This was meant to be a question solely pertaining to my story, but then I realized it involves another issue that encompasses many other works of fiction.

I’m envisioning a world of islands where sea monsters are a common threat: from savage amphibious folk who drag people from the shore into the depths to colossal kraken capable of swallowing a ship whole. It’s also a modern setting, meaning airplanes are a common means of transportation, but putting them in this world would make them the naturally more preferred method, negating the conflict that I want my characters to confront. If I wanted my story to revolve around, say, the crew of a ship, how would I justify that? Why would anyone still want to travel by boat through a sea infested with monsters when they could easily hitch a ride onto a plane instead? What factors would I put in this world to make travel by boat remain somewhat viable?

That question made me realize something: this is no different from the perpetually echoing “Why didn’t the Fellowship fly the eagles to Mordor?” I see similar problems come up in stories all the time, so much so that TV Tropes refers to this as a case of “Just Eat Gilligan,” in which a plot hole—justified or not—is allowed to persist because solving it would remove stakes or undermine the plot. But is that always a bad thing?

This trope is commonplace, but that doesn’t ruin many of the stories that have it or make them less enjoyable for me. The rules of my world and the choices my characters make still have to make sense, but is answering every single plot hole necessary? Do I still have to answer why my sailors don’t just fly, instead?

Terk

Hey Terk, great to hear from you again! 

To answer your more general question first: Yes, having a big ol’ “why didn’t they take the eagles” plot hole is pretty much always a bad thing. Plot holes are annoying. They require the audience to ignore what the story is telling them and pretend it’s telling them something else. Some people are bothered more than others, but no one is bothered by the lack of a plot hole

Of course, many popular stories still have plot holes, in the same way that many nice houses still have a draft coming in through incomplete insulation. If the story is good enough in other ways, audiences will tolerate a few plot holes, or any other mistake for that matter. And because the rest of the story is good, fans will often do mental gymnastics to claim that the mistake was actually good as well, which is where we get this idea that mistakes don’t matter. 

So if the rest of your story is good enough, sure, you might be able to get away with leaving in this question of why the characters don’t just take a plane. But even in such a scenario, people will like your story more without that issue. And in your particular case, the plot hole is probably much more obvious than Tolkien’s eagles. In Middle-earth, giant eagles are rare and mysterious creatures, so readers probably aren’t thinking of them except when the story shoves them in our face. If your world has modern tech, airplanes will be a common fact of life, making them much harder to ignore. It’ll be like your heroes needing to get across the city, and choosing to walk for five hours instead of driving the car parked in front of their house. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to show why your heroes are taking a boat, depending on the specifics of your world. 

  • If you turn back the technological clock a little, aircraft could still be short ranged and unreliable, making boats the only option. 
    • It was only in the 50s and 60s that planes cemented themselves as the best way to get around. 
  • There could be sky monsters too! 
    • Perhaps aircraft can only fly safely in specific zones that have been cleared of monsters, and your heroes have to go outside that area. 
    • Or maybe air travel is expensive because of all the fighter escorts that passenger planes need, so less wealthy travelers have no choice but to go by sea. 
  • It might be impossible to take the cargo by air. 
    • Planes can only carry so much, even modern ones. So if your ship is transporting something really heavy, a ship might still be the best option.
    • Though you’ll have to think about this one a lot, since specially designed planes can carry quite a lot, and that’s in a world without sea monsters. 

You can probably think of other ideas, knowing the setting better than I do, but that hopefully shows you what’s necessary. 

On a final note, I’d recommend taking another look at the “savage amphibious folk.” It’s very easy for that kind of creature to run into the trope of an inherently evil human-like species, which gets ugly fast. Aquatic species can get there especially fast because they invoke the specter of Lovecraft and all his bigotry. I haven’t read your story so I can’t say for sure what’s going on with these watery guys, but it might be better to replace them with something non-sapient. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!

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