How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

16 thoughts on “How to profit from a plot hole

  1. Jennifer

    I’m a reader. I don’t always notice holes in the plot, but if I do, those holes tend to become huge and then destroy the story for me. I’m a moody reader. If I’m into escapism, plot holes could become black holes and I might not notice. If I’m escaping, then almost anything will work in fiction. But if I’m reading for the sheer joy of it, then I’ll notice how the story was constructed. And I (usually) like the construction to be invisible: the elegance of swans on the lake, seeming to glide effortlessly because all that paddling is invisible beneath the surface.
    I say usually because sometimes I really want to understand how the author made the story work. Consistency is not my middle name 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      If you see the plot hole, the writer has failed – and in a book the story can’t continue. That’s the advantage of video: you know something doesn’t work, but because the actor just pretended it did, right in front of you, and then went on to the next thing, you tend to forget there was a hole.

      In books, if you notice, it’s hard to pretend you didn’t.

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  2. marianallen

    Oh, yes, I’ve had plot holes! In the SAGE trilogy, I had a guy have to get from Point A to Point B in less time than a horse could reasonably make it. So I had the bastard ride two good horses to death, which is exactly the kind of thing he would do. Just not something I would PLAN.

    As a reader, some plot holes disappoint me, some infuriate me, and some I shrug off. It depends on how pivotal they are, how high my expectations are for that author/book, and whether I can fill them in with my imagination. Sometimes I LIKE them, because I can imagine a really cool possibility and wonder if the author MEANT for me to make that leap.

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  3. acflory

    Gawd…have I ever? When I first published Innerscape I had this bright idea of publishing it in 5 episodes with one episode per week during November. I’d finished writing and editing and restructuring and polishing, and my wonderful Beta was reading and polishing week by week too. And then, just before the very last episode he said, “um, what happend to so-and-so?” So-and-so just happened to be the villain of the piece and I’d totally forgotten about resolving /his/ part of the story. I fixed it, in time, but I’ve never been so panicked in my life.
    Congratulations on solving your own plot problem in such a lovely, sneaky way. I’m sure your character will curse you in multiple languages. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There is a method to my madness: you never go more than a couple of chapters before hearing from each of the three pov characters, and I am very aware when that period stretches, and have dealt with it specifically in the planning files.

      The thing is, my villain is essential to the story turning out the right way in the end, so those plot points keep getting fed in by design.

      It is a huge leap of faith to publish as you go – I know because I did that with PURGATORY – a new scene every Tuesday for two years. It was interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. acflory

        You did? Dear god, I had no idea. I didn’t read Purgatory until it was all in one, neat book. Interesting is not the word I would use. I know some writers are very good at it, but as a pantster I don’t know how the story will end until it does, and that often means some serious restructuring. Nope, definitely could not do it.
        Oh and my villain? His dastardly deeds were done, but he remained unpunished in any manner shape or form. That was the huge plot hole my Beta found. I think I just lost interest in him. lol

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. marianallen

          That’s one of the things I loved about The Princess Bride. Humperdink? Nobody kills Humperdink. He lives. I agree with the Grandson, that it’s unsatisfying, but, as the Grandfather says, Who says life is fair? It was the PERFECT

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        2. acflory

          lol – my villain didn’t die either coz I still need him, but he could just stroll off into the sunset without some sort of karmic punishment. 😀

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Glad you found your fix. It’s a sinking feeling to find one.

      There are many ways to deal with a plot hole. I was just tickled to find one I hadn’t thought of before – and use it successfully.

      They’re always a pain!

      But sometimes they just HAVE to be dealt with.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. Chris

    “It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few [plot holes].”
    One detail is, the *real* world is also full of “plot holes,” or situations that make you wonder, how on earth could that have happened? As they say, fiction — unlike “real” life — has to make sense.

    Plot holes are an interesting predicament for an author, and I think they depend — to some extent — on genre. Crime fiction surely involves much more risk for plot holes compared to, say, literary fiction (that is less predicated on plot).

    But here’s a perhaps surprising dimension, that — in my experience — some authors might not realize:

    Sometimes *patching* a plot hole can be worse than letting it be.

    The reason? Plot hole patching can introduce what I’ve coined in a post on my blog as “Narrative Avoidability:” The author, preoccupied with resolving the plot hole (or even dead-end in some cases), comes up with a fanciful solution that isn’t necessary, narratively speaking. It’s the Deus Ex Machina device. Since I mentioned crime fiction, imagine those stories where, as a reader having reached the final third of the novel, you wonder how on earth it will all be resolved. Well, lo and behold, the author throws a twin brother, or long-lost cousin, or some other character appearing out of thin air, to solve everything. It’s sloppy.

    I think the most crucial element is gauging whether a plot hole is *actually* a hole in the plot. I’m an ardent believer in letting some things unexplained, for the reader to figure out. The examples are rudimentary, but think of it like this:

    Plot hole: John hasn’t paid his phone bill and the line is disconnected. Two chapters later, the phone is ringing. He’s invited to a party, where he shows up in style.

    Not a plot hole: John hasn’t paid his phone bill and the line is disconnected. Two chapters later, having been invited to a party, he shows up in style. [Let the reader figure out how he got the invitation; it could be revealed in due course, or it couldn’t. In fact, *not* revealing it can be part of the creative process, depending on the context]

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I did point out that real life has apparent plot holes.

      Your example is good – but there are many ways in which it isn’t a plot hole, because enough time has gone by for him to pay his bill – or get another carrier – or buy a burner phone.

      Some plot holes are things such as a character being too young to have done something, or a place you have your character drive to overnight be too far to drive in that time.

      Deus ex machina is what gets an author banned from my reading list forever.

      Liked by 1 person

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          It won’t be read by the right people – the authors. But I gift it to you freely (unless you make a lot of money with it, and then I’ll want a cut).

          I think it’s mostly a pantser feature to suddenly be faced with needing an end, and not having been working toward it all along.

          I have to keep working toward mine credibly, and making sure the reader buys the steps, but I know where I’m going.

          As a real plotter, I like it this way. I don’t know if that is how I would be if I hadn’t had the history of thirty years of illness with a non-functional brain, but this is how I have been able to write, and I’m grateful I can.

          Or I’d be writing drabbles only, because that’s how much I can hold in my head!

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