While reading a book, have you ever come upon a reference to a character that is the total opposite of what you had read about them early on? For instance, maybe the character was initially described as being terrified of driving, thus does not drive cars, yet three chapters later she is seen driving to Yosemite in her red Mustang. You might flip back through the pages trying to locate this transformation, but it doesn’t exist.

Or maybe you have experienced the “wait, what happened to…?” moment. The author may have introduced you to a character, spent several pages developing this character, and then ruthlessly dropped the character at some point without explanation.

These are examples of plot holes, the literary version of the black hole in space, where plot twists or characters seem to come untethered from the story arc. Read this handy guide to learn the plot hole definition, common types of plot holes, and how to avoid potential plot holes in your writing.

Plot Hole Definition

What exactly is a plot hole, you might ask?  The plot hole definition can be stated as an unexplained gap or inconsistency in a storyline that contradicts the logic of the plot. These are unintentional bloopers that the author may have missed in the writing and editing process.

While it may be tempting to chalk up an author’s plot hole as a sign of bad writing or inattention to detail, in truth some of the most prominent authors have had plot holes in their works. Nevertheless, writers should make an effort to avoid plot holes, as they tend to annoy and confuse readers.

Types of Plot Holes

Consider the various types of plot holes an author might “fall in” to:

Plot Contradiction

Readers pay very close attention to details, especially at the beginning of the story. A plot contradiction is when key facts, such as where the main character is from or where the story takes place, are later contradicted in the book. For example, the protagonist is first said to hail from Trenton, New Jersey, but six chapters later you read how the character returns to their hometown of Bakersfield, California. This type of plot hole is usually pretty easy to catch in the editing stage.

Breaking the Rules

Not all plot holes are unintentional. Some authors purposely break existing literary rules to carve out their own unique style. The problem with this plot hole strategy is that readers are left feeling cognitive dissonance. For example, while everyone knows that the North Pole is so cold it is uninhabitable, the author describes the characters walking around the region in t-shirts and shorts. This is a cognitive plot hole that describes impossible events.

Storyline With No Ending

One of the most frustrating plot holes for readers is the author abandoning an earlier plot point or character. Unresolved storylines or AWOL characters result in plot holes, leaving readers with an uneasy sense of unfinished business. This is also called a continuity error.

Funky Facts

Factual plot holes are blunders that most commonly occur in historical fiction and can ruin an otherwise engaging story. For example, the story takes place in the year 1870, but the author describes a character switching on the lights upon entering her house. Electricity was not common in homes until the 1930s. This factual error could have readers scratching their heads.

Famous Plot Hole Examples

If you think seasoned writers can’t commit plot holes, think again. Here are a few of the most famous examples:

  • Hamlet and the Case of the Surprise Pirates. Hamlet had been kidnapped by pirates while en route to England. Suddenly, however, he is in Denmark, with no explanation about how he escaped the pirates and made it to Danish shores.
  • Huckleberry Finn: The Human GPS. In one scene, Huck Finn and Jim were rafting down the river. The abridged version of the story eliminated the “Raftsmen Passage,” meaning they would have needed special powers to have known exactly their location on that river.
  • Harry Potter and the “Couldn’t a Time Turner Fix This?” Much has been written about Hermione’s time turner and why it makes no sense. It’s pointed out that once something has happened, the time turner does not allow the character to go back and change history (i.e., save Dobby, for example).

How To Avoid Plot Holes

To avoid plot holes, authors can use these tips:

  1. Create an outline. An outline provides a blueprint for your storytelling, a handy tool you can continually refer to and update as you write. Using an outline can help prevent lapses in the plot or forgotten characters.
  2. Do your research. To avoid factual errors, especially when writing historical fiction, make sure to do your research before you start working on the manuscript.
  3. Take breaks. Tired eyes and weary minds can lead to plot holes. Stay alert by taking regular breaks between writing sessions.
  4. Use a professional editor. It is absolutely true that most writers cannot spot their own errors, including plot holes. Do yourself a favor and hire a professional editor along the way to ensure your story is well-edited.

Work With a Professional at Gatekeeper Press

No matter where you are in the writing process, enlisting the help of a professional editor will help you avoid those pesky plot holes. Gatekeeper Press offers an array of editing services to guide you toward success. Contact us online today!

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