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Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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It's going to look messy below this line...


Action Girl

"I will jump in and take out Loki and his subordinates. Then, I will go home and prepare dinner."

The Action Girl is a female Badass who can go toe to toe with her male counterparts without breaking a sweat. Damsel in Distress? Not for this babe. She doesn't sit around waiting to be rescued. She's headbutting her jailer and breaking herself out. She proves, with her very being, that girls aren't only not helpless, they kick ass. But not just "any girl with a fight scene" can be considered an Action Girl. An Action Girl is accompanied by Rule of Cool, and routinely and reliably gets in on the combat. And what's more, she wins.

Because of Double Standards, true Action Girls are less common than male Badasses. If you want to get more into the why of that, check out the Gender Dynamics Index or our very own Action Girl Analysis page. The short version however, is the concept that Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty and females should Stay in the Kitchen. For a very long time, females who did much but wait around for their hero to come rescue them were unusual and rare. Even now, women aren't automatically assumed to be able to fight and protect themselves the way men are. Society has progressed since then and Action Girls are popular and more common than ever, but girls still haven't completely caught up with boys when it comes to expectations in media, hence the continued existence of this trope.

Read more... Adaptation Decay

The gradual distortion or even disintegration of a world and its characters during its odyssey from original source material to movie to TV movie then to television series then to video game and finally to licensed derivative work. The dramatic equivalent of photocopying a photocopy of a photocopy.

Every step away from the original property involves new input from multiple directions which dilutes and changes the flavor and behavior of the story. When handled well, Adaptation Decay can be minimized, and each generation of the process will remain reasonably faithful to the original. Handled poorly, and the TV series version of a favorite novel will look like a completely different product that just happens to have some of the same names.


Amoral Attorney
"I have knowingly defended a number of guilty men. But the guilty never get away unscathed. My fees are sufficient punishment for anyone."
F. Lee Bailey

Lawyers other than the main characters are typically unlikeable, cynical, slimy characters, even more so the corporate ones. Lawyers come in various degrees of oiliness, but the worst defense attorneys will actually seem to know their client is guilty and act as though they just love seeing guilty people go free, and the worst prosecutors will ruthlessly hound defendants even when they personally acquire knowledge of their innocence. If the main character is poor, the Amoral Attorney is the Goliath in the David v. Goliath scenario.

Read more... Anthropic Principle

For any given story, there exist basic elements that are required for the story itself to happen; there would be no story otherwise.

The original Anthropic Principle is a theoretical explanation of why the conditions of the universe are so perfect for the existence of intelligent life (like us humans on Earth). Why? Because without those conditions, we wouldn't even be here to be making those observations in the first place. Even though the raw probability of those conditions is astronomically unlikely, our very existence requires us to accept that it must have happened somewhere.

The Anthropic Principle as it applies to fiction is similar: Every fictional universe has fundamental, axiomatic elements without which its story simply could not exist, and the reader must accept those elements in order to enjoy the work. The ultimate expression of this trope is Minovsky Physics -these elements are actually carefully planned in advance, ensuring a logical transition from real life to the fictional universe.


Avatar: The Last Airbender
"But I believe Aang can save the world."

Katara: Why didn't you tell us you were the Avatar?
Aang: Because... I never wanted to be.

Also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang in some countries, Avatar takes place in a Constructed World divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has developed a spiritual art form to manipulate ("bend") their namesake element, but only the Avatar -- one person reincarnated into each race in turn -- is capable of mastering all four elements. The Avatar's role is to serve as a peacekeeper and protector for all four nations (as well as bridging and balancing the physical and spiritual worlds).

The show's story centers around Aang, a twelve-year old (chronologically 112) who is the most recent incarnation of the Avatar and is the eponymous "last airbender", and his quest is to master the four bending arts so that he can save the world from Fire Lord Ozai and end the century-long war that he spent a hundred years trapped in an iceberg accidentally avoiding. Ozai's plans for domination are on a specific timetable, though, meaning that Aang has until the end of summer to stop them.

Read more... Batman

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot..."
"I am vengeance. I am the night. I. Am. Batman!!"

The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. The World's Greatest Detective. The iconic Cowl. The Badass Normal Superhero.

Batman is also one of the greatest Trope Makers and Trope Codifiers in not just comics, but all visual media; one of the oldest superheroes still in print -- having debuted in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) -- Batman is one of the three best known Superheroes ever (alongside Superman and Spider-Man). The Batman mythos has expanded into numerous forms of media in the decades since the character's debut, and there's a damned good argument to be made for Batman being the most critically and culturally successful superhero in history.

Read more... The Beatles

Clockwise from bottom left: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison.

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to
The love you make

—"The End"

Four lads from Liverpool -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr -- who released some albums in The Sixties, and are credited by many for changing the face of rock music, while for others they were at least major pioneers of the new style of pop rock, and a major force of The British Invasion. For many people, they are also the face of The Sixties. Which is not bad work, really.

Read more... Beware the Nice Ones

"Beware the fury of a patient man."
John Dryden

Sometimes, trying to Break the Cutie can have consequences. Sometimes, the nicest person in the story gets pushed to the limit of what they can take. And the results? Are not pretty.

The sweeter, gentler, more polite, more peaceful, and overall nicer a character is, the worse it will be for whomever is in the vicinity when they're subjected to one too many rounds of Break the Cutie, or Dude, Where's My Respect?, a Rant-Inducing Slight, or hitting their Berserk Button or Rage Breaking Point. What was once a sweet and nice individual suddenly snaps and becomes something far worse than the Big Bad could have expected.


Beware the Superman
"His truth. His justice. His way. And there's nothing anyone can do about it."

"[I]n any event, I never said 'The superman exists and he's American.' What I said was 'God exists and he's American.' If that statement starts to chill you after a couple of moments' consideration, then don't be alarmed. A feeling of intense and crushing religious terror at the concept indicates only that you are still sane."

Prof. Milton Glass, "Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers," Watchmen

Superhero settings, like any other setting, end up somewhere on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. On the more idealistic end, you have settings like mainstream comic books, where there's a sense of wonder and basic decency about the superhuman. While there are villains, they will usually get caught or their plans will be thwarted, and while the setting may take dark turns, it will inevitably right itself. Somewhere in the middle, you have settings that look at superpowers a bit more realistically. While the government may have supers, so will despotic regimes, organized crimes, and terrorist groups. The good guys may win, but victories will be hard fought and likely to have their share of losses.

And then you have these settings. The world's not better for having superhumans. It's worse. The government has no safety net to deal with rogue supers, and it seems like there ain't nothing but rogue supers terrorizing Muggles or freaks on leashes. And that's just the so-called heroes, who are usually anything but, being all-too-aware of their superiority over the rest of the human race and a little too keen on arrogantly flaunting it. Maybe the crisis hasn't happened yet, but the way supers seem to be developing, it's only a matter of time until one of them blows up Pittsburgh and the rest go absolutely nuts. Not that they're exactly mentally-stable to begin with; many will gleefully screw the rules with their powers, but it's almost guaranteed that at least one of them is developing a God-complex as a result of their powers, and that they're only one bad day away from trying to enslave or wipe out all of humanity (which they could easily do within an afternoon).

Read more... Big Bad

I've learned that, in every story, there is a big, bad something. An evil force that, no matter the size, corrupts the world of the story, and tries its best to destroy the hero. A wolf, a witch, a giant, a dragon, a knight... or an idea, a desire, a temptation... or even a book.

A Big Bad could be a character with Evil Plans or it could be a situation, such as a comet heading towards the Earth. It is behind all of the other bad happenings. The Big Bad can (and often does) exert effect across a number of episodes, and even an entire season.

Note that Big Bad is not a catch-all trope for the biggest and ugliest villain of any given story. The Badass leader of the outlaw gang that the heroes face once or twice is not the Big Bad. The railroad tycoon who turns out to be using the gang as muscle is the Big Bad. In general, if there is a constant Man Behind the Man story going on in order to reveal the big bad, then whoever is behind it all is the Big Bad, not every major villain in the lead-up. At other times, if a new enemy shows up to replace the previous Big Bad, then they are the Big Bads of their individual storylines.


Body Horror
"Arthur, my mustache is touching my brain..."
The Tick (animation), That Mustache Feeling

Someone is about to turn into a monster. Or they have something inside them that is definitely not supposed to be there. Or they wake up to find that they are missing some bits. Or they learn, too late, that they are a character in an MPreg fanfiction...

Welcome to the lovely land of Body Horror. Simply put, this is any form of Horror that is based primarily on the body visibly mutating and developing in out-of-control, hideous ways. Instead of a clean, smooth, shiny (and often quick) change from one form to another, as with many Transformation Sequences, it's painful, Squickily organic, or just plain disturbing and played for all the Nausea Fuel it's worth.

Read more... British Accents

I think somewhere around junction 25 of the M1, the word "the" stops at services and goes, "I can go no further! I'm going to stay here with my friends nothing and something"
Michael Mcintyre, describing the Yorkshire accent

'ello, Guv. You want me to describe British Accents 'ere, you do?

As any Brit will tell you, there is no such thing as a "British" accent. It's especially odd when the speaker uses both the phrases "British accent" and "Scottish accent", given Scotland is in Britain (and your average Scot would not look kindly on an implication that Scotland is part of England). Presumably they mean "English", but England also has a ridiculous number of very markedly different accents -- in some areas people can tell which village one comes from by listening to them speak -- and each has its own distinct stereotype. These stereotypes are sadly hard to escape on British TV. American TV largely avoids this by not distinguishing between different regions of Britain at all.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Don't you ever think about anything besides boys and clothes?"
"Saving the world from vampires?"

In 1992, Joss Whedon wrote an interesting film with an original concept and a postmodern take on the horror genre. However, due to Whedon's lack of control over his work, he (and several others) saw the film as disappointing, while it did acquire a modest Cult following. Not wanting to let the character and overall concept that he was attached to go to waste, Whedon jumped at the chance to re-visit it on television.

In 1997, with an abbreviated first season, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was raised from the dead on the fledgling WB network. At its core was a subversion of the horror movie trope of the fragile and doomed Southern Californian cheerleader attacked by a monster in a dark alley. Buffy was snappy, petite, blonde and instead monsters would be afraid of meeting with her in dark alleys. She was part of a long line of "Slayers," one girl every generation given mystical strength and other powers to confront not only vampires but all other sorts of monsters that stalk the night.

Read more... Calvin and Hobbes

"It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy... Let's go exploring!"
The final strip

What happens when you take the unpredictable panel layouts and surreal nature of George Herriman's Krazy Kat and Winsor McCay's Little Nemo; the lush art, distinct characterizations and biting satire of Walt Kelly's Pogo; and the comedic but hard truths of life from Peanuts, throw in a dash of classic cartoon slapstick, and fuse them all together into one comic?

You get one of the most (maybe the most) beloved Newspaper Comics of all time, that influenced, changed and thrilled an entire generation, all drawn and written by one man -- Bill Watterson.


Celebrity Lie

Usually takes the form "Of course I know [famous person]. We grew up/went to school/served in the military/shared a cell in a Turkish prison together. I can certainly get tickets/backstage passes/an interview/other difficult or impossible favor for you, no problem."

Of course, the person making the claim has no such connection to the celebrity in question, and sometimes may not even have a clue of who the celebrity is. The promise is made either in an attempt to look more important than he really is, or out of misplaced sympathy for a friend, a child, or some other "unfortunate" who has failed at the task. The resulting mad scramble to make good on the foolish promise drives at least a subplot (if not the main plot) for an entire episode.


The Coconut Effect
"What, ridden on a horse? ... You've got two empty halves of a coconut and you're bangin' 'em together!

An element that is patently unrealistic, but which you have to do anyway because viewers have been so conditioned to expect it that its absence would be even more jarring.

The best example of this is the sound of horse-hooves. From the days of radio, banging two coconut halves together was the standard way to generate the sound effect of horse-hooves. Anyone who has ever actually been around a horse knows that horse-hooves rarely sound anything at all like that, and never sound more than just a very little bit like that. All the same, that sound became so ingrained in the public consciousness that even when it later became possible to insert much more realistic sound effects, the coconut sound effect was still used. The audience wouldn't accept horse hooves making a sound not generated by coconuts.

Read more... Cyclic Trope

This is a Trope that goes through a circular pattern of change, eventually returning to its original form after several iterations.

Like this: "Fat Guys Are Jolly" gets subverted over time to "Fat Guys Are Kinda Sad And Pitiful". After a while at that value, the audience is expecting "sympathetic" Fat Guys, so it gets subverted to "Fat Guys Are Mean And Greedy". Once expectations are out there for evil Fat Guys, it gets subverted back to "Fat Guys Are Jolly".

Most cycles are bipolar, though, oscillating back and forth between two opposites that mutually subvert (or invert) each other.


Dead Horse Trope

A Trope which has gone way beyond being a Discredited Trope to where the very act of parodying and/or subverting that trope has itself become a trope.

The progression is generally:

Clever idea → TropeDiscredited TropeDead Horse Trope. → Then, if the downward slide continues, it may end up as a Forgotten Trope.

Named for "Beating a Dead Horse" - an old idiom that describes continuing to do something pointless long after it would be obvious to anybody not mentally handicapped/under the influence of the Sunk Cost Fallacy that said course of action will yield no results and is simply a waste of time.

Read more... Disneyfication

"It was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that that very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving), and then wondered where the stories went."

A form of editing, known for often falling into Adaptation Decay, that renders a story "safe" for juvenile audiences (or the parents thereof) by removing undesirable plot elements or unpleasant historical facts, adding Broadway-style production numbers, and reworking whatever else is necessary for a Lighter and Softer Happily Ever After Ending. Talking Animal sidekicks tend to be tacked on somehow.



Fake Band

When the production team making a show can't afford a real band to act as a collective Celebrity Star or Special Guest, they just build one out of whatever actors Central Casting has handy, and pretend that they are the hot new thing in the world of the program. "Evidence" of their talent is either non-existent, or provided by anonymous studio musicians to whose performance the actors lipsync. (Rarely does the Fake Band actually have real musicians in it, save for the truly postmodern moments when a real band is masquerading as a Fake Band -- which has been known to happen.)

In a few examples, the Fake Band actually releases real music, usually as a shameless media tie-in. For a really shameless tie-in, or if a developer wants to throw in a Shout-Out, get the music into Guitar Hero or Rock Band.



In this age of digital media and Internet deliverables, the idea that 20 years ago people were shelling out $30 to $50 for a 5¼" floppy disk in a cardboard box must seem bizarre and incomprehensible.

Software today tends to come with little more than a disc and a "quick install guide"—often there won't even be a CD jewel case, and sometimes the only thing you get is a file downloaded from the Internet. Yet in those halcyon golden days, things were very, very different. The absolute minimum you could expect with a game was a printed manual, often a thick tome containing instructions, backstory, and even hints.

More than that, if you were buying a game from one of the really notable production houses, you got what are known as "feelies". These were real, tangible props, ripped straight from the game world. They were often incorporated into the game's Copy Protection mechanism to make it a little less jarring. Such things are almost entirely in the past now.

Read more... Film Noir

You need cops, venetian blinds, lots of smoking, hats, sweat, dead-end streets, guys who know all the angles except for the one that ends up sticking out of their backs. Sirens of the automotive and female kind.
James Lileks, The Bleat "Think You Oughta Drink That"

Film Noir is a genre of stylish crime dramas, difficult to define, but the 1940's and 50's were the classic period. Whether works since then can be accurately classed as Noir is a subject of much debate among film critics. Film Noir, and the literature from which it is drawn, is clearly the progenitor of later genres, particularly Cyberpunk.

Common subjects of noir films include murder investigations, heists, con games, and (mostly) innocent men or women Wrongly Accused of crime. The double-cross and cigarette smoking are mandatory. Complicated plots are further convoluted by Flashbacks and Flash Forwards—the narration tying everything together, assuming we can trust him.

Read more... Filmation

By the Power of Stock Footage!

Filmation was an American animation studio founded in 1963 by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott that, along with Hanna-Barbera, dominated the American Saturday morning cartoon market throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, particularly in the genre of action-adventure cartoons.

The studio was run on a shoestring budget, so they had to limit costs wherever possible. This condition was aggravated by Filmation's "people before art" policies which forbade the company from outsourcing jobs to cheaper foreign animation studios. This resulted in Filmation's (in)famous cost-cutting techniques: Limited Animation and considerable reliance on re-used footage.

Moreover, Lou Scheimer's social conscience led him to submit the studio's productions to the oversight of various Moral Guardians, resulting in the avoidance of any controversial or challenging aspects in its series and in the various And Knowing Is Half the Battle lectures appended to episodes in the 1970s and 80s. On the plus side, Filmation did employ many of the best animation writers of the 1970s and '80s, and its artwork (as opposed to animation) featured graceful and gutsy character designs and impressive, intricate backgrounds—though the company characteristically exploited the latter by interrupting many episodes with long slow background pans featuring no animation at all.

Read more... First Contact Math

First Contact situations with Starfish Aliens have an inherent problem -- since the aliens are so incomprehensible, how will you even realize that they're intelligent? For that matter, how can you convince them that you are?

The generally accepted universal signal of intelligence in this situation is the ability to produce a sequence of prime numbers. If the aliens have math, they'll get this -- it's an aspect very closely tied to resource allocation, which is one of the first tricks any intelligent group has to figure out. You see, prime numbers are only divisible by the number one and themselves; for example, seven rocks cannot be divided up into any whole number of equal groups of rocks without breaking them. It doesn't matter what number base you are using or what you call the numbers; seven rocks (• • • • • • •) will always be the same, observable amount.

Read more... Flanderization

"I think Homer gets stupider every year."
Professor Lawrence Pierce, The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular

The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character. Most always, the trait/action becomes completely outlandish and it becomes their defining characteristic. Sitcoms and Sitcom characters are particularly susceptible to this, as are peripheral characters in shows with long runs.

Named for one of the examples in The Simpsons, Ned Flanders, who was originally just a kind and mildly religious fellow (contrast to Homer), before becoming the obsessively pious milquetoast he is best known as today.

Read more... Follow the Leader

Above: The Wii remote. Below: The Playstation Move.
"I am afraid to say that the history of entertainment is also the history of imitation."
Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, during The 70th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders (2010)

Whenever a work achieves enough success, there will be imitators. It doesn't matter if it's a cheap foreign knockoff or a major Hollywood production. It doesn't matter whether the writers are choosing to do this or the producers are. If they think they can make money ripping off a successful work, or at least something else in its genre, they will do so. Thanks to Sturgeon's Law, this has the typical effect of flooding the market with a lot of inferior works. But not always.

Of course, the trailblazing work may itself not be original; in this day and age, little is. But it just manages to capture the public's interest (and their money), and it is this magical moment that studios strive to duplicate, after the fact.

Read more... Forgotten Trope

These are the tropes that are one step beyond Dead Horse Tropes; not only are they not used straight, they're not used at all. You won't find this in any current series; they have disappeared from the writer's toolbox.

Note that these aren't actually forgotten, Future Imperfect-style, otherwise would we even be talking about them here? Academics will know all about them, and a few minutes with a web search engine will turn up plenty, if you know what to look for. They may, on very, very rare occasions, show up in a modern series, but generally only those that are emulating a series that did have these.

The best place to find Forgotten Tropes is in "classic" works; there you will see them, frozen like insects in amber. For example, in Alice in Wonderland, Carroll's poem about the "little crocodile" parodies Isaac Watts's saccharine original about the "little busy bee" -- an example of a whole class of Victorian poems that children were taught in order to instill virtue. (See Weird Al Effect.)


The Frantics

"People talking in movie shows
People smoking in bed
People voting Republican

Give them a boot to the head!"
—"Boot To The Head"
"And another for Jenny and the wimp!"
—"Last Will and Temperament"

Four-man comedy troupe known for a wild but intellectual style highly reminiscent of Monty Python's Flying Circus, but with a uniquely Canadian flavor. Formed in the late 1970s, the group stayed together until the late 1980s, followed by a reunion in 2004. The core members of The Frantics are Paul Chato, Rick Green, Dan Redican and Peter Wildman, but like their spiritual predecessors, two women can be counted among their unofficial membership -- Mag Ruffman and Carolyn Scott.


Frivolous Lawsuit

I sued Verizon, 'cause I get all depressed any time my cell phone is roaming.
I sued Colorado, 'cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming!
I sued Neiman Marcus, 'cause they put up their Christmas decorations way out of season.

I sued Ben Affleck ... aww, do I even need a reason?
—I'll Sue Ya, "Weird Al" Yankovic

Our hero is idling her car out of the driveway when she accidentally bumps into a stranger. "Ow, my back!" the stranger exclaims. "The pain is immeasurable! I'll sue you! I'll sue!"

Someone — usually a stranger, sometimes a friend — has decided to sue our hero in the wake of some minor accident. The plaintiff suffered no real injury, but is suing out of greed or perhaps a desire for revenge, often with the help of an Ambulance Chaser or otherwise Amoral Attorney. If the judge doesn't laugh the guy out of court, though, our hero must often resort to some variety of Courtroom Antic to discredit her adversary.

Read more... Fullmetal Alchemist

"There's no such thing as a painless lesson. They just don't exist. Sacrifices are necessary; you can't gain anything without losing something first. Although, if you can endure that pain, and walk away from it, you'll find that you now have a heart strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yeah...a heart made Fullmetal."
Edward Elric

Fullmetal Alchemist (Japanese title Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) follows the story of the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse. The brothers live in a world where those who know how to do so can practice the art of alchemy (transmuting one material into another). After a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life using human transmutation -- a forbidden, taboo practice of alchemy -- costs Ed his right arm and left leg (now replaced with artificial "automail" limbs) and leaves Al as a soul affixed to an empty suit of armor, the young brothers set out to find the legendary Philosopher's Stone, an artifact said to allow any form of transmutation without Equivalent Exchange.

Since the State tightly controls knowledge about the Philosopher's Stone, Edward takes -- and passes -- the State Alchemist Examination to become "a dog of the military" and gain access to the State's information. In addition to their own search, the brothers also do the government's work by solving problems no matter where they end up -- though, just as often, trouble finds them first. As the Elrics dig deeper into the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone and search for a way to create one, they stumble onto truths about their family and friends, the military, and even the very nature of alchemy itself -- and they also discover a vast conspiracy led by dark forces who wish to use their search for their own reasons.

Read more... Genre Blindness

"As a rule, people in movies haven't ever seen a movie. They're not equipped to deal with anything strange."

A condition afflicting many fictional characters, seen when one demonstrates by their behavior that they have never in their life ever seen the kind of story they're in, and thus have none of the reactions a typical audience member would have in the same situation. Worse, they are unable to learn from any experiences related to their genre.


Getting Crap Past the Radar

The practice -- usually found in but not limited to comedies -- of attempting to sneak some manner of profanity or other forbidden material past the network censors. The trope name is a somewhat milder version of comedian Robin Williams's term for his attempts along these lines while he was on the air in Mork and Mindy; Williams has probably made the greatest (known) effort along these lines in television history, allegedly researching and exhausting several different languages in an attempt to find genuinely dirty words the censors would not recognize, and coming up with sequences that would seem utterly innocent on paper, but which would carry vast quantities of implied prurience -- often hilarious -- when executed.


The Golden Age of Animation
"We didn't make them for anybody, we made them for ourselves, which was probably the most sensible way to do it anyway."
Chuck Jones, former Looney Tunes director.

The Golden Age Of Animation is a period in animation history that began with the advent of Steamboat Willie on November 18th 1928 also with Fleischer, Warner's and MGM's rise to prominence in the years following. It faded out in the late 1950s / early 1960s when theatrical animated shorts slowly began losing ground to the new medium of television animation.

Many memorable characters emerged from this period, including Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Popeye, Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse, Mr. Magoo, Tom and Jerry, and a popular adaptation of Superman, among many others that haven't survived along the way. Feature length animation also began during this period, most notably with Walt Disney's first films: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.

Read more... Gulliver's Travels

It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end [...] Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long continuance a those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.
—Musings upon the Big/Little end heresy, Gulliver's Travels

One of the precursors of Speculative Fiction, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships was written by Jonathan Swift as a parody of the now-dead genre of traveller's tale, satirising 18th century follies, but is now, sadly, largely remembered as a children's tale, despite being Swift's Magnum Opus and a heavily satirical and adult book.

Read more... Hanlon's Razor

A corollary to Finagle's Law which seems to have almost infinite applications in writing comedy:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Ignorance of Hanlon's Razor is one of the more common forms of Genre Blindness. However, applying the Rule of Shades of Grey ("No rule is universally valid, including this one"), Hanlon's Razor is often stated this way:

Don't assume malice when stupidity is an adequate explanation. At least, not the first time.


Hays Code
Assuming Viewers are Morons, 1930-1968

The Hays Code (the informal name for The Motion Picture Production Code), adopted in 1930 but not seriously enforced until 1934, was a set of rules governing American filmmaking that stifled American cinema for over three decades. After a wave of complaints and rulings about the content of movies in the early 20th century, which included the US Supreme Court ruling in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio in 1917 (which said that film had no First Amendment protection as a form of expression) -- as well as a number of perceived immoral people within the industry itself (most infamously, Fatty Arbuckle) -- the Hays Code was a self-adopted censorship code designed to preempt a government-run censorship program. Will H. Hays created the Code, which placed a number of restrictions on all films to be produced by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Read more... The Hero

I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you.

The Leader. The Captain. The Protagonist (well, usually). That shining star that holds the whole mess together. In a team lineup they will be front and center.

This guy is a hero, pure and simple. He's almost always right, is a friend to all his bandmates, and morally superior. He has a well-rounded skill set. He's not as strong as The Big Guy, or as smart as The Smart Guy, or as sensitive and socially adept as The Chick, but he's close. He can personally accomplish a variety of goals, but his real superpower is getting the whole diverse set of personalities under his command to focus and pull together. He'll always know who to ask for help, and when—and usually how.

Read more... It Will Never Catch On

What the gaming community thought before the launch of the Wii.
"Groups are out. Four-piece groups with guitars particularly are finished."
Dick Rowe, Decca Recording Company executive, 1962 (turning down The Beatles)

Anachronisms are funny. As are "prophecies" uttered by people who are in a position to lose a great deal of influence, money or credibility if they are wrong.

The best thing about Alternate Universes is that they have things we can't possibly imagine being true. Why can't the reverse also fit?

Oftentimes, be it a medieval setting or anything else where things we know about have no business existing, something abundantly familiar to our modern audience is put forth as a hypothetical. The punchline is that no one thinks it could possibly be popular, allowing us to laugh at how wrong people's predictions of the future really are, and pat ourselves on the back for being so clear-eyed.



Killed Off for Real

Where a major character is killed, and is not restored by a Reset Button, or the death was not All Just a Dream, or any of the other resurrection plot devices.

This can be used as vengeance against a recalcitrant actor (see Dropped a Bridge on Him) or just a dramatic way of writing off a departing one (see McLeaned), especially on soaps such as Coronation Street or Days of Our Lives. Sometimes Real Life Writes the Plot; when an actor dies, The Character Dies with Him. The death is often reinforced by presenting it in a spectacularly over-the-top way just to drum it into the audience's head that this character is not coming back.

Read more... Laugh Track

Comic 1: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Comic 2: I dunno.

Comic 1: To get to the other side!
(Enormously loud blast of screaming laughter from audience).
See? The laugh track tells you what's funny. You don't even need to think!
Granddad, The Boondocks

Closed-captioning for the humor-impaired.

In the early days of television, comedies were "traditionally" performed essentially as short plays in front of a live Studio Audience, broadcast live or with minimal editing (see Three Cameras). However, as television production grew more sophisticated in the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was at least a partial shift from live performances to productions that were filmed movie-style in a closed sound stage. The latter gave the director more freedom in selecting shots and angles, as well as the luxury of multiple takes. However, there was no longer an audience to provide instant feedback on the humor.


The Lethal Connotation of Guns and Others
And one of them has greatest super power of all: GUUUUUUUUNNNNNSSSSSS!

In media in general, and media with children in the demographic in particular, nothing is more dangerous or deadly than an old-fashioned gun. Guns have Instant Death Bullets, and those are the only things likely to cause instant death.

Knives, swords, arrows, etc., can hit square-on but leave flesh wounds that cause little more trouble than paper cuts. Blunt weapons may just bruise, if that, even when they hit. Lasers are often Family-Friendly Firearms that just stun, or leave burns with little more effect than a burn from a hot stove. Bombs sometimes leave just a soot layer on their targets; more realistic works will let a character Outrun the Fireball. If a building falls on top of a character, he may crawl out of the rubble with nothing more than a layer of gray dust -- yes, even in works that are superficially realistic. Tornadoes will just fling a character aside even if he does touch the funnel cloud, and Convection, Schmonvection gives enough protection from fire that almost anyone can escape it. Poisonous gas has antidotes, and the worst effects can be escaped if you hold your breath as soon as you know it's there. Even the radiation from a nuclear bomb, the other scariest weapon a character is likely to run into, sometimes causes beneficial mutations; even when it doesn't, it often leaves few side effects between the radiation poisoning and death.

But old-fashioned guns? If a bullet hits, even the overly minor flesh wounds are gonna hurt like mad. No one just shrugs off bullets. And if a bullet hits in a place that looks deadly, then it will kill, painfully. There may be time for a Final Speech, but usually not for an ambulance.

Read more... Limited Special Collectors' Ultimate Edition

Joystiq elevates this Serial Escalation!
"Limited to the number they can sell."
Jerry Seinfeld

Films and video games are commonly being released in two versions: the Vanilla Edition, and a better, souped-up edition with exclusive Bonus Material. With movies, you can expect deleted scenes, filmmaker interviews, never-before-seen footage, commentary tracks and so forth. Video games tend to offer a shiny metal case, developer artwork, bonus characters or the Strategy Guide. Concept art, a "making-of" featurette, background story information, character biographies, alternate endings and trinkets are common with both media.

Of course, you usually have to pay US$5–$20.

Worth it? Depends on the individual work, as well as who you ask. In any case, this is a good marketing strategy, because it feeds into many people's compulsion to own the "best" version. It's particularly clever if you can get people to buy the "ordinary" version, discover how cool it is, and then go shell out again for the Limited Special Collectors' Ultimate Edition.

Read more... Lost Forever

...we're not killing off any of the companions because everybody did. And then everybody cried... People test as they're playing the system and they go... 'I wonder if they're going to let me do this. Oh no! My healer is gone forever'!

Also frequently referred to as being "missable," the dreaded Lost Forever is a game play component (such as an item, weapon, Sidequest, character, or plot event) that can become permanently inaccessible after a certain point in the game, therefore being "lost forever" if you miss them during the period in which they are available. A close relative and often an example of Guide Dang It. The bane of gamers everywhere, especially those shooting for 100% Completion, as it often forces them to start the entire game anew if they're not willing to accept a less-than-perfect run.

Read more... MTV

Where's the music?
I want my MTV!
Dire Straits, "Money For Nothing".
Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.
—The very first lines ever spoken on MTV.

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 AM, pop culture was changed forever by a new cable network that introduced a brand new idea -- a TV channel that played music videos, 24/7. That network was MTV. Fittingly, the first video they ever showed was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles.

The results were fantastic. In The Eighties, MTV was the iTunes and YouTube of the day, a revolution in pop culture and how music was enjoyed. Countless bands and artists (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Rick Astley, and just about every Hair Metal band) saw their careers launched or furthered because of the heavy video rotation of some of their songs. If they were popular in the '80s, they were on MTV. Later in the decade, the network would also receive acclaim for devoting time to bands that played what was then called "college rock" (now known as Alternative Rock) on their 120 Minutes series, as well as Heavy Metal on Headbanger's Ball and hip-hop/rap on Yo! MTV Raps. Thanks to MTV, music went from being a primarily audial medium to a visual one, making the image and appearance of musicians just as important -- if not more so -- than their actual musicianship.

Read more... Macekre

Ichigo: "Mew Mew Style, think I'll pass, English dub can kiss my--"

Mint: "Ichigo!"
—Fanart that made the rounds of the Tokyo Mew Mew fandom upon the release of Mew Mew Power

A strongly held opinion that a Cut and Paste Translation of an Anime is a mockery of the original work.


Mad Max
In the roar of an engine, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt-out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again...
The Narrator, Mad Max 2, Opening Monologue

A series of films that constitute the most famous things to come out of Australia since kangaroos and sexy women with accents. Starring Mel Gibson in his Australian accent as the title character 'Mad' Max Rockatansky.

The first film, Mad Max, was made with practically no money and released in 1979. Although it was surprisingly successful in Australia it was barely noticed in America - in fact, in the original American release all the characters' voices were dubbed with American accents because distributors thought the audience wouldn't understand what they were saying.

Read more... Magical Girl

"Magic Girls, no matter how frilly their dresses, high their screams, or incompetent their sidekicks, will be treated as the credible and dire threats they are, and I will direct as many, if not more resources to their destruction as I would for a more classical Hero."

Known as mahou shoujo (魔法少女, "magical girl") in Japanese, or simply majokko (魔女子, "witch girl"), Magical Girls are empowered by various means with fantastic powers that both assist and complicate their lives, but manage to persevere despite this.

Magical Girls have high crossover popularity in different demographics with some minor but appropriate design modifications, and make up a sizable portion of both Shojo and bishoujo fandom.

Read more... Merchandise-Driven

"How can Transformers possibly 'sell out'? It started as a 20-minute toy commercial."
Ethan, Shortpacked!

The Merchandise Driven show, otherwise known as the "half-hour toy commercial", is not merely a television show (or other work) with a line of toys licensed on the side, but a television show created from a line of toys. The program exists largely to sell these products to the audience, and this is most commonly associated with cartoons and Anime targeted at a younger audience -- though some shows can start out independent, and later become Merchandise Driven after too much success.


Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
"The fun, and the material for this article, lies in treating the whole thing as a game. I've been playing the game since I was a child, so the rules must be quite simple. They are: for the reader of a science-fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements or implications which conflict with the fact as science currently understands them. For the author, the rule is to make as few such slips as he possibly can."
Hal Clement, Whirligig World

Speculative Fiction fanatics are always raving about how "hard" the science is in various stories -- but it's not like you can rub a story with a piece of quartz and see if it leaves a scratch on the plot. So what is "hardness" in SF? Why do people want it? And how do we put a number to it?


Monty Python
Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese at the Hollywood Bowl, 1980

Monty Python is a British comedy troupe, featuring some very well-educated clowns.

Deadpan Snarker John Cleese, Straight Man Graham Chapman and musician Eric Idle met at Cambridge University where they were members of The Footlights, a celebrated performing society. Panto-style actor Terry Jones and his writing partner, Nice Guy Michael Palin, had been similarly occupied at Oxford at about the same time. Cleese met cartoonist/animator Terry Gilliam -- the one American in the group, then working for the humor magazine Help!? -- during the US tour of "The Footlights Revue".

All save Gilliam were recruited as television writers straight out of college. In the amorphous melting pot that was British radio and TV comedy in the late 1960's -- where alliances drawn from the same talent-pool were constantly formed for short-lived projects and then dissolved -- meetings in various combinations ensued for our heroes, and considerable mutual respect was earned. In 1967 Idle, Palin, Jones and Gilliam wrote and starred in the UK children's TV series, Do Not Adjust Your Set. At the same time Cleese and Chapman joined together with Tim Brooke-Taylor et al. to produce At Last The 1948 Show, and in 1968 the two provided additional material for the unruly satire The Magic Christian.

The following year, Cleese and Chapman were offered a show of their own. Who would join them in the new troupe was initially unclear; Brooke-Taylor, later of The Goodies, was seriously considered (Cleese and the three Goodies had been mainstays of much-loved radio comedy sketch-show I'm Sorry Ill Read That Again), as was jobbing comic actor David Jason. But Cleese really wanted to work with Palin, and Palin's three cohorts were ready to move on to more ambitious fare as well, so in the end it all fell into place naturally.

Read more... Narrator

With speed and dexterity astonishing for a woman of her advancing years, Mother bastes the turkey, tosses the salad, and mashes the potatoes!
I am the narrator. A generic voice that doesn't actually exist, but moves the plot along for your convenience. Don't I sound irresistibly sexy?
Smashtasm, Season 2 Episode 1.

"Describe Narrator here."

That's what the sign had said, anyway. And so, as if compelled to do so, the Troper sat down at his computer screen and began to type...

A character, sometimes part of the story proper and sometimes completely external to it, who acts either as the storyteller or as a framing device. A Narrator always breaks the Fourth Wall, explicitly addressing the audience to tell them the story. Sometimes the Narrator is also responsible for presenting An Aesop to the audience at the end of the story, as in The Twilight Zone and its imitators.

Read more... New Media Are Evil

"Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people 'over the Internet'. They don't bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans over a cup of tea."

There's always going to be The New Rock and Roll, that new fad or thing that causes whippersnappers to act all crazy and wild like they've all gone bonkers. Typically, this is a fringe phenomenon, and political and religious radicals will be bewailing the development while the media just reports on it.

At other times, though, the negative press goes far beyond basic opinions and phenomena that we can document on camera. Speculation goes on that devious things are afoot. When this goes too far, a reporter is at risk of spouting "New media are evil!" Otherwise-rational people faced with uncertainty about what the New Media is actually like decide that, just to be safe, or to grab some attention, they should go with the most inflammatory, headline-grabbing description they can come up with.


No Ontological Inertia
"To think that an end to the hostilities would be called the very day after the source of the troubles was defeated... it's almost ridiculously efficient."
Takamichi, Mahou Sensei Negima

Ontological Inertia is the tendency stuff has to continue being stuff. Things, in general, keep existing even when we're not looking at them. (Except, of course, for TV shows, which have the nasty habit of going off the air if people stop watching them...)

Writers often forget about this for some reason, and assume that the creator of a thing maintains some sort of existential tie to the thing created, and his continued survival is necessary. That is, if the creator is destroyed, it is "only natural" that the creation will pop out of existence, or preferably, explode.


No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup
"Probably the last man who knew how it worked had been tortured to death years before. Or as soon as it was installed. Killing the creator was a traditional method of patent protection."

A specialized version of the Reset Button: Any dangerous device or technology owned by a villain (particularly a supervillain of the James Bond mode) which is not off-the-shelf exists in a metaphorical vacuum. There is only one of it, there are no plans or schematics for it, no earlier generations of development exist (in the case of expensive and rushed projects, the final project might have been made with the cannibalized parts of the prototype, or might actually be the prototype after a whole lot of upgrades and patches), and (for dangerous computer programs) no backup copies anywhere. Thus the hero may safely blow it up, blast it with EMP or otherwise render it useless, confident that no one can recreate the technology -- or worse, just take version 0.9 out of storage and use that the moment he leaves.


Old Media Are Evil

In the real world, newspapers, network television stations and other bastions of old media have complicated relationships with the Internet. They have sometimes been hostile to it, while also desperately embracing it in pursuit of new revenue streams in these difficult days. The New York Times's website is one of the most popular in the world, and quite a lot of commentators have Twitter feeds.


One-Hit-Point Wonder
"It's like you touch the top of the building, you die, you touch the ceiling, you die, you touch the floor, you die, too far to the right, you die, too far to the left, you die, you die, you die, you die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die!!"

A character who dies from a single hit or other incident of damage. Needless to say, this rarely applies to bosses, unless they are of the Zero-Effort variety. In older video games, this was frequently true of the protagonist; nowadays, the Player Character is usually only a One-Hit-Point Wonder if the programmers/developers want the game to be Nintendo Hard.



Post Modernism

It's PoMo! (Beat) ...Post modern. (beat) ...Weird for the sake of weird.
Moe Szyslak, The Simpsons

In general, postmodern writing involves a blurring of boundaries. An example of this is blurring the boundary between the reader or viewer and the fiction -- for example, a TV show that acknowledges that it is not real. (Contrast This Is Reality.) However, postmodernism can also be applied to fiction that mixes different genres into something new, such as the way that Cowboy Bebop combines western tropes with science fiction and various movie pastiches.


Recycled Script

"It's like they had a parrot on the staff during the editorial meetings that just kept pitching "Lois gets super powers! Lois gets super powers!" over and over again...

And they kept listening..." on Lois Lane #78

When two or more shows share the same pool of writers (or when a freelance scriptwriter is a particular combination of industrious and lazy), it's not unknown for tight deadlines to be handled by the expedient of taking a script already used by one show and "translating" it to another show. Characters are mapped onto their closest equivalents, and situations are revised slightly to fit the new program, but the same plot is used unchanged. Read more...

Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Heinlein and his wife on the set of Destination Moon (1950)

Widely considered one of the most influential and iconic writers of Sci Fi and Speculative Fiction of the Twentieth Century. He is counted as one of the "Big Three" of Science Fiction along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Often the standard to which other Science Fiction writers are compared, although he caught considerable flak for some of his recurring philosophical and political themes. His works range from space adventure YA novels to political manifestos, and generally score towards the "hard" side of Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

Heinlein's most notorious and most dividing novel is Stranger in a Strange Land, an Author Tract which contributed hugely to the rise of the hippie movement. However, he's probably best known with the general public for penning Starship Troopers, which was very, very loosely adapted into a film.

Read more... Rule of Cool

This trope is brought to you by Death playing an electric guitar.

The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element's awesomeness.

Stated another way, all but the most pedantic of viewers will forgive liberties with reality as long as the result is wicked sweet or awesome. This applies to the audience in general; there will naturally be a different threshold for each individual.

The Rule of Cool is another principle that seeks to dispel arguments among fans over implausibility in fiction. It has been cited by animation director Steve Loter (of Kim Possible, Clerks the Animated Series, Tarzan, and American Dragon: Jake Long) in response to questions from fans attempting to justify temporary breaches in logical consistency. It is a complement to Bellisario's Maxim and the MST3K Mantra.


The Holy Trinity themselves.

"All the world's indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers

Each another's audience outside the gilded cage"
Limelight, from Moving Pictures

Rush is a Canadian Progressive Rock trio formed in 1968, although, listening to some of their songs, you'd never guess there are only three of them. They're probably best known for Geddy Lee's "wait, is that a guy?" vocals and prominent bass and Neil Peart's sometimes Objectivism-inspired lyrics. While the band has always been an album rock (and later classic rock) radio favorite, Rush saw a decent boost to their popularity for their contributions to the video game Rock Band. One of those bands that splits people down the middle - a lot of people don't like Peart's fondness for Ayn Rand, and a lot of people hate Progressive Rock in general. In fairness, it should be noted that Peart does not agree with the whole of Rand's philosophy and removed the "thank you" to her from the credits for 2112 (as of at least the original compact disc issue). When fans ask him about the subject, however, he still acknowledges that he does have areas of agreement with Rand. (However, he characterized himself as a "left-leaning libertarian" in a 2005 interview; one thing Rand certainly was not is left-leaning).

Although most commonly associated with Progressive Rock, their style has varied considerably during their career. Originating with a fairly straightforward Hard Rock/Heavy Metal sound heavily influenced by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin; they remained such for their first few albums, similarly incorporating fantasy and science-fiction themes into their lyrics, and elaborate arrangements into their instrumentals. They were increasingly influenced by the growing Progressive Rock movement, but maintained a harder-edged sound than most of their contemporaries; and it was at this point that Peart's infatuation with the writings of Ayn Rand became prominent. They soon began to incorporate Jazz, New Wave, Pop, and Reggae influences; and transitioned to a predominantly Synth Rock style. From here, while maintaining some of the Progressive sound; they began moving back into their earlier Hard Rock style, including the release of an album of covers of songs by their earliest Hard Rock influences like The Who, The Yardbirds, and Cream.

Read more... Santa Claus

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

The best known (at least in modern times) mascot of Christmas, developed in the United States as an amalgam of the story of St. Nicholas of Myra and various other seasonal folk heroes, with many aspects provided by the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas).

The Santa Claus myth is based largely on the Dutch holiday of "Sinterklaas" (a hastily pronounced "St. Nicholas", who comes down the chimney on the 5th/6 December) and the imagery of the Saint in question carried over to his North Pole incarnation. In the original stories, Sinterklaas was accompanied by black slaves; these have become demons (The Krampus) in German-speaking culture, and friendly elves in the USA. In the Netherlands, the black companions are nowadays portrayed as St. Nicholas' friends and employees. Note that in several countries in Europe, Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are now considered two entirely different characters, each with their own elaborate holiday. It should also be noted that his transition from badass Turkish saint to "jolly old elf" was influenced by another winter gift-giver: Odin.

Read more... Schrödinger's Cat

"Do you know that thought experiment with the cat in the box with the poison? Theory requires the cat be both alive and dead until observed. Well, I actually performed the experiment. Dozens of times. The bad news is that reality doesn't exist. The good news is we have a new cat graveyard."
GLaDOS, Portal 2: Lab Rat

The Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment is an increasingly popular Motif in fiction. Erwin Schrödinger originally presented it to demonstrate how the Copenhagen interpretation, the classic interpretation of quantum mechanics, was utterly idiotic. It has since been appropriated by the general public; the pop-culture version of the experiment now serves as a metaphor for uncertainty of the truth, fate, Quantum Physics, how quantum physics can do anything, and whatever the hell is inside that box. Schrödinger's name has itself become a byword to invoke these ideas, among the general public, and on This Very Wiki. When used in a work of fiction, it can either show off the writer's cleverness, or lack of research. (Possibly both at the same time.)

Read more... Sex Sells

It's to sell both swimsuits and bracelets. Right?
Girls with nice hands help selling rings, bracelets, gloves, nail polish... Girls with nice legs help selling stockings, shoes, pantyhose... Girls with nice breasts help selling bras, swimsuits, shirts, TV sets, cars, washing machines, cookies, video games...

Here's a question for you. Say you have a new product or an old product in new packaging. You want to sell a lot of it and you want to sell it quickly. How? Do you describe it exactly how it is on the tin? Do you try to compare to other products? No way. Just think about it: you want people to buy what you sell. People buy what they like. People like sex. So you should equate what you sell with sex! Easy as pie...served by bikini-clad models.

When you can use a sexy image on an advertisement to sell the product, there's no need to make any effort to tie-in the product to said image. The sex exists as an attention grabber; something that invokes a Pavlovian response which associates the product with sex. Advertisers and audiences alike can generally agree that sex sells, despite (or perhaps because!) most places make it illegal to actually sell sex.

Read more... So You Want To/Avoid Unfortunate Implications

Whether you're creating something that may or may not touch on known issues, or you're wanting to avoid creating new tropes with their own Unfortunate Implications, you may find it useful to have a simple guide to handling potentially loaded tropes and situations with care.

This guide is intended only as a simplistic overview not applicable to each and every situation (and sometimes ignoring its advice may be a good idea), and some of you may know far more than it illustrates. Its purpose is to help the average writer without much experience in social justice activism (except maybe within his/her/their own group) avoid creating unintended offense and/or badly creating intended offense.

Read more... Socrates

"To express oneself badly is not only faulty as far as the language goes, but does some harm to the soul."
Socrates (attributed)

Socrates, commonly considered the father of philosophy, was an Athenian philosopher who lived from 469-399 BCE, when he was executed in the wake of the Peloponnesian War (of which, interestingly, he was a veteran, having served with distinction at Delium in an earlier phase of the war). Despite his reputation, he was not, by any stretch, the first philosopher -- earlier philosophers certainly existed and are, in fact, known as the "pre-Socratic philosophers".

He disapproved of writing, and so is known chiefly through the writings of his student Plato. (Another of his students, Xenophon, also wrote about him, but his works are less known.) Socrates taught and inspired many prominent young Athenians, from the aforementioned Plato to Alcibiades. (Plato even devoted a good chunk of his Symposium to defending against the common charge that Socrates had an affair with Alcibiades).

Read more... Spike Jones

A man of taste and distinction.

Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones (1911-1965) was a legendary bandleader in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, and one of the first innovators of novelty music in popular culture. Spike was a master of musical comedy -- not in terms of the film genre, where one gets a comedy that happens to feature singing, but in comedy created through music.

Spike was a parodist, and having your song mocked by Spike was viewed as a necessity before you could really consider yourself to have made it to musical stardom, much like "Weird Al" Yankovic today. But unlike "Weird Al", who plays the music so straight that if you're not listening closely you might not notice that it's a parody, Spike would take the music out back and mug it. His 1944 hit cover of "Cocktails for Two", originally a nice, sweet song about how Prohibition was over and people could have alcohol on dates again, featured gunshots, gargling, slide whistles, and enough violence done to the musical instruments that he may have violated the Geneva Convention.


Stan Freberg

Iconic multitalented comedian, author, actor, voice actor and innovative creator of advertising.

Freberg was probably best known for his comedy recordings, most of which are considered classics today (although many will recognize his voice work on various vintage Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes cartoons, where he played characters including Tosh of the Goofy Gophers and the dimwitted Pete Puma). Starting with his record "John and Marsha" in 1951, Freberg created a seemingly-endless string of hit novelty records, in which he satirized everything from the pop music of the 1950s to the over-commercialization of Christmas to Lawrence Welk.


Super Mario Bros.
It's-a us! The Mario Bros!

Undoubtedly the most recognizable video game franchise of all time, and centerpiece of Nintendo's gaming empire. It was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, and popularized the Platform Game.

Mario has become Nintendo's Mascot and their most prolific character, branching out from platformers into racing games, sports titles, Role Playing games, and more. Along the way, he's picked up more friends like his dinosaur buddy Yoshi and Anti-Hero Twin Wario, who along with Luigi and Peach have spun off successful games of their own.

Read more... The Thing That Goes Doink

Gotta love the rhythmic tapping these babies put out. The weight of the water inside makes 'em move like a see-saw. Mankind sure is incredible, huh? They made this thing with the sole purpose of making soothing sounds.
Issun, Okami

To establish that a Big Fancy House belongs to a family that is both traditionally Japanese and exceedingly wealthy, one can show many aspects of the home that seem extravagant. There's the big yard, the high fence, the sheer size of it. But for something that just screams "Rich Japanese Family" you need The Thing That Goes Doink.


"Tragedy! When the feeling's gone and you can't go on, it's tragedy!"

In a sentence, you could say that Tragedy concerns itself with the fall of a great man due to his own mistakes and/or flaws.

As a genre, tragedy is Older Than Feudalism. It has changed quite a bit since its conception in ancient Greece, and nowadays is a dying genre... how tragic! Soon it will be just as dead as Irony.

As you can guess from the above facetiousness, Tragedy is also as clingy as Irony and as difficult to define and apply. It's not enough to be on the deep cynical end and have a Twist or Downer Ending with plenty of artsy angst along the way, or have the hero's happy home life destroyed with a girlfriend raped and Dead Little Sister; it has to be of an epic scope with inexorable and self-inflicted pain brought about for past sins. And despite all that, it also has to give the viewer closure.

Read more... Turns Red

So you've been in a long and tedious battle with That One Boss, and it finally looks like things are going your way and that you have the upper hand. You breathe a sigh of relief: you think you've gotten the boss's pattern down pat, you've learned how to effectively deal damage to it and dodge all of its attacks at the same time. A wave of relief washes over you as you finally get its health meter down to half -- now, you just have to do it all over again once more, and you're the winner. You got this, man! You got this by the ass!

But wait! Suddenly, when that health meter hits the halfway point, something happens. Oh, crap. Now the boss is pissed. A quick cutscene shows his body changing to a brighter color. Steam shoots out of his head like a smokestack. His body armor breaks off to reveal his creepy inner organs. He roars at you with a newfound rage you didn't know he had. He stomps on the ground and pieces of the floor fall away. He unleashes brand new, devastating attacks. His movement speed triples, and he fills the room with ten times the projectiles you're used to. Good luck, the boss you're fighting has just Turned Red.

Also known as "pissy boss mode", turning red is a form of Difficulty Ramp applied to enemies and bosses alike. It's kind of a second wind that enemies get when they've been damaged too much, or when they're the last enemies on the screen.



Undocumented Features

In the fall of 1991, a burgeoning anime fan named Benjamin D. Hutchins (who had chosen the login name "Gryphon" for the campus computer network) was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. He had recently fallen in love with a series called Dirty Pair, and had seen the first anime fanfics to be posted on the Net written about it by Ryan Mathews and Larry Mann. Gryphon decided to write a Dirty Pair fanfic as well, and in an effort to demonstrate the possibilities to his friends, he churned out something he initially considered a quick-and-dirty "proof of concept" story in which he brought Kei and Yuri to WPI with a plot device from a friend's story and generally let chaos ensue. Some of his friends (including, among others, John "Truss" Trussell, Rob "ReRob" Mandeville, and MegaZone) collaborated with him on the project; they threw in a Big Bad courtesy of Bubblegum Crisis, they packed it full of WPI in-jokes, and named the story Undocumented Features.

Although Gryphon initially intended for the story to be discarded once the "real" writing began, it soon took on a life of its own. Local reception was so positive that they decided to post it on the rec.arts.anime newsgroup. Much to Hutchins's surprise, everybody who read it wanted a sequel. So the writers -- later to be known collectively as "Eyrie Productions, Unlimited" -- wrote one. And another. And then some side stories, and more and more...

This is Undocumented Features. Three decades after the first story was posted (as of late-2021), new stories are still being written in its universe. It is almost certainly the greatest Mega Crossover in all of Fan Fiction, and possibly in all fiction, period. The result is an epic, sprawling Space Opera setting that stretches across several thousand years of history and ranges across (and out of) the entire galaxy, written with a sly sense of humor and an almost religious regard for the Rule of Cool.


The "Unicorn In The Garden" Rule

This is a rule guiding the creation of stories and plots, and is intimately connected to the principle of Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

The rule is, quite simply:

If it's required by your plot, make one fantastic assumption in your story and only one - and do it in or before the first chapter (or first page or two, for shorter works). Do not add more as the story goes on. And once you have your one assumption, all further fantastic elements must derive from it, not any new assumptions. And just to be fair, it must be either obvious to the reader, or something that can be deduced from evidence present in your story.


The Vietnam War
All that for one elusive Charlie...
"'You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,' said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. 'That may be so,' he replied, 'but it is also irrelevant.'"
Colonel Harry G. Summers Jr. and Colonel Tu, April 1975, described in the book "On Strategy."

The Indo-Chinese conflicts were the most controversial and divisive conflicts that the Anglosphere has ever been a part of, and are second only to Algeria in the Francosphere. Many Southeast Asian countries (plus Australia and New Zealand with South Korea alongside black ops support from Taiwan) took part alongside the nationalist South Vietnamese, against the Soviet- and Chinese-backed (With assistance from Cuba and North Korea) North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (better known as the Viet Cong) a communist South Vietnamese armed insurgent force.

Read more... Watsonian Versus Doylist

There are no inconsistencies in the Discworld books; occasionally, however, there are alternate pasts.
Terry Pratchett on, wearing his Watsonian hat.
Maybe [the Patrician in The Colour of Magic] was Vetinari, but written by a more stupid writer?
Terry Pratchett on, wearing his Doylist hat.

Watsonian or in-universe commentary takes the reality of a work as given, and thus restricts itself to making statements that are sensible within that reality. Watsonian explanations are things like "Character X was lying", "He had plastic surgery over the summer", and "The main character fell off a cliff". A more precise technical term for this is intradiegetic.

Doylist or out-of-universe commentary considers the work as a created object, and prefers explanations based on the real-world motivations or circumstances of the creators. Doylist explanations are things like "The author had a Better Idea", "The actor died, so they had to hire a new one", and "The author got sick of writing those books, so he killed off the main character". A technical term for this is extradiegetic.

Read more... Weirdness Magnet

For some reason, the character is always standing at the intersection of Strange Street and Bizarre Boulevard. They run into situations or creatures that most people don't even believe in, much less have to deal with on a regular basis. Through no fault of their own, they constantly suffer through the effects of the paranormal and supernatural. Alternatively, the character may not think of the weirdness about them as particularly strange; after all, this sort of thing happens to them all the time. However, if something starts getting surreal on the show, chances are, they're at the center of it.

Often seen in comedy, especially when the writers get lazy and don't even bother to Hand Wave their plots anymore. Also used egregiously in Sci Fi and fantasy series, with the chain of weirdness catalyzing in the pilot, and each specific occurrence resolved at the end of the episode. Bonus points if, at some point, one of the characters brings it up and questions, "Why does this kind of stuff keep happening to me/us," or notes that that "Ever since [the events of the pilot happened], you've been a magnet for the freaky."


Wham! Line
"I think it can be pretty interesting how a single line in a story, even one that's seven words, can dramatically alter the perception of everything that just happened."
Andrew Hussie, via his former Formspring

Just as a Wham! Episode is an episode that radically alters the Story Arc, a Wham! Line is a line of dialogue that radically alters a scene. A scene is set up, plays out as expected, a line totally at odds with the established tone of the scene is uttered, and that line changes the course of the scene dramatically from then on out. The result shocks the audience out of their current mindset, and engages them fresh in the work.

The audience must not see the moment coming -- no Foreshadowing, no Foregone Conclusions, no contextual clues of any kind. This is a key component of the Wham Line; if the audience is led to believe that something big is coming, no one will be surprised when the big thing happens -- in other words, there will be no "Wham!" (An expected surprise which subverts your expectations as to the nature of the surprise is just that: a Subversion.)

Read more... The Who

This guitar has seconds to live.

People try to put us d-down
Just because we g-get around
Things they do look awful c-c-cold

I hope I die before I get old
My Generation

The Who were a famous, groundbreaking rock band from Shepherd's Bush, London, England, known both for their many influential songs and for their pioneering of the art of instrument destruction. They were formed by guitarist Pete Townshend, who joined forces with lead vocalist Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle and Crazy Awesome drummer Keith Moon. They are so influential that when people talk of the great rock bands of The British Invasion, it's often The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who in the same breath. But of the three, only The Who actually spawned a whole musical genre. Don't take our word for it: Johnny Rotten, Johnny Ramone, and Joe Strummer (to name only three) are on record as saying something like, "If not for The Who ..."

Read more... Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and author, called drama "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith ..."

Any creative endeavor, certainly any written creative endeavor, is only successful to the extent that the audience offers this willing suspension as they read, listen, or watch.

An author's work, in other words, does not have to be realistic, only believable and internally consistent (see Magic A Is Magic A). When the author pushes the audience too far, the work fails. As far as science fiction is concerned, viewers are usually willing to go along with creative explanations unless the show tries to use real science, at which point it's fair game, though this is because Science Fiction is just that: Science FICTION. Attempting to use actual science to explain something you made up removes the story from its own fantasy universe and places it in the context of reality. That's why people critize your wormhole travel system or how shrink potion doesn't violate the laws of matter conservation. Suspension of disbelief can be broken even in science fiction when a show breaks its own established laws or places said laws outside of fiction.


Worthy Opponent
"I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend."

The equal and opposite enemy to the hero, who, save for the tragic circumstances of his life, upbringing, political ideology, or financial situation, might have been the hero's best friend. Unfortunately, though, he must be the hero's opposition. Evenly matched, with a sense of honor that allows the hero to trust him about a select few things, and an honest respect for the hero, the Worthy Opponent also fights to the same standards of fairness as the hero; he will not shoot you In the Back, and may even prevent someone else from doing so; in military situations, he will obey The Laws and Customs of War. The Worthy Opponent will also do things like negotiate honestly or allow the wounded hero to escape to fight another day. He will invariably even the terms of a fight when he possesses a clear advantage, often being unwilling to fight an unarmed foe (either discarding his weapon or allowing the protagonist to reclaim his own), and waiting until an unconscious enemy has woken and can engage in an honorable Duel to the Death, because they must settle things like gentlemen. He may not dispatch the wounded hero even when the hero tells him to Get It Over With. Sometimes found in the role of The Dragon, but is almost never the Big Bad. If he's a commander, he may be A Father to His Men; indeed, his men may prove a sticking point with the Big Bad. Assassins, manhunters, and various wandering duelists frequently invoke this trope, often choosing their profession to engage in a test of skill by Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Such characters rarely share the same values as their employers and are often disparaged for fighting fair or letting the hero go out of respect.