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Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Another fine example was last night's rental, Jaws. The moment we see the shark, we're bound to react: you're gonna need a bigger boat. Go home.

Which could develop into a plothole if left unaddressed. Why are these bozos chasing a malevolent shark that's almost as big as their crappy wooden boat?

But Chief Brody voices our concern: "We're gonna need a bigger boat." And Quint ignores him, because Quint is a self-aggrandizing tough son of a bitch.

Likewise, after they've sunk a couple of harpoons in the fish, and it's getting dark, sensible men would go home, let the shark tire himself swimming around pulling large plastic barrels full of air all night, and then come back in the morning. But again, the screenwriters address that: Brody proposes exactly that to Quint. And Quint ignores him.

Brody tries to call for help, too. And Quint smashes the radio into pieces, because no landlubber is going to make him call for help, by gum.

So I'll refine the rule. You can have a logic hole in your plot so long as (a) you address it (b) the result is more fun than it would be if you filled it and (c) the reason the plothole goes unaddressed reveals character.

It's not that no one thought of getting a bigger boat. It's that Quint's too macho to admit the fish is too big for him and his shoddy little boat.

After all, making mistakes is what makes us human. The mistakes we choose to make reveal who we are. We get ourselves into all sorts of dumb jams because of character-revealing mistakes.

This at least provides a tool to fix character motivation plotholes. Obviously it can't address holes in the story structure that come from faulty stakes. For example, no amount of character revelation resolves the fundamental plothole Raiders of the Lost Ark: what makes anyone think that Hitler is going to be able to use the Ark of the Covenant as a weapon, considering it is a sacred relic of the Jews, whom he is trying to destroy? So in that case we're back to the earliest, weakest version of the rule: you can have a plothole so long as it allows you to keep the audience so entertained they don't care.

(I can't help carping on one other thing: what is a German excavation doing in Egypt in 1936, when the British were firmly in control of the place? Ah, well.)

(Of course you don't have to have plotholes. One of the joys of Tremors is how the characters never make decisions in favor of having an adventure. From the moment the giant maneating worms show up, they are trying their best to get out of their valley. But unless you have a meticulous brain, it is hard to write without plotholes, and life is too short to keep ripping up your stories so you can rewrite them perfectly.)


I think the Hitler plothole works because people are already predisposed to dislike Hitler. They don't need much to convince them that Hitler's stupid enough to try what he tries, although in the real world it usually takes some amount of intelligence to become a dictator.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:05 PM  

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