Plot holes are those pesky little things in stories where something just doesn’t add up. They’re usually contradictions that make the plot or a “this or that” choice implausible, but they can be subtle enough to go unnoticed until someone reads closer.
Plot holes make the reader sit back and question, wait, why did he do that when he could’ve just done this? He already stole it from her, how does she still have it?
Plot holes come about in many ways. Sometimes they’re edited out (All-Knowing author), sometimes a chapter is moved or a vital scene is deleted, sometimes they’re edited in (author is adding dialogue and uses a tag that contradicts what MC was doing). But sometimes—and this is none of you because you clearly know better—authors are aware that the plot hole exists, yet hope readers aren’t smart enough to notice.
Now that we know how plot holes can appear in our babies, let us talk about a few of the different types and go over some examples.
Maybe there was something so easy and simple for the characters to have done, yet they just don’t. Let’s take the dreadful example of an armed woman who screams “Don’t come any closer” over and over as the bad guy walks up, disarms, and kills her.
Or, the one that really gets under my skin, someone has a phone on his/her person yet never calls the individual s/h/e “raced across town to catch.” And lo and behold, s/h/e got there thirty seconds too late. Or, if their phone is dead, never asks a stranger for help.
Ever have a character who was capable of something in the beginning of the story, but suddenly wasn’t in a crunch moment? I’ve seen a powerful wizard make things happen without his wand before, but when it gets knocked out of his hand in battle, all of the sudden he’s powerless.
What about a character who was rude and impolite but never cruel, yet in a pivotal moment, he was cruel? And it wasn’t because we believe he was capable of it, but because the author needed him to be.
A character held a lamp, then all of the sudden she’s empty-handed. The outfit is different, car/item/color was wrong, law system (magical, legal etc) isn’t consistent.
If your character sets a fire in a hospital, I expect the sprinkler system to go off (so why didn’t it?).
Marines are not soldiers, it’s impossible to not realize someone is dying from dehydration, people limp after leg wounds, some injuries need months of therapy, not weeks (and definitely don’t insta-heal). High Fructose Corn Syrup withdrawal is real. Vegetarians don’t eat eggs, milk or fish, but ovotarians, lactotarians and pescetarians do.
Your period piece features words or items that didn’t exist back then.
These can be egregious or they can be subtle. MC has a cat, but on page 50 has a dog because she’s always hated cats. Narrator claimed MC was always a do-gooder, yet in chapter 20, we find out s/h/e killed antagonist’s sibling in anger.
You and I see this issue all the time in zombie/infection pieces. In a high-intensity scene, a minor character gets bitten in the arm, 30 seconds later, they turn. They bite a secondary character we’ve grown to love, and we say our goodbyes over the course of several movie hours until they turn. (The time it takes to turn is based on convenience.)
Timing issues are also a major problem when the time it takes a character to complete a task is unrealistic. How can a character knit a whole blanket in an hour (assuming they aren’t using gigantic yarn)?
Time can also be a problem when it’s Tuesday, but three tomorrows later, it’s Monday (unless it’s Spec Fic where the days are muddled).
These are also issues in character-driven pieces where the MC falls too quickly for the love interest, a child gets over a parent’s death within days, or accepts a parent’s girl/boyfriend as an authority figure without pause. Maybe the circumstance that turned two great friends into enemies is so far fetched, even Stretch Armstrong has his doubts.
False “this or that” choice.
The house is burning and the doorknob is too hot to touch, so the character dies whilst trying to knock the door down or put the fire out (but never breaks a window or tries for the back door).
Perhaps a piece is meant to promote love and acceptance, yet vilifies certain groups—particularly those of religious, political or academic sects. If the theme is to promote love and acceptance, why is it so scornful against those with opposing ideals? Why wouldn’t it demonstrate a love for everyone and acceptance of their opinions, even if they’re contrasting?
While this isn’t a plot hole per se, thematic issues can also glorify one thing over another, or reinforce an ism. I read a diabolical romance/scheming piece written by a homosexual man, and he didn’t realize that it glorified heterosexual relationships as ideal for the beta male (though I loved his compelling antagonist who exemplified the idea that abusive men aren’t limited to being straight).
The thematic plot hole I’m seeing in real time is the anti-bullying campaigners bullying those who don’t share their views. It isn’t hard to find liberals (who are supposed to be against bullying) bullying conservatives (and vice verse). We all deserve our space, we all deserve to be heard, and none of us deserve to be bullied simply because our political, moral, ethical, religious, academic, or other views differ. While I respect the fact that some of my Jewish friends and professors didn’t believe in interracial relationships, they respected everyone else’s right to have one. I didn’t call them racists for their religious views, nor their parents racist (who believed it should be illegal). It’s okay to have differing opinions, but we must respect, love and value one another regardless, and allow people to be who they are as long as they aren’t hurting anybody else.
I invite everyone to help close this real-time plot hole. Kindness is a force to be reckoned with, and I wish we’d practice it always.
Intentional plot holes
Not all plot holes are bad. How can there possibly be any good plot holes, you ask? Well, they might be integral in farces, comedies, satires, mockumentaries, parodies, spoofs and so on. For example, Prince John’s mole in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The movie would lose some of its charm if the mole didn’t appear somewhere else on his face scene after scene, nor would we laugh as hard when he replied, “I have a mole?!” These plot holes are intentional and pay off when executed correctly.
Non-plot hole plot holes
These are the things that might’ve been true when the story was written, but during the passage of time, become far-fetched. Airport security wasn’t what it is today, and leaving young children home alone wasn’t uncommon. Children were even mailed across the U.S. in times past. When writing historical novels or shopping “present-day” novels written some years ago, consider what might’ve worked back then that would not fly today. Perhaps that originally present-day piece ought to take place in the year it was written (especially if the would-not-flies are essential to the plot).
Aside from intentional plot holes, these are just a sampling of the different types of plot holes that can turn a great story into a questionable one. Depending on the book, these can be ridiculous, or they can be amazing. However, for most books, plot holes are the death of a good story. Send it past readers, sensitivity audiences (not just for sensitivity, but so that you don’t have rabbis eating bacon-wrapped crab cakes) and fact check, fact check, fact check.
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