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Perfect Plot

I had trouble sleeping last night for a really dumb reason. It’s been a week since I sent Disappear to the Big-Shot Producer, and somehow reading through other peoples’ work made me realize something:

Disappear had a serious plot hole, and now it was out of my hands, ready to be scrutinized by people who may notice it and not care, notice it and toss it aside, or (if I’m really lucky) not notice it at all. The hole is a basic logic flaw that affects many thrillers and action movies: why do villains go to such elaborate ruses when it’s way easier just to shoot somebody?

In the script, the protagonist discovers a lone newspaper article—the only known evidence of a massacre that he witnessed, which is the main reason he’s now in hiding. He’s trying to uncover not just who was responsible for the attack, but proof of their culpability. So the newspaper article makes him hunt for the reporter listed in the byline, and when he finds her, he makes an appointment under false pretenses. And, of course, it turns out that everything about this—the newspaper article, the reporter, the office where they’re meeting—is an elaborate ruse, a trap he just walked into and may not walk out of…

Except why’d they go to all that trouble? This is the question that puzzled me as I tried to sleep last night. Eventually I drifted off, and when I woke up this morning, I realized:

Disappear had no plot hole. Yes, it features a typical nonsensical “convoluted trap” set-piece, but…it actually does make sense. They have to formulate this ruse because they have a ballpark idea of what city he’s in, but (a) they don’t know specifically where he is and need to flush him out, and (b) they need to lure him to a private place that he thinks is public—an open office. Nothing bad could possibly happen there, right?

Still, while it’s not an out-and-out hole, it did force me to ask two questions that go unanswered:

  1. How do they know he’s looking for information in newspaper archives and that he’d stumble across that particular article (technically two questions)?
  2. Why not lure him to the office, pull up in a van, grab him, and take him to an abandoned warehouse where they can kill him without any difficulty? It’s much cheaper than renting one entire floor of an office building to kill one guy.

I have answers to those questions, but they aren’t in the screenplay. Well, they are now—I added them in—but they aren’t in the draft that was sent out. I don’t think either question makes or breaks the story. I’m not a huge fan of scripts that spell out every little detail, treating the audience like idiots. However, I’m trying to anticipate possible questions—complaints and perceived flaws—because even though I have an explanation, those reading it may not think of one.

This is the problem with creative media. How can you truly tell when something’s “finished” when it’s always evolving? I’m not going to pretend like I’m an artist or anything, but there is a part of me that strives for perfection in whatever I’m attempting. A week ago, I thought I’d sussed out all the potential plot holes and logic problems. Beyond the solid feedback I received, I noticed a few issues of my own—and was somewhat gratified that they weren’t noticed by the people who read it. In fact, one of my usual readers said of the previous draft: “It’s amazing how quickly this moves. I didn’t realize any of the problems until I thought about it a few days later.”

Writing something that’s deliberately fast-paced to gloss over its many flaws…is not exactly a goal. It’s a means to an end in some cases, and in that case I’d jabbed myself with a coffee IV drip and written the entire thing in 36 hours because Big-Shot told me on Friday that he wanted to see something ASAP, so I gave myself until Monday—along with the laughable excuse that I went fishing up in Wisconsin for the weekend.

The next draft took more time, but I tried to keep as much of the caffeine-induced rapid pacing as possible. I’ve been walking around saying, “This is as good as this draft will get, but talk to me in a month.” That’s my way around the evolution process. My own opinion will change—it’s not just the influence of others that produces new drafts—and I will continue striving for unattainable perfection.

I’ve been writing long enough to know it’ll never happen, though. There’s always going to be something I’d do differently. It has less to do with intangible qualities like “perfection” and more to do with my ever-changing opinions. I binge-watched six Steven Seagal movies, and while it didn’t change my opinion about Disappear, it changed the way I’d write an action movie in the future. Maybe in a month or two, after the ponytailed spectacle sinks in, I’ll go back to it and decide what it really needs is a disillusioned cop with a shady CIA past trying to unravel a conspiracy involving cocaine. Or possibly decapitating a Jamaican druglord’s twin.

Point being, you have to strive for perfection and accept “as good as I can make it.” That’s not to say you need to settle for “good enough,” which usually isn’t good at all, but if you know in your heart, at this moment in time, you can’t make the story better, and you can objectively say that’s it’s pretty fucking good (or have others say it for you)—it’s time to send it out or set it aside. It’ll always be there when you want to come back to it..

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