Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Trunking Stories

It’s official. I’ve decided to trunk one of the first science fiction short stories I’ve written.

This isn’t a story I never finished or abandoned halfway through. This is a story I completed, workshopped, submitted, revised some more, and collected a handful of rejections on. I haven’t exhausted all markets for it, but it’s time to set it aside.

This was a tough decision for me. I’m not one to give up easily. I do think any idea can be salvaged. But that still doesn’t mean something is publishable, or a least publishable in the way I want it to be. Or that the time spent fixing the story isn’t better spent on writing new ones.

My story had an off-putting epistolary structure, a future world never explained only inferred, a main character who had no real character arc. Feedback from readers and editors ranged from “It started too slow” to “It ended too soon.” “It was too experimental” or “too predictable” and so on. Suggestions for improvement were wide-ranging as well, and at least one revision pass I did made the story even worse.

But even when confronted with this evidence, I still spent time tinkering and trying to place the story. Why? Well, maybe it’s because I’m stubborn. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many times how subjective this business is and maybe, just maybe, the next market will be it. Or maybe it’s because I’m nostalgic, because it was my first and I’m inordinately proud of my effort despite knowing that it isn’t what it needs to be.

If there’s anything that first story has taught me, a neat concept is nothing without proper execution and characters the reader cares about. You need to have the whole package. If you don’t, it’s time to go back to the drawing board or set the story aside.

Having writing a half-dozen stories since then and started a handful more, I can see the improvements in mechanics, storytelling, character development – nearly all aspects needed for a successful short story – that I’ve made in my craft. It’s time to move on.

As Orson Scott Card says in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy:
[Y]ou should send out, today, the best work you are capable of doing today. Of course you’ll do better a year from now. But a year from now you should be writing the story that you care about and believe in at that time – not reworking this year’s story. […] Because the more you fiddle with your story, rewriting this paragraph or that one, the more likely you are to make it worse. There are things you instinctively do when the story is in its first rush out of your head that are truer and better than anything you’ll come up with as you second-guess, revise, intellectualize. (2001 edition, page 105).
Learning to let go is HARD. As writers we store up everything we experience -- emotions, factoids, ideas – and then slowly mete them out as we write. But to purposefully abandon something? It can go against our very nature. The trick is knowing when to set a story aside, and for how long.

In When Do You Trunk a Story? SF author Juliette Wade explores different reasons for trunking a story: no market for it, it isn’t good enough, it isn’t your first priority, and so on. In When do you walk away? And how do you know when to come back?, Wade talks about what happens when a trunked story calls out for your attention despite the passage of time.

I do think time and experience can do wonders, not only in improving your craft, but honing your ability to see how stories work. Or what Martina from Adventures in Children’s Publishing calls identifying “What Isn’t On the Page”:
I wonder if that's the difference between rewriting that first manuscript twenty times and writing ten new manuscripts? We can stare at the page and edit it until every word is different, but that doesn't necessarily show us what we're missing. […] If we're hitting a wall with a particular story, it may not be because of what's on the page. It may be what isn't there. We may not be able to see that without a long cooling off period. […] Sometimes, it's time to move on, to let ourselves discover a new world populated with compelling characters and untapped possibilities. Maybe we need to consider that a gift we can give ourselves--the gift of moving forward. But before we give up, we owe it to ourselves to sit back, look at the page, and consider what isn't there.
And I suspect, if you can't answer that question, it's time to move on.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interview with the Editors of Crossed Genres Publications

Today, I am pleased to bring you an interview with Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib, co-publishers and founders of Crossed Genres Publications. Kay and Bart are also founders and contributing writers to the excellent and informative Science in My Fiction blog.

After they accepted my story “The Tradeoff” for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology, I thought this interview would be a good opportunity to learn how the anthology came about, what the editorial life entails, and what’s next for Crossed Genres Publications.

So let’s get started.

What was the inspiration behind the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology?

Crossed Genres has always been a publisher that supports underrepresented groups. Fat women have always been hidden in literature and film, or represented as examples of what not to be. We wanted to show some of the ways in which fat women are ostracized, and shoehorned into stereotypes, and display some of the mental and emotional consequences of those stereotypes. We also wanted to prove that fat women can be proud of who they are, and are deserving of their own stories.

“Fat”, “girl”, “strange”, and “land”… Why this combination of words? Why now?

The title as a whole is a play on Heinlein's famous novel Stranger in a Strange Land. A few years ago Kay started a series of short stories which were collectively titled Fat Girl in a Strange Land. When the time came to title the anthology we appropriated the title. "Fat" is a term almost always used as an insult, so we're using it to shift the power it has into the hands of those it would insult; similarly, "girl" is a condescending term for a woman. And the "strange land" in this context is more literal, since all the stories involve the main characters traveling to places they've never been (sometimes metaphorically).

I know when I first came across the call for this anthology and then tried to come up with overweight female protagonists in the speculative realm, I drew a blank. And I wanted to change that. Fellow antho author Sabrina Vourvoulias has an excellent post on this invisibility in Unabashed Fat on her blog. What do you hope this anthology achieves for the genre? For readers?

When was the last time you saw a woman on the cover of a spec fic book who wasn't either 1) skinny, or 2) cartoonishly fat to the point of absurdity? Women main characters are rare enough, let alone overweight ones. If a young girl who is overweight can't find a single story of futuristic fiction with an overweight woman, is she to assume that people like her don't exist in the future? How would that girl react? We want fat girls – and women – to read Fat Girl in a Strange Land and see themselves reflected in the struggles of the characters.

Now, in addition to working together on Crossed Genres Publications, you are married in real life. How does your real life partnership inform your literary one? Are there editorial duties that one of you is naturally more comfortable handling than the other? How do you decide who does what?

We don't always co-edit every book we publish; for example, Kay edited our two novel publications, RJ Astruc's A Festival of Skeletons and Kelly Jennings' Broken Slate, while Bart edited our new anthology Subversion: Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales of Challenging the Norm. When we co-edit we split the actual editing evenly.

The rest of the publishing responsibilities – art editing, book production, publicity, etc. – gets split up, often according to our strengths. Kay is a talented artist with art history experience, so she does most of the art editing work; Bart handles most of the distribution and publicity. It can vary somewhat by project, or depending on who has more time available. ;)

What is your best advice for writers out there given your editorial experience?

1. Follow the guidelines. You would not believe how many people get rejections because they didn't. Read them, put your submission together, then before you hit Send, read them again. Don't give the editors reasons to reject you before they've even looked at your story.

2. Put together a good query letter. Study the subject, look at examples, even take a class just for querying. Yes, your writing should speak for itself, but if an editor sees a sloppy email, why should they assume your writing is handled with any greater care? A query is the first thing an editor sees – make sure it isn't the last.

3. Accept your rejections. Everyone gets rejected – everyone. Heinlein was rejected for 2 solid years before he got his first acceptance. Dr. Seuss was on the verge of burning his only copy of his first book, And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street, after getting rejected 27 times. A rejection does not mean your writing is bad. There are lots of reasons to be rejected, and the only thing you can do is revisit the story, make some changes, and send it right back out again.

4. Don't be afraid to be different! During those 27 rejections Dr. Seuss received (mentioned above), one letter claimed "This is too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling." Seuss has gone on to sell millions of books in dozens of countries, winning Academy Awards, Emmys, the Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody award along the way. Regardless of what some people think, readers really do want to read new and unique stories.

You recently discontinued Crossed Genres Magazine to focus your efforts on speculative fiction anthologies like Fat Girl in a Strange Land and novels, including INK by Sabrina Vourvoulias out later this year. How is this change helping Crossed Genres Publications move forward?

The primary change is really financial. We're taking the funds we were putting into the magazine and redirecting it to novels and anthologies, allowing us to pay a little better, and focus our resources on fewer annual projects.

The other real benefit is escaping the grind of publishing something new every month. We're very proud that we've never missed a publication date in 3 years of the zine, but it's definitely worn on us. The last CG Magazine publication (Quarterly 4) was released on January 1, and we're really looking forward to narrowing our focus to 4-5 publications per year. By comparison, Fat Girl in a Strange Land will be our 9th publication in the past 14 months.

What’s on the horizon for Crossed Genres Publications? Any plans for additional anthologies right now?

At the moment our publication schedule is set through the end of 2012. In February there's Fat Girl in a Strange Land. In July we'll be releasing a collection of short stories by author Daniel José Older, who we've published a couple short stories from already. And in September we'll be publishing INK, a novel by PA author Sabrina Vourvoulias. It's possible we may add another title we have in mind for the end of 2012 (November or December), but at the moment it's more likely that that project will be published in early 2013.

We're still accepting novel submissions! And don't be surprised to see another submission call for a new anthology in the near future!

EDIT: That new anthology submission call is for Menial: Skilled Labor in SF due by May 31st, so put your thinking caps on!

Thanks again to Kay and Bart for participating in this interview!

Follow them on Twitter for new developments in science, social justice, and of course information about Crossed Genres Publications. Or get to know them through their personal websites:

Kay T. Holt is @sandykidd on twitter and blogs at

Bart R. Leib is @metafrantic on twitter and blogs at

Crossed Genres Publications ( and @crossedgenres on twitter

Science in My Fiction blog ( and @SciInMyFi on twitter


Fat Girl in a Strange Land is now available in print from Amazon and Createspace, as well as ebook formats.

Book Description:
“For every supermodel, there are thousands of women who have heard “Why don’t you just eat less?” far too often. Except as comic relief or the unattractive single BFF, those women’s stories are never told. Crossed Genres Publications presents Fat Girl in a Strange Land, an anthology of fourteen stories of fat women protagonists traveling distant and undiscovered realms.

From Guatemala, where a woman dreams of becoming La Gorda, the first female luchador, before discovering a greater calling in “La Gorda and the City of Silver”; to the big city in the US, where superhero Flux refuses to don spandex in order to join her new team in “Nemesis”; to the remote planet Sidquiel in “Survivor”, where student Wen survives a crash landing, only to face death from the rising sun. Fat Girl in a Strange Land takes its characters – and its readers – places they’ve never been.”
Order today!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Story behind the Story – Fat Girl in a Strange Land Edition

When I saw the call for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology for Crossed Genres Publications, I knew I wanted to submit a story. When I see specific calls for anthologies or special issues of magazines, it can take me a while to warm up to the occasionally bizarre ideas editors are looking for. But not this time.

So the next question became, how to do this call justice? There were two required elements: a fat, female protagonist and some sort of journey to a strange land (however conceived). The fat part I had no problem with. Though I am not considered overweight myself, many members in my extended family have dealt with obesity and other weight-related issues. So my familiarity the situations they’ve faced along with my experiences with the societal pressures any woman feels, I felt reasonably confident I could create a fat character and treat her with respect.

The “strange land” part was trickier. What kind of story could I tell? It was going to be science fiction, I knew that much. Which means future. And when I think future, I honestly don’t think of fat. Because in the shiny future, we will have figured out all the nutritional and emotional and genetic triggers that make us fat and everyone will be healthy and beautiful and live forever… Well, at least I hope that’s how it goes. So the question then for me was why would people need to be fat the future? There had to be some benefit to being fat.

Fat is essentially stored energy. What if the people in my story needed an abundance of stored energy to do something? That became: what if they needed it for a mission they were going on? And of course, it had to be a mission to a “strange land.” A-ha. My character would be leading a terraforming mission to an icy, uninhabited planet, and the fat was necessary to not only keep her team warm but to also give them the energy they needed to work near constantly to keep the mission on schedule.

Now I had a story. The only problem was I didn’t know anything about terraforming. So I started with Wikipedia’s article on terraforming and worked my way out to other sources. I spent a lot of time learning about Mars since so many people, scientists and futurists alike, have thought about ways we could transform it into a planet that could support life. And the ideas to do so left me scratching my head. The best science-lite overview came from “How Terraforming Mars Will Work” at HowStuffWorks. Basically there are three methods:
  • Large orbital mirrors that will reflect sunlight and heat the Mars surface.
  • Smashing ammonia-heavy asteroids into the planet to raise the greenhouse gas level.
  • Greenhouse gas-producing factories to trap solar radiation.
The scope of the first two methods was so overwhelming, I was uncomfortable using them. How could I keep this a story about a small team of people when they are building these massive mirrors or flinging asteroids (!) into planets? Plus the level of technical and scientific details made me nervous since I definitely don’t have a degree in astrophysics. The third one was most plausible, but I kept thinking how all three of these methods relied on introducing energy to the planet either via the sun or through asteroidal impact, not using the planet itself as a source of energy. Why not heat the planet up from the inside out instead of outside in?

We all know about the power of greenhouse gasses. But even without our meddling, the earth would still produce CFCs and other gasses that heat up the atmosphere through natural processes like volcanic eruptions. And we get volcanoes and earthquakes along fault lines where tectonic plates rub up against one another.But although this is all well and fine for Earth, what about other planets? Did they have plate tectonics?

Turns out they do (Plate Tectonics Determine Life on Other Planets and Plate tectonics on a planet far, far away), which was enough evidence for me to make my story’s team terraform the planet by inducing seismicity, culminating in volcanic eruptions that would belch greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and ensure eventual warming of the planet. See Climatic Effects of Volcanic Eruptions and Volcanic Gasses and Their Effects for more info. Science in my Fiction also provides a nice overview of volcanoes, tectonics, and other geological considerations when writing about other planets, which would have been really handy if it came out before I submitted my story :). Oh, and how does one induce seismicity? That’s the easy part. Just look at fracking.

The result is my story “The Tradeoff” in the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology that releases this Friday, February 17th.

There’s currently a GoodReads giveaway if you are interested in getting your hands on a copy of the anthology.

And stay tuned for next week, when I bring you an interview with anthology editors Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writerly Types to Avoid

We writers can be a persnickety bunch.

We can be very particular about where we write, how we write, what time of day we write etc. Idiosyncratic? Check. Introverted? Most likely. Let’s just say that our characters are usually more eloquent than we are. Put us in a group of other writers, and you never know what could happen.

In my search for local writing peers, I’ve found some wonderful people. I’ve also become acquainted with more than a few duds. Below are some general characteristics of writerly types to avoid and ways to deal if you find yourself stuck in a writing group with them.

The Fragile Newbie

This is a person incapable of seeing that criticism of their work is not an attack on their person. Usually, this is a sign of a writer who is not ready to share their work with others. They can get defensive, argumentative, or retaliate by being unnecessarily harsh on the work of those who critique them. Sometimes they may even burst into tears – very awkward when meeting in public places. In some cases, the Fragile Newbie may do none of these things, but retreat into themselves and never attend another meeting.

How to deal: Since these are writers relatively new to critique, it’s important to establish the group’s ground rules and expectations up front. Emphasize the need for constructive criticism and ensure you work with other members to create a supportive environment. It may take a few sessions for the Newbie to feel comfortable, but give it time. Everyone was a noob at one point, and you don’t want to be responsible for chasing someone off. That said, there are folks who just don’t thrive in a writing group environment. Then there are people who may never be able to handle criticism. In those cases, you may need to ask those people to leave. It may be awkward, but your group will thank you.

The Me-Me-Me Memoirist

Not all memoirists are evil, but there are a lot of people out there who reach a certain point and decide they’ve lived a life worth telling everyone about. Usually they’re wrong, and they waste valuable time in group sharing trite or pedestrian stories that have no literary value. Responses to criticism are invariably, “Well, this is how it happened” or “But it happened to me” and there’s no way you can argue with them that their story is too slow or confusing or whatever. Tears can also be an unfortunate side effect, especially for people using writing as therapy.

How to deal: If you’re in a group that allows for all kinds of writing, you're pretty much stuck. But you can suggest that if a memoirist is too close to their story, it may not be the right time for them to be seeking critique for that particular project. Sometimes memoirists join a writing group, not with the goal of publishing their life story, but sharing it with their grandkids or extended family. In this case, you need to decide if your group is geared towards “writing for fun” or “writing with the goal of publication” and choose members accordingly.

The Chronic Mess

Life happens, and it is impractical to expect every member of your group to always send in their work right when it’s due, to always be punctual at meetings, or to always read every manuscript ahead of time. No one is perfect. That said, there are those writers out there who consistently and chronically miss deadlines and shirk reading and critiquing other people’s work. They may have the best of intentions, they may be the nicest people on earth, but you cannot rely on them.

How to deal: This is really a question of how your group is structured. Do you have a group with a bunch of Type As and one Type B? Then this group may not be the best fit for your Chronic Mess member. Or is your group a bit more unstructured, allowing for lapses every now and again? Then you need to decide if the person just needs a gentle reminder to get their sh*t together or if there’s something more fundamental at work.

Remember, some members will get swamped occasionally, especially if jobs and families are in the equation. Sometimes spreading out meetings or voluntary breaks are the answer. Sometimes not. If your Chronic Mess sticks around, I suggest putting in only as much effort reviewing their work as they do for you. Hopefully they’ll get the message.

The Uber Critic

This is someone who almost never has anything good to say about anyone’s work. They have probably never heard about the criticism sandwich or if they have, they decline to use it because they think they are that bada$$. I’ve personally dealt with two types of these: the Craft Junkie and the Genre Nazi. The Craft Junkie is someone who can’t tolerate work that is at all experimental or uses techniques that aren’t covered in a chapter of a craft book somewhere. The Genre Nazi is someone who has read every book under the sun in your particular area and feels like they are entitled to take you to task for how well you adhere to genre conventions. They also say things like “Well, so-and-so already did [subject] so why are you bothering with this?”

How to deal: You smile, nod, and move on. But you should also try to look past how the criticism is delivered to see if there’s anything of value buried under the bluster. Maybe you do need to tighten up your POV or reconsider the way you handled x in your manuscript. Maybe you should factor in books dealing with your subject matter, and remind yourself that not all genre conventions should be broken. The Uber Critic can be harsh, yes, but better you hear it now then when you book is sent into the cruel real world.

The Micro Editor

Otherwise known as a Grammar Nazi, this is someone, usually with a background in journalism or technical writing, who cannot get past the minutiae of dangling participles and who/whom and various forms of comma abuse. Your work comes back to you bleeding from all the grammar gaffes they’ve uncovered, but there’s virtually no commentary on your story’s mechanics. They say things like “I just couldn’t get past all the mistakes” when pressed to comment on your work.

How to deal: Your goal should always be to send in your best work. But not all of us have perfect grammar, mistakes will be made yada yada. If you know your work is rough, say so when sharing it with the group, specifying the high-level comments you’re interested in getting back. If you meet in person, try to keep commentary on the story itself, not copyedits. I was in a meeting once where an ex-journalist wanted to go through someone’s story line-by-line. Not an effective use of group time.

The Monopolizer

This is the person who takes takes takes in group. Getting feedback on their work is the Monopolizer’s only concern, no matter who’s turn it is. They say things like, “This reminds me of a story I wrote where…” or capitalize on any lull in the conversation to bring it back to their work. Ugg. I’ve seen this in newer writers who still haven’t realized how generous you have to be to take the time to critique other people’s work. I’ve also seen other writers so full of themselves that they think they are the best and therefore deserve to command the group’s attention at all times.

How to deal: Personally, I’d say you need to avoid the Monopolizer at all costs. Writing is hard enough without having to deal with egos or someone who can’t play nice in a group. But if that’s not possible, set boundaries. Limit the time spent on each piece in meetings, keep extraneous conversation to a minimum. Find someone in the group willing to keep the conversation moving and cut off talk that’s not productive.

Talks-the-Loudest, -Longest

This is someone who maybe can’t always handle criticism or gets defensive when the spotlight is on their work. They aren’t used to being wrong, and therefore spend a lot of time justifying their work or explaining the choices they made. I think they just like to hear themselves talk. I’ve encountered this in primarily older males (sorry guys) with backgrounds in business or law, where talking a lot is apparently how you succeed. Often exhibits traits of the Monopolizer as well.

How to deal: This is tough depending on how much personal courtesy you are willing to extend, what other group dynamics are at play. If someone is constantly defending their creative choices, maybe move to the Milford model of criticism where the writer must remain silent as the others comment on their work. Or, as with the Monopolizer, get in the habit of limiting extraneous talk.

Horace Slughorn

For the Potterheads out there, this person needs no introduction, but for the rest of you, a Horace Slughorn is someone who collects (younger) writing group members, ostensibly to share their greater wisdom with the group, but really the arrangement is to make them feel better about themselves. Think Twisted Mentor. Slughorns may actually have talent and/or wisdom but they take over a group instead of just participate in them. And they play favorites.

How to deal: Do you want a mentor who could help you get better, but is more interested in feeling needed by you? My advice is to run away. If that’s not possible, get what you can out of the arrangement, but do not feed the Slughorn’s ego if at all possible. Publishing is changing every day, and the “wisdom” that they’re peddling may already be out of date.

Literary Snobs and Genre Addicts

Two sides of the same coin. The folks who turn their nose up at anything that’s not literary, and those who won’t read anything that doesn’t come in a mass market paperback. And they use it as an excuse when critiquing. “Well, I only write genre fiction so I can’t really comment on literary stuff” or “How dare you pollute my mind with this drivel—I only read the classics” and so on. These people are so small minded they forget that story and character are the foundation of any work, regardless of trappings.

How to deal: Decide if you want people skewed to more genre or literary writing. If you have both, make sure everyone understands what that means in terms of critiquing. Pissing matches as to which is better do you no good. If members cannot keep an open mind when critiquing, they’ll need to take it somewhere else.

The Cheerleader

Writing is tough, so it’s always nice to know when aspects of your story are appreciated by others. Right? Well, yes. But what if someone only said nice things about everything you wrote? Either you have someone who cannot be impartial in critiquing your work or it’s someone who is unwilling to be honest with you. In the first case, maybe they really do like your work. Or maybe your skill (despite any flaws) far outpaces their abilities, and they can’t help but be complimentary. In the second case, the writer is not confident in their own writing ability and is therefore unwilling to be overly critical of others.

How to deal: A lot of this depends on what your current critique needs are. Are you interested in having a safe, supportive environment for sharing your work? Are you relatively new to critique and are trying to ease into it? The Cheerleader can be a good person to have on your side. However, at some point, you are going to need brutal honesty in order to revise your work to get it up to publishing standards. Then you will either need to find a new group or keep the Cheerleader on the back burner for when you need a pick-me-up.

The Ignorant Puppy

In my post The Critique Mindset last fall, I talked about the different phases we writers go through when finally taking that step and deciding it’s time to exchange your work with writing peers. There’s excitement, terror, over-compensation as we step out of our writing caves and interact with others. We can be all over the place in terms of enthusiasm and rigor and sometimes make mistakes in our zeal as we flail about. That’s the Ignorant Puppy – a person with lots of excitement to be in a critique group, but all that undirected energy can lead to social gaffes and ridiculous statements the writer says out of ignorance or to show they are at the same level as the other writers. Usually a sign of immaturity or insecurity.

How to deal: We were all here at one point in our writing journey, desperate for attention and unsure how to go about getting it. And all that annoying behavior is because they are so excited to be sharing their work with you. You don’t kick puppies, you take them firmly by the leash and lead by example. Over time, they’ll get it. If not, you probably have another writerly type on your hands.


Have you ever encountered writers like this in your writing group? How did you manage them?

We all have to sacrifice a lot to take the time to write, so it follows that you share your work with people who respect that sacrifice. The worst is when you feel like you have no alternative than to be in a group with the folks listed above. But there are always other opportunities – you just need to be strong enough to seek them out and selfish enough not to settle for a less-than-ideal situation.

And remember, personal attacks or plagiarism are never ok.

Happy writing.

Friday, February 3, 2012


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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