Whenever you deal with something as complex as a novel plot, there are bound to be some holes here and there. They're not critical flaws, but if left undressed, they could put readers off or make the story feel contrived.
One of the more common plot holes is to have a scene where your characters are doing what they need to do for the plot to unfold, but the reasons might be weak or non-existent, and you want to find a way to make it all seem logical. Often you can change a detail in a previous scene so that a later scene makes sense.
Things to Look for to Back Fill Your Plot:
1. Is there a previous event or situation that can affect the problem scene?
Chances are your scene doesn't exist in a vacuum. Something had to happen for your characters to be at this point. Go back and look at each of the key scenes that led them in this direction. Is there anything you can do to nudge things in the right direction?
- Where did they make a choice that would affect this scene?
- Where did something unforeseen occur that affected this scene?
- Where did they miss a clue (or could miss one) that would affect this scene?
- Can the antagonist cause a change through their actions?
2. Can a character act or choose differently and change the outcome?
A simple choice can change how a situation later unfolds. This is especially true if the problem scene involves an item of some type, or a piece of information. Having a character find or learn something early on that can simmer in the reader's mind until it's needed can set up what you need to have happen without it feeling contrived.
- Where might a character make a different choice to achieve the desired outcome for that scene?
- Where might new information be revealed that affects a decision?
- Where might information be withheld instead?
3. What variables need to work together to achieve the desired result?
Sometimes you just need to step back from the scene and look at it objectively. Forget what you wrote or planned. Ask yourself what steps need to happen for this scene to work. Then look back and see if there are any places where any of those steps might take place.
- Where did the plot start to go off track?
- Where might a clue be discovered?
- Where might a character do or say something to lead in this direction?
- What might be added to achieve this result?
4. Don't be afraid to change things.
Once you've written something down, it can be hard to change it, but all you're really doing is connecting the dots of the same story. Give yourself the freedom to think about how a change affects scenes down the road. Sometimes that road is better than the one you were on. If it's not, you've lost nothing by thinking about it.
- How might this new detail affect future scenes?
- What else might be missing (or weak) that can be solved by this change?
- What are other ways in which you can achieve the same effect? Do any of those work better?
Sometimes it's not the scene that's "broken." It's what came before that scene that is tripping you up. Going back might be just what you need to move forward.
What plot have have you even fell into? How did you fix them?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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