Plot-holes on the Writing Highway

Plot-holes on the Writing Highway

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Are you a seat-of-your-pants novelist? Have you found that your first draft is full of problems and plot-holes? You’ve discovered the reason why writing with a plan is so popular. Don’t give up. It’s not too late. You can make plans after writing the first draft and use them to fix your story. Good planning documents will make it easier to find your place and fix those problems even now.

Without summary documents, you would need to search your entire manuscript every time you needed to make a change. That’s no fun. The two documents I describe below will take time to create but save time in the long run. Let’s do this step by step.

1. Create an outline that is one tenth the length of your manuscript. Do this by reading each chapter and summarizing the important points. Every character in the chapter needs a mention even if it’s just a note at the end saying something like, “Also present: Leo, Ranji, and Deb.” Include every story related event. Abbreviations are okay.

2. Use the outline to create a bullet outline (or Plot) that is one tenth the length of the outline. Any blow-by-blow sequences are gone here. For example, the outline may describe the details of how Jasper cheated Deb on a business deal. It would mention the business and how the scam worked. The bullet outline only says “Jasper scams Deb.”

You may already see how these two documents can help fix your manuscript. The outline lets you read the entire story in a tenth of the time. The bullet outline is used to find the right chapter fast.

3. Find a problem or plot-hole in your story. As an example, let’s say that Bob dies in chapter 20 and again in chapter 35. What’s worse is that Bob is the only loan shark in the story and there’s no other character that could be substituted for Bob in one of the deaths. You could give Bob a partner early on or have him only hospitalized in chapter 20. Let’s put him in hospital since it involves less re-writing.

4. In the bullet outline, add notes in red text for chapter 20 saying Bob is hospitalized. In some chapter before he re-appears in the story, Bob gets out of the hospital. You’ll add more red text there.

5. Add the bullet outline notes to the outline (red text again) with more detail. Don’t re-write the entire manuscript yet.

6. Repeat steps 3-5 with every problem and plot-hole in the manuscript. Once you believe all the problems are solved, it’s time to write your next draft.

7. Don’t start from scratch. You’ve already written your first draft. With your outline handy, re-write each chapter as indicated by the red text. If there’s no red text, just do normal re-writing: fix bad dialogue, cut long sentences, remove unnecessary words and description, and polish, polish, polish. As each fix is done, change that red text to black. Stuck on a fix and can’t seem to get moving? Skip it for now. The red text will still be in the outline for your next time through. Continue reading through your manuscript while fixing and polishing until there’s no more red text in the outline. Remove any red text still in the bullet outline. Your revision is complete.

8. Repeat from step 3 until you aren’t finding any more problems. Give your novel a final proofread and you’re done.

I didn’t write this as a warning against seat-of-your-pants writing. I think that could be a great way to write a novel. Even the writer doesn’t know what might happen next. Write enough novels by the seat-of-your-pants and you will learn to avoid the problems of your early stories. It will be the end of plot-holes on your writing highway.


Article by Ivan Izo.


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