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  • Writer's pictureD. G. Martin

The Problem of Plot Armor

Plot armor.

It's a very curious topic. I only ever see the phrase spouted by people who wish to put something down, most often a written story or a movie.

"Oh, that character only survived because she has plot armor."

"There's no way they make it through that without all that plot armor."

"The plot armor is really thick here."

You get the idea. It's a not-so-clever way of telling the writer/creator/director that you think their work stinks because you think a character should not still be alive or has seemingly inexplicably survived a situation or displayed a skill that just does not make any sense.

In general, I reel back at the mention of the concept. As a writer, my first assumption from the proclamation of plot armor being present in a story is that the critic has at best only a basic understanding of literary structure and storycraft.*

At least, that was for a long time my reaction. But then something changed in my perception about the whole topic.

War stories.

The ones based on fact, on history. A soldier goes off to war, say in France, around 1917 or so, and survives. His story may have horrific parts, and should probably have them in order to be believed, near-death experiences, and tales of fighting hand-to-hand with enemy soldiers.

But, the soldier lives. And he goes home.

Totally believable, right?

But why?

What if I told you that the character in the book was made up? What if I told you that the character lived through experiences that I only heard might have happened to some other soldiers during the war?

Here's my point. I find it odd that for some reason, it is considered absolutely believable, acceptable, and in no way suspect that if said story was biographical, it would be accepted as possible.

But, if the same story was a work of fiction, the accusation of "plot armor" would most likely be leveled at the author.

Why are we so willing to accept historical happenings as just true on their own merit without any other qualifications, but that a fictional situation has to have some mysterious, all-powerful hand of protection guiding its events, making sure the right characters see it through to the end, protecting their lives until their mission is complete?

- D.G.

*It should here be noted that while one could argue they are related topics, "Plot Armor" and the concept of a "Mary Sue" are indeed very different. It would take much more time than I have to make the argument of distinction here and now, but perhaps I will address this in the future.

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