Roadside Assistance: How to Fix Your Plot Holes
You’ve just finished writing a book you are proud of. Then, to your horror, your beta readers point out an embarrassing plot hole in your manuscript. Readers usually grab their pitchforks for a reason. They don’t buy what you’re selling. Something rings false or illogical.
This may seem like a nightmare scenario, but take a deep breath and remember that plot holes are normal—at some point, every author is confronted with one. Therefore, it’s not necessarily a death sentence. When you take a solid look at your structure and characters, you might actually find simple solutions.
Thankfully, you have an author’s version of Erase-A-Hole. These are savvy ways to repair a dinged story without replacing major parts. If you need literary AAA, you can also contact a professional editor.
Fortify your plot threads
There’s a fine line between building to a reveal and building the Ryugyong Hotel. Nothing says plot hole like a thread that disappears or seems completely illogical. In truth, you might have a fantastic justification for the implausible plot point, but you haven’t gotten there yet. If twists like the final Horcrux were revealed too early, they wouldn’t be satisfying. However, if your readers complain about it being nonsensical or abandoned, you need to prove it’s still relevant.
On the flip side, you may realize that your readers were right and learn that you need to get rid of a particular plot point. Though this may seem daunting, you will be grateful down the line as plotlines that go nowhere are merely taking up precious room in your book. You don’t want it to feel like a winding road going nowhere. Thus, before you decide that you must add more to the book to make a plotline more substantial, you must ask yourself whether that plotline even belongs in there. If it doesn’t actually move the plot along in a meaningful way, you’d better cut it out.
However, if you realize that you just need to add a bit more substance to make a plotline work, there are two simple ways to do this: dialogue and narration. In dialogue, characters can reference the plotline. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was known for characters snarkily reminding viewers that certain plot points were still in play, but the Big Bad was keeping everyone busy. Narration can also convey this, especially in novels, such as a character’s inner thoughts (if there’s no omniscient POV). That way, readers will know the characters haven’t forgotten about a particular plot point, which will help assure them that it has a purpose in the book.
Hang a lantern on it
Also known as lampshade hanging, this refers to the problem being acknowledged and used for humor. Shakespeare did it in Twelfth Night with Fabian’s “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Used successfully, it’s an affectionate acknowledgment of the audience’s suspension of disbelief and of its goodwill. For the author, it’s helpful when there isn’t a great answer or enough time to invent one. What lampshading can’t do is gloss over challenging plot points, offer an easy way out, or appear too often. Deploy it with care.
Lampshading may not do the trick in more dramatic works since it will come across as disingenuous or even insulting to your readers. Thus, before you consider using it in your book to tie up all the loose ends, you should think about the tone of your book and whether it would make sense to avail yourself of this literary device.
Clear up confusion
A poorly explained plotline can create the appearance of plot holes. While you don’t need to spoon-feed your readers, you do need to set the table. If they are irritated because characters or storylines seem irrational, perhaps you’ve left some details in your head instead of on the page.
This is why it’s a good idea to have other people read your book before you even think about publishing it. Oftentimes, authors are too emotionally invested in their own work and may not see the forest for the trees. Someone else will be able to tell you objectively whether something feels out of left field in your book. Keep in mind that you need enough riveting connective tissue to make your story convincing.
Remember Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith? Audiences howled because Anakin’s fall from broody Jedi to child-murdering Sith Lord took only a few ominous chats and hissy fits. Look objectively at your explanations. Trim the poetic metaphors and focus on clarity. It’s even okay to break the “show, don’t tell” rule if it clarifies the story without slowing it down. Details can be peppered in to make it plausible. As a writer, it is certainly fun to keep your readers guessing, but you don’t want them to walk away from your book feeling like it was unfinished or unsatisfying.
Alongside details, remember the context of those characters and plotlines. This is especially true if the character and the reader have different perspectives. For example, in Game of Thrones, when Daenerys arrives in Westeros, Jon, a heroic character, is suspicious. A brief scene gives context; while viewers see Dany as a protagonist, Jon sees an unknown, untrusted invader with three dragons. Neither character seems implausible, and it’s good conflict for the story.
Hopefully, with a little elbow grease, you can patch your plot holes without needing major revisions. Objective viewpoints are a great way to see if your quick fixes have done the trick. You can always reach out to an expert editor for solid advice.