You know those times when the facts don’t match up? Here are some options for what to do when you find established points in posts are divergent.
1) Denial: Ignore it
Why this can work: It’s the solution with the least upfront effort. You pretend it matches fine and move on. When there are not a lot of others involved or a significant time has passed between the earlier framing and the new mismatched segment of the story, you might get away with the handwave without anyone knowing or being the wiser. This usually makes this a fine enough option for personal story threads or for threads with low buy-in or npc characters that are being developed as you go in low investment stories. Essentially, it’s always good advice to not sweat the small stuff.
Why this doesn’t always work: It can cause confusion if you do have collaborative writers who are tracking the order of events or the objects and characters in play and the scenarios don’t match up. If it’s left as such often and the group doesn’t acknowledge the differences and that it’s being moved on from, there can be disagreements or just silent confusion and checking out of participation. Investment in tracking the mismatched story is not only not paying off in fun, but for those persons, their investment is costly because they have to spend hobby time always untangling the mass of confusion surrounding snarled timelines, poor story construction, or inconsistent characterizations, and generally just bad flow. It breaks the energy and the shared immersion.
2) Talk to the 4th Wall: Joke about it
Why this can work: Sometimes just moving past a break in the consistency can be handled with a self-aware nod in the narration or an off-handed comment in the dialogue (“Gee golly, how did they happen to get there at the same time when they were twice as far away on a slower ship! Must have caught some extra wind in the warp engine!”). If it’s something the sim needs to not get hung up on, this is a cute fix because it can help everyone get back on the same page and take it with a grain of salt.
Why this doesn’t always work: It’s kitschy and it’s a cheap way out. Depending on the style and voice of your game and that of your posts or characters, it might come across as forced. And unless your sim is a cheese factor sim by intention, it can be a gag that gets overwrought when you just keep writing your sim into broken story situations and laughingly walk through it like it doesn’t matter. If used, it has to be used well and rarely, unless you’re on a joke sim and it’s a signature of the play style.
3) Get Consensus: Acknowledge it outside of the writing
Why this can work: It’s a little better than ignoring the plot hole or the inconsistencies, especially if the situation involves more than a couple of players in a side thread, as communication will at least help others get onboard with ignoring the problem together. It’s easy to move on if everyone agrees it should be moved on from and doesn’t have a strong opinion anyway.
Why this doesn’t always work: No. It’s fine. If everyone agrees, it is functionally okay. It’s just a mediocre solution. Like 4th wall joking it shouldn’t happen often though. Players could start thinking that investing in following the story closely is often not worth it because the situation and details won’t matter. They’ll stop investing attention and participation if plot items are often judged a moot point, especially in the more collaborative threads.
4) Take Backsies: Retcon it
Why this can work: the plot incongruence was already posted and maybe even baked into other responses to it. But now you have a different idea of where you need to be, or a more sophisticated story than you had expected, or maybe you’re trying to accommodate other excellent input that you didn’t have earlier- What can you do? The past is past. Or is it? You can evaluate just how deeply the problem lies in the story break. Is it as simple as going back and renaming three background characters so they were originally in a scene you needed them to be in for the new parts to work? And either no one will notice, or everyone can agree on the change? Then why not a retcon? Or consider a new back post that works from a new POV of a past event to ‘reveal’ your needed retcon.
When the schism can be tracked down to just one or two small instances that can be easily swapped out in an edit mode or a small group chat agreement on the change, and communication can be well handled about it, then this is a perfectly good solution that maintains the integrity of the story.
Why this doesn’t always work: Some posting systems can’t be physically altered once a post is out. It’s clunky to do if you can’t directly edit. And it’s impossible to get everyone’s memory altered if they already have the details in mental stone. The more integral to the story the change is, or the more references or instances that have to be selectively changed, the harder it is to retcon, so if you can’t solve the differences and make the ends weave together with a simple retcon, it’s really an unwieldy thing to muddle with. And like earlier solutions it can’t be done often in anything with big collaborative investment for some of the same reasons.
5) Beautifully Broken: Create an in-story solution (aka “Plot Twist!)
Why this can work: Of all of the choices, this one is the highest quality option for storytelling. When we talk about everyone being surprised and filled with that spark of unexpected collaborative muse- it’s often because they are figuring out how to make unplanned disparity meet up in the story. Essentially, you wrote yourselves into a corner and the only way out is to be incredibly creative about it together. The plan could not have accounted for this and so everyone closes their collective eyes and believes that a feather can make them fly. And it does.
By applying creativity and skill, a plot hole or story schism can be a gift in disguise in that addressing it in the story itself may actually provide a twist or story gem you hadn’t thought of that will enliven the story. Why was the character saying the opposite things in different posts? Were they lying once? Which time was the lie? What was their motive to lie? What happens now when the lie comes to light? Suddenly it’s not a plot hole, but a new story element.
If the scenarios are in the main plot, the solution can be brained just by the GM or the GM team, weaving the ends in with some clever narrative solution, twist scenario explanation, viable deus ex machina, or unanticipated revelation that can be a major moment for the crew to experience fresh. A lot of GMs find this a very satisfying way to resolve plot holes into plot twists and it helps to maintain control without having the messy sim-wide OOC discussion that might go in directions the GM isn’t interested in taking.
Or, solving a large plot break can be a team building exercise where all affected players are presented with the story disparity, told where it needs to meet up again and brains are picked to come up with ways that all the seeming conflicts are actually applicable together, and offer to play roles toward making the story harmonize where there used to be a seeming cacophony in the situation, giving everyone involved the chance to build trust and play stone soup. Experiences in collaborative story craft like this are so fulfilling that when pulled off they become happy shared memories between players and key achievements in a sim.
Why this doesn’t always work: While this is clearly the most powerful option for integrity of the story, for minor breaks this can be a lot of unnecessary work or overthinking of the problem. It’s okay to use simple solutions to simple problems.
Handle with care: while solving the plot split as a whole sim could build trust, the reverse could also be the case: a sim may not have the kind of trust yet required for communicating to solve a plot split together and doing so on a large plot item could result in irritation or bad blood if people feel less heard or involved than others, so would need to be carefully handled by the GM, or sensitively handled only in a limited fashion with just the most affected players. One reason to go for something less involved would be that the negotiation might strain players’ attention or relationships in the sim.
If the plot splits are regularly coming from a particular individual or set of individuals, the GM has to be prepared to address those players discretely for the sake of the game, and help everyone to communicate without unnecessary offense.
But sometimes GMs are just too relaxed or low on free braincells to work to that level of problem solving. Through no one’s ill intent, a player gets caught up in a broken timeline or assigned to a story item that the player can’t make fit without some help. The under invested GM in this hypothetical isn’t as invested in the problem as the affected player may be, and the disparity can’t be solved because the communication needed to do so has to first be modeled and then maintained by the leadership. A GM who doesn’t happen to have the mental or emotional capacity for that level of attention at the time the problem arises is probably not going to be able to facilitate this last option (The in-story solution) as well as is needed. It’s possible with gentle and consistent petition, the player can bring the GM around, but there’s no guarantees. Players in this situation may have to settle for a lower level investment solution which may be more accessible to them under the circumstances, in order to get past the sticking point and move forward. But if this happens a lot— especially on main plotline items that the player might not feel authorized to move on autonomously— any player can become disenchanted, and plot splits may actually compound over time, too, by the very nature of just being an unaddressed problem.
Ultimately, if a GM is temporarily unable to address in-story consistency problems in an encouraging manner, the GM can name and empower someone else who can, like an aGM or another consistent player, in order to prevent a growing problem for the sim; after all, one of the primary roles of the GM is the keeper of story consistency! We rely on them for this essential coordinator role, and for anyone (whether the GM or supporting a GM) who has problem-solved this kind of split or inconsistency situation, we all understand how integral their role is to the game and for the cohesion of the writing collaboration.
Go forth and patch the infinite plot holes!
There may be a lot of other ways to address a plot split in a sim! Ultimately, it can take more creativity to write our way out of a plot split than it did to get into the situation. When confronted with the gap that needs mended, these are the ones I find I usually cycle through. One thing is for sure— there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to practice thoughtfully and artfully getting ourselves out of these corners we paint ourselves into.