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In a scene I had in mind, there's a tricky hook or unexplained event that happened, that I fear might be considered as a mistake or a plot hole. It is basically where a girl (one of the characters) is in a fight, she was cornered and was about to lose, until the opponent suddenly died. Defeated right in front of her eyes.

Now that would certainly be considered cliche or writing mistake or a plot hole, but later on in the story it would then be revealed that she got outside help from an outside "arena" (I'm saying it metaphorically/allegorically, not literally,) from an ally hidden away.

How would I make sure and subtly tell the readers that this is a hook and will be answered later, and not some writing mistake or a plot hole? I mean, in this scenario, a hook might start off as a plot hole, but how do I tell the readers that it is something intentionally put for hook and new parts of the story?

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    As a frame challenge: the part where an underpowered protagonist is about to lose, but is saved by mysterious reasons, could come off as deus ex-machina Readers might be critical because the author saved his character magically, making any tension or conflict meaningless. (Amadeus's suggestion of it causing more problems for the protag, would offset)
    – wetcircuit
    May 28, 2023 at 14:03
  • Wow everyone here has such great and amazing advice and answers. I can't choose which one is the best or definite answer. Ya'll are so great :)
    – Crimsoir
    May 29, 2023 at 15:49
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    Perhaps I'm in minority considering other answers, but I think you are overthinking it. However you write it, it will work. If it looks to the reader that the oppenent just fell over and died (and the character acts accordingly), then it looks like a mystery to me, not a plot hole. If it lookes like he was about to win but succumbed to his wounds, then there is no plot-hole either. She just won, that's it. Either way, as long as the character react to the same actions the readers see, there is plot hole to worry about. May 29, 2023 at 22:30
  • @Crimsoir feel free to accept any or none of the answers. An accepted answer only means that it's the most helpful for the asker personally, not necessarily the best, nor definitive.
    – Andrew T.
    May 30, 2023 at 7:05

5 Answers 5

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You must put a spotlight on it. A big spotlight.

This incident is a plot point, it is not a "hook".

You must show that your protagonist has no idea what happened, but she is being blamed. The bully's body is examined for cause of death, and it looks like she was a healthy and strong 14 year old that suddenly had a fatal stroke, a burst aneurysm. The coroner thinks that highly unusual in a 14 year old, but not unheard of. Aneurysms typically burst predominately in adults over 50, with some in their 40's, but very very seldom in young teens still growing.

The girl is deposed by police, her parents and an attorney are with her. She's scared, she cries, she swears she didn't do anything! She thought this bully was really going to hurt her, and all of a sudden, the bully just stops and drops.

Other students witnessing the fight are questioned, and a few say the same thing. One second the bully was angry, the next she collapsed to the ground and was motionless.

The principal of the school wants to suspend our protagonist, or expel her, for fighting. Her parents fight that, their daughter wasn't fighting she was being attacked, at worst trying to defend herself.

If you are in modern times, perhaps another student used their phone to record a video, and finally shows it to her parents, and they bring it to the police.

The matter is dropped.

The reader needs to know this is inexplicable, and believe the protagonist had nothing to do with it.

That is your plot point. It is a mystery, and the reader will keep reading to solve it.

If you want a foreshadowing moment, have the girl's parents, arguing with the school principal, show the principal the video. And one of the parents says, when the bully clearly drops for no explicable reason: "My daughter had a guardian angel that day. She did nothing wrong."

Maybe that's true, for many it is just a saying, a religious attribution for otherwise inexplicable luck and circumstances. Most readers will get that, even though it is close to the literal truth in your story, they won't be certain it is true.

Put a spotlight on it. It is a significant incident, a good mystery for readers to remember (a good "hook"), and you can foreshadow the future reveal in a way that doesn't give it away.

It won't be mistaken as bad writing, because clearly you are devoting pages to it and spotlighting the unexplained nature of the incident.

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  • Is it too large an incident to be a Chekhov's "Death"?
    – RonJohn
    May 30, 2023 at 20:57
  • @RonJohn On the contrary, "Chekhov's Gun" would absolutely apply here; if it happens, it must have some plot value. The point of "Chekhov's Gun" is you don't spotlight something just for a momentary thrill. When he says if you show a gun, it better be fired, that is what he is talking about. A spotlight on this incident means it must be explainable in retrospect, after finishing the story. The solution to the mystery behind the bully's sudden death must be clearly apparent to the audience. This definitely is what Chekhov was talking about, the "gun" is just his metaphor for it.
    – Amadeus
    May 31, 2023 at 13:34
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If in your story something happens that hasn't been foreshadowed and is completely unexpected for both the characters and the readers it will only irritate the latter if you continue the story as if it hadn't happened.

When people witness how someone suddenly dies, especially in an inexplicable way, they are shocked, disturbed, even frightened, and ponder that death for a long time afterwards. If the death is clearly unnatural (e.g. someone gets shot) the witnesses are often traumatized. They may come to relive that moment, have flashbacks and nightmares, and be haunted by attacks of extreme fear.

If you narrate how your protagonist is affected by that mystery, it will not appear as a plot hole, instead it will serve as a hook that will make readers want to know what is behind that riddle.


In reality, unexpected events happen all the time. For example, Danish footballer Christian Eriksen, at the time a healthy top athlete in his physical prime, collapsed during a match after suffering a cardiac arrest. It is therefore not completely unlikely that one of the opponents in a fight suffers some debilitating or fatal medical emergency. But it is uncommon for such improbable events playing a decisive role in a fictional plot, although they can certainly be employed in an interesting way, if it fits the themes of the story you are writing.

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Frame challenge: if something's likely to be misinterpreted as an error on your part until more story comes out, you should not only accept that, but maybe take advantage of it. This works best, however, if you're confident you won't lost your audience in between because of the "error", so e.g. it works better in the middle of a novel than near the end of the first novel in a trilogy, especially if you're not an established writer. (I've definitely seen many stories which, early or in the middle, have a how-were-they-that-lucky plot point similar to the one you've asked about.) Having said that, if the rest of what you've done is clearly good work, people likely won't bail over that anyway.

In 2010, Steven Moffat's first series as Doctor Who showrunner aired. In its first episode, the Doctor acquires a new costume, which includes a jacket. In the fifth, he loses it; he acquires a copy off-screen before the sixth starts, but let's not dwell on the unexplained question of how, as that part isn't very challenging anyway. What's interesting is there's one post-loss scene in episode 5 where the Doctor is seen wearing such a jacket, and naturally people thought that was a mistake. In the final episode of the series, however, we learn that's the second jacket, worn by a future version of the Doctor revisiting earlier parts of his timeline.

I'm confident Moffat thought, "I'll include in episode 5 a scene that will be explained in episode 13 as due to the Doctor going back along his timeline, so for that explanation to work he needs a jacket". But how would we react? Here are some options:

  • It wouldn't occur to us the Doctor is wearing a jacket he's already lost. I bet a lot of "casual" viewers had that reaction (if you can even call it a reaction).
  • We'd realize a second jacket, acquired before episode 6, has gone back in time. I know of nobody who figured that out.
  • We'd notice the jacket but not realize the true explanation, so would think it was a mistake. There were definitely people "mocking" this "mistake" before episode 13 aired.

What I'm also confident of is this: Moffat wanted very few viewers to reach the second conclusion (which meant he needed plenty to reach the third), otherwise he wouldn't have written a jacket loss into episode 5 in the first place. Earlier scenes suddenly making new sense when we learn more is a theme of episode 13; in fact, many scenes in episode 13 themselves only make sense when later ones are shown, and it's often because of misdirection.

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Hang a lampshade on it

The common term is lampshade (verb), which means to acknowledge the problem and move on. It's a bit of misdirection or slight-of-hand trickery.

The origin is from Hollywood where bright industrial lights were used for film sets, often requiring a jarringly enormous lamp to be visible in-camera. The solution was to 'hang a lampshade on it' – leaving the enormous lamp in the scene and disguising it as if it was just a regular house lamp.

In practice, it generally means a character acknowledges the issue, but it's not explained. The story moves quickly on to more important things.

The intended effect is that it satisfies the reader's critical brain: this is not a writing mistake or plot hole –– even if it contradicts reality or other in-story facts –– since the writer also saw that issue.

You don't want to give the reader a lot of time to think about it. If it becomes a hanging plot thread they will expect a reasonable explanation as a payoff.

From TV Tropes:

Lampshade Hanging (or, more informally, "Lampshading") is the writers' trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience's Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on.

This assures the audience that the author is aware of the implausible plot development that just happened, and that they aren't trying to slip something past the audience. It also assures the audience that the world of the story is like Real Life: what's implausible for you is just as implausible for these characters, and just as likely to provoke an incredulous response.

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For this specific example you don’t need to do anything special. An opponent suddenly dying in a fight, because of a hidden ally is a well established trope.

If the protagonist didn’t do anything that could have caused it, every reader will know something else is going on.

The top speculations from readers will be:

  1. Hidden ally
  2. The fight was rigged by the Organizer or someone who bets on the match.
  3. Someone wanted the opponent dead, and used the chance.
  4. Someone wants to sabotage the protagonist.

Order depending on the context of the fight.

You just need to make sure the conditions I gave at the beginning are full filled. The reader needs to know that the protagonist didn’t do it. Nobody will think it is a plot hole, if they have any trust in the author at all.

In general, the technique’s in the other answers are very useful if the plot point could be confused for bad writing.

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