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?