Why I Hate Football Plots

I hate Football Plots.

I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns.

What are Football Plots?

Football Plots are when the whole story centers around a piece of information (or item), and the story is basically about the characters trying to get that “Football” to the other end of the “field” while avoiding the people trying to stop them.

Now when you read that, the first thing that might come to mind (if you’re a geek) is Lord of the Rings (Frodo tries to get a ring to Mount Doom while dodging Orcs) or perhaps even Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Luke tries to get the plans to the Death Star to the Rebels) and while yes, those do fit the criteria I list above, real Football Plots take it to a whole other level.

I first noticed Football Plots when I was watching Korean Historical Dramas, and they are masters of the Football Plot. In a typical Korean Historical Drama, very often a character will find out a piece of information (say X is a spy for the enemy) and then the moment they find out that piece of information the whole world turns against them. Why does the world turn against them? Because if the character were able to say a single sentence to the right person, then the whole plot would end there and then. So, as a result, anything and everything has to happen to keep that character from being able to give that piece of information to the right person until the appointed time (or page count) in the plot.

This commonly includes:

  • Being interrupted before they can speak.
  • People falling sick at bad times.
  • Old enemies being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Friends (temporarily) turning against them for plot-convenient reasons.
  • Family members who have known them their whole lives suddenly not trusting them.
  • The people they need being in hard to reach locations at just that moment.
  • The people they need being distracted by something else at just that moment.
  • Nobody believing them.
  • Doing things that they’d know they shouldn’t do if they just stopped and thought about it for a moment.
  • Accidents happening at just the wrong time.
  • Everything they’ve ever done wrong in their life coming back to haunt them at just that time.
  • Amnesia.
  • Being Kidnapped.
  • Misunderstandings with almost everyone around them.
  • Just missing the people they need to see.
  • And every other possible coincidence you can imagine that would prevent them from being able to pass that one piece of information along.

Now, while a few of these in a story is hardly a cause for annoyance (they’re tricks for building drama, and they work) if you use too many of them, it can quickly turn a dramatic and thrilling plot into a silly soap opera where the audience feels strung along, and when it reaches this level I call it a Football Plot because that’s all it is, an endless series of plays and interceptions as Character B tries to stop Character A from talking to Character C. Of course, in a real Football game, a single goal doesn’t decide the whole game, but here it does, which is part of the problem.

Football Plots are inherently weak, because they’re dependent on a single action. To give an example, I’ve seen Korean Dramas where twenty or more episodes of plot could literally have been skipped or avoided if Character A said “I’m sorry” to Character C. Literally skipped, as in it would have made no difference to the story whatsoever overall, and wouldn’t have changed the characters or their relationships. That was twenty episodes (20 HOURS, give or take) of time and events which didn’t need to happen, but did because the writers wanted to pad the show out, thus a Football Plot was used to fill time and create fake drama.

And this is one of my main problems with them, most of the time they’re used there’s no reason to use them at all, except to create fake drama where it feels like something exciting is happening, but in reality there’s nothing important going on. They just serve as filler to keep a story moving that otherwise should have ended a long time ago. Of course, sometimes they really do have consequences, but even then they can run off the rails and into “Why Does God Hate Me?” territory.

“Why Does God Hate Me?” is a type of Football Plot where the main characters are trying to accomplish a goal that is important to everyone involved, but literally everything that can go wrong goes wrong to ridiculous levels, as though God has a hate-on for the main character(s) and is betting on their opposition to win. This is usually the result of the writer taking the old writer’s adage “Put your characters in trees and throw rocks at them” and turning it into “Put your characters in trees and shoot at them with a 50 calibre minigun”.

And, lest you’re thinking “Oh ho! Those silly Koreans and their crazy Dramas” this whole post was inspired by one of the most beloved of American speculative fiction writers- Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files and Codex Alera series. For at the moment I’m reading his almost 700 page novel The Furies of Calderon (Book One of Codex Alera), and it is one of the most maddening examples of a “Why Does God Hate Me?” Football Plot I’ve ever seen. One that would make the Korean drama writers point fingers and laugh ironically.

How bad it is?

Well, you see that list up there. The list of crazy weekday afternoon soap-opera plot twists that you were probably mocking a moment ago as you read it? Well, Butcher does ALL of those twists in the first 400 pages of the book, and we’ve still got another 300 to go.

Go back and look at that list.

Then think- ALL of it, to the main characters, in 400 pages.

All because if the main characters spoke to the wrong person for five seconds, the whole story would come to a screeching halt and the heroes would win. So he’s pulling out every single trick he can think of to keep that from happening, while at the same time giving his villains every bit of good luck they can handle.

Actual condensed (non-spoiler) scene from the story:

Villain: This sucks. I’m randomly lost in the middle of nowhere, the heroes will win and have no shoes.
(A messenger carrying the information the villain can’t have get out happens to pass that exact spot out of the whole valley at that moment, and the villain kills him.)
Villain: Hurray! Now I have stopped my enemies, know where I am, and have gained shoes!

This is sandwiched next to a scene where the heroes almost reach their goal, and a literal random act of god knocks them back halfway across the story field for no reason except to keep the plot from stopping there and then.

I swear, I nearly threw the book at the wall at that point. But I like my wall.

It’s a decently written book, with interesting characters and ideas, but my god is it one of the most maddening things I have read in a long time. The heroes get almost no breaks (except in ways which don’t threaten to prematurely end the plot), and the villains get all the breaks they need to keep the plot going and people running around. A good story should have a balance between successes and failures that keep the reader interested and make them believe that what they’re reading is there for a reason, not just to keep a weak plot alive.

Which I guess is why I hate Football Plots so much. They’re usually more flash than substance, and aren’t really giving the reader anything new, just stringing them along until the writer can get their payoff. They’re the opposite of creativity, and a cheat.

Now, as I said before, there’s nothing wrong with using some dramatic twists to keep the reader interested and make the main character’s life interesting, in fact you need to throw a few in, but like a good chef, you need to know just the right amount of spice to use to make the dish nourishing and tasty at the same time. A Football Plot is all icing and no cake, and that makes Rob an unhappy boy.

Rob

Quick Rant – The solution to sexism In video games!

My point exactly! DIYOFS!

D.I.Y.O.F.S. Culture

D.I.Y.O.F.S. Culture

(Warning! Incoming rant! Warning! Explicit Language!)

So yesterday, the new 12th Doctor Who was revealed. A Scotsman named Peter Capaldi will replace Matt Smith, and by all rights Capaldi is a fine actor who will do credit to the job. However, this being the internet, what almost immediately followed was a cascade of whining.

He’s too old!

He’s too male!

He’s too white!

And infinite variations of the above.

To this, I have two responses. One, fuck you. He’s fine, and you’ll probably think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread after you’ve gotten used to him. Stop killing pixels for your self-indulgent pointless chatter.

Two, if you want to see your socio-ethnic-cultural group of choice become The Doctor- Do It Your Own Fucking Self! Make your own Stories, Videos, Movies, Comics, Audio Dramas, or whatever else, with the Doctor of your choice and stop being a lazy fucking consumer who expects to have anything they want handed to them.

You live in an amazing age, when the ability to produce quality media of all kinds, and get it out to literally the world, can be done at almost no cost. This wasn’t true even 20 years ago, and a lot of people still act like it’s the pre-internet age, but right now the only thing stopping you from making your dreams into reality and having your voice heard is YOU.

Now, you might whine- What do I know? I’m just some guy mouthing off on a blog, right? What have I done?

The answer is- plenty!

In 2006, I decided I wanted to create a full-cast Audio Drama Podcast (Audio Drama = Radio Plays in the old days.) because I wasn’t hearing the kind of shows I wanted to hear and I thought it would be cool. But, I had a few problems…

  • I had almost no money.
  • I had no microphone.
  • I only had one aging laptop.
  • I had no production software.
  • I had no music and no musical talent.
  • I had no sound effects.
  • I had no idea how do make or post a Podcast.
  • I had written exactly one script in my entire life.
  • I had no contacts or connections online that could help me.
  • Very few people had done this kind of thing at that time.
  • I was sitting in the middle of Taipei, Taiwan. On the other side of the planet from all my friends and personal resources. (And people who spoke English.)
  • My job took about 60 hours a week of my time.

All I had was a desire, a will to do it, and my own creativity.

  • I studied scriptwriting and learned how to do it properly.
  • I found a cheap iRiver MP3 player with a decent Mic on it.
  • I found free audio editing software like Audacity.
  • I found sites with Creative Commons Music and Sound Effects that others would let me use for free.
  • I made contacts within the internet audio production and audio drama community.
  • I found the Voice Acting Alliance forum where amateur voice actors would do recordings over the internet for free.
  • I taught myself audio engineering.
  • I learned how to work with and manage actors from across the planet.
  • I taught myself how RSS worked and how to get a podcast out. (Now it’s super-simple, but then it was a little more tricky)

And I produced my first show, and it was total shit!

Then I produced my second one, and it was better.

In the end, between 2006-2011 Kung Fu Action Theatre would go on to produce 47 shows, averaging 20-25 minutes each, and has had around 400,000 downloads to date. I’ve made contacts, friends and fans. I’ve become part of many online communities. I developed skills I never thought I’d have and it’s helped me both personally and professionally.

And, I’ve made the shows I wanted to hear.

I didn’t whine online and ask someone else to change the world for me, I did it myself and then used the incredible tools this modern age offers to get my stuff out there. I Did It My Own Fucking Self, and it’s a badge of honor I’ll wear for the rest of my life.

So, in a time when you can make HD movies with a cell phone, when Youtube lets you reach millions of viewers (and get a better viewership than some TV stations!), when the software to produce and edit audio and video is free, when the knowledge to do anything you want is just a Google search away, and when you can get people to help you just by posting on Reddit- I have no sympathy for those who want to sit there and whine instead of trying to DO something and put their effort where their mouth is.

You want the world to be different? You think we need an epic tale of a Mixed-Race Lesbian Mormon Vampire Hunter? A Transgender Action Hero? A Native American Superspy? A female Doctor Who?

Do It Your Own Fucking Self.

You have more power and ability to change the world than anyone had had in the history of mankind. So stop whining in comments, get off your lazy ass, and use it!

Rob