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A serial work that takes as much time getting to the three-quarter mark as it did getting to the half-way mark. And then as much time again on the next eighth. And so on.

The main storyline advances initially, but later all but comes to a halt. The rate at which Plot Coupons are collected drops dramatically, until it reaches a point where, for the A-story, Status Quo Is God. This can follow from the writer's understandable desire to avoid resolving the overarching plotline -- the one that is providing the core tension sustaining the work.

There are several ways to make this work. First and foremost are sub-plots. And sub-sub-plots, etc. The advantage is twofold: sub-plots take the weight off the main plot and they provide an opportunity for storytelling in their own right. For maximum effect this trope is combined with multiple Plot Threads, advancing each sub-plot in turn. If too many threads are left unresolved however, the series can descend into a Kudzu Plot.

Another way to keep the A-story stable is the repeated discovery of The Man Behind the Man, often coupled with the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. As The Hero triumphs over a foe, he repeatedly finds out about an even worse foe out to get him. If all else fails, the writers can resort to Filler. [1]

A measure of caution must be taken when employing this trope, however. As the plot slows down, Arc Fatigue may begin to make itself felt, and if done particularly badly, it may well lead to the audience giving up on the work, especially if years go by without the characters making any kind of meaningful progress in the main plot and it's determined that any attempt by the characters to make progress will meet with failure.

All series must end eventually, one way or the other. Sadly, some series are Cut Short; Real Life Writes the Plot and it's Left Hanging because of money problems and/or Author Existence Failure. Something a series is not profitable enough to continue but a short work is made to Wrap It Up. Other series end more naturally; the A-plot is taken out of the freezer, lightly microwaved with some lead-up and given a satisfying resolution.

Compare and contrast Cosmic Deadline.

Examples of Exponential Plot Delay include:

  • One Piece. Going through East Blue to get to the Grand Line took 62 episodes. They are past 500 episodes and are still in the Grand Line, and the Grand Line is now split up with the New World as a second goal that they must reach before they can actually get to the One Piece.
  • In Pirates of Dark Water, the crew got their hands on the first two of the thirteen treasures of rule in the five episode mini-series, five more in the next eight episode 1st season, before taking the entirety of the second season to get their hands on one more. Then came cancellation with only 8/13 found [2].
  • Bleach: The bad guys introduced at around Volume 20 take up the next 15 volumes by themselves, with a further six split between those enemies and the Big Bad's big invasion.
  • When the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire was written, it was intended as part of a trilogy; George R. R. Martin is now hoping to wrap things up in Book 7. Book 4 (in particular) seems to have been the height of the Plot Decay: it's essentially a Where Are They Now? Epilogue for the survivors of the first Story Arc, and while two more arcs have been building slowly in the background, they are found only in Book 5.
  • Girl Genius: Agatha has been trying to get into and/or repair Castle Heterodyne for at least two years now. Tarvek was critically ill and about to die for just short of 15 months. The general concept is lampshaded in this strip. And again here, "It only seem like deyz been in de kestle a long time!"
  • Inuyasha Episode 1: Kagome travels back in time. Episode 3: Kagome and Inuyasha start searching for shards of the Shikon jewel. Episode 24: All of the major protagonists have been introduced, except Koga. Episode 36: Koga. Episodes 96 - 101: Individual filler episodes. 102 - 122: Fighting. Episode 167: The show Overtook the Manga so they just don't make any more episodes. ...until the manga finished, anyway.
  • Ranma ½ is similar, but this arguably works in its favor, as it can focus on being an episodic comedy series without worrying about maintaining any sort of continuity or major plot arc.
  • Final Fantasy XII: The first quarter of the game has you breaking into a palace, escaping, getting arrested, meeting the guy who killed your brother, escaping from there, your girlfriend getting kidnapped, you go to rescue her, get arrested again, and escape again. The second quarter has you going on a longish fetch quest, then one of your party members betrays you and dies.

    The third and most of the fourth quarter has you trek half across the world to find out how to use the shiny paperweight you fetched, then treking across the other half of the world to find out how to destroy it, then trekking across the entire map to destroy the rest, then trekking back across the map to find out how to make more. It's only in the second-last dungeon that the plot finds itself again and the plot threads that have been left hanging for half the game are resolved.
  • The Wheel of Time: Robert Jordan originally planned for the series to be a trilogy. Before too long had passed he realized he would need six books to finish. He died working on a twelfth and final volume. Brandon Sanderson, hired to complete it, needed three to get it all done, though at least the pace has picked up and we're no longer getting books that are entirely missing one of the three male leads.
  • The Pokémon anime follows the above formula almost exactly. Originally it was working up to a conclusion, then it got a popularity explosion and the execs wouldn't let it finish.
  • This seems to be where Safehold is headed as of the fourth book. Characters are added faster than they're killed off, and with all the checking in on minor figures like Gorjah, hundreds of pages can pass before the big players like Nahrman so much as make an appearance. And of course, since many of those big players are spying on everyone else, they spend a lot of pages discussing new developments before they actually decide to take action on any given situation.
    • Book 5 finishes what was originally going to be book 1. Honor Harrington has just his the second half of the story in book 14.
    • David Weber in the past couple years became an adopted parent, and thus has stated between his own tendency for doorstoppers and a need to pay for college he's deliberately splitting up novels.
  • Kamen Rider Agito follows this trope exactly. The first one-third to half is pretty interesting, and then the Arc Fatigue kicks in and things go unresolved for a long while, after which they're tied up in a hurry in the finale. Unfortunately, this happens to be a Signature Style of the main writer, Toshiki Inoue. A similar condition returns in Kamen Rider 555, also by Inoue, only with less favorable results.
  • Some of the quest series in Runescape. The main examples are Elves, Menaphos and Morytania quest series. They started at rather fast pace when they were released, but each installment will either grant less progress than the previous installment of the quest series or suffers from Schedule Slip. Later though a few of the quest series have still been wrapped up.
  • The webcomic Homestuck has become subject to this. It's been well-telegraphed that the story will take place in 7 acts. However, Act 5 was divided into two very long parts, the first of which quadrupled the main cast size, and Act 6 introduces more characters and looks like it will have 6 parts, albeit shorter ones if Act 6 Act 1 is any indication.


  1. Use of the Reset Button is another technique, but not covered by this trope.
  2. and enough filler episodes that could have been used instead to finish the story
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