How to Fix Plot Holes in Your Writing
Have you ever noticed a glaring inconsistency in a novel or a movie and thought, “How did this get past the author?”
Inconsistencies in logic, structure, or characterization in writing are known as plot holes, and it’s usually not until you reread your drafts that you notice them. Still, sometimes it takes another person to point them out. Other times, the audience will spot them, and by then, it’s too late to change anything, which is why it’s best to fix these issues before handing in your final draft. Plot holes can be minor or so large that they make readers question the ending of your story.
Obviously, you want to make sure your book is as perfect and polished as it can possibly be. So, if you’re looking for a professional to read, critique, edit, or proofread your manuscript or screenplay, check out our services for authors.
To learn more about plot holes and how to fix them, keep reading.
Examples of plot holes
In novels, plot holes are particularly common in fantasy and sci-fi, where every detail has been invented by the writer. Still, even in a made-up world, you want to avoid logical blunders that will make the reader doubt the universe you’ve created.
Oftentimes, this can be prevented if you lay out the rules of your world in fine detail. For example, if your story has a magic system, make sure you understand the benefits and the risks associated with each spell, as well as the limitations of your system. By doing so, you will ensure that your story doesn’t have moments where you bend the rules of this world to suit the needs of the plot or characters.
Plot holes can be found in any genre or medium, but movies are infamous for them. For decades, fans have wondered why Marty’s parents in Back to the Future didn’t recognize him as the guy who saved their marriage, or why Jack didn’t just climb on that door with Rose in Titanic.
How did these flagrant mistakes make it into the final cut? Well, they served a narrative purpose. However, it doesn’t make them any less annoying.
So, how do you fix the plot holes in your own writing? Here are a few tips.
Mending plot holes
Small inconsistencies—details that don’t directly affect the narrative or plot—are easy to fix. Did your character say they’re allergic to nuts but then eat a bowl of pistachios? No trouble—just have them munching on some other food. Your character said they never keep up with the news, then suddenly, they know all about politics. Change either the set-up or the resulting contradiction, whichever has the least impact on the outcome.
Luckily, these sorts of plot holes are easy to fix, and they can often be prevented if you complete a character profile for each player in your book. Once you know your characters as well as you possibly can, you are less likely to have unintentional plot holes about their hobbies, motivations, or anything else.
Fixing larger plot holes will take more work, but the same principle applies: You need to focus on what is most important to the story.
All in the set-up
When a detail is instrumental in how your plot develops, it’s important to establish it early on. It’s like the opposite of a red herring; instead of planting a clue intended to mislead or distract, you want it to explain how something is possible without creating a fallacy or a plot hole.
Whether it be special skills, tools, knowledge, or experience, it needs to be established early on to make it feel more natural. The set-up must be subtle but clear enough so the audience isn’t wondering where it came from. For instance, the emotional impact of a scene where your protagonist has been imprisoned would be completely obliterated if that character could suddenly walk through walls. Readers would regard this as a cheap way to get the character out of a difficult situation, and they would certainly not view it as a satisfying ending.
You don’t want to be pulling things out of thin air at the last minute to wrap up all your loose plot threads. By taking the time to structure your story and motivate your characters’ behavior, you are less likely to end up with such plot holes.
Out of character
Coherence is key to avoiding plot holes, but like the rest of us, your characters can sometimes act irrationally, especially when given the right motivation. We can all be pushed to our limits, driven to do unimaginable things under the right circumstances, so sometimes, you can have your heroes and heroines act out of character as long as the motivation behind it is clear and believable.
If a character’s behavior suddenly becomes too atypical, readers will not buy it, and the resulting plotline will be weakened. How can you prevent this from happening?
Motivate your protagonist by threatening their loved ones
Okay, this sounds harsh, but what better motivation than going on a quest to save someone you care about? We would all react if someone threatened our families, and your fictional heroes would, too.
Sometimes, you need your characters to do reckless things or present them with an obstacle they otherwise wouldn’t face in order to advance the plot and add excitement. However, you need a realistic reason for them to do some terribly dangerous/stupid/illogical thing. For this reason, any threat to the people they love is a great way to avoid platitudes and plot holes. Even better, it helps you stick to your narrative purpose.
Being in two places at once
Conversations can be crucial to advancing the plot or revealing a significant detail, but the characters who need to be having these conversations aren’t always in the same place. It might not be feasible to get them together, which is how plot holes happen.
Although technology can be a great tool for getting around this—anything from teleportation in sci-fi to a regular phone call works—it doesn’t always fit the story. From letters brought by messenger pigeons to notes left in someone’s car, there’s always a way to have two characters communicate, even when they’re not in the same physical space.
Again, make sure you understand the rules of your world so that you don’t unintentionally create plot holes by having characters interact in a way that doesn’t fit your world or time period. For example, if your story takes place in the 1960s, your characters can’t be texting each other.
Other times, you need your characters to stay put. If you have one of them fail to reach their desired destination, it will make their eventual victory that much sweeter. Failures and obstacles enrich stories as they make the characters stronger for having surmounted them, but this can become a plot hole trap when authors resort to illogical solutions.
One way to make sure you don’t create a plot hole trap is by injuring or imprisoning your protagonist or someone on their team long enough to keep them from being where they were supposed to be. In some cases, this could even let the bad guys think they’re winning. Maybe your protagonist gets locked up in a cell or stranded in the middle of nowhere. It just has to fit the story and feel natural.
Plot holes are an almost inevitable part of writing, but the good news is they can be fixed. Question your characters’ motivation, actions, histories, and personality traits, and stay true to your narrative. That said, we all know what happens when we’ve read the same thing over and over again—it stops making sense, right? This is why our big-picture editing is a great tool for writers, offering that fresh, objective perspective every author needs to perfect their work and avoid those dreaded plot holes.