0. Use only the Prince symbol for your main character.
What, too soon? Fiiiiine. Serious then.
One of the things that benefits the most from early intervention is consistency with respect to names (of people, places, things, magic systems, you name it). A great number of things can go wrong including residual ghost characters, introduction or violation of strange cultural quirks, too many scene locations, and overall reader confusion. All of that can originate because a quick find and replace failed you. There are ways to combat it though…
1. Make all uncertain character names into hashtags.
This is especially useful for when you don’t care yet to name them–when What they are in the story is more important than Who at that stage in writing. For example, your #secondarymomcharacter doesn’t need to be named yet because you may actually want to name #tertiaryloveinterest Gertrude instead. It’s much easier to remember to search for function and replace it than hope you remember that you named her Gertrude, switched to Tina, and then slipped into Bobbette because you just couldn’t decide.
2. Keep them simple, but keep them distinct.
So #secondarymomcharacter is probably a bit long for repetitive typing, even if she doesn’t come up a lot. But you don’t really want to use #mom either. Why not? Because then you could only have one. For example, you have a wedding scene. Both spouses are speaking to their respective mothers… Do you now give one a name? Do you hope you can keep #mom and #mom2 straight? Better to start more unique than have to change and introduce errors.
3. Use different symbols for different types of names.
Especially if you like organization, have a variety of things to name, and/or have a culture you’re developing where near-spellings are frequent, use variety in symbols to quickly identify what type of thing you’re looking at. For example: #names; *titles; @Locations; %magicsystems…
4. Make a list.
If your choices for passwords are either to make everything Me123456 or have a password safe, have a password safe. Make yourself a master list of what you’ve created and update it as necessary to reflect drafts (see below) or new additions. Once you have names to replace the descriptive monikers, update the list. If you’re worried about spelling, keep the tag for quicker identification.
5. Change the symbols over as you check drafts.
When you start a new draft, choose a different marker so that you have an obvious indication of what has and has not been checked and approved. Change each marker as you work through the draft and check for the previous marker. For example, “#” = [checkedthisdraft], and later “@” = [checkedagainbecauseIchangedsomething]. Then search for “#” alone (no space) to see what may need more attention.
6. Be aware of punctuation when you add them.
One of the weaknesses of the find and replace function is it can’t tell when something has been punctuated or conjugated differently and it gets missed. No one wants an accidental Fight Club scenario…
When you go about creating, finding, or replacing your hashtags, make certain you don’t add stray spaces. Go back and also search for things that are possessive (#secondarymomcharacter’s) and be sure your search isn’t case sensitive (another reason to choose a moniker you won’t accidentally insert).Don’t add a space between the marker and the tag either. That is a recipe for disaster.
7. When you’re finished, replace the markers for a last skimming check.
This is a fail safe to ensure this trick doesn’t backfire. Replace your last noted tag with your chosen name, but keep the marker. This will give you a quick way to make one last visual pass to make sure you didn’t somehow misspell a tag, or add spaces/ strange punctuation somewhere. With the marker attached you know it’s a thing you need to check. For example, #secondarymomcharacter becomes @Tina and from there you can skim and notice there are a lot of #secondarymothercharacter tags left.
7b. Then kick them out like used-up Dixie cups. #done!