On Using TK

Disclaimer: The central piece of this post is being cribbed from a guest post from Matthew Quirk at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid site (as filtered through Steven Pressfield’s)… I follow both, and saw the link at Pressfield’s first, but there is additional advice in the Story Grid post that is worth reading.

So, on with the cribbing:

Use TK. This is the essential lubricant of the rough first draft. It’s a habit I learned from working as a reporter, but didn’t realize the novel-writing magic of it until I read this advice from Cory Doctorow. TK is an editing mark that means “to come” and is equivalent to leaving a blank or brackets in the text (It’s TK, not TC, because editorial marks are often misspelled intentionally so as not to confuse them with final copy: editors write graf and hed for paragraph and headline).

Can’t figure out a character’s name? “EvilPoliticianTK.” Need to describe the forest? “He looked out over the SpookyForestDescriptionTK.” Need that perfect emotional-physical beat to break up dialogue? “BeatTK.” Just keep writing. TK a whole chapter if you want. Those blanks are not going to make or break anything big picture. Come back for them once you’ve won a few rounds against the existential terror of “Is this whole book going to work or not?” There’s no sense filling in the details on scenes that you’re going to cut.

Disclaimer the Second: I read the same advice from Doctorow, just from his essay collection Context instead.

That second point, actually, is what prompted this post… As my MFA mentors and crit partners can attest, I fully endorse this idea. If the idea is to get the story down, get through a first draft, this can be very useful.

I use it as reminders for flavor ([TK – add more about wound/colors]), or as a scenic placeholder for moments that need to happen, but I haven’t quite figured out how the sequence will play out ([TK – adventures happen in cave until emerging on the other side of the mountain]). Or, if there’s a detail that I’ve already established but don’t remember in the moment? [TK – Guy’s name from chapter One].

That, by the way, is how I use it [TK – (note)]. Yes, it might throw of some word count estimates, but most of the time those notes get replaced with longer passages that any disparity washes out. The brackets help the note stand out more prominently in hardcopy, and the “TK” instances are easy to move through using the “Find” feature.


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