I wanted to kick off this blog by talking about a subject that’s very important to me – continuity! By that I mean consistency and the lack of plot holes.
I think I must be a really unpleasant person to watch films with, because I always find myself saying “Why didn’t she just…” or “Why would he…” about three times an hour. I can’t help but pick at plot holes, even small ones. People tell me to just shut up and enjoy the story for what it is, but I can’t ignore those lapses in logic.
Avoiding problems like this is even harder when you’re writing a story in a fantasy setting because you also have to keep in mind the conditions that you have created in your fictional world. My most frequent continuity offence is that my characters often solve problems in ways that make no sense. Most commonly, I forget that they have options available to them that wouldn’t exist in the real world. For example, in the first draft of my novel the protagonist, Chloe, came across a fairly powerful tool quite early in the story. I had planned for her to use this at the plot’s climax but as I continued to write, I realized that, realistically, she probably would have used it by now to tackle any number of the smaller problems that she was facing. I had been so focused on the purpose I planned for it, that logic had gone out the window. In this case I solved the continuity by making the item initially appear useless. Chloe also finds it later in the story so that she wouldn’t have time to either figure it out too early, or throw it away.
This leads me to the first question I ask myself when considering how a character should solve a dilemma;
What resources does the character have available to them?
This type of plot-hole can be a problem in the exact opposite way as well. In a fantasy world filled with amazing contraptions and conditions, of course it is more interesting to solve your character’s problems in a way that is unique to the setting. But if your mind is too set on taking a specific path through a scene, you may have missed a more obvious, simple solution. Why should your character fight off the 60 foot lava-spitting troll with their Magic Fork if they could easily escape or run between its legs? Why should they agonise over which wire to cut on the Doomsday Device, if they could just unplug it at the wall? Once you find an error like this, it’s usually not too difficult to change the situation to remove the easy option, if that’s what you want. But to find these problems in the first place, you can ask yourself,
What would your character do if they didn’t have those resources?
You might discover a simple solution that doesn’t require a nuclear-powered can opener, or whatever it is you were going to use.
There are countless other types of continuity problems that you might encounter such as inconsistent character drawing, environment or conditions. I couldn’t possibly mention them all even if I kept going all day But, for me at least, the issue of solving dilemmas in too specific or too complex a way are the most obvious and irritating as they can throw off your entire plot and leave the reader thinking “If only she’d spurkled the garbuld, the tib would never have escaped in the first place” for the rest of the story.
As for me, I still have a few nagging problems to iron out in my draft but I think (I hope) that any major ones have been dealt with. The bad news is, with me spending so much time searching for plot holes, no one wants to have movie nights with me anymore.