Plot Device – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Screenwriting Glossary Terms

What is a Plot Device?

A plot device is a literary technique or element that is used to advance the storyline or create conflict in a narrative. It is a tool that writers use to propel the plot forward, introduce new elements, or resolve conflicts within a story. Plot devices can come in many forms, such as a character, object, event, or even a twist in the plot. They are essential in creating a cohesive and engaging narrative for the audience.

How are Plot Devices Used in Screenwriting?

In screenwriting, plot devices are crucial in developing a compelling and engaging story for the audience. Writers use plot devices to create tension, build suspense, and keep the audience invested in the storyline. They can be used to introduce new characters, drive the plot forward, or resolve conflicts within the story. Plot devices are essential in maintaining the audience’s interest and keeping them engaged throughout the film or television show.

Examples of Common Plot Devices in Film and Television

There are many common plot devices that are frequently used in film and television to enhance the storyline and create drama. Some examples of common plot devices include:

1. MacGuffin: A MacGuffin is an object, person, or goal that drives the plot forward and motivates the characters in the story. It is often a mysterious or valuable item that characters are willing to go to great lengths to obtain.

2. Deus ex machina: Deus ex machina is a plot device in which a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by an unexpected or improbable event. This device is often criticized for being a lazy way to tie up loose ends in a story.

3. Red herring: A red herring is a plot device used to mislead the audience or divert their attention from the true direction of the story. It is often used to create suspense and keep the audience guessing about the outcome of the plot.

4. Chekhov’s gun: Chekhov’s gun is a plot device in which a seemingly insignificant object or detail is introduced early in the story and later becomes crucial to the resolution of the plot. This device is named after the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”

How to Avoid Cliché Plot Devices in Screenwriting

While plot devices can be effective in creating drama and tension in a story, it is important for writers to avoid cliché or overused plot devices that can make the story predictable or unoriginal. To avoid cliché plot devices in screenwriting, writers should:

1. Be original: Try to come up with fresh and innovative plot devices that will surprise and engage the audience.

2. Subvert expectations: Instead of following traditional plot devices, try to subvert audience expectations and take the story in a new direction.

3. Avoid stereotypes: Steer clear of using stereotypical characters or plot devices that rely on tired tropes or clichés.

4. Focus on character development: Instead of relying solely on plot devices to drive the story, focus on developing well-rounded and complex characters that will engage the audience on a deeper level.

The Impact of Plot Devices on the Audience

Plot devices play a significant role in shaping the audience’s experience of a film or television show. When used effectively, plot devices can create tension, suspense, and emotional engagement that keep the audience invested in the story. However, if plot devices are overused or poorly executed, they can make the story feel contrived or predictable, leading to a disengaged audience.

How to Use Plot Devices Effectively in Your Screenplay

To use plot devices effectively in your screenplay, consider the following tips:

1. Serve the story: Make sure that the plot devices you use serve the overall story and help to advance the narrative in a meaningful way.

2. Create conflict: Use plot devices to create conflict and tension within the story, driving the characters to make difficult decisions and face challenges.

3. Keep it subtle: Avoid using plot devices that are too obvious or heavy-handed, as this can make the story feel forced or contrived.

4. Stay true to the characters: Make sure that the plot devices you use are consistent with the characters’ motivations, personalities, and arcs throughout the story.

By following these tips and being mindful of the impact of plot devices on your screenplay, you can create a compelling and engaging narrative that will keep the audience hooked from beginning to end.