Pulled Over

by Lisa Bullard

Cousin Susie on our road trip to Galveston

Cousin Susie on our road trip to Galve­ston

My brother’s wed­ding rehearsal is in three hours, but my cousins and I take a jaunt from Hous­ton to Galve­ston any­way. Then a cop car pulls us over. One cop stands behind our car, gun drawn; anoth­er leans men­ac­ing­ly into the win­dow and grills us. Even­tu­al­ly, he admits that our car and the three of us match the descrip­tions of the per­pe­tra­tors of a just-com­mit­ted, seri­ous crime.

I start play­ing the “What if? Game” in my head:

—What if we have to spend the night in a Texas jail?

—What if we have to spend the next thir­ty years in jail?

—What if my broth­er kills me for miss­ing his wed­ding?

My over-devel­oped imag­i­na­tion loves to think up out­ra­geous pos­si­ble out­comes like this. So when I start­ed vis­it­ing schools, I was sur­prised by how many stu­dents told me they strug­gle to think up sto­ry ideas. I might have trou­ble trans­lat­ing my ideas into work­able sto­ries, but I nev­er lack for the ideas them­selves.

And then I real­ized: I need­ed to teach stu­dents the “What if? Game.” You sim­ply take some­thing pre­dictable— tomorrow’s bus ride, soc­cer prac­tice, din­ner at Grandma’s — and you brain­storm a list of the fun­ni­est, scari­est, or most life-alter­ing alter­na­tives as to how that event could turn out. Then you assign one of these imag­ined dis­as­ters to a char­ac­ter. Now you’ve got the start to a sto­ry.

Try it out. Prompt your stu­dents with, “What if when you walk into school tomor­row morn­ing — .” Then set them to brain­storm­ing: What if zom­bies are chas­ing your class­mates? What if the U.S. pres­i­dent is sit­ting in your desk? What if the prin­ci­pal has turned into an alien?

And, yes, the cops let us go and we made it to the wed­ding. But what if instead…?


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