In comedy and drama, reversals alone can often provide terrifically distracting entertainment. Just have a character reveal in some way at the beginning of the story exactly what they would never do and then have them do everything they said they wouldn’t by the end of it.
It works just as well for LA Confidential as for Knocked Up. The important thing is that the storyteller cannot care about the wellbeing of the characters as much as he wants the audience to care.
Michael Crichton also once pointed out that the storyteller can’t care about the wellbeing of the audience too. In his case, he mostly writes thrillers, but we have to recognize that we go to the movies to be abused. Crichton called it a “little bit of sadism,” but as a storyteller he put characters in peril and builds tension in the people reading or watching. And then he withholds the release until that anxiety is at its most intense. However, he knows how it will turn out, so in a sense it is about enjoying torturing people.
Honestly, in most stories, the characters are rarely having a good time. In fact, if you are writing anything where the characters are just having fun, you should probably cut that out as quickly as possible. That’s never a payoff. It’s simply a set up for a downfall.
Also, it’s not that important that a story be realistic. I watched THE GREEN MILE the other day, and it really makes clear the difference between a plot and a plot hole. You can see this a lot in stage plays as well.
Next time you have a day or two free, take a look at THE GREEN MILE and ask what are the hours Paul works at the prison? What are the shifts on “the Mile?” When Paul invites his team over for dinner to plan taking Coffey to heal Melinda’s brain tumor, who’s guarding the prisoners? The only time we see them working at night is during executions, but they take Coffey out of the prison at night and get back just before daybreak the next morning. Also, why even pick a night that Percy is working? Surely, he gets a day off now and then or has to work the day shift. There is one scene where Terwilliger, the older guard, is sitting with the one guard who only appears in a few scenes (giving the sense that he’s on the other shift) when they see the mouse, but that looks more like a lunch break for Paul and Hal since Percy is there as well, and Paul and Hal get back a few minutes later. Why are they all working all night when they take Coffey out and no one in the prison thinks that’s strange?
The work hours of the story are entirely unrealistic, but that isn’t a plot hole. They are at work when the story demands it, and we really don’t care. There are actually very few real plot holes in movies or books that manage to reach an audience. There are unrealistic elements aplenty, but a plot hole has to be much more like a continuity error in the story. It has to completely contradict something significant that was established earlier. If you have a character trapped in a cage in one scene and a few scenes later, he’s out and about, then it’s a plot hole if you never showed him getting out of the cage… or have him say something like, “I told you, I really did work for Houdini.”
This goes back to the need to torture the audience… but in a good way, a way we’re all asking for. If the plot builds that painful tension, and draws it out, then the audience will put up with it - even enjoy it - because they are anticipating the release more than questioning the story.
It’s not a plot hole if it does that, and even if a plot makes complete sense in its progression, it’s a problem if it doesn’t build that emotional tension.