What Are Plot Holes and Why Should You Avoid Them

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Sometimes when you're writing, you get so caught up in where your story is going that you've forgotten a few details that you previously established at the beginning of your book.

holes

Photo by Darwin Bell

Sometimes those details are smaller, like having a character approach your protagonist from behind when you've established that the protagonist is on the top row of the stadium bleachers, and there is no way you can sneak up on them from behind. Sometimes those details are bigger, like a previously-unbeatable monster suddenly being dispatched with ease with a butter knife.

These inconsistencies are called plot holes.

Plot holes take several different forms.

Maybe a character's personality suddenly diverges wildly from their established temperament for no reason.

Maybe a character who had died in a previous scene or book is magically alive again for reasons that exist outside the story universe's logic. Maybe characters ignore blatantly obvious solutions to their problems. Maybe the author really wanted to incorporate space monkeys into the story, but couldn't find a logical way to explain their existence.

Or maybe the work in question is a work of comedy, such as the scene in The Princess Bride when Westley is determined to only be mostly dead, and the plot hole is completely intentional.

Plot Holes in a Series

Plot holes that are part of a larger series have the potential to be filled in when the writer addresses them in later installments (see the Harry Potter series).

Plot holes are also more tolerated in certain genres, like horror, sci-fi, or fantasy, where a certain degree of suspension of disbelief is expected.

In general, it's best to avoid plot holes because it has the potential to confuse the reader or, depending on how deep the plot hole is, negatively affect the quality of a work or series. It's far more common for readers to complain about a character suddenly being alive again thanks to having consumed unicorn tears than it is for them to be upset about them staying dead. Consistency is never a bad thing.

What are a few plot holes that you've noticed in books or movies?

PRACTICE

Create your own plot hole!

You might write about a previously unbeatable monster being dispatched with ease, a character sneaking up from behind when your protagonists back is to the wall, or some other hole-y situation. By creating your own plot hole, you'll be able to recognize them easier.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.

Have fun!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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16 Comments

  1. Rob Skidmore

    He held the faded photograph. “5 years. I miss you Cathy,” he said and wept on his writing desk. He felt a soft, delicate hand alight on his shoulder. “I miss you too John,” she said “Let’s go get eat some waffles.” He stood and followed her into the kitchen.

    Reply
    • Colton Durbin

      Seems legit XD

      Reply
  2. randall031

    Janie backed into the small room, avoiding the switchblade in the man’s outstretched hand.

    “Just take it easy,” she said. “Don’t do anything stupid here.”

    “Don’t YOU do anything stupid,” he growled at her as he advanced.

    Keeping her eyes on the knife blade, she tripped over something and fell backwards, landing heavily on her ass.

    “Ha.”

    He barked a laugh and slammed the door.

    “Stupid bitch.”

    “Wait,” Janie yelled.

    But it was too late. The deadbolt clicked and she was locked in the dark. Getting slowly to her feet, Janie held her arms straight in front of her and shuffled to where she thought the door should be.

    There ought to be a light switch by the door.

    Her hands found the wall and she began groping for the door, the light switch, something that would tell her where she was. There was nothing. She must have turned the wrong direction when she stood. The only thing to do was to feel her way around the room until she eventually found the door.

    The problem was time. She was out of time. Joan was in danger and here she was stuck in some closet playing blind man’s bluff. She stomped her foot and swore. It didn’t help.

    Moving to the right, she felt her way along the wall until she jammed her searching fingers on a cold, hard surface at right angles to the wall.

    Must be a filing cabinet. I’m going the wrong way.

    Swearing again, she restarted her search, shuffling to the left, groping along the wall. Felt her way slowly around the corner until, hallelujah, she found the door jamb.

    Beautiful things, door jambs.

    Moving her palms carefully across the wooden surface of the door, she felt for the door knob, turned it, and quietly eased the door open.

    Reply
    • Giulia Esposito

      There seems to be a few little plot holes here. Well done!

      Reply
    • Colton Durbin

      Plot holes. Plot holes everywhere.

      But that was the point, no? 🙂 Well-written. Good job!

      Reply
  3. Colton Durbin

    { I barreled into the entryway with enough force to blow a
    wooden door off its hinges. My mistake. I felt something snap in my shoulder
    and gasped, pain ripping through my upper arm as I collapsed flat on my ass. I
    should have been watching where I was going. Even if I had been trying to
    breach the door it wouldn’t have worked. The carbon tungsten alloy was designed
    to shrug off most military-grade explosives without batting an eye.

    I braced myself against a wall and breathed, biting through
    the pain. The air inside my suit was stale and reeked of sweat, and my left arm
    was in agony. I just prayed to God that I hadn’t broken anything, that the suit
    had taken most of the bite out of the collision.

    The steady red light on the control panel next to the door only
    added insult to injury. It was locked tight, and I didn’t have a keycard. I
    raised the trembling hand on my good arm and plunged it into a chest pocket,
    rifling around for something, anything that might help.

    There came a chittering from behind me, and a series of deep
    grunts that filled my heart with ice. The length of the hallway was steeped in
    darkness save for a single, dim fluorescent light flickering above my head.
    Just beyond my field of vision, something moved. It moved almost too fast to be
    seen, its paws thudding softly against the steel of the deck, and the shadows
    obscuring all but the faint outline of its form. I had been found.

    My stomach leapt into my throat, and my fingers worked
    double-time inside the pocket, searching still. But I felt nothing, only the
    thin plastic form of a keycard that gave me full access to the deck. I was
    cornered, trapped. I would have to fight. I jerked my gun from its holster and
    raised it to eye level, steadying it with both hands.

    My enemy emerged from the shadows, a look of sadistic
    delight plastered on its shockingly-expressive face. The monster was short by
    human standards, its entire body covered in smooth, brown fur. Just beyond its
    rump, a tail snaked back and forth through the air.

    Space monkeys. Every bit as cruel and conniving as normal
    monkeys…

    ..but from space.

    I didn’t give the son of a bitch any time to act. I jerked
    back on the trigger without thinking. The gun kicked, spitting a stream of
    fiery jade-colored plasma toward the primate’s head.

    The space monkey opened its mouth and swallowed the blast
    whole. It bared its fangs and raised its front paws, twisting its fingers and
    thumbs this way and that, and patting its stomach as if it was trying to tell
    me something.

    It was. The bastard was using sign language. All it said…
    was “Yum.”

    Stupid, stupid me. Space monkeys were immune to conventional
    weaponry. In fact, they fed on plasma energy. This raised a valid question as
    to just why the Alliance would arm us with nothing except plasma guns, then,
    but such a question was quickly overtaken by the fact that I was about to be
    eaten by a space monkey. I let my gun clatter to the deck and backed against
    the door.

    The monkey crouched, ready to pounce. It was invincible. It
    had won. Without warning, it leapt.

    And then I remembered my ace in the hole. I plunged my hand
    back into the suit’s chest pocket and wrapped my hands around something cold
    and metallic. I withdrew it just in time, and thrust with all the strength I
    had left.

    The butter knife lodged in the space monkey’s chest, sinking
    to the hilt. The beast stopped dead in its tracks, the hunger on its face
    shattering into a thousand pieces of pained shock. It staggered backwards, the
    knife still protruding from its gut, and raised its hands slowly. I’ll never
    forget the look it gave me: one of anger and surprise, but also of respect. It
    signed again, its hands spelling out each word in slow succession. “Our one
    weakness… How?” The space monkey crumpled to the floor and did not move again.

    I breathed a sigh of relief and wiped the sweat from my
    brow. Carefully, I drew the blade from the monkey’s corpse, wiped the blood off
    on its coat, and placed the weapon back into its sheath. Almost reverently, I
    swept a gloved hand across the monkey’s eyes, closing them. “Goodnight, sweet
    prince.” He had been a monster, but he had fought with honor.

    I rose to my feet and trudged back to the doorway. Pulling
    the keycard from my pocket, I swiped it through the control panel. The door
    slid open with a pneumatic hiss. With one hand on my butter knife, I forged
    onward into the darkness beyond. }

    This is terrible XD. But on a side note, “The butter knife lodged in the space monkey’s chest, sinking to the hilt” is probably the most ridiculously thing I’ve ever written. Followed at a close second by “With one hand on my butter knife, I forged onward into the darkness beyond”.

    Reply
    • Patrick Marchand

      I have got to say, that was the most glorious space spawned monster ever.

      Reply
  4. NewbieWriter

    OK I went WAY overboard with this, but it was just too much fun 🙂

    Man I hated howler monkeys. I looked up at the rain forest’s canopy. It was almost in reach! I had climbed hundreds of feet to escape those stupid creatures. Although they must be miles away by now, I swore I could hear them hooting at me from the ground. I would have to wait. Groaning, I glanced at my watch. 4:45. How long would this take? I couldn’t worry about that now. I just had to keep calm and remain patient. Leaning back in the chair, I took out my favorite book and began to read.

    Several hours later, the crying finally died out. I wasn’t sure if the primates had left or were setting some subtle trap, but I had to get home. I was starving.

    Gracefully, I shimmied down the trees; my job as a fireman had come in handy after all.

    Thirty feet and twelve rug burns later, I finally landed on the earth with a satisfying plop. I would have kissed the ground but, God, I hated Egypt. It had to be the worst country in the world and I wouldn’t do it the honor of touching my lips. Egypt probably made me miss dinner. Squinting, I took a look at my watch. 5:30. Not too bad! I would be on time for supper after all, but I’d have to hurry.

    I wandered into town and moseyed through a few gift shops, looking for a set of decorative plates. I was mad the store was out but felt better after realizing my girlfriend lived nearby. Soon, I was hopping up her door step and ringing her doorbell. Turning to my left I saw my favorite landmark staring back at me. I smiled and gave it a huge thumb’s up. I didn’t have any real affinity for the Empire State Building. It just signaled I was close to Megan’s; that was enough for me.

    Grinning, I entered her building and leapt up the steps two at a time. After my legs felt all squishy and wouldn’t move, the elevator finally opened and I emerged on the top floor. Practically running, I sprinted to the door and gave it my personal knock.

    After a few seconds, I heard the lock rattle around and the door opened. Jim stood there looking as dapper as ever. I actually felt a bit under-dressed in my casual blue sundress. Maybe accentuating my breasts would help, I thought. Leaning forward, I squeezed my arms together just a little. Jim seemed to notice right away and pulled me into a huge bear hug.

    It was going to be a great morning.

    Reply
    • Patrick Marchand

      Slightly confusing, thats great!

      Reply
  5. Patrick Marchand

    It was a cold and unusually clear night in New York, the silhouette of three tall men could be seen in the eerie moonlight, slowly moving through the empty streets.

    Balthasar, Melia and Caspar, still dressed in their research clothes, where oblivious to the cold temperature for their attention was fully accaparated by a queer sight in the sky.
    Melia pointed at the sky and asked « Look, up in the sky, is that what I think it is? »
    Balthasar said « Surely, that can’t be, a star? In New York? »
    Shaking his head, Caspar said « Nonsense, it must be a helicopter, or a rather bright blimp. »

    Melia, being a world renowned astronomer, could easily tell that was not the case.
    « It must be a star, only a star could be so bright, and look, it is’nt even moving! »
    « But how could we possibly be seeing a star in the middle of New York? » asked Balthasar.
    « I do not know, but it seems to be shining its light on a precise area of the city, let’s go see »
    And the two of them hurried toward the alleyway where the light shone most, with the cynic Caspar following after a slight grumble.

    Balthasar was the first one to hear the low wimpering sound, « What is that sound? It almost sounds like somebody crying. »
    Melia quickly located the source of the sound and excitedly said, « It’s coming from that dumpster next to the wall! »
    Caspar hurriedly opened the dumpster on which the star’s light shone most strongly and, with a gasp, fell to his knees, « It’s.. It’s a babydoll robot! » he said « I thought they had all been destroyed.. »

    Taking the doll into his hands, Balthasar looked at it with inquisitive eyes, « It’s body is in a pitiful state, but the head seems to be intact. »
    « Then we could repair it! » said Melia, her excitement only rising,
    To which Balthasar said, « Yes, we have the technology.

    Reply
    • Yvette Carol

      I loved this. I could have kept reading more, easily. I though the opening had a really great hook too. You could probably morph the first series of lines into the start of a book!

      Reply
      • Patrick Marchand

        Why thank you!

        Reply
  6. Eyrline Morgan

    Sometimes my real life has it’s plot holes. When getting ready to go to church to play the organ for the services, I heard this little voice saying, “You’re not going to play today.”

    I retorted, “Yes, I am. Just watch me.

    We arrived at the church in time to see my sister drive up with our mother. I hurridly went to visit with her before she went to her own church. In my hurry, I tripped over a concrete bumper, landing on my knees, with my face on the hub cap of my sister’s car, and my left hand between my head and the car.

    I heard that little voice, “I told you. You’re not going to play today.”

    In too much pain to argue, I laid there until the ambulance pulled up. I had broken my left hand and had a concussion from a knot on my head as big as an ostrich egg.

    At the hospital, I heard that giggle and voice saying, “told you so.”

    “Get out of my life and leave me alone,” I yelled.

    The nurse asked if I needed something, and I told her I didn’t. I just wanted to go to sleep. She told me because of the concussion, I had to stay awake. Again I heard that little giggle.

    “Get out of here,” I told him.

    The nurse said, pardon me?

    I told her I was fine.

    The next Wednesday, I was getting ready to go to choir rehearsal. The little voice, named Damian, said” you’re not going looking like that.”

    “Just watch me,” I said as I stepped into the shower.

    My husband asked if I had asked him for help.

    I turned him down and finished my shower, dressed and went to choir rehearsal.

    The buzzer went off.

    Reply
  7. Yvette Carol

    Yes, I agree with you, Liz, there are some forms and genres in which we can forgive plot holes more readily than others.

    Reply
  8. George McNeese

    “Where has he been?” “What was he doing all night?”
    That was all I heard from Mama downstairs. Honestly, I don’t even remember, except for the baby blue bra draped over my face, and my shirt undone. I felt woozy. mama flung the door open.
    “Get yourself decent!” she yelled and stomped downstairs. After spritzing some cologne and slipping on a green v-neck, I walked halfway down the stairs. I peeked over into the kitchen to find Mama. She was drinking her usual cup of coffee, looking out the window. I thought it better to go out the front. But then, the doorbell rang. I felt like those brass bells were going off right in my ears. It grew louder and more frequent.
    “Drew, get the door.”
    Mama was not one to mince words.
    “I’m coming. I’m coming.” I opened the door as fast as I could. Anything to cease my eardrums bludgeoning. It was some girl. She had a jacket wrapped around her. She was clutching it tight. Her hair was a mess.
    “Do you know her?”
    I looked up at a surly figure standing behind her. I was petrified. I thought anything I’d say meant my imminent demise. So, I shook my head, hoping he mistook me for someone else.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      This made me laugh! Reminded me of “Situations” “back in the day”!

      Reply

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