Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Placeholders!! Part Deux

Oh placeholders, you tricky devils. I'€™ve been doing some deeper thinking about my newest show don'€™t tell revision technique. Maybe word-searching for placeholders isn’t just about overused words in my manuscript. As I revise, I think it might actually be bigger than just “my manuscripts aren't visceral or immediate enough.” And bigger than "€œI need to show more instead of tell."
(Sips coffee)
Words like, "looks," "€œfeels," "€œwalks to,"€ etc, are distancing, they take your reader out of the immediacy of the moment by not showing the reader what the character is experiencing directly. We'€™ve all heard that before: show don’t tell. You can actually read my first post on placeholders here:

It'€™s my sneaking suspicion that the placeholder doesn'€™t only distance your language and lengthen psychic distance (that’s just a fancy term for how close we feel as readers to the events and actions of the story) as Gardner coined in his book, The Art of Fiction. The placeholder might actually be standing in for an emotional moment within the manuscript.

Before I go on to an example, let me say this one caveat:

I recognize that when you are drafting, if you spend too much time refining language, you might turn on your inner censor. NO ONE wants that grouch to come to work with you. This inner editor can potentially stop you from writing from Robert Olen Butler's "€œwhite-hot center," or the unconscious where the truly great art is created. So I would say, maybe refrain from trying this tactic until a third draft. Try this when you'€™ve done enough drafts where you know the manuscript is almost submittable but something isn't quite right with your work.

So let's say, you're at revision two or three. Let'€™s say your book is great but certain scenes lack emotional punch. Maybe you hear from your writer'€™s group or editor that he or she just can'€™t connect to the main character. Here's where I think the placeholder can help you dig deep and find out what you really wanted to say in the moment.

Le Technique:
 1. Make a list of placeholders. 

2. Go to the sentences. Go micro. What I am finding is that the sentences are really where the macro issues are hiding. To get to the big, you have to look at the small. Look to the construction of your sentences within key scenes.

3. Do you have some placeholders in one chunk of text? What is happening in that chunk of text? Could it be…a scene?

4. Now that you’ve identified a core scene, ask yourself: is the scene actually scene? Is it summary? If it's summary and the emotional moment is not happening in real time, then ask yourself why, and consider if you’ve purposefully distanced yourself from the moment because you are protecting your characters.

If it's summarization perhaps in the form of endless questions, backstory, or too much inner thought, this is a clue you are NOT connected to your main character and his or her conflict. My suggestion is to not only revise the placeholders to make the scene more immediate and to ensure you are showing and not telling, but to actually see if the placeholders are a clue that you've missed a major emotional moment in your scene.

So maybe, placeholders are the you inside the manuscript telling the you writing the damn thing that you haven't done enough with these characters. You owe them more! This is where you can break out the toolbox you'€™ve built as a writer and employ: imagery, objective correlative, inner thought dialogue, etc, etc, to make the scenes reveal even more about your characters.

So how about a totally embarrassing example of crappy, telling, distanced language from my newest WIP!? Sure thing. This is a first draft and I probably shouldn’t even be thinking about placeholders, but I digress…

Here is an example in my current untitled WIP. So, my main character Penny has just gotten out of a car. The whole town has been taken over by lightning bugs.  The section that I have italicized is the section under scrutiny!!

I extended a hand and a few lightning bugs landed on my fingers. The rest protected the tree and there, where the car had hit weeks ago were two words carved into the blackened bark. Because the tree was healing, the fresh bark was lighter, a sandy color. The words stood out with the fresh bark underneath.
I backed away and joined my parents and some neighbors on the street. The lightning bugs swarmed over the words, hiding them.

"It must be from the warm weather,"€ Dad reasoned.
"I'™m calling the news,"€ a neighbor said and walked back to her house. I got back into the car without looking back at that tree. Give in. Give in to what? That he was dead? That Kyle wondered why he didn't say I love you but that he said it to me every five minutes? What was I supposed to give in to? That my mother was a drunk and my father just ignored it so he could stay in his cocoon of false happiness? I crossed my arms . Mom and Dad joined me. We continued onto the End of Summer Gala. 

1. Do a placeholder search. Once you find an overabundance of one or many placeholders in one particular scene, read through that scene. Does it lack energy or emotional punch? 

Okay so I've identified that this scene. This moment doesn't feel very emotional. It isn'€™t hitting the emotional note that I want.

2. So is this scene mostly scene or is it summary?
Geez, most of it is summary now that I really look at the emotional reaction. Wow, there are like 40 questions that the characters asks herself. Ack, why am I doing that? Where is the emotion? Where is the scene? Holy Baloney. All of those questions contain absolutely no subtext. Each one is so completely on the nose that my character is not experiencing anything emotional that my reader can feel. She is telling us how to feel. EW!

3. Go to the sentences.
"I'™m calling the news,” a neighbor said and walked back to her house. I got back into the car without looking back at that tree.

In those two sentences, I have "walk" and "look" back-to-back. Sure, you need those words sometimes and occasionally look and walk, when they are verbs, are necessary. But they have no relevance in a placeholder scene. So make sure what you are editing is indeed a placeholder scene.

4. Does my character have an emotional reaction in this moment? What is that emotional reaction?
"I'm calling the news,"€ a neighbor said and walked back to her house. I got back into the car without looking back at that tree.

Not only does Penny not have an emotional reaction, she just gets into the car without looking at the tree. So what is actually in scene here, is the neighbor speaking and then my main character getting back into the car. Oh yes, Rebecca, that's so emotional. I bet as she bent her leg to get back into the car, you reader just broke into hysterical cries and wept.

Or not (cheese sandwich, VCFA).

I need to get rid of "look"and "walk" and try to find out what my character is actually feeling here. Horror? Anger? She's just seen a tree covered in lightning bugs and when she went up to touch the lightning bugs, THEY MOVED FOR HER.

What I need to do is remove those words, find the emotion I am looking for, and bring it into scene. I also need to delete all those heinous "€œon the nose"€ questions. This way, my character can experience true horror and disbelief simultaneously with my reader.

That revising part is the hard part.

I will revise this scene and post it on the blog in a day or two. My brain is on snooze at the moment.

I'm probably missing a whole mess of important things I should be talking about but this is at least helping me to identify the consistent and overuse of language in my manuscript. I can'€™t help but think there is a bigger reason why we keep using words like "looks,"€ "feels,"€ etc, other than lazy writing. Sometimes we'€™re quite convinced we've written a very emotional scene and are surprised to find that it's not. Maybe this will help you. I hope it does.

Updated Placeholder list:
  • Like
  • Just
  • Smiled
  • Sighed
  • As if
  • Remember (any time a character says, "€œI remember the time…" and it's not in dialogue, almost always we've got telling instead of showing.
  • Feel
  • Hear
  • See
  • Glance
  • Think
  • Look
  • Watch
  • "I taste," "I smell."
  • Notice
  • Then
  • Suddenly
  • Adverbs in general
  • Double verb "starting to, began to"

Placeholders!! Part Deux

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guest Post by the fabulous Sarah Freeman

My friend Sarah is in Rome presently, which means I don’t like her very much right now. She has a fabulous blog in which she posts photos of beautiful architecture, decadent food, and beautiful Italian streets. Well, she also posted a photo of a scorpion but I blocked that out.

She went to a wine tasting class today. Yea, a class where she sat around and tasted Italian wine. You can feel free to secretly loathe Sarah too.

But we must commend Sarah for her commitment to the cause. The Rebecca Maizel Is Published in Italy cause. She went on an adventure in which she searched out the Italian version of Infinite Days and Stolen Nights.

Below is what transpired…oy vey.

Language Barriers, Accidental Adult, and Best Selling Author Rebecca Maizel

Here is the original post. You should probably follow her blog as it’s awesomesauce.

By the age range of the majority, a good 60%, of you followers, at least, I am going to go out on a limb here and say you are PRETTY familiar with author Rebecca Maizel and her trilogy starting with the book Infinite Days, and the second book Stolen Nights. Am I wrong? I know I’m not.

Well, SURPRISE FOR YOU she is actually a very dear friend of mine AND my mentor as a writer and also just a general human attempting adulthood. I know, I know, I roll with cool people, go ahead, be impressed, I still am every day.

Well, right along with all you little biddies at home, the Italians absolutely LOVE her work, here the first two books of the trilogy are called “Fragility” and “Eternity”.

So, before I left home to study abroad I told Rebecca that I would drop in a Roman book store at some point to see her books in Italian and take a couple pics. Surely, I thought, a simple task, as her books are best sellers here and therefore literally everywhere. Well, funny thing about finding something specific in a foreign city is that, if you do not speak the language, you really should take the time to figure out how to say EXACTLY what you are looking for BEFORE you go to find it…

One day during my first week here, I was walking through my neighborhood when I spotted what looked to me like an adorably quaint Roman book store. So without thinking twice about it I went in and began to casually browse for Rebecca’s books. As I strolled the aisles I did not recognize a single book name, though, as I previously mentioned about Rebecca’s books sometimes the name isn’t the same over here, so again, no second thought, I perused on.

As I took my sweet time, I noticed that the store clerk and the few other customers seemed somewhat humored by me. Maybe this was them being friendly, I thought to myself, or maybe they were just being stereotypical Italian men and preparing their flirtations in advance should I express an interest, or perhaps they were pleased and impressed to see me, an obvious American, shopping for Italian books. Oh how very, very wrong I was.

Having neglected to learn how to ASK for the books by Rebecca Maizel or simply even by name prior to this point, I maintained my determination to find them independently by pulling some books off of the shelves to look at them more closely, in hopes of recognizing the layout of genre categories throughout the store so that I might be able to narrow down my browsing parameters. It grew from a slight suspicion to an absolute realization quite rapidly. I had in fact misread the sign on the store door… this was not a book store… this was AN ADULT BOOK STORE. As in rhetorical porn. And actually, a couple picture books, I am sorry to say.

Naturally I left empty handed feeling, luckily, more amused than embarrassed. If nothing else, a story for you, my dears.

Soon enough after I did find Rebecca’s books in a NORMAL book store, though I have to admit I had learned and REHEARSED how to ask for them specifically in Italian before looking again (not that I actually had to because they were right up front!!!) and was able to send this picture to Rebecca.

Guest Post by the fabulous Sarah Freeman

Monday, February 11, 2013

GIVEAWAY #2! Why? Because I can!!!

Did you weep into your coffee because MANDY won the INFINITE DAYS and STOLEN NIGHTS giveaway? Did you go to Barnes and Noble with your head hanging and pay the 9 bucks? Did you sadly tap away on and purchase both books with your keyboard covered in your PAIN?

IF NOT (you should have) then you have a second chance to win a signed set of BOTH Infinite Days and Stolen Nights. They will have the faaannnncy new covers and will be signed by me. Whether or not my signature makes this a sweeter deal is up to you.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

GIVEAWAY #2! Why? Because I can!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



Mandy! You have won both copies of Infinite Days and Stolen Nights. Both books will be signed and both will have the fancy dancy new covers!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much to everyone who entered. Should I do another next week!? What do you think?

Happy Tuesday!!


Monday, January 28, 2013

STOLEN NIGHTS RELEASE 1/29!! Oh and a giveaway!

Soooo. Stolen Nights comes out tomorrow. No big. OR IT TOTALLY IS.

Who thought this day would never come? PUT YOUR HANDS DOWN. Okay, okay…me too!

So in honor of this fabulous day:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

That’s right. There is already an awesome giveaway for this over at Why not do BOTH!? If you don’t win there you MIGHT win here and I am all about many, many options for free books.

By the way, I need to take a lovey-dovey moment to say a HUGE thank you to the many bloggers who have reviewed Stolen Nights and have participated in the blog tour. I can’t imagine how I would get the word out about my books without the book blogging community. So, thanks. I hope we won’t have to wait too long for Book Three.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now go to Barnes and Noble and tell everyone about Stolen Nights!

STOLEN NIGHTS RELEASE 1/29!! Oh and a giveaway!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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!

Placeholders! How many do you have?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Updates Updates!!

A few exciting things are happening! It’s January and you know what that means, don’t you? DON’T YOU? The horrendously long wait for Stolen Nights is over. Yes, I tell you. OVER! On January 29th Stolen Nights shall be available at bookstores near YOU. So far the response has been great but mostly I ignore all reviews as I am finishing last revisions on the final book in the trilogy. That and reviews tend to make me itchy.

But onto more awesome news. The wonderful Heidi Bennett, my friend and author has written a novel! And as you know, I have posted my query letter that ultimately led to a book deal on my blog before. I am a supporter of people getting their work out there no matter the cost so I asked Heidi to share her story. She wrote the fabulous (I read it in one night) Forever My Girl and e-published it herself. I went the more traditional route but sometimes, especially for readers who feel like that is Mt Everest and they want some other ideas, Heidi’s story is the reason for this blog. I hope you read her book. I hope her story inspires you to write your stories. Whether your publish the traditional route with queries or you e-pub yourself, your work is your art. That’s what you should be proud of every day you sit down at your desk, chair, stool, etc, etc.

Take it away, Heidi:

For as long as I remember, I’ve wanted to be an author. I always thought what a better way to spend a day than getting lost in your imagination. When I started writing my first manuscript, I had high hopes. Big dreams of what was to come. I went the “traditional” route. I queried and wait only to be rejected. Sadly, those didn’t pan out, but I didn’t want to give up.

What I did was surround myself with an outstanding team of beta readers and indie authors. I asked question after question and watched what other authors were doing. I lurked, stalked and took notes of how authors were promoting themselves. I learned so much in the matter of three months.

I approached author, Jillian Dodd, early in the conception of Forever My Girl, to get her take on publishing. I’ve worked with her on a few blog tours and became one of her pre-readers so I felt confident in asking her.

What I received in return has been so much more. Jillian has become a mentor and has guided, supported and helped me through this process, even putting her novel aside to help format mine.

The daily check-ins and reminders of what I’m supposed to be doing, what I should be signed up for and to just relax have literally been heaven sent.

Since Forever My Girl went live, I’ve been asked a lot of questions, which I gladly answer, but the one that keeps coming up is this if self-publishing for everyone? No, it’s not. It’s not easy as some would say. It’s a process. I recently told a marketing executive at one of the Big 6’s how much I envy the departments that surround her job. I had to do everything that ten or so other people would do for one author. I had to proof, email, copy, market, network, create – you name it, I did it, all while working a full-time job and raising two very busy daughters.

But at the end of the day when I loaded my final document into Amazon and Barnes & Noble and when I pressed publish on my paperback and saw that first sale, I realized it’s all been worth it.

A lot of people frowned when I said I was self-publishing. They reminded me that I won’t have a company to do all the work so I can write more, help me out in a bind, be there as a sounding board or have them to do all my marketing or create contests.

And they’re right, but what I do have is control. I own my work. I can promote myself any way I choose. I set my own deadlines. I have final say in my cover. And most importantly I have the team I created ready and willing to help me with my next novel.

Forever My Girl is available on Amazon Kindle and paperback, Nook and Kobo

Amazon links

US –

UK –

Barnes & Noble

Kobo –

Find Heidi online:



Updates Updates!!