Thursday, June 23, 2011

There are no underwater tunnels to Alcatraz, aka plot holes

I first heard the term "Creative License" when I was 13 and watched the film In & Out. In the movie, English teacher Kevin Kline is outed by a former student at the Academy Awards. A week later is his school's graduation ceremony. Um...but the Oscars are were in March. No public school lets out in March. My mom said it was creative license, and I pictured a writer taking a driving test. A year later, I had another innocence-is-lost growing up moment when I went to Alcatraz with my family. I loved The Rock, the classic Michael Bay action opus starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery. (and Brenda from General Hospital) But when I visited Alcatraz, I learned that, contrary to what the movie said, there are no underwater tunnels to Alcatraz. A pivotal plot point to that movie was an utter fabrication. Yet still both of those movies were well-liked hits. Did nobody care about these gaping plot holes?

Several movies and books that we love require suspension of disbelief. The plot of Double Jeopardy, which was #1 at the box office for 3 weeks and made a huge $116M, would never hold up in court. If Ashley Judd killed her presumed-dead husband for real, she would still go to jail. In one of my favorite movies, My Best Friend's Wedding, why did Julia Roberts have NO idea that her best friend was dating someone, proposing to someone, engaged, and planning a wedding? Did she really not receive an invitation? Book tour, my butt. She had a brick-sized cell phone. Dermot Mulroney could've called her.

But still, this was a beloved romcom, and still one of my favorite movies.

I think many aspiring writers get caught up in the plot details. To make sure every plot point and their world makes sense, they get lost in researching. However, audiences have proved time and time again that they will ignore plot holes or take flimsy excuses like being on a book tour. This is fiction, after all. As long as you provide a passable explanation, the audience/reader will usually go with it, e.g. Source Code.

People will buy stretching the plot, as long as the characters remain real. Listen to someone the next time they explain why they hated a book or movie. They will talk about how "that character would never do that," or "that character was so stupid," or simply "it made no sense." You need to always make sure that no matter what happens plotwise, your characters remain genuine with believable actions, reactions, and motivations. While people love Sandra Bullock, they hated All About Steve. Her character was unnaturally obsessed with Bradley Cooper, to the point where she was no longer a believable character. Audiences loved The Sixth Sense, but hated The Happening. The former was primarily a story about a boy yearning to be a normal kid and a man learning to move on from his failed marriage. The Happening had no such compelling character arcs; it just had evil plants. That's why people hated those films. Audiences liked Double Jeopardy because they identified with Ashley Judd's woman done wrong. All of her actions made sense in the context of reuniting with her son. People overlooked the plot holes in In & Out and The Rock because they didn't effect the characters' motivations or emotional journeys.

What was the last movie you watched/book you read that you hated? Why did you hate it?


  1. I'm trying to think of a book or film that I hated and I honestly can't think of one recently. The nearest I can come is turning off the remake of True Grit after 20 minutes. It was the girl playing the Kim Darby role. I couldn't buy her as a feisty kid ready to take on the wilds for justice. (That and the fact she seemed to rush her longer speeches). I just watched the original instead :)

  2. You are right about the girl talking way too fast! I missed some of her dialogue because she shot it out so quickly. But I also think that stemmed from her character's nervousness. I wasn't a fan of True Grit, but that's mainly because I'm not a fan of Westerns. (minus Brokeback Mountain)

  3. Looks like you have a great blog here, Phil! So happy to follow! :)

  4. I wanted to let you know that you wonder JACOB WONDERBAR and the Cosmic Space Kapow at Literary Rambles. Congrats. Email me your address so I can mail it to you.

    And nice blog.