Plot flaws happen for a variety of reasons, and the result can leave writers scratching their heads, trying to figure out a way around some of the huge problems they create, however, it’s how they’re solved that makes the difference.
Plot holes are a by-product of any writing; they appear as inconsistencies or contradictions within the story, as gaps within the narrative, or huge holes that you can’t account for. You can’t avoid them – they happen either because we are not thorough enough, or they happen because of the way the story gradually unravels.
The thing about plot flaws is that they don’t become plot flaws until you actually read the work through in its entirety, because up until then, the obvious won’t become apparent while you’re working on the story. Only when it’s finished and you’ve left it or a reasonable time to come back and do your read through will these problems manifest.
Plot flaws can be gaping chasms or they can be subtle punctures in the fabric of the story. It’s about recognising them, understanding the problem they create and how you deal with them successfully that helps make the finished product flawless.
Dealing with them successfully, of course, depends on how well you spot them and what kind of problems they pose. The best way to spot them is read the work as though you are the reader.
Most plot flaws revolve around the following areas:
Continuity of facts – It’s easy to contradict facts in your writing, like putting the date of a famous event in the wrong time frame, or not getting names right. That means any gaps in your research will show up as plot flaws. Make sure your facts are correct.
Continuity of characters – These are common. For example, your character wears glasses at the beginning of the story but half way through, the glasses have vanished as though he never wore them in the first place. Other instances are when a character appears early in the story and goes off to do something and is never heard from again. What’s the point of that character in the first place?
Continuity of time/setting – For example, the hero goes to his friend’s house in one scene, which is in the middle of the day, but a few paragraphs later, the daytime has inexplicably turned to night. (Movies do this a lot). Or there is the common one of transporting a character from one country to another in the matter of hours, without taking into account the time it takes to arrange the trip, arrange a visa, buy airlines tickets, pack for the trip and so on. It takes more than a few hours.
The other error is that characters in novels that end up in a foreign country without a passport, money or anything else. Did they travel by magic?
Contradictions – These types of flaws arise when the writer simply forgets about things. For example, you have a character who loves animals, and this is shown, but then somewhere else in the story is seen killing an animal without batting an eye, with no further explanation. Or perhaps you have a character that is a vegetarian, but four chapters later, he is seen eating meat.
Contradictions happen, but you have to keep an eye on your narrative.
Inconsistency – For example, the bad guy, who is very clever and wily, does something explicably stupid to help the hero defeat him. Another one often seen in books is the tough hero, trained in martial arts and used to be in the armed forces suddenly being defeated by a couple of bad guys who are not even half as skilled. (Movies also do this).
Another similar inconsistency is to have a strong female in your story, someone who can stand up for herself, someone fiercely independent, and yet she is suddenly reduced to a dithering heap in the face of danger or when confronted by the bad guy, because of stereotyping and a contrived plot demands it.
Another one is where the hero possesses amazing martial arts skills and can kill with his bare hands, yet seems to forget his has these skills when he’s confronted with the bad guys all through the story. But then at the end, when fighting the villain, he decides to use the very skill he’d not bothered with all through the story.
All these are silly inconsistencies, yet writers continue to fall into this trap. If you don’t spot them, your reader will.
Sometimes plot flaws are not always apparent straight away and are generated whilst writing the story. For instance, you have an important scene that takes place early morning in the winter, with several key characters. You describe the bright yet hazy, wintry sun, the cold air and hint of frost. You write a great the scene, happy with the way it unfolds.
But can you spot the obvious plot flaw?
You cannot possibly have a bright hazy sun so early in the winter. Early mornings are dark. And it gets dark early too, especially if there is daylight saving time in operation. It means you would have to re-write the scene to reflect accuracy and realism and avoid a continuity of setting problem.
Here’s another plot flaw example. Your hero and villain are in a fight as the climax mounts. There’s a struggle as each tries to get the upper hand, but then, from nowhere, your hero pulls out a knife to defeat the villain, but unless you have mentioned the knife in previous scenes, so that the reader picks up on this, then the knife from nowhere will be a contrivance and thus becomes an obvious inconsistency.
Contradictions, flaws and inconsistencies are unavoidable during the writing process, but it’s how we find and fix them that matters, so in Part 2 we’ll look at how to solve the problem of plot flaws.
Next week: Why Plot Flaws Happen – It’s About Problem Solving Part 2