I’ll bet that if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month, you’ve probably ran into this snag at one point or another:
Your protagonist, Steve, is merrily driving down the highway. Except you can’t let him remain merry for very long, can you? You must throw in some conflict, lest the plot gets stale. So there’s a popping noise, and Steve, careful driver that he is, slowly pulls over to the side of the road. And it’s a good thing he does, because as soon as he gets there, his car dies.
He looks in the direction he was headed, and then back in the direction that he came. The road stretches on for miles in both directions. There are no cars or buildings in sight.
“Better see what’s up,” Steve says to himself, and steps out of the car. When he pops the hood, an oily black smoke shoots out and engulfs his face.
“Aww, crap,” he says inbetween coughs, “Its’ the -”
You stop typing. But what is it? You don’t even know how to change a windshield wiper, let alone what would make an engine emit a cloud of black smoke.
Your mouse hovers over the Google widget on your desktop. You know you shouldn’t stop writing, but how can you continue when you don’t even know what you’re writing about?
Ladies and gentlemen, it IS possible to get past these points of un-knowledge by simply using something I’ll call a search marker.
A search marker is something you type into your manuscript that you can easily find later using your word processor’s search feature. Writers can use them to mark spots to come back to for future research.
It might feel more secure to do research whenever situations like the above one with Steve occur, but there’s always the possibility, if not probability, that you will overkill the research in order to avoid writing, or that you’ll get off topic and the next thing you know, it’s ten hours later and you’ve watched every episode of Cinema Sins.
This is detrimental in any situation where you need to write, let alone during NaNoWriMo where you’re scrambling to just get the words down on the page.
The Best Search Marker
Some writers will use a specific word, like ‘check’ or ‘edit’…. But the problem with using existing words is that they might occur in your manuscript organically. You can waste valuable time during the editing phase trying to figure out if what the search turns up is a search marker, or just an organic occurrence.
The best search marker I’ve used is the two letters ‘tk’. That’s because ‘tk’ is a letter sequence that does not occur naturally in English.
How to use search markers
Whenever you come to a spot you want to mark for future research, simply type TK, then in parentheses afterword, a short description of the information needed.
Then move on to the rest of the plot.
Example: TK (figure out which car part is broken).
During revision, simply search for TK using whatever search tool your word processor offers. If you’re using word, it’s the ‘find’ function under the home tab. This will bring up a list of every instance of ‘TK’ in your document, plus the following sentence (this is why it’s nice to have the description of the research in parentheses). All you have to do is click on one, and it will take you to that part of the manuscript.
Pretty neat, huh?
Now, what are you waiting for? Write!
Want more? Check out our other great NaNoWriMo posts!