Let's face it, they happen to everyone. Wide chasms that yawn into the dark beyond in our books. Unless you are the most fastidious outliner (and sometimes even if you are), you're bound to get hit by a plot hole sooner or later. They can instill a feeling of dread: How am I going to fix this? Oh no, my story is ruined. Do I have to pick everything apart? Is there a quick fix? Should I just leave it and hope no one notices?
Pretty much most people have these feelings, and it can be oh so tempting to try and ignore that they're there. But it's much better to face them head on, as hard and daunting as that may seem.
So what to do about them?
My process might be different from someone else's, but this is what works for me: Firstly, I make a bullet point list of what happens in each chapter, scene by scene. Here, I'm looking for whether the character motivation leads to the right reaction, or if the new plot element installed makes logical sense. If the first scene is in order, then I move onto the next, and so on. It's likely it's the set up of the event and not the troublesome scene that's the issue, and fixing that could resolve your problems. Usually, I find this fixes most plot holes. Is it long and somewhat gruelling work? Sometimes. Is it worth it? Always.
If that hasn't quite done it, then I zoom out to my macro plot. I take the plot to one side, and identify the main issue (usually pretty clear when it comes to macro plot evaluation). Then comes the creative bit. I don't look for what the answers are; I look at what isn't the answer. For me, it can become quite daunting having to think up the right answer (kind of like brain freeze on a game show). I find it easier to rule out what won't work. Beginning with the outlandish and whittling it down to the "realistic but doesn't quite work" options helps me to come to a point where I can see what will work. For me, this process helps take the pressure off when it comes to getting the right answer.
Well what if that doesn't work? What then? This is a good question, and I don't think there is any one definite answer. Books are as different as fingerprints, and so are their plot holes. However, there is some advice I can offer from my own experiences: seek help. Ask your critique partners for suggestions. Yes, they aren't there to think up your solution for you, but they might ignite an idea that does suit your book. You could also think about researching more about your craft. There are tons of books out there that cover every topic from prose to plot holes. Yes. they won't have a specific solution directly written for your book, but they will open your mind to different avenues of thought and different ways of thinking. This can make all the difference when it comes to looking at your plot holes. A new perspective can do wonders. I also believe that setting your book aside for a week or two and getting some distance is a tried and true way of letting the mind steep. Go and fill your creative well. Let your subconscious do the work. When you get back to your book, the answer might well be there.
Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help you on your way to fixing your plot hole issues. As always, each book and each writer is different. Don't be afraid to try new things, but don't hold on too tight to those things that don't work for you. Best of luck with fixing your plot holes, and here's to complete stories with no bumps in the road!
Friday, 20 January 2017
Filling in plot holes
Fiona McLaren is a displaced Scot living on the sunny island of Cyprus. She's an author, scriptwriter, and editor. She works alongside Cornerstones Literary Consultancy U.S., and also takes on freelance editorial work. The most important things in her life are her boys, her family, and her partner...and lots and lots of books! She's represented by the wonderful literary agent Maura Kye-Casella at Don Congdon Associates.