Working on the second draft of the outline for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned today, something occurred to me as I found a detour around a plot roadblock. Time and again I've come up against what looks like plot holes, things that caused me to stop what I was doing and argue with myself. Does this not make sense? Why is it really here in the first place? Should I do something else?
Round and round turns the hamster-wheel, until a day or two later an answer pops out. Sometimes I scrap what I had in mind and come up with something else. Other times, though, I end up keeping what I have, only with a far more detailed justification for it.
The latter makes me deeply uncomfortable. Did I actually figure out how to make the element in question work, or did I just come up with a better excuse/self-justification for why I should leave it in?
#2 on that list isn't always automatic bad news. Finding a better justification can lead you to better support the choice you made, in the story itself. But that doesn't happen automatically; it's something that has to stem from conscious decisions you make about what to put in and leave out. That and I always wonder about how many times I've come up with that better justification, only to have it just end up as yet another way to not have to grapple with some part of the book that just plain sucks.
In conversation with friends earlier in the week, I admitted that one of the harder-to-shed bad habits of having worked in a vacuum for so long is not knowing when you're doing the right thing. No feedback means guesswork — looking at what other people have done and approximating how your own work habits can allow you to achieve similar results. Guesswork, in turn, means ... well, guesswork. It's shooting in the dark, which without feedback somewhere along the line means one or more bullets to one or more toes.
I suspect the consequences of a lot of these decisions don't really become obvious to other people until the book is already done and in their laps — and that most of the people who make a big deal out of them are folks with a more critical bent than the average reader. But readers are getting smarter and more vocal about what works and what doesn't, and it's all the easier to encounter and assimilate the opinions they generate (see: Goodreads, Amazon product reviews, blogs, Twitter, etc.). Fewer people read, but the ones that do, read all the more intensely and closely.
The trick, I guess, is to take the creation of the work as seriously as they take the consumption of it — in other words, really seriously. How likely is a smart reader to believe what you've done is nothing but a dodge?