The concept of a plot hole is intuitively comprehensible – a plot hole is a logical gap within the plot which invalidates or undermines some or all of the plot itself. However, the nuances that surround them, the question of how and when to fix them, and the impact they actually have on the reader are all issues with more depth than is at first apparent.
There’s a school of thought which says that every story must make sense. Every event must spring from a logical cause and create a logical effect. This school of thought is countered by another, specifically the school which asserts that the reader’s experience is all that matters, and if a problem can be sufficiently obscured then efficiency takes priority. Just because something like After Hours can dig a hole in something with a couple days of thought doesn’t mean the work is bad, that school would say, because after all the presence of that plot hole may make the rest of the work easier to digest, quicker to relate, and all around a better experience.
There are flaws in both schools, and the truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in between. Reader experience is one side of the writing coin. The expression of the self and of greater meaning is the other. Causal webs (not to be confused with casual webs, created by spiders who are just, you know, doing it for the whatever) serve both purposes; things that happen ‘just because’ with no relationship to the rest of the work are very rarely in service to either.
That being said, if a dinosaur needs to sneak up on something regardless of its unsubtle size to startle the reader and raise their heart rate, then it’s a safe bet that they’ll be focused on the emotion of the characters onto which they project rather than wondering how a T-Rex can possibly sneak. Similarly, if a ship needs to arrive in port 10 years after leaving despite travelling a distance one could swim in 6 months (though with 7 years’ detour) then let it so arrive – the length of the journey tells a story, relates a value and a mentality, and again the reader’s attention will be focused on that conceptual offering enough that the timeline won’t be in their minds. Readers are not editors; they willingly avoid seeing what will make them unhappy.
Of course, this presents a problem at an editorial level. Whether a leap works is a challenging thing to say. An editor is constantly dissecting; our experience of a book is not identical to that of the average reader, even if, as many do, a full read-through is completed before any edits begin. Thus, the key for us becomes dual – first, make sure the author is aware of the problem. Second, do one’s utmost to determine whether or not the target audience will ignore and/or miss the hole, and whether the potential of the event which necessitates it justifies its existence. At the vertex of a surgeon and a butcher lies we.
Editing is necessarily subjective. That’s why an editor must be a fit for a writer, not just a genius in a vacuum.