Saturday, 4 December 2010

Don't Fall Through Plot Holes

Anyone who participated in NaNoWriMo is probably familiar with plot holes. When you're writing a first draft, it’s easy to get lost in the writing - so much that you forget irrelevant details like continuity, time, place or setting. Sometimes they’re cracks in an otherwise stable manuscript. And sometimes, they are massive gaping holes that could potentially ruin your entire story.

At some point in their life, most writers will have stumbled upon a plot hole in their own work. We’re all human, and mistakes are easily made. The thing you have to master is filling them when they’re there and learning from your mistakes.

Smaller plot holes are much easier to manage. They may only require a change in wording, or a slight adaption of the setting, dialogue etc., and everything will run along smoothly. If you continuously get errors like these, problems can start occurring. Nobody wants a holey manuscript. A reader wants the novel to make sense. They want to bring a sense of realism to it, no matter if it’s set in Middle Earth or West London. If they see a gaping plot hole, they might not let it pass so quickly.

Like everything, there are exceptions to this rule. I read a hilarious blog post a few days ago about plot holes in famous films which are generally disregarded. But never fall into the trap of thinking you are the exception to the rule. No writer is ever an exception until they prove themselves to be one. And even then, don’t make it the norm. Conventions are there for a reason.

However, we then come to the other side of the spectrum: big plot holes. Holes you’ve unthinkingly woven into your manuscript with details so finite and intertwined you can’t see their flaws until you are looking at it as a whole. The best thing is to catch them quick. If you realise a plot hole whilst your writing, it’s a lot easier to go back and change it then and there so it won’t ruin the rest of the novel, rather than continuing and leaving it to editing. If you do, there may be a lot more work on your hands.

If worst comes to worst, and it’s only during editing you realise a massive plot hole, take a step back and think. Is there a solution? An exchange that could be made to replace the plot hole with something that makes sense? If there is, get out your metaphorical needle and start picking out the woven plot hole strings. Once you’ve extracted them, go back and fill in the blanks – making a note of what needs to be changed beforehand, obviously.

Then we come to the hole so big your entire MS might fall through it. If you are unlucky enough to experience this type of plot hole, take a big step back and re-evaulate. Question everything. Are you sure there is no way it can be fixed? Are you sure there is no logical solution to join one end of the plot to the other? If you are, don’t abandon ship. Anything can be salvaged – you just have to look for enough raw materials. A rewrite can be beneficial. Not only will you be able to sew up that pesky plot hole, but you’ll also be able to combat any other smaller problems you’ve found. Keep repeating the word ‘before’? Make sure you learn for the rewrite. Overuse of commas, semi-colons and one word sentences? Make sure you avoid them for the rewrite. While rewriting can be a pain, it can also have the potential to save a novel that was otherwise sinking, and refine your own writing. You have to fall down to get back up again. And if you’re entering the world of publishing, you’ll soon learn writers fall down a lot.

So the next time you come to a plot hole, no matter what size, remember to take stock and see what can be done. If you’re planning major changes, make sure to outline so you have a handle on what is being done and how everything is being solved. It keeps things much tidier, and will save a lot of trouble in the future.

Touching on the subject of falling down and rejection, Natalie Whipple has shared her story on the other side of the publishing this week, and it’s been an incredible read. If you want to read, scroll down to ‘What Happens When It IS You’ and the follow up post ‘What I’ve Learned From Being On Submission’. They’re definitely worth reading, and I'd recommend her blog to anybody.

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