Recently, I was taking a final pass through one of my short stories before sending it to a crit partner. As I was reading it, I was struck with a sickening feeling. There was a huge -- no, an enormous -- plot hole in the story. One that dealt with the central problem of the story and basically would have left the reader saying to themselves "Uh, hey, why are they going about it this way instead of just fixing the problem the easy way."
This, I must say, is not a happy feeling. For several moments, I was convinced that there was no way to salvage the story, and I was feeling rather stunned. In fact, I was pretty close to completely setting the story aside, putting it into the "nice idea" pile, and finding something else to send to my crit partner for his review. Fortunately, I got past that initial panic reaction and thought some more. Maybe there was a way to recover the story?
I went back and re-read some of the materials I used for research on the story. I found something which had seemed irrelevant upon first reading but turned out to be exactly what I needed to justify the situation my characters found themselves in. I made some changes and sent it off.
My crit partner read the story and didn't have any concerns with the logic of the situation. He did, however, call out the section where I'd "patched" my story as being one that seemed sort of infodumpy. Looking at it again, I saw that he was absolutely right. This isn't completely surprising, as I was probably not in the best writing frame of mind when I made those changes and I was thrilled just to be justifying things. I ended up taking out almost the whole section I'd added in immediately after my revelation and putting relevant pieces back in here and there throughout the story.
So, what's the take-away here? Three big points stick out in my mind:
1) Don't Delete! I wasn't really at risk of deleting this story per se -- I have multiple backups and I tend to be a file pack-rat. However, I was so disgusted I could easily have chucked the story aside and never gone back to it. Since it seems like I've repaired it, that would have been a big mistake! Admittedly, there may be a time when you find that a story has such a major problem that it truly isn't reworkable. I wouldn't want to make that decision before giving it an additional reading after several days' time to get over the initial frustration. Even then, I still would suggest keeping a copy of the file around. There still could be something you might re-use, or you could even come up with a fix to the story months later.
2) When you realize something has gone wrong, go back and revisit your assumptions and your research. Maybe you can find something that you can tweak which fixes the damage you found. In my case, I used a technical fact about an outer-space body to bolster my story's logic. But there are plenty of other ways that you might reconsider aspects of your story. Even characterization could be a way of helping fix a story that had gone wrong. If a character had a particular trait that could be written naturally into the story and could help explain a particular behavior, that might help your story make more sense.
3) If you have to change a significant amount of text, you'll want to bear in mind that the new text isn't polished text yet. This can be especially true if, like I was, you're flustered when you write it. But even if you're completely calm, it still would be good to give that chunk of your story an extra review before you would submit it anywhere.
Obviously, this could be easier in a short story than in a novel or a series. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I'd realized that there was this type of issue in a 70,000 word novel rather than an 4,500 word short story. On the other hand, in those longer works, you have more time invested so you also have more incentive to find a fix.
Have you run into similar problems with stories once you've written them? If so, what techniques worked for you?