A writer’s worst nightmare is plot holes. No author wants to publish a book they’re proud of, only for readers to point out major issues in their 2-star reviews.
Usually, plot holes are the result of only a few causes and can be fixed with some techniques and revisions.
Over time, you’ll start to discover how to avoid plot holes, how to fix them, and even the ways in which you tend to create them in the first place. Because every writer is different, and our own unique writing processes can be cause for specific types of plot holes.
This post will help you learn what to do to fix the ones you’ve developed, along with prevention for future plot holes.
Here’s all you’ll learn about plot holes:
What is a plot hole?
A plot hole occurs when certain elements of a story don’t make sense, to the point that it makes the events of the plot unrealistic and breaks the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
Suspension of disbelief, if you’re unfamiliar, is what readers hold so they will believe the events of a story they know is made-up. Can dragons really come down from the sky to wreak havoc among us? No. But in some stories, if the author has done a good job, we believe that in that world, they do!
A plot hole often appears as a piece of information or an event in a story that changes the realism of other events. If this certain thing happened, why couldn’t it have happened earlier or at different times? To be clear, a plot hole is not an unanswered question.
Authors often open loops to be answered later, and that’s not the same as writing something that doesn’t fit with the chosen narrative logic of the story.
There are a lot of causes of plot holes, so let’s take a look at why authors sometimes don’t catch them.
Causes of Plot Holes & Ways to Avoid Them For All Stories
Authors are all different, and we come up with our stories in very different ways. Which means that a plot hole can be formed in various ways. The more of these causes you identify with, the greater risk of your story having a plot hole.
Heed the solutions and use them!
1. Discovery Writing
Also known as “pansting”, aka writing by the seat of your pants. These writers don’t often plan their stories and write based on what they want to write next. Which works well for many!
However, if you don’t go back and thoroughly edit and do a post-draft outline, big plot holes can be missed just because the writer isn’t often thinking of the story as a whole, but what they need to write next.
2. No beta readers or reading partners
It’s really important to have another set of eyes on your book before you’re officially done with it. Beta readers offer the opportunity to see how your book is received from new readers. You’re often too close to the work to see all the gaps or plot holes.
For this reason, always have someone read it before publishing. Especially a book editor. The reason I start with the advice to use beta readers is because if you go straight to a book editor, there will likely be a lot more for them to edit and therefore it will both cost you more money and you won’t get the absolute best version of your story.
But if a beta reader helps you catch big gaps, the book editor can focus more on improving the craft of your book instead of helping you fix plot holes.
3. Lack of story logic understanding
Part of this has to do with understanding how readers consume books. If the reader is experienced enough in reader (meaning they’re not a kid or middle grade age), they’ll be trying to figure out the plot. They’ll form predictions, expect certain plot arcs, and the like.
This means that if you’re not plotting your story with this understanding (including using foreshadowing and other elements), you risk developing plot holes that won’t make sense for the story. To remedy this, make sure you know the parts of a story and learn why storytelling has a certain format.
4. Character inconsistencies
Sometimes what a reader calls a plot hole is more of a character inconsistency. Basically, when your character does something that doesn’t make sense for who you’ve crafted them to be, without proper foreshadowing or justifiable details, it can be seen as a plot hole.
It comes with the impression of, “that doesn’t make sense” and “if they do that now, then why didn’t they do that before?” Balancing character growth and their arc with avoiding plot holes can be tricky. Make sure throughout your story, you’re giving the character challenges to grow and change, and allowing for subtle changes that make any big alteration in their character decisions make sense.
5. Genre-specific inaccuracies
If you write a book with science, medicine, law enforcement, or other types where highly specified systems, processes, and routines are used, you increase the chances of a plot hole. This is especially true if your audience knows the truth.
In science fiction this is often the case, but it’s also relevant in many crime stories where lawyers and other law enforcement procedures are used. If these aren’t realistic—like if a character is arrested in a case where they couldn’t possibly be in real life due to the laws—your readers will claim it a plot hole.
In these instances, it’s often best to consult an expert on what this might actually look like so it makes sense.
6. Inexperienced writing
Most new writers will create and fix a few plot holes before they can go right into writing a book that’s free of them. There’s a lot that goes into the writing process, more than every writer thinks before they sit down to write a book.
That’s why not everybody writes books. Writing a novel comprises of several elements that have to be balanced in order to tell a good, entertaining story that readers rate and review well. It takes time to learn this balance and be able to execute it effectively.
That’s why we offer many classes and resources to help writers, like this class that walks through the elements of a quality fiction novel so you can avoid plot holes and tell a good story:
Examples of Nearly Unforgivable Plot Holes in Famous Stories
1. The Time-Turner in Harry Potter
In the third book, a fun element is introduced, one that allows Hermione to attend additional classes so she can learn and do more. It’s called a time-turer and allows one to turn back time. They use it toward the end of the story to save a specific character from a poor fate.
This was immediately met with speculation, because here’s the thing: there are many things that a time-turner can be used for. Why was it not used for more harrowing situations?
A lot of people look to the limitations of it, and have assumed there are restrictions that make it difficult to use for other situations. Maybe there aren’t very many and Dumbledore has one of very few. Maybe there can be difficult consequences and that makes it dangerous.
Either way, why give such a thing to a teenage girl? Even one as responsible as Hermione?
How it could have been avoided: If JK Rowling had mentioned the limitations of the time-turner or gone into more detail of how it works, it might have cleared up this plot hole. But because there’s no explanation, the plot hole isn’t filled. Instead, there are just online debates about it.
2. Debris in Gravity
In this story (the movie from 2013), there’s a scene where a lot of debris is shown destroying space stations and satellites. This is a case where the science doesn’t quite add up, and the plot conflict has been prioritized over consistency.
In reality, low Earth orbit doesn’t quite work that way, so this problem wouldn’t be likely to exist.
Now, had they shown or explained that the debris was from something else or a satellite had gone off rotation, that would make this more believable.
3. The 8th Season of Game of Thrones
Look. I understand the showrunners at HBO made certain decisions and if we ever get the finished story from George R.R. Martin, perhaps it’ll be different. But as it stands, the last season of the Game of Thrones show has what can be considered plot holes.
This is based on the fact that there are a lot of character inconsistencies in the final season that don’t fit with what we’d expect based on the seasons prior. This is partly why many weren’t happy with the show’s final season.
Specifically, the fact that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead in season 5 to serve a higher purpose that he then does not get to serve is one of them. This continuity issue essentially makes us think the writers forgot that he was brought back in favor of an attempt at shock-factor writing (with Daenerys going “mad” and being killed) instead of fulfilling the purpose of saving people from the Night King.
Is this technically a “hole”? It can be, and it’s enough to anger readers and remove their suspension of disbelief.
4. Jurassic Park (1993)
This story asks for a lot of suspension of disbelief, so it makes sense a few things are missing. For example, how did the T. rex get into the visitor’s center at the end when there didn’t seem to be any way for it to get in? There isn’t an opening big enough for it to fit, right?
This is one where there might be information “off screen” and you can’t so much do that with a book. Maybe a wall was blown out around the corner that we never see. It’s easy enough to forgive, and our attention is on the dangers of the T. rex rather than how it go into the place.
Plot holes sound scary. Ultimately, doing careful revisions and paying attention to the overall process and elements of a quality story will help you fix them in no time. And if not, as long as they’re not severe enough, your readers will forgive you.
But if you’d like to avoid plot holes altogether, check out this free class that’ll teach you how to write a good story from the start: