A New Way to Think About Plot

A new way to think about plot

Plot holes. Which writer has not been driven to despair by them?

After writing a first draft that seemed to contain everything necessary to tell the story, it turns out you’ve only created the bare bones of the story. In fact, maybe not even that.

As the wonderful Terry Pratchett once said: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” That’s all there is to it.

So it’s okay for the first draft to be imperfect, and it’s okay for the story to be riddled with plot holes.

And it will be. It’s part of the process.

I have yet to meet a writer who claims to have written a novel that involved no plot holes at one stage or another.

So the problem does not lie in the existence of plot holes. They’re rightfully there; they’ll help your story grow, and they’ll help you grow as a writer. Like pizza dough, a plot needs to go through different stages over an extended period to reach its full potential.

The problem lies in fixing those plot holes. You’re the writer, and you came up with the faulty storyline. So how will you put it right?

The solution lies in changing the way you think about plot.

We tend to think about plot as a story invented by the writer.

What if the plot is actually in the hands of the characters?

The relationship between plot and character development is a close one.

Getting to know your characters will, therefore, make fixing plot holes easy as pie. Or pizza.

When you describe plot as a story created by a writer, this puts an immense pressure on said writer to come up with a solution.

Focus on needing to find a solution can make it difficult to consider the big picture. This makes it likely you’ll end up with new plot holes further down the line.

What if instead, you describe plot as a series of actions undertaken by the characters in response to events created by the writer? Finding a solution to a plot hole then becomes as easy as asking yourself: What would the character do in this situation?

This may not present you with the solution straight away, but it can make the process of getting there a lot less frustrating. There’s a clear path to follow: Find out how the character would behave by getting to know them.

General character development will go a long way toward spotting plot holes. It will help showcase instances in which a character isn’t acting like themselves, but it may not be enough to find a solution.

For that, you can use a more specific approach: plotting from the character’s point of view.

To do that, I’d suggest the following steps:

1. Create a descriptive outline of your first draft.

Simply list all important events that happen throughout the story the way they are written. If potential solutions for plot holes come to you during this process, scribble them down in the margin or on a post-it. Make sure you won’t forget them, but don’t do anything with them yet.

2. Turn the outline into a custom character questionnaire for each major character involved.

In the example below, you’ll see what I mean:

·        Sally goes to the market.
·        A tiger appears.
·        The tiger does a trick.
·        Sally and the tiger become friends.
·        They live happily ever after.

Questionnaire for Sally
·        In which situation would you go to the market?
·        How would you react if a tiger appeared?
·        What would have to happen for you to become friends with a tiger?
·        Do you see yourself ever becoming friends with a tiger?
·        What would need to happen for you to live happily ever after with a tiger?

Questionnaire for the tiger
·        In which situation would you be around the market?
·        What would you do if you came across a girl?
·        Do you enjoy doing tricks?
·        What would have to happen for you to do a trick?
·        In which situation would you become friends with a girl?
·        What would need to happen for you to live happily ever after with a girl?

3. Answer the questions from your characters’ point of view.

(Also make sure to check out this post on the importance of stepping into your characters’ shoes.) 

By asking the characters what would need to happen for a specific situation to occur, you’ll pave the way toward fixing plot holes and toward figuring out if what you’d like to happen makes sense with the character.

Really put yourself in the character’s place and think from their perspective. By asking “What would need to happen for you to [fill in the blank]?”, you allow the character to present you with ways of fixing plot holes by providing you with a specific situation in which the event could occur, no matter how unlikely.

If the tiger answers question number two with: “I’d eat her alive without a second thought,” you’ll need to do some thinking. If you want to stick to the plot, you’ll have to dig deep into the tiger’s feelings to figure out a way in which it would make sense for him not to eat Sally but rather become friends with her.

If Sally wouldn’t want to be caught dead near a market, figure out a place where she would go.

The solution, in any of these cases, is to get to know the character in relation to the events that take place in the story.

Alter the events a little or eliminate and replace them altogether. If there is no situation in which the tiger would perform a trick, forcing him to do so anyway will come across as unrealistic. To come up with an alternative, simply ask him what he would do instead.

Listen to your characters, and allow them to pitch in.

Do you take character development into account when finding and fixing plot holes? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

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A new way to think about plot

18 thoughts on “A New Way to Think About Plot”

  1. This was great! I am currently writing my first novel and I’m not feeling very confident about my character development and plot skills. This was helpful, thanks! 🙂

  2. Thank you, Jesse! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Getting familiar with character development and plot is all part of the process 🙂

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  5. I am writing a love story with oceane having the arranged marriage. I also doing a journal on Lina’s grandmother. Since the novel is young adult for people Who are about 18 years old for reading some of the characters will be teenagers only the young ones or look like them. My novel when it is done will be 80,000 words.

  6. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Once I discovered this way of looking at plot, it felt like such a relief, haha! Plot as a separate entity seems hard to handle for me, but when you can link it to characters, that’s a whole other story 🙂

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