How to Keep Your Writing Plot Hole-Free
Minor plot holes can be easy to fix, but major ones can make a premise fall apart. From inconsistencies to continuity errors, from unresolved subplots to impossible or illogical incidents, plot holes can pluck the audience out of the world you’ve created and suddenly make your story feel incoherent or unfeasible. You don’t want your readers to lose faith in your narrative, and you certainly don’t want them to question your ability to concoct a solid plot.
Usually, plot holes happen because authors are too close to the story to be objective and too focused on the details and the narrative to see the bigger picture or recognize the contradictions they’re creating. Consequently, it’s always a good idea to have someone else read your story, even in the early stages, so that any potentially disastrous plot holes can be eliminated as quickly as possible. Though it can be scary showing people your early drafts, doing so can save you pain and time later on. Thus, if you find yourself at a crossroads, it is probably time to ask for help.
Major plot holes can require rewriting or restructuring, which no one wants to do. While there isn’t a foolproof way to entirely avoid plot holes, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of writing that single sentence that can spell disaster.
Below are some tips and tricks on how to avoid plot holes in the first place. If you would like to have your finished draft scrutinized by a professional editor trained to spot inconsistencies in narratives, check out our big-picture editing services.
As mentioned, objectivity is the key to avoiding or at the very least spotting plot holes in your work. That’s why so many of them make it into final drafts—authors tend to be too immersed in their own writing to notice any issues. Taking a break from your story before editing your draft is a good way to gain perspective, but there are other, more proactive ways to dodge plot holes.
Listen to your characters
One of the most common inconsistencies leading to plot holes is mischaracterization, or making your characters do something completely unusual for them just for the sake of a plot point or narrative objective. Although there are instances when it can be appropriate for your characters to behave unexpectedly, it still needs to make sense for them and not just for the story. You need to make sure your readers buy the reason your character is acting in a certain way.
For instance, if your protagonist is usually confident and assured, readers might be confused when that character starts acting timidly. However, you could explain this by showing that they are intimidated or scared. By setting the scene and giving readers more context, you will be able to explain the unusual behavior.
Creating well-rounded, layered characters and getting to know them well, especially before you start writing, will enable you to escape falling into characterization traps and build more cohesive, believable worlds. Some plot holes are minor but can still be avoided if you take the time to develop all of your characters. For example, if you state in the second chapter that your protagonist’s favorite color is green, don’t go saying in the tenth chapter that it is red. These sorts of inconsistencies will annoy sharp-eyed readers and detract from your overall narrative.
Know the laws of the land
Fantasy and sci-fi stories are especially prone to plot holes because it’s up to the author to define every detail of the world their characters inhabit. World-building in speculative fiction is central to the success and plausibility of the story, which is why developing a strong set of rules and laws the inhabitants of the world must abide by is crucial to maintaining consistency.
Explicitly state these rules in your writing so that your audience is aware of how the world functions. Unsurprisingly, readers dislike being caught off guard by some sudden rule about magic that has never been mentioned before. By mapping out the rules of your world, you will also be helping yourself out as you will then have a better understanding of how technology, magic, or anything else in the story should operate.
Outlines provide perspective
We all know a writer who doesn’t like outlining their story beforehand. (If you don’t know one, it’s probably you). However, detailed outlines are a great way to catch plot holes before you even start writing your first draft. Outlines allow you to see your entire story spread out in a more digestible format, making it easier to see it objectively. Additionally, outlines help streamline your plot and ensure that you don’t have too many subplots going on.
Outlining is also an opportunity to ask yourself any critical questions that challenge your premise. Does it make sense? Is it believable? Is this the right sequence of events? Are there any inconsistencies?
Having the basic plot points all spread out in an outline can help you visualize the story as a whole and spot any contradictions or unresolved threads in the initial stages of a new project. It can also be done retroactively for a draft you’ve already written since the goal is to have a clearer perspective, but the earlier you do it, the better.
When you write an outline, you are essentially forcing yourself to sit down with the characters and assess the world you’ve created, weighing what works and what doesn’t. Though this process can be draining, it is the best way to keep your book from veering off in a completely different direction.
Keep track of subplots
Subplots are fertile ground for plot holes because authors tend to not keep track of them or consider their impact on the main storyline. A great way to prevent your subplots from working against you is to put them all on a list you can easily consult. You can even include them in your main outline—whatever works for you is fine, but the goal is to make it as easy and organized as possible.
Learn to love revision notes
Once you’ve started writing, revision notes can help you avoid repetition, dead ends, and incongruences. Keeping organized notes will ensure that the details you change on any given edit or read-through won’t have unexpected effects that might derail your premise or (you guessed it) create plot holes. By recording revisions as you go, you’re making your editing and rewriting processes much easier, smoother, and more accurate. Your future self will thank you for all the work you did in the early stages.
Get a fresh pair of eyes
Sometimes, no matter how much distance you put between yourself and your writing, you just can’t find the objectivity needed for big-picture editing. Maybe you’re on a deadline. That’s when a fresh pair of eyes can really save your story.
Whatever your medium, style, or genre, check out our big-picture editing to get a professional, objective look at your work and preempt those dreaded plot holes.