NaNoWriMo challenge. How often do you get bogged down when you stop to try to think of just the right word or phrase? How many times do you make a detour to the Internet to search for that word or phrase and get further derailed by blogs, articles or that “ding” that signals you have a Facebook message? Well, turn off everything but your word processing program and remember “placeholders.”
You can use a placeholder when you can’t remember what you named the heroine’s fifth child ten chapters ago. “When he saw the huge shadow looming, Little Whosit dropped his books on the ground and ran.” You don’t need to take the time to search back to find the name right now.
You can use a placeholder when you don’t know the name of something. “Bob peered at the wires in the thingamajig, sweat rolling down his back. If he couldn’t disarm this thing…” You certainly don’t want to stop in the middle of a high-tension scene to figure out what the “thingy” is he’s working on.
You can use a tagline (he said) as a placeholder in dialogue. “No, I understand why you want to break up with me,” he said. My fiction teachers (and consequently I) recommend not using taglines when it’s possible to use an action or a reaction instead. But if you’re writing dialogue and you know you’ve used too many “his stomach clenched” actions, you can go ahead and put in a placeholder.
"I have unspiked the sliding doors at the far end of the barn, so that the greatly increased flow of visitors can move past the whatchamacallit without eddies and backwash. In one end they go, and out the other."—Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard.
Do you use placeholders? What are some of the gems you’ve come up with?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.