Tag Archives: Les Miserables

The Art of Miscommunication

A few years ago, at the family cabin, my wife chastised one of the kids for running past a wooden stake, topped with a pink ribbon.

“Get over here. The neighbors put up those stakes because they were tired of people going into their yard.”

This surprised me, as I knew my dad had surveyed the property in an effort to divide the lot. The stakes were commissioned by him, not the neighbor.

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“Your mom.”

My mom hadn’t communicated with my dad about the survey. So my mom, in an effort to understand reality, assigned a narrative that made sense to her, along with a motive. She didn’t know about the stakes, so obviously it came from the neighbors who shared her border. But why would they do such a thing? Because they were sick and tired of her grandkids disturbing the pine needles on their property, obviously.

Had she just called the neighbors, or mentioned it to her husband, the miscommunication could have been avoided, instead the narrative she created was passed around to my wife, then my kids and i’m sure others in my extended family still think the neighbors are a bunch of pricks because of it.

Two parts in the example above, create and build tension.

  1. Using point of view, we can develop a perception of reality unique to our characters. The disparity between these perceptions are where we breed tension, with each character reacting according to their perception to a situation.
  2. Having our characters assign motive to others without understanding their perception of reality.

In Les Miserables, Fantine hates Jean Valjean because he fired her. He hadn’t, that was her perception. She was fired by a female supervisor who’d discovered her illegitimate child. The supervisor brought up the situation to Valjean, omitting some detail, and Valjean invited her to do what she thought best.

Later, after Fantine plummeted into poverty and sin, all for the noble cause of caring for her daughter, she confronts Valjean with anger, matching the hatred he must hold for her. Only, he doesn’t even know who she is and tries to help her as he would anyone in her situation. The tension explodes, becoming another inciting event for Valjean when he understands Fantine’s perception of reality, he’d fired her, his motive, he despised her for her sins. His perception of reality was quite different. Anyone could find redemption. She’d made a mistake and should hardly have to pay for it the rest of her life. In fact, God could use that mistake to bring about a wonderful miracle that was Cosette.

Later in the story of Valjean we find another miscommunication between Javert and Valjean. Javert expects to be shot for spying on the revolutionaries. Valjean volunteers to shoot Javert, not because he wanted to be free of the old prison guard, but because he wanted to save Javert’s life. This blew Javert’s mind and he vowed to continue to hunt Valjean down, which he does later, but when it comes time to arrest Valjean, his perception of reality has changed so drastically, he chooses to not live in his newfound reality and kills himself after letting Valjean go.

As a reader we can bask in the tension created by conflicting perceptions of realities from two or more characters that we’ve come to know through their point of views.

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.

The Genius of Mistborn

Generic-Les-Mis-website-news-icon3While I was working with Brandon Sanders at Salt Lake Comic Con a couple years ago, a fan asked him what his favorite book was.

Les Miserables,” he shot back without hesitation.

Mine too. I read the book in high school a couple times and a couple times since. Victor Hugo was a genius.

Now I had heard of Brandon Sanderson, but admittedly had never read any of his stories, but that comment drew me to his work.

I started with the Stormlight Archive then moved to the Reckoners series. And then, while going through Stormlight withdrawals I delved into Mistborn.

The story takes place in a fantasy world with a unique magic system. I like fantasy.

The curtains open on this fantasy stage to a criminal outfit running a con. Now, I like fantasy, but I love cons and heists. I’m hooked.


Soon this becomes less about conning the nobility and more about fueling revolution. I start to notice the intertwined reference to a significant piece of history—the French Revolution. I love history. And coincidently this event also surrounds the story in Les Miserables.

There’s more. Religious philosophy and political rhetoric mixed along with military stratagem. It’s a fascinating read. What Sanderson does so beautifully in Mistborn is to combine elements of seemingly different genres to tell an incredible story. Think Oceans Eleven mixed with A Tale of Two Cities and throw in some Robert Jordan. And it works perfectly.

art credit Marc Simonetti


Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.



Learning from the Masters

les-miserables-jean-valjean-hugh-jackman-candlesticksI’ve converted my den into a writing sanctuary, filled with souvenirs from my vicarious and real lives. On the corners of my desk are two matching silver candlesticks to remind me of the lessons learned from reading Les Miserables.

Hugo, Melville, Tolkien, Twain, and Lewis have all taken me on unforgettable journeys, and it might sound cliché but their writings have had a profound effect on my mortal existence. This post was meant to be about them, but I was invited on a journey last week by another amazing author and I must write about that experience.

David Farland is the author of the Runelords and many other works of fiction. And his books are fantastic, but that isn’t what I’m writing about in this post. Farland pulled back the curtain and gave us a look behind the scenes of becoming a successful author.

When I first started writing, I tried my best to adopt Victor Hugo’s omniscient style of point of view and was surprised when my writing was met with strong criticism for doing so. Farland explained that two centuries ago, many writers would jump around the characters’ minds much like a movie in omniscient POV, but with the developments of film this style of writing no longer worked for the readers. The one thing that books offer above film today is the ability to become intimately involved in the mind of the Point of View character.

Farland’s classes are offered online and in person. I’ve been to similar courses before but was never taught by this level of insight and genius. I have been struggling with several short stories that I started to write but had difficulty finishing because I didn’t know where to take them. I had strong characters and setting but I lacked conflict. I struggled to place my creations into hard situations that might cause them to change.

Jean Valjean is my all-time favorite character. Analyzing it now, I see that what made me fall in love with him, as a protagonist was the pain and suffering he endured. The irrationality and unfairness of receiving a 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread played on the Man vs. Society conflict in the story. (I know it was compounded because he tried to escape several times). And the bread wasn’t even for him, but his starving nieces and nephews, which endeared me to him further. Farland called this “petting the dog.”

In Farland’s class I learned that characters of the story didn’t necessarily need to be people. I used to think Javert was the antagonist of the story but now I see him as the contagonist. The real antagonist is society, selfish and unwilling to help the miserables.

Javert and Valjean were both good and bad. They both believed they knew what was right and for the most part tried to live according to their moral code. Both illustrated the Man vs. Society conflict and in the end it turned out that society was wrong. Valjean refused to bend his moral code and was blessed by providence while Javert struggled to see a world beyond himself and so he took his own life.

LesMisThenardierHugo’s genius is found in how his characters struggle through the conflict they are placed in and how their conflicts play off of the other characters. For instance, most that have only seen the play version of the story do not realize that Eponine is Gavroche’s sister, children of Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier who changed their name when they moved to Paris. One of the most touching parts of the story to me is at the wedding party when the Thenardiers show up to loot the guests, seemingly celebrating in the wake of the barricade where they lost two of their children who saw something greater than themselves and were willing to sacrifice their lives for that cause.

Farland showed us how to develop such a story by brainstorming character conflicts. Not just the protagonist against the antagonist but analyzing how every character would interact with every other character. There may be multiple protagonists or antagonists or contagonists and so on. As I have employed this type of brainstorming, I’ve been able to finish my stories.

I am grateful to the masters of old like Victor Hugo and to the masters of today like David Farland. I’ve added a book to my writing sanctuary, Million Dollar Outlines.