Three Tricks for Avoiding Unintentional Plot Holes


As readers, we’re pretty good at pointing out other writers’ mistakes. That’s one positive aspect of sharing our original work with others. We’re not quite as skilled at finding and eventually fixing our own mistakes. That, like anything, takes practice.

Digging plot holes is a common, chronic mistake—so common that sometimes even finished works still occasionally have a few left over from intense revisions.

Exercise your self-editing skills with these tricks for catching plot holes before they become a problem—or avoiding them entirely without having to go back and restructure an entire storyline when revision “season” hits.

Map it out

Outlining works for some and absolutely does not work with others. Sometimes even just writing down main points to visually “connect the dots,” though, can at least help writers better map out where their story has gone so far and where it will end up—and the important details in-between.

With an outline, you have the freedom to color-code conflicts and their resolutions (if you’re into that sort of thing), or come up with a different method that helps you track smaller, yet still significant events throughout your story to make sure they have a beginning and end point.

Fill the holes with question marks

Okay, not literally (though if you do spot one in your draft and want to mark it that way, be our guest). If you’re writing a stand-alone story or book, it’s probably best to skip this method, at least to the extent we’re about to describe. But if the story you’re working on is part of something bigger, there’s an effective way around not having the answers your readers are looking for.

Instead of leaving plot holes empty, deliberately replace them with questions to be answered at a later point in the overall plot. If two characters throughout your story consistently argue about something neither has a correct answer for, don’t just let the subject drop: let that small unanswered question go unanswered, as long as the pursuit of that answer coincides with bigger plot points later on.

And, also, don’t forget to actually answer any of these questions. Eventually.

Don’t get too caught up in side and back stories

 We know, it’s tempting. One simple, necessarily flashback can easily, and quickly, turn into a completely new thread of smaller stories we want so desperately to fit in with the main plot. Sometimes they do, and that can basically only be explained as literary magic (or a beneficial byproduct of brain rush). But it doesn’t always work … and often, once we fall in love with a new story, it’s hard to let it go.

Be careful when you do catch yourself going off on “literary tangents.” Make sure anything you start has a good potential for a relevant tie-in to the rest of your story. And if one of these side plots doesn’t end up working out with your main plot, save the idea—it might come in handy when working on a different project later.

Every writer makes mistakes. Often, plot holes go undetected, but keeping a close eye out for them, avoiding them when you can, can lead to a much smoother revision period once your first draft is ready.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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