Monday, May 13, 2013

On Plot Holes

So, the husband and I were recently watching Doctor Who, as we are wont to do.

And we noticed something.

Something big.

And glaring.

And, sadly, rather frequent.

A plot hole.

Well, actually, several of them. Sadly, in the past few seasons, the Doctor's been riddled with them. Rules are established in one episode and ignored in another. Characters feel one way, then change their minds with seemingly no reason. Logic sometimes fails.

Now, first things first: no writer is perfect (and no show is, either). But thinking about my issues with Doctor Who led me to this comment showrunner Steven Moffat tweeted, and that led me to the idea for this post.

Found via
(Also more here.)

Moffat makes an excellent point here--actually, several. First: All stories have plot holes.


Cracked has a great (nsfw) article on 5 Gaping Plot Holes many movies have that we easily forgive. Of course we don't really question why all the bad stuff happens to the same guy in all the Die Hard movies. Despite the fact that Joss Whedon made fun of it in Cabin in the Woods, we forgive the horror movie victims when they split up and go down the dark alley alone.

All stories have plot holes.


One of my favorite quotes when thinking of stories is by Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.” 

When creating a story, one thing the writer must consider is believability. All stories require the reader to suspend his or her disbelief for a certain amount of time. And the reader will forgive certain things. Is it really likely that everything happens to the main character in a short amount of time? No. Is it really likely that a teenager can solve all the problems in a YA novel? Honestly, not really. But the thing is, in a story, we're likely forgive certain things. We know we're reading a story, so we're okay with the timeline being shortened or the characters being quick witted, because we want the story. 

There is, of course, a limit to the reader's suspension of disbelief. In a fantasy, we'll believe in magic for that world, but there needs to be a system to how that magic works--you can't just wave your wand and have everything fall into place. In a sci fi, we'll believe in warp drive, but (unless you're Anne McCaffery) don't add dragons. And a contemporary romance can have a happily ever after, but probably not Jedi mind tricks. 

It comes back to logic. There's a famous principle applied to writing called "Chekhov's Gun"--it comes from Chekhov's famous quote in which he says that if you see a gun in the first act of a play, it must be fired before the end. In this conversation, what it means is that you have to layer in the clues. You need to show the possibilities before the characters live them. If you set rules for your world, you have to follow them. 

Let's go back to the second part of Moffat's tweet: "[plot holes] are only visible to the bored." 

As long as the reader is entertained, the suspension of disbelief works. When I'm reading a romance, I want my happily-ever-after, and I'll forgive a pile of coincidences to make it happen. But every reader has a limit. When the reader reaches that limit, however, there's no going back. Therefore, establish the rules, the logic, the world, and the characters, and follow the rules you, as a writer, make. 

That said: story comes first. While it is true that I've descended into a loop of pointing out the plot holes in Doctor Who with my husband, it's also true that I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one. Plot holes exist in all fiction. How many and how big is a judgment call on the part of the writer--just be aware of what you're doing, and the choices you make as a writer. 

This post is a part of my series on writing. 

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