I'm not a native English speaker so I have no idea. Example:

"I think I should I start my story from the beginning. That way you don't have to patch up holes along the way."

I worry that the meaning is too ambiguous. That's why I'm asking.

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    I'm more familiar with the idiom "fill in the gaps". – Kristina Lopez Apr 21 '15 at 15:50

I don't know that it's especially common as an idiom in English language, but I think the meaning is clear enough, and I can't really think of a better way to say it. I like the phrase because it invokes a journey.

It sounds like you are saying that if you tell the whole story, the reader won't be confused or have a lot of questions. The concept of a "hole" in a story, meaning places where information hasn't been presented, would be commonly understood by English speakers, I believe.

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  • I see. So "fill in the gaps" doesn't evoke that feeling so much? (The one mentioned by Kristina Lopez). – janoChen Apr 21 '15 at 16:10
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    "fill in the gaps" means to supply missing information; "patch the holes" tends to imply that there is inconsistency or suspicious information, not just missing info. @Kristina Lopez seems to have the better idiom here. – JeffSahol Apr 21 '15 at 16:57

I suspect that the idiomatic sense in English of "patch up holes" is strongly influenced by the fact that, in the terminology of street repairs, a filled-in, smoothed-out pothole is called a patch. (Something similar is at work in software programming, where a correction for a coding bug, glitch, or security vulnerability is likewise called a patch.)

Because patch is so closely associated with flaws (in the driving surface or in software usability), we tend to think of holes that require patching not as empty spaces or accidental omissions that need to be filled in or added, but as flaws, errors, or inconsistencies that need to be corrected or reconciled. One familiar trope in crime and mystery fiction is the alibi that is "full of holes"—internal contradictions or unexplained breaks in continuity or chronology that undermine the plausibility of the account, as Jeff Sahol points out in a comment beneath Sarah M.'s answer.

A far more neutral expression, suggested by Kristina Lopez in a comment above, is "fill in the gaps." Here the notion is of an account that is incomplete, but perhaps not calculatedly so; the gaps may simply be the result of haphazard narration or of the inherent difficult of providing a complete description of a complex event or story.

However, even "fill in the gaps" seems a bit ill suited to the context of telling a story from the beginning. Presumably the reason that starting a story at the beginning is helpful for listeners is not that it helps with omitted details (gaps or holes) along the way, but that it introduces the characters and circumstances that are crucial to an understanding of the events to be described. To express that idea, "background" or "background information" may be a more apt term to use:

"I think I should I start my story from the beginning. That way you'll have all the necessary background, and I won't accidentally skip any crucial details at the outset."

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  • Although your suggestion is clearer in a literal way, I like "fill in the gaps" better. I can understand the objections to "patch up the holes" because it is true there can be a negative connotation to a story with holes in it -- but I still like the whiff of travel it invokes. – Sarah M. Apr 21 '15 at 20:34

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