I have bought your book, Nail Your Novel, and it has been really helpful. I was having a blast. Loving my characters, villains, setting, plot. But after 70.000 words I have a huge abyss in my story, I hit this blank between the middle of act II and the climax. Everything before and after that is just fine, but it seems that no matter what I do, I can’t resolve this blank spot.
Eric Alatza, first-time writer, Brazil. (Oh my: Brazil. I know the web is world wide so this shouldn’t give us pause, not for even a picosecond. Especially as you might be reading this in Brazil too. But it reminds me, in London, how much I appreciate that self-publishing and social media lets us reach …. anywhere. #momentofawe #howmuchdoIlovetechnology)
Okay, here’s how I’d attack Eric’s problem.
1 Does your story climax really fit?
You’re trying to join the end to the rest of the book, but does it fit? Has the story evolved beyond your original plans? Do you believe in this ending?
I had this problem with Lifeform Three. In my first draft I had written a storming finale, planned from the start, and indeed it had a lot of material I was chuffed with. You will never see it because it wasn’t the ending the book needed. As I wrote, the characters had taken on deeper issues, confronted essential questions – and my original ending was logical but disappointing. So I nuked it – yes, the entire final third of the book – and started again.
I’m wondering, Eric, if your spider sense is telling you this, which is why you can’t jump the chasm to the finale you planned. Ask yourself:
- Is the ending unsatisfying in terms of themes explored, questions posed, other threads left dangling?
- Are you forcing the characters in a direction they don’t want to go?
- Will a character have to be uncharacteristically stupid to bring about this climax?
Is a new ending too painful to contemplate? Well, it costs nothing to brainstorm. Just as an exercise, cut loose and see where else you might go.
You mention you have problems with the story’s middle. Is that because your ideas so far don’t seem significant enough?
If so, ask why. The middle of act II is traditionally a turning point. Perhaps the story stakes magnify, or an event turns everything on its head. Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, which surprises and appals her. Nothing can be the same after that conversation. Perhaps there are new alliances that change the nature of the conflict – as in The Hunger Games. It might be the point where the character’s flaw, inner problem or true self first emerges as a dominant force – in Fahrenheit 451, the midpoint is where Montag meets a new mentor character. In the film of The Godfather, the midpoint is the scene where Michael Corleone commits murder, setting him on a new path. It might be a transformation that is subtle but deep. In My Memories of a Future Life, it’s where my narrator truly surrenders to the future incarnation. (I tried to write that without giving spoilers…)
So is your midpoint important enough? Have you got that sense of transformation and escalation? If not, brainstorm ways to find this significance. (And allow yourself to think of solutions that might mess up your planned ending.)
3 Get fresh inspiration
As always, you might be running on empty. When I’m stuck, I go to LibraryThing.com and search for novels that tackle similar themes, issues and situations. I also post an appeal for recommendations on Twitter and Facebook. (I’d do it on Goodreads too if I could work out how.)
Dissatisfaction is progress
There is a reason why you’re balking, although you may not consciously know it yet Our instincts are rarely articulate, but they are usually right. You know the rule about inspiration and perspiration? To fill a plot hole, do more digging.
Drafting is more than transcribing your notes
All the stages of novel-writing are creative. We’re constantly triaging our ideas and refining them. Whether we’re outlining, drafting or editing, we might find new insights and directions. Be ready to make the most of them.
The ebook of Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart is now available for pre-order and will be at a special launch price until it goes live on Twelfth Night (5 Jan). Even available in Brazil.
Thanks for the pic Corinnely
What would you say to Eric?
15 thoughts on “How to fix a plot hole”
Great advice, Roz.
I would certainly be asking why it wasn’t working and go back to the point when it stopped working. I would start from there, almost if it was the beginning, and see if I can write to the ending I planned ( I generally write my beginning scene first and then my ending scene and go back to the beginning and write toward the finish). Just write. If I don’t make it to the ending I planned, whatever. The new one is bound to be better.
Thanks, Sharon. Good point about retracing to the scene where it started to go wrong. Often it’s not as wrong as we think. And yes, the new ending will be more refined, better than the first thing you had in mind.
I am a great believer in always keeping the ending in view. Some writers I respect and admire actually write the ending first, then go back to the beginning and write the story. Any time the story wants to wander away from the ending, they ruthlessly pull it until it is back on track.
Why? Because they went through Snyder’s Beats, and set up Plot Plots One and Two and the Mid Point to support that ending. And everything else they’ve outlined, Pinch Points One and Two,Whiff of Death, All Is Lost, and Dark Night of the Soul were put there, all to support the ending.
Can we come up with different ideas as we write? Of course. Are they better or more inspired? Maybe…maybe not. If I plotter is tempted to stray from the course, they should think long and hard before doing it.
The thought that anyone is using Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting paradigm to write novels is actually rather horrifying. But as to endings: Alan Garner always knows his last line but not necessarily how to get there; Stephen King likes to discover the ending as he writes; and Dickens famously was willing to scrap one ending and write a different one. Whatever works.
Hi! I’m a great believer in plans, but also in adapting them. I’d examine a story according to those structural principles, and use them as prompts if I felt something was missing, but I’d also listen to instinct. (How’s that for hedging my bets? And yes, I’ve written backwards from endings and it’s worked well for me.
Great advice. I agree, start a the end of the novel. Now, I don’t write it first, but I have it planned. Thanks for sharing!
Another backwards writer (in the chronological sense,you understand) – thanks for stopping by, Kylie!
I have had similar experience. I envision an ending when I start writing, but it always changes as the characters develop. Nice exegesis of the process!
Thanks, John. I find that in spite of all the planning and theorising, my books continue to change until very late in the edits. There’s always something that can be refined.
And the winner is … number 2. I have no turning point whatsoever. No transformation or escalation. My characters were going on the climax direction in a straight(boring) line. The act I and III are very intense, but the middle was just taking them from I to III.
I’ll dive right into it.
Thank you very much for your help and congratulations on your book again.
Hey Eric! Glad that solution hit the spot. Have fun with your newfound superpowers.
Perfect timing for me Roz! Trashed my last five chapters yesterday to head in a new direction and was feeling a little (or a lot!) of panic. Feeling better after reading this – think I’m on the right track! 🙂
Hi Jemi – glad it helped!