Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a plot hole!

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

Note: Ok, so, nobody told me about this sky-themed week, but for me, it’s turned into a blessing—and not even a disguised one at that—because the post I’ve been trying to write all week about nitpicking simply was not coming together for me. (Maybe I was picking at it too much…)

If you know me, you’re probably already aware that I am a huge fan of the movie Up. If you’ve spent any time discussing narrative structure with me, you’ve probably heard me say quite a bit about what Up does very well. (If you haven’t, how many hours do you have free?) To put it as briefly as I know how: there are two stories in Up. One is the big, silly “Hollywood” movie, featuring action-adventure sequences, big sets, lots of spectacle and a “to-the-death” conflict. Then there’s the smaller, more intimate and much more touching narrative of an old widower named Carl who hasn’t reconciled himself to the loss of his wife. What Up has the guts to do that so few mainstream films do these days is to make action and spectacle subservient to the human drama. At the climax, the big “Hollywood” story comes to a screeching halt until Carl can find some resolution to the smaller, quieter inner conflict. It satisfies both as a lighthearted cartoony  action film and as a very real human drama.

Well, I do know the focus of this blog is writing and not movie appreciation, and I do indeed have a point that has to do with writing. I have a number of writer friends who have wonderful, fanciful ideas for stories they’d like to write. One of them will be so excited about an idea and will spend the better part of an hour explaining or even brainstorming the characters and the world and a general outline of what he or she would like to have happen to those characters in that world. That person will leave itching to get it written, and leave me itching to read it. More often than not, when I next see him or her, I’ll ask how the writing’s going, only to get the disheartening response, “It just wasn’t working out,” followed by a litany of plot holes that can’t be filled. Usually, my suggestion that they try writing their stories anyways falls on deaf ears.

And this is what brings me back to Up. As perfectly constructed and as personally satisfying as it is for me, there’s a monumental plot hole in the movie that I didn’t notice until the director pointed it out to me on the commentary track of the DVD. The basic premise is that Carl—under pressure to sell his house and generally mad at the world—decides to get away by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house in order to get away:

To get both plotlines started, the writers needed to strand Carl in the middle of the wilderness of South America with an unwitting stowaway, an 11-year-old named Russell who just happened to be under his porch when the house lifted off. How do they get there? What’s to keep Carl from dropping Russell off at some police station before he gets to the wilds of South America? A giant storm comes out of nowhere (while Carl is in the middle of trying to ditch Russell, as a matter of fact), buffets the house around and knocks Carl unconscious. When he comes to, there is no hint of a storm and the house is floating within a few kilometers of his goal. Pretty convenient storm, don’t you think? I’m trying to decide whether to call this “Hurricane Plot-hole” or “Tropical Storm Deus ex Machina.”

Which brings me—finally—to my point. Suspension of disbelief is no mere myth. If your story is compelling, your characters engaging and with an emotional heart that resonates deeply, then readers (or viewers or listeners) will happily grant you that suspension of disbelief, and either not notice or choose not to care when you need to hedge “reality” or common sense in order to tell that story. You’ve got a story that wants to get out for some reason. Have trust that the story will resonate with someone else, someone who won’t mind a giant cumulonimbus plot hole any more than I did.

3 thoughts on “Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a plot hole!

  1. well played! and great post. This is where fiction and nonfiction diverge. Not that I don’t make stuff up. I do. But I can’t count on my readers to suspend disbelief while I make something really big up. And speaking of Up… LOVE that movie. thanks for posting, Bob.

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