This post was triggered by the opening frame of Crimson Tide:
You see the problem? Where’s the captain of a Russian nuclear missile sub on this list? Shouldn’t they at least tie equal-third? This is the set-up to the film and it’s hopelessly holey, which means I immediately stop taking the film seriously. (Apart from Viggo Mortensen. I always take Viggo seriously.) Now, obviously plot holes anywhere are a major issue, but if you have to take a flying leap over one in order to even get off the starting line then you need to re-evaluate your position. Readers, as frequently stated elsewhere, are easily lost and offered plenty of alternative distractions. Asking them to do some major exercise before they’re even invested in your story is just plain rude.
I don’t care how awesome your concept is. If that concept requires an unbelievable set-up then it doesn’t matter because no one will see it. Go back to first principles and make sure the foundations are rock-solid. You’ll often find you get some great new scenes or twists as a result. I had to do this with Corpus recently – I had my protagonist join a military base and then go home every night for plot-progressing conversations with her granddad. Except military bases don’t let you just wander off, especially if they’re guarding something super-secret. So instead I had to go back and get her sneaking off-base, with lots of tension and the odd chase scene, in order to have those (greatly condensed) conversations. Instant conflict, instant action.
Spotting plot holes is an area that your beta readers should be particularly helpful at. Often you’ll be too close to the plot-wood to see the rabbit holes (apologies for the mixed metaphors). Another handy tip is to consider what the wonderfully sarcastic people at HISHE would do if they got their sticky fingers on your baby. (And if you don’t know who HISHE are, go here and watch everything they’ve ever done.) Imagining how someone else might find fault tends to focus my mind nicely.
Just to drive the point home about how bad it is to have a major plot hole near or at the beginning of a story, I shall leave you with one of HISHE’s finest offerings. Even literary giants are guilty. Learn from their mistakes.