So I'm watching "Dexter" the other night, a show I really enjoy. The writing is killer.
Without ruining it, I'll say that there's a scene in this particular episode where Dexter is chasing after someone he has locked in a room. He goes inside and the captive manages to get past him, darts through the door and gets the upper hand by now locking him inside the same room where she's been locked up.
And she's off.
We think Dexter's doomed. How's he going to get out of this predicament?
Boom. No warning. No build up. He blasts through the door with the hard shove of a shoulder.
What? If it was that easy, don't we think for a second that the captive would have summoned the strength to do the same before all this went down. After all, she's fighting for survival and freedom. If anyone would have more incentive to break down a door, it would probably be her.
Like Kathy Bates does in the movie version of "Misery" I call it a cheat. You may remember this rather fun scene:
Now, I won't hold it against the writers of Dexter. It's a good show and rarely has holes this big. I can suspend for a moment my disbelief and go with it because, after all, it's not a plot breakage, just a lock breakage. Nothing else hinges on this locked door. How's that for a pun?
Now, in literature, I see cheats all the time. A bestseller cheat that comes to mind is Jodi Picoult's book, "My Sister's Keeper". She deliberately leads us astray by messing with the narrative. She teaches us the language of her story by speaking from the point of view of several characters. However, in the beginning we get a chunk of narrative that is not labeled and it leads us to believe that someone is dead by the end. La-dee-da, we read a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing story and by the end, we aren't sure which sister will actually meet her maker. I would argue it's not sleight of hand here because the author deliberately broke the rules of her own narrative universe by not indicating who is the narrator for a key section. Again, for those of you who may want to read it, I won't go into great detail here but if you've read this book with scrutiny in your eye like I have, you may have felt the same.
Another big seller and big cheater made it to the big screen with Martin Scorcese at the helm. The director of the movie adaptation used Dennis Lehane's original book as source material and they both cheat in "Shutter Island". Yes, it's a turnabout story: what we think we're seeing turns out to as something different entirely. I would argue, however, that both the movie and the book lead us by deliberately showing items and scenery that aren't really there. By the end, when the narrative leads us back to the explanation of how we were duped, both writer and filmmaker neglect to cover the ground where items were completely fabricated. You can turn things around like this but you can't fabricate out of thin air.
Now, in discussions with other readers and viewers, I've come across dissension, mostly from the folks who ascert, "Come on, J, it's just a book!" or "It's just a movie! You need to just enjoy it!" I lean towards agreement, but there's a part of me that can't let these things go, especially when crafting my own stories.
When most astute viewers or readers find a "plot hole" and move on, I simply can't drive on by. I need to stop, get my shovel and fill it in. It needs to make sense for me to keep driving down the path the storyteller is trying to build. Without that crucial connectivity of all moving parts, I just can't be wholly invested in a story. Not for long, anyway.
And if this storyteller has neglected to fill in their holes, I may just get up in the theatre like Annie Wilkes and shout, "He didn't get out a the cocka-doodee car!"