Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Pot...er...PLOT Holes by CB

There you are, on a beautiful spring day, snacks and a cold beverage nearby, cruising along, writing a lovely story that’s full of interesting characters, when, BAM!, you hit a Pot Hole … er, Plot Hole. The story bounces a foot off the road, lands back on the asphalt with a thud, and half your characters (and their luggage) go flying out of the story. Ugh. What a mess! Yet you continue to write, oblivious to the confusion you’ve left behind.

Time to call a repair crew to fix those Holes!

First, we need to know, what ARE Plot Holes?

Wikipedia tells us a Plot Hole is a gap or inconsistency that goes against the flow of logic that has been established by The Story’s Plot. Such inconsistencies include illogical or impossible events, or statements or events that contradict earlier statements or events.
On the other hand, just to be fair, certain genres allow or even require Plot Holes and readers’ Suspension of Disbelief (when readers choose to overlook any Plot Holes).  
To sum it up, a Plot Hole is missing information or an obvious mistake that takes away from the plausibility and integrity of The Plot -- and leaves readers scratching their heads.
1. Illogical Events. Example: The all-powerful villain is easily defeated.
2. Contradictions. Example: The hero is very loving in one scene, yet is unaccountably cruel in the next.
      3. Dropped Plot Lines or Characters. Example: The sidekick goes off in search of something, leaving the hero       behind, and is never heard from again.
      4. Unexplained Changes in Character or Setting. Example: A character begins the day in the city and is       inexplicably wandering around in the countryside by mid-morning.
      5. Continuity errors. Example: A character is said to have brown eyes in one scene and blue eyes in a later       scene.
* * * * *
When are Plot Holes OKAY?
Sometimes, readers are willing to overlook Plot Holes for the sake of the story. After all, fiction is fiction. Imagination is a good thing. Under the right circumstances, Plot Holes might be okay.
Here are a few examples of when a Plot Hole is acceptable:
1. In Appropriate Genres. Within certain genres (e.g. fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.) Plot Holes are quite common. Some may even be Large Plot Holes whereby readers roll their eyes. Other Plot Holes can be overlooked simply because they make the story possible.
In science fiction, a Plot Hole is sometimes known as a Jellybean Moment. For example, in Harlan Ellison’s short story, “Repent, Harlequin!,” the climax involves using jellybeans to gum up the workings of the society. It’s only after the story has ended that the reader thinks, “Where the heck did he get the jellybeans?”
Another term for Plot Hole is Fridge (or Icebox) Logic, first used by Alfred Hitchcock when he made the movie “Vertigo.” The main character’s wife mysteriously, and impossibly, disappeared from the hotel that he last saw her in. (This, by the way, is the granddaddy of all the Plot Holes in this movie.) Hitchcock called it an “icebox” scene -- a Plot Hole that “hits you after you’ve gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox,” one that you don’t notice at the time because you were so caught up in the story.
2. With Unreliable Narrators. An unreliable narrator is a POV character who can’t be trusted to tell the story with accuracy. The spurned, alcoholic, and jobless character Rachel in Paula Hawkins’ novel, “The Girl on the Train,” is a good example. Unreliable Narrators allow readers to ignore Small Plot Holes.
3. With a Novel Series. If you are writing a series, you may find that you can explain a Plot Hole in a subsequent book. Readers may disregard a Plot Hole in an early book with the hope that this Plot Hole will get filled in.
* * * * *

How does a writer FIND Plot Holes in his manuscript?

1. Know your story well. In fact, get to know your novel BEFORE you write. This way, you’re more likely to figure out what might BECOME Plot Holes before you write them into your story.

2. Examine your Plot. Take the time to look over your Plot Outline. Is it logical? Do the events line up? Does your hero play off the villain’s actions (and vice versa)? This, too, will help you catch Plot Holes even before you begin to write.

a. If you’d like to really crack down on your Plot, take time to write out a full five- to ten-page Plot Summary.

b. Examine characters’ actions from beginning to end. Look for any areas that seem implausible, inconsistent, or jumbled.

3. Create character sketches. This is a simple way to avoid inconsistencies in your characters’ appearances and actions. Keep these sketches handy as you write

4. Create a character checklist of every character, even minor ones. Be sure to write an ending for each character, then mark that character off your checklist. By doing so, you’ll save yourself from a lifetime of disgruntled fan mail asking what happened to so-and-so.

5. Know the laws of your story’s world. Whether you’re creating a fictional world or simply exploring a specific culture or lifestyle (e.g., royalty, secret organization, cult), know the rules, manners, governments, laws, norms, and other social constructs. If your novel has magic in it, make sure to lay out where it comes from and how it works.

Added by Bonnie: If your fictional society has as set term for a certain word, make sure they don’t stray from that. In other words, if that society uses say, “father” only to mean their leader, and not their male parent, then those characters would never refer to someone else’s male parent as a father, only as a dad. And I’m telling you, when you set out making up a new society, and come up with a gimmick like that, it sounds easier than it is!

6. Keep notes while editing. Make a list of any Plot Holes you uncover. Begin planning your Plot Hole Repair. On your Plot Hole list, note changes you make since the changes may create new Plot Holes. Then do a second read-through to look for any new damage you might have caused.

7. Utilize beta-readers. They read through your manuscript (most often free of charge) before it’s published and then offer feedback on inconsistencies, contradictions, et al. Sending your novel out to a few beta-readers is enormously helpful because they will catch the little mistakes that you are far too subjective to see.

Side note from Bonnie: Not always. Case in point: after a half dozen critiques, and my twin Konnie reading my manuscript at least a half dozen times on top of that, let alone how many times I’d gone over the manuscript, I spotted a glaring error in terminology. In fact, the very one I describe above. At least I finally caught it.

8. Trust your editor. If you land a book deal, your publishing house will assign you an editor who will read through your manuscript. If you self-publish, hire a freelance editor. You will receive professional advice, and the editor will notice any Plot Holes that still need repair.

* * * * *

How do you FIX Plot Holes?

Uh oh! A character pushed the Plot into a Hole! Chances are, that’s the character best suited to get the Plot out of the Hole. Ask yourself these questions: Who has the ability to cause this Plot Event to happen in a believable way? Who has something to gain from it? Lose from it? Who might be hurt by it? Who are the people connected to it? How might their actions have influenced it?


If there are no characters tied to this event, you might need to add someone to make it all work. Go to earlier scenes where you can introduce needed Plot-Hole-Filling characters and work them into the storyline. 

1. Use the proper groundwork to set it up: Small Plot Holes often just need filling. A line or two earlier in the story might be enough to tie the Plot Hole into the rest of the Plot. 

2. Add a b
ackstory to explain or make the Plot Hole credible: For example, if you’ve never shown the protagonist is an expert pool player, suddenly having them get out of a problem by winning a life and death game of eight ball will feel contrived and out of the blue. But if the protagonist has a pool table in his house, or a custom cue hanging in his apartment, it slips in a hint to the readers that the protagonist plays pool. 

3. Give a character m
otivations to act a certain way: Let your readers know why the character decided to do whatever it is, and make sure those reasons are at least hinted at prior to the event. 

4. Add t
rigger events or a catalyst: A sudden flood that keeps the protagonist from getting home will be quite the coincidence if you never mention rain or flood warnings, or even that the setting was anywhere near water. 

And when you’ve finally filled all the Plot Holes, your readers can safely ride along with nary a bump.

Carol Baldridge (cb) is a retired librarian. She has been a regular in the chatroom for some time, and has recently started helping with topic chats. You can visit her cats...er...her blog at http://ceebeeskittykorner.blogspot.com/ 

Labels: , , ,