Plot holes: they’re the things every writer dreads but will inevitably run into in the process of writing a novel. They’re a necessary evil on the journey to weaving a complex, interesting piece of fiction.
It’s easy to want to fall into a pit of despair when you discover the plot hole that seems intent on breaking your entire story. Even if it seems impossible at the moment to fix, though, there is always a way out, and your story will be stronger because of it.
They’re just a sign that you’re thinking outside the box!
To deal with particularly stubborn plot holes, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and really flex your creativity muscles. Here are some tips on how to navigate plot holes when writing a novel.
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How to Deal with Plot Holes
This may sound counterintuitive when you feel like your story is suddenly crumbling in your hands, but the truth is that no plot hole is a complete death sentence for your project. In fact, opportunity hides inside each and every one of them.
Plot holes are where you get to roll up your sleeves and really stretch and explore your creativity as a storyteller.
Some of my favorite, most unexpected ideas have come from instances where I was trying to solve a plot hole that I thought was ruining my story but it actually ended up taking it in a new, exciting direction that I never would’ve thought of otherwise.
Writing a novel is like putting a puzzle together, piece by piece. Stay committed to the process and search for the little gems buried inside every challenge.
Be willing to kill your darlings
If one thing is throwing everything else out of whack and you can’t figure out a way to make it work, ask yourself if sacrificing it will make the story stronger. This is called “killing your darlings” because sometimes, cutting out something you love is the only way the rest of the story will thrive.
Check-in on your overall vision for the project. How can you stay true to the story you want to tell? What will support that vision and what is dragging it down?
You may find a way to incorporate it later into a different way or use it in another story. I always have a folder for each story that has scenes, pieces of dialogue, and ideas that I’ve cut but want to save for future use.
Nothing draws your writing flow to a screeching halt quite like discovering a plot hole, especially if it changes anything you’ve already written.
This used to cause me a lot of headaches. Personally, I struggled with enjoying the discovery process of the first draft because of these interruptions.
I’ve started using James Patterson’s outlining method, in which you do a complete, deep outline of a story scene by scene so you can work out all of the kinks and plot holes before you dive into the actual writing. You still remain flexible when you get to the actual writing stage in case the characters or story lead to any new discoveries, but you’ve worked out all the bigger issues already so you can just… write.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth trying out because it can help keep your head in the storytelling phase and work through all of the kinks without having to toss out pages and pages of work in the process.
Take a break
If you’ve been banging your head against a wall trying to solve a seemingly impossible plot hole, then one of the best things you can do is take a break from your project.
Obsessing over it can actually block you from making progress because of all of the pressure you’re putting on yourself.
When you let yourself relax and take your focus off of the problem, your subconscious will keep working on it in the background. You may find that the answer flows effortlessly to you when you least expect it. At the very least, you’ll be able to return to it later with a fresh eye.
Change things up
When I’m working through a plot hole, I find that I’m able to think more clearly and work through ideas better when I’m doing something besides staring at my computer screen.
Albert Einstein and other great thinkers, creatives, and entrepreneurs have talked about how doing a practical activity while thinking helps stimulate their creativity. I love to take a walk or go for a drive. Like many people, a lot of my best ideas also come while I’m taking a shower. (What is it about that magical place?)
Always keep a notepad nearby or use the voice recorder on your phone to jot down ideas whenever they strike.
Be thankful for them
Yes, you read that right. Show gratitude to every plot hole you battle because even though they’re infuriating and sometimes even disheartening, they will always lead you to a better, stronger version of your project.
Writing is a journey. Some stories will unfold easier than others, but I’ve come to believe that they all unfold in the way that they’re meant to when you stay true to yourself and trust the process.
You’ve got this.