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Monday, June 20, 2011

Avoiding The Plotholes (ConCarolinas Writing Panel Notes)

So, time to put all of the events of the past several days behind me. Time to get to a different topic.

Just over two weeks ago, I did something that when I said I would do it, more than a year ago, it seemed like it might just wind up being a pipe dream. There's this website, you see, that's a group blog of published fantasy authors who write about the craft from the perspective of the genre. I started following Magical Words early last year, and when June came around I discovered that they all gathered at ConCarolinas, a science fiction and fantasy convention. And I said, "Next year, I'm going."

And even though Charlotte, North Carolina is thousands of miles away from Vancouver, I did.

What followed was an awesome weekend, where despite many obstacles that nearly threatened to prevent my trip (including passport issues, but that's a tale for another time), I had a great time and lots of fun, got to meet (almost) all of the authors face to face, connected with members of my beta group (born from the website) and partied it up with people that before that weekend, had only been people I knew from the Internet.

One of the best things, though, was all of the writing panels I attended, so I thought that over the next several posts I'd share the typed-up version of my frantically scribbled notes. Hopefully, they make *some* sense. Here's the first set: Avoiding the Plotholes. Enjoy!

* * *

Avoidng the Plotholes

Authors present: Glenda C. Finkelstein, Rachel A. Aaron, Jana Oliver, Emilie P. Bush
Edmund Schubert (Moderator)

Definition of Plotholes:
- Unresovled subplots
- Inconsistent details
- Chronological inconsistencies
- Plotholes can occur within an individual book and across series

Suggestions from the Authors:

- Start with the idea of: "Where does the character need to be at the end?" Everything, every sentence, builds toward that.
- Keep a style sheet: a list of names, physical descriptions, official spelling of name, words you've made up, styles you follow

- Keep a plot grid: lay out chapter, scene, time of day, and details of scene.

- Having a plan (plotting) makes problems manageable
- Start by telling plot to self, talking through the plot, know what you're going to write before you write it
- Simply putting stories in order helps
- Be willing to let go of scenes if they just don't work

- Know where the story is going
- Stay focused, don't get distracted by rabbit trails that go nowhere

Working With Editors
- Give and take: Sometimes you need to rework ideas, what the editors want to see, without spoiling the plot arc.
- Remember to keep up the pace
- Remember that editors don't always catch everything
- Be able to say no and push back when the story truly calls for it (but ask yourself: is it worth fighting for?)

- Can be cheerleaders ("keep it coming")
- Can be plothole catchers ("I don't buy this crap")
- Can catch parts that are lacking ("this needs more emotion, more description, etc" - people who tell you what you need
- Can spot timeline and continuity problems (Does everything make sense chronologically?)
- Remember: friends don't necessarily know how to fix your story, even if they're interested
- Your friends aren't necessarily your best beta readers unless they can be brutally honest

Self-Critiquing and Rewriting
- If self-critiquing, try to separate your writer-mind from your reader-mind.
- Ed: Try reading it out loud.
- Be willing to go through the work several times to keep details straight.
- Jana: uses TextAloud. (Laura's note: this is a great program, by the way, and it's very inexpensive - about $30 US. We use it at work and recommend it to clients. Yes it's a computerized voice and no, it won't pronounce everything perfectly despite the pronunciation editor *mutters* but it's worth it.)

Series Issues
- Changes agreed to in the first book can come back to bite you in the ass in later books
- Take time to note details: what happens, world building, spellings of names
- Know your characters, how they'll react, what can and cannot happen in your world (certain things can only happen in certain ways)
- The first book needs to stand alone (so you can prove to the editor and publisher that it'll sell)
- Lay out your world: have an idea of where the series is going.
- Keep a story bible!

- Read for continuity
- Take a microscopic look at the characters themselves, if they are behaving accordingly
- Read for sentence structure: is it flowing?
- Read for pacing

Finish the damn thing first!*
- Don't get stuck on details
- Leave notes to self; don't stop for little details
- Work on upping your daily word count
- Maintain your enthusiasm and excitement about your story when writing it.
- You should have excitement, knowledge, and time every time you sit down to write.

Rachel's System:
- Keep a spreadsheet of how many words per hour, per day
- Note problems and address them at the end
- Write the bare bones of the scene before actually writing it.

* This section was untitled, but that was the gist of it.
** Emphasis mine. Yah, RLY.


  1. If I stay off the internet I won't be reading all these great posts.. Lots of good things here, Laura.

  2. Laura,

    I know, I know! I believe the intent was "Don't waste time on the Internet when you should be writing." Like anything, the Internet is good in moderation. It's the balance that's sometimes hard to manage. ;)