Tag Archives: plot armor

What do you think of a character who has plot armor as their magic power? Like, they can get shot in the shoulder but not the head, so they dodge towards the head rather than protecting it. I feel like it might be a fun sort of twist on a genre where the character can’t die regardless of in-universe acknowledgement, but I’m worried some would find acknowledged plot armor boring even though they already knew the character would live even if the character didn’t know they had plot armor.

It’s not plot armor if it’s following the internal rules of the setting.
I’ll say this again: Plot armor only applies when you’re breaking the rules of
your own setting to get a character off the hook. A character who cannot die
because of in-universe reasons doesn’t have plot armor.

Having characters that are immune to harm is a pretty significant writing
challenge. It’s not insurmountable, but it does take more effort and care. The
jeopardy your character faces, needs to be a little more sophisticated than,
“what if I get hurt,” and “what if I die?”

Physical harm is usually enough to maintain tension for a normal character.
This can fail hilariously if your audience is so annoyed with them that they
actually want to see your character come to harm, but that’s a unique
situation.

When your character is completely immune to physical harm, you need to think about what
they’re actually doing, and what will actually happen if they fail. One man or
woman cannot be in two places at once. They cannot protect everyone. A cagey
foe can use that against them, distracting them by threatening their friends or
family while enacting their real plan. Or even simply finding ways circumvent
their immunities.

As a philosophical statement, all power must derive from somewhere. This isn’t
really a theological statement (though you can use it as one, if you really
want). For a character who has a power which renders them immune to harm, there
needs to be a cause. A smart villain can use this against your character.
Identify the source, and you can start to understand the limitations, or find a
way to subvert it. A character who receives their protection from some divine
source, might be mislead into betraying their creed, potentially invoking the
wrath of their deity in the process. A character who is protected by a mystical
artifact may only be protected from certain kinds of harm, or from certain
sources. Alternately, the artifact in question may be vulnerable to harm, not
necessarily physical.

A character who cannot be hurt is simply another puzzle for your villain to
solve. A character who is complacent in their immunity and careless with their
secrets is inviting their foes to find a way to break them.

Even a careful character who tries to hide their immunities is still
vulnerable to a foe who starts looking outside the box and finding a way to
stop them. If nothing else works, simply burying them in rubble or concrete
should be enough to slow them down, if the villain has a plan that’s close to
fruition.

They may also look for means to temporarily strip your character’s immunity.
This may be as simple as a separate MacGuffin that renders your character
mortal, or it could be an attack on the source of their power, as I mentioned
above.

Never underestimate the value of a kind word and a human shield. One of the
easiest ways to stop a charging hero in their tracks is to set them against
someone they care about. Turning their friends and allies against them, by
misrepresenting their actions is a legitimate option. It doesn’t matter if your
character can’t be harmed physically, when you can get their best friend or
true love to stand against them. Hell, sometimes just calling the cops or city
guard will be enough to stop an invulnerable hero in their tracks. Are they
really willing to fight their way through innocents to stop your villain? If
so, what will the long term consequences be?

A superhero who turns on the cops, guns down their best friend, and manages
to stop a hitman from assassinating the president has still destroyed their own
public image, and can never go back to who they were before. In the eyes of the
law, they’re still a murderer. Maybe that was your villain’s true goal all
along. Not to kill your character, but to make
them
suffer for opposing your
villain in the first place.

Of course, your villain’s true goal may have been to use your immortal hero as
an example of everything that’s wrong with superheroes, and why they need to be
hunted down and obliterated, or they may have had a plan to spin the entire
situation so they come out looking like the real hero, and use your character
to cement their rise to power.

Having a character who can’t be hurt is an entirely legitimate choice. It
requires a different approach to how you handle them, and it requires a
different kind of story. You can tell some really fun stories with them, the
only limit is how ruthless you want your villains to get.

-Starke

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PSA To Young Writers

In the process of writing, you will have parts of your work fall into the “Bad Tropes” list. You will use Bad Tropes. You may write *gasp* Mary Sues. Your characters may even end up with *gasp* Plot Armor. Everything you are afraid of right now will probably happen at least once, no matter how meticulous and careful you are.

It happens to everyone. It’s part of learning. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Write Bad Tropes so you can recognize them. Write characters that you can’t figure out if they are Mary Sues. Even if they never escape the contents of your notebooks, make no subject verboten.

Explore everything.

Learn to trust yourself and your instincts.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

The more experience you gain, the better you will become.

But, the key part of this is you need to start getting that experience.

You can only get it one way: writing.

None of us can escape that required amount of suckitude that is part of learning to write. Writing is a skill, really good writing is something you practice and perfect over time.

Part of learning is making mistakes.

Embrace your mistakes.

Write your damn story.

Clean it up later.

The first draft is you telling yourself the story. It may not be any good, you may hate it when you’re done or you might see all the problems in it.

It is only the first draft.

The books you read from the published authors you love are the results of ten to fifty to a hundred drafts, carefully polished to a diamond shine.

Practice makes perfect.

So, forget the rest. Start practicing.

-Michi

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My main character is leaving a record of everything that leads up to a final battle, in case his forces are defeated, in the hopes someone might find it and carry on the fight if that happens. Is this considered plot armor if it starts out with him writing, and then jumps back in time?

Well, you want to make absolutely sure, whatever your leaves behind will provide enough actionable intelligence to completely obliterate their surviving allies if it’s found by the wrong person.

I’m not 100% certain of military protocol, but as I recall, diaries and journals are something that are very tightly regulated. There’s actually procedures for how these things are written so that, if its owner is killed, and their corpse is searched, the document won’t actually aid the enemy.

This isn’t an issue if the actual text is supposed to be a memoir, and is being written years after the fact. Though, in the modern day, most military or intelligence memoirs need to be vetted and cleared by various agencies.

This poses a singular problem. If your character is writing this at the time, ideally, they cannot include information into the narrative to properly contextualize it. If they do that, the physical book, inside the narrative, becomes a useful piece of intelligence. If they don’t, and the book is designed to fit within the context of the setting, then the reader won’t have the background to properly understand what’s being presented.

Ironically, TV Tropes’ poster child for plot armor, Ciaphas Cain, gets around this by having the memoirs edited posthumously, and classified (in the setting). It’s not really a reusable solution, but the annotations are one (somewhat kludgy) way to keep first person narration coherent.

Journals, diaries and memoirs are an accepted fictional structure, so you don’t actually need to start with a frame structure of someone writing and then jump into the text itself. Depending on tone and voice, it should be clear what you’re doing.

Having a character you know will survive the story isn’t plot armor. That’s actually a fairly standard situation. This is especially true in a single narrator story. If they’re the one relating the story, and they die, the story ends. So, it’s reasonable to infer that they will continue breathing. That’s not plot armor.

Plot armor is when the author cheats for their character.

I know I’ve said this before, recently even, but, when you’re writing you create a baseline of rules for your setting. When you’re following those rules, a character who survives (even if you need them for something later) doesn’t have plot armor.

Plot armor is when your character engages in behaviors, or makes decisions, that should seriously harm or kill them; but they are unaffected, because you need them for the next few scenes. Logic and reason have no power here; the Power of Plot compels thee.

The simplest solution is to not have your character behave like a moron. Someone who reasonably looks at the situations they’re in, and finds solutions or ways out is (usually) going to be a far more compelling character than one who wins by authorial fiat.

How you achieve that is, ultimately, up to you.

-Starke

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How do I avoid plot armor when I also don’t want my main characters to die?

You’ll get a lot of debate about what constitutes Plot Armor, but TV Tropes has a good definition which comes with pre-baked examples. Remember that like Wikipedia, TV Tropes can be edited by anyone. Often by many different people around the web with competing opinions on what does and doesn’t constitute.

So, take it with a grain of salt.

Avoiding plot armor is pretty easy in concept, but can be difficult to execute. Plot Armor happens when a character’s value is defined by their narrative necessity rather than their relevance to what is happening in the plot or events in the narrative. Basically, the only factor which has allowed the protagonist to survive is the fact that they’re the protagonist.

This represents a critical failure in terms of storytelling. The narrative failed to distract the reader from noticing this fact, from convincing the audience that this character was in danger. Suspension of disbelief has been broken. It’s a problem on the level of when you notice a television’s placement for narrative convenience in regards to exposition rather than because it makes any sense in regards to the world the television exists in.

Plot armor represents not just a failure in marrying a protagonist to the stakes they are facing, but it’s also a problem with the underlying nuts and bolts of the world building.

It’s like when a character goes, “If only I had my knives, then I could defeat that guy chasing me with a sword!” but the character is a human who has never encountered this specific extra-terrestrial creature and the guy wielding the sword is an alien from out space.

How does the protagonist know that their technology is on a level equivalent to the alien’s? That their knives won’t just be cut in half by this sword from outer space? Or that the alien comes with a fighting style they recognize and are capable of countering?

Plot Armor happens when the narrative and the protagonist fail to justify their survival internally rather than externally. Why do they live? Because the story needs them to. That is an external justification.

Compare to: They lived because they used their quirky technological genius to defuse the bomb with wire and gum from the underside of their shoe. They lived because when we initially saw them, we learned that as a child they liked to tinker with and build homemade explosives.

This is an internal justification.

You should always have an internal justification in your narrative. Several in fact, readily available to your audience. Either to allay suspicion, or simply to answer the question of, “why this character?”

You avoid Plot Armor by building supports for the protagonist into the narrative itself. The solution to the unique problem offered by the narrative lies in their experiences, their personality traits, their training, or whatever else they have to offer the story. Challenge them, but don’t exceed their capacity for what they can deal with. Line up what you intend to challenge your character with then figure out a way for them to solve this which is within the bounds of what you’ve allowed for their character. Their solutions are tailored to their backstory/personality/experiences and come from an internal position with the narrative.

If you find yourself asking the question of: why is this character alive? Go back and look over what you’ve written. Are their solutions to the problems they face dictated on what you, the author, externally decided the best solution would be? Or is this a decision the character, when set against the evidence behind them, would make for themselves?

Did they earn their win?

Answer your own questions, keep your narrative consistent.

Why is this character your protagonist? What do they bring to the story which makes their narrative unique? Which makes them uniquely qualified to tell it? Why is this their story and not someone else‘s?

Be honest with yourself. Is your character winning this fight because they’ve earned it? Or did they win because you’ve scheduled what happens next and need them to move to Plot Point C? It can be both, but when you’ve got a Plot Armor situation then it’s usually the latter. The character didn’t win because they earned it, they won because they’re the protagonist.

Honestly, there is nothing more annoying than that.

See also, Creator’s Pet.

There’s a certain level of this which is biased. As the creator, you make the decisions which you feel are right for you. Often the trick to writing is marrying your external needs with the narratives internal ones, which means working within the setting you built and using that world as the foundation for how narrative challenges are solved. By working within the limits you’ve set for yourself and the rules you established for the audience, you will avoid Plot Armor. Let your characters justify their own right to survive, rather than you the writer doing it for them.

Who. What. Where. When. Why. How.

This is how.

You want them to survive? Okay. How do they go about doing that?

-Michi

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