When judging a story’s quality, one of the first questions we might measure against is “Are there any plot holes?”
Plot holes can cause a loud *record scratch* “Wait, what?” reaction in readers, pulling them out of a story, sometimes irreparably, as they protest the impossible or unsuccessfully try to get the illogical to make sense. Like typos and grammar issues, plot holes are easy to point to as evidence of poor writing in a review or a warning to stay away.
Obviously, we want to do everything we can to avoid plot holes in our story—but some types of plot holes can be sneaky.
What Are Plot Holes?
According to Wikipedia:
“In fiction, a plot hole…is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot. Such inconsistencies include such things as illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.”
However, the Oxford English Dictionary gives a much broader definition than just those plot and event issues (emphasis added):
“An inconsistency in the narrative or character development of a book, film, television programme, etc.”
Understandably—given the name—when we think of plot holes, we think of inconsistent or illogical plot events, but the same “record scratch” reaction applies to inconsistencies and impossibilities when it comes to characters or other story elements as well. So we should broaden our thinking when it comes to finding (and fixing) plot holes.
In fact, those non-plot-style holes can be extra tricky to identify simply because they’re not what we think of when searching for plot holes. Yet they’re just as important to watch out for and resolve.
Sources of Plot Holes
Whether we’re looking for plot holes in our own stories or we’re helping edit our friends’ work, we’ll have better luck if we know the different sources of plot holes that can lurk in our stories:
- Plot Holes: Inconsistencies in the plot and/or plot events. For example, in one scene, a group of characters might split up, and in the next scene, a character who was with the first group suddenly participates in the second group’s conversation in a different setting.
Plot problems can be:
- related to time and place—who’s doing what when
- illogical or lacking story-plot flow—events or character actions have no reason for happening, or they couldn’t happen due to other events
- gaps—questions are left conveniently unanswered (“Wait, how did they escape?”)
- Character Development Holes: Inconsistencies in characters and/or their development. For example, a character who’s deathly afraid of snakes is suddenly fine with handling one—and there’s no explanation for the change of attitude.
Character problems can be:
- contradictory—their behavior or knowledge doesn’t match previous information (with no explanation for the difference)
- puppet-like behavior—characters’ actions are too convenient, lack motivation, or make sense only from the perspective of plot requirements
- broken arc—characters’ goals, stakes, or motivations are forgotten, ignored, or change with no explanation
- World-building Holes: Inconsistencies in the world we’ve build for our story. These can be shallow—such as how many bullets our hero’s weapon can hold versus how many they’ve shot—or they can be deep—such as understanding why something in our story world works the way it does.
World-building holes might not be something we’ve thought of before, and they’re often the trickiest to find and fix if we’re not aware of the possibility.
What Are World-building Plot Holes?
Every story contains world-building, not just sci-fi and fantasy tales. Even stories set in the “real” world have to build their specific setting, from a New York City neighborhood to a ranch in Australia’s Outback.
No matter the type of story, we also have to be consistent with our characters’ names and physical descriptions. Their hair or eye color shouldn’t change…unless that ability is part of our world-building. (I do write paranormal romance, after all. *grin*)
Sources of World-building Holes include:
- Explanations of why something is important or can’t be done
- Inconsistencies in characters’ backstories (and in how it affects the plot and/or story)
- Settings, props, or science/religious/cultural details (places/things characters interact with)
- Political, power, or magic systems (and how they affect the characters, plot, and/or story)
- Character details (name, age, job, physical description, personality details/quirks, etc.)
When we check for plot holes, we need to question more than just the plot details. Whether we revise by building a plot/subplot outline and character/worldbuilding story bible or by relying on the help of beta readers/developmental editors, we want to broaden our scope of where we’re checking for inconsistencies and logic issues so we can find them all—even the sneaky ones.
Do you have any questions about plot holes—or the different places they lurk?
Jami Gold, after muttering writing advice in tongues, decided to become a writer and put her talent for making up stuff to good use, such as by winning the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award in Paranormal Romance for her novel Ironclad Devotion.
To help others reach their creative potential as well, she’s developed a massive collection of resources for writers. Explore her site to find worksheets—including the popular Romance Beat Sheet with 80,000+ downloads—workshops, and over 1000 posts on her blog about the craft, business, and life of writing. Her site has been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest.