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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Editing, Writing | 20 comments

How To Keep Plot Holes From Ruining Your First Draft

How To Keep Plot Holes From Ruining Your First Draft

 

Plot holes. I think it’s safe to say that nobody likes them.

Here you are, rocking along in your first draft, about to break thirty-thousand words and feeling pretty good about yourself. And then blunt realization smacks you across the face, and you stop, hand fluttering to your mouth in dismay as you realize that a large part of what you just wrote doesn’t make sense. 

It’s stunningly obvious, and you can’t believe you didn’t notice it sooner. One tiny, matter-of-fact detail that makes every event up to this point seems kind of silly. Many times it comes as a question, like Hey, why would the antagonist have left the hero alive as a young boy, anyway, when he could have just killed him along with his parents?

Huh. Well, darn.

Here’s the bad news. Or good news, depending on how you look at it.

 

Plot holes are inevitable.

 

Every first draft you write is going to have plot holes. Probably a lot of them. Doesn’t matter if you’re an outliner or a pantser, a newbie writer or a veteran with fifteen published titles under your belt, your first draft is gonna be as hole-ridden as a piece of Swiss cheese after a woodpecker attack.

Because stories are complicated things. You’re forming a universe in your brain, for crying out loud. There’s no way a normal human mind can do something like that and get everything perfect on the first try.

Plot holes used to stress me out. Many times, if I was in the middle of writing and realized I had a hole, I couldn’t go on until I had gone back and patched it up. I’d spend agonizing hours going through what I’d written so far and tweaking it over and over.

When I felt like I’d ironed out the kinks, I’d go back and try to continue writing, only to find that I’d completely lost momentum—and created several brand spanking new plot holes with all my renovating.

 

So here’s what I do now:

 

With my WIP, I’ve been doing fifty-page-edits. Every fifty pages, I print out what I have so far and take my time reading it with a pen in hand, editing rough patches and keeping a sharp eye out for plot holes. When I spy one, I write a note to myself in the margin and keep going.

At the end of my editing session, I pull up a document I’ve created in Scrivener called Questions That Need Answering, where I keep a growing list of current plot holes in my story. A couple of recent ones:

 

  • Why would the Church send Gil, an unstable and potentially disastrous experiment, to find [SPOILER] if there was any chance that they could find it themselves?
  • What about the Stockade makes it so hard to get to, anyway?
  • Why doesn’t the FatherLeague just kill [SPOILER]?

 

Now comes the hardest part.

I have to close that document, forget the holes exist, and keep writing.

That is really hard for me, being the compulsive edit-as-I-go writer that I am. But I’m learning to grit my teeth and just keep going—one word after another until I finish that imperfect, hole-y first draft.

And once I do, I can breath a sigh of relief and take a good look at my list of plot holes, giving myself plenty of time to plan how I’ll patch them up in draft two.

 

How do you deal with plot holes in your first draft?

 

 

20 Comments

  1. I freak out and be miserable and quit my story.

    • Aw, don’t do that! 😉

  2. I think up some convoluted plan that makes me feel better and then I keep writing. 😛
    I am trying to catch the holes in my WIP before I get to them (I found several huge ones, which I patched. How could I have missed them?!)
    In my third book, I had such huge plot holes, that I gave up writing the novel. 😛

    • It’s definitely a good idea to catch holes before you’re actually on them! Reality is that you’ll probably miss a few, and that’s okay. Convoluted plan is okay, as long as it keeps you chugging. 😉

  3. Thanks for the boost! I just printed out my first draft or my first novel, and well.. “Oh the horror!”
    Characterization plot holes are rather frightening..

    • I know ezackly what you mean. And yes, plot holes caused by characters can be the worst. Try to get a solid idea of what each character’s motivations are, in every chapter of the story. Make sure that everything they do is caused by an internal or external conflict that makes sense, and that you’re not just making them do stuff because you need them to be at point A for twist B to happen.

  4. For me, outlines are my first line of defense against plot holes. I know what I want to happen. I just have to work backwards to figure out why it might be not only plausible, but logical. Fifty-page edits are my second line of defense, but, for better or worse, I’m too OCD to let the problems lie. I always go ahead and fix them before moving onto writing the next section of the story–mostly because I never know how much the remedy for the plot hole will end up changing the story that follows.

    • I’m kind of an impatient outliner, I guess… I hardly ever spend as much time planning as I should, and even when I think I’ve gotten everything solid in my outline, when I go back and look at it later I’m going WHAT NO HOW DID THAT EVEN HAPPEN. I’m pretty OCD myself, but I’ve found that when I try to fix problems in the middle of the first draft, I just end up making everything a whole lot worse. But you’re right–patching that plot hole could end up totally changing the events to come, and you could end up having to do a lot more of an extensive rewrite later.

  5. Plot holes stress me out. But I usually don’t find them until I go back to edit or until a beta has been at the story. Having someone critique for the first time was the scariest and most writing-altering thing that has happened thus far in my life as a writer.

    • Beta readers can be very enlightening! Bless their hearts.

  6. I mostly ignore plot holes. While I do enjoy the rough draft, my favorite part of writing is rewriting, so unless it’s an easy fix, I just add a plot hole to my mental list of things I need to fix in the rewrite and just plug along as fast as I can so I can start fixing those holes. (And creating new ones, but that’s just a fact of life.)

    • That’s a good philosophy! 😉

  7. I haven’t done much story writing since highschool, but it used to be something I really enjoyed doing. Reading your blog is making me itch to hold that pen again! The issues that you address are all things that hindered my writing from being very believable, so I appreciate your very thoughtful and intelligent approach and useful solutions.

    • That’s great to hear, Susanna! Hope you do pick up that pen again. 😉

  8. I still have to work on that. Because I get frustrated with myself when I find plot holes. And now that I am editing Anglamiere again, I am finding a whole lot of them. Thanks for this post. It helps me quite alot. 🙂

    • You’re welcome! Plot holes are always frustrating.
      Anglamiere is a cool name–what’s it about?

      • Sorry this is a really late reply (I work full time, so I forget to check here more). Anglamiere is about a Sword… and elves, with Jewish history and customs.

  9. I don’t deal with them while in the first draft. I write first drafts in a fever, and keep going til I think I’ve reached the end. I set the manuscript aside for a week or so, and only then go back and do a complete read-through with red pen in hand. It’s at that point I find and fix plot holes and other nasties.

  10. I have learnt the hard way that the best thing to do is write, write, write. I tried for too long to have the first draft perfect. My first first draft took 6 years, the second 2 years, and my thrid will be done in 6 months. Fortunatly I have grown to love editing and fixings all the holes, mistakes etc and I can confidently work through a first draft knowing all my concerns with the story will be addressed in due course.

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