Jul 16 2009

Cover Your Plot Holes… It Could Be Funny

Plot holes are a point in a story where something happens for no believable reason. Indeed, sometimes the plot hinges on a plot hole.  For example, why would a criminal put snakes on a plane rather than kill the witness in a more conventional way?


1.  Plot holes are an opportunity. Most plot-holes can be explained– often humorously!– with a few lines.  Aren’t there easier ways to kill someone than putting snakes on a plane?  “You think I didn’t exhaust every other option?  He saw me!”  This hand-waving helps readers suspend their disbelief.  It isn’t logically air-tight, but it doesn’t have to be.


2.  Readers are generally receptive to your explanations, even if they’re flimsy. Not offering an explanation is almost always worse because it makes it look like you don’t see the problem.  That ruins your authorial credibility.  It also makes it hard for readers to suspend their disbelief.

3.  An explanation that doesn’t resolve the main issue (hand-waving) is often effective, particularly when it’s hard to address the main issue satisfactorily.  “The friction of superspeed should melt your body.  But you move faster than light anyway.  How does that work?”  “Pretty well, thanks.”  Unless you’re doing hard sci-fi, no one cares how it works!  As long as we can understand what a hero can do with his powers, it doesn’t matter how his powers work.


4.  If you feel that an explanation is necessary, please avoid jargon. Why don’t the Hulk’s pants rip apart whenever he gets really big?  The latest Hulk movie hilariously addressed this by showing him buying maternity pants in Guatemala.  (”¿Tienes más stretchy?”)  In contrast, if it had concocted a complicated explanation based on Pym particles, it would have lost the audience.


5.  Worst-case scenario: say that the regular rules of logic don’t apply, for whatever reason. A wizard did it, or the Joker is entirely irrational.  (Of course he wouldn’t kill Batman at the first opportunity).  This is usually unsatisfying and can lead to an Idiot Plot.  Be careful that it doesn’t feel like you’re making it up as you go along.

18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Cover Your Plot Holes… It Could Be Funny”

  1. Merideson 18 Oct 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for indexing these, B. Mac. Found this article because of that! 🙂

    I had to address a gaping plot hole recently for my NaNo novel, and used ‘hand-waving’ to do so. In my up-and-coming story, “Freak”, a genetic weapon misfires and causes mutations among a select group of the local populace. My friend asked me, “But what about the animals? Why weren’t they affected?” So, in an answer, on of my supporting characters asks the very same question. The answer? Immediately following, someone says, “It must have to do with bein’ sentient- thinkin’ and such.” At a later time, the creator of the weapon answers that “The genetic makeup of the weapon only targets people.” Flimsy, but it’s a hand-wave.

  2. B. Macon 18 Oct 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Yeah– I think it helps that what you’re saying (the mutagen only affects people) is quite plausible because there are many illnesses that are human-only.

    I think that horror and thriller writers have a harder time getting rid of cellphones. Very often, if a character had a cellphone and could call for help, that would suck the drama out of the story. The easiest and most common way is to have the phones run out of batteries or get no reception. Up dealt with this sort of problem in an amusing way– the kid accidentally tosses his GPS system out of the flying house. Whoops.

    In your story, it may be more effective to show a few animals that died after being exposed to the mutagen (assuming that a few dead critters can gel with your story’s mood).

  3. Lighting Manon 18 Oct 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Couldn’t they just explode due to the sudden introduction of human genes? Smaller the creature, greater the dose they receive. The more human genes the more unstable they get? Just an idea though.

  4. Lighting Manon 18 Oct 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Sorry about the redundant-ness, I was watching a Sy Fy movie and wrote during the commercials.

  5. Merideson 18 Oct 2009 at 9:35 pm

    hmmmm… exploding animals… the only thing I’d have against that, Lighting Man, is that I’ve got an Animal Empath. She’d be devastated. On the other hand, B. Mac, I could see a few (sicklier) animals dying from the mutagen, but I’m thinking it would be very unlikely that it would affect the animal population as a whole.

    Thanks for the idea, though. When it’s done, I may ask for a review forum, and show all of you what came of it!

  6. ekimmakon 25 Aug 2010 at 2:38 am

    Advice please:

    What propels my characters to the final conflict in my novel is that they pick up certain information that means they can’t turn back. If they don’t do this, then the city is doomed. What none of the characters think of is HOW did they get this information? They never copied it down.

    I do have a reason for this, but should I introduce it when the characters read this information, or (where I’ve been intending to put it) at the end of the book?

  7. B. Macon 25 Aug 2010 at 6:22 am

    It sounds like it’s important where the information comes from, so I would recommend mentioning it when they read it.

  8. ekimmakon 26 Aug 2010 at 12:43 am

    Perhaps I need a few extracts to show what the situation is:

    “Yeah, just put it on a USB flash drive, or something like- Yes Ace, that’s what I need.”
    Ace grinned smugly and waved the disk around for a bit, before handing it over to Tacha, who inserted it immediately.

    long time later

    Michael let out a short gasp.
    “What is it?” Mark asked.
    “I know what they want,” Michael said grimly, “And I know who’s behind it. This is a scheme … by Datecrom.”

    “But what about the government? Aren’t they going to try and stop him?” Sarah asked.
    Michael sighed. “Oh, yeah, they’re doing something. As soon as the weapon’s in place, they’re bombing the city.”

    They don’t stop to ask “How did the information get on the flash disk in the first place?” Should I cover that plot hole then, when readers may think about it, or at the end, as a sort of “all according to plan” for the villain who arranged it?

  9. ekimmakon 10 Mar 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Hi, me again. I realized last night that I have a much bigger one, in the backstory of my novel. I sort of plotted myself into the corner here, and it’s not something that can be explained in two or three paragraph’s. You mind if I put it up?

  10. B. Macon 11 Mar 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Go for it, Ekimmak.

  11. ekimmakon 11 Mar 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Ok… but I’ve got to warn you, it’s backstory heavy.

    The main idea of the series is that the public doesn’t want any supervigilantes. There’s been laws against it since the Pangaean Crusade. Sector City was built around that time, as the different sectors that make it up draw from different adjacent continents. It’s said to be the personal hometown of the older Extreme Team, who’m the current one draws their name from (and uses their old base). The problem is, the old team disbanded at the time of the Pangaean crusade.

    I know, it looks stupid at the moment. But I’ve had this boiling around in my mind for at least three years, coming up with new plot and remembering old stuff. I only just recently realized the major conflict in it.

  12. B. Macon 11 Mar 2011 at 10:18 pm

    I’m not sure I see what the problem is. Your timeline could look something like this:

    A: The Pangaean Crusade begins.
    B: Something about the Pangaean Crusade (like the movement of people/troops/vigilantes/whatever) causes the founding of Sector City.
    C: For whatever reason, the members of the Extreme Team are among the first people in Sector City. (Depending on your preference and the needs of your plot, the Extreme Team may have been already established before they got to Sector City, or they may create the team there).
    D: The PC winds down and the Extreme Team disbands, leaving their empty base available for their eventual imitators.

    Does that work? If not, what would the plot hole be?

  13. ekimmakon 17 Mar 2011 at 3:00 pm

    The problem is that the Pangaean Crusade is the reason for their disbanding. It’s all they could do to avoid being arrested. I guess I could say that it’s not really them being based in sector city, as much as it’s sector city being based around them, but it’s still irritating me.

    Just for reference, it’s more than just putting all the continents back together. Think of Marvel’s Civil war storyline, only where the pro-reg are just as badly off as the anti-reg.

  14. edgukatoron 11 Dec 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I’m wondering what people think of complexity in plotting a story. I’ve recently made a major change in the book I am currently writing that I thought would make one of my minor characters a hell of a lot more interesting, but now I’m a little worried about my story becoming overly complicated, and the potential plot holes this would entail.

    I would love this to be an Sixth-Sense like reveal, where all of the clues slide in place, but I am a little worried about plot holes that this might create. Does anyone have any advice on how to organise a plot and avoid plot holes?

  15. B. McKenzieon 12 Dec 2013 at 6:00 am

    Edgukator, could you elaborate? E.g. what has changed about the minor character and why might that make the story too complicated and what potential plot holes are you worried about?

  16. edgukatoron 12 Dec 2013 at 9:43 am

    OK – if you’re reading my forum –

    **SPOILERS **

    I tried to explain without it, but I just can’t.

    Until now, the main plot has been my villain breaking in to a series of military contractors and stealing the technology they are working on, while the hero and a foil / anti hero fail to get it together to stop them.

    One of the running themes is the relationship between power and the law. Here are two “powerful” characters (at least by most standards) choosing to act outside of the law for the greater good and the complications this creates. The motive for the villain was a variation of simple greed – only that in this case its not money itself but technological breakthroughs that will in turn become money for him.

    I thought the greed motive was a bit too weak for a main villain. I don’t mind it for a henchman, but I wanted something a bit more sympathetic for the villain.



    Lisa Greco was initially meant to be a victim in the story – a tech geek who is the victim of one of the break-ins, but who in turn arms her ex-marine husband in order to get revenge.

    In the revision, I’m keeping an element of that. She is a victim of a larger corporation Quartexol, who stole a number of her IPs (“Intellectual Properties”) through industrial espionage. She checked in with lawyers but because of the political power of the other company it proved impossible.

    Instead, she hired a team of mercenaries to do the same for her so she would have the capability to beat Quartexol at their own game. She has spent her life in the shadow of others – marrying her high-school jock-turned-military-super-soldier sweet heart, captain of the high school football team and purple heart recipient, while she quietly got straight As and revolutionised physics. Nobody seemed to notice. To see a large corporation steal the limelight from her is nothing new to her.

    And shes have plenty of practice of manipulating anonymity to her advantage.

    (This is where I wonder if I’m being needlessly complex).

    She uses the mercenaries to stage multiple break-ins in order to gain access to the technology to take Quartexol down, but also to divert attention away from her own company.After all, if she had simply gone after Quartexol, she would have been top of the suspect file.

    Being even more conniving, the team itself is a diversion, taking mainly useless information while she sends a second operative to go after the real targets inside.

    She even stages a break-in on her own company, but this backfires. Her husband, newly back from the military (and being one of the few people who knows her genius, even if he is unaware of the true depth of her schemes), demands she make him a set of power armour to track down these villains. Panicking, she sends him straight into harms way hoping to put him in the hospital and keep him out of the way.

    She also figures, should he get caught, it would serve as even further evidence of her innocence. After all, she had sent her own husband to catch the thieves.

    This, of course, is thrown into chaos when the hero gets involved, and suddenly she has to worry about someone she has no way to predict. She will panic, throw ideas against the wall and basically watch her best laid plans descend into the abyss.

    Is this too convoluted? I’m trying to avoid making her a “Clock King” (“but I knew that you knew that I knew you were going to do that”) by having her plans fall apart by the introduction of the hero, but that leads to several questions…

    1) too much? too convoluted?
    2) will the fact that she has been so in control before the hero is involved seem inconsistent when her plans start falling apart?
    3) what would be the best way to reveal her motivations and plans without huge info dumps. I would love this to come off like a piece of detective fiction, but at the moment I have the main hero and a couple of cops in a room discussing the evidence and I can’t help feeling its a little too much exposition.

  17. B. McKenzieon 13 Dec 2013 at 6:43 am

    “She uses the mercenaries to stage multiple break-ins in order to gain access to the technology to take Quartexol down, but also to divert attention away from her own company. After all, if she had simply gone after Quartexol, she would have been top of the suspect file.” Using mercenaries makes sense, but how is this diverting attention from her? My thinking here is that Quartexol is a company which probably has a lot of prototypes and research which would be valuable to criminals. If someone broke into several of their research products and mainly took hardware/research, I’m guessing the police would assume it was mainly a theft. If someone broke and mainly DESTROYED things/research, then the police would probably look harder into the revenge angle.

    She revolutionized physics and nobody seemed to notice? Not even other experts in her field? How’d that happen?

    IF the decoy has a reasonable chance of assisting the actual crime in some way (like concealing it or distracting guards), it would not be unnecessarily complicated. Personally, it doesn’t sound to me like stealing junk data is likely to keep the company from realizing that something far more valuable has been taken, unless you have some clever explanation there. However, the decoys could still be useful in terms of diverting security. If the company has elite guards who might actually conceivably be a problem covering the most valuable material, then attacking a section with weaker guards will probably give the second team/operative 2-3 minutes to take the intended target and get out before making contact with any elite guards.

    The Taliban has used a variation on this tactic to assassinate political targets — stage a robbery across the street from a political gathering to distract security forces while a second team plans to attack the gathering. (How the company would probably learn from this: If it realizes what has happened, it will probably assign each security team a separate sector of the building that they are ONLY responsible for no matter what is happening elsewhere. That’s how the Secret Service operates, in any case).

    “Will the fact that she has been so in control before the hero is involved seem inconsistent when her plans start falling apart?” If she goes from highly competent to incompetent, yes. If she’s just matched up against someone that’s noticeably sharper than her previous adversaries, not necessarily — but I’d recommend this being a give-and-take where she wins some and the hero wins some.

    Also, you say she was “so in control” before the hero gets involved, but was she? Consider this:
    –It sounds like she badly wanted to be famous but never made it despite being brilliant.
    –Quartexol steals her inventions successfully. Suggestion: Maybe she had some precautions in place so that this is not a complete victory for Quartexol. E.g. perhaps her data was laced with enough viruses that at least she can take small comfort in the fact that robbing her probably cost them millions of dollars in IT damages. Anything that makes her come across as less helpless.
    –Her husband demands that she make him a suit of armor and she does so despite presumably not wanting to, even though it would have been easy to say yes-but-no. (E.g. “Sure, honey, I’ll have my engineers start making your suit today. The unit should be ready for training within 24-36 months”).
    –There’s no mention of her accomplishing any major goals before the hero gets involved. Her mercenaries pull off a successful raid and that’s it? In contrast, in the Dark Knight, the gangs of Gotham pretty much own the city and the police before Batman gets involved. I’d recommend giving her a MAJOR victory to establish that (if left alone to her devices) she might actually be a threat. For example, maybe she’s able to create enough market panic and/or damage to Quartexol that she is able to cause Quartexol to break apart and buy off one or two of the key components (key either because it advances her research and/or because it gives her a critically limited resource and/or is symbolically important to the revenge she wants — e.g. you’ve taken something I care about, and now I’m going to systematically dismantle your life’s work). This will establish her as a more worthy, competent opponent for the hero than someone who is struggling against a corporate behemoth but not really getting anywhere.

    She comes across as bright but very much in over her head. The only thing she does BESIDES being helpless is hiring a team of mercenaries, which rates really really low on the badassery scale. As far as innocent scientists gone bad, I’d recommend checking out Walter White from Breaking Bad here. [SPOILER] He personally confronts a drug lord armed only with a homemade and highly volatile explosive. He convinces one of his rivals to become a suicide bomber against a far-more-hated rival. He cripples a DEA investigation against him by using an industrial supermagnet to erase a critical hard-drive in a police vault. Another drug lord that employs him as a chemist plans to replace him with a new chemist and kill him, so Walter preemptively kills the replacement, giving the drug lord a reason to hold off a bit on killing Walter. (Walter uses this stay-of-execution to have the drug lord killed off via suicide bombing). And he hires a team of mercenaries to murder off 10 potential witnesses against him in federal custody in different prisons at the same time. [/SPOILER]

  18. edgukatoron 13 Dec 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks B-Mac. I’ll take these under consideration. The one that throws me most would be why she built her husband the suit. Would wanted to get her husband out of the way be a sufficient reason? She is hoping that he will get either injured or caught in the process, which will keep him out of her hair? She knows he’s a hothead and his bragadacio will get him in trouble, but she also knows if he’s left around the house while this goes on he’s liable to catch him.

    One point that answers some of these questions is that she is involved with industrial espionage, so she can have the mercenaries stealing physical objects while her second thief is stealing data.

    And I could live with “bright but in over her head”. I think there is enough added muscle around that when the hero does come through, it will seem like a major victory, but it won’t take away from the sympathetic side of her, especially with Quartexol acting as a secondary villain.

    Also, thoughts on the hero winning, bringing her to justice, but the story ending with him realising that in doing so he has further helped this other corporation?

    Any suggestions

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