Hello, my lovely writer friends!
Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.
So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?
Training the eye to edit (part 2)
Today, we’re talking about a big one, one I’m sure you’ve heard about every time any writer mentions editing at all.
Plot holes and continuity errors
See? Told you you’d heard of it before. Plot holes are one of the biggest things writers fear when we reach the editing phase. They’re the thing we’re all hoping we didn’t write into our manuscripts, and yet the thing we all know we did. It’s inevitable. There’re always plot holes in first drafts, usually in second drafts, and very often in third and fourth drafts, too. It’s incredibly difficult to spot every single one of them, and yet, we try.
But what is a plot hole, you ask?
I’ll give you a very good example: it’s when a character is in more than one place at once. It’s also when a character does something in one chapter, but then has no recollection of it four chapters later. It’s a hole in the plot, and one that we never intended to be there.
Now, I’ll say that sometimes there are holes in the plots of books belonging to a series, but those holes are there to be filled in one of the later books. It’s a question that will be answered later on, one that readers look forward to finding an answer to. It’s not where you include a hole and never fix it, in a standalone novel, where there will never be more to mend the error.
And how do we find them? There’s really only one way.
You need to know your writing, inside and out. You need to know your story like it’s the back of your hand, like it’s the very air that you breathe. You need to know every little thing about it. You need to have read your manuscript so many times that there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve answered every question that needs answering. When you know your book that well, you’ll know when there’s a plot hole. In fact, you’ll probably be able to feel it coming, when you come across one.
Just like with last week, it all comes down to training your eye to know what to look for. Once you’ve done it for a while, once you’ve been working on it long enough, you’ll get better at it.
But it’s not just those dreaded giant plot holes that we need to keep an eye out for—it’s also continuity errors, mistakes where a character changes personality or hair color, where a house shifts up the street or a lawn grows grass that was only planted two days ago. None of these are things you want in your manuscript.
Once again, to make sure you don’t have any of these in your manuscript, you need to know your manuscript. You need to know your characters well enough to feel as though they’re friends of yours, as though you’ve known them all your life. You need to know your settings, to be able to see them with your eyes open or closed, and to notice when things aren’t quite described correctly. If that means taking meticulous notes and making maps of the street view of your Victorian town, then so be it. It’s the only real way to make sure you keep everything continuous.
Fact of the matter is, your readers will notice if there’s an error. Not all of them, mind you, but several. And unfortunately, the ones who notice tend to be the noisy ones. All we can do is try to remove every error we see, to make our readers as happy as we can.
Associate Editor, etc.