Avoid Those Small Leaks Because They Ultimately Lead to Major Cracks
Ever read a story that had tiny leaks in its plotline? Those seemingly small plot points that are anything but inconsequential and have you saying, “Hmm…” You’re then immediately pulled out of the story, and flipping back pages or even chapters, trying to find the spot where you—the reader—must have obviously screwed up. You must have simply read it wrong or remembered wrong. Then you discover, no, it wasn’t you who screwed up, it was the author. Well, I have. More than once, actually, and at least two of those books were traditionally published, so don't go blaming self-publishers as the sole culprits.
I’ve never forgotten the book I read (traditionally published), where the author left two characters in a train car to freeze to death by leaving them out of the rescue scene. And that was just the first of three similar mistakes in the same story. That first mistake was the point where the author had me shaking my head, and from that page forward, even though I finished the book, I couldn’t get past those small plot holes. I lost my faith in the author. I was pulled out of the story and couldn’t completely get back into it. Instead of enjoying the story, I spent the remaining pages looking for the next mistake.
Another book I’ll never forget (also traditionally published) is where the author had the reader counting down the days until a major event that was four days away. Yet seven nights passed before the story reached that point. I can’t tell you how many times I flipped back page after page, counting the days and nights that passed trying to figure out where I messed up.
Then there are the even smaller mistakes I've found in other books like the one where it was supposedly mid-morning, yet the author prosed on about the moonlight and stars in the sky. Or the one when the author had the main character in the middle of a workout session when she was surprised by an intruder, then on the very next page, she’s running for her life in heels.
These may seem like pretty small and insignificant mistakes when you spend all your time and energy focusing on the major plot, but believe me, they are not small to the reader and quickly deteriorate your credibility as a storyteller. Your story is no longer believable when you have your reader screaming, “Get your story straight already!”
Small holes that have your reader saying, “Hmm...” inevitably lead to major story issues, and once a reader starts shaking their head, and doubting the author’s credibility, you’ve lost them. The story and characters no longer feel real. And it’s highly unlikely that reader will give you a second chance with another book.
Even though we all improve as writers with every book, every chapter, and every page we write, it’s tough to earn a second chance when you make a major mistake. Even a mistake that may seem minor at first glance.
So how do you avoid making those little mistakes?
Well, for starters, outline. Now, don’t run at the word. Believe me, I don’t outline myself, at least not in the traditional sense. I consider myself a panster as I do not outline before I begin writing. However, I do keep a sort of running outline as I write so as to keep track of where my characters are, what time of day it is, what day of the week, and what time of year. This is essential, and the best way to avoid making the kinds of mistakes mentioned above.
I also keep a character outline, created as each character makes their first appearance in the story. This outline contains a photograph, physical description, and a brief bio consisting of as much or as little information as required for their role in the story. In other words, if I mention their age or eye color, it’s noted, so I won’t make the mistake of saying something contradictory in the next scene where this character appears.
Second, read your work back to yourself carefully and as a reader rather than as the one who wrote it. Distance yourself enough to see the fine print, so to speak. Get the bigger picture out of your head as you read and pay attention to the small stuff. Those small details are in there for a reason. Always keep in mind that every word you write is a window for the reader. Your prose is the camera for their mind’s eye. The reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels what you create for them. And without all of that, without all of those senses being evoked for the reader, your story is simply flat. So always remember that every one of those fine details are extremely necessary if you want to create a story your readers can truly sink into.
And third, hire a developmental editor. A good one. A reputable one. If you think you can’t afford an editor, check around because some of us are more affordable than you realize. Plus, keep in mind that if you truly want to be a successful writer, going the self-publishing route without an editor can be your most costly mistake.
But if you still can’t swing the cost of a good editor, then, at the very least, find a few good beta readers. Ones you trust and can rely on. It can be difficult to find the right beta readers for you but don’t give up the search until you do, and when you find them, treat them right! (See my prior article titled “Beta Readers: Super Hero(ine) or Vampire?”)