plot-hole

Whenever *anyone* discusses a movie or TV show online, it’s not long before someone in the thread laments apparent ‘plot holes’ in the narrative.

But what IS a plot hole?

This definition, from Wikipedia, is actually pretty good:

In fiction, a plot hole, plothole or plot error is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot. Such inconsistencies include such things as illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

This, from Urban Dictionary  is NOT good:

plot-hole

Here’s what you need to know about plot holes:

1) It’s always FIRST about the storyworld and what’s possible/has gone before within it

Note use of language in the first definition: a plot hole is described as ‘against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot’. In other words, you need to start as you mean to go on. Duh.

But it’s surprising how many spec screenplays flip-flop like this, especially when it comes to characterisation. A character will start off thinking or behaving in one way, then suddenly they’ll be doing the opposite, usually to serve the plot.

In other stories or genres – especially fantasy and science fiction – characters are suddenly able to certain things, especially when it comes to things like magical powers or gadgets that do things like time travel. This is fine as long as it was established within that story world from the offset … If it wasn’t, then it IS a plothole and sometimes even a dreaded Deus Ex Machina.

2) Non-writers consistently call things they don’t like ‘plot holes’

As with the second definition, it’s worth remembering that very often, people who don’t like a movie or TV show will insist it’s full of plot holes regardless of whether it actually is or not.

In the example above, JEEPERS CREEPERS’ inciting incident is placed under fire simply because the poster does not believe the two characters would go and investigate something strange like this.

Yet the notion of ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is part of our culture. There are many stories in which characters literally walk into the monster’s lair … And not always unwittingly, either. It’s possible to know something is a bad idea, yet do it anyway. We will all have done something dumb or risky because we’re curious. It’s a standard human *thing* and not inauthentic.

So, in real terms, the notion the inciting incident of this movie doesn’t ‘work’ simply does not stand up historically OR culturally.

Instead, I would suggest the person posting on Urban Dictionary simply didn’t like JEEPERS CREEPERS.

die-hard-every-time-john-mclane-should-have-died-in-die-hard

3) Always sacrifice facts for DRAMA

Whilst it’s always important to do your research and perform due diligence with your stories, facts often get in the way of GOOD DRAMA. That’s just the way it is.

This fun rundown, Survive Hard: All The Times John McClane Should Have Died In the DIE HARD Series illustrates ‘sacrifice facts for drama’ perfectly. As our hero, McClane can withstand just about anything: jumping off buildings, grenades, getting run over by planes, YOU NAME IT.

In the very least, he should have been horribly injured by at least one of these occurrences, but bar cuts and grazes, he’s fine. This is NOT a plot hole. This is writers – and filmmakers – sacrificing facts for drama. Because it’s a helluva more exciting to watch McClane running about defeating bad guys than worry about whether he ‘should’ survive or not.

That said, we COULD write a movie about John McClane breaking his back and having to learn to walk again … But that would be a different type of film! Yet even within a drama like this of struggle against the odds, we’d still end up sacrificing facts for drama somewhere, for some reason.

In short, fiction can only ever be a ROUGH facsimile of so-called reality. How rough it is will depend on many things, from audience expectation through to genre convention and many other things besides.

Concluding:

As long as you’ve exercised your due diligence in your research, plus worked out what’s possible and what’s not in your story world, you’re golden. And don’t bother listening to online armchair critics. You can bet your arse they wouldn’t like your movie, book or TV show written the way they apparently ‘prefer’, either!

More about this on B2W:

Top 5 Research Mistakes Writers Make

6 Reasons Writers May Need To Sacrifice Facts For Drama

4 Reasons **That Moment You Don’t Like** Is NOT A Deus Ex Machina

5 Times It’s Okay To Sacrifice Facts For Drama

Tropes Versus Clichés: A Storyteller’s Guide

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4 Responses to 3 Things You Need To Know About Plot Holes

  1. Joel says:

    In regards to your #2 point, I feel that this isn’t just a problem for non-writers, but for many writers as well. In receiving notes in my own writing, I have found that this type of criticism will often times lead to some version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy based solely on the critic’s own personal experience or preconception. I find myself having to justify my writing in question by presenting sources (articles, videos, etc.) to prove the authenticity and believability of a scene or character decision. IMO, the irony of this well-intended but misguided note is that, while the critic attempts to improve the believability of a character or situation, he/she is actually at risk of reducing the character into a one-dimensional stereotype. Having said all that, I admit, despite all it’s flaws, a note like this can also be an indication that the character decision or scene in question was not properly set up.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      All good points! Yes, sometimes writers forget they have to separate their ‘writer’ head from their ‘audience head’. Some may even say it’s not possible… but it is! Like all things, takes practice.

  2. Kevin Xaverius says:

    Great article. Thank you very much!

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