I've decided that writing is like fishing. No, not that kind of fishing. Not the kind of fishing where you get up really early on Saturday morning and sit around in a boat all day long with your beer and your line dangling in the water. Although it can be like that. The kind of fishing where you just catch one fish at a time.
Most of my middle school writers do that kind of fishing, in fact. There's a few of them that write and share stories with each other all the time. The only problem is that they are the only ones that "get" the stories because they're full of all kinds secret language and stuff. Some of these get turned into me in the creative class, and I have to always say, "this is great but no one else will understand it." And I know, because a few of them have been read in class, and the students not in that group always respond with "I don't get it."
See, they are dangling their lines in the water in their secret fishing hole with their special bait and catching a few fish. One at a time. So, yeah, you can do that kind of fishing, but you'll never be able to do it as more than just a relaxing way to spend a Saturday in your boat if that's your route.
A real fisherman needs a net, and that's where it's like writing, because writing is like weaving a net to catch readers. But writers have to weave their own nets, which I kind of doubt that fishermen have to do anymore, although they did used to have to do it. And the smaller the fish you want to catch, the finer you have to weave your net. Stories have to be that way, too. Woven so as to catch readers.
And, well, size matters.
You have things like Harry Potter that end up being pretty finely woven and catch hordes and hordes of readers. And there are things like Twilight that also catch hordes of readers, a lot of the same kinds of readers, but it's not woven quite as tightly (because, hey, sparkly vampires?), so a lot of potential readers slip through. And, then, you have nets that are built for particular types of readers (like sci-fi or historical fiction or horror) and most everyone else slips through. [And I don't actually know to what degree or if fishing nets differ, but I suppose they must. I'm not looking it up, though.]
But my real point is this (and I've arrived at this mostly because of the discussion around Looper this week): Holes in your net are bad.
Fishermen spend a lot of time repairing their nets. They know having holes is bad. Too many holes, and the fish just swim right on through the net. When your livelihood depends upon catching the fish, you have to weave that net tight and make sure you take care of the holes. And this is the part that is liking writing, because anytime someone says "But why..." or "How come..." or "What...," you've made a hole in your net and some reader has slipped through. If there are enough holes, they pretty much all slip through.
I suppose that's why so many writers like to resort to "magic," and I don't mean actual magic, because anything can be used as "magic." For a long time it was computers. A lot of people are using nanotech as "magic" these days (there's even nano "magic" in Looper, although it's never mentioned in the movie (it was, however, in the writer's head)). If you can't use magic as "magic" because you're not writing fantasy, science as "magic" is the next best thing. At any rate, when a reader says, "But why...," the author can wave his hand and say "magic" and believe that closes the hole in the net. It doesn't always work that way, though, because, readers will only go for that so many times. Of course, different readers have different limits.
The best way to deal with those holes is to make your story as plausible as possible (not as possible as possible, although that's not bad, too, but the story hinges on plausibility, not possibility) and make sure the details are there so that people never have those questions. Basically, if you have the question, someone else is going to have the question, so you better just go ahead and answer it (again, this is from listening to the writer/director of Looper who decided over and over again not bother with the 15 second answers to the questions that even he had (as he said, he didn't think it was worth spending the time to answer those things in the movie)). Never believe that the reader doesn't care or won't notice, because a lot of readers are out there looking for holes or are just good at finding them.
As for myself, I'm not out looking for holes, but I'm a pretty slippery fish, and I ask a lot of questions. All the time. It's in my nature to question, well, everything, so, if you have an unanswered question, there's a good chance I'm gonna find it. I do get that other people aren't quite like that as much, but there are other people out there like me. And worse than me. I mean, you think I'm bad, you should see my wife and the way she treats books and movies. I'm way more accepting of handwavium than she is.
All of that to say: Weave a strong net. Weave a fine net. Weave a large net.
Then throw it out in the water.