Plot holes: they’re one of the quickest ways to lose credibility with readers. I had a roommate in college who loved to yell “flaw!” at the television every time she spotted the slightest implausibility in a show. If you think readers won’t pick up on gaps and inconsistencies in your writing, think again. One mistake can unravel all the hard work and beautiful writing you’ve put into your novel.
Here are a few pointers to spot these plot holes and fix them before they reach readers’ eyes.
Read your book like a reader (or editor) would
Get out of your computer screen and read your book in a different format. When you’re deep in the editing or drafting weeds you have a very zoomed-in view of your story. Presenting it to your brain like a finished product will change your perspective. You’ll spot big-picture issues that slipped by you at the keyboard.
I always print a copy of my manuscript at some point in the process because I like to mark it up with a red pen. While I use my office laser printer for this, you can also take your book to a local copy/print center or even order a bound copy for cheap through a service like CreateSpace (CreateSpace is a self-publishing platform but you can order a proof copy without making it public). If I’m not ready for nit-picky line edits I convert my manuscript to an ereader format to review it on my phone or Kindle (the free app Calibre works well for this).
The format here matters less than how your brain perceives it: as something new, different, and more complete than the Word document you’ve been tinkering with for months.
No matter how you choose to read your manuscript, any of the choices above allow you to take notes. Ereaders offer highlight, bookmark, and commenting features. You can write directly on a physical copy of your manuscript and use color-coded sticky flags to mark places to return to when you edit. Record everything you notice as you read: detail inconsistencies, timeline errors, anything that seems off.
Sketch an outline
I never outline before the first draft, but sometimes an outline helps keep details in order during revisions. These don’t always look like a traditional bulleted, chronological summary. If your story has a lot of flashbacks or backstory, you may need to sketch out a timeline like the ones you saw in your grade-school history books.
You may also want to outline your subplots against the main storyline. Do you drop any plot threads for too long before picking them up again? Have you left any dangling at the end of the book? These common mistakes will distract and confuse your readers.
Analyze characters’ personalities
For your story to be believable, your characters need to behave in line with who they are, not who your plot needs them to be. Spend some time thinking about your characters’ natures and personalities. What makes them the way the are? What are their values? Their likes and dislikes? They should feel like real, three-dimensional people in your mind. Read your story carefully for any actions that feel out of character. Eliminate anything that makes more sense for plot convenience than it does for the character you’ve written.
Double-check your world-building details
If your story happens anywhere other than the present-day real world, you need to check and double-check your world-building details. That means cultural norms, technology, current events, and any fantasy or science fiction elements. Beta readers can help a lot with this because they’ll be encountering your story world for the first time.
Enlist a beta reader
Find someone who has never read your story before and ask them to give your manuscript a read. Their fresh eyes will catch plot holes you can no longer see. Look for detail-oriented, strong readers to beta read for you. Ask them to take note of any errors and inconsistencies, as well as story elements that feel unjustified or don’t make sense.