If you are new to novel writing, you may wonder what a plot hole is. You read about them. You learn you must fix them, but you aren’t clear what a plot hole is in a novel.
What Is a Plot Hole?
In the worst case, it means part of the story plot is missing, and the reader will be left wondering what happened. But the definition is much broader than that.
A plot hole is any inconsistency or gap that counters the logic in a story’s plot. You want to find them and eliminate them because they will interrupt the reader’s immersion in your story. Worse still, they may stop believing in it altogether and stop reading.
5 Major Plot Hole Errors
Major plot holes fall into five categories.
- Illogical Events: An all-powerful villain is easily defeated.
- Contradictions: A character’s personality changes greatly between two scenes with no explanation.
- Unresolved Storylines: A secondary character is given their own subplot, which is not resolved.
- Impossible Events: A character travels too quickly between far distances.
- Continuity Errors: A character seemingly forgets a vital piece of information they knew earlier in the story.
For example, in a mystery, the victim was murdered on a stormy day. One of your suspects was out taking a walk, and yet there is no evidence of muddy shoes, wet clothing, or anything else that demonstrates the truth of the statement. You’ll need to change the evidence about their being out in the rain, match the weather to the evidence, or make their lie part of the plot.
Smaller points of illogic can disturb your reader as well. So, look for inconsistencies in scenes, in setting descriptions, and in story world explanations to give your reader a smooth journey throughout your story.
Plot holes can occur in the main plot and also in subplots. Although your main storyline moves along, your subplot may jump, and characters seem to act without motivation or conviction. You’ll need to smooth the subplot arc, strengthen character motivation, or both.
The problem with plot holes is they take the reader out of the story. Fiction readers go into the story world and suspend their disbelief. But the plot holes jar them out of the story and make them question the entire story. You don’t want that to happen.
Plot Holes and Story Logic
Finding plot holes is an important aspect of editing. As a writer, you want to tie up loose ends and plug up those holes to give your reader a smooth reading experience. You’ll keep them in the story and prevent questions that pull them out of the story.
Plot holes are easy to miss as you are writing. Give yourself some time before you begin editing. You’ll want a cool head and an objective view of your story. As you do your first editing read through, read as a reader. Those inconsistencies will jump out. Whenever you wonder why or how something happens in your story, you’ve found a plot hole.
Check your story for the five major plot hole errors as you read.
Only you know the logic of your story. But because a novel is long, it’s hard to spot the inconsistencies while you are writing. When you put aside the story for a couple of weeks and then read to edit, you approach your story with a critical eye—the eye of the reader. That’s when you feel the spots where the story doesn’t work.
Tips for Finding Plot Holes
As you read your story, be on the alert for plot holes which you can remedy in your revision. To find plot holes, look for inconsistencies and loose story threads.
- Remain objective. The best practice of putting your manuscript aside and approaching with fresh eyes helps you maintain objectivity.
- Follow your characters. As you read, make sure that each character is consistent within the story and has a definite personality.
- Create a story timeline. Make a list of chapters and major events in the chapter. Make sure the sequence of events makes sense: days, months, years, or even morning to evening. Note the characters present in the chapter.
- Examine your plot. Question the plot logic. Has a journey been abandoned or question gone unanswered? Has a character made choices or said something that does not fit their personality?
- Is your story world consistent? Do cultural norms shift? Is your fantasy magic logic consistent?
- Check your subplots. Follow each one from beginning to end. Make sure all of them are complete.
- Keep revision notes. They may open up threads that create new plot holes.
- Hire a professional editor. If cost is a concern, ask a fellow writer to read your novel or suggest an exchange.
PRO TIP: You may have outlined your story before writing, but because things change as you write, get the real-time details of the story as it now exists.
Writers who plan an outline before writing can avoid big plot holes because they know the storyline and how each chapter fits. They use tools like Scrivener’s cards or plan out storylines in a tool like Plottr.
Discovery writers who create the story as they go should be one the lookout for plot holes in the revision process.
Tips for Fixing Plot Holes
Once you discover a plot hole, you have to make a decision about how to fix it. Sometimes it’s as simple as deleting a sentence. Or you may replace it with one that makes sense within the story. But, often a plot hole is part of a story thread woven into the story.
Then you have revision decisions to make.
Revision decisions are tough. Here are some ideas for reworking the story to eliminate the story logic failure.
- Rewrite an inconsistency to fit the story. For example, give the suspect who went for a walk in the storm muddy shoes and/or a damp jacket.
- Make the implausible plausible. If a character is acting out of character, rewrite the scene to fit the character actions and speech with their overall character portrayal and role in the story.
- Examine the character. What do they want? What is their goal? What is their plan?
- Rethink the scene or thread. Your first idea is not always the best idea.
- Brainstorm the scene with what-if questions.
- Go back to your original outline to check where the story goes off track.
- Read the story as a reader. What trips you up?
Once you’ve identified the plot holes and considered ways to fix them, rewrite the sections that need change to make the story coherent.
Be sure to keep the new versions consistent with the overall story. Small changes can create a butterfly effect in your story. Once you make your revisions, reread to ensure that you have avoided creating new plot holes.
The Plot Hole Fix Challenge
Repairing your plot holes is not always easy. Some can be repaired with a few new lines of exposition or even changing a word or two. But, often, fixing plot holes will drive you back to rethink your story.
Restructuring plots, deepening characters’ development, reviewing themes and character arcs, and even reshaping our story worlds—none of this is easy, yet it’s all too often required of us as we work to fix the plot holes we’ve created. For the sake of our stories, we must be willing to put in this hard work.
Even when we do discover seemingly simple fixes for our plot holes, it’s worth asking whether the simple fix is the best fix. We must always work to serve our stories, to craft the very best versions that we can. This work isn’t always pretty, and it’s certainly not often fun, but it’s worth the effort when we have a truly phenomenal tale to share with the world.