Nothing is worse than when a glaring, gaping plot hole pulls you out of a book or movie. Maybe the main character’s personality suddenly changed for no apparent reason. Perhaps the solution to the protagonist’s problem is too pat, too easy. Maybe the darn thing just doesn’t make any sense. Plot holes are killers because they make your reader want to throw your book across the room. Or, perhaps worse, never pick it up again. Don’t give readers cause to stop reading. Plug plot holes before they sink your manuscript.
First, Take a Breather
In order to fix a plot hole, you first have to recognize its existence. It’s fair to say that if you wrote a whole book until “the end,” you probably didn’t think you had any plot holes in it or you would have fixed them sooner. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be blind to the illogical or problematic parts of our own books. Therefore, perhaps the first step in plugging plot holes is to take a breather. Once you think you’re done with your manuscript, put it down for at least a weekend but ideally a week or so. The less you remember how much work each paragraph and page took you, the more you’ll be willing to edit heavily if needed. Try your best to read the finished product with clear eyes looking toward the plot.
Next, Identify the Problem
What is a plot hole, exactly? It’s a gap in the narrative or an inconsistency in the storyline. It’s something that interrupts the flow of logic. You’ve recognized it when you’ve critiqued someone else’s work (or a TV show or a movie) if you’ve said:
- Hang on, that character isn’t “like that.”
- I don’t get it, why don’t they just….
- He already told her that three chapters ago!
Personality changes are one of the most frustrating plot holes for me. I can’t stand it when a smart, capable heroine all of a sudden, for the purposes of plot, stops being observant. Or starts to get whiny or acts incapable. If this happens because she’s experiencing a setback, that’s one thing. If she’s doing it so that the hero can save her because that’s what was plotted six months ago, that’s a problem.
Make sure that your characters stay true to who they are as a person while still being capable of evolution or change (if that’s what the story dictates). Thoughtful protagonists won’t simply “forget” information they already learned or not notice obvious clues. If your hero is smart, keep him smart in all situations throughout the book. Here’s an article with more on character development: The Intersection of Plot and Character.
Another common plot hole is leaving threads or secondary characters dangling in the wind. Make sure that by the story’s end, you’ve ended all parts of the story in a way that makes sense.
Finally, plot holes occur when an author doesn’t know how to solve a problem. They might have created a twisty plot, but they don’t know how to get their characters out of it. It can’t just have been a dream—the solution needs to come from real life. Magic won’t cut it either if magic hasn’t been a part of the story the whole time. In short, be prepared to lie in whatever bed you made, plot-wise. There needs to be no illogical or fantastical conclusions to your story.
Last, Find a Solution
Once you’ve put your manuscript to the side and are clear about what common plot holes look like, now you have the hard work of identifying them in your own work. Try your best to be objective. If this was someone else’s book, would you buy this plot? Read it as though you were the protagonist. What does she know? How is she feeling? Why? If you can answer all of those questions for her in a logical manner, you might be on the right track.
Sometimes it helps to write a note in the front, or at the end, of each chapter to remind yourself what the main character was told. It helps keep track of what has already been revealed. This is especially helpful if your edit includes cutting big chunks of text. Novels are long documents, and it’s easy to be mired in the length. Keeping notes is not cheating.
If you can afford it, you might want to hire an editor. Developmental editors are professionals who you will pay to be honest with you about your work. They know what to look for and will be able to point out your plot holes. It’s not cheap to hire an editor, though, so another option is to reach out to your community. Do you have a trusted writer, or non-writer, friend who can help? Choose someone who is exacting but kind. Plugging plot holes is one the most important parts of self-editing, so be sure to catch them!