by Lisa Bullard
Can you guess which of these really happened?
a) After accidentally invading the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, my traveling companion and I were in a three-way stand-off: our car, a Harley, and a 1,000-pound buffalo.
b) I peered over a hotel balcony high above the Mississippi, watching the bomb squad and 50 other emergency vehicles squeal into the parking lot directly below.
c) Our airboat became stuck in an alligator-infested Louisiana swamp.
d) All of the above
Did you guess “d”? One of the best things about road trips is the stories I have to tell afterwards about the unexpected roadblocks I faced down along the way.
Obstacles come in handy when you’re writing fiction, too. You need to make sure your character faces problems all along their wild ride to the story’s finish. That conflict is what hooks in readers. But conflict is the ingredient kids most often leave out of their stories. Sometimes they don’t understand that fiction requires it. Sometimes they want to protect their characters. Sometimes conflict scares them. Some kids resolve all the conflict too quickly, draining the story of suspense.
So before we even start writing, I ask kids to tell me about their favorite books. I help them identify the roadblocks their favorite characters have faced. I have students brainstorm long lists of problems that could confront their own characters. And I remind students that “and they lived happily ever after” doesn’t come until a story’s end.
For me, the whole point of taking a road trip is that moment when you’re facing down the buffalo. After all, I got home in one piece—and I’ve got a great story to tell! So don’t let your writing students forget to introduce their characters to a buffalo or two along the way.