You’re Almost There, With Much at Stake: Back on the Chain Gang

This round of the blog chain was started by the soon-to-be-famous Leah Clifford.

Her question:

What do you do to amp up the conflict?  What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls?  How do you torture your characters???

Leah was also sneaky enough to postpone answering her own question, leaving me to get this topic rolling. Which is tricksy.

Naturally, an engaging novel needs conflict and lots of it to keep a reader’s interest and provide the impetus for your character to truly evolve during the course of your novel.

The trials a writer forces their characters to endure, and the characters’ reactions to those trials are the essence of what a novel really IS. So regarding the specific pins in my characters’ voodoo dolls, I’m tempted to say, “You’ll just have to read my novel to find out.”

But this topic does bring up something I’ve been thinking about lately.

There’s a line in the movie Funny Girl, when Fanny receives a telegram from Ziegfield asking her to audition. “No, this is too easy! I haven’t suffered enough.”

That’s the bit I’ve been pondering on lately… when have your characters suffered enough?

As writers, we pile on the stressors: murder, rape, job loss, relationship troubles. When I was writing the first draft of The Edge of Memory, there was a phrase that kept running through my consciousness as I closed in on the climax of my novel.

It’s a silly quote, from a silly movie, but that phrase represents knowing when I’ve finally pushed my characters to the breaking point. It captures for me the build to the frenzy of the climax, the character’s exhaustion, and the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

The movie?


By the climax of the film, the characters have fought carnivorous plants, wild animals, and a man who hunts people. The two adult protagonists are trapped and one of the children is dying from a poisonous dart.

The quote appears on the Jumanji game for Sarah’s last turn.

“You’re almost there, with much at stake. And now the ground begins to quake.”

Yes. That’s exactly what I want to achieve. My character at the breaking point for all she’s endured to that point, out of time, with everything on the line… and then the final blow to light the powder keg.

Next up in our chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so be sure to pop over to Jibberings tomorrow and see what she has to say.


9 Responses

  1. and then the final blow to light the powder keg.

    It’s funny that you use this line. Right before the height of the climax in my story, the MC’s brother asks a question “that armed the timebomb” between them.

    It really is true.

    Good post today!

  2. Great post…I love the quotes from Funny Girl and Jumanji – both fit perfectly.

  3. Oooh, you cryptic thing you. You are my source for all things movie quoteish. Love those quotes. And while I really don’t like the movie Jumanji (like at all), that quote is perfect. As is the movie for showing great conflict. Excellent insights, Heather!

  4. I agree with you that trials and characters’ reactions to them are the stuff that novels are made of. Anyone is bound to snap under the right conditions.

  5. I’ve never seen Jumanji, but that is a great quote, and I think perfectly sums up what the climax of any story should be. Very nice post!

  6. Beautifully said! I suppose I’m even more wicked, because I want the powder keg to blow and see what happens then…

  7. Great post! Jumanji is a great movie, though not what would have sprang to my mind, totally appropriate! Thanks for making ME stretch 🙂

  8. Great post and great examples. Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does!

    🙂 Terri

  9. Great post, Heather! Loved the quote. Your examples were perfect.

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