I didn’t blog this Wednesday. Partly because nothing happened to inspire a post this week. Partly because I didn’t have a backup post ready to go. Partly because I’ve been super busy working on my WIPs, which are usually way more fun to write than blog posts.

I’m posting now, and if you think this is a placeholder for future content, well, you’re probably right. But I’m still going to talk about placeholders and how I use them when drafting stories.

No, not potholders…

I am not one of those writers who knows everything about their world and their characters when they sit down to write. I know enough about my character to get started, of course, know enough of the situation they’re in, but that’s about it. The rest comes about as I write that discovery first draft.

So inevitably as I write, I will come across other characters, with names and occupations, places and things, and need to make them come to life on the page. If I know what the object or person is, what to call it, how to describe it, great. I can keep writing.

If I don’t, then I have a decision to make: Should I derail my story progress to figure out more about what this person/place/thing is? Or should I just leave a note and come back to it at a later date?

When I first started writing, I almost always stopped dead, wracking my brains until just the perfect phrase or the right name or what-have-you came about. And only then could I move on. Now I’m less precious about the process, thanks to a healthy use of, you guessed it, placeholders.

Names are particularly tough for me, as they are so evocative of the person behind them. So unless I have one in mind, I usually leave names blank and use __ throughout my manuscript until I finally decide on one. When there’s lots of __ running rampant through my story, sometimes I’ll use [boy] or [girl] or [woman] to keep things straight.

Often as I’m drafting, the story action will move to a new location that I didn’t expect and I’ll need to think about what the new place looks like, how my characters will interact with this new setting etc. But if I’m not ready to do those things, if I already have a burning desire to write the next conversation or the next scene, I’ll just insert something like [more here] or [descript] and keep writing.

I do, however, tend to write linearly, so I don’t often use placeholders for full-blown scenes – unless I already know they are going to be a pain to write. And usually I don’t know that until I try to write one and muck it up.

How do you use placeholders when drafting?
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2 thoughts on “Placeholder

  1. Gail Shepherd says:

    I've actually come to this same practice — but I don't think I really learned it until I did NaNoWriMo and really did not have time to stop. Now I understand what it feel like to be in flow, and I don't want to break that flow to figure out what brand of shoes somebody is wearing or whether they hate vanilla pudding or have a problem with snakes. So yeah, I'm with you here. Just mark it and come back to it when you're ready, or in revision. Don't hang yourself up!

  2. Gilly says:

    I definitely do. Sometimes there are block letter notes saying WRITE AWESOME SCENE HERE LATER.

    It makes me laugh when I come back later. My current WiP is hole-y -er (holier? ha!) than a hunk of Swiss. It's frustrating!

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