I just love that word – penultimate. In case you’re unfamiliar, it just means the second to last, which is today!
I am so, so excited, but there is still a lot of work to do on our stories before we can take off on April 1. Today, we’re going to focus on closing those plot holes and working out the kinks. At the end, I will also discuss mystery-specific tips and tricks to help organize all that important information you’ve gathered about your characters.
So, what exactly are plot holes? Simply, they’re anything that doesn’t make sense in your story. For example,
- In a fantasy novel, the rules of physics can be bent to fit the created world, but the rules need to stay consistent for that world. It all has to add up.
- Someone who died in a previous scene, and did not come back to haunt the other characters, inexplicably is in a later scene.
- The layout of a town is changed – shops aren’t where they were, it takes two hours to walk a mile down the road, cities that were previously established to be next to each other aren’t anymore. [Travel is actually a big plot hole that gets overlooked. A simple map could help with this.]
- Your character’s appearance changes.
- Your character once had an accent – and it disappears randomly.
- Backstory changes.
- Character motivation changes.
Anything that randomly changes without an explanation can be considered a plot hole. It’s far easier to spot those changes now with an outline than having to comb through a 300-400 page manuscript to find them. Of course, in your editing process, you’re going to want to spot and change any you find, but, hopefully, if you’re using your outline as a guide you won’t make too many during the writing process.
Here are a few resources to help guide you to identify and fix plot holes in your outline and finished manuscript.
- 4 big-picture questions to spot holes.
- 10 concrete steps you can take to identify and fix plot holes. [This one is particularly great for the people who want a step-by-step guide on how to tackle this.]
- A guide to help you if you’ve already finished writing your story [but can be easily adapted for outline use.
Finally, taking a look at your outline as an overview, check out this short article to make sure you have all your elements before beginning to write. The last one in particular, remembering to see your outline notes as flexible, is one of the most important reminders.
Congratulations! By now, you probably have quite a lot of notes to give you a better idea of what your story is about, which will help sustain you during Camp NaNoWriMo and beyond. You’ve done a lot of work these past five days, so now it’s time to rest and wait for midnight to begin writing!
Come back tomorrow for an inspirational post about how to keep up your motivation all month.
If you’re still here, you’re probably a mystery writer. I’ll give you some genre-specific tips on how to organize all your pertinent information like clues, alibis, red herrings, and conclusions. Like the character information, I gathered these notes several years ago without recording the source, so if you recognize where these came from please let me know!
Red herrings: Leads frequently come from other suspects and the forensic [and other physical] evidence. For example, if an object is misplaced, missing, or out-of-place. The sleuth sorts through the suspect information to determine what’s the truth, a lie, or unreliable information.
Clues: These are fun because they point to the suspects and their motives. Remember to be subtle and vary your type of clue. Make your clue work for you by implicating several suspects when interpreted in different ways. Here are a few types of clues:
- Verbal: Clues contradict alibi or points to a motive (i.e. an argument)
- Physical: Object necessary to solve a murder (i.e. a toll receipt)
- Insights from the sleuth
The important thing to remember about clues is to wrap up all loose ends by the end of the story (or investigation of the murder). If you don’t, you’ll create a plot hole. If a clue is actually a red herring, remember to show why it’s not critical to the case. For example: The toll receipt that shows a suspect driving the the same town as the victim just before the murder was considered a clue until the sleuth discovers the original time of death was incorrect (thus confirming the suspect’s alibi). You don’t want to leave doubt in the readers’ minds as to who the killer is – unless that is your intention.
To keep everything organized, consider creating a murder wall. It’s exactly as it sounds, and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you desire. Remember to include: victim(s), suspects, killer(s), and witnesses (if any).
Keep in mind that unless you’re writing a cozy mystery, you’re going to want to include some forensics work in your story. It’s important that you’re accurate. For example, blow flies, which are commonly found on corpses only hatch under certain conditions. If you have blow flies without meeting those conditions, readers either may mistake it as a clue (body dump) or call you out on inconsistencies. Fortunately, there are several great resources online to help you sort out the science. (See here and here to get started.) I suggest that you open a new document (or turn to a new page in a notebook) and write out research topics to research all at the same time to minimize the chances of getting sucked into a research black hole.
Finally, here is a good guide to show how to write scenes for a mystery novel. It shows the breakdown of scenes and how to execute them.
Well, there you have it! Hopefully, you have a better idea of how to organize and integrate clues and red herrings in your story. Come back tomorrow for some motivation to help get you through the month ahead.