Over on The Dragon’s Rocketship Facebook page I posted a graphic commenting on one of my least favorite tropes in film. It’s something that might be called: The Awful Choice.
The point that I was trying to make is that while it is presented to the character and the audience as two options (“cut the chain”; which is impossible or “cut off your foot”; which is horrible) there is actually a third option–“cut the pipe”; which would completely defuse the drama of the scene.
Now, some people wanted to argue about the practicality of cutting the pipe (as a maintenance man I am used to working iron pipe, and it would take time, but I think it would be perfectly possible) and some people pointed out that the poor judgments by characters are not technically “plot holes”, which I will grant. It’s like that insurance commercial that says, “When you’re in a horror movie you make bad decisions.”
What I found most interesting were comments made that complained that getting bogged down in technical details detracted from the story.
I disagree. I think that the technical details are the story. That particular scene depends upon technical details–the relative hardness of bone and tempered steel versus the cutting power of a hacksaw blade. It simply requires the audience to ignore one relevant detail–the hardness of the pipe–and accept the other two.
I think that’s cheating.
I write about things that are impossible, and I expect my readers to accept them as if they are possible. However, I also follow what I call Consensual Suspension Of Disbelief. To sum up that article, I believe that suspension of disbelief is both negotiated and limited. The example that I use in that article is the TV show The Walking Dead. Viewers of the show know from the onset that it is about zombies, and are willing to accept that or they wouldn’t be watching.
That doesn’t mean that the writers are then allowed to break natural laws whenever they choose. It is perfectly reasonable to complain about inaccuracies in the portrayal of firearms because, as I say in my article, “Zombies were negotiated. Magic guns were not.”
I think that deviating from what the audience has specifically agreed to accept as possible weakens any story. On the director’s commentary the writer mentions a scene in the original script in which the photographer cut a different section of pipe to find a clue. That scene was not in the shooting script because the writer didn’t want the audience to consider cutting the pipe as an option.
When you break the rules that you have made in order to advance the plot, you are weakening your story. God is in the details, and you are God of your worlds. Get the details right.