Last week my family and myself saw the movie, “Les Miserables.” We love the story, although never read the novel. However, my husband started complaining about it 10 minutes into the musical production. I, though, enjoyed it and would highly-recommend it for those who like operettas. But I will say the new movie adaptation begins a little slow when compared to the past non-musical, action-packed films of this story I have watched (which by the way my husband loved).
The tale is set in early-eighteenth-century France. Jean Valjean, the protagonist, cannot find work. His sister’s family is starving so he steals a loaf of bread, but the French police catch him. He is sent to prison where he spends years, not only for the initial crime but for his numerous prison-escape attempts. Finally, he escapes, finding safety in a priest’s home. The priest shows him compassion. Valjean turns his life over to God and from then on he uses his newly-found wealth to help the unfortunate. However, the prison warden, a stalwart man of law, is determined to bring Valjean to justice and pursues him for years. The continual action, plot build up and the element of faith and redemption make this story work.
Memorable tales, such as the above, are that for a reason – action and conflict. Look through your work in progress and see if it is compelling? Does it make readers turn pages?
Learning how to include conflict is not easy. A first-time author does not know the novel’s first page must speak volumes. There is a conference I attend where writers submit their manuscripts’ first pages. Literary agents and publishing houses listen as the pages are read. You cannot believe how many are rejected for lack of conflict.
How do you find out if your piece needs that? Join critique groups you can trust. They give you valuable feedback. Remember, though, to stiffen your upper lip because taking their input is difficult. I know this through experience, but if you want to grow in your writing ability listen to their input.
I belong to two critique group – an intimate one of two people and the other a large group. The small group is such a blessing because we know each other so well that we often know what the other is going to say before it is said. We also get to enjoy each other’s company, grab lattes to sip during our critique session and gulp down great lunches with conversations.
The larger group is beneficial because you get several interpretations. If three or more people, however, say you need to change something, it is a clear sign you need to do that.
Conflict build up does not mean you need to rewrite your whole story. For example, I increased hostility in a graveside scene in my early-twentieth-century romance, Lockets and Lanterns, when a main character stumbles and falls and is left to grab the hand of the person who is causing the conflict.
A great villain, especially a character with traits of anger and jealously, increases tension. However, if you plan to make this character redeemable in a future work, keep at least a grain of goodness in him.
Details, too, are valuable in enhancing a story line, and this does not necessarily just apply to fiction. For example, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, a non-fiction bestseller for more than a year, makes readers turn pages.
“Then Booth hears the crackle of burning straw and smells the sickly sweet wood smoke of burning cedar. ‘One more stain on the old banner!’ he yells, doing his best to sound fearless. No one quite knows what that statement means.
“He looks across the barn and sees Lieutenant Baker opening the door. The actor hefts his loaded carbine, preparing to take aim.
“Just as Abraham Lincoln felt a slight instant of pain and then nothing at all when Booth shot him, now Booth hears the crack of a rifle and feels a jolt in his neck, and then nothing. …
Now, I realize Killing Lincoln violates some writing rules, such as not using the word, “felt,” but it is a good example of conflict just the same. Well, this is all I have to say on the subject today. Have a great new year and as always God bless.