Placeholders! How many do you have?

Hey everyone!

12 days until Stolen Nights is released! Hooray!!!

Now, onward! To the blog post, friends!

So, you might be wondering what I was blogging about on Miss Literati this week.Here’s a link in case you missed it or in case you weren’t thinking about it:

This blog post is a continuation of that discussion on gesture. Specifically, for Miss Literati, I blogged about the importance of smiles and the need for specificity when a character smiles.

I am finishing up revisions before I hand in the last and final book of the Vampire Queen series to my editor (*cries*). She hasn’t seen it yet so I am painstakingly trying to make it awesome before it goes onto her desk.

One of the ways that I drive myself bonkers before I pass in a draft to my editor is do “word searches” within my work in progress. Most of the time while doing this, I post on my personal Facebook page embarrassing facts like: I used the word “looked” 151 times in this draft of my manuscript. This is 100% true, I really did use “looked” 151 times in this draft of the third book. I am working on fixing these now.

When I draft I can’t worry all the time about the overuse of words, etc. I have to get through the scene. That’s what matters. I write through the scenes and then go back and look for places where not only the prose is lacking but the emotional impact of the scene is missing or convoluted. How do I find those places? Placeholders! More on what these are in a minute.

Here’s how I draft in order of what I think is most important:

1. Get your characters through the scene, get them where they need to go. Finish that damn scene, you!

2. Make sure the emotional reaction of your main character and her desire is clear in the moment.

3. Go back and make the writing as best as it can be.

We all wish we wrote perfect, lyrical prose every time we sat down and wrote a first draft. Hey, sometimes it happens. Not often, but sometimes. So, I have a list of words when I am revising that show me where the “placeholders” are in my manuscript. As I defined on Miss Literati, placeholders are moments within your manuscript that lack real emotional depth. They “hold the place” of the emotional moment so that we, the awesome writers, can revise later and deepen.

So let’s go back to the 150 instances of “looked” that I had in my current WIP. If a character is “looking at something” you spend half of the sentence imagining the main character looking at the object versus seeing what she is looking at directly. You step out of her body and in essence, out of the scene. I don’t think “looked” is bad all the time or even ineffective, sometimes you need it. When you have the opportunity you should show the reader exactly what it is the character is looking at instead of telling us that she is looking at something first.

Ah, the old adage. Show, my friend. Don’t tell.

Here’s an example of something I just changed that I found in my manuscript by doing the word search, “I looked.”

Oooh a sneak peek into Book Three!!


My hands trembled so I balled them into fists. I looked to the rows behind me, expecting something or someone to materialize.


My hands trembled so I balled them into fists. Row by row, I expected something or someone to materialize between the gaps in the trees. A hand could curl around the bark followed by a body, and that person, whoever he was might want to hurt me. Or worse, kill me.

I got all of that from the expression “I looked.” It’s a big placeholder for me. I wonder if it might be for you too? I had to ask myself here, what is Lenah seeing? What is she feeling? How can I show this without telling? Maybe I’ll go back and revise this part some more but for now, this is a big step up, at least in my opinion.

So what are some words you can look for that might be clues to placeholders? Here’s my personal list. Really. It’s a list I have on a piece of owl paper that I keep next to my desk.


In case you can’t see the words clearly, here is the list in NO particular order:

1. “I saw”

2. Gasp.

3. Looked – (I cry. 150 times!!!! Revise, revise, revise)

4. I felt – I would argue that you should never have this expression in your manuscript if you can help it. Seriously. It’s VERY VERY BAD for distancing your reader from your scene.

5. Start to

6. Turned

7. Adrenaline

8. Walked – In a draft of Stolen Nights, the copyeditor told me I had used the word “wallked” 200 times. 200!!!! See how important revision is!?

9. tiny

10. For a moment

11. Replied

12. Sashay (no idea why or how this is an overused word for me)

13. Beautiful – another word, which I believe needs tons of context. Calling something “beautiful” adds nothing specific to a scene. Beauty needs context much like smiles need context. What makes something beautiful is different to everyone.

14. Eyes met – (oy vey!)

15. Then

16. Smiles, hearts fluttering, pounding, etc.

17. Just

Hope this has been helpful to you. Oh, yea, and Infinite Days is 2.99 as an e-book right now. Sooooooo…yea. Buy it!

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