Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Plot-Holes

Has this ever happened to you? You're done. Finally. All those months spent writing and rewriting a story. You even took a month off, living off your finishing-high so that you get distance from the story. Today is the day you do a fast read on the story you (!!!) wrote. At first a few cringe-worthy phrases, cliches and repetitions stand out. And there's a niggle. A tiny little crack.

But as you read, it grows and grows until it looks something like this:


And then you realize that you have a gaping plot-hole in your story.

Yeah, that's happened to me. It. Sucks.

I went into fix it mode, but nothing I thought of worked to fill the hole. There was aways something that defied solution. Something that I knew could potentially become another huge hole if I let it be long enough. After all, four books make more than enough opportunity for it to grow.

I panicked for a while and then sat down, realizing one thing. If I thought of the story that it exists in, the solution had to exist as well. And probably in such a way that it would come from the story. Knowing that, and that I'd never find it since I had no clue as to what the solution looked like, I finished reading Doorways and left it alone for another two weeks. What else could I do? The whole story hinged on the existence of a solution.

And you know what? I was waiting for a movie to start when the solution occurred to me. It was simple. So much so that I challenge any reader to find it one day, because it's so tiny that you'll never notice it's there. It fit. Perfectly.

So if you do have the misfortune of finding a plot-hole in the story, here are some steps to follow.

1) BREATHE! It's not the end of the world. Nor is it remotely close to being the end of your project.

2) Remember that you got this far with your story. So if the plot-hole is in it, your solution is as well. You just don't know it yet. Yes I know what a pantser-y trick this is, but it really works. Why? Because it opens your mind to out-of-the-box possibilities. You're not limiting yourself to thinking of the obvious. You're exposing yourself to genius.

3) Do something else.

4) Keep doing something else until your mind goes: A HAH! or whatever it does when it gets a brilliant flash of inspiration.

5) Fit the solution to the hole.

a) If it fits, celebrate and revise to blend it into the story.
b) If it doesn't, go back to step one and do it again.

Do NOT try to cram something that you contrived into the hole. It won't fit, so it will take a lot more work to camouflage it from a reader. And you know the thing about camouflage? A trained eye will still see it.

Look Out for These:

1) When you ask how/why/when/where to anything and you don't know because the answer doesn't exist. As supposed to how/why/when/where answers you don't know because you haven't explored them yet.

2) Anything you glossed over in the drafts - not wanting to think about it right at that moment - that accidentally grew to incredible importance as you wrote.

3) How/when/why/where questions whose answers are negated by an edit you did, but can't undo because of more important reasons. See S-day's post to see what I mean.

What do you do when you discover a plot hole?


  1. I do think stepping away from a project can help a person figure out how to fill a plot hole. Since I'm a plotter, I like to think I catch plot holes before they happen. Hehe.

  2. At least you realized you have a plot hole. I have a hard time seeing this in my own work.

  3. I back up to the point where it all started to go awry and try again. I'll keep redoing it until there are no more unanswered questions.

  4. I've had a few problems like that with my current WIP, usually it's been with setting the motivation for characters to do certain things. When I step back, the answer will usually appear, much like it did for you. Great advice, but you forgot to include eating chocolate!

  5. Good post!

    I tend to rewrite completely from wherever the plot hole started. Otherwise, I get this weird mish-mash of ideas that never fully blend.

    A to Z Blogger & SF/Fantasy Writer @ Visions of Other Worlds

  6. I do the same thing you do.

    After I'm done panicking, I relax and wait for the story to give me the answer--it's usually waiting there.

  7. I cry, tear my hair out and then cry some more.

    And then I go back and fix the problem.

  8. I talk to other writer friends, not only are they good help at helping me find plot holes, there good help to bounce idea's of off.

    You'd be surprised at how many plot holes I came up with solutions too because someone asked me a question that I didn't know the answer to and I decided rather than say, "I don't know," I made something up on the spot.

  9. Ha! I've had that hole a few times in my story. Great visual and great tips.

  10. Great tips, Misha! You learned by trial and error and we get to learn from your example. Thanks!

  11. Very cool post this is. Love the tips!!

    Last time I had a huge plot problem, I decided I'd sent off an email to my crit partner to see if she could see the solution I could not. If nothing else, I figure talking about it with someone like me would help.

    By the time I explained it all in the email and what I wanted and why this happened, I could see the solution as plain as day and fired her a thank you instead. She said she was glad she could help, and I apparently did the same for her later that day because I got a thank you, too.LOL

    I tagged ya if you're up for the challenge.

  12. Ouch - plot holes are so tricky! I catch most of 'em before the draft is complete, but it's always a challenge to go back and fix them.

  13. I'm currently in my "distance period" with my WiP as it is with betas. I'm keeping an open mind that plotholes will be found and making sure my mind is ready to address them. Wouldn't want them there for you know, like, an agent to see it.


  14. By coincidence, my "P" post was on the "something else" that works for me when pondering plot holes and other story glitches. Because, yes, this kind of thing has happened to me before. I like your solutions--very practical, very sane. :)

    I also like that comment about the things we've "glossed over in the draft." There's something about being in the throes of that first draft that makes us think, right, right, that'll work itself out later, I'll think about it tomorrow. And then, woe. Tomorrow comes!

    Loved the post and will be back!

  15. I'm another pantser - but having said that, I do kind of plot things out in my head, so most of the glitches are cleared up as I worry away at an idea and work out how it fits with the other pieces. I live in dread of a plot hole like the one in your picture...

    Great post!

  16. I love the amazing ways our brain works when confronted with problem-solving. Of course story-plot-hole-filling is the very best (or worst??) problem solving out there, I guess depending on your perspective. I love the way you put it: "If I thought of the story that it exists in, the solution had to exist as well."

  17. Pray for a solution. Usually, like you said, after much distracted thought, it comes in and of itself.

  18. Great post, I like your solutions. Also I liked your Look out point #1, answers that dont exist vs. answers one hasnt explored.

  19. You've made some good points to consider when a plot hole appears (great photo, by the way!) The suggestions on how to fix them seem to apply. As a pantser, I know the importance of letting a story simmer for awhile. Something usually comes along to fill the obvious gaps.

    The one time I had trouble was when I had to break up a story into two parts because it was supposedly too long for a first-time author of YA fiction. No publisher wanted to take a chance on something as long as the original manuscript. The transitions were hard, ending one half and starting the second half, finding a 'compelling reason' for the character to continue her quest. My writer's group planted one word in my head that helped focus the story. That word was 'death' and the my brain filled in the blanks. Sometimes, it takes an insightful critique group or one individual to set you on the right path as well as the questions and other things you mentioned. :)

  20. Ugh, plot holes! It's so easy to freak out over them especially if a quick solution cannot be found. Thanks for the tips. It'll make plot hole filling a heck of a lot easier the next time I fall into one. :)

    Sarah @ The Writer's Experiment

  21. This is simply great... i am really glad having a look over it


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