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Ottservia

Does plot contrivance matter?

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Here's something I've been thinking about recently. Does plot contrivance really matter in regards to objective narrative critique or analysis. Cause when you think about it, stories are inherently contrived. To be contrived means for an event to not happen naturally or organically. With that definition, One could make the argument that stories are inherently contrived because every event within the story does not happen organically or naturally as everything is pre-ordained by the author in order to sell a narrative or idea. Every plot point in almost any story can be considered contrived to some degree. Like to take echoes as an example. What are the odds that Slayde would just so happen to walk around Ram village which just so happens to be where Celica(the princess he failed to kill) was hiding and Slayde just so happens to be spotted by Tobin which just so happens to spiral into the conflict that gets Celica revealed to him forcing her to flee to the monastery.

What are the odds of that happening? not likely I assume but that doesn't matter because we are already invested into the emotional conflict of the story's narrative. Without this contrived moment, the story would not have played out as it did and story would not be able to explore the ideas it wants to in the way it wants to. I bring this up because you can find contrivances like this in every story good or bad and imo it overall doesn't matter because it doesn't really take away from the conflict at hand. The emotional investment is still there regardless of the contrivance. It does not take away from the themes or ideas that the story is opt to explore.

Plot contrivance relies heavily on the breaking of suspension of disbelief which is subjective. What may shatter one person's suspension of disbelief will not shatter another's and that's totally okay. It's just that in regards to objective narrative critique or analysis subjective claims like that hold very little weight if you ask me because it cannot be proven. It's all down to personal preference at that point which is fine but it shouldn't make a story better or worse. 

Though that's just my take what you all think? does plot contrivance truly matter?

 

Edited by Ottservia

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They usually shown laziness because 90% of the times there is a non contrived alternative.

31 minutes ago, Ottservia said:

Like to take echoes as an example. What are the odds that Slayde would just so happen to walk around Ram village which just so happens to be where Celica(the princess he failed to kill) was hiding and Slayde just so happens to be spotted by Tobin which just so happens to spiral into the conflict that gets Celica revealed to him forcing her to flee to the monastery.

Slayde was tasked to look for Anthiese and was allowed to loot villages, he went to Ram because he was checking all the villages. Tobin spot him because he has an horse and an armor in a forest, so he is noisy as hell, then the confrontation may go as normal because it's not contraived at all that Slayde want to loot the village and the kids want him not to do so. 

An event is alway constructed by the author  but they should create the illusion that the event flowed from what came before and lead to what came after. 

No random encounter is ever random, there are alway agencies in action and a writer should laid those bare. 

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As with everything, it depends on execution. Everything is "plot contrivance"  but how you do it is what really matters. You already gave the Echoes example so allow me to give a different example of what is good plot contrivance. Take the Spider-Man origin story for example. The whole point of Spider-Man is that it's something that could've happen to anyone but it's something that doesn't really happen naturally. What were the chances of Peter Parker going on that field trip that went specifically to that lab/museum/whatever and standing specifically in the spot where the radioactive spider came down to bite him? Low, right? But i can believe it.

An example of bad plot contrivance would be in Genealogy of the Holy War, where Manfroy, the mastermind behind everything, loses his brain somewhere and it's literally the only reason why Seliph's army won.

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21 minutes ago, Armagon said:

As with everything, it depends on execution. Everything is "plot contrivance"  but how you do it is what really matters. You already gave the Echoes example so allow me to give a different example of what is good plot contrivance. Take the Spider-Man origin story for example. The whole point of Spider-Man is that it's something that could've happen to anyone but it's something that doesn't really happen naturally. What were the chances of Peter Parker going on that field trip that went specifically to that lab/museum/whatever and standing specifically in the spot where the radioactive spider came down to bite him? Low, right? But i can believe it.

An example of bad plot contrivance would be in Genealogy of the Holy War, where Manfroy, the mastermind behind everything, loses his brain somewhere and it's literally the only reason why Seliph's army won.

That’s actually a really good way of putting it. Imo small contrivances like the the spider man one is fine because well it doesn’t bring to light any inconsistencies within the character, settings, themes, or plot. It’s just a contrived coincidence to get the story going.

The manfroy contrivance doesn’t work because it’s an inconsistency in his established characterization up to that point and inconsistency is just bad storytelling in general unless there is a good reason for it.

25 minutes ago, Flere210 said:

They usually shown laziness because 90% of the times there is a non contrived alternative.

Slayde was tasked to look for Anthiese and was allowed to loot villages, he went to Ram because he was checking all the villages. Tobin spot him because he has an horse and an armor in a forest, so he is noisy as hell, then the confrontation may go as normal because it's not contraived at all that Slayde want to loot the village and the kids want him not to do so. 

An event is alway constructed by the author  but they should create the illusion that the event flowed from what came before and lead to what came after. 

No random encounter is ever random, there are alway agencies in action and a writer should laid those bare. 

Well then what about the infamous "shounen power up" Y'know when a character is pushed to the brink until they just so happen to unlock this brand new super cool ability that allows them to turn the tide which is typically preceded by a flashback or internal monologue that forces the character to reexamine their core struggles and try and overcome them. One example being Naruto and Sasuke vs Haku. In which Sasuke unlocks the sharingan in a critical moment in order to protect his friend. Contrived as it may be it makes sense for his character arc and the themes of the story in that of needing to realize that bonds are the key to strength. Is that bad storytelling? or is that good storytelling? cause it is contrived no matter how you look at it but I wouldn't call it bad.

 

 

Edited by Ottservia

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I think it all depends. If the plot has one or two smaller contrivances that don't affect the plot too much, then it's alright. However, if a story has a series of major plot contrivances all built on top of one another, then it has a serious problem. 

1 hour ago, Ottservia said:

To be contrived means for an event to not happen naturally or organically. With that definition, One could make the argument that stories are inherently contrived because every event within the story does not happen organically or naturally as everything is pre-ordained by the author in order to sell a narrative or idea. Every plot point in almost any story can be considered contrived to some degree. 

That's rather stretching the definition of a contrivance. When people say something is a natural or organic plot progression, they're not saying it's found in nature; they're saying it's an easy to follow progression from point a to point b in the story. Most stories today are character-driven, and the events in the story are presented as the consequences of the actions chosen by the characters. If the choices fit the characters, we say that it is a natural progression, as the author is using the characters as-they're-written to create a cause-and-effect. If, however, the event or consequence relies on a coincidence, a choice that doesn't fit the character as they're written, or something otherwise not well built-up, we consider that a contrivance. 

Also "everything is pre-ordained by the author" is not strictly true. Many an author will tell you that if they had a certain event in mind, but they realize midway through writing that it wouldn't make sense given the characters they've written, they'll change the event to fit the characters. Changing the characters to fit the event is considered bad writing, and changing the characters only for the duration of the event is considered especially bad. I'm an aspiring writer, and I'm doing stuff like this to make sure the progression in my book is as natural as possible.

1 hour ago, Ottservia said:

 What are the odds that Slayde would just so happen to walk around Ram village which just so happens to be where Celica(the princess he failed to kill) was hiding and Slayde just so happens to be spotted by Tobin which just so happens to spiral into the conflict that gets Celica revealed to him forcing her to flee to the monastery.

38 minutes ago, Flere210 said:

Slayde was tasked to look for Anthiese and was allowed to loot villages, he went to Ram because he was checking all the villages. Tobin spot him because he has an horse and an armor in a forest, so he is noisy as hell, then the confrontation may go as normal because it's not contraived at all that Slayde want to loot the village and the kids want him not to do so. 

This. The groundwork was there for the event with Slayde at the beginning to happen. 

 

1 hour ago, Ottservia said:

Plot contrivance relies heavily on the breaking of suspension of disbelief which is subjective. What may shatter one person's suspension of disbelief will not shatter another's and that's totally okay. It's just that in regards to objective narrative critique or analysis subjective claims like that hold very little weight if you ask me because it cannot be proven. It's all down to personal preference at that point which is fine but it shouldn't make a story better or worse. 

Except, even if not everyone in the audience's suspension of disbelief is broken, it may still be an objective writing issue. Just because someone doesn't notice something, doesn't mean it isn't there. 

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You can have shonen power up whitout them being contrived. Hunter x Hunter is for most part an example of that(the dragon balls were dumb as hell). 

You are expressing a false dycothomy. Like an event needs to be contived in order to be thematically sound, but it can be both at the same time. Sasuke does not need to convenie tly unlock the sharingan in order to learn the power of bonds.

-Iirc the condition of unlocking mangekyou is to kill someone you care a lot for, so maybe the condition for unlocking the sharingan could have been to have a person you care a lot for in the first place.

-maybe Sasuke could use the sharingan all along but was afraid to do so because of some psycological inhibition and seeing Naruto in danger he managed to overcome it.

- maybe activating the sharingan has a dire cost and Sasuke only decided to pay it because it was necessary to save Naruto.

It took 10 minutes to came out whit those alternatives and i am no Shakespeare. If you want to, you can have a non contrived shonen power up.

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4 minutes ago, Flere210 said:

You can have shonen power up whitout them being contrived. Hunter x Hunter is for most part an example of that(the dragon balls were dumb as hell). 

You are expressing a false dycothomy. Like an event needs to be contived in order to be thematically sound, but it can be both at the same time. Sasuke does not need to convenie tly unlock the sharingan in order to learn the power of bonds.

-Iirc the condition of unlocking mangekyou is to kill someone you care a lot for, so maybe the condition for unlocking the sharingan could have been to have a person you care a lot for in the first place.

-maybe Sasuke could use the sharingan all along but was afraid to do so because of some psycological inhibition and seeing Naruto in danger he managed to overcome it.

- maybe activating the sharingan has a dire cost and Sasuke only decided to pay it because it was necessary to save Naruto.

It took 10 minutes to came out whit those alternatives and i am no Shakespeare. If you want to, you can have a non contrived shonen power up.

Can you have a non-contrived shounen power up? Yes you can and that’s totally fine. My main point is that the contrivance in question does not take away from the overall message being presented as it does not reveal any inconsistencies within the story, world, or characters. The sharingan in particular is unlocked by an uchiha coming to understand love as well as the fear of losing that love which manifests itself as the sharingan. I can suspend my personal suspension of belief enough to overlook the contrivance in question in order to appreciate the idea or theme being presented. The contrivance doesn’t matter to me personally while it may matter to someone else and that’s fine. It’s just that subjective component does not make the story objectively bad because of how subjective it is.

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A story is not just a message, otherwise it would be an essay or a manifesto. Even something like the boy who cry wolf require you to have a coherent sequence of events to make a poibt about lying. Contrivances make people whink "why this edgelord now has red eyes" instead of focussing on what matters. If you are really engaged you may not notice those things, but if you are not you will end up focussing in the bullshit instead of on the plot. Like, i am really liking Vinland Saga, but holy hell, Thorkell seem like is part of another genre and every time he is on screen i can't focus on the plot.

Hell every story has a theme and a message. If we should just judge that either every story would be good or our judgement would be 100% based on emotion and enjoyment.

Edited by Flere210

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Now that the examples have quickly moved from Fire Emblem to shonen anime the discussion is now foreign to me. But think of what the opposite of a plot contrivance is. Something that happens organically within the established rules of that universe. When the audience sees it and acknowledges it they feel like the turn in the story is justified. It gives them an "ah-ha" moment not dissimilar to having a scientific hypothesis confirmed. 

One famous action movie gag is this clip from Indiana Jones. Audience members probably laugh at how outmatched a swordsman is compared to a simple gun, but the scene is also playing off their expectations of any other action movie that there's a cool "boss fight" against a bigger, scarier dude with a specialized weapon that caps off any extended fight scene. However, the movie's script actually had a proper whip vs sword fight scene here until Harrison Ford, actually as tired as he looked when shooting that scene, pulls Spielberg aside and says "hey wouldn't Indi just shoot the guy and be done with it?". They ended up really liking that take, and audience members really liked seeing their protagonist "do something I would do" in that situation. 

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34 minutes ago, Flere210 said:

A story is not just a message, otherwise it would be an essay or a manifesto. Even something like the boy who cry wolf require you to have a coherent sequence of events to make a poibt about lying. Contrivances make people whink "why this edgelord now has red eyes" instead of focussing on what matters. If you are really engaged you may not notice those things, but if you are not you will end up focussing in the bullshit instead of on the plot. Like, i am really liking Vinland Saga, but holy hell, Thorkell seem like is part of another genre and every time he is on screen i can't focus on the plot.

Hell every story has a theme and a message. If we should just judge that either every story would be good or our judgembt would be 100% based on emotion and enjoyment.

I mean obviously there's more to a story than just that as plot structure is still important. I'm not saying it isn't. My main point is a story should be judged on it's own terms and rules not the rules and limitations you set for it. Every story has it's own internal logic and rules it sets for itself in how it wants to explore it's themes and ideas and it must remain consistent with those rules and limitations. You can't just say one character can't move one minute and have them suddenly moving in the next without explanation just because it serves the story. I think we can all agree that is bullshit writing no matter how you look at it. My point in regards to plot contrivance though is that again you shouldn't judge a story based on what you personally perceive as unrealistic because stories are inherently unrealistic. It's impossible for a story to be fully realistic by their very nature. Suspension of disbelief is subjective. Just because you were found a scene to be contrived and unrealistic that doesn't mean other people will. I only find contrivance to be a problem if it messes with the already pre-established rules and limitations of story, characters, world, and themes without proper explanation.

Like take for example The infamous moment in the tarturas arc of fairy tail where pretty much all of Erza's senses were completely shut down by Kyoka but she still managed to see due to iirc the "light of friendship". I don't know about anyone else but that's kind of bullshit. Even if the theme makes sense the rules of the universe of both the story and our reality had to be completely shattered for it to work. Now that is an example of terrible plot contrivance. 

The sasuke example is fine if you ask me because it doesn't break any of the story's rules regarding it's characters or setting. Like if Naruto had suddenly unlocked the sharingan during that fight then yeah that would be bullshit because it breaks the story's already established rules about it's world and characters. 

In summary, my main point here is plot contrivance is only a bad thing if it reveals inconsistency within the established rules of the story and characters. Other than that it's fine because you only need very basic sense of suspension of disbelief to be able to buy into the world's "new rules" in how it decides to operate

Edited by Ottservia

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