No, I’m not talking about basic grammar here, though that is every bit as important. I’m talking about the kind of minor thing that the reader will pick up on and annoyingly point out as being a plot hole or an inconsistency. I don’t want readers to obsess about “What happened to the lock-pick?” or other unanswered questions left behind after the novel is finished.
In my recent novel, Benicio’s Bequest, I needed my main character to break into a shop because he doesn’t have a key or any way of acquiring one. I decided that, despite the fact that he is an honest sort, he had a crooked uncle who had taught him in his youth to be proficient at opening locks with a lock-pick. I then went back through the text and dropped hints about the uncle and what he had taught the boy, making sure that, when the moment came, the reader would accept that this pillar of honesty might pick a lock, might even use a lock-pick that he had inherited from the uncle. None of this was a problem. The problem was what to do with the lock-pick when he was done.
Yes, he could slip it back into the pocket of his trousers, but his subsequent escape later that night meant that he would have to hide it somewhere while on the run, and I didn’t want it found when the police later searched his belongings. His latex gloves could be dumped in the bin of the next hotel’s housekeeping trolley, but he might not want to lose the lock-pick if it was a family heirloom.
I couldn’t have him leaving it at the scene of the crime because that would incriminate him in the murder of the body he stumbles across while there, not to mention that it makes him look careless, which this particular character isn’t. Maybe he could drop it when he suddenly needs to try and resuscitate the dying man, and he might – under those circumstances – easily forget to pick it up again. But who would find it first after that? The police? The real murderer? Another intruder?
Later in the novel, the same character takes delivery of a small parcel which turns out to be a... well, let’s just say it’s a body part, which he has to deliver to the police so they can test its DNA to identify the owner. On his way to meet the police, he encounters a certain problem and jumps into a canal to rescue someone.
What happens to the body part? Does it sink to the bottom of the canal, to be eaten by fishes and never seen again; the possible DNA clue lost forever? Or does he carefully place the parcel on the side of the canal before he jumps in? Maybe he slips his shoes off before jumping in, and puts the body part into one of them. Eew! Would you want someone else’s body part in your shoe?
So what did happen to the lock-pick? Well, I found a way to deal with that, but the body part? Some things you leave for the reader’s imagination.