Variable Input for Quick Modifications

As I was drafting a story today, I thought of a feature that might be pretty handy. It would be cool if we could identify certain words as “variables”, and bind those variables to specific terms. For examples, I want to name my main character “Alfred”, but I’m not 100% certain of it yet, so I assign Alfred to a variable. Then should I ever change my mind and change his name to Chris, all I need to do is update the variable and all the Alfreds across the whole project become Chris’.

This can also be helpful for when you’re doing long form drafting but don’t know what you want to name towns or people. You can put placeholder variables like [CHRIS HOME TOWN], and then swap them out later. What do you think? Would this be helpful to anyone else?


See attached.

Slàinte mhòr.

Replacements.pdf (184 KB)

It can also be done with Project Replace

I can’t resist to say this:

I used to do this back when I was still writing in Word, using a unique string for each central character. But in the end, I decided this was a bad idea. The name you give your character influences surprisingly much how you think about them and hence effects and supports your building-out of their character, even their speech patterns. Naming a character is one of the simplest and most pervasively powerful ways of establishing a character. Names are not just for the reader, but do work for you in the course of your writing and imagining your story. In short, you don’t really want to write fiction of any length with generic labels instead of character names. It would be like deciding to type with one hand behind your back!

So, if you go this route, I strongly suggest you do your best to decide on your names for real and then make your unique stand-ins be based on those actual names. Then find some quiet way to ensure uniqueness, for example, don’t flank them with dollar-signs however tempting that might be – you want them to read like names in your text, not like standins – so they can do their work for you in authoring. You also may need to bookend your names to ensure you don’t get false positives at Replace time. If your character’s nickname changes from ‘Alf’ to ‘Alfie’, you don’t want placeholders for his given name, ‘$Alfred’, getting changed to ‘Alfiered’. So, go with something like -Alfred- and -Alf- for your replaceable names.

Another thing I might add, based on my experience: it turns out to be a bit of work keeping track of all the placeholder names you have used, so you know what replacements you will need in the end. This is made harder by my just earlier suggestion of using dashes instead of a character you might not otherwise use like $ or ^. That is because you can’t in the end just quickly search for the odd character to recover what placeholders you used.


P.S. Not perhaps directly relevant, but another thing I cannot resist saying: Writing a novel is a lot about making decisions, so why not make this one upfront?? It is one of a million decisions you’ll have to make to make progress. In fact, keeping options open often works against you. I know a struggling writer who keeps her options open as she writes, preserving in different colored text varying ways of saying things and sometimes substantively different ways things might go in a chapter. Yiu will not be surprised that she has a hard time finishing anything. This is because her writing process consists in multiplying possibilities and never choosing between them. At so many choice points she chooses to postpone making a choice. End of lecture!

@GR, I appreciate your input. I do name most of my important characters, but there are a lot of people and a lot of places and not all of them have such important names.

Awesome! @Joro, thank you for sharing this. It was a feature I did not know about.

Welcome. Good luck with your work.

Slàinte mhòr.