I cannot begin to describe how many books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen that are so riddled with plot holes they look like the gopher warren in my backyard. Sometimes, the plot holes can be as simple as “they walked into the house with an armful of groceries, leaving the door wide open, but when they set the groceries down — hey look! The door is closed” to “Wait! Didn’t this guy die in the fifth chapter?”
There are generally two reasons that plot holes exist:
- The author is trying to keep so many details in their head that they inadvertently forget to deal with a few
- The author is lazy and doesn’t want to go to the trouble to explain something fully, leaving it up to the reader to “guess” at the reason or detail
Hopefully, no one reading this is the latter case. If you are, my advice to you is — well, to put it nicely — stop being lazy! A little explanation will save yourself and your readers a lot of frustration.
For the majority of writers, the simple fact is that our minds are so saturated with thoughts, ideas, and information that we cannot always remember what we’ve already mentioned and what we have not. This is especially true if we’re on our 2+ draft, where something that might have been explained in a previous version has since been deleted.
I struggled with the difficulty of plot holes for many years, relying on countless re-readings and an excellent copy editor (my mom) to help me find any inconsistencies. And then one day, when I was in Costa Rica, I happened to buy this beautiful, hardcover, little blue notebook.
This notebook was the inspiration for a dizzying new novel, and led me to discover a successful method for avoiding plot holes, which I now share with you:
1. Buy a notebook
This is crucial! You need some place to write down your thoughts, and it needs to be something you can easily carry around with you. I prefer a book appx. 4″x6″ in size, but the dimensions are up to you. Don’t buy one that’s too big (you won’t want to lug it around) or too small (it will fill up far too quickly). Also, the nicer it is, the more you will want to write in it. Avoid softcover if you can — you need this book to last throughout your writing process and beyond.
2. Split the book into three sections: Summary, Questions, Plot/Answers
Title the start of each section. I tend to make the Summary section just 1 page, the Questions section 10 pages, the Changes section 10 pages, and Plot/Answers the rest of the book. I like to separate sections by 3 pages of “blank” space. Also, I recommend that you put the following information in the upper-right corner of each page, : S/Q/P (depending on the section), which page number of the section it is, and the date you start writing on that page. This allows you to easily find where you are in your notebook, and gives you a timeline of your work.
The Summary section is just that — a summary of your story. Write it first. It will allow you to visualize the entire project, which will in turn help you stay focused in your writing and not veer off on strange tangents. The Questions section is a list of all the questions you can conceive of that you as the author will have to answer in your story. They can be as crucial as how did Cinderella get to the ball, to as trivial as what is the Prince’s middle name? The Plot/Answers section lists all the plot information and character descriptions/history you can think of for your story, as well as the answers to the Questions.
3. Write in it at the slightest inspiration
The point of having this notebook is so you can write down any detail, no matter how small, and any plot point, now matter how big, and not have to keep them all in your head. This is especially true for your Questions. You may be trying to figure out how your Wesley and Buttercup will escape their Fire Swamp, when into your head pops the question of “what kind of shoes is Buttercup wearing?” Do NOT simply dismiss this question because you are focused on one much more important. Write it down! Then go back and ponder your other question. Writing down every inconsistency, every question will do three things for you — it will enrich your story’s detail tremendously, it will prevent you from forgetting to address the “small” plot holes in your story, and it will give you a means to avoid writer’s block.
That’s right — no writer’s block! Writer’s block tends to happen when authors get stuck on a question that they are temporarily unable to answer. It can be a true question (e.g. How does Wesley escape from the Zoo?) or a question of procedure (e.g. What’s the best way to write a profession of love that does not sound truly corny?). When you find yourself stuck, all you need to do is flip back to the Questions section and start answering all those tiny, trivial questions that “don’t really matter”. You will advance in your story, and often answering these questions will spark new ideas or solutions for the greater questions you have, and you are off and writing again!
A few words about format. I like to number each of my questions. Then when I answer them in the Plot/Answers section, I put the corresponding number next to my answer, and put a checked box next to the question in the Question section. This allows me to quickly see what questions I still need to answer, and match up my questions and answers if needed. Also, I bullet all of my plot ideas and put spaces between them. Then when I actually write them into the story, I check them off. When all the bullets are checked off on a page, I put a bigger checkmark in the upper-right corner of the page. That way, I can see at a flip-through which points I still need to resolve/write into my story.
That’s it! Simple, right? I have been writing since I was five and this method is truly excellent for avoiding both plot holes and writer’s block. It provides a very visual idea of how much of your story is left to write, and gives you the additional satisfaction of getting to “check-off” your work as you go (my favorite part!).