Chandler's Law

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The readers will never see this coming!
"When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

As codified by pulp novelist Raymond Chandler, Chandler's Law is a concise but evocative piece of advice for writers who have somehow painted themselves into a corner, plotwise. The addition of a new opponent or complication, usually amidst a burst of violence, can free a protagonist from where he has become mired in the current plot.

Although expressed in a form very specific to the genre in which Chandler was writing, the Law can be easily generalized to handle any type of story.

Participants in National Novel Writing Month (which emphasizes wordcount over quality) know this law by a similar mantra: "If all else fails, have Ninjas burst through the wall and attack someone", as the writer should be able to get at least a few hundred words out of the characters suddenly questioning "Ninjas? What the hell is going on here?"

This undoubtedly finds some origin in the Rule of Drama. If guns are too dramatic for you, try dropping a cow for the Rule of Funny version. If an entirely new plotline results, see Halfway Plot Switch. Diabolus Ex Nihilo operates on this principle with varying levels of success. Conflict Killer is often a result of this.

Not to be confused with anything to do with Chandler Bing, nor Christian Weston Chandler.

Examples of Chandler's Law include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Naruto, The Chunin Exam Finals culminate in a series of seven one-on-one single-elimination fights between the remaining eight participants. By the middle of the third battle, the Tournament was no longer progressing the story by itself, so the author chose that moment for Orochimaru to reveal his Evil Plan to destroy the Leaf Village.
  • In season 1 of the Hetalia anime, France, feeling left out and insecure, goes through a rather long series of flashbacks while trying to assure the viewers (and himself) that he was and is a powerful military nation. After a number of clips covering such events as the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, The defeat of Spain's armada by England and the War of Austrian Succession, France finally snaps back to reality just as Germany walks in/bursts through the door with a rifle in his hands, demanding France's surrender. The Dub even has Germany sarcastically apologizing for interrupting France and asking him mock nicely to put his hands up.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Mark Waid [dead link] has two of these :
    • Take two characters who would otherwise have nothing in common or anything to discuss and put them into the same room.
    • Make a list of all the horrible things that could possibly happen to your character and consider going down the list.
      • To see this concept in action, read Waid's Justice League of America arc "Tower of Babel", in which the League especially Batman go right on down the list.
  • There was an issue of The Flash where Wally was involved with an uncomfortable relationship talk with his girlfriend. The captions really sum it up best:

Then -- out of the blue -- ninjas attack.
Thank God.


Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • My Immortal abuses the concept so much that it becomes a Random Events Plot very quickly. It's pretty coherent (Ebony and Draco meet, date, screw like bunnies, break up) until Voldemort shows up. And Snape becomes a pedophile. And Draco gets captured. And Dumbledore turns evil. And Draco commits suicide. And comes back to life. This is all in about 2,000 words, by the way.
    • Which is, in itself, a kind of Mind Screw, just to keep up with what little coherency the story has.


Film[edit | hide]

  • In Last Action Hero, this is lampshaded when the protagonists lose track of the Big Bad; said Big Bad just keeps going about his business unfettered instead of giving them another lead to chase. Only by dropping Action Hero tropes for a while and considering the situation carefully do they find him Just in Time.
  • While The Boondock Saints is practically made of "People Busting Through Doors and Shooting At People," there is one scene that particularly feels like this trope: The main characters are even bored, and the plot is kinda on hold; suddenly, their best friend kicks through the door and starts waving his gun around and screaming for everyone to pack their shit.
    • Feels like it, but the friend bursts in panicking because he just shot and killed three people in broad daylight.
  • Saving Private Ryan has a scene that also feels like this trope. The squad regroups with an American unit in a building, only to have part collapse, revealing German soldiers occupying an adjacent room, resulting in a standoff. Captain Hamill (Ted Danson) and one of his men show up with Thompsons unnoticed and shoot all the German soldiers, ending the standoff.
  • Done by the protagonists in Defiance while raiding a local police station for antibiotics.
  • Happens in Casino Royale, when Bond is being tortured by Le Chiffre for information. Bond points out that he will never give up the information, and Le Chiffre can't kill him without it. Armed men enter and kill Le Chiffre.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Stephen King's book on writing appropriately titled On Writing, he mentions the use of this rule to overcome a serious case of writer's block when working on The Stand, namely, by having Harold and Nadine place a bomb and kill several of the main characters, including Nick Andros. And then another bomb, this one nuclear, killing tons more characters.
  • Used in Raymond Chandler's novels, naturally. The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, ...
  • Lawrence Block also does this. In a book on writing, he illustrated how to maintain conflict between a protagonist and a grizzly bear until the protagonist starts escaping down the river. "Then you give the bear a canoe..."
  • Chuck Palahniuk has said that, if you want to move a plot along, the best way is to just have another character enter the room and make them say something disturbing.
  • Chandler's successor, Robert B. Parker, used this trope often with Spenser. Being Spenser, he usually turns the tables on his attackers. He ran into this so often that you kind of started to think that if the bad guys had just sat tight, Spenser wouldn't have had any leads to follow.
    • In at least some of these cases, Spenser is actually being Genre Savvy. He actively attempts to bait the bad guys into making a run at him so he can thwart them and have someone to get answers from, especially if he doesn't know exactly who the bad guys are.
  • Justified and Lampshaded in Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots: early in the book, Thursday purchases a 'Suddenly, a shot rang out!' plot device from one of the Well's wordsmiths. Later, when she's in a situation she can't get out of, she cracks it open...and Suddenly A Shot Rings Out! The Bookworld being what it is, there's also a logical, in-universe reason for this to happen, besides Thursday using the device.


Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • In the American version of The Office, Michael Scott misuses this trope constantly at his improv class. Any time he is called to act in a scene, he pulls out a gun to increase drama because "you can't top it". Of course, nobody can top it and it ruins every improv exercise the class attempts.
    • In fact, improv classes usually state as one of the first rules of scenework that pulling a gun is a "weak choice"—as pointed out above, it keeps everyone else in the scene from contributing anything. Not to say it never happens, of course.
      • Nonsense! If someone pulls a gun, you rip off your shirt and reveal you're superman!
  • Lampshaded in The Pretender. Jarod narrates that when in doubt, have a man walk in with a gun. A man walks in with some ice cream. As he corrects himself in the narration, the man asks Jarod whether he is Dick Dickson (who Jarod is currently pretending to be). When Jarod answers in the affirmative, the man promptly draws a gun.
  • Joss Whedon has been quoted as saying that whenever they needed to add to the drama in Firefly, they'd get someone to point a gun at Kaylee.
  • Doctor Who appears to have one of these in "The Big Bang", with the stone Dalek that chases the characters around.
  • Jim Henson once commented on his pre-Muppet puppet sketches that when he couldn't think of how to close a sketch, he'd either have an explosion or have one character eat the other. It's pretty clear that this carried over to The Muppet Show.
  • Two and A Half Men has Alan, while writing a movie in a coffee shop, geting writer's block several times and solving it by having a meteor hit the characters.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Trapped in the Closet by R. Kelly follows this trope so much it goes from Once an Episode to Drinking Game pretty quickly.
    • Parodied in the South Park episode of the same name, where R. Kelly is constantly pulling out his gun, usually for no reason at all.
  • Many of Weird Al Yankovic's parody songs are like this. A particularly egregious (but not actually unpleasant) example would be Everything You Know Is Wrong.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • This is very common advice for GMs, newbie and veteran alike. Any GM of any description has experienced the awful feeling of their table group starting to screw around and make their own fun because they've grown bored with the plot. This is the smart GM's cue to have a surprise, unknown antagonist leap into the king's throne room and immediately start cracking heads or, if the party is bored of constant fighting instead of talking, to suddenly have the monster's boss walk in, surrender and attempt to talk it out.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons adventure Whispers of the Vampire's Blade suggests using this trope, and includes a table of possibilities for who exactly is kicking down the door and why.
  • Mentioned by name in the Tabletop RPG Feng Shui, in the "GM's advice" section.
  • This is one of the most emphasized pieces of advice for Spirit of the Century GMs.
  • Warhammer 40,000. When in doubt, have another Tyranid/Ork/Chaos/Necron invasion. Or an Imperial Crusade.
    • Or have it turn out that the governer/inquisitor/whatever was actually an agent of chaos/tyranids/generic evil all along.
  • Unknown Armies alludes to it in the GMs section when explaining how to plot a game, suggesting that GMs throw in another faction "in case you need somebody to come through the door with a gun"
  • Quoted and explained in GURPS: Mysteries.
  • The Ninja Burger RPG has a chart to determine what kind of new violence can throw spice up your mission.
  • The RPG.net forums give us this gem: Screw it, ninjas attack!
  • The Random Events table in Maid runs on this. It's also somewhat unusual in that, in addition to the GM using it, the players can pay Favor in order to trigger a roll on the Random Event table (assuming that the GM isn't enforcing their Rule Zero rights and saying "you can't do that", which the rulebook advises for more structured scenarios).
  • Fading Suns recommends this:

Sometimes gamemasters may notice the game slowing down... [players] have gone in a direction where the gamemaster has no idea what should happen next... That's when it's time to shove a submachinegun through the door and spray the room with bullets.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In many FPSes, this is the only plot point that happens outside of a cutscene. Apparently Red Steel was designed by Raymond Chandler.
  • Monster Girl Quest, for all its wonderful writing, doesn't seem to know how to end conversations all that well. Most of the time, they end with "and then a monster appeared."

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Zoe: I don't believe this! Just when I think we might be having a nice, ordinary issue to deal with, like adultery, you come in screaming about vampires! What happened to normal problems, like credit-card debt?

  • Strip Tease is a decent slice of life comic, until the writer decides to throw in some "drama" and has the main character's girlfriend kidnapped... three times... by the same people...
  • Waterworks pulls this off when the plot seems to stall, and even the main character comments on how nothing vital seems to be happening. All of a sudden, after the readers have been fooled into thinking that a leisurely talk scene is about to follow, the hitherto Shrouded in Myth powerful villain bursts through a door, wrestling with a Mini-Mecha. Awesome three-on-one fight scene follows.