I Cannot Word

Happens every time. I get two-thirds of the way through a book, and I start to hate the sight of the characters. Even the interesting ones. This puts up a mental block in my brain, and I start to go into a tailspin of, “I’m terrible at this! Why did I ever think I could write a book? Nobody likes me; everybody hates me; guess I’ll eat some worms.”

The current version of writer’s block is a little extreme. Usually, the cure is to write something else for a day or so, then go back to the main project. Yesterday, I couldn’t write in anything, and today looks about the same. None of the characters even glanced up at me when I put out the call for volunteers. Previously, there’s always been one who jumps up, saying, “Pick me! I’ll tell my story,” and that’s enough to break me out of the block.

I never fell prey to writer’s block when writing was a hobby, because I could always put down the writing and do something else. I wasn’t ‘blocked;’ I was working in the garden, riding the horse, or a hundred other things. Now that writing is a job, I feel obliged to, ya know, work at it, even when I don’t have anything to say. For someone who’d rather stay mute for days than talk to fill the silence, this is a weird situation. And you have to wonder what sort of crazy makes a person like me decide writing is a good career. I consider selective mutism a viable lifestyle choice, and once started losing the ability to talk in complete sentences because I wasn’t practicing enough (the cure, for me, anyway, is to sing more).

This project is a regency romance, and the weird thing is, the characters stopped talking to me as soon as I saw where the story was going. I’m halfway between plotter and panster, so I had a general idea of the plot, was vaguely wondering about a few details, and once those details became clear, wham! It was like hitting a wall. Very odd.

But those ‘details’ add about 10,000 words to the story, and I’m lazy despite knowing they’re necessary to the reader’s understanding of the plot. The heroine’s friend is kind of selfish, and tries to sabotage the heroine out of jealousy. I need to show that jealousy developing over the course of a couple of incidents.

First I need to get these characters talking to me. The last time this happened, I threw up my hands, said, “Fine, I’ll go find some other characters,” and created The Garia Cycle. But I don’t need another giant and intractable series. So I’ll leave you with a snippet from the current project and a plea for advice: what do you do when you hit the wall? What do you do when your usual techniques produce no results?

Photo by author; castle wall (I was more interested in the flowers growing out of it)

The dancing began shortly after they arrived, and Miss Gordon was immediately claimed by an old acquaintance. She went gaily into the forming set of dancers, leaving Maria wondering what she was meant to do now, and certain that she looked utterly awkward and out of place, standing alone as she did, with no one to converse with.

A tall, red-haired man halted before her and bowed. “Miss Mason, I believe. You are looking very well tonight.”

Maria scrambled to recall him. “Mr. Callahan,” she finally said, then blurted out, “I fear you compliment my appearance, sir, but it is my first ball, and every lady likes to thinks she looks well on such an occasion.”

“Often to the detriment of the truth,” he said, his eyes gleaming with mirth, “but not in your case. I do not offer glib compliments; I speak honestly of what is before my eyes.”

Maria suspected him of playing a little joke on her, and merely said, “Indeed, sir.”

He was not put off by her brief answer, and said, “Do you intend to dance this evening?”

“No one has asked me,” she said, in some confusion. Did he truly mean..?

He did. “Then allow me to be the first to say, will you dance the two next with me?”

“I will. As long as you don’t mind a partner who shows no particular talent for dancing,” she added, keen to excuse any little mistakes before she made them. “I have been taught the steps, but there are many other ladies more graceful than I.”

He chuckled at that, his eyes crinkling around the corners. “You are modest, Miss Mason. And even if you are not, I have been accounted a passable dancer by other, disinterested parties; I will not lead you astray.”

She could hardly contradict this statement, and allowed him to lead her into the set. They took their places as the first chords rippled through the room.

Mr. Callahan proved to be an excellent partner, and Maria was beginning to enjoy herself when, halfway through the figure, she happened to glance down at her feet and sighed in irritated resignation. One of her shoe roses was loosening itself, flopping about in the most undignified manner. She only hoped it would remain attached until the dance ended.

But of course, the thought had no sooner crossed her mind, than the steps of the dance obliged her to kick with first her left foot, then her right. The little rosette trembled wildly and was flung across the floor, disappearing from Maria’s sight in the midst of so many dancers.

“Oh, bother!” she grumbled, then glanced up at her partner, hoping she had not been overheard. Her heart sank. Mr. Callahan’s blue eyes sparkled, and though he did not laugh aloud at her, Maria had no doubt he had seen the accident, and derived great amusement from it.

Since she could not cease dancing for the sake of rescuing a mere rosette, Maria lifted her chin and went on. The dance seemed to last forever, and she felt the exertion by the time the music ended and Mr. Callahan escorted her off the floor. Maria looked about, searching for her lost rosette.

Mr. Callahan saw her do it, and said quietly, “Do you see it?”

“No,” she admitted. “Likely I shall never find it.” She sighed. “Something of this nature happens to me wherever I go.”

His brows twitched in surprise. “Truly?”

“Oh, yes. I am rarely met with any real catastrophe, but I am the queen of small and inconvenient accidents,” she said, hoping he would think it a joke.

“I am sorry to hear it,” he said with real concern. “I hope it shall not prevent you from enjoying the rest of the evening.”

Maria assured him that it would not, though she was not sure, and they stood together in silence for a short time.


  1. Well, if Mr. Callahan is the hero, he needs to set up a rescue mission for the rosette. It could be quite fun if they’re sneaky about it.

    1. I’ve already written the bit that comes after this, and decided that Maria didn’t really need that rosette, not if she’s going to continue on as the queen of minor accidents. Maybe I’ll have him present her with a new one at some odd time later in the book, and they can laugh over it.

  2. As for the writer’s block, threaten yourself with a dream sequence that you know you’ll throw out. The horror of that will jar something loose.

    Or, just throw in something silly. Perhaps something or someone could crash through a window and Maria find her rosette at the same time? Even in the chaos, she picks up the rosette. Then she can laugh at herself.

  3. My subconscious just informed me that the book that was going to be from a woman’s POV? Might not be. Same plot, same characters, but different POV character. So of course I am going to block when I try to write the priestess’ version.

    Really, Muse? Really?

  4. Yer doin’ it wrong. The way to get characters to respond is to ask, “Who wants to wear the red shirt today?”

    Then whoever jumps yelling, “Oh hell no, do I look stupid?” — that’s the one you throw into the pit.

    1. Ha! Maria’s always wearing the red shirt, poor thing. But it’s a regency romance, so she can’t get thrown into the pit; she just falls over her feet when the love interest is looking at her, and loses shoe ribbons, and is made to fetch and carry for her spoiled friend, and a thousand other annoyances. But she gets better, in the end.

      1. Ah, but she _is_ in the pit… just not a very deep one, being she’s so delicate, poor thing. Throw in a handful of caltrops; that’ll get her steppin’ lively.

        1. I like the way you think. Caltrops… I might be able to do something with that. No, really. Later in the book, she learns how to ride a horse, with all the attendant disasters.

      2. Is it single POV, or can we have a short interlude for Mr. Callahan, looking initially for a non-embarrassing way to find/retrieve the rosette, and going on from there to respect for the Maria’s ability to dismiss what isn’t really important?

  5. First, look for physical problems. Any sort of allergy or cold medicine shuts down the words. Too many carbs, ditto. Aspartame in large amount, sleep in small amounts . . .

    I like this snippet. Both Miss Mason and Mr. Callahan feel like real people. And people whom I would like.

    1. Yay! I’m glad you like them; they’re supposed to be likeable characters- a bit everyman, because it’s escapist fiction, but interesting enough that they’re not interchangeable with every other regency character out there.

      1. I have no experience of Regency (other than having observed the Dancing) but per the snippet — they are indeed a charming pair, easy to like and laugh with.

  6. Can she dance the two next dances with him? I thought you were not supposed to, because it showed particularity and caused gossip, and also it was not fair to other men/women present. My impression was that you could dance twice with a guy or girl, but you had to leave space for somebody else to dance the others with you.

    Or is that one of those rules that was only for Almack’s?

    1. I believe a couple was allowed two dances, and I haven’t been able to find a clear source on this, but I think dances were done in two-dance sets. There’s some language in period novels written during the Regency that could be interpreted that way. So, with that math, a couple could actually dance together ‘four’ times, on two separate occasions, without causing too much gossip. I think. Such a complicated time and place, Regency London was.

    1. I completely agree – this little snippet may get me to try one of your existing ones, maybe.

  7. As I think I’ve mentioned to you before, Regency just isn’t my cuppa, but that said you do really have a way of character creation and development. And in my opinion giving the reader a believable and sympathetic character is half the battle in the creation of a satisfying story.

  8. If you can’t write a story, write something fun.

    I attribute my enjoyment of destroying popular song lyrics to Weird Al Yankovich’s influence.

    Sarah and Larry’s latest release has me toying with Mr. Sandman as the basis of a song about a certain Lovecraftian creature; but only if I can stop laughing long enough to punch the keyboard.

  9. I don’t know how helpful this is for the posited problem – but I’ve never had characters take the Fifth on me.

    It’s those rude buggers that won’t shut up and drown out the ones that I want to hear at the moment that are my problem. I’m trying something with them – “Okay, you are so blasted determined to be heard; you take over the fingers for a while!”

    Results are mixed, so far. There has been exactly one that moved the current WIP along. There are some others that are on the shelf, so to speak, as they will (probably) be part of the current series. Quite a few that are in cold storage, as they have no relation to what I’m doing right now. Then a few that, frankly, are in the compost pile, where they might at some point in the far future be useful to fertilize the good stuff.

  10. I flipflop between works as the only way to keep moving forward. A lot. It’s a bad habit.

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