The Plausibles

My last post brought this great comment from Mark F., who talks about something that nit-picky laymen (like me and… well, mostly me) are apt to forget: there are lots of things that need fixing in the average script, and other things have to take priority over small plot holes or characters who don’t explain themselves:

I know in scripts I’ve written or worked on you sometimes are solving much bigger problems and you just have to live with the creakiness of the plot elements. Often times near the last punch-up you try to smooth over those kind of things (as your pinky and the brain example illustrates) by either deciding to blow by the plot hole and hoping it’s not too egregious or hanging a lantern on it as the expression goes in which case you are giving a nodding wink to the fact there is in fact a plot hole. Obviously the best thing to do is to fix the plot hole; it just might be too late.

Alfred Hitchcock had a famous name for viewers who like to spot plot holes or moments where it would make more sense for the characters to do or say a particular thing: he called them “The Plausibles,” because they’re constantly demanding that characters’ motivations be totally plausible, and won’t let themselves be carried along by the story. The question he brought up as the one that “The Plausibles” most often ask is “Why don’t they just go to the police?” The reason they don’t go to the police is that it would be boring and the movie would be over. And making sure the movie isn’t boring is a higher priority than making sure every detail makes sense.

Another commenter, despite the unnecessary all-caps moment, makes a legitimate point, that spotting plot holes or wondering why characters don’t say X to each other is too, well, nit-picky:

Fictional characters created to entertain us don’t need to explain themselves to other characters to provide some expose for your feeble mind would add unnecasry dialogue and plot points to what is FICTIONAL ENTERTAINMENT. not psychology.

I think this is a legitimate point because, again, there are more important things than plot holes, and this is a story, not real life. But my problem with characters who don’t explain things or deliver information that would help them is not with the plot hole per se. (Many of my favourite movies, shows, etc. have gaping plot holes.) My problem is that it makes the characters into idiots, and if I think that the character is being an idiot, I have trouble rooting for him or her. It’s not about plot — for me, I mean — it’s about character. I don’t really care if there’s an implausibility or inconsistency in the plot, but I do like the characters better if they are smart enough to bring this stuff up.

Here’s an example. When Roy Huggins, one of the pioneers of scripted filmed TV, was called in at the age of 70 to take over a struggling NBC show called Hunter, he looked at the first season and said that he had several changes he wanted to make if he hoped to turn the show around. One of the things he demanded was that they drop the cliché of the chief who doesn’t like the hero cop. He didn’t have any problem with clichés per se, his problem was what it said about a character if he continued to hate the hero after he solved case after case. “If the Captain doesn’t know he’s a good cop,” Huggins said, “then the Captain is a fool. I don’t want a fool on the show.”