Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When a Hole is Not a Hole

Wandering around in blogville the other day, I ran across a post by an aspiring screenwriter discussing plot holes. Now, I can't say for 100% sure exactly what a plot hole is but I am pretty sure I know what it isn't. A plot hole ISN'T an unanswered question. That would make it a plot question instead of a hole, don'tcha think?

Wait. Side street. Here's something you don't read every day. "Three penguins were killed by oncoming traffic; one died in the crash when a truck spilled about two dozen penguins, tropical fish and an octopus onto an east Texas highway near Marshall."

Sometimes, I genuinely worry about these meds they give me for tooth aches.

Okay, where was I?

Oh yes, so, ever the screenwriting sleuth, I called my mother -- who told me that at four o'clock in the morning, she was only qualified to discuss sex, hot flashes, breast implants and lyposuction. Who else is a gal supposed to turn to with a complicated question? Couldn't find a Howie Schwabb hotline so I went to Wikepedia which says that:

"A plot hole is a gap in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic set-up by the plot or that undermines the basic premises of the story."
I know. I know. I need to see what my screenwriting books and screenwriting buddies say about it. But before I made it to the trunk of books in the garage, I began to wonder if the term "plot hole" was a derivitive of "wormhole" which, in science fiction, is used to bridge the gap between two areas of space or time.

Sounded plausible enough. But, who to ask?

I called my mother back. You know, I don't think she was thrilled to hear from me and she didn't believe me about the penguins either. However, she did give me some information about Schwarzschild wormholes, Einstein-Rosen bridges and some kind of wormhole metric theory that I couldn't quite follow because, come on, it was four o' clock in the morning!

Point. I always have one. It's occassionally vague and sometimes involves Smurfs and an ostrich named Curtis who sticks his head in my car window to change the radio station, but I do always have a point. The point here is that I need to delve deeper into this plot hole issue because it seems to me that the omission of back story or explanation isn't a plot hole unless it causes, you know, a hole! -- something illogical, irreconcilable or contradictory.

Couldn't a deliberately unanswered question sometimes be clever manipulation used to ignite the viewer's imagination instead of orchestrating it?

Hey. Good news. The octopus survived.

Crash of the Penguins - and you thought I was hallucinating.


Anonymous said...

perhaps there really isn't plotholes, but rather, only the inability to grasp the subtext (hee)or in some cases, they might be a first round contest reader

Unknown Screenwriter said...


I think unanswered questions are fine in movies as long as they are NOT set up as part of the story and plot.

There's a FINE LINE to doing this correctly and it IS one of the problems I see most in screenplays from people attempting to break into the industry...

From my own point of view, these plot holes seem like misguided attempts at misdirection... Only problem of course is that the misdirection is done too well and ACTUALLY sets something up that NEVER materializes by the end.

Unanswered questions should be sutbtle. An afterthought. A question that we ask ourself AFTER we've left the theater and NOT waiting for a payoff during the rest of the movie.

Distinctly different as I'm sure you've already surmised.

"Oh yes, so, ever the screenwriting sleuth, I called my mother -- who told me that at four o'clock in the morning, she was only qualified to discuss sex, hot flashes, breast implants and lyposuction."

Be careful... I might have to steal that line for one of my characters... LOL.


MaryAn Batchellor said...

ahhh, methinks me smells a grudge, but did you read the inspiration for my new screenplay, "Penguins on a Parkway"?

MaryAn Batchellor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
amy said...

Okay, I've been checking in with your blog because of a link from another blog. I've always wanted to write a screen play. I have alot of it in my head and want to start putting it down on paper, but I'm not sure how to start. One person said write each scene down on index cards and then put them into order. Do have sugguestions, other than don't even try, about how to start writing things down or some references to read?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I'm full of suggestions, Amy. In fact, I don't know when to STOP suggesting.

I'd say before you do anything else, outline. Make a list, a map, a chart, or whatever kind of outline works for you, but outline the beats of your story. A lot of experienced screenwriters don't do a typical outline because their first draft is basically the outline. After you outline, then do the index card thing. (I prefer the sticky note kind that I can slap on a wall or door and shuffle around).

As far as references go, if you're going to buy a book, the first one I'd suggest buying is David Trottier's screenwriting bible and follow that with Linda Seger's books. You won't find many screenwriting books in a non-L.A. public library or even at your local Half Price Books so be choosey about what you spend your money on. Otherwise, you could find yourself out of whole lot of money just about the time you realize you'd rather write novels.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Oh, and one more thing, anyone who says "don't even try" about any goals you set for yourself is not your friend.

Anonymous said...

yes Amy, outline it first. Start with writing your story out as a normal two hourish story. Jot down what you think would be suspenseful or cool looking things happening, make character bios as you go. Once you have the chunk, start thinking about how you can show it on screen (and not tell it). Download some free scripts (easily found with searches)and read, get the feel of the structure, timing and length. Then try to fit your story into that jar.

Eddie said...

Check out or some other free script sites, and check out some of the screenplays from your favorite movies to get an idea of what you're shooting for. Granted, many of these may not be in true spec form, but why not bask in produced screenplay glory a while before being broken by format restrictions(format is a good thing, really).

Also, check out WORDPLAY. Read the columns and forums.

Do yourself a favor, though, and learn as much as possible before actually writing. So many people jump right in, and then have to tear everything apart and start over once they learn the rules. You'll be doing enough rewriting as it is. Good luck.

amy said...

Thanks for the quick and helpful advice. I have another question. I read somewhere the other day that you shouldn't bother including direction in a screen play, but how much of a description of the action should one include? For example, if there is a chase scene how detailed is it in the screen play?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Bill Martell has a great book called "Secrets of Action Screenwriting" that you can get at However, it's being reprinted right now so it might take a month or so for you to get it. Meanwhile, there are some good excerpts from his book on the site.

Basically, the less you can get away with saying the better. The reason I know this is because my first screenplay was over-described and it took me almost a year to understand writing action scenes. I may not be great at it yet but I do know this -- don't choreograph fight scenes but include those things that reveal story or character. Example: the fencing in the rafters scene between Will Turner and Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Will is always fair and allows Jack time to recover where Jack is not hesitant to cheat. Those are the kinds of things you should mention but let somebody else choreograph the actual fight.