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Author Topic: Are Placeholders a Help or a Hindrance?  (Read 208 times)

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Offline Suuper-san

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Are Placeholders a Help or a Hindrance?
« on: March 02, 2021, 12:52:06 PM »
I'm struggling to understand the scope of plot writing, especially the early development stages.

I'm wondering if placeholders are useful when writing. I mean it's probably helpful when you are in full script flow to put Guard#1 or Bystander#2, even if their names get used in the script, because you can go back and add it later once your script has been written.

But it's possible to use placeholders for larger aspects such as a "relative" to the main character, is it their (father/brother/uncle/son)?
But I feel that you are using a placeholder "relative" instead of making a decision, because there is a massive difference in interactions between the character and their father, or their son. So in that respect it's not helping you write the story?

Also as a side point, when you don't have the name of your story decided, what do you title your Word document, Story#1? I get the feeling that would get annoying if you have a handful of stories being developed at the same time.

Is it better to use a temporary (bad/wrong?) name instead of a blank placeholder? And then change it as you see fit down the line?
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 12:54:34 PM by Suuper-san »
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Offline legomaestro

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Re: Are Placeholders a Help or a Hindrance?
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2021, 07:10:59 PM »
You should read Goblin Slayer haha. Nobody has names there and everyone (including said protagonist) is referred to by their occupation.

Personally it's not my style to go with things but placeholders are definitely a way to develop plot and stories, and definitely a heck of a lot more structured. At some point I installed an app for storywriting that had all sorts of awesome drop-down menus and features for keeping track of all intricacies so yeah it works.

I'll just say 5 things


1 - Placeholders are super super OK. I've changed the name of my protagonists 3 times in the middle of conception, and then retconned it after the fact. It's actually simpler to have placeholder names because you at least know what function they're supposted to be doing e.g #Sibling 1 or #Fighter 2.

2 - Relatives are only as relevant as the plot. A protagonist can have 12 brothers and 15 sisters or be an only child, the only thing that is interesting is if he likes them or not or if their siblings even take part in the story.

3 - Story names are 100% allowed to be numbered and filed according to date, the name of the song you're listening to or the name of your protagonist. At the very least you should mark if it's a WIP, a short story or a longer story (at least by organizing it in the right folder)

4- Make sure to allow for generalizations: Even if you want to have nameless guards who act or stuff, at some point you've got to bite the bullet and accept crowds as a whole and just let entire groups act rather than individually name characters (although, I do love the way Stephen King totally writes singular characters who don't matter to the plot and give them names and thoughts before they dissapear and/or die from the story as a whole haha)

5 - If you must go with placeholders, let yourself write up a list of at least 10 Expected Placeholders. What do you expect in your story for placeholders?  Guards? Dragons? Citizens? Soldiers? Brothers? Cats? If you feel like using placeholders you should at least have a vague idea of what category is worthy of singular naming.



Offline NO1SY

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Re: Are Placeholders a Help or a Hindrance?
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2021, 04:39:14 AM »
At risk of repeating some of the advice that Lego has given...

I think placeholders are fine, but you have to be careful when using them because more than you think can be encompassed by names depending on the setting - for instance profession, lineage, expectations of the parents, culture, location. So in this regard, I actually think that it is better to use a "wrong" name instead of a "blank" placeholder - you just have to make sure to catch all of the corrections needed in the final draft so that a random "Steve" doesn't just appear out of nowhere! - and make sure that you have groups of names for characters and things that all share similar backgrounds. The main thing is to make sure that you do not lose the personality and individuality of the character/setting by obscuring the name with a place-holder - the name can be a placeholder, but the actual thing you are writing cannot be.

But, even Brandon Sanderson changes the names of characters and places over the course of his drafts - He revealed a name change of a main character during his writing process in a recent Q&A I think (although I think the character was originally named some 20 years prior to the writing of the book series...).

Of all of these things, the least important to have a finalized name for is the name of the story - this can absolutely change and in a lot of ways is better served by being reactive to the final story product, rather than informing the story itself.

Hope that all made sense, rushing before I have to leave for work...!

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Are Placeholders a Help or a Hindrance?
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2021, 06:51:28 AM »
@lego
1) I certainly like the idea of simplicity, especially during the early stages of writing
2) I just picked relatives as an example, but that's true
3) Yeah it's partly that I'm working on how to organise my WIPs that made me mention that. Like at the outset of a story, you only have the synopsis, but you still want to have a memorable name so you can find it in your WIPs etc. I think I'll go with temporary names and whatever I think of first.
4) I think giving random non-important individuals names does add flavour to the story but yeah I dont want the story to get held up because I cant think of a good name for said random character.
5) That makes sense, I'll probably get better at that with experience.

@NO1SEY
Yeah I think that's similar to what I was trying to say with the relative example - it's not just a random flavour text but carries more weight that affects the story, and as you say, assumptions made about the character as well.
Wow 20 years old character and making a change? very insightful.
I definitely think that the story name does develop along with the story, but having a way to refer to it is still useful all the same in the meantime while you write it, so I'll probably go with the best name I can thin of and change it when the inspiration hits me.

I think I'll probably try and go for writing without placeholders as much as possible, to give me the chance to try and assign the names and details rather than hiding behind placeholders which I can definitely see myself doing. While it's annoying to go back and make changes, it's even more annoying to not even have a starting point to work with.
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