Placeholder: blessing or curse?

This is a thought that returned to me today: is using placeholders (mostly for names) when writing a blessing or a curse? Can it get out of hand or backfire?

When I started working on my fantasy story, even before writing, I knew that naming the characters will be probably the hardest part. I always had troubles with coming up with names, even for my game characters, especially in World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 or even The Sims…

The first name I had for the story is Saggitus, shortened and slightly modified (double G instead of double T) from the constellation Sagittarius. It’s not the most original one, but I like it. The fact that I came up with it in 2010 is backed up that since that, I used it as name for one of my WoW characters. And that’s despite the fact that in my story, unlike the game character, Saggitus is neither werewolf nor warlock.

By the time (summer 2012) when I started to think about it more, I had maybe three names, plus rough idea for two more. In case of one, I had no idea how to spell it, neither in English or my native language. That did not change much by summer 2015, when I decided to try writing.

Even when the sample  was complete, the main character was still under nickname and so were most other characters that appeared. While many got at least first version of their names by the end of 2015, it was not that much as that sample featured less than 10 named characters.

Of course, the story itself in full length will have more, my list is probably somewhere around 50-60 and the number might still grow a bit as my work goes on, though it’s unlikely to get above 100. Some characters were even made (up) on the spot as I was writing and so was their (nick)name, or at least first version of it.

Now, I must say right away that without using nicknames or working version of names, I’d probably still be stuck somewhere around chapter 20 by now. Using placeholders, nicknames or calling some character by titles/ranks was what allowed me to keep going and just wait for when good enough idea comes across.

But I was not replacing the names all at once, that way it would not be done for a while. I usually did it in batch of 2-3 names, when I used mass replace and hoped that I did not misspell it somewhere. I’d find it later when doing self-proofreads (or in one case, I was told by a friend that has access to it), but it’s still trouble.

Now, most placeholders are gone. There are two nicknames, one of them is still waiting to be named, and has a backstory for using it over his name but I might as well replace it before final version (which is still months away). Some characters went though placeholder/title, then nickname, and then two or three drafts of their name before I was satisfied while others were named at first try with result I actually liked.

Maybe I am again overthinking something that is barely an issue, considering that the amount of people that saw the personal alpha version of the story is very low and so it might not even matter… but truth is, if I forget to catch and replace some of these placeholders before the final version, it will be troublesome for me. After all, I did maybe five proofreads myself and still keep finding mistakes, sentences that are weirdly done or too complicated and other trouble. And that’s found by me, clueless wannabe hobbywriter who has no clue what he is doing. What could someone better find? Argh, curse my overthinking…

So, to wrap this up: placeholders helped me greatly to prevent getting stuck on names. At what price? Time will tell…

3 thoughts on “Placeholder: blessing or curse?

  1. Pingback: Writing: the beginning trouble | Tomas's blog and web

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