While those who follow their characters wherever they choose to go will find plenty of holes to fill during revisions, even those who outline are bound to find a plot hole or two.
Once we start writing it’s easy to get caught up in the story and run with the flow without taking the time to make sure everything works the way we want it to.
Often, we forget to show character motivations or leave events feeling unrealistic or implausible given the situation and characters.
We can find these plot holes by taking a step back and ensuring the plot flows logically from point to point.
Once we find one, we can ask ourselves five easy questions to fill the hole:
1. What’s wrong with the plot?
Something must be missing for a plot hole to occur. There are two major types we should watch for:
Events that happen for no reason
This kind of plot hole can bring your readers to a screeching halt. It leaves them confused and wondering if they missed something.
Your characters should always be aware of the reasons behind every event in your story.
This ensures your readers will not get lost and keep reading.
Example: Suddenly a giant fireball explodes the building before your characters, but where it came from and why it’s there in the first place is a mystery.
The reader doesn’t know there’s a mage on a nearby hill set on destroying the city because the townspeople refused his services and he now works for the enemy.
Characters acting in ways that don’t make sense
A well-built character is an individual, as much as any of us are. They should each have their own motivations and goals.
What is logical for one character, might not be for another.
For every action your character takes, the motivation should be clear and hinted at earlier in the story.
Another way characters can do things that don’t make sense if when our characters use skills that seem to come out of nowhere.
Example: A character picking up a bow in the middle of a bandit attack only to shoot an arrow into someone’s eye when they were never shown carrying a bow or ever using one can be jolting to the reader.
2. What happened leading up to the problem?
Once you know what’s missing, it’s time to look back at what happened before things went wrong.
Determine why and how the problem happened and work back through your story until you find the place where the missing information belongs.
Are there any places where you can foreshadow or add details to fix the problem?
Can any of your scenes be modified? Do you need to add scenes?
Every action should have a reaction. Every cause, an effect. And vice versa.
Leave nothing to chance or coincidence and look for ways to involve your characters wherever possible.
3. How does the plot hole affect what happens afterward?
Once a plot hole occurs it affects everything coming after it.
Read through the rest of your story. Find everything that happened as a result of this moment.
Will any of the needed changes affect these points? Are there any places that need to be modified as a result?
Do any of these require additional changes made further back in the story as well? If so, add them to your list.
4. Which character is best suited to fix the problem?
Looking at the previous three steps, who does the plot hole affect most?
The character should have the most to gain or lose from the problem as they will have the most motivation to solve it, as well as the necessary abilities needed to influence the changes.
If you can’t find anyone who fits this description, you might need to add another character to make the plot believable.
5. How can you solve the problem in a way that is logical to the story and characters?
Sometimes all we need is a tweak to the material.
This may be as simple as adding in a brief mention of something the character did or saw a while back.
For example, adding a little foreshadowing or a bit of backstory can quickly fix missing character skills without a lot of rewriting.
But sometimes the problem needs a little more work before it can be solved.
There might be times you have to rewrite sections if you left too big of a hole, such as I did with the fireball incident.
A possible fix to that example might be to have the characters sneak past an army to get into town only to learn the army belongs to a duke who wants the local baron’s daughter and will have her by any means necessary.
A wizard offered to help them fend off the duke’s army, but the baron is a peaceful man and refused to take up arms against the duke.
Feeling slighted, the wizard then offered his services to the duke. Now the baron must hand over his daughter or see his town destroyed.
As you can see, this plot hole would require quite a bit of backtracking and rewriting to fix, including the addition of several scenes.
Not every plot hole will require so much work and sometimes adding material isn’t always the answer. In some cases, cutting material might be the better answer.
But don’t cut or add for the sake of being the easy solution.
Always do what’s best for the story. No matter the work it entails.
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.