Self-editing
for plot holes might be the most difficult task an author undertakes. Why?
Because in an author’s mind, the story is all laid out. The characters are in
place. Their relationships are cemented, and the plot is solid in the author’s
mind. In other words, author’s get so firmly entrenched in their plot that the
holes don’t show up.
What I
thought I would do this week is to share with you examples of some of the plot
holes and other mistakes I’ve made in my works in progress.
Identity Errors: I recently found a
plot hole large enough to drive a tractor trailer through in a work of mine
that I have labored on for thirty-five years—yes, thirty-five years (I thought
it was twenty-five, but apparently I’m ten years older than I feel). When I
stumbled across it, I marveled at how it had gotten past critique partners and
me for so long. The problem was in the identity of one of my major characters.
Others were not supposed to suspect who she was, but she had the same unusual
last name as another character who was related to her. Oops.
Another
type of identity error I faced in the past was using a woman’s married name
before she was married. This is easy to do because we know the past, present,
and future of our characters.
Does the System Really Work Like That?
Recently, my editor caught an error with a prison scene in one of my works in
progress. She asked me if the system really worked liked that in the state in
which my villain was in prison. My only reply to that was, “Great catch.” I was
working on what I knew of a local jail system and not a state run prison
system. A little research told me I was wrong, and a change in a couple of
sentences resolved the problem.
This was
a great reminder to me to never take procedure for granted. Some things can be
done differently. Research might reveal choices, or it might indicate that
there is only one procedure. Authors should not risk the ire of an informed
reader by making up their own process.
Realistic Character Arcs: The same
editor mentioned above also called me on the arc of a pretty belligerent
character who seemed to become angelic overnight. When I reviewed the
manuscript, I found that she had a right to question the character’s arc.
Tweaking one scene made that change more realistic. Manuscripts should be
reviewed with an eye toward locating and remedying any implausible character
changes.
Timeline Issues: Only in daytime soap
operas where children are born one week and turn twenty-one the next are
timelines not an issue. I’ve run across this problem a few times in my works in
progress. A good practice is to keep track of timelines as the story develops.
Back track and make sure that a logical timeframe has been followed. Check your
character’s birth dates. Do they match up with such things as technology? For
example: were cell phones in use when the character was a certain age depicted
in the book? This is important in contemporary and historical novels.
Even
the smallest of plot holes can derail a plot. The identity error I mentioned
above is a major problem for my novel, but I’ve been able to fix it with a
minor tweak. The other instances mentioned seem like smaller details, but to a
reader, they might make or break the plot.
The
best practice for seeking out and plugging that hole in your manuscript is to
set the story aside for a while. Letting the story cool for a while, stepping
back from what you know, and letting a little of that knowledge seep away, and
then coming back to it, helps to pinpoint a lot of the problems.
Better
yet, put your work into the hands of a beta reader, an editor, or a critique
partner who will look at the story as a whole, and ask them to look for any
major areas where the plot doesn’t come quite together.

Happy
editing.

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