What Intentional Plot Holes Look Like

Yesterday, I asked the question, Are Plot Holes Like the Dark Side? This brought in some interesting comments on the idea of intentionally including plot holes. As my friend Alexander Helene said, “I never thought plot holes were deliberately used for the sake of ease. I always figured they were unintentional.”

I want to clarify that I don’t think that anybody says to himself, “Man, these plot holes I’m including will make audiences think I’m a genius! Muahahahaha!” Intentional plot holes look different.

The most common kind of intentional plot hole is the mysterious event which the author intends to figure out later. “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if the space wizard was off on a far away planet with a cryptic map leading to him? [I’ll figure out why on earth he left his friends to the mercies of the Sith but left a very hard-to-find map behind later. I’m sure there’s some good reason which could explain it. I need to get on with the story now.]”

This sort of thing is much worse, of course, in TV shows, where the authors have already published the really cool stuff by the time they come to trying to figure out how to explain it. Perhaps the best example of this is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Best of Both Worlds Part I. It is the final episode of season 3. It ends with Picard having been assimilated by the Borg and the Enterprise about to fire a super-mega-ultra blast from its main deflector dish which is powerful enough to destroy the Borg cube and which they haven’t seen before so they have not yet adapted to it. So what do the writers do when they come back at the beginning of Season 4 and need some way of getting out of this mess?

They decide that since Picard knew about it and was assimilated, the Borg could just pre-adapt to it, so the mega-ultra-hyper weapon of doom… does nothing and they move on as if nothing happened. This is what an intentional plot hole looks like when you can’t avoid dealing with it. The episode goes on to have to deal with the insuperable problem of the Borg as created in part 1 by the absurd idea that the hive mind can be given a “sleep” command, which it obeys because the way hive minds work is accepting commands as if they’re a computer from a single drone. It was stupid, but the entire episode had to be stupid, because the lack of planning had foreclosed all non-stupid possibilities.

It’s not that the writers of The Best of Both Worlds set out to foreclose every non-stupid possibility for how the episode would end. They just kept upping the stakes and raising the tension and introducing cool stuff without any thought as to how it would work with what they needed to do later on in the episode. This is the normal pattern for intentional plot holes. The writers don’t think of them as plot holes, they just make them plot holes by refusing to think about them. It is, however, the same thing which makes these cool ideas that makes them plot holes.

There is an analogy to sin, here. Sin is hamartia, missing the mark. It is aiming at something but not hitting it. In particular, the person, when sinning, desires some good he mistakenly thinks that he will achieve by sinning. What he gets is, instead, and evil. Sinners are always surprised by this evil because it was not their intention. They are not innocent of it, though, because they could have foreseen the evil that they have wrought, but refused to look, honestly, at what they were actually doing.

In like manner, the author putting plot holes into his writing to make it more interesting does not intend for them to be plot holes, as such. He merely aims for the interest that they lend to the story and does not think about them as actual parts of the plot that are supposed to cohere with the rest. He focuses on the details and ignores the big picture. This intentional ignorance is why he doesn’t realize that the plot holes he is introducing are plot holes, much like the man who cheats on his wife with another man’s wife does not intend to adulterate both marriages. He only aims for the pleasure of intimacy. Both go in roughly the same way, too—it was great until everything fell apart.

(Because this is the internet, I should probably explicitly state that I do not think that writing a story with plot holes has the same degree of evil as adulterating two marriages, though the way that society is going at present perhaps some day soon this disclaimer will be taken to mean that I do not have the audacity to say that adulterating marriages is more than a matter of taste, whereas plot holes are objectively evil, if only a very minor evil. However one wishes to take that, the two are similar in kind, not in degree.)

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