What’s The Difference Between An Intriguing Unanswered Question & A Plot Hole?
Unsolved movie mysteries have led to some of the most spirited debates in cinematic history. It brings up a very interesting question in regards to screenwriting:
DO YOU INCLUDE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS IN YOUR SCREENPLAYS?
I suppose a better way to phrase the question is:
Do you have the confidence to leave mysteries unsolved in your screenplays?
- The Dark Knight | How did The Joker REALLY get those scars?
- Mission Impossible 3 | What is the rabbit’s foot?
- Inception | Is he still dreaming or not?
- Cast Away | What’s in the FedEx box?
- Pulp Fiction | What’s glowing in the briefcase?
Few will debate that Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis & J.J Abrams are among the most confident and talented filmmakers in history. They’ve created some of the most mysterious movie moments of all time. People all over the world passionately debate endless theories and ideas. Cinematic Immortality.
Leaving a key piece of information up for debate is a fantastic tool to spark conversations about your screenplay/movie. IF they are skillfully incorporated into an amazing story that allows for such mysteries to remain unsolved.
From a screenwriting perspective, it can be tough to leave a big question unanswered. New screenwriters may see these mysteries as plot holes and that’s the challenge.
What’s the difference between an unanswered question and a plot hole?
I think the natural tendency is to tie up loose ends and provide answers for every question your screenplay poses. Have you left intriguing questions unanswered in your writing? Leaving a gaping hole in your plot takes a lot of skill and trust in your intended audience. However, reaching that level of confidence can be tough. Especially if you’re an aspiring screenwriter.
Obviously, we all wish to avoid giant plot holes. It’s confusing to the reader. Setups, payoffs, foreshadowing & suspense are all lost if you attempt to leave the wrong question unanswered. Explain every essential element in your screenplay.
How do you know the audience won’t be frustrated when the contents of your mystery box remains sealed? Will readers enjoy your screenplay if the main characters name remains hidden? Can you leave a giant monster’s origins to the imaginations of the audience? Do you KNOW with absolute certainty that we don’t NEED to know where the scars came from?
KNOW YOUR STORY. LET YOUR INSTINCTS GUIDE YOU.
XTRA SPARK | The Screenwriter’s Guide To Plot Holes
It all depends on your creative confidence on what elements to omit in your screenplay. Selecting a certain piece of information to leave out is tricky. You have to consider all options and outcomes from every perspective. You may have a good idea how readers will react but what about your characters? Do they deserve to know? How do you keep it a secret from them? How would it affect them if they found out?
This thought process is crucial if you’re building up a question you never intend to provide answers for. I’m no expert but I believe any screenwriter can craft unanswered questions if they stay true to their vision. But you can’t cheat! The results will not be positive if YOU don’t know the contents of the mystery box. The development work must still take place whether you plan to reveal the information or not.
Know your story, know your characters & you’ll be confident enough to know what information can be left out. Have faith in your skills and always take steps to improve. Perhaps someday, people will debate the mysteries you built into your story.
Looking for more movie mysteries? Below you’ll find articles debating some of the best unanswered questions of all time!
10 Flicks: Unanswered Movie Questions | The Athletic Nerd