Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever seen a runner trip in a pothole? They’re in the zone, focused on the path ahead, running to the rhythm of their music when all of a sudden they stumble in a pothole. It jars them out of their trance and throws them off their running groove–not to mention hurts like heck.

The same thing happens to readers when they stumble upon a plothole–though it’s less dramatic and doesn’t usually require stitches or Bandaids.

Don't throw the reader off their groove!!!

Don’t throw the reader off their groove!!!

What is a Plothole?

The short definition is anything that can be asked but not explained, or poorly explained (not to be mistaken for an unanswered question like in a cliffhanger).

  • unlikely/impossible events
  • mistakes
  • contradictions
  • forced situations or character reactions for the sake of plot

Examples The Hobbit: In this example I’m talking about the movie. If you didn’t read the book before watching the final installment of the films, you may have asked, what happened to the Arkenstone? In the book, it’s placed on Thorin’s grave. In the movie, supposedly it’s still hanging out in Luke Evan’s shirt. Not a bad place to be necessarily.

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield, or wedged between Evan's pecks?

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield or wedged between Evan’s pecks?

Harry Potter: Usually I pick on George R.R. Martin, but today I’m going to pick on J.K. a little. The time turner is a prime example of why time travel almost always leads to plotholes. Why didn’t he keep using it? He used it to save two people, which seems like an insipid abuse of time travel in the grand scheme of things. What about the other people who died later in the book. Why not go back and save them?

Aladdin: One of my favorite Disney movies of all time. I’ve watched it a hundred times and suddenly I notice a whole new plothole (pun intended). Aladdin uses a wish to become a prince and yet it is considered lying when he tells Jasmine he is a prince. Um, excuse me, he didn’t ask the Genie to make him look like a prince, he asked him to make him a prince. I think he got ripped off. Also he could have given Jasmine the lamp in the end so she could wish him back into a prince, but now I’m just being picky.

Deus Ex Machina

Ok, this is more of a plot device than a plothole, but I think you don’t get one without the other. A deus ex machina is basically where an unsolvable issue is suddenly solved by a new event, ability or super power, character, or God. Essentially, it’s when a writer has written themselves into a corner and doesn’t know how to resolve the conflict.

The result: the resolution is unsatisfactory and the reader is robbed. A prime example of this can be found in (I’m sad to say) The Return of the King. Tolkien wrote himself into a corner by making Sauron’s army undefeatable. Realistically the army of Gondor, even backed by the soldiers of Rohan, a wizard, and a few shire folk could not defeat them. I imagine Tolkien spent hours scratching his head before inventing a ghost army to defeat them. After all, ghost can’t be killed. So last minute, they use the ghost to help defeat the bad guys. It would have been a more satisfactory ending had the characters come up with a battle tactic to defeat the larger army.

Checkhov’s Gun

This is the notion that if you describe something, it better come into play at some point. For instance, if you describe a chair, it better be flipped, thrown, broken, or at least sat on. If it’s described, it better be part of the plot or else you’ve created false promises or suspense.

I’m not a firm believer in this. I do see where too much attention to a seemingly significant item would be jarring if it never came to use, but something like a chair or table is sometimes just necessary to give the reader a sense o place. This is why it’s always a good idea to describe your scenery as the character interacts with it.

A great example of Checkhov’s gun. In A Game of Thrones, Sam gets a blade that several seasons down the road kills white walkers. Also, the necklace given to Sansa in season three or four is used to kill Joffrey. Those are some great examples of Checkhov’s guns coming into play.

Continuity

Lack of continuity is a major cause of plotholes. This could be something small like a sudden change in appearance, or something even more jarring like a character referencing an event they have no idea occurred. It could also be a sudden change in motivation, even age.

Example: Merlin (the television series). Mordred appears in season one as a child, but by season five, he returns as a teenager or young adult. Realistically the oldest he could be is 13, but he is at least 16 if not older when he reappears. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters have only aged 3-5 years. Soap operas do this a lot, because let’s face it, babies get boring after awhile.

When is a Plothole not a Plothole

Sometimes readers believe the unbelievable, especially in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. These genres create a lot of their own rules, abilities, creatures, etc. Just because something can’t happen or doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it’s a plothole. When you event something (like magic), you are relying on your reader’s ignorance of a subject in order to make them believe it. A world with two moons and seven suns probably couldn’t exist or sustain life (could you imagine gravity?); however, your reader is more likely to accept that than if your character’s eye color suddenly changes in chapter two.

This is because of the suspension of belief. You can create super human beings, magical powers, fantastical creatures, as long as you make it as believable as possible and keep it consistent.

Example: Superman For decades, people have accepted that there is a superhuman man who comes from another planet, but they don’t believe that he can disguise his identity with glasses alone.

yeah, you're not fooling anyone, Superman

yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, Superman

How to Prevent Plotholes

It’s easier to prevent a plothole than to fill one.

  • outline your story
  • create character sketches
  • outline the rules and limitations of your magic systems
  • research before writing
  • keep track of the time of day, hour, month, season, and year of your story so you don’t accidently skip summer and fall and go straight into winter.

MontyPython3

How to Fill Plotholes

Break out the shovels!

Break out the shovels!

  1. Identify your plot holes. Read through your MS and look for unanswered questions and things that couldn’t happen
    1. Your character could not have survived that fall
    2. Your character’s hair changed color
    3. Your character is angry in this chapter but fine in the next
    4. Your character’s worst fear is being shot, but you have her bravely confront an armed robber.
    5. Your character can’t swim, but saves a child from drowning.
    6. Your character’s dog went missing. You never explained what happened to it.
  2. Create setup: make sure you lead up to the event so it can realistically unfold.
  3. Make changes: no one likes to make big changes, but think of the big picture. You may have to adjust the setting, events, even drastically change your character so that necessary events can occur.
  4. Ask an outsider. Beta readers are far more likley to identify and resolve a plothole.
  5. Think on your back: they say lying on your back helps you think
  6. Step away from your WIP. Distance can help you see clearer. The solution may even come to you when you’re not thinking about it.
  7. Keep it simple: When filling plotholes, don’t make it difficult or over complicated.

It’s like Yzma’s plan to get rid of Kusco in the Emperor’s New Groove. She’s going to turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then put that flea in a box, and then put that box inside of another box, and then mail that box to herself, and when it arrives smash it with a hammer. She changes her mind–not because the plan was convoluted–to save on postage. She goes for a simple route: poison.

Recently I filled a glaring plothole–in the beginning of my book  no less–by using the methods above (mostly lying on my back and talking to my sister). What’s the biggest plothole you’ve ever had to fill?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Sometimes the simple things are the ones we overlook, especially when we’re editing. Capitalization seems elementary probably because we learned the rules in elementary school. Until I became a copy editor I didn’t realize there were so many rules. I’m here to tell you there’s more to it than capitalizing the first letter of a sentence.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

Hopefully, you saved grammar edits for last. It really is a waste of time to edit for grammar errors until the last pass. One of the things you’ll want to check during this final pass are your capitals. Is it Mother or mother? Captain or captain? It can be either depending on context. If you’re not sure, circle or highlight the word so you can be sure to go back and check.

For the record, I’m not going to go over every rule. The rules could fill an entire book on their own. I’m going to touch on a few basics, ones I think you’re likely to encounter.

The purpose of capitalization: To emphasize important words, people, places, things, etc.

If only it were that simple. Wait for it, it gets more complicated.

First Word of a Sentence

This is the easiest rule. If a word follows a period, it should probably be capitalized. I’m really not going to go into any more depth than that.

You’re rolling your eyes at me. This isn’t hard.

Names

Rule number one: don’t forget your characters’ names. Forgetting to capitalize your characters’ names is like forgetting to put your  name on your final exam. This an easy point, people!

Capitalize the following names:

  • brand names; Coca-Cola
  • company names; Walmart
  • nicknames and epithets; The Kingslayer
  • names of races and nationalities; French Canadian
  • names of religions and the deities: God
  • names of streets, roads, cities, countries, oceans (if it’s labeled on a map, it’s probably capitalized. e.g., the Mediterranean Sea)

Names NOT to Capitalize

  • names of animals; DO capitalize their names (e.g., Mr. Fluffy); however, do not capitalize cat, dog, etc. Except Alaskan huskey and German shepherd.
  • food; the exception being brand names and so forth (e.g., tuna, chips, Ranch dressing)
  • sun and moon. Even though we capitalize Mars, Jupiter, and Earth, for whatever reason, we don’t view the sun and moon to be important enough to capitalize–though we would die if either of them implodes. This is why it’s important to check the rules. Just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be capitalized.
  • seasons; spring summer, fall, winter
  • names that don’t actually affiliate with the word they are derived from (e.g., swiss cheese and American cheese are both made in America)

Proper Nouns

Think of a proper noun as being a more specific version of a noun–or the fancy version.

Mnemonic device: a proper noun is a noun with a fancy top hat.

Examples noun; proper noun

the canyon; the Grand Canyon

the ship; the Titanic

lake; Lake Michigan

Rule of Thumb: With time, sometimes words from a proper noun no longer require capitalization.

Example: draconian (you probably don’t know what this is referring to. Me neither. Probably why it is no longer capitalized)

Rule of Thumb: Don’t capitalize “the” when it comes before a proper noun; however, because rules are not consistent, sometimes it is in special cases.

Titles

I think this is one of the trickiest rules. For instance, you capitalize titles when they are used before names, but not after a name, or instead of a name, or if a comma comes after the title. See what I mean. How’s that for a brain twister.That might be a little bit of an exaggeration . . . maybe a tad.

Example

The president; President Clinton; Clinton, president of the United States

I called Mom; I called my mom; I called, Mom

General Grant; the general

King Arthur; king of the Britains

Exception: When used in direct address: Thank you, Mr. President; I will obey your orders, General

Other

  • days of the week
  • months of the year
  • holidays; Halloween (the best holiday ever)
  • historical events and periods; the Ice Age; the Boston Tea Party
  • terms of respect; (e.g., Your Excellency, His Majesty, Madam, Your Honor

Capitalization with Punctuation

Punctuation: everyone’s favorite thing. Did you know capitalization is sometimes dependent on punctuation.

Colon

It is a common misconception that the word after a colon is always capitalized. The first word after a colon is not always capitalized. It isn’t if the colon is used within the sentence. It is when it is a proper noun or if the colon introduces two or more sentences or a speech or dialogue.

Hyphen

This is one a lot of people forget. Generally capitalize all elements the hyphens connect unless a coordinating conjunction, preposition, or article (e.g., Sugar-and-Spice).

Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. As you edit, keep a handy style guide nearby. I use the one and only Chicago Manual of Style. Do you know how many times I referenced it just for this post? There are also a lot of helpful resources online like Grammar Girl.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.