Watch out for that Plot Hole!
Reading good fiction is like taking a long car trip when the weather is fine. You experience the thrill of unexpected curves, the sense of freedom in taking the journey and the pleasure of a smooth ride. The beautiful scenery envelops you, entrances you and transports you. All your own anxieties and the daily minutia of life melt into the pavement quickly whipping past as you enjoy the journey as much or more than the destination.
But nothing ruins the pleasure of a nice ride like hitting a huge pothole, jolting you back to reality. Running into a deep rut distracts your attention from the beautiful flowering buds and majestic towering trees, abruptly redirecting your focus to the giant hole that fissured your enjoyment. Not unlike what happens in fiction when the reader hits a plot hole.
What is a plot hole? A plot hole is a gap or inconsistency in the storyline that is in contradiction to the established logic created by the author. It can include unlikely behavior or actions of characters, an event or events occurring that don’t correspond with previous events in the storyline, and illogical chronology.
Hitting a plot hole is just as jarring as hitting a pothole. It distracts from the story, disrupts the flow of the plot and can destroy the believability of the characters—wrecking the ride.
Of course, as readers, we understand that we must suspend disbelief when reading a work of fiction. However, the only way that it’s possible is if the work is consistent in character and plot. The writer can make the rules but it is imperative that the writer also follows these rules so as not to distract the reader with inconsistencies.
Plot holes can happen to all writers, even famous ones. One example is Stephen King who didn’t fully have his hands on the wheel when he wrote, Carrie.
King writes that Carrie’s dad died in February 1963, seven months before she was born. But then King goes on to write: “Margaret had gone into her bedroom not four weeks after Gram’s funeral and there her girl-child had lain in her crib…Margaret had almost killed her then. Ralph had stopped her. She should not have let him stop her.” Unless he was a ghost or a hallucination, which isn’t stated, this would be an impossible feat for the deceased father.
It is important for writers as they drive along creating their story not to steer into a plot hole, which can cause a distraction so glaring that the entire story crashes. So the following are some tips to make sure that your readers have a smooth ride.
Create an outline: For both plot and characters
The more detailed, the less chance for mistakes.
Develop a timeline:
Include the chronology of the plot and how each character figures into that timeframe.
Know your characters:
Keep a written account of each character, including physical attributes, behaviors, idiosyncrasies and actions.
Understand your characters:
Once you have developed a character with particular emotional and psychological behavior, understand the reasons for their behavior and actions.
If you are writing about a particular subject of plot and/or character such as an astrophysicist or someone with bipolar disorder, understand these subjects so as to avoid implausibility.
Question your characters’ motives, ideas, thoughts, and actions. Always ask, are they consistent with the person you created?
Know your reasons:
If there is an action or behavior that is inconsistent with the character you created, know and be able to explain to the reader the reasons for this inconsistency.
Stay true to plot and character. If you are writing about dog sledding, don’t try to wedge in your thoughts about vegetarianism and breast cancer unless it fits the story.
Talk it out: Alone or with someone
Discuss the plot and characters with someone. Be detailed in your description in order to highlight any inconsistencies or implausible events or actions.
Step away and return:
Take some time away from your work and then return, refreshed, and with a new perspective. Stepping away helps to draw attention to contradictions, oversights, and missed details.
So remember as you take the reader on a ride through picturesque scenes and around the sharp curves of plot twists to watch out for that plot hole!
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International