Stubbornness, pride and other gagging devices in WIP Wednesday

Why doesn’t she (or he) just tell him (or her), we yell at the page, when a few words would solve the misunderstandings and end the book in a fraction of the time. And that’s why, of course. Without the hero and the heroine at cross purposes, at least in some respects, the story would be over, and where is the fun in that?

Our challenge as authors is to make the communication blockages realistic. We don’t want our heroes or our heroines too dumb to live or too prideful to bear. They need strong, sympathetic, and realistic motivation to avoid giving the person they love the information they need to hear. And oh, how we can torture them in the meantime!

So this week, I’m inviting you to give me a scene where two of your characters are talking past each other, and not saying what they mean. Mine is a scene from quite near the end of The Realm of Silence, the title of which comes from a quote about this very issue. ““I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved… the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot

“Gil, David wishes me to go to London to describe what I saw at the tower.”

Gil sucked his upper lip between his teeth, his face otherwise expressionless. “You will want to get home to your children. You should go.”

“I do not wish to leave you.” Ever. I do not want to leave you ever, you stupid man. You wonderful, confusing, stubborn, stupid man.

“I am in good hands. Chloe and Flora — yes, and Nanna and the girls — are martinets in the sick room, and I shall be back in top form in no time.”

He wasn’t hearing her deeper messages. She should take her dismissal in good part. Their idyll was over before it had begun, and she had promised herself that whatever he could offer would be enough.

“You think I should go, then.”

“I wish you could stay, goddess.” For a moment, his eyes flooded with something that spoke to the longing in hers, but then he shuttered them. “But it is best that you go.”

The following morning, Susan came to Gil’s new quarters to bid him goodbye. The sisters had transformed a screened porch into a comfortable half-bedroom half-sitting room for an invalid. He was sitting up in a chair set in a flood of sunbeams, and the heat would soon have him pushing the rug Moffatt had insisted on off his knees.

Damnable weakness. He yearned to be well enough to go with her — to string their time of closeness out by a few more days. Instead, he set himself to make a clean break of it, for her sake as well as his.

“I’ve come to say goodbye, Gil,” she said. “Or farewell, I hope. Goodbye sounds so final.”

It did. It sank like iron into his soul, tying his half-formed hopes in chains and sinking them fathoms deep. “We will always be friends, goddess,” he said, some of the ice in his heart leaking into his voice despite his best intentions.

Susan blinked rapidly and her own face stiffened, her bland Society hostess expression forming between him and what she really thought. “Of course we will, Rutledge. I am so pleased we have had this time to get to know one another again.”

Gil cast about for something to say. Something that would soften the parting. “Thank you for coming with me to meet Chloe, Susan. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

It was the right note. The tension in her eased a little, though the mask was still in place. “Your nieces are delightful, and Chloe is stronger than she thinks. You will all do very well, I think.”

“I would have made a ham-fisted mess of it without you.” As he would, undoubtedly, of the rest of his life.

She must have heard the wistful note he could not repress, because she hesitated, examining his face.

Behind her, Chloe appeared at the door. “Susan? The little girls hope you will come up and say goodbye before you go.”

Susan considered Gil for a moment more, then looked over her shoulder at his sister-in-law. “Yes, Chloe, I’ll be right there.”

Chloe withdrew and Susan faltered and then seemed to make up her mind, crossing the room at a rush and bending to kiss Gil’s cheek. He clutched the rug to anchor his hands, which threatened to break free from his control and seize her, and never let her go.

“Come to me in London, Gil,” she commanded, her voice ragged. “This cannot be finished.”

“If you need me, I will come,” he promised, even as he shook his head.

She straightened, biting her lips until they were white, then turned and hurried out of the room, but not before he had seen the tears in her eyes.

What a bastard he was, making her cry.


6 thoughts on “Stubbornness, pride and other gagging devices in WIP Wednesday

  1. Gil and Susan really don’t speak plainly, do they? I see already that I will be screaming at them when this book is released. Ah well…

  2. Excellent! The attraction and the frustration are palpable.

    Here’s an excerpt from my follow-up to Daring and Decorum, which has a similar title to yours: Silence and Secrecy. I hope I’m not breaking the rules by choosing a scene that’s not between the hero and the heroine (or even the heroine and the heroine, in my case). Elizabeth is experiencing a quite different gagging device, if you can call it that. She’s already opened her heart to her true love in the previous book. Now the question is, can she reveal that to anyone else? (In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s technically a romance. There will be a new romance between secondary characters, who will face their own difficulties, but that’s not the main action.)

    Here, Elizabeth’s brother, Jamie, has returned from sea, and she has just finished recounting her partially true tale of her kidnapping by a highwayman the year before. (Spoilers for Daring and Decorum.)


    “And there’s no one else?” Jamie asked.

    “No, for who would believe that a highwayman would not have had his way with me? Some even suspect I went with him willingly. No, I’m afraid my prospects are quite ruined; your sister is destined to become an old spinster.” As I endeavored to appear rueful over this unfortunate circumstance, I wondered with surprise at how easily this lie of omission came to me.

    Mrs. Simmons broke in, saving me from further embarrassment. “It’s what we’ve lamented, myself and Mr. Collington both, to have every likelihood of an establishment and domestic happiness stolen from her by that rogue. We can hardly speak of it.”

    Father, who had sat silently during this recitation, now looked up. “I have failed your sister, James. I did not do enough to ensure her prospects. Mrs. Simmons taught her all the accomplishments, but I should have sent her to town, no matter the cost. I did not, and now her hopes are ruined. I have not put enough by for her, and I worry what will happen when I am gone. Promise me you will look after her.”

    I gave a little laugh, attempting to relieve the dour mood into which the conversation had sunk us. “Father, I have told you, it’s not so bleak as all that. Really, Brother, he treats me as if I am helpless. You would hardly imagine from listening to him that I have earned fifty pounds this year.”

    “Fifty pounds! However did you do that?”

    “It turns out my watercolours are in high demand, thanks to some well-placed friends I met in Bath. And then there is my book, which will come out this May. I hope to earn something from that as well.”

    “You have been busy!”

    “Mrs. Burgess helped me,” I said. “I never would have thought of publishing extracts from my botanical journals if not for her encouragement. Then she spent hours going over them, considering their best arrangement and suggesting where I should make additions. I owe the result largely to her.”

    Jamie seemed pensive. “Mrs. Burgess again. I see you have become quite close.”

    “Much has changed in three years,” I said, looking at the floor. I told myself there was nothing unusual in forming an intimate friendship over the course of nearly a year. But such behaviour was unprecedented in Jamie’s experience of me, for I had always held my neighbouring acquaintances at a distance.

    “As I said,” Father put in, “they are the best of friends. Rebecca—that is, Mrs. Burgess’s friendship and support aided Elizabeth immensely in recovering from her ordeal with the highwayman. It was silly of her to stay away from us. We should send a boy down to tell her she must come to dinner.”

    I stole a glance at Lt. Nichols and thought he looked a bit more eager at this suggestion than he had previously. I couldn’t help thinking with a hint of jealousy about the way he had looked Rebecca up and down when he stepped out of the carriage. As they were both uncommonly tall, he must have found her a likely object for flirtation, or more.

    “She seemed quite adamant not to intrude on our reunion, Father. And I have already told Jones to expect just one more than we had planned.”

    Jamie looked back and forth from Father to me, as if trying to puzzle us out. Between Father’s effusions and my forming an intimate friendship with Rebecca, we no doubt seemed quite different from the family he had left behind. And if he had known of those other changes, of which I could tell no one! But we said no more on the topic. The others returned to discussing Jamie’s and Lt. Nichols’ plans for their leave, while I became absorbed in the reflection that, as happy as this reunion was, the person closest to me in all the world had felt it necessary to hold herself apart from it.

    • Ah. Beautiful. You so nicely capture the distance Elizabeth has to establish with those she loves in order to guard her secret.

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