Batman - plot convenience

Bad screenwriting analysis: #1 Plot convenience


Are you looking for a way to make sure that the people who read your book or watch your movie leave angry and frustrated? Well, you’re in the right place because I’m about to explain what is a plot convenience and why you should totally use it whenever you have the chance.

What is a Plot Convenience?

Having a great idea for a story is not hard, but sitting down and writing that story actually is.

There are many plot points and characters to keep track of. And, right when you’re about to write that spectacular scene that you had in mind at the beginning, you realize that logic stands between you and your masterpiece.

So what do you do?

A. follow the logic of the story

B. just ignore the logic and hope that your audience will do the same

If your answer is B… you should change it into A.

A plot convenience is an element of the story (an event, a certain behavior, a coincidence etc…) that doesn’t really make sense in the context but is necessary for the writer who wants the plot to take another direction.

Normally, in a screenplay or in a novel, every action is either motivated by the will of a character who wants to reach a certain goal or is the consequence of another character’s action.

But a plot convenience is an action that contradicts the logic of the story without a reason.

For example:

An expert sniper is trying to kill your protagonist. You know that he must fail otherwise the story is over but you’ve already established that this sniper has never missed a target in his life.

So what do you do?

If the sniper accidentally missed for no reason at all, this is a plot convenience. On the other hand, if the sniper missed because the protagonist notices him and cleverly manages to hide, the plot is moving on organically.

Here there are a couple of examples of plot convenience using the movie Batman v Superman:

Humans acting like characters

You immediately understand that something is wrong when a friend or a family member starts acting differently because spending a lot of time with someone makes it easier for you to predict their behavior.

Something similar happens with the characters we love. After spending hours reading a book or watching a TV show, you know the characters of the story very well.

The big difference is that when a real person says or does something that seems unusual, you ask yourself if there is something wrong with them.

But when a character in a story acts this way you ask yourself if there is something wrong with the writer.

This happens because, while watching the story unfold, you are suspending your disbelief.

For a few hours you can pretend that what is happening on the screen or on the page is real, but only at the condition that the events and the characters are believable enough to seem real.

Once those characters start acting differently for no apparent reason, you’re brought back to reality and you find yourself shaking your head saying: “Wait, what?”

The infamous “Save Martha” scene is the ultimate plot convenience because it forces the plot to go in a different direction in the most unnatural way possible.

Superman (who has been calling his mother “Mom” up to this point) manages to not be killed by Batman (who has been fixated on killing the alien guy up to this point) by saying his mother’s first name, which happens to be also the name of Batman’s mother.

Oh, and this is the cherry on top! Lois Lane (who spent the entire movie doing something else somewhere else) casually wanders into the wasteland where the heroes were fighting (without getting herself killed, somehow), finds them (somehow) and provides the exposition that Batman needed.

I have to say that I didn’t hate this movie as much as other people did. It had its flaws but overall the action was good and I was willing to overlook the massive disaster that was Luthor’s plan (more about that in a second).

But this scene… this incredible number of coincidences… that did it for me.

I kept imagining a room full of Hollywood writers scratching their chins and saying:

“Ok, we need Batman and Superman to fight, but they cannot kill each other because we have Justice League coming up. What do we do… what do we do… Got it! Jerry, open Batman’s Wikipedia page and tell me the names of any relative you can find”

The calumniator credited

This trick is used so often by storytellers because it is perfect for creating fake conflict.

“Why is it fake” you ask? Because this type of conflict doesn’t come from a real problem, a rivalry or a clash of ideology but it is fabricated by a character.

And just as it is easy to create, it is easy to resolve, so that everyone can leave happily ever after.

Batman v Superman is essentially based on this premise. Which is already a little weird.

I mean, Lex decided to put specifically not-equipped-with-super-powers Batman against Superman instead of other superhumans he knew about (like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, or Flash).

Almost as if he knew that “Cyborg v Superman” wouldn’t have sold as many tickets.

Anyway, back to our plot convenience. So, Batman and Superman need to fight each other, but they don’t really have a reason to do so.

Conveniently, evil genius Lex Luthor has enough free time to be able to come up with an incredibly complicated plan to make the epic movie title happen.

This type of plot convenience goes something like this:

There are 3 characters: X, Y and Z.

Character X talks to Z about Y behind his back.

Character Z immediately believes him without questioning his intentions or investigating and takes action against Character Y.

After a while, something happens and the misunderstanding is cleared so that Y and Z can be best pals again.

THE CALUMNIATOR CREDITED . plot convenience.

In Mean Girls something similar happens when Cady manipulates Gretchen and Karen into betraying Regina.

But people (me included) don’t seem to have a problem with that. So how come the situation in Batman v Superman seems to be different?

Well, because if character Z acts impulsively without investigating character X’s intentions or asking for proof, it is pretty much granted that character Z is an idiot.

Karen and Gretchen… aren’t rocket scientists.

It’s established that Karen is dumb the moment she first appears on screen and Gretchen is so insecure that she could be manipulated by everyone.

That’s why the calumniator credited doesn’t feel out of place or too convenient in this movie. They fall for it because they’re stupid enough to fall for it.

Batman… he’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective. Lex… he’s supposed to be a genius and a master of manipulation. Superman… well, he was reading ancient Greek philosophers in Man of Steel, so I guess that he’s supposed to be smart as well.

Yet, both heroes fall for a needlessly complicated plan that the evil genius didn’t realize could go wrong in a million different ways.

And this, kids, this is what happens when plot convenience is put before logic. The people that were thinking: “It’s a flawed movie but it’s not so bad” exit the movie theater murmuring “WTF just happened?!”.