The Beauty of Roadblocks


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.



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Joanne Toft
9 years ago

I love the idea of find­ing the road­blocks that your favorite char­ac­ter had to deal with. A great way to mod­el this for students.