How to Find and Fill All Your Story’s Plot Holes
Welcome to the fourth lesson in our course about how to outline your novel! What is the single most important job of an outline? We might come up with lots of answers, but they all boil down to just this one: avoiding plot holes.
In the outline, discovering plot holes is actually quite exciting: Oh, look at this, a blank spot in the story you haven’t explored yet. What might you find? What’s this—a fork in the road? Which should you take? Why not both? Let’s sniff down first one trail, see what you find, and if you don’t like it, skip on back and try the other trail.
Three Questions to Ask to Find Your Plot Holes
As per previous lessons, you should already have a good chunk of your outline—and thus your story—figured out by the time you’re ready to tackle your plot holes head on. In seeing what is already there, you’re ready to begin identifying what isn’t.
Ask yourself the following three questions to suss out all the blank and/or weak spots in your story.
1. What Don’t You Know About This Story?
Plot holes are nothing more or less than incomplete or incorrect causes and effects. Something happens within the plot that wasn’t set up properly or that defies logic. Inevitably, these result from blank spaces within the story—areas you didn’t fully explore in order to causally link one part of your story to another that follows.
The first thing to do in hunting down these plot holes is simply to look into the darkness. Ask yourself: What don’t I know? What are you taking for granted about your characters, their motivations, and the consequences of their choices?
Sit down with your notebook and pen (if you’re outlining longhand, as I do) and consider what you don’t yet know about your story.
Several specific areas to consider are:
● Character Motivations
● “Filler” Scenes (the scenes that happen in between the big, exciting scenes)
● Character Relationships
2. What Are the Specific Questions That Need to Find Answers?
When you get stuck—and you will get stuck—remember to ask yourself questions. Instead of stating the problem—“the princess is trapped in the high tower”—phrase it as a question—“how can I get the princess out of the high tower?” It’s amazing how much creativity can be unleashed with a question mark.
The more explicit your questions, the more explicit and helpful your answers can be. These questions will arise out of your discovery of the “blank spaces” in the previous section.
For example, here are several specific questions I came up with during a recent outline:
● What plan is Isla (a minor antagonist) concocting?
● What is Thorne (a potentially shady sidekick) doing for Chris (the protagonist)?
● What does Quinnon (a bodyguard) do to “protect” Allara (the co-protagonist) that gets them both in trouble?
● How does Chris gain enough power to threaten the Council?
● How is Nemo playing both sides?
3. What Are the Subplots?
Start by listing the various aspects of your story you have yet to explore in any depth. Particularly, you might want to consider the following:
● Minor characters’ goals.
● Protagonist’s relationships with minor characters.
● Minor characters’ relationships with each other.
Depending on the scope of your story and its stakes, your list may or may not be long. You may also choose to eliminate or minimize some of the subplots you discover in order to streamline your main plot.
How to Fill Your Plot Holes
Now that you’ve identified all these potential plot holes, you get to start brainstorming answers, throwing ideas at the wall, and seeing what sticks.
Ask lots of “what if?” questions. What if the hero had an evil twin? What if the heroine adopted her sister’s baby? What if the bad guy insinuated himself into the hero’s inner circle? What if, what if, what if? The possibilities are gloriously endless.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how to outline your characters’ backstories to create amazing subtext for your plot.
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