34. The Fear of Plot Holes

A “plot hole” is when your story diverts from previously established logic in your story’s plot.

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For example, in the first Thor movie, Thor had to destroy the rainbow bridge which was his only portal to Earth. And yet, in the next film, Thor returns to Earth via this same bridge.

The truth is, no matter how much outlining and story building you do, you can’t really avoid writing a plot hole.

I think it’s kind of like when you’re proofreading a paragraph you wrote and you have the word ‘the’ twice (like “the the apple”) and your brain doesn’t notice the extra ‘the.’

Research shows that the brain has an ‘autofill’ function for speech that it uses to predict what’s coming next. I think that may apply to reading as well. Whether or not you wanted it to, your brain has already moved ahead, so filters out the error, and no matter how many times you read that paragraph, you may not notice the mistake until someone points it out to you. But if you pass that paragraph to someone who’s never read it before, and they have no idea what’s coming, they will notice the mistake right away.

When it comes to your story, your brain may ‘autofill’ some of the errors that a first-time reader would not be able to fill in.

This is why having beta readers or a coach is so important – they are going to notice things that your brain literally could not notice.

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If you have a lot of judgement around others, or yourself, for writing plot holes, that’s the first place to start working on. That judgment is why you're so fearful.

Because you know that if you write a plot hole, you are going to judge yourself harshly, just like you do for everyone else.

You might tell yourself that you’re fearing what your readers will say, but you’re actually only afraid of what you’re going to make that mean about you.

If a beta reader points out a plot hole to you with a comment like, “There is a horrible flaw in your logic,” and your thought was, “I’m glad they noticed that,” it’s not a problem. The only thing that makes their comment a problem is if you have a thought about it like, “I am a horrible writer.”

When you’re fearing your own judgement, you are not going to be able to write freely.

Many writers procrastinate against writing altogether when they encounter a problem, or they lower their expectations in an attempt to avoid failing. They will write simpler plots, have lower stakes, fewer characters, less mystery. They try and play it safe when the only danger is their own thoughts about themselves.

If this sounds like you, the first place I want you to start is in understanding that writing a plot hole does not mean there is anything wrong with you, or the way you write. Star Wars is full of plot holes, the Hunger Games has plot holes, every hit novel you can find has a plot hole that someone out there can find.

Plot holes don’t make you a bad writer. It just means your brain was on autofill. It’s just an extra ‘the’ and it happens to everybody.

The other place writers can struggle with when it comes to writing plot holes is after they are notified of one. Many of you get overwhelmed about the prospect of having to fix it and confused about how to do it.

Here’s the thing... you don’t actually have to fix the plot hole. Remember, it's not a problem. You may want to fix it, but you certainly don’t have to.

And if you have readers pointing out multiple flaws in the logic, you may decide to fix some and not others and it’s all okay.

The purpose of your writing doesn’t have to be to have a perfectly logical story. It can be, if that’s what you want, but it doesn’t have to be.

More often than not, readers are not looking for stories that hold up in a courtroom. They’re looking to be entertained, they’re willing to suspend their disbelief. They can be aware of the plot hole and still love the story.

Writers run into trouble when they try and people-please all their readers. As long as you are happy with the story and the logic, that is all that matters. Give yourself the freedom to decide what you do and don’t want to change.

If you have a plot hole you want to fix, but are overwhelmed about where to start, remind yourself that it’s possible it could just be a quick fix. Challenge yourself to come up with the most complicated solution, and the simplest.

Going back to that Thor example, the writers could have solved the plot hole of the rainbow bridge being destroyed by coming up with a brand new way for Thor to come to Earth. Instead, all they did was add one line of dialogue to say that Thor’s dad paid to fix it. Easiest solution.

Fixing a plot hole doesn’t have to be complex. And sometimes even the most thought-out solution isn’t the best one.

If you get overwhelmed with the rewriting process, plan ahead of time some thoughts you can think if a mistake in your plot shows up.

Thoughts like:

  • This is just an extra 'the,' it's no big deal

  • Even the best stories have plot holes

  • I can figure this out

  • I get to decide what needs changing

  • It's possible an easy solution exists

  • Writing doesn't have to be perfectly logical

  • What if this were easy?

Next week, Tiana will do a Part 2 on this to talk about some practical tips for correcting plot holes. In the meantime, remember that plot holes don't need to be feared. They happen to everybody.

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