Plot holes, by Elizabeth Kay

 Like so many people, I’ve been watching a lot of TV recently. There are a number of very good series available at the moment, The Great being my current favourite. The script is first rate, and very funny, despite having its darker moments. Two of the other series I have been watching are The Drowning, and Finding Alice. But there are enormous plot-holes in both of these, and I can only imagine that they have been left in the expectation of another series, although nothing has been said about this. Don’t read the rest of this if you still intend to watch them, as there will be spoilers. I have no issue with the acting or direction in either of these; excellent all round. It’s just the storyline! Where’s that script editor when you need her/him?

 The Drowning:

The premise is that a five-year-old boy, Tom, disappears on a family picnic by a lake and is presumed drowned although his body is never found. His mother is understandably devastated, and her marriage falls apart. She then thinks she sees him, as this boy, Daniel, looks exactly as she’d imagine her son would have looked six years later, even down to an old scar on his cheek. (I may have got the ages slightly wrong, but you get the general idea.) Mum has a DBA forged for her, so that she can get a job as a music tutor at the school he attends. Deceptions and intrigues continue, and the forgers become more involved when mum decided to abscond abroad and needs a passport for Tom/Daniel. There are two DNA tests arranged. The first is by the police, and confirms that Daniel really is Tom. The second says he is not. Eventually everything unravels to reveal collusion between mum’s barrister brother and her own mother to conceal what really happened on the picnic – they all took their eyes off Tom, and he really did drown. Tom’s father had been indulging in a bit of extra-marital rumpy-pumpy in the woods, granny was busy with grandad’s spilt drink, mum simply wasn’t concentrating. Back to the present. Brother then drowns in the same lake, Daniel’s father is released from prison and everyone else lives happily ever after.

So: Why is Daniel’s scar never explained? Why is mum never charged with two counts of forgery, GBH on Daniel’s real dad, and the theft of two vehicles? Why was Tom’s body never recovered, when the lake was thoroughly searched by police divers? What happened to the brother’s body, which seems never to have been recovered either? 

 Finding Alice:

The premise is that Alice’s husband, Harry, is an architect and builds the family a smart home. But he’s not actually her husband, as they never got married. The same evening that they move in Harry falls down the stairs, and dies. Alice is understandably devastated. (Note similarities with previous plot) There is an unknown figure recorded on the CCTV, who turns out to be an adult son from a very short-lived relationship before he met Alice. Harry’s business was in trouble, and there is a lot of intrigue surrounding his female partner who has two children and a wife. Harry had left the house to his parents and they want to sell it to pay off the inheritance tax. Alice has Harry buried in the garden so that they can’t sell it. Eventually everything unravels, as Harry’s last words are revealed to be that he had too many children and doesn’t want any more. There is a lot of aggravation round some frozen sperm, which Alice is considering using; everyone hates everyone and then make up and a way out is found to keep the house via another building project.

So: Are his business partner’s children really Harry’s, as she hints? Too many children seems an odd remark when he only had two. Why did Harry and Alice never get married? This is completely ignored, and seems really rather important.


The first plot hole I ever encountered was in The Silver Chair, by C.S.Lewis. In the previous book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace sailed in Prince Caspian’s boat until they reach an island called The World’s End, where Caspian met the Star’s daughter, the girl he marries. Caspian wasn’t much older than Eustace, so we must assume he was maybe eighteen or nineteen. In The Silver Chair, Eustace returns to Narnia with Jill, a school-friend; it’s her first visit. They are both given the task of finding the king’s son, Rilian, who has disappeared. Caspian is Rilian’s father, and is setting sail one last time to look for the lost prince. When Jill and Eustace do eventually find him, he is about twenty-five years old. This, however, is Lewis’s description of Caspian:

 …just ready to go on board, stood an old, old man. He wore a rich mantle of scarlet, which opened in front to show his silver mail shirt/ There was a thin circlet of gold on his head. His beard, white as wool, fell nearly to his waist…. You could see he was very old and frail. He looked as if a puff of wind could blow him away, and his eyes were watery.

 Narnian and English time do not pass at the same rate. Eustace discovers to his dismay that it is nearly seventy years since he was last in this world, although only a single year has elapsed on Earth.

 So: This makes Caspian at least eighty-eight at this point, maybe older. He would have been in his early sixties when Rilian was born – and so would the star’s daughter, who was of a similar age to Caspian when they met. This really upset me when I was thirteen, because it didn’t compute. Had the star’s daughter died, and Rilian was Caspian’s son by a second marriage? If not, and stars’ daughters don’t experience the menopause, why did they wait so long to have a child? It is clear that Rilian is Caspian’s only child. What was the matter with her? Or him? Succession was very important to medieval kings, which seems to be the period Lewis fixed on for Narnian society. The discrepancy still bothers me, decades later.

And the moral of all this? Be on your guard for plot holes when you’re writing, and don’t assume that just because you’re writing for children your readers won’t notice…


Thank you! I hate it when questions aren't answered, haha, although when i'm writing i'm quite happy for my readers to guess a lot. Oops...
Bob Newman said…
The police have a well-deserved reputation as plot thinners. The commonest plot hole is the lack of an explanation for not calling them in.
Ruth Leigh said…
What a fascinating blog! I am also really enjoying The Great. Fantastic writing. Huzzah! And I love these explanations of plot with holes. Have you read John Sutherland's books (he's the Emeritus Professor of English Lit at UCL. He wrote a series of hilarious and erudite books on literary mysteries and plot holes, including "Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?" and "Is Heathcliffe a Murderer?" Brilliant and very enjoyable.
Griselda Heppel said…
Good heavens, I never noticed that gaping plot hole in The Silver Chair. But you are absolutely right. I can only assume that at the age I read it, anybody over the age of 40 or so struck me as equally aged, or at least I wouldn't have done the maths about when Rilian was conceived. I agree with you that it's a strange lapse in standards on C S Lewis's part, always so careful to explain the difference between our time and Narnian time, yet appears here to have overlooked the small matter of time at least needing to be consistent within each world.
Wonderful post, thank you. And Sutherland's books are huge fun!
Eden Baylee said…
Thanks for telling me what to avoid watching, Elizabeth.

I can forgive some small, unexplained plot points, but gaping plot holes are annoying.

Umberto Tosi said…
We can bounce over plot holes okay if we love the characters and story enough, but not often. One of my greatest fears as a writer is ending up with a gaping plot hole without realizing it. This is the writer's equivalent of the no-pants embarrassment nightmare!
Reb MacRath said…
Plot holes are less bothersome to me if they're little things I didn't really think about while I was watching a show. But I do hate getting bumped out of the viewing experience by a pothole-size pothole. I mean the sort of thing where you want to cry out loud: "Just a bloody minute here! Didn't you tell us an hour ago that Joe was a former mechanic--and now he has trouble changing a tire?" Or "How does a former accountant have these awesome fighting or speed-driving skills?"
Griselda Heppel said…
Back to the Narnia plot hole... It's not explained by the fact that Rilian was enchanted, is it? So that he'd actually been kept prisoner for 30 years or so but remained magically in his early twenties. (If so, it's a bit mean of Aslan to wait 30 years before sending Eustace and Jill in to rescue him). Clutching at straws here, I freely admit.

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