Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word
an obvious mistake or missing element in the plot of a film, book or play
'Ryan Gosling turns on the charisma as a stuntman turned getaway driver in this slick LA noir, but its baffling plot holes mean it's not completely convincing.'The Guardian 22nd September 2011
'Like with "Cars," inevitable plot-hole questions come up, like how do the robots have children or grow up, but if you don't think too much, the movie is fine.'Shockya.com 16th October 2011
You're caught up in the excitement of watching a movie and suddenly the mood is ruined when you spot a totally implausible development in the plot. If you're the sort of person who has an eye for detail and so can't help but find it irritating when the storyline of a film doesn't quite make sense, then the word plothole could be a useful addition to your vocabulary.
A plothole is some kind of inconsistency in the plot of a film, book, play or TV show. Plotholes have various manifestations but can include such things as unlikely behaviour of characters, actions or events which contradict earlier elements of the storyline, and events which are impossible, illogical, or happen for no apparent reason. To take an example, the science-fiction adventure film Back to the Future (Universal, 1985) featured Marty McFly, a time-travelling teenager who goes back to 1955 and preserves his existence by ensuring that his parents fall in love with each other. The film is a personal favourite of mine but like others, as it transpires, I've often wondered why the people that Marty meets in 1955, especially his own parents, appear to completely forget about him as soon as he leaves. Shouldn't it strike his Mum as odd, for instance, that she later gives birth to a son who is the spitting image of a chap she knew in high school?! If I've whetted you're appetite and you're interested in more examples of plotholes, check out this link where they're identified in 40 classic films from the last few decades.
plotholes can be fixed … often by adding a few extra lines of dialogue in which characters for example acknowledge illogical actions
Of course the majority of us will try not to think too hard and carry on being entertained, accepting the existence of plotholes along the way. If you're a reviewer, however, it's your job to give a critique in which such pitfalls are often identified, so the word plothole (or open/hyphenated variants plot hole/plot-hole) is most common in the sublanguage of film and TV reviews. If identified in time, plotholes can be fixed, rarely by rewriting the entire script, but often by adding a few extra lines of dialogue in which characters for example acknowledge illogical actions (e.g. "How could I have been so stupid …?"), or make other vague statements to deflect potential criticism from reviewers (e.g. "I've tried everything I can think of …" as a way of explaining why a character didn't take a particular course of action).
Plothole is a clever blend of the words plot and pothole which has been used by film and TV reviewers since the late seventies but still has limited coverage in mainstream dictionaries. Pothole, first attested in 1826, originally referred to a geographical feature in glaciers and gravel beds, and came to be used in reference to holes in roads from 1909. By association with the idea of accidentally falling into such holes when travelling on a road, it later acquired the additional figurative meaning of 'a minor difficulty'.
A related but more widely recorded term in the same context is deus ex machina, which refers to a plot device in which a seemingly insurmountable problem is suddenly solved by contrived introduction of some new character, event, ability, etc. The phrase is taken from Latin, meaning literally 'god from the machine' and relates back to a Greek theatrical device in which 'gods' were suspended over the stage.
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This article was first published on 7th November 2011.
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