Plot holes, those devious little blighters, have a knack of popping into existence just where you least expect them.
I am not the kind of chap who outlines a novel before jumping in to the fun of writing it. Broad brush strokes, a skeleton framework of ideas and then it’s chocks away! My transatlantic friends call this being a ‘Pantser’ – flying by the seat of one’s pants as the story takes one from point to point in a free-wheeling, fast-flowing fashion. Being from the side of the pond where the cucumber sandwich still reigns supreme, the term ‘pants’ has less savoury connotations for me. No, Pantser will not do at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Trouserist.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that I don’t have the luxury of writing every day. Much as I would love to, the demands of daily life and a mortgage mean that I often struggle to find the time to write. Progress on the novel is sporadic, at best.
I am a self-confessed Sporadic Trouserist.
And that is where the plot holes worm their insidious way in… (you don’t want holes in your sporadic trousers, I assure you).
The Curse Of The Sporadic Writer
I’m certain many of us find ourselves in exactly the same position. You sit down in front of the screen to dash off another few-hundred words, only to gape in shock at the date on your most recent draft. “Three weeks ago!? How can I not have written for three whole weeks?”
I can rarely remember what I had for breakfast, far less what was happening all the way back in Chapter 4, which by now I probably haven’t touched for nigh on 6 months. If Webster, trusty manservant to Lord Farnsworth, fell prey to the marauding zombie hordes when they first invaded Belchingham Manor, it would be most unlikely if he subsequently popped up with a crossbow to save his Lordship’s skin in Chapter 12. Yes, he could technically be a member of the Undead with a particularly strong sense of duty, but I’m not buying that and neither will any readers over the age of 9.
The subtler nuances of the story are even more likely to have evaporated in the mists of time, leaving it prone to developing more plot holes than a lace doily. Half-forgotten sub-plots sputter out like an engine running out of fuel. Minor characters disappear without trace or purpose. Once-significant plot devices are left hanging without their meaning ever seeing the light of day.
As a Sporadic Trouserist, it becomes very easy to lose track. I once deleted an entire chapter which effectively made it impossible for one of my major protagonists to exist. That was a slightly sticky one to resolve, I can tell you.
Tracking And Eliminating Plot Holes
So, how can we back-fill these plot holes with the gravel of consistency to ensure the narrative can motor on unimpeded to its destination? There are a number of ingenious methods, although all of them (except the most drastic) will require you to have one more read-through of your WIP…
Method One: “Carnage”
Take your manuscript from the drawer, place it a safe distance from you and any dormant pets, douse it in paraffin and put a match to it.
Method Two: “Character Mapping”
Set up a spreadsheet with chapter numbers laid out in one column at the left-hand side. Across the top, list all the characters in the novel, giving each their own column. Now fill in the cells corresponding to the chapters in which that character appears. For added entertainment (if your TV’s broken) give each character their own colour. This is a fantastic way of getting an at-a-glance view of the spread of characters throughout your story. As well as showing where someone who died/emigrated/dematerialised early on suddenly (and possibly impossibly) re-appears, it also illustrates whether a character is just popping up to deliver a plot point then disappearing for several chapters. Or whether there’s an undue focus on one individual at any point. Less drastic than Method One, although just as colourful.
Method Three: “On The Cards”
I used this alongside Method Two when I ran into plot-hole hell with Dark Energies. It takes some time and thought at first, but you end up with a condensed, easily-shuffled, total overview of your story which highlights any glaring inconsistencies. Get yourself a bunch of index cards. Nope, I’ve never really known what they are either. To be honest, I cut up a whole ream of A4 sheets into smaller squares. But if you have a local supplier of index cards, knock yourself out my friends. Next, write down the most important events from each chapter on the cards, making sure to annotate them with the chapter number wherein they occur. You might want to have some biscuits to hand while you do this bit. When complete, arrange them into piles by chapters – Chapter 1 in one pile, Chapter 2 in another and so forth… Eradicate any plot-holes you find during this process. Hey presto, you now have a full, chronologically accurate overview without having to re-read the whole WIP each time. Now, if you move a chapter or bump off a character, a quick review of the cards will make any inconsistencies glaringly obvious.
I know other writers who carry out a similar process using Post-It notes. Whilst tempted to try this, I do fear minor characters may well end up being transported around the house on a cat’s bottom. Never a good way to go.
What, my dear chums, are your preferred methods of catching inconsistencies and filling your plot-holes? Pray let me know in the Comments box down there…