World Limited to the Plot

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

- "No questions asked. Up we get and off at a gallop, fearful lest we come too late!"
- "Too late for what?"

- "How would I know? We haven't got there yet."

The story is its own little world: It's not merely secluded from the context, there is no context. It is not merely the morality that is centered on the protagonists, the world itself revolves around them.

Usually simply "unaverted" by limited storytelling, but can also be actively invoked as some kind of absurdity or postmodern deconstruction. In either case, when a show or webcomic or other work starts this way, it usually melts away at the same pace as Cerebus Syndrome takes a hold on the plotline. In shorter storylines, it can instead be a existential twist to some Ontological Mystery.

The stories where the world is limited to the plot are instead the stories where the characters have no backstory, no anchors outside the plot, and whatever they do, there will be no outside forces of any kind reacting to it. Characters irrelevant to the plot are highly unlikely to exist at all, and if they do then they won't have names. The story does not have to take place in a pocket dimension or even a secluded town: Rather than being shown to not exist, the outside world is simply unmentioned and discarded as irrelevant.

Commonly, these stories feature a failed escape sequence, and none of the outside world will be seen during the escape. The characters are inevitably led right back to the plot's world.

This is not when a story takes place in a Small Secluded World such as an island or a box: In those cases there is still a universe outside the place where the characters are trapped. The characters are still connected to the outside world by their memories, and there are people in the outside world who could miss them.

Defying this trope is a common way to Deconstructed Trope or avert other tropes: It's easy to be The Omniscient when there is so little to know in the first place, just add more information and the character turns out to be Not So Omniscient After All. On the flipside of this coin, philosophical thought-experiments often ask us to accept a World Limited to the Plot, making the most outrageous oversimplifications look like valid Aesops.

Examples of World Limited to the Plot include:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • In the Age of X storyline in the X-Men line, a clue that something is wrong with the alternate reality the characters find themselves in is that there is nothing outside the walls of their compound, and the soldiers that attack seem to only have a few names, repeated over and over.

Films -- Live-Action

  • Deconstructed in The Thirteenth Floor. As the cover says: "Question reality".
  • The Truman Show has two plotlines that eventually merge. The "inner" plotline suffers heavily from World Limited to the Plot, but the "outer" plotline reveals that this is caused by manipulation rather than bad storytelling.
  • Deliberately invoked in the Cube series. The inconsistent internal logic from movie to movie is designed to eliminate the possibility of a wider world beyond the Cube.
    • Averted in Cube Zero, where it's shown to basically be a last-chance experimentation chamber for death-row prisoners. At least until one of the operators helps someone escape and ends up with a forged "confession" and a lobotomy before getting thrown in himself, with heavy hints throughout that that's basically how everyone ended up in there. Then we find out that what we see in the prequel is basically a first generation prototype compared to the later Cubes, which seem to have less and less of a plausible reason to exist.
  • Played straight to Beyond the Impossible levels in Cemetery Man at the end. Francesco tries to leave town, only to discover that the rest of the world doesn't exist.
  • Pleasantville shows what happens to such a world when the outside does manifest itself in a meaningful way.
  • In Bruges toys with this. The entire film takes place in Bruges (apart from two very short establishing character shots). Ray hates Bruges. When he finally manages to escape, only the inside of the train is shown, and he's led right back to Bruges again anyway.
  • Dogville plays this for drama. It turns out that Grace could have escaped all along -- she was just too stubborn.
  • Ridley Scott's Legend takes place almost entirely within a magical forest and Darkness's palace. There's virtually no indication of what the world outside the forest is like.


  • In Coraline, the Other Mother's world seems to be limited to the immediate vicinity of the house. More obvious in the movie, where the world fades out into featureless white space after a certain point and is small enough to be walked around in the course of one conversation.
  • A minor Finnish High Fantasy wannabe novel called Kuolleet kaupungit ("The Dead Cities") may have averted this trope in some other ways, but certainly embodied it in one sense. There was a world map included with various locations marked all around its two continents. In the course of the story, the protagonists visit pretty much every single one of these locations. Looking at the map after that, one is left with the impression there isn't anyplace else left to go in the whole world, and even if there is, it must still be a rather small world.


  • Moral dilemmas in academic philosophy usually rely heavily on this trope: You are supposed to accept, or even take for granted, the premise that the characters and situations involved have no social context whatsoever (some are set on deserted islands, or in rafts adrift on the ocean). This tends to make it unreasonably impossible to Take a Third Option.


  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. It's pretty much the entire point of the play.
  • Samuel Beckett loved this one: Endgame, Waiting for Godot, probably others.
    • Beckett's one-act play, Play, can be an extreme version, with the world limited to a spotlight. To explain, the entirety of the dialogue is spoken by three heads sticking out of large, unmoving funeral urns which can only speak if the spotlight is on them. There is often nothing else on stage and no other lighting. (The RTÉ "Beckett on Film" version, however, averts this trope by replacing the spotlight with the camera's gaze and including a set—a barren landscape filled with similar heads-sticking-out-of-urns.)
  • One of the favorite tropes of the Theatre of the Absurd in general. In addition to the aforementioned Stoppard and Beckett plays, Ionesco comes to mind, especially The Bald Soprano.

Web Comics

  • Order of the Stick lived by this trope until the foreshadowing at the end of book one. (Strip 120 in the online version.) Only then, when the dungeon in which the entire plot has taken place is destroyed, do the plot and the dungeon turn out to have some relevance outside of itself.
    • Later, it turns out that characters who aren't relevant enough to the plot to be named actually don't even have names... at least not until they become relevant to the plot.
  • Homestuck: the world outside of the main characters' lives appears almost desolate. None of them seem to have any other friends apart from themselves and characters on the periphery of their interpersonal interactions (their guardians) appear almost vacant and robotic. And they're not really very affected by Earth's imminent and unavoidable destruction either.
    • On the other hand, there are cases where we do have a glimpse outside the plot, with current events like how Barack Obama is the president, and other people completely irrelevant to the plot, like the Serious Business and GameFAQs users, are still shown to actually exist, even if they are never shown. We also see maps of the entire planet, and the plot does, in fact, make an impact in places irrelevant to the main characters.
    • At one point Jade is shown browsing a real artist's gallery on Fur Affinity.

Western Animation

  • Teen Titans is set in an unnamed city where, aside from the eponymous superheroes and the supervillains they fight, the population consists entirely of unnamed people who exist solely to be terrorized by the villains and rescued by the heroes. Averted in Season 5 when the Teen Titans turn into Heroes Unlimited and start traveling the world.
    • We also meet the Titans East, who set up shop on the other side of the country, there's a Wacky Racing cross-country episode, an episode where Robin goes off to train somewhere in what may be China, etc. Possibly most notably, a fight towards the end of Season 1 turns out to have been taking place on a WayneCorp building.
    • Even so, we meet the teen superheroes of the world while they're traveling, and little else. We also get nothing of the teams' non-spandex lives. The Powers That Be were deliberate about this.
  • Total Drama Island. Justified in the first two seasons, where the whole thing was a Show Within a Show trapping the teens in an island and a film lot, but even in the third season, where they're in a different country each week, they still run into no one except those that work on the show, even in the middle of New York (except for one woman sitting on a bench and her baby).
  • The Bremen Avenue Experience is a short-lived series about a Funny Animal Garage Band. The entire series is set in the suburban living room where the group rehearses, and the only character besides the band members is the drummer's father, who appears in one episode.
  • Ed Edd and Eddy takes place in the Cul-de-Sac they live in with the other neighbouring kids and noone else. Later on in the 5th and last season, they all go back to school once the summer ends, but even then it's just them ...except for the movie where Eddy's big brother appeared.