I Am a Plot Device. Pay Me No Mind.

“I am a plot device. Pay me no mind.”

It’s pretty obvious when this is how a character is designed. She—in the really old stories it was usually a she, as often as not she’s a she now, and what set me thinking on this tonight was the title character of the Welsh tale “Branwen, Daughter of Llyr”–doesn’t really make decisions, instead doing whatever the plot needs her to do; if she makes a decision, it’s probably made on Plot-Induced Stupidity. This isn’t a person. This is a plot device, pure and simple. Pay her no mind.

Take Branwen. She may get the title role in her story, but that’s in the same way that books are titled after the MacGuffin that people spend all their time chasing and using. Literally; Branwen is a tool. First she gets used as a pawn in a marriage of convenience. Then her brother throws a hissy fit for having not been consulted about who to marry her off to and sparks a diplomatic incident. Two years later, after she’s had a son, the advisers of the king whom her bad-tempered brother sparked the incident against declare that her family’s reparations hadn’t been enough and get her cast off and turned into a scullery maid. This doesn’t make anyone very happy, least of all her family, and they seek military redress, which almost resolves with the promotion of Branwen’s son to the kingship, until that same brother chucks the kid into the fire and almost everyone dies in the resulting bloodbath. And Branwen? Dies of a broken heart at the destruction of two perfectly good islands on her account, never mind that the driving force here was her idiot brother, her husband’s idiot advisers, and everyone else not recognizing that for what had actually happened.

All I can say is, “Seriously, wtf?”

Characters like this show up a lot in stories and games. They have names, but they act like redshirts, being passive at best and self-destructive at worst, with nary an explanation for their actions if they act and no expectation of action the rest of the time. They are plot devices for idiot plots, and we should pay them no mind; it’s not our job to ask why they make their decisions or refuse to do anything, only to follow the plot.

Needless to say, I hate them. To me, they destroy the feel of the story-world, make it cease to be somewhere I can learn from and go back to being just events put together to make a plotline. For some reason, I find them particularly problematic in the games I play in; maybe it’s because I’m the one who’s playing the people who have to clean up after their idiocy, or because they make really poor conversationalists, or because I can’t find something in them for my characters to like and that in turn biases me.

And all I get told, when I try to bring them up, boils down to “They’re plot devices. Pay them no mind.” It’s boring, it’s annoying, and we can do better.

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