I asked myself recently, “Is it always a bad thing to paint yourself into a corner?” Or, drive yourself into a hole? Or, flow up creek without a paddle? I’ve never done the latter in a literal sense (or the others, for that matter), but I imagine it’s a little like getting lost in a new town. There’s an advantage to getting lost, I think, because the next time you drive around that part of the city and you pass the dog park next to the reservoir that you discovered while you were lost, suddenly you know exactly where you are. Maybe you still don’t exactly know how you got there, but that’s not the point.
How does this pertain to writing? Well, I get lost a lot. Like, a lot. Usually at my own fault, too, because while I previously posted about how I prefer to be a free-ballin’ panster-plotter, it comes at a price: the price of shooting the plot of my stories full of a lot of gaping holes. Yet, even while that has been my M.O. for some time, I’ve grown fond of those plot holes. Why? Because those holes can be later filled with anything I damn well please. And wouldn’t you know, more often than not, what fills those holes ends up being the sticky asphalt that holds the whole thing together . . . as long as I leave out the glitter.
Here’s a recent example of such evil shenanigans:
Just the other day, my initial reader / best friend / general shit-ouster told me I needed to work on a particular court scene in the 2nd Act. I’d provided a neurologist for the prosecution, “But,” as I.R. noted, “the defense would have her own specialist to override the prosecution’s witnesses.” Okay, I thought, but wouldn’t that add unnecessary characters and make the court scene repetitive? I was hesitant to have two specialists say more-or-less the same thing, since the true evidence wasn’t meant to be revealed in the story just yet. And, if there is someone who discovers evidence to prove the defense right, then the defendant would have no reason to go to prison in the first place.
Then it occurred to me: The neurologist for the defense could be the same guy who shows up in the 3rd act and reveals the true information. Of course, while thinking about it, I realized that having the guy just “show up” in the 3rd act was a plot hole in itself, so threading these two together not only revealed two holes, but filled them with the same batch of glittery asphalt (Dammit! I said no glitter!). The reader won’t know that was not my original plan (well, you do now) because the end result of it all fits together. No one knows how the story came together because all they care about is that it eventually did.
For me, plot holes equal plot revelations. They always have. I’ve plotted the hell out of an ending only to listen to that feeling in my gut and realize the WHOLE ENTIRE ENDING WAS WRONG, That character is actually actually connected to the bad guy, these people are responsible for the climax, and my protagonist shouldn’t actually save the character who sets the whole thing in motion.
Plot holes don’t always have big flashing signs hovering over them saying “This Way to Doom!” Usually, they live inside my gut, like a tiny gnome pressing against my intestine with a wizard’s staff, insisting something is wrong. Just like pain is your body’s warning of internal failure, that instinctual gut feeling that something just ain’t right is your brain’s way of telling you there is a hole in your story. If something isn’t working right, it’s probably wrong.
Take writer’s block, for example. I’ve bashed my head against my desk trying to figure out why I just can’t seem to visualize a particular scene or section, only to realize the whole bit should not exist in the story at all. Sure, I may like it, it may be a cool scene on its own, but it doesn’t fit in the grand scheme of the story for one reason or another. Here, I believe, is where the saying “in writing, you must kill your darlings” applies. Hemingway isn’t so much suggesting that if you like a particular piece of your writing it’s probably crap and you need to cut it (well, he may be saying just that; Hemingway was a little masochistic). In my experience, “kill your darlings” is advising that if you have to cut something you like to make your story better, then you must cut it.
But back to my original point. On the flip side of the “cutting to make it better”, there’s a lot to be said for filling holes to tie things together. That wretched beginning of your second act may be a mess, but the more you stew over it and attempt to see it from different angles you may have that revelatory lightbulb in the shower with shampoo in your hair, or in bed while your significant other is putting the moves on. And your brain says “Holy mackerel, that’s it! The solution was there all along! I’m an idiot for not seeing that before!” So you leave your horny partner to pet your cold side of the bed, race to your computer, squint into the sudden brilliance of the screen because your eyes have yet to adjust, and fill in the holes of your story will the brilliant solution that your normal, logical thinking brain was unable to come up with.
And no one is none the wiser.
Well, except maybe for that person you left alone in bed.