Random Events Plot
Lisa: Perhaps there is no moral to this story.
"With this whole slew of characters, it makes this film more of a random sequence of events that just seem to happen between the beginning and the end.
—Phelous discussing Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Most stories are fairly predictable to at least some degree. You meet the characters, and you may not know who is important, but you know they are in some way. You see locations and items that you just know are going to be an important part of the plot. And there's a degree of excitement in knowing that something cool looking is going to somehow be used later on.
But some stories are not like that. In some stories, you have no way of knowing what's going to happen, largely because it comes out of nowhere. And the next plot event also comes out of nowhere. And so on - without being set up or having any sort of logical lead-up from previous events. The characters primarily exist to react to whatever the writer throws their way. When this happens, it's a Random Events Plot.
Randomness is something that happens every day in Real Life. Many things happen for a reason, but a lot of them don't. Again for no reason at all. Despite the occurrence of random things in real life it is not always appreciated in fictional works. Audiences automatically search for reasons for someone's behaviour. If things just happen without any logical explanation or build up events can come across as a product of lame Writing or being absurd for the sake of being absurd.
Comedies do this all the time, as the Rule of Funny means that they don't have to make sense. Video games often do it as well, thanks to the Rule of Fun. When non-comedic works of fiction do this, however, it can be quite jarring. How well they pull it off and how enjoyable they manage to be often has to do with the execution of the story. If it's good, then the story may be random, but at least it's the fun kind of random, rather than the confusing, annoying kind of random. Artsy works can showcase random scenes to show we live in a World of Symbolism. It's up to the audience to find the hidden meanings.
Exploitation works or low level art (pulp novels, Exploitation Film,...) just randomly add cheap thrills like violence, shock, sex, action, gags, Product Placement,... because the creators want to make a quick buck without bothering too much about the story. Most of them the time the audience will notice and Suspension of Disbelief might occur. But when in the right mood or with the right audience they will enjoy these random scenes because they provide them with the cheap thrills they would like to encounter in the story. Or they enjoy the Anything Goes atmosphere.
In Poetics, Aristotle denounced the "episodic" as the worst of all plots, where there is neither probability nor necessity in the sequence of events, so bungling it has been around a while.
See Also: Halfway Plot Switch, Shaggy Dog Story.
- Superman: At Earth's End. Go on, try to explain where any of this came from. What was the first apocalypse, who designed the biomechs, what's with the children, and the Broken Aesop (Guns are bad, after Superman clearly used guns to solve his problem.) was horrible. And it's part of The Dark Age of Comic Books. The last one should be a turnoff for most people...
- Early Tintin books are this. Hergé tossed his protagonist from one solved situation into the next unsolved one or rather tossed situations at him. Just about only the location remained constant. It goes to show that Hergé had no experience in writing comics at all when he started at the age of 19. This wasn't received poorly, though; Tintin was originally released in a weekly kids' magazine page by page instead of in books all at once, and the Belgians in the late 1920s didn't have that many comics to compare Tintin with anyway.
- To some, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Apes. An alien artifact on the moon. Suddenly, a crazy computer plot out of nowhere! And just as suddenly, something trippy.
- Adam Elliot's films trilogy of short films (Uncle, Cousin, and Brother) that he made before Harvie Krumpet and Mary and Max were pretty much this, although for a good reason - they're supposed to emulate the feeling you get when you're looking through a photo album.
- Red Zone Cuba. It sort of makes sense as the three protagonists join the army, invade Cuba, get captured, and escape from Cuba. Then the story completely falls apart as they decided to find the wife of a guy they left behind in the Cuban POW camp, committing a series of petty and not-so-petty crimes along the way
- Spice World. The Nostalgia Chick even developed a random weird shit-o-meter to help them pad out the movie for as long as possible.
- Monster a Go-Go! is an accidental example of this that became Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder due to being an Obvious Beta patched together from multiple unfinished movies and clumsy narration.
- Birdemic is like this and that the film meanders for about 45 minutes before the birds actually appear lends itself to that. In fact the birds don't really appear so much as just happen to the movie as there's a one minute sequence of about ten establishing shots and the last one just suddenly features birds attacking the city.
- Season three of Heroes. It's like the writers had Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny. A lot of weird crap happened. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't predictable.
- Several episodes of the various Law & Order series seem to be exercises in how many off-the-wall plot twists the writers can throw up on the screen. The one that comes to mind most readily is an episode of Special Victims Unit that starts off with a murdered Asian woman. In short order the detectives find out that the victim had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese government. Then comes a revelation that she had actually married her husband for a green card, which leads them to suspect him, but it turns out he was cool with it since he only wanted to get married to cover the fact that he was gay. After a series of even more bizarre twists, it turns out the killer is a boy at the local bakery who essentially killed her for her shoes. (He had a foot fetish.) Then the episode ends with the squad arresting his abusive mother for damaging his impulse control centers and essentially making him psychotic with repeated blows to the head over the years.
- The original series has a more down-to-earth example. Briscoe and Green start investigating a homicide like any other, only to come across a woman running her husband over repeatedly. Then another murder. Then more nonsense. By the end of the episode, they've dealt with something like four homicides and an assault, and some random woman hitting Green. It's arguably the funniest episode of the series.
- Lost ran on this trope when it was first starting out. Within just the first few episodes, it threw in magical healing powers, the walking dead, an inexplicable polar bear and some giant unseen monster, and each new episode just introduced new, unexplained weirdness. One of the first season's longer arcs involved characters unearthing a hatch and trying to open it. The writers admit having no idea what was inside at the time - they just thought it would be cool to include a hatch.
- Many of the episodes in the third season of Robin Hood are like this. Prime example is Let the Games Begin, which involves the outlaws just running around the forest, chased by Prince John's "elite guards" who are defeated when giant fishing nets are thrown over them. Guy of Gisborne has a pet lion that he releases in order to kill the outlaws. The outlaws respond by throwing mustard powder at it. Meanwhile, Little John has been drafted into a rigged gladiator school. Guy's never-before-mentioned sister turns up, and Robin quite fancies her...then he finds out she's Gisborne's sister...then he insists to the outlaws that she's trustworthy...then he grabs her face, pushes her into a tree and steals her belongings, acting as though they've been in a lengthy relationship instead of having known her for about five minutes.
- The producers of 24 openly admit to making the plot up as the season goes along, as scripting an inflexible story for a medium very dependent on flexibility would be outright impossible. Still, the better-structured seasons cover up this weakness pretty well, while the other ones...less so. Examples of the latter case vary by person, but most fans agree that season six was the most obvious one. When a suitcase nuke goes off in the L.A. suburbs at 10 AM, you expect mass hysteria for the rest of the day (i.e., season). Mere hours later, people are going about their day like nothing happened. Meanwhile, the terrorist threat bounces between the Islamic extremists, Russian nationalists, the Chinese who captured Jack, and...Jack's immediate family. Uh...
- Atlanta Nights, but it wasn't meant to be taken very seriously to begin with.
- Almost everything by Bret Easton Ellis.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories, often Conan deals with several unrelated perils. "Shadows in The Moonlight" has him face an ape-man, Eldritch Abomination statues that come to life, and pirates. Generally carried off by sheer vigor.
- The Grey Griffins book series. The kid heroes encounter goblins that attack them in the forest, portals that show up at convenient times to warp them away - or into - danger, zombies in a graveyard, and a bunch of Deus Ex Machina rescues. It's pretty fun, too, but definitely random. The events are somewhat related to the main evil that's out there, but what exactly that evil causes is definitely a bunch of random threats all over the place. On a side note, one of the co-authors mentions in his public school appearances "the importance of keeping your story unpredictable." No kidding! On the other hand, the randomness can really get out of hand and feel like Ass Pulls galore whenever they're not used because the author randomly thought this or that might make a cool place to take the story, even if it makes no sense.
- Lonely Werewolf Girl. Justified since a major theme is that things never work out the way you wish they would.
- The entire Maximum Ride series, although it only really becomes noticeable during the third book. At least one or two new plot developments comes up every chapter, and without fail are never explained, elaborated, or even mentioned again.
- Perdido Street Station. the book starts with a bird man whose wings have been cut off asking a scientist to figure out how to get him to fly again. Most of the plot consists of the heroes fighting off evil moths that eat people's brains, with side trips involving fascist secret police, a robot-worshipping cult, a giant spider that weaves together strands of reality, demonic hands that possess people, and a Batman-like mutant vigilante with praying mantis arms. China Mieville's other Bas-Lag books (as well as Un Lun Dun and Kraken) also apply, although to a lesser extent.
- The Subject Steve by Sam Lipsyte
- The Odyssey... well, more specifically, the most famous part of it, the story of Odysseus' voyage that he recounts to a room full of people.
- The "Smooth Criminal" segment of Moonwalker. It starts with Michael Jackson and his kid friends playing soccer in a verdant meadow. It ends with him performing a concert at a club. In between, we have a dance number in a 1930s club that's deserted one moment and inhabited the next, Michael transforming into a spaceship to defeat an evil drug lord wielding a giant laser, and other stuff. Why? As with much of the film, Jackson wills it.
- Also applies to the full-length "Black or White" video. It starts with a suburban kid blasting his grouchy dad to Africa with a powerfully amplified guitar chord, continues through an "It's a Small World"-style celebration of diversity climaxing with a morphing montage, and then goes into an extended—and music-free—dance sequence in which a black panther turns into Jackson, smashes up a car and streetfront windows, and grabs his crotch a lot before changing back. A coda reveals that Bart Simpson is watching all this on TV, much to Homer's displeasure.
- Almost any RPG system out there is capable of producing one of these, depending on the whims of the GM and the players. To create an exhaustive list of specific examples is superfluous.
- Even Shakespeare did it, in Pericles.
- Shakespeare stole his plots—even his random events plots. The original of Pericles was Apollonius of Tyre, a Chivalric Romance.
- Jak 3. Haven City gets attacked by Metal Heads and KG robots, Jak is blamed for it and is banished to the Wasteland where he is rescued by Wastelanders of Spargus City. He begins undergoing a series of trials and tasks to be accepted as a Wastelander. Then Jak, Daxter and Pecker use some old Precursor-techno-railway-catacombs to return to Haven city. Then they find that Count Veger hase some Knight Templar plan to rid the world of all shadows. They then start helping Torn battle Metal Heads and KG robots. Then it turns out Vin is still alive as a holographic AI in the Haven City control room. Then it turns out that Erol (formerly Jak's racing rival, now a cybernatic Omnicidal Maniac) is still alive and is commanding the KG robots. Then it turns out there's a bunch of Dark Precursor entities called "Dark Makers" preparing to invade the planet and
ErolErrol is working for them. Then it turns out Damas, King of Spargus is Jak's father. Then it turns out the Precursors are really Ottsels like Daxter. Then it turns out Jak may actually be Mar, the founder of Haven City. Throw in Jak developing Light Eco powers and a romantic subplot between Jak and Ashelin than never amounts to anything after the game (while Jak's main love interest Keira is Demoted to Extra).
- Mega Man Battle Network 4 is this to the extreme due to its odd structure: 75% of the game consists of tournaments where your opponents are randomized. However, each opponent has his/her own obligatory pre-match sidequest. While some of these quest are par for the course for the series (opponents trying to sabotage/threaten/blackmail you into losing the match or causing havok somewhere else) you get inane Non Sequitur Scenes such as laying ghost Navis to rest summoned by your opponent who turns out to be a ghost herself due to having died in the womb, getting roped into sparring against kendo dummies scattered across the net for no reason, getting challenged to a game of explosive virtual soccer, getting challenged to a cooking match, etc. While this idiocy is happening, we have two B plots of insignificant stuff like an evil syndicate spreading Navi corrupting chips throught the net and a killer asteroid headed towards Earth. Both these plots are handled in the remaining 25% of the game and come together quite clumsily. There's a reason why this game is the most hated of the franchise.
- The majority of Resonance of Fate consists of your three party members running errands and interacting with each other while shadowy Anti Villains plot something far, far away. The two groups only cross paths near the very end, mostly because one of the random events made a party member upset, and the other two didn't like that.
- This actually works pretty well within the story as the 3 main characters are basically freelancers, each with a Dark and Troubled Past that is connected with the Anti Villains, who are trying to live their lives in peace.
- Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume has a limited variant of this in the first half of the game. The game is divided into six "chapters," of which all except the first have a good, neutral, and evil version. Chapters 1 and 2 and two versions of chapter 3 each have multiple possibilities for which version they lead into, and the determination is made not from any storyline choice, but through how often you sacrifice the lives of your allies (a standard gameplay action.) This means that while each chapter makes sense in and of itself, each of the first three chapters is self-contained, and the outcome of each is completely irrelevant to what happens in later chapters. (Once you're in the second half the chapter versions you'll get for the rest of the game are determined, so this stops applying and the chapters lead into one another.)
- Shadow the Hedgehog suffers from this trope badly, due to the way the game was structured. You could pick 3 different paths per level, Good, Evil, or Neutral. Depending on your choice, you end up in a completely different level, but the game always has to justify why Shadow ends up there, and more often than not, especially when it goes against every other moral choice you've made up to that point, the justifications are piss-poor or completely arbitrary.
- The Justice League episode "Hereafter" was like this to some degree. As one review put it: "And boy, does it avoid the obvious. There's not a predictable moment in this story. On the other hand, it's unpredictable only because it's pretty damn arbitrary. The wake gets interrupted by... Lobo? Superman hacks through the jungle and finds... the Watchtower? He's met there by... Vandal Savage? I have a vision of the writer at his keyboard with a Random Event Chart and a thirty-sided die."
- The trope is then Subverted, as the following episode provides the context that makes sense of the events of "Hereafter"... except for Lobo's appearance, which only makes sense to someone who has seen the Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Main Man".
- Rock-a-Doodle seems to be a series of random events slapped together to sort of create a story based on The Canterbury Tales.
- Titanic: The Legend Goes On strongly suggests the guy who pitched it wasn't even aware that the Titanic disaster was an actual thing that happened. Plot elements and random-ass shit come literally out of nowhere, including an occasion where a character responds to an expression of gratitude by breaking out into a completely irrelevant rap song. It suggests nothing so much as that the creators played an old adventure game to figure out how to make the movie; "To make a BLOCKBUSTER HIT, you'll need A STAR-CROSSED ROMANCE, TALKING ANIMALS, WACKY HIJINX, and A RAP SONG to show we're hip with the kids."
- Real Life, mostly. Maybe this is caused by so many people trying to be the author of their own story, which inevitably creates a mess when their opinions happen to clash.
Anime and Manga
- Baccano!! stars a colorful cast of characters with varying degrees of sanity as they ride a train for some purpose or another. We have one set of characters trying to rob people as hilariously as possible, another set of characters out to kill everyone, a third set orchestrating grandiose schemes, a fourth set trying to figure out just what the hell is going on, and that's probably not even half the characters featured. When all of them come together on a curiously-named train the sheer mayhem that erupts can be described as any number of things, but predictable is definitely not one of them. In this case the author of the original book pursued this trope deliberately, citing the title as Italian for "stupid commotion," or "ruckus." This could qualify as either a comedic or non-comedic example.
- Lucky Star for sure, although it's more "random events" and less "plot."
- Cromartie High School. For example, the Baseball Episode ends with the lines "It's a different gorilla!" "...so, what happened to ours?".
- Even the Rule of Drama episode gets this. It's the first episode to center on (who else?) Gorilla, and has a coherent plot. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the show. Throughout the episode, reminders are issued that the viewer is watching Cromartie High School, and at the end, there's a quiz for how many actual students were seen in the episode.
- Yotsuba and Azumanga Daioh certaintly are this.
- It's the defining trait of 30 "H"s.
- My Immortal.
- An in-universe example in The Vinyl Scratch Tapes, when Vinyl writes a rock opera. Celestia starts a nuclear war and builds a dystopia inhabited by robots. Then Luna returns from space on a chariot made of lasers and fire and throws the mysteriously explosive moon at Celestia. And then Celestia turns into a serpent.
Octavia: Look, I will admit this is ... creative ... but you just can’t have an opera where nonsensical things happen for no reason!
- American Graffiti is one of the sterling examples. It works, for the most part, because it shows how a large and diverse group of people handle a normal rite of passage, rather than focusing on a few characters or a single, famous event. Tying a series of random events to a Leitmotif is also handled fairly well in the movies Dazed and Confused and Go.
- The Big Lebowski. Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski is attacked by some thugs who urinate on his rug, shake him down for money, then leave after realizing they shook down the wrong guy. In a quest to get a replacement rug, he stumbles into a kidnapping and extortion plot which propels him from one bizarre situation to the next, all the while his friend Walter makes things difficult. In the end the kidnapping plot is resolved in disappointing fashion, and then the movie goes on for a further fifteen minutes on a completely unrelated plot. Strangely, The Dude seems to be more or less cool with it, as the movie settles on a "Life goes on" Aesop, which is really the only way any of it makes sense. That, and Rule of Funny.
- The Cannonball Run and other movies about an illegal, cross-country road race. Next time you watch one, compare how many scenes are about the race and how many happen to take place during it.
- Dead Leaves.
- Clerks. There is one "normal" plotline (Dante's relationship) and a few callbacks to earlier gags, but for the most part someone watching different scenes in random order would be seeing almost the same movie.
- Any of the films of Jacques Tati, particularly the Monsieur Hulot films, which were so character-driven that a coherent plot would have detracted from the experience. Jour de Fete sort of had a plot.
- Magical Mystery Tour. Whether the comedy actually works in this movie is debatable, although it did inspire the fantasy sequences in Marc Bolan's Born to Booglie.
- Napoleon Dynamite. Even the supposedly main story about Pedro running for Class President is shuffled all over the place.
- Pulp Fiction.
- M*A*S*H, the 1970 feature film, is basically a series of random happenings at the 4077th, culminating in, of all things, a football game. No wonder it was considered a good candidate to adapt into a TV series.
- In fact, the majority of Robert Altman's films (comedic and non-comedic) are examples of this trope, by their very nature.
- Monty Python movies are built on this trope, at least whenever they even bother to have an over-arcing plot in the first place.
- Alice in Wonderland. Alice falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, and just sort of keeps bumping into odd characters. That's pretty much it. Arguably the weakest parts of the new Tim Burton adaptation are when they wander away from the whimsical randomness and kick off the tacked-on Chosen One plot.
- The Colour of Magic is far more gag-oriented than the later Discworld books.
- The Marvelous Land of Oz (the first sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) by L. Frank Baum. Most everything that happens in the story either comes out of nowhere or has virtually no impact on anything that happens afterwards. Perhaps the best example is when the Main Characters accidentally fly out of Oz, land in a jackdaw nest, use some magical wish-granting pills to fly back to Oz, but forget to take the pills with them. What does this episode add to the story? The world may never know.
- Really, this is the formula for most of the Oz books. It reached its apotheosis under the pen of Baum's successor Ruth Plumly Thompson, most of whose Oz stories were glorified travelogues of various Cloudcuckoolands with a plot tacked on.
- Don Quixote: Given that the first part of the novel is a Deconstructive Parody of Chivalric Romance, and those books were not more than a Knight Errant in the road reacting to the events that happened to him, the first part of the novel is this, (the second part has a plot in Dulcinea’s rescue). Only that instead of being boring or confusing, Cervantes aimed, and was able, to reproduce the feel of Real Life in his book.
- Every episode of The Young Ones, to the extent that sometimes it feels more like a sketch show that happens to use the same set of characters repeatedly.
- "Albuquerque" by "Weird Al" Yankovic. The Lemony Narrator endures a Hilariously Abusive Childhood before
crashing intomoving to the titular city. The rest consists of Dissimiles, Monty Python homages, non sequiturs, true love, Blunt Metaphors Trauma, and a Spoof Aesop (not mention being a Shaggy Dog Story).
- There's also a Brick Joke in there.
- Also, "Everything You Know Is Wrong".
- The music Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny by Lemon Demon. First we have Godzilla in Tokyo, suddenly Batman threw a grenade at him. Then Shaquille O'Neal intervened in the fight. Then Aaron Carter "came out of the blue" before started beating up Shaq. Then Abraham Lincoln popped out of his grave and took an AK-47 from his hat. And that's just the first one-third of the song.
- Little Nemo, like Alice in Wonderland, moves from one bizarre place in Dream Land to another, never with too much continuity.
- Almost ubiquitous in Mountain Time, and especially noticeable in this extended story arc.
- Jail Break, as you'd expect from a forum game in which every action taken in-universe is nothing more well-thought-out than the first suggestion given by any of the other forumites at the time. It helps that said forumites had a rather...odd sense of humour. Problem Sleuth also started out as this, but it gathered a plot revolving around defeating Mobster Kingpin fairly early on. Homestuck, in complete contrast, not only has had a plot since the very beginning, but has evolved a ridiculously complicated one with mind-boggling continuity.
- Homestuck, in a display of justifying and reconstructing the Wall of Text, points out that the more details that are left out of the story increase the chances of Homestuck becoming a Random Events Plot.
ARANEA: Ampora was a pirate. Nobody liked him. He killed a lot of people, 8ut was later executed 8ecause he was una8le to tell a funny joke. What else needs to 8e said? That's right. Nothing.
- All Charlie the Unicorn episodes. As well as most other Filmcow videos.
- Plenty of episodes of Family Guy.
- Nearly every episode of The Simpsons since the early 2000s. Sometimes there's a teeny-tiny thread holding events together. Usually there isn't. Rule of Funny may or may not apply here.
- They actually did a Lampshade Hanging about this very early on, before most of the plots even fit this trope. In the Spoof Aesop ending of "Blood Feud", the family concludes that the episode had no moral, that it was "just a bunch of stuff that happened" but "certainly was a memorable few days". Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happened could have been another name for this trope.
- Lampshade Hanging in another episode that starts with the family going to a funeral house to look for caskets for Grandpa Simpson (while he's alive, natch), the plot segues into tennis. Homer's comment was "Betcha didn't see that coming."
- The Venture Brothers, Escape to the House of the Mummies, Part II (there is no part I, and a part III that is implied never comes, so it isn't even resolved) which includes such disparate elements as mummies (duh), time travel, and Edgar Allen Poe in a headlock.
- Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose