For many writers, plot holes are the bane of a story’s existence. At their worst, they appear at the exact moment that you don’t want them to, just as the reader has started to get invested in your story. Some plot holes are easy to fix. Others crumble away at the very fabric of your story until your plot looks like swiss cheese.
To fill the plot holes in my story, I’ve had to go back to hard-core revising. The main plot of my story hasn’t changed but the history, subplots, and characters behind that story have gone far deeper than I could have possibly imagined they would when I started writing my novel nearly eight (yes, eight) years ago.
This type of deep work is not uncommon for fiction writers. The more that you know the inner workings of your story’s plot and arc, the less likely you’ll lose readers when your work is finally published.
In a recent post, Sin Ribbon mentions five specific ways a writer can detect and avoid plot holes in a narrative. The insights she offers match up with what I’ve done with my own novel. Ribbon notes that characters should not only respond appropriately to certain situations, but they should also grow throughout the book. “Characters will and should evolve,” she states. “Readers want to follow along on your character’s journey, and that includes witnessing the consequences of the character’s experiences and decisions.”
That also means that all characters, even minor ones, should be well-rounded. When J.K. Rowling envisioned Professor Snape in Harry Potter, she could have turned him into the stereotypical antagonist. Instead, Rowling creates a multifaceted individual who longs for love, agonizes over the past, and hates his role in Dumbledore’s plan as much as he appears to hate Harry. What could have been a clichéd persona is a complex character.
Filling my story’s plot hole has depended on me getting to know my characters as deeply. I’ve come to know my protagonist, Quinn, inside and out. A plot hole, though, affects every character in a story, every secondary and even tertiary character. In order to understand how my characters interact with one another and why, I’ve had to think of them all as fully-realized people.
In her post, Ribbon also discusses the sequencing of events throughout a story’s plot. Not only should scenes begin at the right moment, but a distinct cause and effect should appear for every occurrence. “Don’t throw a crucial item, detail, or event into the middle of the story just for the sake of convenience; it needs to have a source and path that readers can follow,” Ribbon explains.
Establishing the “rules” of your story’s world can assist you in understanding the cause and effect of each scene. In the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy, for instance, we meet Katniss Everdeen. She is guarded, somewhat detached, and critical of nearly every person around her. We soon learn why. The world that Suzanne Collins creates shapes Katniss into the character she is and who she will become.
Similarly, the “rules” of my novel’s worlds govern my characters’ thoughts and actions. Not only have I had to consider the historical events and societal customs that ruled the early 1910’s; I’ve also had to flesh out the norms of my magical world. What’s more, I’ve had to develop the history behind my magical world. Just as J.R.R. Tolkien imagined a long history about the “one ring to rule them all” that created a long-lasting ripple effect well before his trilogy’s inciting incident, the events that happened long before Quinn finds a magical book in a dusty old library mold my novel’s magical world and people Quinn encounters.
At the heart of avoiding plot holes is Ribbon’s final point, giving readers a reason to care. A good story will often have one or more subplots that deepen the narrative. For instance, a friendship/love triangle emerges alongside the larger plot of lost autonomy in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. While Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy learn the truth about why they exist, they also struggle to recognize and actualize the love they have for one another. This subplot supports the main plot; without it, the story would not be as rich, nor as heartbreaking.
This is my next step. I’ve made plans to map out both the main plot of my story and the subplots that have developed. By visualizing these subplots and how they overlap with the conflict, rise in action, and climax of my main plot, I plan to unearth and develop a storyline that will, ultimately, seal my story’s plot holes off entirely.
Finding plot holes in your story can be discouraging, especially if you’re unsure initially how to fix them. But as Ribbon notes, “[S]tories [are] like vast, ever-changing universes much like our own, and it’s tough to fit something that size in your head while keeping track of everything.” For me, certainly, I’ve come to appreciate (although begrudgingly) the plot holes in my story. While working on these narrative flaws, I’ve learned much about storytelling…and that, in the end, will only help to improve my craft.