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Plot Holes and How To Fix Them

bullet holes in road sign, plot holes in manuscript

What is a Plot Hole?

If you are new to novel writing, you may wonder what a plot hole is. You read about them. You learn you must fix them, but you aren’t clear what a plot hole is in a novel.

It sounds as if part of the story plot is left out and readers will be left wondering what happened. In the worst case, that is what a plot hole is. But there are more.

A plot hole is a logic fail in your storyline. A plot hole, or plot error, is an inconsistency or gap that counters the logic in a story’s plot. 

For example, In a mystery, the victim was murdered on a stormy day. One of the suspects says he was out taking a walk, and yet there is no evidence of muddy shoes, wet clothing, or anything else that demonstrates the truth of the statement. 

Plot holes can occur in the main plot and also in subplots. 

The problem with plot holes, is they take the reader out of the story. Fiction readers go into the story world and suspend their disbelief. But the plot holes jar them out of the story and make them question the entire story. You don’t want that to happen in your story.

How to Spot and Fix Plot Holes

Finding plot holes is an important aspect of editing. As a writer, you want to tie up loose ends and plug up those holes to give your reader a smooth reading experience.

Here are some common plot hole errors you may find as you go through your first edit.

  • A character’s personality suddenly changes
  • A secondary character has an issue or trouble, but it’s not resolved in your story
  • Illogical events. For example, a character flies to France from California and meets a woman in a bar later the same morning. A character with financial difficulties wins the lottery 
  • A character forgets an important detail they knew earlier in the story

Only you know the logic of your story. But because a novel is long it’s hard to spot the inconsistencies while you are writing. When you put aside the story for a couple of weeks and then read to edit, you approach your story with a critical eye—the eye of the reader.

Tips for Finding Plot Holes

As you read your story be on the alert for plot holes which you can remedy in your revision. To find plot holes you are looking for inconsistencies and loose story threads.

  • Remain objective. The best practice of putting your manuscript aside and approaching with fresh eyes helps you maintain objectivity.
  • Follow your characters. As you read, make sure that each character is consistent within the story and uniform in character.
  • Create a story timeline. Make a list of chapters and major events in the chapter. Make sure the sequence of events makes sense: days, months, years, or even morning to evening. Note the characters present in the chapter. PRO TIP: You may have done this in a story outline before writing, but because things change as you write, get the real-time details of the story as it now exists.
  • Examine your plot. Question the plot logic. Has a journey or question gone unanswered? Has a character made choices or said something that does not fit their personality? 
  • Check your subplots. Follow each one from beginning to end. Make sure all of them are complete. 
  • Keep revision notes. They may open up threads that create new plot holes.
  • Hire a professional editor. If cost is a concern, ask a fellow writer to read your novel or suggest an exchange.

Tips for Fixing Plot Holes

Once you discover a plot hole you have to make a decision about how to fix it. Sometimes it’s as simple as deleting a sentence. Or replace it with one that makes sense within the story. But, often a plot hole is part of a story thread woven into the story. 

Revision decisions are tough. Here are some ideas for reworking the story to eliminate the story logic failure.

  • Rewrite an inconsistency to fit the story. For example, give the suspect who went for a walk in the storm muddy shoes and/or a damp jacket.
  • Make the implausible plausible. If a character is acting out of character, rewrite the scene to fit the character actions and speech with their overall character portrayal and role in the story.
  • Examine the character. What do they want? What is their goal? What is their plan? 
  • Rethink the scene or thread. Your first idea is not always the best idea.
  • Go back to your original outline to check where the story goes off track. 
  • Read the story as a reader. What would trip you up?

Once you’ve identified the plot holes and considered ways to fix them, rewrite the sections that need change to make the story coherent.

Aim For Consistency

A solid story outline before you write can help you avoid many plot holes. If you are a pantser, you’ll need to read your story carefully to find inconsistencies. 

A strong, detailed character background for each character helps keep actions consistent within the story. 

As you read your novel, read as a reader. It’s a mind trick to approach the story as though you know nothing. You’ll discover the places where the story may not make sense. These are the spots you need to fix. 

A professional editor has no emotional attachment to your story. An objective read by an editor is a sound investment in creating a story that flows.

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

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