When I visit schools, I like to pose a question:
“If a football player runs the ball for 100 yards and scores a touchdown, is that exciting?“
I’m almost always met with a loud, unanimous “YES!”
But then I counter with: “Is it exciting if there’s no one on the field to stop him or her?”
This picture usually elicits giggles, but the point is made. A game is only exciting if the players have to overcome obstacles.
The same is true of stories. A tale will fall flat if the main character doesn’t face problems. The more, the merrier! We want to cheer our players – and our characters – on to victory.
“If, Then” stories, like Laura Numeroff’s If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and its wonderful corresponding series, as well as my own When A Dragon Moves In and its sequel When A Dragon Moves In Again, can be used to illustrate how tension works in stories. In my debut picture book, the main human character is faced with convincing his family that his magnificent new dragon friend is real; in the second, he and Dragon must deal with the newest little addition to the family – a baby!
After a reading, ask students the following questions: Who is the main character(s)? What does that character want? What problems stand in his/her way?
Writing Exercise: Ask your students to write an “If, Then” story. Have them answer the questions above with respect to their own work. Challenge them to create three elements of conflict as the story unfolds, each one ramping up the tension (and excitement!), before resolving the problem.
Author bio: Jodi Moore is author of the award winning When A Dragon Moves In (Flashlight Press, 2011), its newly released sequel, When A Dragon Moves In Again (Flashlight Press, 2015) and Good News Nelson (Story Pie Press, 2012). Jodi is the proud, (admittedly) neurotic mother of two talented young adults and never ceases to be amazed at how far the umbilical cord will stretch. She loves connecting with readers through school and book events. Jodi lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Larry, and an ever-changing bunch of characters in her head. Visit her website: www.writerjodimoore.com