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June 12, 2018

Are Sneaky Plot Holes Lurking in Your Story?

Writers Helping Writers: Deepen Your Craft with Resident Writing Coach Jami Gold

It’s time for another one of my guest posts over at Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Writers Helping Writers site. As one of their Resident Writing Coaches, I’ve previously shared:

With this turn for another coaching article at WHW, I’m exploring plot holes, specifically the types of plot holes we might not know to watch out for and thus let them sneak into our story.

Or put another way: What elements of our story do we need to examine to avoid less obvious plot holes?

Not All Plot Holes Are Obvious

Despite the term plot hole, illogical and/or inconsistent events and details in our story can exist in more places than just our story’s plot. And no matter the source, those breaks in logic affect our readers the same way, so we need to watch out for them the same way we keep an eye open for logic holes within our story’s plot.

Yet when we’re doing our big revision passes or working with beta readers or developmental editors, we might not think to check our logic beyond the plot. The other sources of plot holes can be overlooked if we’re not consciously checking them too.

Writers Helping Writers: Resident Writing Coach Program

Watch Out! Avoiding Sneaky Plot Holes

Come join me at WHW above, where I’m sharing:

  • why plot holes are so important to avoid
  • 3 sources of plot holes
  • why some sources of plot holes can be harder to find
  • 3 types of holes based on plot inconsistencies
  • 3 types of holes based on character inconsistencies
  • 5 types of holes based on worldbuilding inconsistencies

Then come back here, where I’m going more into depth with those super-sneaky worldbuilding plot holes…

Go on, I’ll wait. *smile*

What Makes Some Types of Plot Holes Sneakier than Others?

While some plot holes are easy to find because things simply don’t make sense, other plot holes are sneaky because the problem lies in our story’s subtext. The problem can be what’s not said or explained.

What sneaky types of plot holes should we watch out for in our writing? Click To TweetFor example, have we explained why a character is acting against their best interest? As authors, we might forget to put the explanation in our head down on the page. But if we don’t explain their motivation to readers, we can create a seeming plot hole with the inconsistency by making them a puppet to the plot.

Worldbuilding plot holes often fall into this sneaky category because creating our story world requires us to keep so many intangible or deep issues in mind. We might not realize what explanations are missing unless we consciously ask ourselves how things are supposed to work in our world.

Weak Worldbuilding Can Cause Plot Holes Too

As a paranormal romance author, I create story worlds with a mix of the real world and my mythology-based fantasy world. So I’ve had to hammer out countless worldbuilding issues over the years.

At the time I wrote Treasured Claim, which later turned into the first novel of the Mythos Legacy series, I didn’t worry too much about the bigger worldbuilding because I didn’t need a plan for just one book. But once I decided to turn that story into a series, all of a sudden, I had to build a world big enough for the other books as well.

I think that’s why the second novel required the most rip-apart-and-rebuild revisions of all my stories. For Pure Sacrifice, I had to make characters, actions, beliefs, and magic systems work not only for that story but also for the broader series as a whole.

Especially when we write series, we need strong worldbuilding. Otherwise, every book can create new continuity errors and plot holes.

Reduce Worldbuilding Plot Holes by Understanding Why Things Are They Way They Are

With feedback from my developmental editor on Pure Sacrifice, I dug into tons of why questions, as I figured out why things worked they way they did:

  • What keeps X from happening?
  • Which rules are due to X and which are due to Y?
  • How is X supposed to work? How is the situation broken?
  • What side effects does the magic have?
  • Why does the character do X? Is it due to magic, fears, or other?
  • Why is the character afraid of X? What’s so bad about that in their mind?

Until I knew the situation of the world, I couldn’t know how the story affected those details. Just as we can’t understand how our characters change unless we know their starting point, we can’t understand how our story world changes due to plot events or character actions unless we know why things are they way they are at the start.

Plotters vs. Pantsers: Eh, Both Can End Up with Plot Holes

Whether we plan our stories in advance or write by the seat of our pants, we have to seek and destroy plot holes at some point.

  • Plotters have to check whether the way the story on the page veered from their plan introduced logic flaws, as characters often go off-script, or they have to make sure their strict adherence to the plan didn’t end up with a story lacking flow or characters becoming puppets, etc.
  • Pantsers have to ensure the story they end up with after removing tangents and dead ends doesn’t leave explanations missing from the delete key, or they have to check if their freewheeling drafting style allowed contradictions or underdeveloped ideas (especially with character arc and worldbuilding) to sneak in, etc.

For example, as a pantser, I may realize something important about my characters or my story world as I’m nearing the end of the story—perhaps a subconscious longing that affects their motivations or an obstacle that prevents an easier solution. I then have to ensure that I layer in hints for that realization earlier, developing it throughout the story.

In my most recent story, Stone-Cold Heart, it wasn’t until the end of drafting the story that I realized how the gargoyles’ leadership structure worked. So I had to add those details and hints to earlier scenes where the hero thought about his fellow gargoyles. Ta-da! Motivations, fears, longings, and story flow—all fixed. *smile*

The Problems with Weak Workbuilding

For either writing process, the same checks we do for plot issues need to be applied to our worldbuilding. If we fail to dig into our understanding or to come up with answers, we increase the chances of worldbuilding plot holes:

  • Motivations will be wishy-washy or unclear.
  • Our bad guy will seem extra mustache-twirling rather than a legitimate threat.
  • Inconsistencies will be “hand waved” away rather than resolved.
  • Any attempt to fix one plot hole is likely to create other plot holes.
  • Etc., etc.

On the other hand, strong worldbuilding creates a world that readers feel a part of. They’re never taken out of the story to question X, Y, or Z, so they have more time to simply enjoy our story world, encouraging them to come back for another visit. *smile*

Have you encountered plot holes in your reading? How much do they take you out of the story? Do you understand what’s meant by non-plot-style plot holes? Do you struggle with worldbuilding plot holes in your writing? Can you think of examples of worldbuilding plot holes from your writing or from other stories? (My WHW posts are limited in word count, but I’m happy to go deeper here if anyone wants more info. *smile*)

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Glynis Jolly

Hi Jami

I read your post at WHW and tweeted it from there as well as from here. This is one of those things I am so afraid of, holes in my story. Beta readers who aren’t skittish about telling you what they really think are probably going to be the best at finding them and, therefore, saving you from embarrassment after publishing.

Sieran Lane

As a reader, I think I’m most ticked off by character inconsistencies. (“I thought they hated each other? Why are they suddenly being so nice?” “Didn’t they just say that they never do X? Why are they doing X now?”) Plot holes and world-building inconsistencies can be annoying, but I’m more forgiving of those (as a reader, but not as a writer).

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