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Successful Plot Holes

One of the interesting facets of books and movies are how easy it is to write into your story gaping plot holes, to forget well-known facts, or to become inconsistent with what has gone before. Usually books and scripts will get line edits and copy edits, but often not content edits.

Yet despite these plot holes, violations of nature, and the laws of physics, some of these book and movies go on to great success and acclaim. So much so, I’m beginning to think I should purposefully write plot holes into my stories just to increase their chances of success!

By way of example, and I could chose many, let me take the movie, Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams and released in 2009. According to the stats, it received an 8 out of 10 rating. It had an estimated budget of $140,000,000 and grossed in the USA alone $257,704,099. By all rights, a successful movie venture for the studio, which is why two sequels are already in the works.

And yet, the movie was filled with problems from a content point of view. To give you a taste, we’ll deal with the primary threat/conflict premise.

The “bad guy” has plans to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. We’ll give them the inter-parallel world travel through a created black hole of some kind. While that would be more akin to a worm hole, black holes are unknown enough that space opera like this can postulate such an affect without breaking believability.

However, the evil plan to destroy the Federation is to hover over a planet, drill a hole into the planet by dropping the drilling platform into the atmosphere, dangling by a big chain, from the ship in orbit. Then once the hole is drilled, drop a substance into it that will create a black hole, breaking apart and sucking the unsuspecting planet into it, effectively eradicating the planet from that universe. Right away we have problems.

1. For a ship to maintain an “orbit” over one spot on the planet, they would need to maintain a speed to match the plant’s rotation, which would be not enough speed to maintain an orbit. Instead, they would have to have enough power for the ship to counteract the planet’s gravity, while maintaining the correct position. Even if we give them a powerful enough ship to do that, what are the odds they can keep that drill right over the same spot? Would be hard to pull off from that altitude.

2. Related to the above, how precise can a drill hanging by a chain hundreds of feet long into an atmosphere from space possibly be? When you account for wind and other atmospheric turbulence, that platform should be bouncing and swaying like a drunkard at a drinking party. No way would that drill be as still as it was and create such a narrow hole.

3. Dropping the drill into the atmosphere on a long chain would create drag on the platform, and the chain would have been flexed, not a straight down drop, further complicating accuracy of the drilled hole. Likely the drill would not be perpendicular to the planet’s surface, and would drill a hole diagonally into it as it shook from the forces being exerted upon it.

4. What is the point of dropping a drilling platform into the atmosphere on a very long chain to drill a hole? The Enterprise itself has drilled holes into planets using phasars on more than one occasion. Surely someone from the same era wouldn’t need something so error prone as a huge platform dangling from space to drill a hole. Why have all that technology if you don’t use it?

5. Black holes aren’t easily controlled. Even if they could be confined within a predefined spherical circumference, the ship had a platform still hanging just over the planet. The black hole yanks on that, and the whole ship gets yanked down with it. By all rights, the first black hole they created to destroy Vulcan should have sucked them into oblivion too. It wouldn’t just eat up the planet and leave everything else in orbit alone.

6. Kirk should be dead. He and the other two dive off the ship and fall along the chain, entering the atmosphere, and parachute onto the platform in an attempt to cut off the drill. Problem is, aside from the fact it would have taken them a lot longer to fall, being they are in orbit (hours at least assuming they are not at a full orbital speed), in which their air would have run out, they experience no atmospheric reentry burn. Kirk should be one crispy human falling into the atmosphere at that speed.

7. Here’s the big plot hole large enough to fly the Enterprise through. The first planet the bad guy attacks and destroys is Vulcan. This is a race who have had warp drive longer than humans. They have flying ships. Ships with lasers or phasers or at least some kind of cutting tools for research. What’s to prevent them from hopping in their ships and shooting that chain to bits, putting the drill out of service? As long as it took too drill, they had the time. Yet they are portrayed as helpless victims hiding in caves as their world collapses around them. This is an ending for the “How It Should Have Ended” crew.

Those touch on just some of the consistency problems and plot holes surrounding the main threat and conflict of the movie. But despite those huge problems, the movie did well. More are on the way.

Did I enjoy it? You bet I did. Why? The characters were done well, the chemistry was there, and it was a fun ride. I’ll be there to see the sequels, which I’m sure will still have plot holes. Big ones. But I’ll still enjoy them.

What other plot holes did you notice? What other successful movies do you like with big plot holes? Do those ruin a movie or book for you?

About R. L. Copple
R. L. Copple enjoys a good cup of coffee and a fun story. These two realities and inspiration from the likes of Lester Del Ray, J. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, among others, caused him to write his own science fiction and fantasy stories to increase the fun in the world and to share his fresh perspective.
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7 Responses to Successful Plot Holes

  1. Kessie says:

    Those sound less like plotholes and more like bad science. A plothole is like in Titan AE, when they capture the Drej ship … which then disappears from the plot and is never mentioned again.

    Or like one my hubby found in my WIP the other day, when the hero gives his rival a vital bit of information–then later on gives it to him again.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Yes, you are correct. That is why I said, “Yet despite these plot holes, violations of nature, and the laws of physics, some of these book and movies go on to great success and acclaim.”

      I was looking at all of those. While bad science isn’t strictly a plot hole, it does affect the believability of the plot, which in itself is a type of hole in the plot.

      But the only one that is, strictly speaking, a plot hole is the last one, and quite a big one as it invalidates the rest of the story within the first minutes of the film.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Oh, meant to add but ran out of time…

      The two you mentioned would also fall into sub-plot hole category. Your first instance is a “smoking gun,” when something is introduced like that, you expect it to play a part in the story. But that it doesn’t happen doesn’t invalidate the believability of the plot. It’s just a smoking gun.

      The second is more a consistency issue than a plot hole proper. Though sometimes such inconsistencies can cause plot holes.

      A plot hole proper I’d define as a scene which doesn’t take into account a fact or solution that would invalidate what a character did. In the Star Trek, logic would say the Vulcans could have easily done what Spock did at the end of the movie to save their planet. That it was never accounted for or explained why they didn’t take off in ships and do that, and so creates a plot hole.

      Likewise, the improbability of a drilling platform being able to drill a hole, and the vulnerability it left the scheme in, finally taken advantage of by Spock at the end of the movie, was another plot hole. Would the aliens be that dumb to concoct a scheme like that when they could have used their phasers from space to do the same job?

      In my book, Hero Game, the original version of it had a plot hole caught by one of my beta readers. It was based on a factual overlook. In a scene where the “heros” are supposed to be hidden, one of them speaks in English when they’d been speaking in their own language. That would have alerted the bad guys that she was not one of them. But I had them not notice. So I had to create a believable work around and still accomplish the same thing.

      That is what a plot hole proper involves. Usually not taking into account a reality that invalidates your story’s movement…or should have, leaving the plot with a big hole in it.

    • sparksofember says:

      Which Drej ship did they capture? The main one was destroyed?

  2. sparksofember says:

    I agree with everything you mention. My other big issue was I thought it had been fairly well established in Trekkie/Trekker verse that Amanda & Sarek are bonded so for him to not be physically brought to his knees at the sudden severing of their bond when she died really bothered me. But that’s probably a side effect from having read way too many of the TOS novels as a teen.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Though they work around some of that based on the alternate universe thing, you’d expect a certain amount of consistency on minor things like Vulcan bonds of marriage.

      But in watching the LOTR commentary, I learned a lot of script writing happens the night or day before…sometimes within the hour before the actors go before the cameras to film. That doesn’t give anytime for fact checking and consistency checking. You just hope your writers are knowledgeable in Trekkie lore to avoid the biggies. But this is also probably why many of these plot holes get into these films. They get little review and what you are sometimes getting is a first and second draft of the script.

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