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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