How to Find and Fix Plot Holes

A plot hole is a gap in your story where you are lacking critical information. Such gaps create confusion and lack of credibility in your story. Some plot holes are minor and only require a tweak here or there, where others are severe enough that it affects the entire storyline.

This article will discuss how to find and fix plot holes so that your story is plausible and engaging to your audience.

Let’s dive in.

How to find and fix plot holes | Kate Johnston | Writing Coach | Editor

What is a Plot Hole?

A plot hole is an inconsistency or gap in your storyline that creates confusion or disbelief for your reader. This could manifest as a character’s sudden, unexplained change in personality or motivation, information that appeared at the beginning of the book that illogically changes in some way (continuity error), impossible events that aren’t explained sufficiently, loose threads (storylines or characters that suddenly disappear for no reason).

Readers must suspend their disbelief, which is part of a contract they enter into with the writer. The writer’s end of the bargain includes creating a fictional world that looks, sounds, and feels real due to the solid narrative that the writer thoroughly understands. That’s key. If the writer isn’t in command of her story and all that she pours into it, then she risks writing a loose framework that can’t hold the story together.

How to Find Plot Holes in the Overall Narrative

Look at the big picture and break it down element by element.

-Is your setting consistent? If it changes, is there a reason why?

-Do your characters make decisions based on something that happened that your readers understand? Do all of your characters’ relationships impact one another?

Too many POV characters can confuse the story and muddle the main conflict if there aren’t solid reasons for their perspectives. Because all POV characters need to be developed and undergo some kind of arc, their roles must impact and be impacted by other characters.

-Does the conflict add up or are there places where it feels illogical?

-How do my subplots tie into the main conflict?

-Are the laws and conventions of your story world consistent and plausible? Do all of your characters follow the laws when they’re supposed to?

-What don’t you know about your story? Make a list of everything you don’t know and plan to research accordingly. Lack of clear understanding of setting, main conflict, character behavior/attitude, and genre conventions is the most common reason writers end up with plot holes in their stories.

     Don’t let incomplete research stop you from finishing your first draft, though. It’s so easy to get ourselves stuck in the mire of research that we halt production on our story for way, way too long.

Simply flag the spots that need more information and write the next scene. Yes, your draft will feel like a bunch of islands of moments, unlinked and isolated. This is just your rough draft and it’s supposed to feel cumbersome. Keep writing!

-Why are your characters behaving this way? This is a big one. Weak or unexplained or unbelievable character motivation will lead to weak or unexplained or unbelievable goal attainment.

You want your characters and their motivations to serve the greater story. This comes through at the scene level. If you find yourself changing the story to fit the character’s actions or responses in a scene, then you’re weakening or altering the main conflict.

Not only do you need to pay attention to behavior, you also need to watch out for their attitude, their reasonings, and their responses. You need to stay consistent and realistic while keeping tension tight and your readers engaged.

Mark the progression of relationship to ensure there is change, and that change creates upheaval in the relationship.

How to Find Plot Holes at the Scene Level

For each scene ask yourself three questions:

  1. What does my character want?
  2. How does that move the plot?
  3. What changes by end of the scene?

If your goal doesn’t lead directly to the change in your scene, don’t fret. It could be that the change occurring in the scene is a result of another goal you planted in an earlier scene.

Many scene cycles don’t begin and end within the same scene. Some evolve over multiple scenes, many pages. The important piece for you to track is that they do evolve—that you haven’t left a goal unfinished. This would be a dreaded plot hole.

-Are your bigger scenes linked together through a progression of smaller scenes? Always be thinking about your plot in terms of cause and effect. Every scene in your story needs to lead to a new scene, either in relations to your main character or another character. Scenes that just happen without a reason will stick out awkwardly, giving your story an episodic feel.

-As you go through your manuscript, highlight the goals and changes throughout. Are your scene cycles complete? (Goal > Conflict > Setback > Reaction > Dilemma > Decision > New Goal)

If they’re incomplete, you may be verging on a plot hole. Every story is different, so not every story will make use of all parts of a scene cycle. However, if you don’t have your characters reacting or up against conflicts, you better have a good reason for it.

These are just a few questions and things to look for when you’re ready to fill in those plot holes. Obviously, you’ll have your own questions and checklists that are tied directly to your specific story. Getting a beta reader to help you with this job is important too. A beta reader will read with more objectivity which will help you tighten the places that need more work for story plausibility.

Do you have a special method for finding and fixing plot holes? Share in the comments!

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