At first glance, the question may be subjective, but let me provide a specific example:

A story I'm self-editing takes place in a present-day small Virginia town. At present, the town is being haunted, in a sense, by a creature. A few weeks before the story took place, a curfew was initiated. After five'o'clock, everyone pretty much stays inside, locked in their storm cellars. In the first chapter of the story, the town is put under what could be considered martial law, where only law enforcement is permitted to leave. Now, they only really leave to eat, shower, go to the bathroom, etc. So, they haven't had much contact with other families.

With modern technology, looking back, I realize it may seem dated that everyone hasn't kept in touch via cell phone, email, FaceTime and facebook, especially since the narrator describes how close-knit the town used to be on multiple occasions. My question: Should I come up with an explanation for this phenomenon, or leave it to the readers to hypothesize on that themselves? In a general sense, how many questions should authors answer for the readers?

(Just to clarify, this is not an issue of a plot hole. The book is set in an area so remote that they don't have cable lines, fiber optic lines, etc, and their so far from the nearest cell tower they do not get reception. I'm asking whether or not this needs to be explained, or if the readers can infer that)

(And I did look around for the answer to this on writers, including this question When do I explain my created world scenario in a prologue vs. letting it unfold in the story?, and at a few websites including this post https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/too-much-detail/)

  • As an aside, a possible easy fix for your conundrum may be to change the time setting back a few years before the social media and cell phones were such a large part of our society. Even 25 years ago they wouldn't have been as prevalent as they are today. Just a thought. Jan 5, 2017 at 3:12
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 I considered that, but they use modern technology at the resolution of the novel. If I set it back 25 years, there wouldn't be a resolution at all. Jan 5, 2017 at 3:21
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    I suspect you'll find it's less a question of "how many questions should be left unanswered," and more "how do I decide whether a given question should be answered, or left unaddressed?".
    – Standback
    Jan 5, 2017 at 7:37
  • 1
    @Jerenda, speaking of Q&As which are relevant for the future... Anyone here from April 2020? :P Apr 26, 2020 at 16:58
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    @DM_with_secrets Did you get the answer you were looking for? :D
    – Jerenda
    Jun 6, 2020 at 21:23

8 Answers 8


You don't need to -- and shouldn't try to -- explain every detail of every bit of background you've come up with. If your writing says "I had to do lots of research to write this so I'm going to make you read it", it's getting in the way of the story.

However, you need to address anything that's reasonably going to interfere with suspension of disbelief. If your story's setting is going to have readers reasonably expecting cell phones and Internet services, you can't just ignore them and assume no one will notice.

Here's the trick, though: addressing it isn't the same thing as providing a detailed explanation for it. Will it suffice, in your story, to have some character refer to those times in a bit of dialogue? It could even be a time reference -- "back when the 'net worked, we'd spend our evenings reading Facebook instead of actual books". You don't have to explain all the details of how the haunters fried all the cell towers and reprogrammed all the routers or whatever, if it doesn't help your story. Just assure the reader that you haven't missed a glaring hole.

If your plot element is particularly implausible, you're not doomed. There's a technique called lampshading (warning: TVTropes link) with which you acknowledge it in the story and then move on. It doesn't sound like that's your situation here, but I mention it in case you have other issues to address.

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    Exactly this. You do have to acknowledge it because the reader is going to want to know why the characters haven't done the obvious thing. It could be that there's no electricity, or electricity but no Internet, and the characters don't know why because they're under lock and key. So it's entirely possible that you don't even provide an answer as long as you make it clear that a plausible one exists. (They can't use the Internet because there's no Internet access, period. or whatever it is) Jan 5, 2017 at 2:28

A lot of this depends on where the focus is. If it is a psychological piece, the focus is on the psychology and inconsistencies in the use of technology won't matter much. If it is a love story, dito. But if it is a technical how do we get out of this mess story, then the focus is on the tech, and an inconsistency is likely to be noticed.

Part of the problem is that if you are calling attention to the tech, you are calling attention to the inconsistencies in the tech. Part of it is that if the resolution depends on tech and you are inconsistent about it, it feels like a cheat, or even a deus ex machina.

So, there are definitely techniques that will let you paper over the cracks, but you have to think carefully about how the crack affects the main story arc or theme of the piece. In stories as in life, whether you notice a crack, and how much you worry about it, depends on whether it is in you line of site, and whether it threatens anything you care about.


The general answer to your question is that you should address questions if leaving them unanswered will interfere with readers' appreciation of the story.

In this particular case, it might make it hard to suspend disbelief for readers, so you should address it. It would be one thing if you were leaving technology out for the whole story --readers might come to accept that as a kind of alternate reality --but since your conclusion requires it, you need to make sure its sudden appearance in your story doesn't call unwanted attention to itself.


As you mention, this question is somewhat subjective which is why there won't be a hard number that somebody can provide and that will turn out to be the correct answer.

Moreover, writing itself can be considered subjective: You are providing the reader with a planned (to certain extent) experience. As a writer, you are the one who makes the decision regarding the impressions and the messages you want to leave your readers with.

With that in mind, if you are planning to leave it to your readers to hypothesize on an aspect of your story, you could try to envision what kind of discussions would spark in your fan communities and where they could start off. This way you can provide enough elements in order to increase the enjoyment of their community when the conversations take place.

A good example for setting up elements to spark conversations that have defined a work of fiction would be the ending of Inception.

A very good work of fiction that might provide you guidance on what you are trying to achieve is Higurashi (When They Cry). This particular story takes place in a close-knit community with something "off" under the surface and an element of an entity haunting it. You can use it as a study on how much can be revealed to the audience and the questions that remain to be answered. If you are to watch the series as research material, be aware that it operates under a concept in which reality is "reset" on every arc (Every few episodes you will find yourself back to the beginning, as if you were watching "Groundhog day: The series").

After analyzing both of these examples you can see how preparation is really important for leaving readers with open questions, if that is part of the experience you are attempting to provide. Assuming this might be something you are interested in, you could make the fact that the community is not using modern technology to keep in touch as an element in your story, akin to a conspiracy that could tie-in things together.

On the other hand, if you don't perform enough planning you might risk the readers to feel that there were loose ends which have ruined their experience. This goes back to what you are trying to achieve, with your intentions with your own work.

Nevertheless, if you make the decision to reveal all at the end, that is fine, too. This, again, depends on the experience you would like to provide your readers. The study of the series above will also allow you to gauge how to balance how much you want to reveal (The series continues until all mysteries are revealed and then you can see how it fares once everything is revealed which changes the experience of the audience).

Finally, for another work of fiction that you could take a look on to see how elements that don't make sense (like a protagonist not having a cellphone) are tied in to the fabric of the story would be the first season of Blood-C. Beware, Blood-C is a horror story that can be very brutal.


There are easy solutions that require only minor changes to what you have written. Maybe there is no wireless network in the cellars because of the thick concrete walls of the bunkers and no one thought of installing a fibre optic cable to a storm shelter they thought they would spend no longer than a stormy night in. Maybe the creature inadvertently knocked over the cell tower of this remote town or sat on the fibre optic network node. Maybe there is no electricity (the beast stumbled over the overhead transmission line) and cell phone batteries cannot be recharged.

But in fact I notice that many contemporary novels are written as if the characters lived twenty years ago. Many authors completely ignore the fact that (young) people today are more or less constantly online and much of their social lives takes place over social media. While this corresponds to my personal experience (I am old and grew up before mobile phones) and lifestyle (I don't have WhatsApp), I still notice the discrepancy between the kids in books and the kids on the bus.

I think this discrepancy is a result of the fact that many authors write not out of their personal experience in present day society, but from the background of their reading experience of books written before the advent of mobile devices and social media. Their books don't take place in the present, but in literary history.

So maybe you really need to snap out of that funk and rethink your story to make it relevant to the lives of readers today.

Or you could say that what you write is fantasy and that you aren't writing about the real word anyway. Just as you don't need to come up with a scientifically waterproof explanation how that creature could appear in our reality, you can equally easily have the inhabitants of your fictional world not use social media. While that would be implausible in a YA high school romance, no one will wonder about it in an urban horror story. Because, they too live in the timeless world of their reading experience.


The question I would ask is, is the reader likelier to deduce the answer by himself, or label the missing information as a plothole and not even bother?

If you aren't sure, then it won't hurt to make a very rapid mention, just to warn that no, this isn't something you just forgot to think of.


I agree with what on this: it is not difficult to come up with a plausible explanation of why the town is deprived of the Internet and mobile communications (remember the movie Panic Room? They made a point of poor cell reception in the bunker, resulting in several dramatic scenes, where the heroine was trying to establish a contact with outside world), and do blame it on the monster (maybe it even has electromagnetic qualities which cause cell and WiFi interference).

Since you set up your story in modern day Virginia, you should address the lack of modern ways to communicate. Otherwise, you are weakening your suspension of disbelief.

Then write a gory scene where someone is killed while trying to get to the only working landline payphone to call another character--have fun with it.


A lot of real life shelters were built for nuclear fall out in mind and what would shield that would also shield cell signals. It doesn't even have to be the entire town but just the nature of the consturction of your protaganist(s) who lack the availablilty. In addition, if this rural areas is in the mountains, it could be the nature of those as well. I have a realative who lives in the moutains near Cupertino, California (home of Apple) and when I visit him, there is a period where I have no connection from a certain point of ascent until his drive way, where it's all wifi at that point.

Alternatively, you're town is under martial law. That could create a situation where communications capabilities maybe curtailed to make them available for the emergency services and/or depending on who is running the Maritial Law, shut off entirely to prevent the rest of the world from finding out about the fact that Martial Law was imposed, especially so close to Washington D.C.

A tight-nit rural community where everyone knows everyone, usually means that those who stay there won't be terribly tech savy AND those that left usually did so out of rejection of the community/better oppertunities in larger communities, where their social networks might be so much larger that their home town updates get lost in the din. Seeing as how this is a Virigina community, if it's close to D.C. in some respects, it might get a futher pass. You'd be surprised how many government beuracrats avoid social networking in the first place.

And the type of people who are attracted to the small town that are lacking in Fiber Optics and cell towns are usually the types who don't want any part of Social Media. One of the biggest challenges to subsidies to lay lines to real life communities like this is that most of the people really aren't bothered with the information age leaving them behind and a few just plain don't want it.

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