Now, the story has many flaws. What about the animals that eat other animals? What about all the food? What about all the dung?
What about the penguins?
Are we to believe that those little fellas waddled all the way from the Antarctic to the Middle East just for a forty day cruise? And how in the hell did they get back home?
What I’m talking about here, of course, is plot holes. That one moment that can ruin a novel, no matter how good the writing may be. We’ve all seen them. Those moments so incredulous they take you right out of the novel. That moment in It where Patrick returns from the dead just to get Henry to the library before disappearing out of the novel.
Films can be as guilty of this. Batman in the Dark Knight reassembling a fingerprint from a fragmented shell embedded in a brick wall? Or any number of action films in which the hero or sidekick appears from nowhere at exactly the right time?
In films they’re bad enough. But a mouthful of popcorn and we’re on to the next scene. Do this in a book however, and you’ve likely lost your reader. Not only that, but they’re not going to recommend your book to others or to buy your next offering either.
Why am I telling you this? I’ve recently released my short horror collection The Soul Bazaar. And when I finish any project the first thing I do is to reflect on what I’ve learned, and consider what to do next. During the course of writing The Soul Bazaar I spent a lot of time reading articles and books about the art of editing. What I noticed is that they all offer the same kind of advice for the first level of editing. I say ‘level’ rather than ‘round’ for a very good reason, one that I’ll cover in another post. The advice I read time and again was look at the story arc and story structure. Does your story have a three-part structure? Is there a clear turning point or axis? Is it paced well? Does it sag in the middle? Are the characters well rounded and believable? Are they active, do they have clear motivations? And so forth. I expect you’ve read dozens of articles on the subject. But when was the last time you saw any advice on dealing with plot holes?
I used to write everything on the fly. What I discovered is that such an approach is time consuming. Like all of us I have far more ideas than I have time to write. So I took to planning my novels as I got my ideas, with a view to coming back to write them at a later date. My planning has one simple rule. At this stage each chapter has to be summarised in one paragraph. This gives me a bird’s eye view of the structure before I begin the first draft.
So once the first draft is complete why not reverse the process? During the first draft you will stray from the structure. Significantly, in my case. Characters merge or are split. Extra chapters are added, or sometimes removed. The finished draft can be quite different from the original vision. I'm currently doing this for my next release, Swarm. The entire novel takes place in a 24-hour time period, and I've already discovered a few instances in which timelines across different situations don't match up - and where the hell did Sandra get that gun? The other guys haven't crossed that part of the forest yet. It'll take a bit of work to sort these flaws out - but nowhere near as much work as it would have if I'd noticed these things a draft or two down the line.
Condensing your chapters to single paragraphs is a great way to skim through your story and hunt down those penguins – those troubling little bits of plot that make no sense.
The Soul Bazaar is available from all good retailers now.
Swarm is currently being edited and will be available soon.