(This post originally appeared on my Patreon, on 30 January 2016. You can see the post there, or see why I’m on Patreon (hint: I FIGURED OUT WHAT I WANT TO DO WHEN I GROW UP YAAAY BUT OH MONEY YEAH I DON’T HAVE MUCH OF THAT STUFF) by clicking appropriately. Here or there, thanks for reading.)
Do you write? I’m sorry to be the one telling you this, but your plot has holes. Even if you don’t write, I’m sure you’ve noticed the holes lurking in what you read and watch.
You can’t avoid them; they’re as sticky as death and taxes.
And suddenly, with that, I sense a million teachers and writers of writing cry out in anguish at this great disturbance in the authorial Force.
Hold on a minute. I’m not telling everyone that plot holes are good, fine, or even okay. Lazy writers who sighed in relief at the pronouncement that plot holes can’t be resisted, tense up again.
Plot holes are not things you should be leaving in writing – for the page or for the screen – if you can help it. You’re supposed to be looking for them and carefully stapling them shut as unobtrusively and believably as possible. That is your job as a crafter of fine writing.
What I’m telling you is that no matter how carefully you (and your editor(s)) work to find and repair plot holes, they are there. Even if you’re certain they’re not. In fact, some of the plot holes people find aren’t actually there.
Because that’s how human brains work. We sense patterns and we reflexively look for holes in them. Plots are patterns, and holes are… well, they’re holes. For millions of years our ancestors lived and died, and we still do, by our sense of pattern. The grasses of the African plains represent a pattern, and a lion stalking through them creates a hole in the pattern, a hole that moves and will eat you if you don’t notice it. The ones who were best at noticing were best at living long enough to reproduce and transport their genes into the future. The hole in the pattern in the environment that represents a fish or a deer or a rabbit or a bird or a bird’s nest filled with yummy nutritious eggs (mention sponsored by the S.A. Barton Really Likes Eggs For Breakfast And Sometimes Other Meals Too Because They’re Delicious Foundation) represents the ability not to starve, and obviously organisms that eat are better at reproducing at those that do not.
We still work that way. Misinterpreting the patterns of traffic or war or politics or finance or law can make or break a life sometimes.
We’re all about patterns. Patterns are life, and stories are patterns. We love to create them because we’re geared to appreciate them. And we love to look for the holes in them.
People even find plot holes that don’t exist in real life. Some people are certain that breaking a mirror causes bad luck, and they can explain what they’ve observed that ‘proves’ this. Others just know that the movements of the planets influence your personality and choices. There are a plethora of theories that explain the significance of number sequences in determining world events, of bumps on your head to your place in society, of the impossibility of landing on the moon, of skyscrapers constructed to collapse straight down rather than falling like dominoes collapsing straight down, even the impossibility of the Earth being a shape other than flat.
So you’re written your story. You, and perhaps some beta readers and/or editorial types have gone over them, helped you find plot holes you missed in your own process of writing and rewriting and polishing, and you’re pretty sure you’ve smoothed the holes all over.
Someone will think of something you didn’t think of. “Hey, I found a plot hole!”
Someone will see something that isn’t there at all. “Hey, I found a plot hole!”
Someone will decide that the world of your story itself should be different, or that Character X really wouldn’t do that. “Hey, I found a plot hole!”
So, if you write, do your best. Take plot holes seriously, and kill them when you find them. Mount their heads on the wall if it pleases you. But don’t obsess. If you do, you’ll start to see holes that aren’t there, and you’ll never escape the cries of “Hey, I found a plot hole!” no matter how hard you try.