Hi everyone–I’m happy to welcome author David Stafford to the blog today as he’s tackling something we all wrestle with at some point: Story Holes. Here’s some great advice on how to defeat Story Holes, and a list of the areas they are often found.
These gaps in your story’s logic, or “Story Holes,” invite the reader to quit. They break rules and seriously jeopardize your chances of converting readers into loyal followers and future buyers.
Finding “Story Holes” can be difficult because we’re often overwhelmed by all the elements in our stories, especially if they’re novel-length. Keeping track of details is incredibly important, especially as we work scene-to-scene.
There are common spots where Story Holes like to lurk, so ask yourself questions to ensure the story’s logic holds up.
Seasons: When does each chapter take place? How do you signal the change in seasons? Is the geographic location of your setting stated or easily discerned? Does the temperature/weather match the stated season?
Weather: Are you consistent within chapters or periods of time (It’s raining on page 1 and not instantly sunny on page 3)? Do scenes begin and end with seemingly unannounced changes in the forces of nature?
Time of Day: Does time pass with realistic pacing and flow? If it does, do scenes focus on the important, relevant scenes? Does dialogue that takes 5 minutes to read consume 5 hours of story-time?
Location Layout: Does your story’s setting have a logic to its layout? Will readers be able to draw a map of it based on the details you provide? Is there a balance of geographic terms (north, south, east, west) with imagery? Is this layout consistent throughout the entire story? Does it take an appropriate amount of time to move from one location to another? For example, characters shouldn’t be able to drive across Los Angeles in ten minutes.
Setting Status: Have elements of the setting changed? Has something been destroyed, altered, or improved? Keep detailed notes in your novel journal on how the setting has changed during each chapter’s events.
Different Laws of Physics: Your story may contain different laws of physics, including magic, supernatural creatures, super powers, and so on. However, each of these creations o needs its own internal set of rules. As you write, put these down in writing as a constitution for you to adhere to. Use it when you check for Story Holes to see if character powers have suddenly changed for no reason, or if the rules of your world are being constantly broken. There must be a logic that your reader can follow, anticipate, and own. If you break your own rules, the reader will have no reason to respect them.
Story Holes From Editing: Have you been rearranging chapters? If so, you need to reread the entire section in which you made the switches. Better yet, have someone else read them because his/her unfamiliar eye will be able to spot the subtle ways that this rearrangement has altered the logic of your story.
Changing the Cause of an Action: As you revise, you will often alter a character’s motivation for making a choice. This will change the flow of any dialogue or thought-process in the chapter. I noticed this Story Hole when I edited my protagonist’s goal in early chapters. Large portions of dialogue had to be rewritten so that what he said was in alignment with his new, updated goal.
Character Core Qualities: Do characters maintain their unchanging qualities throughout the story (paralyzed characters don’t suddenly “walk away,” claustrophobic characters don’t suddenly enjoy elevators).
Character Traits: Character traits are more fluid than Core Qualities, but still require internal logic that’s tied to plot. Usually, for a Character Trait to change, the change must occur as a result of an action with significant stakes. If beta readers are questions “Why” characters do things, or “How” they gain or lose or alter specific traits, you may have forgotten to earn that change with a bold action in the story.
With all these details floating around, how can you hope to keep track of them all?
Answer: A Novel Journal.
- Chapter # and Working Title
- Season (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) and Time of Day
- Days/Weeks/Months since prev. chapter
- Word count/Budgeted word count (in italics)
- Character notes (New characters, any changes, major actions, major declarations)
- Setting notes (changes, alterations, enhancements)
- Plot Notes (plans or observations on the draft for me to use later)
- Color-code based on its part in the book, or “tension” in a series of chapters that vary in intensity
With a tool like this in place, it will be easy to track your story’s vital details and hunt down Story Holes with incredible precision and efficiency. Here’s a template you can use!
TIP: When you save your Novel Journal, give it a name like “NOVEL TITLE_PLAN” and put it in the same folder as your manuscript.
Remember, no one gets a story perfect the first time. Prepare for this by investing time in your Novel Journal and reviewing it after each writing session. As your hunting skills get sharper, Story Holes will disappear from your prose until it’s a structural masterpiece.
(And readers will LOVE you for it!)
David H. Safford is the author of The Bean of Life, the story of a man who decides to save the world with coffee. Read a free preview or get an early-access copy here before the September 20th launch.
When he’s not brewing his next pot of coffee, David coaches writers and travels to mountainous realms where his soul can finally rest. You can find him on twitter, too!
Confession time: What was your biggest logic gaff? Tell us about a story hole you discovered and how you fixed it!