Avoid Big Holes

I think one of the pitfalls of partaking in a writing group is that the criticism that we get are like holes in a boat. We hear them and want to plug them up. If they're plot holes, then plug them up. Fast! They'll sink your book faster than the Titanic. Other than that, when would we want to leave holes open?

My fellow writers had all complained that my character didn't have a scene with his wife after a very long and dangerous trip. Even if it wasn't dangerous, wouldn't a husband want to reconnect and make love to his wife after a long journey?


And the fact that everyone in the writing group pointed that out meant there's something to it. So of course, being the captain of my ship—book—I wanted to fix it and plug it up. Then I stopped myself because I was tense. Well, no. Kinda. See below.

Tension in a story is important. I think writers talk about conflict a lot, but tension isn't discussed as much. At least from my experience.

Conflict, in storytelling, is defined as a character having to contend with an element in the story: arguing with another character, overcoming a plot point like Do I date Justin or Justine?, or dealing with his own demons like drug addiction, etc.

Tension is what we as readers feel when we see a character that we are rooting for deal with these elements.

When a little girl has to make a choice whether to go down a dark, dank basement or not, that's conflict. She has to overcome her own fear and the possibility of being eaten by whatever beasts are hiding down there.

If the writer has done his job well and rooted us to this little girl, then we feel tension within ourselves and would prefer her not to go down there because we're imaging ourselves in her shoes. Well, her shoes are tiny, and no my shoes aren't small dammit.

So when my whole writing group wanted my character to reconnect with his wife after his long trip, I agreed. I admitted that was a huge misstep on my part and beat myself up about it. I went to Starbucks and sat down in their cushy bench seat, and tried to imagine that scene.

Nothing was coming up. And no, I don't need to take the little blue pill.

I sat with the 'not knowing' for a while because usually images would eventually pop into my head. But nothing. And that's when I realized that I could rewrite that segment and have my character yearn to be with his wife, but due to the plotting, he can't. I think that raises both the conflict and tension a little bit, adding to everything else that is going on in his world. If I can add layers to the conflict and tension, why not do it?

One of the things we as writers have to be aware of is manipulative writing. A really good example of that is the God's Not Dead movie. The writer, Cronk, manhandles the characters who aren't Christians into villainous cartoons. And of course the Christian characters are saint-like. Not only does he make these characters unrelateable, we as viewers can feel the heavy handedness, the manipulation. And that pulls us out of the story. In many ways that's worse than having a plot hole because not everyone will notice plot holes. And when we do, we can overlook them if the hole is small.

Moral of the story, avoid big holes and assholes, ratchet up the tension, don't be manipulative, and freakin' have fun.