How to deal with plot holes

ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY PLOT HOLES? REALLY SURE?

Plot holes are especially hard to deal with when you are getting near the end, because they require a functioning brain to make sure the fix works, and I am even less likely than usual to have such an unfogged brain simply because of the pressure involved in making sure everything is taken care of, preferably BEFORE publication.

So it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation, and a place where the indie freedom to put off the launch another week or so is a Godsend.

I can’t imagine what it would be like with a deadline.

And someone like me should probably eschew using the pre-order feature on Amazon due to the likelihood of ‘something came up.’

I would imagine we first-timers should ALSO not push our luck.

Plot holes have a lot in common with potholes:

Somebody has to notice them, either by reading (driving) that scene, chapter, or set of chapters (street) that contains it – or by having someone else do it – and reporting back to the person in charge.

A systematic sweep of the work in question – this is known as beta reading or editing, depending on who does it – is preferable to having someone discover the hole by getting caught by it AFTER purchase, something which results in either broken axles or suspension of disbelief if they get big enough.

And, from what I’ve read, that leads to annoyed reviews. Not a good start.

Plot holes basically come in three sizes:

  • Small – affects a scene or chapter only, and is easily fixed within that scene or chapter without upsetting the external timeline between scenes (much). (Fill: asphalt)
  • Medium – big enough to require checking a series of scenes and chapters, so as to make sure the connections between the pieces have all been checked in the final product. (Roughly equivalent to paving the streets in my development.)
  • Really big – otherwise known as sinkholes, a big plot hole ruins the story in such a way that the whole thing is toast, and, depending on when you find it, will require a major rewrite, or the abandoning of the whole project. I hope not to create that kind.

Finding the holes:

I have enough distance from the writing as it has taken me forever to do some of the auxiliary tasks such as learning enough graphics to do a cover. Principal writing was completed on Palm Sunday, back in March.

So it is possible to read like a reader – constructing the story world out of the words as I go along, and listening carefully to when the mind says ‘Huh?’

Fixing carefully

The small ones get fixed easily as you notice them, because their spatial extent is usually obvious. Oops – this should be Saturday, not Sunday – is easy enough to change.

If you think about it, the medium-size ones are both the hardest to find, and the hardest to fix, because little pieces of old text have a tendency to hide in non-obvious places, such as internal monologue or someone’s reply to a piece of dialogue. So a great deal of care is going to be necessary in the finding and planning, but the implementation should be straightforward.

If you have Really Big Plot Holes, you may need professional help. Good luck!

The process of fixing the darn things needs to proceed in an orderly manner. Quick fixes, such as when my township fills the hole with some asphalt and a prayer, usually results in a repair which doesn’t last long.

I did a few quick fixes as I was writing Pride’s Children and posting them online every week, and only one or two people noticed: the fix was good enough to move on, or didn’t affect the story when the reader had to remember details from week to week. To be fair, I thought I had stopped, fixed the timeline completely, and tapered the edges of the fix into the ends and beginnings for a smooth continuum, and I had updated the calendar so I could proceed from there without worrying

I pride myself on my potholes: they are in the timeline, but are minor glitches, and they don’t make you question the story, just whether you remember correctly having heard a date before.

Where do plot holes like this originate?

I thought about that one for a while, and realized that, for the medium-size plot holes I’m dealing with, the hole came into existence because a particular piece of dramatic story worked so well in several different places that I had not done the hard work of deciding in advance where it would be BEST, and thought it would be obvious where the best location was – as I went along in the writing.

Example (but not in this book):

The easiest one I can think of is the typical timeline for when a woman tells the world she is expecting a baby. There is an obvious limited timeline between conception and delivery, and, for some women, the later dates make it fairly obvious that something is going to happen, but people are surprisingly bad at telling exactly how far along a pregnant woman is. And we hear stories on a regular basis of girl who delivered a baby at the prom – and claim that neither she nor anyone in the family had any idea she was in the family way.

I think there may be a good bit of denial or deception involved there, and the two or three cases in which I was close enough to have a pretty good idea, this was the truth. But even in those, families were not paying attention to loose clothing and moodiness because teenagers are often that way when not expecting.

In any case, having gone far afield with an example, the point is that the announcement of either a baby on the way or an actual baby changes a lot of things forever, and thus picking the right time and place has major consequences.

So it isn’t surprising, if a little one is on the way, for the writer’s brain to ask the question of how it would affect the characters and the story depending on where, when, and to whom the event is revealed – and for some of those to affect what happens in scenes which later turn out to be before anyone knew!

MY plot holes

The plot holes in Pride’s Children, Book 1, are not hard to fix – and I thought I already had fixed them – until reading in sequence had some of the questions I thought I’d already answered popping up again.

They are sequence events: something happens before something else when it was intended to happen after.

Not to worry.

Plot holes respond well to logic.

I have the calendar involved, a list of the scenes, the affected bits of text. I watch whose point of view is called for – and pay attention to whether something is internal or external to the calendar. And I try to see the story as something that actually happened – so a comparison to ‘reality’ helps check for consistency and order.

In addition, I’m asking myself to choose – which involves a bit of writing back and forth with myself, and deciding, on the page, which sequence will be true, and why. Then I record that decision in writing in the Journal.

Then I have to go in and make sure the fixes, where necessary, do not interrupt the flow. These are plot holes which must be fixed, but their previous incarnation did not interrupt the flow, so that must stay the same. Inconspicuous mends, feathered in.

Needless to say, I don’t want to have to do this again, so I’ve checked out a couple of other sequences – and most are just fine.

And I’m going at the fixes VERY slowly.

So if you wonder why I haven’t been writing blog posts, remember I have CFS and that makes it slow to fix things, especially when I have to be extra careful not to make things worse!

I’ll get there.

Next time – planning prevents potholes

I think I’ve learned a few things – make sure your calendar is set concrete before you start writing. Liquid is fine when you’re planning, but at some point you have to be able to write your initials in it, and have them stay.

Keep the calendar current, and change timing with great trepidation; the brain is happy to throw up new ideas – it gets bored easily.

But I will think several times before moving ANYTHING during the writing, no matter how much it takes me out of the writing: running into holes when you thought you were done is very discouraging.

Like any other writing problem, you can’t avoid all of them, so it’s important not to get TOO discouraged when you’re not actually the god of your particular universe, and can’t make things be exactly as written. Oh, well – that’s what editing is for.

Finally

It’s still far, far better to find them while you can fix things (and preferably before the POD Accept button is clicked) – no one will ever know.

Do you have other kinds of plot holes that have bitten you? Solutions which work?

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17 thoughts on “How to deal with plot holes

  1. Alice Audrey

    I once wrote a set of intertwining books. Same set of characters living in the London in 1811 for all 4 books. I had to set up a similar system to keep everything straight just fior the rough drafts.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m hoping you wouldn’t – these are just a cleaning up of a timeline which, if you paid a lot of attention to, might make you ask a couple questions here and there.

      This is acceptable for a story written linearly and posted as it was written (from a very complete and detailed outline): nothing remains exactly as you plotted it when you write it – the Muse throws up more ideas as you go.

      But I would expect myself to then look at it as a whole, first line to To Be Continued, and make sure that everything is perfect.

      But I don’t expect you to notice – if you didn’t notice before. I hope. And the STORY was set in concrete fifteen years ago – that changes not at all. I just had to learn to write it.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          No, not in the future. In a slightly earlier time.

          It doesn’t matter – writers can go back and change things and add things and delete things – until the whole makes some kind of internal sense. THEN they publish.

          For some reason I thought I would be spared. Hubris, I guess.

          Again, it’s not large, and it doesn’t change much of anything. But it got a bit twisted, and I’m straightening the thread out.

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        2. donnainthesouth

          no, what I meant by that was thought I saw where you said you had the whole story already in 2000 – or think what you actually said was – 15 yrs. ago, which would be 2000, which was before 2005, which is when you said it started

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        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Ah. Get the confusion.

          The story came to me in 2000 or 2001 (long time ago, not sure without looking it up).

          I kept working on it, had a rough draft finished by early 2007 that was a bit awkward, and certainly a first draft in that characters spoke awkwardly, much detail was missing, plot had some bumpy places. I was poking at it to see what could be done (remember, my brain works both badly and slowly).

          When I had an opportunity to be the chaperon for my daughter and two of her homeschool friends at LaSalle U in Philadelphia, I grabbed it, and for three weeks, while the girls were doing their science internship, I worked over the plotting for the draft in what I call the Great Reorganization of 2007. It left me in a much more organized and balanced place, where I was happy that the threads of the tapestry made a pleasing whole.

          After that, I had to learn how to write things so the words on the page agreed more with the vision in my head from the beginning. Ideas are easy, execution requires skill.

          What you have here, and what will be published soon, is the result of my learning how to write so far. And the published version will be subtly better because I’m learning how to do full-book edits – and Pride’s Children is LONG.

          I do have other novels, one finished, one half-finished, and the third in that series sketched out (from the last century). Agents sort of liked that – but ultimately didn’t agree to take the first one, and then I got diverted, and like PC a lot more, so I focused on it, not having the capacity to do more than one thing at a time.

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        4. donnainthesouth

          wow – there is so much more that goes into writing than one who doesn’t ever realizes – fwiw, I think PC has turned out really well but even I (just trying to republish an old book, updating and cringing somewhat over changing what the original author but trying to justify it by believing if he were writing it now he’d do to it what I have, not trying to change his meaning, just updating for modern times and I realize even that would upset some purists but not all things need to stay the same – anyway said all that to say this, just that little thing I can grasp the editing difference as you go along and then the big full-book thing at the end, making sure it’s all consistent so I know you’ve had your work cut out for you with your big epic project but I can’t believe it will be anything but better – therefore just amazes me, does it you? these people that have so much going on at one time but I don’t believe they can do that with a project the size of yours – I know one author who’s doing one your size and I think he’s pretty much had to put everything else to the side as well – and I don’t think Ken Follett did anything else while doing his big one either – btw, have run across some of his other stuff and don’t care for it at all

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        5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Thanks – and yes. I didn’t realize (probably a good thing, or I might never have gotten started) that there would be this big push at the end which calls for strength I don’t have, but I’m doing it anyway.

          Updating someone else’s work must be a tough job.

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  2. Janna G. Noelle

    I’m not revising my historical fiction trilogy yet but I’m sure I have plot holes galore stemming from not having decided upon a specific historical timeframe (i.e. from this year to that year) until after book one was already written (oops!)

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      No – you read it right. It is a medium-size one, with tendrils (tiny ones, but significant ones) running from Chapter 7 to Chapter 17, a span of seven weeks.

      It would take a normal person twenty minutes to straighten out – but I have enormous trouble keeping all the pieces in head simultaneously.

      I now know what to do: a printed calendar of those 7 weeks, a file with ALL the relevant text bits for those scenes affected, and a very visual way to make sure I know what goes where.

      It isn’t significant. It doesn’t affect the story much. But it is there, I’ve known for a while it is there, and the FACT threw me for a loop for a while (I thought I’d fixed it).

      No huhu, as Heinlein would say, but I must be very careful to fix it RIGHT.

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