The Dreaded Plot Hole

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For many writers, one of the biggest challenges is avoiding and (when required) addressing plot holes. For those new to the terminology, plot holes are an inconsistency or break in the logical flow of a story’s narrative. Plot holes can hinder a reader’s ability to understand and appreciate a storyline. Resolving plot holes requires much more than a cursory proofread. Addressing plot holes frequently requires significant editing to achieve a cohesive storyline. 

Inaccurate or Disconnected Information

Commonly, plot holes develop from inaccurate or disconnected information. These issues sometimes arise when authors set storylines in worlds that are unfamiliar to them. For example, a civilian writing about military combat may inadvertently create a plot hole because of simply not having a deep enough understanding of the subject.

Research becomes critical when an author wants to set their story in a context for which they don’t have personal experience. Friends, associates and colleagues can also have a role to play. They may be able to provide editorial advice, especially if they have a strong grasp of the subject domain. When having someone read your paper to address plot issues, the aim is not for the individual to proofread your paper, but rather to identify inaccuracies and inconsistencies. 

Literary Writing & the Role of Light
What literary elements do you like to use to foreshadow events in your writing?

Improper Foreshadowing

Another way that a plot hole can form is from an ending or twist that has been improperly foreshadowed.  (Spoiler Alert—the following discusses the storyline and ending of two films).  Many writers seek twist endings like in The Sixth Sense, but don’t consider all the foreshadowing required to make that type of ending effective. What makes The Sixth Sense work is that when you go back and re-watch the movie, you notice the odd behavior and lack of interactions that occurred prior to the final revelation that Bruce Willis’s character has been dead since the first scene.  

Conversely, in A Walk to Remember, there is almost no foreshadowing of the twist ending. Mandy Moore tells Shane West not to fall in love with her, but in a romance film where such comments are common, Moore’s request doesn’t really foreshadow that her character has terminal cancer. 

The difference between these two examples is that The Sixth Sense is working towards its ending from the very beginning, regardless of whether or not the viewer is able to guess at it. On the other hand, A Walk to Remember is almost two separate films: the film in which the cool kid and the nerdy girl have a forbidden love and the film in which a man finds out his love is dying as he tries to enjoy the time he has left together.

Deus Ex Machina

Related to the issue of poor foreshadowing is the concept of deus ex machina.  With its roots in Greek and Roman drama, a deus ex machina is a solution that appears without any foreshadowing or reasoning.  An example in film occurs in The Princess Bride, when Vizzini and the Man in Black are arguing over which goblet of wine is poisoned. Vizzini finally picks, they both drink, and Vizzini dies. It is then revealed that the Man in Black built up an immunity to the poison in the wine. The film offers no foreshadowing of this action and therefore, renders the challenge somewhat unnecessary.  

The example from The Princess Bride is most likely done on purpose, the film playing with many different literary devices. However, avoiding a deus ex machina in your own writing is important to prevent readers experiencing a disconnect in your narrative. In the worst case, it can cause them to stop reading.

Writing Is Helped by Planning the Road Ahead
Before sitting down to write, it can be helpful to prepare an outline of your story. It may save you significant editorial rework.

How can I avoid writing a plot hole?

A first step towards avoiding plot holes is awareness and understanding. In the early planning stages for your story, be sure to consider the aspects of the storyline that may be illogical or not cohesive.  Among the many aims of fiction writing is to help your readers follow and make sense of the narrative from introduction to conclusion. The early planning stages of your writing is the time to begin navigating around plot holes!

As you move closer to putting pen to paper and prepare yourself to write, an excellent way of navigating and avoiding plot holes is to outline.  If you figure out your story’s chain of events before writing any scenes, you will be less likely to miss a crucial piece of information. In particular, outlining can be valuable for planning the foreshadowing that you want to build into your narrative. You can see the natural points where you can hint at subsequent events in the storyline.

A final approach for avoiding plot holes is to discuss and share your storyline with colleagues before and during the writing process. It can be very difficult to catch the flaws in your own work. Everyone has blind spots in their thinking (those inconsistencies that aren’t apparent until someone points them out to us), so find people who know the subject matter or are big fans of the genre, and share your story with them.  If there are no plot holes you’ll get praise, and if there are plot holes, you’ll get help!  It’s a win-win.

Post by Online English Editor.  

Online English Editor is a professional proofreading service.