Meta Monday: Hand-Wavy Plot Reasons?

screenshot-2017-01-16-19-19-04I once read a White Collar fanfic that started something like, “For hand-wavy plot reasons, Neal Caffery has been turned into a cat.” And that’s all the explanation we got—apparently the author couldn’t be bothered to create a cursed object, evil sorcerer or angered fairy. But the story that followed was equally adorable and hilarious, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

That fanfic snapped back into my mind while I watched the season four finale of Sherlock. And then I read the reviews. Some seriously brutal reviews! Like this one. (Read at you’re own risk—it’s full of spoilers.)

And, okay. This thoughtful review is right on target: The Final Problem was a convoluted, inconsistent episode full of plot holes. And yet . . . I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorites. Yes, the brutal review is justified. But throughout Sherlock, I’ve felt as if the show came with an unspoken disclosure: “For hand-wavy plot reasons, we’ll somehow get our main characters into such and such a situation.”

I’m fine with that. In the end, I watch Sherlock for those two main characters, John and Sherlock himself, plus Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and Molly. So hand-waving them into high-pressure situations that will test their friendships, or their integrity, or their view of themselves, or their ingenuity will rivet me to the screen.

Would the episode be even better with a tight plot? Absolutely. But as long as the characters get their chance to dazzle and surprise me, I can let that plot slide.

Am I alone in this? If a plot is mired with inconsistencies, or gets too convoluted to follow, will you give up on a show or book? Will characters be enough to keep you watching or reading? What say you?

About Jenn Moss

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11 Responses to Meta Monday: Hand-Wavy Plot Reasons?

  1. Akaluv says:

    You know, this is a great question! I haven’t watched the last episode of Sherlock yet, but I did recently beat FF15. I don’t know if you play video games, but that games plot and ending was full of plot holes. Honestly, it was bad. However, despite all that, I still finished the game. If the plot is full of inconsistencies but the characters are good, then I’ll keep reading. Sadly, I’m starting to think good storytelling is dying in mainstream media. This is the third I’ve heard about a popular show, movie, game and book having plot holes. :/


    • While I haven’t played XV yet, I have played most others in the series. In most of them, there are a lot of plot inconsistencies and issues but the premise itself, along with the characters make me fall in love with it every single time.

      The fact is, I am okay with these hand-wavy plot reasons on condition. There has to be enough going on around it that I barely notice it at the time. I would much prefer to finish reading a book and say “Hang on a minute”.

      I’m hoping I’ve made my point here… Though it is three in the morning so I may be writing nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jenn Moss says:

        Not nonsense! You have a good point: it’s so much better when you don’t notice the plot holes along the way, when you can get so caught up in the story that they don’t hit you until much later. If an author can get you to suspend your disbelief for the whole story, so much the better!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Hey Akaluv! I am, indeed, a gamer–though I’ve never played FF! (I waste all my time on Skyrim and Dragon Age–oh, and WoW, back in the day.) But I agree with you; a couple of the weird plot points in Dragon Age: Inquisition don’t bother me because I’m all about the characters. (And I’ll keep reading a book for the same reason.)

      I think plot, characters and setting are all important–yet if you get just the characters right, I’ll still be interested. Get the characters and one other thing right (either the setting or the plot) and I’ll be hooked!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t watcher Sherlock in almost 2 years. Not because I don’t love it, but because getting that much time to sit down and watch a grown-up show is almost impossible with two kids.

    Still, I loved it when I did watch it. Was one of my very favorite shows.

    And I loved it because of the characters. They can get away with the plot holes because the show is now so firmly about the characters. Most of us were Sherlock fans before the show, and wanted to see this rendition. Then were blown away by it.

    Makes me want to catch-up with where they are today…And I will one day. Thank goodness for Netflix!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Definitely worth catching up on–so you can make your own judgement on where they’ve taken the characters! Yes, they have developed . . . and overall, I’m very glad. Lots of controversies over the plot points along the way, though, and certain decisions the writers made.

      I was also a Holmes fan before the show. BC is definitely my favorite incarnation of the detective, and I can’t imagine anyone topping MF as Watson. Even when I read the original stories now, I’m casting those two in my head.


  3. I think for me it depends partly, as you say, on whether we enjoy the characters and the atmosphere of the drama for that to be the main attraction. I really enjoyed the TV series Luther, about a London-based detective and the fact that the storylines got ever more surreal was just part of its slightly dreamlike charm.
    An important point, I think, is what the drama or story is setting itself up to be. Returning to your example about the story in which Neal has been turned into a cat, no one could object to that – it’s not claiming to do other than be pleasing to readers who want a story about Neal being turned into a cat.
    On the other hand, if a drama or a story is making claims to be gritty and realistic, taking itself seriously, then we have a right to feel frustrated when it fails to deliver what it claims to offer. I was watching a grim and gritty police drama last night in which a juvenile female suspect was being interviewed by a police officer in the presence of a social worker. The police officer leaves the room, suggesting that the young person thinks about her situation, with the social worker still sitting beside her. Later, we cut back to the interview room where the girl has managed to strangle herself. The police officer is overwhelmed with guilt, but no one asks where the social worker was. She is just not mentioned again. That lapse in logic in what is meant to be a realistic representation of police procedural really bugged me.
    I suppose in a high-profile drama like Sherlock, even though it is primarily entertainment, a complete breakdown in coherence can feel like a lack of respect for the viewers – after all, they have had over a year to put this together, with some of the best writers and resources – is it too much to expect it to make some kind of sense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Two great points here: firstly, that a lot depends on a reader’s or viewer’s expectations, and secondly, that–well, come on. They did have over a year, damn it, to come up with coherent plot lines!

      As far as the first point goes . . . I don’t know. I’ve always found the plots of Sherlock to be hand-wavy, and so I don’t have high expectations as far as that goes. And I really do love the characters. They’re the reason I’ve stuck around. (But, yes, in a gritty cop show, the kind of lapse you describe is unforgivable! While a show like White Collar, which didn’t remotely aspire to gritty or realistic, could get away with even more head-scratching lapses.)

      As far as the second point goes . . . I got nothing! You’re right. They had plenty of time. And while I’m happy to see so much time spent on Sherlock’s emotional growth, they could have spent more time getting the plot down.:P

      And yet, I still loved that finale!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Joan Enoch says:

    Yes, I’m fascinated by the characters in Sherlock – don’t want to give any spoilers, but there was one plot-hole that was glaring – afterwards. How did she do that (the woman in the jail)? There are plot-holes which I can sometimes forgive, otherwise there would be no story. But what I don’t like is where characters are like ciphers – their characteristics actually change to suit a plot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Interesting. Did you think that was the case here? I liked Sherlock’s character arc. I was iffy about the way John . . . well, I don’t want to say too much here. Except that John seemed out of character in some ways, especially in the first two episodes of the season. But I mostly found it believable that he would behave out of character, given the circumstances.


      • Joan Enoch says:

        Yes – I should have said – when I say that I don’t like it when characters change to suit a plot, I’m not thinking of character development, where what characters go through are bound to change them – or even if a character acts completely differently because they have been horribly traumatised or developed a terrible mental illness – things like that are still part of a particular plot. I’m thinking more of television programmes in any case, probably – you forgive more for those because you understand there are time schedules, etc. And – what you said about John – maybe he seems to change too much, but there are also considerations, since it is a TV programme, of that character maybe becoming more popular with the public – I don’t know – I’m just trying to think through what might be going on. But – character becomes more popular – he/she needs to have a greater interest/whatever in the programme – the audience demands it. Therefore, the leap for that character may seem maybe too great – but you forgive because you love that character also.

        Novel-writing – a different kettle of fish – you don’t have an audience that is cat-calling all the time from the stalls. You write to your own particular idea of a reader – you do care about your reader – but you are freer to develop your characters as you feel they need to go.

        Hate to bring this up here because I know some people are completely sick of it – but ‘Lost’ – yes, I know, I know – but I became fascinated because the characters didn’t actually stay as themselves. Neither did they ‘develop’ as such – especially later on in the series – they were positively changed to suit where the plot was going – someone had to say so-and-so because of the plot – oh, we’ll give it to – I can’t even remember the characters’ names of that programme. But – plot became all. Not so keen on that. But I’m not so good on plot, so I was interested – oh look – you can just make your character say a totally uncharacteristic thing because it’s necessary to the plot…

        Liked by 1 person

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