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TV Tropes Monday: Prisoner’s Plot Dilemma



Tweet of the Day: Why It Might Actually Suck to Live in the Harry Potter Universe


This is the second trope I’ve discovered yet I could not find on the TV Tropes page: the Prisoner’s Plot Dilemma. So, what is the Prisoner’s Plot Dilemma? It is when a character is:

  1. When a protagonist is taken prisoner or otherwise disabled (given drugs, had their transportation disabled or destroyed),
  2. Being taken prisoner or drugged is not part of the characters plans,
  3. For the sole purpose of advancing the plot,
  4. By placing the character in the place of the author’s chosing
  5. Without disrupting the delivery of the plot by another character, usually via a monologue.

A good example of this comes from the James Bond. People groan at the elaborate death traps set up by Bond villains to kill James Bond, traps that Bond always escapes from to the detriment of the villain. It has the audience screaming, “Why don’t you just shoot him!” at the screen. Except the death trap is not there to kill Bond, it is, in fact a way to extricate him from the Prisoner’s Plot Dilemma. Having Bond captured by the baddie for the express purpose of putting Bond where the story needs him to be (to hear the baddies plans, have him monologue about the “true” nature of existence, etc) you need a way for him to escape that restores his “badassery” while showing up the villain. Later on the villain dies either because Bond simply shoots him, showing that the hero is the practical sort that gets the job done or falls into the very same trap he set up for Bond, but comes up short when the piranhas tear him to bits.

The worst example of this comes from video games that attempt “storytelling.” In order to have the player character sit down and listen to the story as it is spoon fed to them the game resorts to taking the player character prisoner to accomplish its storytelling. While tolerable once, perhaps twice, the constant abuse of this trope can lead to frustration on the part of the player who sees their Illusion of Control suspended at the whim of game’s developer and their actions either ignored or reversed for no other purpose than to advance the game’s plot. Instead of encouraging the player to engage with the story the designer ignores the player in favor of whatever narrative they want to tell.

For all these reasons this trope should be avoided at all costs as when abused it becomes a clear sign of poor writing.



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