Saturday, 30 July 2016

Why Plot Flaws Happen – It’s About Problem Solving Part 2

Part 1 looked at the reason why plot holes occur, but how do you go about fixing them?  How do you close those holes, or glue together the edges of narrative where inconsistencies appear? How do you repair all those inconsistencies, without creating even bigger ones?
Solving the Problem
The key here is to identify what the plot hole is in relation to the story and recognise the cause of the problem. If you can understand the cause, then most plot problems are relatively easy to fix. With the cause known, you can then work towards a solution without creating further problems; otherwise you’ll create a ripple effect. And you also have to ensure that it’s a satisfactory and plausible solution.
Most minor plot holes are easy to fix. Usually they need a few lines of explanatory narrative, an addition of a short scene or two or maybe you have a character say something to another character by way of explanation, something that doesn’t sound like contrived exposition.
Complex plot flaws, on the other hand, need more thought and analysis to rectify. This is where writers sometimes have to turn into problem solvers. Sometimes the best way to fix these problems is to write them down and visualise them by using mind maps, simple line sketches or even elaborate flow charts. Everyone is different – it’s whatever works best for you. So if you work better just listing things, then do so. If bubble or mind maps work better, use them. It’s entirely up to you how you work out the solutions.
By putting them down on paper, it makes it easier for writers to analyse the problem and work through ideas, to see where scenes may have to be rewritten, or even cut, or where some scenes need to be added or changed etc.
To summarise:

  • Identify the problem
  • Recognise the cause of problem
  • Find a plausible solution to the problem
  • Does the solution cause a further problem in the story? If so, rethink the solution until it no longer affects the rest of the plot line.
  • Is the solution satisfactory and plausible
Avoid the Problem

It can’t be stressed enough that to avoid tumbling from the invisible path that writers create for themselves, it’s wise to plan out your plot, from start to finish, together with a chapter outline. This should cover key incidents/scenes, subplots, story arc, themes and turning points etc. The idea behind plotting is to make them as water-tight as possible, so anything that seems strange or implausible might cause the plot to wobble.

It’s also important that you make sure you know the characters inside out. Know everything about them. That way, you will know if your hero is blonde and brown eyed, not brown haired and blue eyed, or that the bad guy has a permanent limp because of a car accident (and not one that vanishes halfway through the story).
Enough can’t be said about doing your research. The more information you have, the fewer mistakes you’ll make, and therefore the fewer inconsistencies you’ll create.
The complete read-through of your novel is also important. It allows you to read it like a reader, not a writer. Leave the manuscript for a week or so and then read it through. Some things will jump out at you; things you will notice, such as the background of a character changing halfway through the story, or that a chestnut coloured horse turns into a black one over the course of six chapters.
A more complex one would be that the main character has hidden a box containing something important early on in the story, but towards the end of the novel, there is no mention of the box. What’s happened to it? How will it affect the story, if it’s supposed to be significant? The main character can’t complete his goal without it! You need to find a way of fixing it.
During the read through, make a note of the things that don't seem quite right; the inconsistencies or continuity errors and so on.
Some plot holes that we inevitably create can give us huge headaches because they become complex problems that require a lot of head scratching, backtracking, re-writing and planning in order to fix, without inadvertently creating more plot holes in the process. But analysing them and then working around them does work. Sometimes it takes time, so be patient, don’t rush the process. Think it through carefully, but logically. Everything, eventually, has to make sense.
It’s not unknown for writers to scrap entire chapters or do huge rewrites because of plot holes, so it’s wise to plan as much as you can before you embark on your novel. The more information you have, the less chance of errors.

Next week: Pacing a novel