OK, so it’s really Troperiffic Wednesday; I’m a bit late. But this week’s trope is one of my favorites. It’s called The Noodle Incident and we all have a few in our past. Ready to remember yours?
(If you don’t know what a trope is you can find out here.)
The Noodle Incident refers to an occurance in a character’s past or a shared occurence in multiple characters’ past that remains unknown to the audience. It can be silly, shameful, illegal, outrageous, traumatic, ridiculous, or a combination of any of the above. It’s named after the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon pictured here. (Just what did Calvin do?)
The premise of The Noodle Incident is that when we meet people we size them up as one type or another but no one is so easily defined and we all have parts of our lives that would surprise other people. This trope is a great way to add depth to a character or a relationship without spending too much valuable storytelling time. Instead of confining the characters to stereotypes, flavor can be added to their personality by implying an out-of-character act or decision or a history can be established for a relationship through a shared secret. Noodle Incidents can also be used to explain what kind of universe the story is happening in, like the examples from Harry Potter below.
Spotting Noodle Incidents in movies and TV shows is a blast. The show Friends used The Noodle Incident to great advantage. Phoebe’s past was riddled with them (He stabbed me first!) as was Joey and Chandler’s relationship and Monica’s Pictionary outburst qualifies as one.
In the first Pirates of the Caribbean just before Captain Jack Sparrow is about to be executed, the official reads the list of offenses and when he gets to “impersonating a cleric of the Church of England” Sparrow giggles as he remembers, making that a Noodle Incident. An argument could be made that the entire list is nothing but Noodle Incidents.
Ocean’s Eleven has its share, including the thing with the guy in the place.
Iron Man: Just what exactly has Pepper caught Tony doing before?
The Avengers: “You and I remember Budapest very differently.”
Doctor Who is another show that’s packed with Noodle Incidents but after almost 50 years on the air that’s not surprising. River and her diary are full of them; “Jim the Fish, have we done Jim the Fish yet?” And it took us two seaons to find out just what The Doctor did that made Queen Elizabeth I so angry.
Harry Potter has plenty to choose from like Aberforth Dumbledore and whatever happened with that goat. Arthur Weasley supplied a steady stream when dealing with muggles, including fire-breathing chickens and exploding toilets.
Here’s one from the BBC’s Sherlock.
You never get an explanation for that moment. So what Noodle Incidents are in your favorite stories? Now that you know what they are, you’ll see them everywhere.