Is there anything an author fears more than the dreaded plot hole? Every time I write a first draft–every time– a part of me is terrified to take on my first read-through of the novel. What if I discover a horrible hole that I didn’t notice when I was writing? What if it’s a problem I can’t fix?
One way to address plot holes is to educate ourselves about them: what forms they take, and how they come about. Know your enemy, right?
Because of that, I thought it made sense to wrap up this current series of posts about plot issues by breaking down plot holes into categories.
Now, this kind of list isn’t a science. Not even close. So if you can think of something I overlooked, please let me know! If you disagree with something I’ve said, feel free to present your views. This blog is for all of us to challenge ourselves as writers and to grow as a result. (My only rule is that everyone respect everyone else.)
That said, here are the categories of plot holes I came up with, reflecting on my experience and my own personal fears.
A CHARACTER OVERLOOKS AN OBVIOUS, SIMPLE COURSE OF ACTION. AS A RESULT, HIS OR HER ACTIONS DON’T MAKE SENSE.
One of my favorite spoofs of this is the Youtube Video from “How it should have ended” based on “Lord of the Rings.”
(SPOILER ALERT, for those who aren’t familiar with the story yet or don’t want the video ruined. You can skip down to the next section if you want).
“How it should have ended” basically rewrites the endings of movies so that they are a bit more, let’s say “logical.”
Remember how, after dropping the One Ring into Mount Doom, killing Sauron and saving Middle Earth, Frodo and Sam are rescued from the volcano by a massive eagle that flies them to safety?
“How it should have ended” proposes that Frodo and Sam use an eagle to fly over Mount Doom in the first place, to destroy the ring. Much, much simpler than walking the whole way!
Now, there is always some degree of, “why didn’t the characters just do this?” when reading a book. My writing is not exempt from this. (And I’m not knocking the Lord of the Rings. It is a genuine masterpiece of fiction and especially fantasy.)
Sometimes, though, this plot hole becomes a real problem when an author forces a character to do something stupid, or make a serious mistake that doesn’t seem real or likely, simply because that mistake is needed to advance the plot in the way the author wants.
Avoiding this plot hole doesn’t require much:
- You need a bit of common sense, which we pretty much all have. Just stop and ask: what responses are possible to this stimulus? Which of those make the most sense? Simpler is usually better. People opt for simple when they can. (Think of Occam’s razor).
- You have to know your characters, and how they would respond to certain situations. Which option would most appeal to them?
- You have to be true to your characters and their inclinations, and not force them to act against their nature.
- If characters must act against their nature, then a reasonable explanation for why that is must be evident to the reader.
A CHARACTER’S ACTIONS BREAK THE RULES ESTABLISHED FOR THE “WORLD OF THE STORY.”
This one always has me terrified as a fantasy writer. I have constructed a complex fantasy world that sometimes feels exceedingly fragile in its makeup.
How does the public in Herezoth view magic? What are the laws (both governmental and physical) governing magic? I feel like I am always walking a tightrope, especially as public views and tolerance of magic in Herezoth evolve and adapt over time.
For a glaring example of a plot hole that involves breaking the rules of your story, I’ll hearken to Herezoth. I state quite clearly in book one of my series that magic can never interfere with human will. You can’t force someone to do something with magic…. No spell can take over a person’s mind and body and make that man or woman a puppet.
Were I, at any point, to write in a spell that allows a sorcerer to force someone to betray his friends against his will, that would be a MAJOR plot hole. It would violate the “rules” that I had established in a glaring fashion.
Most writers, however, fall into this plot hole more subtly (when they fall in at all).
Maybe you’re writing about a superhero. Maybe the public reacts one way when a villain does something but the opposite way when the hero does something that would look, in the eyes of the people, to be more or less the same. That doesn’t make much sense.
Or, maybe you have the good guys technically breaking the law and never show any consequences for that without explaining how or why that is. See what I mean? If you have established that such and such is illegal, then illegal activities should bring some kind of official punishment or at least some opposition.
THE AUTHOR FORGETS ABOUT/ DROPS A SUBPLOT
This is a problem that a good read-through can usually bring to your attention. And the good news is, it’s generally very fixable (and pretty painlessly so, as long as wrapping up your hanging threads doesn’t force some kind of conflict with how you’ve developed other story lines.)
It’s frustrating to realize you only thought you had a fully developed story. But perspective is key here: rarely is forgetting to resolve something a death knell for your work. If anything, it’s a chance to create more, then tighten up by cutting elsewhere to maintain a good word count.
This is really a great way to get in as much intrigue and action for your words as possible. Add what you need, then cut things you don’t need to get back to the word count you had before. I try to do that regularly. Can’t say I do it well, but it’s a good goal and a good way to focus on content editing (as long as you have a viable word count goal that fits your story.)
So, what are your thoughts on plot holes? Have you had to dig yourself out of one? Do you know of a category or kind of hole I’ve overlooked? Please do comment.
And feel free, if you found this post helpful, to check out the rest of the series on plot issues:
- Connecting subplots to each other and your major story arc
- Five things every author must keep in mind while plotting
- Plot and coincidence
- Plot and pacing issues
- On description during big plot moments: what is too much?
- Making the “big moment” big enough in your fiction