Coping with Plot Holes

Mind_Map_outline_examplePreviously, I posted something a little more general about writing blocks. I'm going to take it a step further and discuss one facet of writing blocks — the plot hole. Plot holes are events, sequences, actions, or dialogues, that break the consistency or plot of writing. They can include trouble spots that break the flow of logic. They can also include the lack of information. They can include events that couldn't possibly happen due to the personality or nature of the characters, or events that just simply can't suspend disbelief.

You can read a lengthy post from Wikipedia (Because it is so the fount of accuracy) for those who really want to get into the nitty-gritty of what a plot hole can entail. There are many other sources on the plot hole, but cracked has a rather amusing one showing the plot hole in its native habit… AKA, in movies.

They are sneaky, and can be something as little as one, tiny sentence that railroads your writing into a sequence of events you don't like or shouldn't happen in the story you have envisioned. I have encountered a plot hole that has been so little as four words, but broke the logic so much that I had to go back and correct it before I felt it was ‘safe' to move on. Sometimes, they span entire scenes and chapters. In the worst of cases, the entire book can be one glorious plot hole. (I've done this. No, you can't read it. It stays on my Wall of Shame for me to admire in the years to come.)

Plot holes are often blamed for writer's block. I've fallen victim to it, and I'll likely fall victim to it again in the future. I can't tell you how to identify your own plot holes. That is something every writer has to figure out for themselves. However, I will share a little bit of my process.

I have people other than me read the work before I edit it. Beta readers are great for helping me pick out errors in my writing. I have a few who get rough, raw draft that hasn't even seen a spell checker. (These people know what they are getting into, and tend to have no care for that sort of error. They just want to read a story and ignore the things of that nature.) They catch things like inconsistencies and plot errors. Because I know someone else is looking at it, I change how I read my own writing. I start catching those errors, too. Sometimes, I'll even have corrected the errors before they get back to me about it needing corrected.

This is where critiquing comes in so very useful. The more I look for plot holes in other's writing, the easier it became for me to spot it in my own writing. As I've progressed over the years, I've been able to spot more and more inconsistencies in my drafts without the use of outside help. This doesn't stop me from putting up rough, raw draft on critique sites, however. The feedback on plot elements I hadn't considered is usually priceless, and it sometimes gives me a good insight on how to improve my general skills.

As I've gotten better at writing — and I am by no means a master of the pen — I have noticed that I have needed to rely less and less on critique sites and beta readings to catch plot holes and inconsistencies. It might even get to the point I will only rely on private betas. I suspect once I get an agent and go to a traditional publisher, I will end up doing this because of all of the stipulations of contracts and the like. It would be a nice problem to have.

This is my process of identifying and dealing with a plot hole. (No, I do not make a checklist for these things. It just kind of happens naturally for me. I had to think about what I do to come up with this little list.)

  • Identify the problem scene.
  • Identify the problem.
  • Check what problems were caused by the problem.
  • Fix the problem.
  • Ripple through the entire book and correct all elements that changed due to the resolution of the problem.

The last point is the most important one for me, and the one that takes up the most time. It is just like a pebble dropped in a puddle. One event can trigger so many ripples you may not have anticipated. If you have a plot hole early on, it can change the entire course of your novel. This can be extremely frustrating. I know I have rewritten an entire book based off of the presence of a plot hole (or three). It was good for the book to have to be rewritten, but it also gave me a lot more respect for the editing process.

So, how do I identify a problem scene? This is a hard question. Sometimes it is a logic instinct. (I don't like the use of ‘gut' instinct. ) A gut-based feeling doesn't necessarily mean the right thing. If logic can refute the gut instinct, I try to go with the logic. The logic is where I have put serious thought and effort into the writing. A gut instinct, or knee-jerk reaction, is often little more than someone slapping your knee with a hammer to watch your foot jerk. Do you want your novel to be based on that sort of reaction?

I certainly don't. Gut instinct worked when I was just learning to write, but I'm trusting more and more in my brain and my conscious logic as I write.

Not everyone will agree with this, but hey — that is ok. This is what works for me–Not what works for you.

But, sometimes, that gut-instinct is good for identifying a problem. If it strikes a nerve and makes my foot twitch, something is wrong. I won't use that instinct to fix it, but it does let me use my logic at that point to make the corrections.

I doubt that makes any sense to anyone other than me, but that is OK too.

You need to pick a system that works for you. Writing is often like this. There are no hard and fast rules. But, if a plot hole exists in your writing, you should fix it. If not for you, but for the people who will read your story. A plot hole often comes hand-in-hand with confusion and uncertainty. If you have something that breaks physics but works in your world and you explain it, it isn't a plot hole. It is world building.

A plot hole is a negative thing. If it is an intentional, explained, accepted, and clear element of your writing, it isn't a plot hole. It is a plot mechanism. (Terry Pratchett's Disc World is a perfect example of this. In any other world, most of the events would be plot holes. In his, they are devices and they work.)

When you do find a plot hole, crush it ruthlessly and with extreme prejudice, even if it means you have to put in a lot of work to repair the damage. After all, don't you want to build your house on a strong foundation? Plot holes are like a crack or hole in what holds your house up. Just some food for thought.

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