Posted On October 21, 2013 by Print This Post

What Happens When the Words Stop By Melinda Curtis

I”m excited to introduce author MELINDA CURTIS.Melinda writes the Harmony Valley series for Harlequin Heartwarming and the Hollywood Rules series, which Melinda describes as a “fun and sexy series about life coaching in Hollywood and the NBA.” Jayne Ann Krentz says this about the Hollywood Rules: “Mel Curtis has reinvented the glitz novel, infusing it with heat, heart, and humor.”

My muse abandoned me! The story ran out of gas. I didn’t know what happened next. My characters weren’t speaking to me.

Any of those statements sound familiar? Strike fear in your heart? A writer’s biggest fear is being unable to put new words on the page. I’m about to finish writing my fifth book this year and I’ve become quite adept at diagnosing story problems. When the words stop, I’ve found it’s most often because my subconscious is putting the brakes on and telling me, “Danger! The bridge is out ahead!”

For me, this tends to happen at four places in the book – the first few chapters (It seemed like a great idea, but fizzled early), turning points (Everything I write seems wrong), the dreaded middle (I know what happens in the beginning and at the end, but the middle…?), and at the black moment (What I thought was the black moment, isn’t, and now I have nothing). If any of these sound familiar, don’t worry. The doctor is in.

Like any good physician, you need to listen to your patient. In this case, it’s that little voice in your head that you may not have heard over the noise in Starbucks while you were glam-writing (always a good Facebook post), or couldn’t hear over the noise of your kids playing, the game on TV, or the soundtrack music that inspires you. Your subconscious is not part of the Nanny State. It isn’t piped through speakers at high volume. Your subconscious murmurs. Your subconscious whispers. You need to learn to listen.

Here are some of my most common word-stopping problems and their diagnoses.

1. PROBLEM: Your story and/or characters have developed multiple personalities. The last time this happened, I was indulging myself with my love of Avon Historicals, which are rich with alpha heroes, while I was writing Dandelion Wishes for Harlequin Heartwarming (no mega-alphas allowed). DandelionWishesFinalMy hero would drift into alpha behavior, which was inconsistent with his character. It was annoying, distracting, and stopped my page production. My solution was to stop reading Avon Historicals when I’m writing Heartwarming books. Other cases that might sound familiar to you:

a. A small town romance changed course midway to suspense, stopping me at the black moment. I had to be very aware of story elements in editing and listen when my inner voice said, “This story isn’t suspense.”
b. A strong, rather bitchy heroine kept back-sliding into a kinder, spunky kid. Although every h/h must be redeemable, they can’t transform completely. I had to give her permission to retain some snark.
c. In the first few chapters, my heroine was clearly a home and hearth woman, but the hero was a sexy, alpha (I couldn’t keep his mind out of the gutter!). The story’s beginning went nowhere until I revised the hero. Yep, I have an alpha addiction – but I’m proof it can be controlled.

2. PROBLEM: The story is boring me. This can be deadly if you’ve sold the story and can find nothing captivating about the characters or the story. My diagnosis here is generally the motivation behind goals. In the book I’m currently writing, Cora Rules, I set up the heroine to meet the conditions of her father’s will – work in his business to earn her inheritance in order to finance studying fashion design in Paris. When I reached the 60% mark in my pages, something fell apart. I traced it back to her motivation. I had written her motives tied to freedom (her father controlling her from the grave). But her motives went deeper than that. I couldn’t have realized this without having gone through the process of writing those pages, taking the journey with her, and learning that her motives were shallow. Remember, retooling story layers isn’t failure, it’s good writing.

3. The characters don’t seem any different in the black moment than in the beginning. Let’s face it. Most of us don’t change a belief or overcome a fear without a catalyst. In romance, the h/h act as a catalyst for change, but supporting characters and subplots related to the main story can deepen characterization, conflict, and growth obstacles on the page. In Blue Rules, a promise made by my heroine, Maddy, to her parents drove her motivation. When I started writing the black moment, I realized the stakes weren’t high enough on the page. I needed to add scenes with her parents to deepen the promise and what was at stake if the promise was broken. And then I needed those new scenes to be interesting (sigh). I was so close to the end, I could taste it, but I went back and filled in those scenes so I’d know how to write that black moment in the most emotionally compelling manner possible.

4. The h/h seem to be arguing about the same thing more than halfway through the book. Instinctively, this seems tied to character growth, but in my case, it’s most often tied to conflict that isn’t deep enough or that’s one-sided. In Dandelion Wishes, I originally introduced artist heroine, Emma, as causing a serious accident that nearly killed a stranger. About 100 pages in I realized both the romantic and outer conflicts weren’t strong enough and changed the “victim” of the accident to the hero’s sister and Emma’s best friend. If you think you can’t write warm, funny romance with conflict like this, think again. Conflict this good gives you the freedom to write grannies dancing in long johns.


Blue Rules is available now!

Blue has a nice life. He’s got a job in public relations with a local studio and a nice social life with some hot reality stars. But then his father dies and his sister Amber blackmails him into working with her at the Dooley Foundation. His social life grinds to a halt. Now every woman wants him to fix her – and not in bed! And Amber’s got an idea about a new reality show based on their work at the Foundation, featuring him as a matchmaker. Who does she want him to match up? All his really hot, slightly crazy reality show ex-girl friends.


Melinda says: I’d love to hear about when your words stop. I can’t diagnose your story like a Story WebMD, but I can offer words of encouragement. And maybe posting will help you realize what’s stopping your words.

RU’s tech wizard Pat Haggerty joins us on Wednesday, October 23.


Award-winning author Melinda Curtis writes fun, sweet to sexy contemporary romance. Her latest releases are Dandelion Wishes from Harlequin Heartwarming (sweet) and Blue Rules (sexy). You can learn more about her releases on Facebook (MelindaCurtisAuthor), Twitter (MelCurtisAuthor), or sign up for her book release newsletter on her website (

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21 Responses to “What Happens When the Words Stop By Melinda Curtis”

  1. This is a very timely post for me, Melinda. I’m about a third to a half through the first draft of my WIP, and I notice I’m wandering a bit, writing way too many scenes, and occasionally losing focus. I’m making myself push through and at least get the first draft done, and not worry about all the extra stuff at the moment. But since I’m still fairly new at this, it’s good to have a post like yours to tell me what to look for when I go to tighten up the story on the next draft, or to keep in mind as I plow through to the end of that first draft now. Thanks!

    Posted by Linda Fletcher | October 21, 2013, 7:19 am
  2. Great post, Melinda! I’m usually at that 60-70% mark in my first draft when light bulbs start going off in terms of who my characters really are deep down. Definitely helps with motivation insight! Alas, it does lead to a lot of revisions, LOL.

    I personally don’t think plotting cures this 100%. I have to get to know my characters through ‘experience’ (as you pointed out).

    Posted by Rula Sinara | October 21, 2013, 8:20 am
  3. Morning Melinda!

    I always lose it in the middle. My characters will suddenly go haring off to India or someone will get murdered…and this in a small town romance. Sigh. I too lose focus (and frankly, bore myself) and try to find things for my characters to “do”.

    I’ve tried plotting past the middle plot hole, but somehow it always manages to sneak up on me!

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 21, 2013, 8:34 am
  4. Appreciate your words as I have gotten stuck in a ton of places! I’ll refer back to your advice…thanks

    Posted by Yvonne Bennett | October 21, 2013, 9:54 am
  5. Melinda,
    This is exactly what I need right now. I’m stuck on my third story featuring two secondary characters from the first two books. They already have a history so I’ve been having trouble getting past that inciting incident. But now I think I need to go back to the real conflict. They both have trust issues. I need to touch on that in every scene. And I can’t make my playboy turn too sweet too soon, even if that’s really who he is deep down.

    Posted by Kristina Mathews | October 21, 2013, 10:09 am
  6. This is a very timely post for me, too, Melinda – thank you so much for joining us today!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 21, 2013, 10:15 am
  7. Hey, Melinda! As always, wise words for those struggles we all go through. Getting bored with the story is HUGE for me, especially when you hit the middle…there’s a reason they call it the sagging middle, that’s for sure. I’m LOVING the Harmony Valley series and your RULES books…can’t wait to see what trouble Cora gets into in book 3. Thanks for the advice and guidance.

    Posted by AJ Stewart | October 21, 2013, 10:36 am
  8. Hi Melinda,

    Writing the dreaded middle strikes a chord with me. I write the end first and make my characters crawl across the finish line.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | October 21, 2013, 12:15 pm
  9. Mel – I forgot to mention, I just ordered Blue Rules. That whole series sounds good to me!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 21, 2013, 6:19 pm
  10. Thanks so much for a great blog and for taking the time to visit with us today, Melinda! Keep in touch!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 21, 2013, 10:24 pm

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