Authorguy's Blog

Plot holes vs. Acts of Plot

Posted on: March 11, 2012


I was just re-reading a story I particularly like, and discovered a plot flaw. Gasp! Shock! I know, a story with a plot flaw! Well, it happens, and quite often they don’t get noticed unless you get someone like me who obsessively over-thinks these things. What started to bother me was trying to figure what sort of plot flaw it was, since ‘plot flaw’ is a generic sort of category.

The basic flaw is this: A woman finds out her husband is under a termination order, and runs away with him, after asking a trusted third party to find an alternative. After she runs, the trusted third party discovers a method to make her husband safe, so the order is cancelled, and now TPTB want them to come back before something bad happens. In order to do this they take the husband’s sister hostage, and place a false story in the media about it, to send a message to the fleeing couple, as well as incentivize them to return, so that they can be told the order was terminated.

That this plot is flawed is obvious, but it occurred to me to wonder what type it was. Plot flaws come in a multitude of types, just check tvtropes.org if you don’t believe me, but they basically boil down to two, flaws of omission and flaws of commission. At first blush this looks like a sin of commission. Why take the sister hostage when all it will do is piss off the wife and make the situation worse?

Well, the whole rest of the story, and there is quite a lot, depends on the wife racing off to rescue the sister. Since this depends on the action of taking the sister hostage in the first place, I initially considered the problem to be an Act of Plot, an action undertaken simply to advance the plot. While it is true that the general’s logic in ordering the hostage-taking may be sound, the subordinate who has greater knowledge of the interpersonal dynamics of the situation certainly should have known better and argued against it. Which he didn’t.

However, there is a further plot flaw than just this.

After the sister is taken hostage, TPTB place a false story in the media to let the fleeing couple know that they have done so. Okay, fine. But if that’s the case, why not place a message in the local media that the termination order was cancelled? Sure they’re not likely to believe you, but it at least let’s them know there’s a new situation they need to verify.

This is a plot hole, in that the whole subplot about dropping the order is completely ignored, even though it’s the reason for taking the sister hostage! All that TPTB want is to tell them that they don’t have to run, but instead of just telling them this they try to capture them first, which makes zero sense to me. If there was no trusted third party available to verify the matter I could see it, but there is.

So the author committed two plot flaws in one scene, one of which masked the other. The act of plot acted like a band-aid, covering up the plot hole, and sending the story off in a wholly unnecessary direction. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, provided the writing is good and the grafted on plot is useful and/or interesting (which it was). But it should be done very carefully, since it can clearly break the flow and pull people out of the story.

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