“I call bullshit!”
“That would never happen. It’s totally ridiculous.”
Conversations like this are the norm whenever my friend Pete and I watch movies. We’re very critical of plots, characters and actions. Pete’s threshold when it comes to suspension of disbelief is very low compared to mine, but there are times when even I have to agree a scene is total BS.
I’m sure it happens to you too. You could be reading a book, rolling right along, totally engrossed in the story when out of nowhere you’re plunged into a plothole so big it rivals the potholes you’d find on a street in New York City. You’re ripped out of the story without anything in sight to help pull you back in. The author’s integrity is totally shot.
Was it intentional? Did the author write himself into a corner and couldn’t figure how to get himself out? Or was it an oversight?
It happens. Wendi and I frequently run into plotholes while writing our first drafts. It’s easy to forget what you’ve written before and it’s even easier for your audience to find those plotholes after you’ve missed them. This often happens when an author is creating an epic series of books. So many details are involved it’s hard to keep track of all of them.
Not only does this happen with plot, it happens with character skills and abilities. In the Paranormal genre you have a lot of characters with amazing powers. Providing a viable build-up is key. How did this character get those abilities? When you show that over the course of the story, it makes sense for that setting and suspension of disbelief stays in tact.
What you don’t want to do is have some amazing power crop up out of nowhere. It may be cool and solve the hero’s problem, but you’re cheating your readers. They’ll know it, too.
So how can you prevent plotholes and dubious superpowers?
- The Black Book. This is a tool many writers use. It’s not an actual book, but rather a document that keeps track of all the important details of your series. This is where you want to jot down all those character names you have trouble remembering (did her name have two “t’s” or one?), family trees, names of towns, important dates within the story, etc.
- Create a Timeline. Whether your story spans several years or a few days, it’s easy to lose track of time within a story, especially when you have several sub-plots running parallel to one another. You don’t want one group of characters to still be stuck in the morning while the other group has moved on to later that night and are doing something that affects the first group. Time can get messy. Don’t run the risk of ripping a hole in the space/time continuum. Make a timeline that shows where and when everyone is.
- Background Story. Be clear on your characters’ background stories. Know exactly how they learned the skills they have and how much they know at the time of the present story. Think about how you want to use it in the story and if it’s relevant at all. If defeating the baddie depends on a particular skill or power, make sure you show your character using it in various ways before that point happens. Maybe they’re not very good at using this particular skill. Nothing makes an audience cheer more when the hero gets it right at exactly the right moment in time. Or maybe he never gets it right. Yay conflict!
- Research. Bad research or a total lack of research can ruin a story and create a gaping plothole. You never know who will be reading your book and if you get something wrong, it’ll show. As the saying goes, “You may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but you won’t fool all the people all the time.” You may have just enough knowledge on a subject to get by, but check your facts and get them straight. And if you really need to, ask an expert or talk.
- Too Much Exposition. Sometimes authors have so much knowledge on a subject they want the whole world to KNOW they know what they’re talking about. The narrative starts to get too preachy or overly informative. Before you know it, the reader is out of the character’s head and into the author’s. Show, don’t tell.
- Acting Out Of Character. There are definitely times when you want a character to act outside the norm of what they would usually do. Maybe they’re stressed, or angry, or drunk. The point is, they have a reason for acting in a way they normally wouldn’t. Always have a viable reason for doing this and make sure it moves the story forward.
What are some of the worst plotholes you’ve encountered in a book or movie? How about in your own stories? If they were in your own stories, how did you fix them?