Plot holes are as dangerous to writers as the Joker is to Batman, Sauron is to Frodo, and Thanos is to the Avengers. Inconsistencies and improbabilities sneak into our manuscripts like nefarious villains, demanding substantial rewrites. We try to be vigilant, but what if a reader stumbles upon a crack we overlooked during editing?
When I began writing on a regular basis, it was more of an exploration than a process for me. I’d sit down with a vivid scene idea and let my characters lead moment by moment, without considering how events should form a chain. My imagination had no limits.
As writers, we love exploring the internal struggles that shape our characters. During formative moments, emotional turmoil may need to take center stage, as with Thomas in Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes. Usually this scene happens near the story’s middle, when everything—including the protagonist—seems to be falling apart. Turning points deserve emphasis; otherwise the deep change in the character’s arc will seem artificial or glossed over.
You’re sailing along in your work-in-progress, excited by the story you’re telling and the characters you’re creating. You’ve written tens of thousands of words, and your fingers itch to type “The End.” Then inspiration flutters away. Your tempo changes from allegretto to largo. You struggle to finish a paragraph and can’t get anywhere near your minimum daily quota of five pages, which you used to easily surpass.
We’ve all had heart-pounding experiences alongside fictional characters. We held our breath when Ethan Hunt made a last-ditch attempt to stop an explosion in Mission Impossible, pored over Pride and Prejudice for hours to discover one family’s future, and perched on the edges of our seats when Thanos, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man faced off in Avengers: Endgame. But why do these scenes capture us, and how can we replicate the effect in our own stories?
Have you ever set down a book, startled that the author turned your outlook upside down with tiny black marks on paper? Do you want to write stories that have the same effect on others?
Plot twists can be both the most marvelous and mysterious elements of a story. As readers, sudden reveals urge us to turn the page. As writers, we scratch our heads, unsure how to artfully conceal information to expose later. We foresee a thousand ways the plot twist might fail. What if readers are more confused than surprised?
As I stared at the blank page beneath the title of this article, my mind revisited all the stories that have given me a transformative experience. I love when my heart skips a beat and I pause to process the exhilarating symphony that the words are orchestrating in my imagination. Or when I come to an ending so satisfying that I’m amazed.
A blank page unleashes an infinite amount of plots, scenes, and characters that beg us to outline their existence in ink. But, if we can’t channel our influx of ideas, the excitement of starting a new project will quickly dissipate. Instead, we’ll be overwhelmed and unable to tell any story at all. A surplus of inspiration can cripple a writer’s sanity as much as a shortage.
One of the biggest challenges with writing speculative fiction is clarifying how your story’s magic and/or technology works. Once you’ve accomplished the monumental task of developing those systems, how do you educate readers without making them yawn? They don’t want you to pause the story to give a lesson on all the phenomena, yet they don’t like being confused (and prone to disbelief) either. (Aren’t readers exasperating?)