shack" was missing pieces as the plot progressed.

PaulEberhardt at 9:39AM, July 9, 2023

Let me put it this way: readers will boo and hiss if you use too obvious plot armour and they will boo and hiss if you kill off a character they came to like. Sounds pretty much like a no win situation if you can't somehow meander through this, doesn't it? But in all honesty, I don't actually mind plot armour all that much if it helps making a satisfying story. Sometimes I just want to read about things that I would wish to be that way, even if irl they'd probably catastrophically fail. It's possibly one of the reasons why thousands of years ago people started telling each other stories in the first place.

bravo1102 at 2:30AM, July 9, 2023

Only good thing about Troy was seeing Sean Bean and Brian Cox together again. Would have loved an Odyssey with Sean Bean as Odysseus. At least he's guaranteed to survive until the end.

marcorossi at 10:10AM, July 8, 2023

Achilles in Troy says at the beginning that he is not invulnerable, than later on in the movie proceeds to say that the Gods do not exist. I watched that movie at the cinema with my at the time girlfriend who was doing classical studies, she didn't have kind words for it.

Forgot Password
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Mastodon