How honest authors make themselves look uber-smart

How Honest Authors Make Themselves Look Über-Smart

This week’s video talks about how acknowledging the elephant in your story will keep your readers happy and keep you from looking dumb.

Video Transcript:

I’m going to ask you a question. Have you ever written something that didn’t quite make sense? There was a little lapse of logic in a character’s actions or in the factual representation of something, because, hey, you needed to jiggle it a little just to make the story run smoother. No problem there really. We are writing fiction, after all. But then, have you ever gone out of your way to pretend that lapse never happened? Because if you never acknowledge it, then maybe readers won’t even pick up on it, right?

I’ll venture we’ve all done this from time to time. The bare truth of the matter is that fiction is doggone complicated. Sometimes it’s not only difficult to get everything to make perfect sense, but sometime it’s just downright impossible. So in situations like this, we’re faced with two possible reactions. To begin with, we can do what we talked about already and ignore the elephant in the room. And, depending on how blatant the lapse or how knowledgeable readers are about your subject matter, it’s very true readers may never even pick up on it.

But I gotta tell you, that’s a dangerous gamble. Readers are not dumb. (Or, at least, I hope not, because, after all, what kind of authors want to attract a dumb audience?) Chances are good your readers are going to see that elephant whether you acknowledge it or not.

So here’s where our second possible reaction comes into play. More often than not, we’re going to look a whole smarter if we’re honest with our readers. If we can acknowledge up front that something doesn’t quite make sense—thereby letting the characters verbalize what the readers are probably already thinking—we can further suspension of disbelief, very possibly come up with an explanation that smoothes that lapse of logic, and, most importantly of all, keep our readers from thinking we’re the idiots because we seemed to have totally missed this gaping plot hole. So here’s to being honest and looking smart.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever been tempted to just ignore a plot hole or lapse of logic in one of your stories?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Nice post. I try to avoid plot holes as much as possible but I’ve been guilty of adding sentences like “She knew it didn’t make sense but…” or “It wasn’t the smartest thing he could’ve done but…”

    As a deaf guy I also wanted to thank you for having a transcript of the video. I miss out on a lot of content on the web because most people won’t take the time to make that extra effort. I appreciate it.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Readers are rarely going to appreciate stupid characters. But it’s true that sometimes stories will demand characters do less than smart things. In those instances, it’s important to, first and foremost, make sure the character has a solid justification for his behavior. But, also, it’s sometimes worth it to do what you’ve mentioned here and simply acknowledge the fact that the character, for whatever reason, may not be making the best choice.

    • Hello Mark – unfortunately one of mine just recently was a (temporarily) deaf character who heard an object splash into water …

      I should know better since my wife is deaf!

      I agree, I think minor ones are probably everywhere – it’s a question of how much disbelief are we willing to suspend (none in my case – that’s a straight error!).

  2. As a reader, there is nothing more that makes me want to throw a book across the room as plot holes that you could drive trucks through! It instantly makes me lose respect for a writer – that they didn’t care enough about their audience to find a way around it or to find an explanation that works.

    As a writer, I could never leave anything that doesn’t make sense or conflicts with other facts in my story without a plausible explanation. Even in our made up worlds, things have to make sense according to the rules of that world and what has transpired previously. We owe it to our readers who invest their time (and money) in our stories to make them as truthful as possible.

    A big boo to any writer that purposely doesn’t fix the plot holes in their stories and thinks they can fleece their audience. Boo, I say.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Totally with you. A writer who gets complacent about plot holes is nothing but lazy. But it’s amazing how many plot holes sneak right under our noses sometimes. More than once, I’ve had critique partners and editors point giant lapses of logic that I had failed to notice altogether.

  3. Me? Never. Well…except when my wife is reasing my latest wip on her Kindle and says, “Sooo why is this guy in the room?” Fortunately, when I go back and fix it, I find that the guy gets a back story that deepens the plot. The moral of the story is either take the character out of the story or give him a good reason to be there.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Beta readers are the bomb for helping us spot these lapses. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve messed up until someone objective points it out.

  4. I’m no stranger to the gaping plot hole. When writing sci-fi you especially have to be careful that things make sense to the reader. It’s too easy to have a piece of tech work one way in a chapter and another way in a later chapter. If that’s the case, there had better be a very good reason. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Same goes for fantasy. First, we have to have the facts of our story world solid in our own minds. Then we have to remember them. Then we have to make certain they’re just as clear to readers as they are to us.

  5. Thanks for this very timely post Katie!

    I’ve had a minor bit in a story bugging me that no beta readers have had a problem with, but I still do.

    So now I will go back and tweak it, I think it’s only a matter of a sentence or two to add the right ‘logic’.

    Even though beta-readers didn’t mention it at all, I wonder if there is a cumulative unconscious effect that goes on – ie, if you have ‘enough’ of these in any one novel, eventually you trigger that particular reader’s ‘disbelief threshold’ and they abandon the story (and potentially the rest of the author’s work).

    Or even something nags at THEM that they cannot explain that just gives the impression ‘something is not right in this story’?

    I have both sci-fi and fantasy in my novels and I agree, it adds another dimension of possible plot holes! (So Robert, when you say ‘another dimension’, is that 4th, 5th or the 6th one – you know, the one you talked about in chapter 3? LOL)

    I had this very problem when reading ‘Wool’, even though I enjoyed the story and premise, I felt there were so many lapses of plausible explanations and logic completely skipped in places, that I wondered how it had become so successful. I’m looking forward to reading the others though as it seems Hugh Howey has picked up an editor along the way, and I guess this is the job that they can do 9as well as the beta readers).

    Having the structure pre-planned before drafting and then using a beat-sheet post-first draft for revision does make catching them easier I believe!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I think there’s definitely something to the whole “cumulative effect” idea. Readers aren’t always going to recognize a lapse and go, “Hah! Gotcha.” Sometimes they’re just going to have a niggling question in the backs of their minds: “I thought Sarah knew about John… didn’t she?” Some of those questions won’t be articulated, and some will be forgotten. But if enough crop up, readers will definitely begin to experience a disconnect.

      • … thanks Katie! Funny that we both had deaf people magically regaining hearing. After I had written mine, I started reading Stephen King’s “The Stand” where one central character is deaf. I was relieved that – apart from the one blunder – I’d covered the same type of things that Stephen King had. And there’s not too many times one can say that in the same sentence!

        I thought I’d update my research on my minor ‘plot hole’. I think I almost only need to add one or two words and the proof is there! I googled the thing that happens in my book and found out that it is possible with no real extra shenanigans required. (And there are videos to prove it!) I’m going to write a ‘no-spoiler’ blog post (with videos!) about it in the next 24 hours so readers who are curious will find out I was correct!

        Thanks again for your prompts in this … I wasn’t sure how to deal with it (I was close to a “I’ll just leave it … no-one will notice” approach), but you pushed over the edge to be Uber-Smart (hopefully hehe).

  6. I just fixed a plot hole in my first book with a 25,000 word novella prequel. In my book it is six months after the zombie apocalypse and the grid is still largely functional. I knew this could give pause but I plowed ahead anyway. Only one reviewer mentioned it. I did some research and found a real and plausible way for the grid to still be up and it made a pretty sweet prequel. It will be out soon. It really worked out cause I don’t know how I would have explained it in just a few words in the first book.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes all readers need to be okay with the unbelievable is a little bit of explanation. Plus, as you say, you never know where those explanations may lead you!

  7. I’m prone to making plot holes like most other writers, but it’s not something I’m happy about, even when I go out of my way to make up dumb excuses to my family members who read it. The nice thing is that novel writing is only as fast or slow of a process as you want it to be (except for when you have deadlines which I’m happy to not have as an unpublished writer). People that leave gaping plot holes every other sentence just simply don’t care have their story get altered drastically, even if it means a better achievement in the end.

    • It’s easy to let minor plot holes slip – until we give the book to that first beta reader. Then, suddenly, we start worrying about these “minor” holes and realizing that readers are, indeed, going to be all over them.

  8. All. The. Time.

    I tend to deal with things through denial at first, so I’m always rolling my eyes at a plot hole here and there, or pretending like I don’t see it. Forunately for myself I’m also OCD about my stories, and refuse to do anything drastic with it until I absolutely know that it’s done and there are no plot holes for anyone to pick apart.

    That being said, I have major headaches over them later, while editing, which is now. Grr…

  9. Great post, Katie! I take my plot holes serious and don’t try to work around them, but I have messed with timelines. The story timeline was suppose be six months, but it ended up being only four and a half months. I mixed up the events so they happened in days, and weeks and prayed no one noticed. Thankfully no one did. I’m being more vigilent with this next story to make sure I don’t make the same mistake.

    • Shorter timelines are often better. They give us a sense of speed and urgency that can be lost in more sprawling stories. But they can also be more difficult to juggle. The shorter the timeline is for our characters, the shorter it is for us too, in essence.

  10. Thanks for the really helpful advice!
    Actually, I think it´s nearly impossible to pull out a story without gaps at all, unless it is ridicously simply.
    This is a good way to deal with it.
    So, thanks 😀
    Hugs, M.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I agree. No story is going be perfectly coherent. We just have to do our best to catch all the plot holes we’re aware of before we send the book out into the world.

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