Photo by Teddy Kelley.
Reading good fiction is like taking a long car trip when the weather is fine. There is freedom in experiencing the pleasure of a smooth ride and the thrill of unexpected curves as the scenery envelops and transports you. The minutia and anxiety of daily life melts into the quickly passing pavement.
Nothing, however, ruins the pleasure of a nice ride like hitting a huge pothole, abruptly redirecting your focus from the beautiful landscape to the giant hole. This is 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.
As readers we understand that we must suspend disbelief when reading fiction. This is only possible, however, when the work is consistent in character and plot.
The writer can make the rules but the writer must also follow these rules so that the reader isn’t distracted by 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.
Read the following tips to ensure 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.
Research: 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.
Ask questions: 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.
Remain Centered: 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.
Remember, as you take your reader on a ride through picturesque scenes and around the sharp curves of plot twists—watch out for those plotholes!
Thank you for reading. I am excited to hear what you think!