You’re cruising down the road when suddenly—bam! You hit a pothole and your smooth, enjoyable ride is now all bumpy and shaken up. At Writer’s Relief, we know the same thing happens when readers hit a plot hole in your writing. A pleasant reading experience becomes jarring and confusing. While you probably can’t go around filling the potholes on your local streets, you can fix the plot holes in your short story or novel by using these expert tips. Set up the literary orange cones and let’s get to work!
Easy Ways To Spot And Fix Plot Holes In Your Short Story Or Novel
What Is A Plot Hole?
“Hey—how can a character who is totally broke suddenly afford to buy an international plane ticket at the last second to romantically chase after true love?”
Plot holes can range from minor inconsistencies like the example above to huge gaps in time and space logic that pull the reader out of the flow and plot of the story. An unlikely or illogical event dropped in simply to move the plot forward will also cause readers to pause and question the story arc. Another type of plot hole is having a character or storyline that disappears without explanation or logic, resulting in a loose end or break in continuity.
Deus ex machina—where an unexpected power, event, or object appears from out of nowhere to save the day or solve the problem—is often considered a plot hole, since it’s an unlikely or illogical event. Your story’s ending should feel earned, not conveniently wrapped up in a neat little bow that fell from the sky.
Of course sometimes the logical connection between events may be temporarily hidden from the readers for suspense or other reasons. But ultimately your plot points should link together in a way that is believable and logical—even if we’re talking about aliens battling plasma robots in space.
How Do I Find Narrative Plot Holes?
Try to read your story or book as someone completely unfamiliar with the plot, characters, or ending. It might help to put the work aside for a week or even a month before you read it again with fresh eyes. If it’s still difficult for you to distance yourself from the story, enlist the help of a beta reader from among your friends, family, or writing group members. Ask them to note any points that are confusing or illogical, or that contradict earlier statements or events.
Go through the plot and map out all the events and how they lead into each other. Does everything make sense? Did you leave any characters or threads dangling? Does the story arc flow organically, or are there bewildering gaps? Does anything about your characters suddenly change in a way that’s unrealistic or impossible? Are the rules of the world you built contradicted at any point?
Any story element that falls into these categories should be examined carefully—it might be a plot hole you need to fix!
Once I’ve Found Plot Holes, How Do I Fix Them?
Try alternative routes: If it seems your events aren’t unfolding in a logical way—try another route! You can add or delete scenes, events, or details. Adding can clarify and create a bridge where there was previously a gap, while deleting will remove the element that wasn’t making sense. Recalculate your route in a few ways until your plot hole is avoided.
Keep in mind that changing something in your story might have a ripple effect. Be sure that any rewrites to fix one plot hole don’t create even more inconsistencies. Referring back to your plot map will help you avoid veering further off track.
Retrace your steps: When you find a plot hole, start from there and work backward as you make corrections. This will ensure any story elements you change leading up to the plot hole will be consistent with the fix.
Simplify: Big, complex plots might seem fun to tackle—until you realize how many plot holes you’ve inadvertently created while spinning your gigantic story web. Simplifying your story can help close some of those gaps. Evaluate subplots, secondary characters, and events that include main characters but aren’t essential to the overall plot to determine what you can safely leave out.
It’s not unusual to find plot holes that need to be fixed when writing a short story or book. If you notice some sections that are bumpy, have gaps, or provide a jolt of confusion, try some of these tips to smooth things over so your readers can truly enjoy the ride!
Question: What are some plot holes you’ve noticed in stories you’ve read?