This week: Plugging plot holesEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: "I'm certainly a plot and character man. Themes, structure, style - they're valid components of a novel and you can't complete the book without them. But I think what propels me as a reader is plot and character."~ David Mitchell
A sound plot is necessary for any type of story, but it is especially important for a mystery. Nothing infuriates a mystery reader more than trying to solve a puzzle that has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. A mystery plot should not be predictable, but it must be logical and realistic. Here are some examples of plot holes and how to patch them:
Revision oversights: Revisions are necessary if you want to find and eliminate plot holes, but it can also be the cause of new ones. For example, during your first draft, Character A may be the killer, but you may decide to revise the story by making Character B the guilty party. That is fine unless you forget to remove or change a piece of evidence that incriminates Character A. You might want to leave the erroneous evidence in place to misdirect the readers, but make sure you work in an explanation that makes sense. Don't feel bad if this type of plot hole gets past you as you revise your own writing. As writers, we tend to see the story we intended to write rather than the one that is actually there. This is why good editors and reviewers are worth their weight in gold.
Contradicting established "facts" without a good explanation: This happens most often in stories with sequels or long continuous stories such as a TV series. Here is an example from one of the soap operas my mom used to watch: A villain is seen falling off a huge cliff presumably to his death. A few episodes later, his father talks about traveling to the foreign country where the accident occurred, and what a difficult experience it was to see his son's dead body. Several years later, in true soap opera fashion, the show decides to resurrect the character. Suddenly, the father says he never saw the body, and that his son was cremated before he got there. This could have worked as a plot twist if it was discovered that the father lied or was deceived in the earlier episode, but it was not presented in that way. None of the other characters seemed to remember what they had been told in the previous episode, but the viewers definitely did. Don't try to force an element into your plot that doesn't fit naturally.
Characters who behave "out of character" for no good reason: In a mystery, characters are not always what they appear to be, but don't let someone behave in a way that doesn't make sense for their character unless you have an explanation. You don't want your guilty party to be too obvious, but there must be clues that give the reader a chance to discover their secrets.
Time inconsistencies: Unless time travel is a factor in your story, be sure you never locate a character in two places at the same time. If the plot hinges on someone traveling from point A to point B, be sure you give them enough time for the trip. It is fine to set up an illusion that a suspect is out of town at the time of the murder for example, but if he does turn out to be the killer, make sure you give a realistic explanation of how it happened. Try to analyze the events of your story the way real police investigators would. If real investigators would not be likely to come to the same conclusion your characters did, readers probably will not believe it.
Suggestion: Have several reviewers you trust read your story to check for plot holes.
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Question for next time: Do you plan your stories in advance or write "by the seat of your pants"?
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