Friday, December 2, 2011

Plugging Up Pesky Plot Holes

(Warning Twilight plot spoilers follow. If there is any such thing as a person who has not read or watched all the Twilights AND still plans to--then you--you one little hold out--please proceed with caution.)

Different stages of writing remind me of different occupations. Architect when building a new story structure. Designer when fleshing out details. Janitor when getting rid of excess commas and adverbs for the final touch.(That's the hat I'm wearing these days.) Today though I'm remembering when I had the job of construction worker--and hoping I did a good enough job with the important work of filling plot holes in my story. Because by now it's too late. If there are plot holes in ExtraNormal, the readers will just be falling into them.

What is a plot hole, you may ask? Readers stumble across them all the time, and they always know that something has happened. They just don't always know what.

In short: a plot hole is a big gaping hole in a story's logic. You know you've come across one when you stop reading, slap your forehead, and say, "Yeah, like that would really happen."

And the sad thing is they are almost never necessary. (I only say almost because I don't like absolutes. But honestly I can't actually think of a time that one would be necessary.)

Before I explain any further, let me put out some basic rules of fiction. One is that nothing just happens. Lots of things just happen in nonfiction. People get sick. They get in car accidents. They yell at their kids. They break a leg or step on a penny. It just happens and then we move on. But in fiction there has to be a reason for everything or readers won't believe it.

With my first novel, I had a character who left his family at a time of crisis--just jumped in his car and started driving. The reviewers came back saying, "A husband wouldn't really leave his family at a time like that." Which drove me nuts. Of course a husband would do that! Husbands around the world do it all the time! I vehemently explained this to said reviewers. What I didn't realize they were really saying was that I hadn't given the reader enough reasons to believe the husband would do that.

Which leads to a second rule of fiction. Anything can happen in fiction, anything at all, it just has to have a good explanation.

Now this is not referring to fantastical fiction where doors appear out of nowhere and animals talk. In fantasy, bizarre things do just happen and the reader just believes it. It's referred to a "suspending belief". But  that only pertains to the fantastical parts of a story. Even the structure of a fantasy has to make sense. Sure the local teenage hottie can grow fangs. No explanation needed. But the rest of the way he spends his days has got to make sense.

Because in fiction, anything CAN happen, (your main character can join the circus, or mass murder his family or buy a kitten) he just has to have a very good reason for whatever the author wants him to do. He can't just do it for the sake of doing it.

Which leads us to those pesky plot holes. Now I am a great admirer of Stephenie Meyer I commend any author who can inspire hordes of  non-readers to pick up a book and get lost in the pages. Which is exactly what she has done. So I've taken great pains to not be critical of her work. But when it comes to plot holes there just isn't a better universal example. So with apologies to Steph, I'm going to point out a couple of the deepest.

The first starts right at the beginning of Twilight. Vamps who are stuck as teenagers for eternity decide to be eternal high school students. Seriously? They actually CHOOSE to be stuck in high school forever? High school was great and all for while it lasted, but can you even imagine never leaving?

Now Steph obviously felt she needed her vamps to be at the high school so that they could meet up with Bella. But the thing is she can do anything she wants (remember the rule) as long as she gives us a really good reason to do it. And the only reason she gave us was so that they were trying to avoid suspicion.

REALLY? A group of adult-looking beautiful people who are paired off try to pass themselves off as foster children at the local high school year after year and that WON'T attract attention?

Now remember, she can do anything she wants with her vamps. She can even have them be eternal high school students. She just has to bend over backwards to make it make sense. So she could have them be teachers. Or younger. Or she could have them trying a variety of things each year, with this one being the 'going back to high school' year.

But they really don't have to attend high school to meet Bella. They just have meet her once and then find a reason to be around her afterwards. So if Steph had come to me for advice, I would have told her to make those kid vamps college students. And just have them be friends of Carlisle's family. Definitely not foster children. She could have even done that, if she really wanted to, by making them younger and not paired off. But there was no need, so why not just friends of the family? And college kids have all kinds of flexibility. They can work, be looking for work, be studying online, or attending a local campus. Nobody really pays much attention once kids get out of high school since they're all off doing their own thing.

Now I probably would have kept Edward at the high school, since at least in the movie he does look younger than the others. But I would have made it a once in a while thing that he does. And this year he would have obviously felt "drawn" to the school, what with his crazy-smelling girlfriend there. It would also have been natural for those other vamps to start hanging out at the high school once they learned that their little brother had the hots for a human.

So there you go - plot hole filled. Head whacking can stop. Wasn't that easy Steph?

 I said I'd give a couple of examples, though this is getting pretty lengthy. So I'll just quickly mention my all-time favorite hole, which happened to be in the last of the Twilight series. With the babe. Now I don't have any problem with the existence of a baby. Steph can totally present a baby to the story if she wants. But here's where I not only slapped my head, but almost threw the book. Bella is being looked after by a genius doctor who has been practicing medicine for literally generations. She's also marrying into a family that has something like a hundred college degrees among them. And all these brilliant minds deduce that since a vampire has never gotten anyone pregnant, birth control is not necessary. But they don't consider the little tiny tidbit of information that no human has ever survived sex with a vampire. So maaaybeee, just maaaybee, that's why they haven't gotten pregnant. Because they're dead.

SERIOUSLY? Whack. Whack. Whack.

Okay, so Steph can throw in the baby, that's fine. She can do whatever she wants in this world she's building. But it has to make sense. More sense than in real life.

So let's just pretend that Dr. Genius gave Bella some birth control. Since a half-breed baby would be all kinds of horrible, let's just take that little tiny precaution, just in case Bella happens to survive her nuptials.

Now Bella can decide the pill makes her fat, or she can forget to bring them with her on her honeymoon, or it can turn out that vampire semen is just so darn tough that it doesn't care about measly human birth control. Whatever. There are all kinds of ways to fill a hole. But it just has to be filled.

I will be the first to say that it's hard for the author to spot holes. We know what needs to happen in our story and we make it happen. It takes some readers willing to plow through your early versions, whack their foreheads, and then tell you why. So the next time you slap your forehead and say, "Really?!? You seriously want me to believe that?!?" start looking for the plot hole, cause I'll bet you anything it's there. And if you really want to have some fun, figure out how it could have been filled.

I would ask for other examples--and suggestions for fixing them--but I don't want to trash any (more) authors since authors are my favorite peeps. But if you happen to have an example that doesn't offend anyone I'd love to hear it!


  1. Lol this cracks me up! I completely agree, they should have been in college! I actually got rejected a few days ago by an agent who read my full ms. She said she loved it, laughed out loud several times, kept wanting to turn pages, but it wasn't enough because she had a hard time believing my 17 y/o MC would make up a boyfriend. Seriously? I guess it was a plot hole for her, though it was believable to me and others I had read it...I guess you can't ever tell sometimes!

  2. Oh Cortney - that's absolute deja vu! Of course she'd do that! Girls do it all the time! I didn't really talk about the difficulty of filling in the plugs. Sigh. It's a hard thing, this writing! Best of luck to you and your manuscript!

  3. Probably the biggest gaping plot hole: when Stephenie Meyer explicitly stated that vampires bodily fluids are essentially frozen and useless. Now try explaining how Bella could get pregnant? She actually made a point of discussing this, and then broke her own rules in Breaking Down...I mean Breaking Dawn (Breaking Wind?). Like you say, though, this could have been explained away somehow because she's the author. But she didn't give a good explanation. Even 'turns out we were wrong about vampire fluids' would have satisfied me. No mention whatsoever? That just annoyed me. Ah well. Nobody's perfect, I guess. I do really like the way you've explained this. It's helpful in sorting through the problem of plugging those plot holes =)

  4. You have an excellent post! I think you brought up some great points. I also like the way you made suggestions to fill the holes. Great ideas! Always good to get feedback from others to try to plug those holes. :)