Back in July, we saw the importance of checking the accuracy and relevance of facts. Sadly, even if all the facts have been verified and passed review, there is still the possibility that certain elements in the narrative will not add up. Today we move on to another important aspect which requires attention when editing: Plot Holes!
Plugging plot holes.
As mentioned in my earlier post about Plot lines, the plot is the backbone of a story which is composed of a series of interconnected events, meant to feed information in a comprehensive sequence, leading to an intended goal. Every event mentioned usually has a specific meaning or importance; establishing connections, suggesting causes, and showing relationships.
Now that we have established what is a plot line, what is a Plot Hole?
A Plot Hole is when a piece of information (or lack thereof) is presented in a narrative, that either negates, contradicts or comes into conflict with another established fact. This error within the plot line creates an inconsistency, which threatens to break the integrity of the story. Credibility is important, because once it is lost, the whole storyline will fall apart and the audience will lose interest.
There are three levels of Plot Holes; Minor, Medium and Major. These categories are based on the amount of work required to repair the damage to the plot line. In the following paragraphs, we will take an in depth look at the different types of Plot Holes, and see various examples of mistakes to look out for, such as;
- Neglected inclusion of information.
- An oversight during a revision.
- Contradictions of established facts within the storyline.
- Inconsistencies in the timeline.
- Subplots that were left unanswered.
- Character performances which go against their intended personalities.
Minor Plot Hole:
These types of Plot Holes are easy to identify because they are usually attributed to simple mishaps. Correction of a Minor Plot Hole is normally quite simple, as it only requires replacing a few words, substituting information or possibly changing a sentence. A few examples are:
- In the beginning of the book, a background character is named “Osborn”, while a few chapters later they are referred to as “Osborne”. (typo)
- The main character has an eye patch on their left eye when first introduced, but in the final chapter the patch is mentioned to be on the right eye. (simple mishap)
- At one point of the story, a character is said to be unarmed, a few paragraphs later they suddenly have a pistol. (neglected inclusion of information)
Medium Plot Holes:
More common problems are the Medium Plot Holes, which can be severely detrimental to the storyline. These errors risk damaging entire scenes or even several chapters, and may be harder to identify unless the reviewer has inside knowledge of the writer's intentions. Medium Plot Holes usually happen when a writer loses sight of their original vision, causing story elements to be transformed over time. Also, it can be the result of not taking into consideration information they had mentioned some time before. This causes breaks in the narratives consistency. An example that is easy to understand in this case, are characters who are acting out of character:
- The main character suffers a serious gunshot wound to the stomach. A few paragraphs later, they are climbing, jumping, or fighting off villains, as if they were in no pain. (information not taken into consideration)
- The Villain is determined to do anything to destroy his superhero nemesis; create weapons, hire assassins, build traps… when the time comes where the hero is helpless in the Villain's clutches, the Villain simply leaves them unsupervised to do something else, not taking the opportunity to see the result of all their hard work. (character performances go against their intended personalities)
- In the beginning of the story, one of the female leads was presented as a strong, adventurous women. By the end of the story, said female character is acting scared, and more like a damsel in distress than the fighter she was originally painted to be. (lost sight of original vision)
- (example pulled from a movie I saw recently) Main character cuts off her broken finger to avoid it getting worst. She then walks around with a bandage on her hand to cover the stump. A few scenes later, she has this dramatic interaction with another boy, but throughout the scene, she has all 10 fingers! Once this particular scene is over, the character goes back to having only 9.
Major Plot Hole:
Finally we have the Major Plot Holes. These problems usually cover a large section of the narrative, often requiring major changes, maybe even a rewrite, in order to fix the issue. These usually involve the core of the story, key elements which the writer may have overlooked, or a fact they did not take into consideration. Instances for these types of situations are more complicated to come up with, but here are a few examples:
- A story begins in New York at sunrise, where are protagonist discovers they have 24 hours to reach California before a bomb goes off, killing their family. The main villain forces the protagonist to use their car to reach their destination because of stops they are required to do along the way. The story sees the character pick up the necessary items, and arrives just in time to give them to the terrorist and stop the bomb. The problem? It takes over 40 hours to drive from NY to California, so no way this story happened in 24.
- While they were a child, the protagonist sees their parents killed by an older man with a scar. The protagonist goes on with their life, occasionally getting into trouble by breaking the law, but eventually get a change of heart and begin seeking justice. They therefore study in law enforcement to later become a detective. While on duty, they find clues to the scared man, hunt them down to finish the story in a bare fist brawl on a roof top. The problem? A) if the murder happened when the protagonist was a child, how old would the villain be by the time the hero got enough education and training to become a detective? B) a criminal record may have prevented the protagonist from becoming a detective in the first place.
- In a dystopian future, the sole survivors of mankind are forced to live below water in closed habitats, because the air outside is now too toxic to breath. In order to live under water, the humans develop new ways to grow crops, build structures, navigate the seas and hunt. Most of their work revolves around the help of marine life, such as whales, dolphins and sea turtles. The problem? Whales, dolphins and sea turtles are not fish, so they also require fresh air to live, therefore it would not be possible for them to live because of the airs toxicity.
- In a fantasy world, there is a magician with great magical power. He uses his magic to put out fires, create golems and save lives. One day, the king is poisoned, and in order to save him, the magician sends out a group of soldiers to retrieve a special root to make a remedy. The magician informs the troupe they have until nightfall, or the king will die. While they are gone, the castle is attacked by an evil dragon, trying to destroy everything in its path. In order to prevent destruction and hold off the dragon, the magician places a time spell on the dragon, stopping it in it’s tracks. The problem? If the magician has the power to stop time, then why not simply use it on the king, therefore buying the soldiers all the time they need to retrieve the root and removing all sense of urgency?
While revisions are important, the best way to avoid plot holes is to keep in mind how they happen and where they come from. This is why it is always a good idea to have your work revised not only by you, but by other people. As writers, we tend to spend so much time staring at our work, that we become blind to our own mistakes.
This concludes today's post. I hope this was helpful to you in some way, as I know it turned out to be an eye opener for me. My research into plot holes lead me to a website that used time travel stories as an example, which turns out is what my own novel will be about. On the bright side, this website also gave helpful tips on how to fix the problem, so I am happy that it will make my story better for it.
So until next time,