On the Lam

My affec­tion for road trips may have start­ed with my many times on the lam as a kid. I ran the neigh­bor­hood crime syn­di­cate for the under-ten crowd; they played what I want­ed to play. On rainy days, it was often cops and rob­bers (nat­u­ral­ly, we were always the rob­bers) in my mom’s garage-parked, ancient sta­tion wag­on. I was the get­away dri­ver while my accom­plices shot their fin­gers at our pur­suers from the back window.

Kid CopI insti­gat­ed oth­er games, too. Our pirate ship (a.k.a. the liv­ing room couch) sailed through shark-infest­ed waters. The hardy pio­neers who made up our wag­on train scrab­bled for pro­vi­sions as we crossed the vast back­yard prairie. Our spy net­work tracked the move­ments of a dan­ger­ous gang of evil sib­lings. Our games were full of imag­ined crises and drama.

Kids under­stand con­flict;  it’s built into sib­ling rival­ry, into games, into orga­nized sports and tic-tac-toe. But as com­mon as com­bat is in their lives, kids all too often for­get to include it in their sto­ries. And a sto­ry real­ly isn’t a sto­ry with­out con­flict­ing elements.

The good news is, once stu­dents under­stand the neces­si­ty of con­flict, help­ing them pull it into their sto­ries is fair­ly straight­for­ward. Invest some time in a brain­storm­ing break. Give stu­dents exam­ples of com­mon types of con­flict: char­ac­ter vs. char­ac­ter, char­ac­ter vs. soci­ety, char­ac­ters con­flict­ed with­in them­selves. Then ask stu­dents to cre­ate lists of pos­si­ble con­flicts that their own char­ac­ters might face. Empha­size that there are no “stu­pid” ideas at this stage: even the cra­zi­est pos­si­bil­i­ties can lead to fan­tas­tic sto­ry devel­op­ments. Remind stu­dents that the longer their brain­storm­ing list, the more they’ll have to draw upon when they sit down to write.

Encour­age stu­dents to dri­ve their imag­i­na­tions like speed­ing get­away cars. Before you know it, their sto­ries will be packed with the sus­pense and ten­sion that con­flicts provides.

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