Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Trope: Cannon Fodder



What do Stormtroopers, Orcs, and Foot Soldiers have in common? A menacing appearance? Maybe. Big, shiny weapons? Possibly. Work for an evil Overlord? Probably. But the one thing they share most is final and absolute, and there is nothing more final than death.

Cannon Fodder (also known as Mooks) - Numerous and disposable opposition, often soldiers wearing identical outfits, who exist solely to be mowed down by the hero.

This trope has a reverse effect as well, for nameless people on the good-guy side who are going to die, sometimes because you know what they're wearing.


Symptoms of common Cannon Fodder include:

- Terrible aim
- Incompetency
- Awkward comic relief 
- An unwillingness to retreat
- Continuous reinforcements
- Audiences cheer upon their death
- Audiences laugh upon their death
- Fighting in the open, or one at a time, and
- Exaggerated spasms before hitting the ground

Main characters often like to sneak around Cannon Fodder, knock them out and take their clothes, or snap their necks and dispose of their bodies in a nearby hallway ... where no one will ever find them ...

Cannon Fodder can serve an effective purpose when incalculable odds are pinned against the heroes.


But ultimately, it's an opportunity for the hero(es) to show off - a warm up before facing the real enemy.


Have I used Cannon Fodder before? Since I write sci-fi and fantasy, it's practically built in. The difference is I like to turn the tables a little by making them more competent and more of a threat. If my heroes manage to win against an army of no-names, you can bet they'll get messed up and be out of commission for a while.

Have you used Cannon Fodder in your writing? Do they pose a threat? What's your highest body count?

I'm David, and nobody tosses a Dwarf!


27 comments:

  1. Cannon Fodder...yeah...I've used it. In my current WIP, too.

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  2. Yep, I've used Cannon Fodder quite a lot, but I always think they deserve a fair chance at a win so I end up letting them put up a good fight before they are, um... disposed of.

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  3. Love this post, David.

    And don't forget Guy in "Galaxy Quest". They played his expendable to perfection.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mXWXwxPtXg

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  4. Ha! Great post! Oh yes, I've used Cannon Fodder. Nameless and annoying supernaturals, or fantasy meat shields.

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  5. Haha. When I read this I thought of the movie Galaxy Quest and the character 'Guy'. How he was sure he was going to die through the whole movie because he didn't have a last name. :)

    Ummm...yes, I've done this but, like yours, my Cannon Fodder weren't incompetent. They just didn't have the powers my MCs had :)

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  6. OMG Donna! We're on the same page!

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  7. Aw, for most fantasy and sci-fi, they have purpose, even in the midst of their incompetency. Yes, I use cannon fodder...and eventually, the elf CAN toss the dwarf lol!!

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  8. Funny enough, I never even recognized that I used it in my last MS until I read your post. So...guilty.

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  9. Great post! So funny! I don't have cannon fodder in my ms but am now thinking of a way to add it :)

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  10. One cannon fodder that I don't get amused at is the use of homosexuals for the exclusive purpose to be cannon fodder. Braveheart does this.

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  11. So funny. I've used cannon fodder a little bit, and plan to use it even more in book 2. Now I want to go watch Galaxy Quest.

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  12. I've seen other people mention Galaxy Quest, but the "plucky comic relief" dude had some of the funniest lines in that movie because he was so sure he was doomed.

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  13. Hilarious post! I don't think I've ever actually used cannon fodder in a book, though it is a little tempting now.

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  14. Oh go ahead and toss the dwarf!
    My 'cannon fodder' were in fighter spaceships, but it's the same principal.
    And I think the red shirts on Star Trek were to make them easier targets.

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  15. I was totally thinking: He forgot to mention Red Shirts and then I saw that hilarious Star Trek picture =D So, so funny! We were actually just having a conversation about Red Shirts the other day while watching the newest Star Trek movie.

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  16. I can't say I've written much in the way of cannon fodder, but I definitely enjoy reading / watching it!

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  17. I don't think I have any cannon fodder in my book, but now I'll be looking for them in everything sci-fi!

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  18. This is very eye opening to me. I have never hear d of or noticed cannon fodder. I don't write it in, but...maybe I should in one way or another.

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  19. Dwarf tossing could happen in The Hobbit (either part one or two)...heck, they might even toss themselves around a bit (if you've seen the trailer).

    Cannon fodder is good. Cleanses the soul of the writer!!!

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  20. I don't normally use cannon fodder, except with consequences. I prefer to use the brainiac way through the problems. No cannon fodder in my current WIP

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  21. I don't really like cannon fodder, both writing it or reading about it; I usually end up feeling sorry for them. :P Also (and I'm noticing this in Inheritance by Christopher Paolini) I have to wonder sometimes why the main character would be so willing to kill . . .

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  22. hmm I haven't used them yet but there's always the nextt WIP.

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  23. thats an awesome definition!
    i have a couple people who die, but you get to know them a little first so their death is not in vain... ho ho ho!

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  24. Ha Ha! This is so hilarious, so true and I have never thought about it. Awesome.

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  25. I think I just might have used cannon fodder a few times and still plan to do so in some other stories.
    Though, no matter what side they’re on, they tend to have an inclination towards fleeing when the going gets too tough. Then again, if the first row has just been blown to smithereens, I wouldn't want to stick around either.

    Must admit, I've a soft spot for trooper and droid fodder. ^_^

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  26. I was tempted to rename a few through away plot building exercises Cannon Fodder. Such a fun phrase to say. Yet to this day I cannot figure out WHY the red shirts were changed to Command level in Star Trek TNG from Original. Tsk tsk tsk, attention to detail they have not.

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  27. Nope, haven't used cannon fodder, but I do enjoy watching massed battles in movies and trying to pick out the individuals with weird looks on their faces or particularly awkward movements.

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