Not all Plot Holes are Created Equal


Something that a lot of writers seem to worry about is covering every potential plot hole of their works, as if their books were boats or their fans were anal retentive building inspectors.

When I get into these discussions I notice that people tend to worry about a particular sort of plot-hole, namely practical/realism issues like ‘is it plausible my character hails a cab at this hour in NY?’ ‘is it possible to drive continuously for 24 hours?’ ‘Are Moose dangerous?’

Okay they don’t ask the last one I just wanted to make sure you were reading…

Now I don’t want to poo poo those concerns, because realism and suspension of disbelief are important, but I always try to reassure people that some plot-holes are more worrisome than others. (by the way this isn’t just my opinion or lamey aspiring writing type advice I did research and such and saw other people agree).

The odd things about stories is they are self fulfilling hypotheticals  (yeah I just wanted to say that) by which I mean as a storyteller you setup the premise, develop the story and resolve the plot. By far the biggest plot hole you do want to avoid is some sort of error of your own setup, development and resolution, the most common example seen in “bad” writing is characters that don’t act consistently with how they have been setup.

A movie example of this is Tony Stark in Civil War (SPOILERS) – in the film Colonel/Captain Zemo(?) manipulates Bucky, Cap’n and Iron Man into a room together where he reveals that Bucky assassinated Tony’s parents during his brain-washed phase, and that Cap’n knew about it and didn’t say. The reason I say this is inconsistent is that we see Iron Man making decisions generally relatively rationally the post important being the whole reason he is with Cap’n and Bucky is he has listened to their evidence for a conspiracy and been persuaded, i.e. he has looked at the evidence before him and made an informed choice. When he is shown Bucky murdering his parents (understandably a traumatic experience) his response is to punch Cap’n for hiding the info and trying to murder Bucky despite knowing he was brain-washed AND that ZEMO IS RIGHT THERE BASICALLY TELLING THEM HE IS MANIPULATING THEM. I liked the film overall but that action point seemed forced – the film after all needed an epic battle finale, even when given all the development up to that point the likely behaviour of Tony would be more along the lines of to flee and vow to bring the pair to justice or even if he did try to physically overpower them it would be with the intention of arrest, not outright murder.

Hmmm that paragraph might have gone on a bit longer than expected, my point is the so-called of plot hole of having characters act outside of their established characters (note this doesn’t mean characters can’t change it means that you have to make good on the things you’ve shown about them earlier in a story) is probably the more grievous error, perhaps because characters are meant to be the most relatable aspect of a story.

This theory extends to any aspect of your story writing, if the early setup doesn’t function properly with the resolution this create more deadly plot holes, especially in regards to tension reduction, you see only nitpickers really care if you make general mistakes with geography, timeframes or specific aspects of realism UNLESS those are areas that you are wanting people to feel anxious about.

For example if you setup a hero that lives 200 miles (or 320km) away from their girlfriend and you want a key tension to be whether he can get to her in time to profess his love, its kinda bogus if the distance is suddenly run in half an hour with the MC being a marathon runner, BUT if your key tension is whether the main character can get over their insecurities in time to admit their love for the girlfriend – we don’t mind so much about whether they run or catch a cab to her house, because that’s not the tension we’re worried about.

So I think when people worry about plot holes they should examine what they are setting up and promising their readers and how that functions with the development and resolution of said setup.

Of course you’ll still look like a dummy if you talk about a character picking up a cello and tucking it under their chin to play it, but that’s a matter of good research rather than a plot-hole per se, but I think people should concern themselves more with sticking with holding together what they setup in their writing rather than any possible logical error contained within their fictional work.


What are your thoughts on plot-holes? Are there any from popular (or any) work that are worth sharing?


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