Avoiding Plot Holes

Plot holes, the bane of every writer’s existence. It’s not as if writers put plot holes in on purpose – sometimes a writer gets so caught up in a story that they miss the fact that there’s an inconsistency in the plot, or editing and rearranging a story leaves a plot hole where one wasn’t before. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.

Inconsistencies happen to the best of us, but there are ways of avoiding, correcting, and eliminating them within your story.

1. Map out the multiple plots of your story – major and minor.

That is one intricate plot.

This requires a few things, such as a wall, a lot of colored string (I use yarn), and either post-it notes or index cards.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If I do this, I will come off like a murderer.” Fear not! With the use of bring, colorful yarn and the lack of bloody photos and decapitated girls around, your plot chart will most definitely not look like you are a murderer. Although, I suppose if you’re writing a book about murder, then it might.

Anyway, this is great if you’re the kind of person that needs to visualize their work. Even if you aren’t, being able to tangibly layout your plot, your character interactions, and connect all of what is happening in your story in such a way can help you avoid any plot holes because you’ll be able to see where part of your story doesn’t make sense.

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, after Act III scene VI, the Fool disappears from the story and the reader, or viewer, is never told why. Is this a plot hole? Sort of. Some directors have used this gap in the play to their advantage to explain why the Fool is never heard from again, but as far as the text goes, there is no real explanation for the lack of the Fool in the rest of the play. If King Lear‘s plot were put up on a wall and mapped out the Fool’s string falls after Act III scene VI.

As a writer, being able to see where things just drop out of the story like that can help you figure out if you have any plot holes or inconsistencies within your work.

2. Have a friend read and be critical of your work.

In fact, don’t just have one friend read your work, but have multiple friends read your work. One set of eyes is not enough to catch all of the plot holes or errors in a piece of writing – and, no matter how seasoned a writer you are, there are always going to be some sort of errors in your writing.

When we write and read back our work, what we see is what is in our mind, not what’s on the page. A person will think she wrote “Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?” for that was her intention, but a few days later she, or more likely, a friend reading her work notices that instead of “bitter” she wrote “bitten,” and suddenly her work goes from Shakespeare to Stephanie Myers.

That little red or green squiggle Microsoft Word gives you doesn’t always catch homonyms, or, the point of this post, plot holes. People catch plot holes, and sometimes not in the first, nor second, nor third read. And some people will never catch a plot hole or an inconsistency in your work while others might spot all of them.

So have a lot of people read your work and give you feedback – not just a friend or an editor, but as many people as you can find that are willing to give you feedback.

3. Pull out one plot at a time and read through it.

If you’d rather not hang strings all around your dwelling and look sort-of-killer-like, you could always dissect your story on paper instead by pulling out one plot line at a time.

What is King Lear doing throughout his play? Write it all down as one plot outline.

Remember this from grade school?

Yep. Use one of these little guys to make sure your individual plot lines are playing out the way you wish them too. And, if you wanted to get meta about it, you could then compile your plot charts to make sure all of your characters are interacting in the plot the way you want them to.

Thank you W. Xavier Snelgrove for the beautiful chart.

4. Make your story good enough so no one really notices anyway.

I keep using King Lear, written by William Shakespeare, for a reason. There are a few plot holes – like the disappearance of the Fool, or a character knowing information sealed in a letter before it is opened, but it is still considered a classic play. Why? Because it’s a good play that looks at the nature of family, man versus nature, man versus man, man versus his offspring, all entrench in the question of what makes man man?

King Lear is a classic that has been talked about, performed, studied, and adapted for hundreds of years. Plot holes are always forgivable if the story is strong, the ideas are good, and the subject matter is captivating. So do your best to avoid them, but do even better at writing an unforgettable story.

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