How to See Plot Holes: Advice From a Developmental Editor

I recently hired my first developmental editor: Susanne Lakin. (Click here to learn what a developmental editor does.)

To read about why you need a critique click here.

Hiring an editor was a huge decision and a major move. My only regret is not doing it sooner. Susanne was thorough, prompt, and positive (which I’m sure wasn’t easy as my wip is far from finished.) But most of all it moved my project into hyper-speed. In the past, it took me months to get the feedback from critique partners and friends that I received from Susanne in less than two weeks. (I’m sure she doesn’t promise this turn-around time. I was surprised.)

Here’s why I hired a developmental editor:

  • I wanted an unbiased opinion.
  • I needed the expertise of someone who didn’t know me.
  • I needed someone who wasn’t afraid to tell me what I needed without worrying about hurting my feelings.
  • I wanted someone who had loads of experience writing novels and working with other writers on developing their stories.
  • I struggle with asking others for favors. I always feel guilty if I ask writer friends to edit my work because I know everyone is busy writing their own novels, working, planning meals, or trying to find fifteen minutes for themselves. I’d rather pay someone.
  • I’m impatient. I wanted to get better at this writing craft NOW.
  • Yes, I know it costs money for this service, but how much money does a writer’s conference cost? More. And then you only get the first ten to fifteen pages of your manuscript evaluated.
  • I justified spending the money this way: I’m a first time author and an entrepreneur. I’m in business to sell my novels. But first, I have to believe in my product and have a product to sell. Most start-up businesses costs money. If I want a career at selling books I need to invest in myself and learning the craft first. 
  • Why? Because I only have ONE time to make a first impression.

Here’s ONE invaluable tool I learned:

How to ensure my plot doesn’t have holes. Let me explain.

I type my novels in SCRIVENER–which I recommend–because it allows me to keep my wip organized by scenes, chapters, and on a cork board. But Susanne recommended something that will help me even more, and I thought maybe you could benefit from this, too, so I’m sharing it with you today.
What’s a great way to keep multiple POV’s organized in your novel?
  1. Make a list of all of your scenes–either make a chart or use index cards. Or do both.
  2. On each 3 x 5 card write a brief description of the scene revealing the point that relates to the plot. Each scene needs a conflict, a purpose, and moves the story forward.
  3. Write the POV character’s name in the top right corner of the card, and use a different colored highlighter for each POV. This makes each scene a certain color and ensures you’re rotating POV’s in your scenes.
  4. You’ll have the most scenes in the main protagonist’s color.
  5. Arrange these cards on a large table so you can see the whole picture. This will help you find plot holes and know where to put a scene from a different POV.  You’ll be able to move the cards around and intersperse the scenes.
  6. If you have a secondary plot you can color code those at the top left to make sure you have enough scenes about that plot. Intersperse them.
  7. If you have a police procedural–as I do–this will give you the ability to see if you have enough cards featuring the facts outlining the investigation portion.

How do you SEE your plot holes?



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  1. Great tips, Michelle! Instead of writing the POV character’s name in the corner for the scene, I use different colors so I can see at a quick glance if the scenes are balanced. Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  2. So you use this method, too? Awesome! Has it worked well for you? Do you need a HUGE table to spread them all out on?
    Yes, Susanne said to color code each POV. My guy will be blue, female pink and the villain will be yucky green. Ha!
    Thanks for your comment, Michelle! Have a great writing day!

  3. Emily says:

    How does this work if you’re writing in first person, though?

    • Great question, Emily!
      It’s a lot easier with only one pov, because you’ll only need one color. But you could still use color to identify other plot lines. Use the 3 x 5 cards to write out each scene and give your sub-plot a certain color. When the scene includes something from the sub-plot use a color so you know if you’ve interspersed them appropriately. It’l help you see them. Or, if you’re writing a mystery or a suspense novel you could use a color for the scenes that include clues to solving the mystery. Another suggestion might be to use three different colors to identify the acts. Check out my dissection of the Hunger Games to understand how you can identify your story elements and the three acts. (Just a thought, but you probably already know all about the acts.)

  4. katie says:

    excellent advice – I’m definitely going to use the cork board idea – as a visual person this will really help.

  5. I’ve tried Scrivener and like it — but after casting about for ages looking for an app that lets me organize things AND has a robust word processor built in, I finally settled on WriteWay (PC only at the moment). It’s a terrific app and has very few “cons” compared to the others I’ve tried.

    Working in the built-in word processor feels just like working in MS Word, and the exporting features (to virtually any format and file type you can imagine) are wonderful.

    It also tracks word counts automatically, as well as word use lists.

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing the tip, Jeff! I’m sure your post will help other PC users. I have a MAC so I can’t try, but my guess is that they’ll come out with a MAC version too. I love apps that help writers! Maybe I need to research this and write a post about WRITE WAY.

Please share your random thoughts.


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