Sunday, August 7, 2011

All I Ever Needed to Know about Writing a Book I Learned from Les Miz

It has been a very eventful summer, I must say. I have succeeded at one of my many goals of motherhood: I have gotten at least one of my children hooked on musical theater. My oldest daughter, Kateri was in her first play this summer, Cinderella (best mouse evah!), and has caught the acting bug. As a former theater kid and proud patron of the arts, I love it.

We had some friends in the local 15-20 year old production of Les Miserables, and just came from an amazingly talented, heart wrenching performance. I swear, I've seen this muscial several times: once in London, twice in Los Angeles, two locally, but it never gets tiring. Never. I was a wreck--cried on and off throughout.

Well, I got to thinking, while watching this play, what is it about Les Miz that brings people back again and again? On the way home, I decided there are seven things that we can learn from Les Miz to make our stories stronger:

1. Have a theme, and string it throughout Les Miz has several themes woven throughout: the quest for freedom, the quest for love, social injustice, the goodness versus the evilness of humanity. And since it's a musical, the acutal melodies are interwoven and echoed throughout in the different numbers. This ties the whole musical together, and in the same way, themes can tie your book together. In the beginning of Les Miz, we see the people unempowered by the injustices of their life. At the end, we see the people unified, despite the fact that they lost the battle. The layering of the themes strengthened the story.

2. Have lots of highs and lows A good story like Les Miz (and hopefully our own works in progress!) had lots of highs and lows. We are never kept guessing, and we are never dull. In one scene, Cosette and Marius have declared their love, then seconds later, Epinone is crying her eyes out for her unrequited love, and at the same time, the bad guys are trying to raid Cosette and Jean Valjean's house. Lots of action makes for a great plot.

3. Conflict, conflict, and more conflict I know I struggle with this one, because in real life, conflict makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it. But when I don't read about conflict on the page, I get bored, fast. When Marius joins his friends at the ABC cafe to talk about the revolution, he has just met Cosette, and has fallen in love. The last thing he wants to do is talk about some stupid war, and this creats lots of good, yummy conflict between him and his buddy, Enjolras.

4. Comic relief  Even the darkest story (and let's face it, Les Miz is pretty dang dark) has its share of comic relief, and this lets the reader have a mental break, almost, from your surely gripping story.

5. Kissing! Well, I do write YA, right? And let's face it--every good story needs some romance, and kissing. Oh, and also? Love triangles--they are always kind of fun. I quite like them when they work in a story. (Les Miz has one of the most gripping love triangles ever. Poor Epinone--took a bullet for that cad, Marius and still didn't get a kiss on the lips.)

6. Kill some people  Yeah, I said it. But it's true, right? This sort of goes along with conflict. In a good story, bad things have to happen. Okay, not necessarily death, per se, but events in people's lives that are earthshattering. Death. Divorce. Break-ups. Sickness. We want our books to reflect the things that happen in real life, but on a much grander, more dramatic (shall I saw poetic?) way.

7. Answer your story question Last but not least, make sure when you type The End on your beloved manuscript, that you have answered the question that initially started the story to begin with. Did he get the girl? Did the aliens invade planet Earth? And in Les Miz--Did Jean Valjean find happiness?(yes, but he died)
Did the people find empowerment? (yes, but at a price)

Anyway, you get the picture.

Well, I hoped you enjoyed my little video montage. Happy writing, and as they say in the theater....Enjoy the show!
Three of my children here. Kateri was a mouse
in Cinderella. Lucie, my four year old---not
too happy--someone stepped on her toe. :)


Lora R. Rivera said...

Kara, this is an excellent post! Not least because I'm a blubbering die-hard Les Miz fan myself. I love the creative way you constructed this montage and the important story points here. In fact, I think I'll take these points right up next to Talia Vance's revision list.

And yay for kiddos loving theater!!!!

Kara said...

Thanks so much, Lora! High compliments coming from you. :) Good to know that you are also a die-hard Les Miz fan!!! *sigh*

Kelley said...

"(best mouse evah!)" = adorable. <3 a new follower

Angela Scott said...

Great post. Wonderful advice. You know what is sad? I don't think I've ever seen Les Miz. I've been to a lot of musical plays, but for some reason, this one has slipped by me (though I have heard it is wonderful). I will need to put it on my to-do list for sure.

Thanks again.

Kara said...

Hi Kelley--I think so too. :) Thanks for following, and nice to meet you!

Kara said...

Hi Angela (looveed your post on the teen boy/WIP btw--so hilarious!)--thanks for the comment. Really, though, if you like musicals and have missed LEs Miz--you really need to check it out. They are doing lots of revivals because it's the 25th anniversary. If you live in Utah, I'll bet there's one coming to Salt Lake. :)

Anne R. Allen said...

Great analogy. Les Miz has an important message for kids today, since some of our leaders are working so hard to push us back to the Victor Hugo days of extreme social injustice. How lucky your kids are to have an opportunity to do theater!

Word verification: slogal--can you believe it, former SLO gal?

Kara said...

Anne~thanks so much for posting! And what a great blog you have. :) SLO gal--maybe that's a sign that I will eventually return to my most favorite place in the world?? :D You are so lucky.
And Les Miz~social injustice is an unfortunate inevitability in this world, but we can all strive to be the Jean Valejans of the world, yes?