Monday, August 2, 2010

Placeholder Names

I haven't really been working on my novel much lately. It's not because I have writer's block. I just decided to go back to my outline and change things a little to make the story more consistent. And when I looked over my outline, I came across something I learned awhile back but never blogged about.

So let's talk about character names.

When you write an outline for your novel, you describe scenes and the things that happen. You write about how your main character does this, then he chops off this guy's head, then he goes to have a tea party, etc... You write about many things that happen to the main character.

And your main character is important. Not only that, but all of your characters are important. And so each and every one of them has to have the perfect name for your novel. And what do you do? You spend weeks and weeks thinking of the perfect name. The name that absolutely fits your character's personality.

Let me tell you... this is a waste of time. You might think that you're making progress on your novel, but you're just being lazy. For example, in my novel, I have 6 or 7 important characters. And before I even started writing the novel, I wasted about 2 months looking up names for my characters. During those 2 months, I didn't make any progress on the story at all. And the story is the most important thing.

So don't make the same mistake as me. Focus on the story. But in the mean time, just use placeholder names for your characters. Placeholder names are just any old name you use for your characters. For example, just call your characters "John" or "Sarah" etc.... Any name would do. The point is to not waste time worrying about the names of your characters.

The only time you should worry about those names are when you're doing the final draft for your novel. Otherwise, it's just an excuse to be lazy (which I'm guilty of).

So that's my advice. Focus on the story, and not the character names. Just use a placeholder name in the mean time. Also, don't procrastinate.

By the way, for any future novels I might write, my placeholder name for my main character is going to be "main". Seriously, I'm just going to call him "main" while I write about him.

Happy writing to you all,
John Smith

P.S. - If you want to know the names I've come up with for my characters while I was being lazy, check out my "Works in Progress" tab.


  1. But be careful using "main" as a name! If you use Microsoft Word and you use the "find and replace" tool when you finally choose the right name, it will replace ANYWHERE you say "main." I've tried to change character names like that, and it is very frustrating to go through and fix every time it wasn't supposed to change.

  2. Each of us has to have a roadmap. I hope this works for you. But Liz has a valid point. Thanks for the email. I followed you as you requested. We struggling authors have to stick together.

  3. Hi John - how's your watch? Keep it safe you never know when you might need it.
    Thanks for stopping by and following.
    I think you were better off calling your characters Jake and Eva and the like - short and simple (typed in half the time of Christian) if you are planning to change them later.
    Good luck with your writing - keep at it.

  4. This doesn't work for me, because in my case the character name isn't just important -- it is a part of their personality. Without the name I don't feel I would get that deep connection and understanding of them that is necessary. If it works for you, though, go for it!

  5. To everyone... Thanks for the Find and Replace idea. It's going to be very useful.

    Jake and Eva are going to be their real names. They aren't placeholder names. I spent 2 months thinking of those names.

    I know that character names are important. I'm just saying that many writers procrastinate by spending weeks thinking of names instead of writing the book. I believe that as you write your books, your character personality will develop, and the names will come naturally... sometimes.

  6. I take about five seconds thinking up the names. If I get a better name then I change it.
    To me, Harry Potter is a really sucky name.
    BTW my MC in one of my books is Jake. Nice name :)

  7. My character names come to me pretty quickly partly because the characters are in my head pretty well fleshed out before I even start writing. It helps, too, that I kind of "collect" names. Sounds weird, but I shop around for interesting names, like when I read the credits at the end of movies. Names jump out at me. I think this is left over from having five kids (all the intensive name-searching). Now, it's just habit.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and following. I'm on your list now, too :)

  8. Names can be almost as fickle or frustrating as novel titles. My problem with some placeholder names is if I've used them enough it's almost hard to see the character with any other name. Replacing it becomes tough. The friend character in my YA for example, who will have more main character status in future books, is a name I want to change but I haven't been able to find a new name. He's been this name since 2007.

    Oh and hi. Thanks for following my blog and I'm happy to follow yours as well.

  9. I sort of agree with Ted. When i write a story the characters name is a vital part of who he or she is. An Isabella is going to act different than a Riley or a Lola. That being said i don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about the name. I pick one, start writing the story and if i find that the name stops working for that character I change the name to something i think works better.

  10. Hi...I found your blog by accident, but it looks like fun :)

    I would like to suggest "mainess" or "mainette" for girls names ;)

  11. Hey! Thanks for stopping by my blog and following it! I'm now following yours and what I've read so far is great! I always enjoy "meeting" fellow aspiring authors.

    I can't start writing something unless my MCs have names, but I agree with you that instead of spending valuable writing time trying to find the perfect name, it's important to start writing and find out who the character really is. :-)

  12. hello john. thanks for popping by my blog. i am now following you back. just read the above post and had to comment because i've been going through the same thing recently in my first real attempt to write an actual, organized novel. i spent days googling "unusual" names with really apt meanings for the characters...and then finally i decided to use placeholders. for example: the villain was called CL (for Charismatic Leader). i've since gone back and named him Anders, for no real reason except i met someone (in real life) named anders recently who had an evil look to him that seemed fitting.

    anyway.....all this to say that i'm very much looking fwd to following you, and have a lovely evening!

  13. Do you know what I do? I just write "NAME" in red. Then, when I come across another character who's name I don't feel like worrying about, I just add a number so I can keep track of them. "NAME", "NAME 1", "NAME 2", etc. I want to write a post about this...XD

  14. I completely use character name as an excuse to procrastinate. I've even justified it with just about every reason given above.

    Now, instead, I have a list of about 10 names and I just use those until I can think up better ones. So all of my stories, the main characters have the same names until I fix them.

  15. I think the more I read about your blog, the more I want to write. As if it's a competition.

    I might throw my journal down. And just work on the stories that I had waiting. I would need literature, but bah, that's nothing I should write about.

    Anywho, better than just posting you a comment, I think I'll follow you PLUS put you in my email directory.