Plot holes – what are they, and how to find them
When there’s inconsistency in your story OR individuals act out of character, you’ve got a plot hole that needs to be fixed. Here’s a few examples:
Incredibly street-smart Ruth revenge-kills a notorious gang member and hides out at home (i.e., her lake-side trailer isn’t protected with special security devices or an arsenal). Her entire family is dead, her home is a wreck, and she’d planned to leave town earlier. Why would she stay and risk inevitable retaliation from the gang?
Not so obvious
Michael is accosted in a laundromat parking lot by someone who saw an internet ad saying he runs a detective agency. The accuser shows Michael the ad on her phone. But Michael is a mild-mannered bureaucrat and knows nothing about solving crimes or finding missing persons. The setting is funny, Michael’s reaction is spot on, and the person seeking his services is hilariously pushy. Sounds like a great setup, right? This plot point might make sense if the accuser tracked Michael down at his office or found his home address and stalked his apartment. But with only a photo from the internet, how did the accuser find Michael at a laundromat in a large city?
Frieda does a somersault dive in pike position into the lake to retrieve the treasure. But earlier in the novel, Frieda mentioned she failed swim class in high school. This isn’t a fantasy novel. So how could she transform from junior pollywog into an Olympic-level diver?
Not so obvious
Driven, type-A warrior Sam is frantically trying to save the world from annihilation in a thriller novel. Yet near the climax, he takes time to have a mundane conversation with a colleague about his daughter’s dating life. Unless the relationship with his daughter is a major storyline, it distracts from his core motivation (i.e., to save the world). Even if the author is attempting to develop Sam’s character further—the climax is a bit late in the story. We should already know Sam by that point.
How to find them
For obvious plot holes, an author might easily catch them by re-reading the story in the self-editing phase. For the ones not so easily discovered, a professional editor or rock-solid critique group can sleuth them out.
How to fix them
The easiest way to fix a plot hole is to make slight changes to the earlier backstory or the later inconsistency. But the easiest way isn't always the best fix for your story. Think about what changes could make the story/character more exciting or complex. Consider the scenario from above about Michael being accosted at the laundromat. An easy fix would be to relocate the encounter to outside his office. But what if the mysterious internet ad includes a tracker so potential clients and criminals know where Michael can be found. This new thread can create added tension and demonstrate Michael’s newly discovered detective skills when he realizes he’s being tracked.
My advice? Take time and use your imagination when fixing plot holes—these holes may lead to added depth for your story and characters.