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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Misdirected

Several years ago a friend and I got lost driving through New Orleans. Eventually we pulled over so I could ask a gas station attendant for directions.

He rattled off a set of instructions in a Cajun accent, ending with, “then take the Hoopalong.”

I looked at my road map. No Hoopalong. I asked him to point it out to me. His finger tapped a section of my map while he repeated his directions, this time with a hint of impatience. I looked again. Still no Hoopalong that I could see, but he’d moved on to another task. I shrugged. I figured we’d follow his instructions as far as we could, then watch road signs for this mysterious “Hoopalong.”

Huey P. Long Bridge

Photo credit: JohnnyAutomatic, Wikimedia Commons

Which is how I soon thereafter found myself being driven across the Huey P. Long Bridge (identified by some as the “scariest bridge you’ve ever driven across”) by my shrieking, bridge-phobic friend. By the time the two of us had realized where the attendant’s directions were taking us, it was too late to do anything but keep driving forward.

I once heard author Laurie Halse Anderson tell a group of writers that we should “lead our characters deep into the forest.” I’ve heard other authors refer to it as “throwing our characters in over their heads.”

To phrase it slightly differently, we need to somehow trick our characters into crossing the scariest bridge they’ve ever driven across.

Keep drumming this fact into your student writers’ heads: a story doesn’t become compelling until you heap trouble upon your characters. Trouble is what makes a reader want to keep reading.

As for the students, they’ll learn one of the biggest satisfactions a writer can have: the fun of figuring out how you’re going to teach your character to swim after you’ve thrown him or her into the deep water.

2 Responses to Misdirected

  1. David LaRochelle February 26, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    You are so right, Lisa! I don’t like trouble in my own life, but I love reading about it in books! And what a wonderful name: the Hoopalong! I want to go over that bridge someday!

    • Lisa Bullard February 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

      It was definitely an adventure to remember, David! Especially as we crossed the Hoopalong on our way to ride an airboat through alligator-infested swamps and ended up getting stuck in said swamps, miles from nowhere! Hey, this story is starting to sound like great book material….

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