Mapping a Story on Interstate 70

Living in Colorado I have never strayed too far from Interstate 70, the long ribbon of highway that goes from Utah to Maryland. Taking the eastern trek past Denver towards Kansas, the journey is straightforward as the flat plains show little variation from mile to mile. The trip is perfect for cruise control and some would call the scenery rather monotonous and boring (Unless you get caught in a blizzard).

Going west brings a much more challenging driving experience. The scenery hits you square in the face as you go up mountainsides and then down into various valleys. Frequent twists and turns along with trying to stay clear of huge semi’s keep you alert throughout. If that is not enough how about theses signs– “Beware of Wildlife Crossing the Road” and “Watch out for Falling Rock” immediately demand your attention.

After twice reading Mary Kole’s excellent WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT, writing a story and taking trips on I-70 reminded me of something she brought up about a character’s emotional ups and downs. I had learned many times about making sure your character and story have many ups and downs. It wasn’t until Mary’s suggestion (There are hundreds more) about putting you character on an emotional graph to check on the journey your character takes.

I took out several pieces of paper and drew a horizontal line through the middle. Next I went through each emotional point my character faces and drew the line upward for a positive experience and downward for a bad experience. After lining up the sheets in a continuous line I could see clearly… there were the Rocky Mountains with constant high and low points. Nothing against Kansas but if my story had taken the flat line look of a trip east on I-70, my readers would never get beyond the first few pages. I also found the graphing process exposed scenes where a high or low point lasted too long. Readers want to see change in your character and not have to be dragged through sameness for too long.

Plot your character’s story on an emotional line graph and when you are finished I hope you are heading west like me. It’s hard to stop reading when you don’t know what will be around the next turn.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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