Recently I was chatting with a group of fellow writers about how many of our favorite plot devices in movies could no longer be used in modern cinema because the technology has changed, and while I’m not sure you could make the same argument for novels, I thought it would be fun to make a list of those plot devices that could never fly today.
The Plot Device: The guy who has to race from phone booth to phone booth to receive life-saving information for a friend/stranger in peril. (I figured we could start with an easy one.)
Why It Would Never Work Now: No more phone booths. (I know. I’m bummed out, too.)
The Plot Device: The answering machine goes off, revealing all!
We all know this one: suspicious lover comes in to his/her lover’s empty house and just as he/she’s about to leave, the phone rings and the answering machine picks up the call—and who could be it be, but none other than some smoky-voiced stranger who leaves a squirrelly/suggestive message. Or maybe it’s the investigating detective who just happens to break into the house when the answering machine goes off and reveals the perfect clue.
Why It Would Never Work Now: Let’s face it—the tape answering machine plot devices were already pushing their luck with the advent of silent and private voice mail, but now with cell phones, those twists will be truly extinct.
The Plot Device: The ole switched photos from the One-Hour PhotoMat.
Why It Would Never Work Now: While one-hour photo places are still alive and well, a lot of people don’t bother getting prints made—and most likely those of a dubious nature (which, let’s face it, are always the ones that amazingly fall into the wrong hands in these situations in movies) wouldn’t be sent to corner one-hour places to be made into prints. Unless, I suppose, they were in a poorly-written film.
The Plot Device: The heroine doesn’t realize the killer is in the house with her, and when the hero (who has figured this out!) tries to call her to warn her, she doesn’t pick up which leaves the hero no choice but to race through traffic to reach her in time! Gah!
Why It Would Never Work Now: Well, he’d still speed but he could at least be trying to call her cell phone on his way. (This one might still have teeth, but the urgency is unquestionably reduced.)
The Plot Device: Any kind of widespread news bulletin that the hero/heroine somehow isn’t privy to, leaving them oblivious enough to, say, let in the recently escaped convict who comes by posing as the cable guy.
Why It Would Never Work Now: The internet makes it somewhat impossible to go five minutes without knowing crucial (and non-crucial) information so a plot that depends on a character’s ignorance (with the exception of someone living REALLY remotely) could now be considered a big fail.
The Plot Device: Man-on-the-run sneaks into the hospital locker room, dons a Doctors uniform and proceeds to, you know, wander the halls (and diagnose patients) unnoticed. (Ditto for security guards, bus drivers, museum curators, etc.)
Why It Would Never Work Now: Again, I’m not saying it would never happen, but with modern security methods, it’s highly suspect when it does.
The Plot Device: The hero/heroine pores over the microfiche reader, the tension building with each swishing slide, until the answer is finally revealed.
Why It Would Never Work Now: Now this one really hurts. I LOVED the microfiche/microfilm reveals. (See The Amityville Horror)
The Plot Device: The hero gets off at the wrong exit/gets lost/whole world unravels
Why It Would Never Work Now: One word: GPS
I know I’ve missed a bunch, so help me out, friends—what plot device has technology ruined for you in storylines?