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.
Jeremiah W Thomas says
I have a bunch of plot holes in my first draft. I write on a typewriter for the first draft and miss details and cannot incorporate changes into my story until the pages are scanned to my computer. I will use this article when I go back through to see how many I have and what I missed when I was taking notes!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Plot holes are pretty common in the first draft alright – for many writers, the first draft is where we’re telling ourselves the story and plenty of ideas hit as we go that need to be connected and tightened so the logic holds up. But that’s part of the fun part of writing! Glad this post helped!
Ah, a great list here to help me hunt more diwn!
Sometimes, you can fix things by moving a chapter, (Really!) or splitting one up or adding a new one in between two causing
Ugg. The biggest one I’m trying to fix serms simple enough to fix, the main piv is (oops) in two places at once, so after going insane I finally cane up with changing to a different pov characte, an antoganist. Now I have to fill out that character more and go to eailer chapters and fiddle with things. All this caused by fixing the broken plot. Headache!
If anyone wants to share more plothole articles I’d appreciate it!
I have notes on top if notes all scrambled in my emails and phone. I think this character planner (really it’s a story planner) is helping. I’ll do anything to fix the dang plot hole!
Good stuff. We can become blind to the plot holes from repeated readings. A thorough beta reader is a life saver. So will a read-aloud crit group.
Jami Gold says
So true, Tuttle! My beta buddy is essential for my career. 🙂
Robin Mason says
such a great article!!! and the very reason i write linear – i cannot write scenes out of order (i hear tell of some who do and it utterly befuddles my brain!) i write, as one reviewer says it, in “concentric circles of plot twists” so you can imagine the notes i have to keep track of details – so i avoid those dastardly plot holes!!
thanks for your great post!
Jami Gold says
I hear you. 🙂 I write linearly as well, and like you, I find that helps me keep all the story threads straight (and usually not dropped). Writing out of order would mean a lot more rewriting than usual for me. Good luck with your writing, and I’m glad I could help!
Victoria Marie Lees says
This is insightful, Jami. Thanks so much for sharing this with the followers of Writers Helping Writers. I’ve marked this one to use when I finish my next draft of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five.
I’ve connected with you online and have shared this post on social media. All the best to you!
Jami Gold says
Thank you, Victoria! Good luck with your memoir, and it’s great to “meet” you. 😀
Jami Gold says
P.S. If anyone would like more insights or examples into worldbuilding plot holes, I dug deeper in the post on my blog today. 🙂
BECCA PUGLISI says
Love this, Jami! The subplot holes are the ones that always trip me up. My subplots tend to either meander wildly before finally getting to the destination, or they dwindle away into nothingness. To avoid this in the future, I’m going to try using the theme to connect them and keep them on track, as was suggested in a recent post.
Jami Gold says
So glad I could add to our understanding! And yes, subplots always need to be tied into our story somehow — theme, character arc, backstory wound, etc. 🙂