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Use ChatGPT to Find Plot Holes in Your Outline

outlining a book can be a tricky thing when you want to fill in plot holes

I’ve been trying to push my gothic novel, Darkest of Waters, over the final hump the last few weeks. I had a lot of scenes that weren’t flowing the way I wanted, some epic plot holes to fill, and I knew I was missing some important connections between the scenes that I did have.

So I pulled out notecards and wrote one card for each scene I had finished, laid them out in a way that made the most sense (which wasn’t exactly how they were laid out in the manuscript).

Next, I looked around for places that needed more scenes and created new cards for these. Once I had a decent idea of everything, I typed it up. Then I moved my scenes around to match my outline (I am so thankful for Scrivener! I can’t even imagine how difficult this might have been without it!)

Novel outline with notecards, filling in plot holes
It’s not a pretty process, but it works for me!

It’s a funny thing, but after using ChatGPT for a while, you sort of forget about how amazing it is, and forget to use it when it could be really helpful. This was the case for me as I struggled, trying to figure out what I was missing and why it wasn’t all coming together. I’m ashamed to say I wrestled with the problem for days before I finally turned to my trusty AI buddy. But once I did, it was mindblowing!

I copy and pasted my entire outline the way I had it into GPT-4. It was about 1200 words long. I didn’t bother explaining things that were vague or give it any background details. I simply asked ChatGPT if it could critique my outline and find missing pieces. Check out our incredible conversation below. The level of detail it gave me in its suggestions was pretty impressive, and I quickly had a ton to work on and got unstuck once again.

More than anything else, I’m starting to think of ChatGPT as a sort of writer’s WD-40. I do what I can on my own, but as soon as I get stuck, I have a handy helper to find me a way around the trouble.

Spoiler alert! The following ChatGPT conversation is the entire outline of my upcoming novel, Darkest of Waters. If you don’t want to spoil the book for yourself, wait to read the conversation until you’ve read the book!


ME:

Okay, after a lot of work I finally created a complete outline for this book that includes the things I have and what I think of as missing pieces. Could you please critique it for me? Here is the outline:

  1. Arrives in Karlsbad, sees Madame Harmon (main)
  2. Meets the family, as well as Emil, although very briefly (main, romance)
  3. Breakfast next morning, meets Marie (main, H&E)
  4. Finds staircase down (main)
  5. At the spa (main) – this might need more to make it work with the plot, perhaps something about Emil or something about Gregor’s work?
  6. Sequel to spa, Marie opens up, maybe have her ask about Emil? (main)
  7. Sophia explores the house as much as she can, some overheard things or encounters. She finds the first sigil carved into a wall or doorframe (main)
  8. First ghost encounter, hears a commotion in the hall, first time she is aware of patients (main)
  9. In the garden, happens upon Emil, they talk for the first time, maybe briefly talk about the patient and the work that Emil does for Gregor, maybe this is where she finds a book in the library after they talk that is about the family and the history of the house, but doesn’t have time to read it and takes it to her room for later (romance, main)
  10. After dinner that evening, drawing room fight between Emil and Henry (main, H&E)
  11. Ready for the party, Marie in cahoots, questions about everyone and what’s going on, nervous excited about seeing Emil, starts to admit her feelings to herself and maybe Marie, goes down, introduced around, out of sorts, Harmon talks to her briefly (main, romance)
  12. Scrying/Emil and then afterwards she overhears Henry asking Harmon for help(romance, main, H&E)
  13. Seance unleashes more ghosts and trouble, she hallucinates, runs out of the house, passes out, maybe private convo with Harmon before seance that sets her up as a mentor? (main, act 1 resolution)
  14. Wakes up the next morning, talks to Marie, gets coldly admonished about making a scene at breakfast, Uncle insists on talking with her, maybe she finds another sigil here? (main)
  15. She meets with Gregor and Emil in Gregor’s office. Defensive, Emil doesn’t seem as amorous, she wonders about his role, takes in details of the office that might be helpful later (main, romance)
  16. garden party invitation with Renata and Lida’s friends, antagonistic, talk about marrying her quickly as if she isn’t there, maybe goes to her room and reads the book about the family legacy but can’t make sense of it (main)
  17. In the library, she finds some more evidence of the springs, the manor, the prophecy, perhaps Henry comes in and offers her some help or a warning to be careful of Gregor? (Main, H&E)
  18. She goes to the garden party, overhears about a local girl going missing, wonders about the patient she’s heard in the night. Runs into Emil, he apologizes for the interview with Gregor, gives some indication of why he helps and what role he plays, still unsure but a little closer. Maybe talk about the fight with Henry. They have some physical contact that increases the attraction (main, Emil, H&E)
  19. Another ghost encounter in the night, She talks to the patient through the door, realizes that she is in danger, starts to look for clues or ways to help the girl (main)
  20. Finds Emil in the library and they get close, she talks about how much she likes to read although she can’t find books, they have a physical moment of some kind. (Romance)
  21. Walking in the greenhouse, overhears conversation between Renata and Henry about the girl. She goes to her room and reads the book about the house and discovers what the sigils are for and it freaks her out (main, H&E)
  22. She spies in Gregor’s study, finds some evidence of the missing girls and what’s going on but doesn’t understand it yet. Caught by Emil? Uncomfortable? (Main, romance)
  23. Parents of missing girl come to the door and cause a commotion (main)
  24. Go to the dance with Lida and Renata, dance with Emil, get very close, very high romance here, they more or less commit to each other, Harmon talks to her, warns her, Gregor watching angry 
  25. Marie comes the next morning with a gift from Emil, a book with a letter inside that tells her a lot about how he feels about her and what his role is with the family, perhaps that he’s concerned for her safety and she should be on guard. This is also the scene where Marie becomes full on ally and starts to plot with her about what to do, talk about the parents that came to the door the night before
  26. Sophia reading in her room when she hears her door being locked from the outside. She runs to it and tries to get out but cannot, yells, hears through the door the other patient being taken away somewhere (act 2 resolution)
  27. She goes down the passage to find the girl who’s disappeared and is caught by Renata or Gregor. Forced to go to the Listz concert because she can’t stay alone, under deep threat, tension leads to her passing out (main)
  28. at concert she overhears that harmon was run out of town, down an ally. She passes out at Listz concert after a hallucination (main)
  29. Wakes up locked up in a patient quarter, Gregor talks to her, maybe Marie talks to her through the door, slips her a letter from Emil (main, romance)
  30. Gregor performs tests on her, she realizes what has been happening and what the prophecy means (main)
  31. Marie comes to talk to her through the door, updates, plan to send her a weapon of some kind, updates about Emil (main, romance)
  32. Meal comes, she hides the weapon, decides that she must escape and that she is going to have to make a break for it, maybe a ghost encounter or dream with her mother to shore her up (main)
  33. Gregor comes and she stabs him but before she can escape he grabs her and with the help of the bad maid she is taken down to the springs (main)
  34. uncle takes her to the springs under the house to kill her, Marie gets in the way, may be hurt or dead (main)
  35. Emil comes and saves her as she is saving herself, even though it costs him his reputation.  Gregor is killed or taken away and Henry makes some sort of peace (main resolution, H&E resolution, romance)
  36. Final scene epilogue with Sophia and Emil leaving on the train, Marie with them? Henry says goodbye? (Romance resolution)

GPT-4:

This is a highly detailed and well-thought-out outline. It shows that you’ve taken time to consider how all the different plot threads interweave and influence each other, which is crucial for a complex gothic romance. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions:

  1. In your early scenes, it might be helpful to have Sophia form her own impressions of Emil before hearing too much from others. This allows readers to form an initial positive impression which then can be challenged by later events. So perhaps instead of Marie asking about Emil in Scene 6, it could be Sophia bringing him up, showing her own interest.
  2. The transition from Scene 15 to Scene 16 feels a bit abrupt. If Emil is cold to Sophia in Scene 15, perhaps show a bit of his struggle or have him do something that might make Sophia suspect he’s not entirely on Gregor’s side.
  3. In Scene 17, having Henry warn Sophia could be interesting, but we need to know why he’s doing so. Has he had a change of heart? Is it guilt over the missing woman?
  4. I love Scene 18 where Emil apologizes to Sophia and they have some physical contact. This is a key moment of connection between them.
  5. Scene 24 is a high point in the romance plot, but it might be even more powerful if there was some kind of public confrontation or threat from Gregor that Emil has to navigate. This would make their mutual commitment to each other more poignant and raise the stakes.
  6. I think Scene 26 is very effective as the end of Act 2. Sophia’s locked in her room, which raises the stakes considerably, and she has a book from Emil which reveals his feelings.
  7. I would suggest having a bit more interaction between Sophia and Emil during her confinement, even if it’s only in the form of letters or messages. This could add a layer of complexity to the romance plot and give Sophia more of a sense of Emil’s support as she’s facing her trials.
  8. The climax, from Scene 34 to Scene 35, is very intense. It might be beneficial to clarify what happens to Emil’s reputation here. Is he revealed as Gregor’s accomplice or does he do something to sacrifice his reputation to save Sophia? Either way, this could be a powerful moment of redemption and transformation for him.
  9. The ending (Scene 36) is lovely and provides a satisfying conclusion to the romance plot. Depending on what happens to Marie in Scene 34, it might be nice to show her in this final scene as well, as it would add a sense of closure to her subplot.

Overall, you’ve done an excellent job with this outline. It has a good balance of romance, horror, mystery, and character development. Just be sure to keep track of the emotional arcs of your characters and remember to build the tension gradually throughout the narrative. The best gothic novels keep readers on the edge of their seats, and your outline definitely has the potential to do that. Good luck with your writing!


Not all the suggestions are helpful, and some are because of my quick and not very detailed outline. But I am incredibly happy with the suggestions I got, and it gives me a lot of new information to think about. These suggestions could have come from a human developmental editor. I especially liked suggestion #2. As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed a sequel to the scene that had come before and I quickly came up with a new piece that was a perfect transition between the two scenes.

Once again, ChatGPT has proved to me it is worth its GPU weight in gold 🙂 If you don’t have infinite money to go round after round with a human editor, give ChatGPT a try to see how it might help you improve your outline! If nothing else, it’ll get you closer to a great draft that you can eventually send for a round of human edits (which is my plan for this project).

Have you tried analyzing your outline with ChatGPT? Did you find it useful? Let me know in the comments below!


Want to learn more about how to write better fiction faster with ChatGPT? Check out my book, ChatGPT for Fiction Writing!

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