Reasonable Stocks

I just reread a comfort book. A Louis L’Amour called A Man Called Trent. That was the magazine version of a story he reworked into The Mountain Valley War for a Bantam paperback. There isn’t enough difference between the stories to matter much, though I’m sure there is more material in the paperback version. It is a decent story, though not one of his best.


The problem I have with both versions is one of forced conflict. You see, there wasn’t enough story originally for a novella so he added conflicts and subplots to flesh it out. All writers do this either consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes it flows seamlessly into the story, sometimes it is a problem.

If you write, you need to make it seamless when you pad the story. That can be easy, subplots flow out of the characters and you wind up trimming them back because the book is getting too large. Sometimes you think you have a good subplot, and try to fit it in, and it doesn’t work. This was the case in the L’Amour work.

He had the idea of a subplot to cross an area, probably a real one, called the Smoky Desert. There is an escarpment which leads down to the desert from the area where the cabins sit. Apparently you can see broken wagons from the escarpment. His subplot was the hero finding a way down and then finding the trail from where the wagons are.

This allowed a tense climbing scene, something L’amour loved to use. The hero climbs down and finds the trail, climbing back up and clearing a trail to another town for a supply route. He also gets to write a decent desert crossing scene. all this is good for action scenes. It is also pure idiocy in terms of the story.

Why do I say that? Well for one thing, climbing down a cliff alone in the middle of nowhere is idiocy unless you need to. Certainly he could have brought along someone else to help if he had an accident. Experienced climbers who are past their early twenties only do dangerous faces alone in case of necessity.

Still that could have been chalked up to the idiosyncrasy of the hero. A more serious plotting fault was how unnecessary the trip was. It made little difference to the story. More importantly the events of the story take place over a couple of weeks tops. And early on the story the hero leads a raid to get supplies from the store in the town where they are being denied. Now they had a couple of dozen mouths to feed so lots of food was needed.

The problem is that these people were the nesters and small holders of the mountain valleys. Farmers and ranchers in other words. Now in the mid 1800s trips to the store for supplies were a sometime thing and were for things you couldn’t get yourself. Principally salt, coffee, ammo, and manufactured goods. Farmers stored enough food for the year when the harvest came in. Root cellars and other food storage was a necessity. Most places had a smokehouse where they preserved and stored meats for the year. The corn crib held not only your seed for the next year but the grain you made into flour this year.
This means with one supply run completed they were set for quite some time with no access to the store. A rather jarring bit of reality that intrudes into the story for any reader with a clue about historical reality. You must, as a writer, take into consideration that your readers will have a reasonable education and the ability to think.

L’amour mostly gets away with this bit of bull because of two things. One is that modern people usually think a trip to the store each week is a necessity, food storage for a week or less is standard these days. The other is that he is a very good writer and carries his readers along with sheer action and good story.

You, we, aren’t that good. Make sure to take reality into consideration when writing. I “let him get away with it” because I really like his storytelling. It still annoys me and if he were a lesser writer I would not accept it. Your readers are likely to be just as picky. Keep that in mind when writing.

4 thoughts on “Reasonable Stocks

  1. As a teen I loved that story, but the desert crossing did always bother me as even then it seemed unnecessary. Kilkenny is one of my favorite characters of L’Amour’s. I haven’t read any of them in over twenty years, I wonder if my recollections of how much I enjoyed them will hold up the next time I do read them.

  2. Actually, of the L’Amour characters that got multiple books, Kilkenny was my least favorite. I believe the desert crossing was probably the reason

  3. Down-climbing is a lot more difficult and dangerous than climbing up. And if you’re at the top, easy to put a rope down – which with a bit of sense makes it a fairly safe thing. A doubled rope and you can pull it down… but I guess that would kill the tension a tad :-).

    1. Agreed Dave, And someone along to help was not only possible but easy. The trick of having him do it was forced though. A the trek was unnecessary. B. doing it alone was downright foolish. Too bad, L’Amour was a better writer than that

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