In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.


The scene:

A boy is riding an old, slow horse and is supposed to round up cattle from a pasture. After collecting all the cows and loading them on the truck, he realizes that there is one more huge steer he has to get. He finds the sharp-horned beast stuck in a swampy corner of the pasture and has to figure out how to get him out. What would you do to get the steer out?

 Here’s what one boy did in, Saving for Trace:

 There in the bog stood a full grown steer sunk to his knees in muck. He swung dangerous horns from side to side as he glared first at Nick, then at Mojo with angry red eyes—a devil, panting loudly, slobbering drool.

Frightened until he realized that the steer couldn’t move, Nick slid out of the saddle, threw back his shoulders like a haughty matador and taunted, “Aya, Toro, aya!”  The devil glowered back—El Diablo.

Mojo lay down at the edge of the bog facing the steer, her tail twitching. Now what do I do? Nick wondered. Maybe if I rope Diablo around the head, Buttercup can pull him out. And then once he’s out, I can lead him through the woods to the pen.

Nick shook out the noose from his lariat, flipped it over the steer’s head and uncoiled twenty feet of rope before tying two loops around the saddle horn. He climbed aboard, pointed the horse away from the steer and said, “Okay Buttercup, do what you’re good at. Pull!”

Buttercup strained forward. Nick looked back to study his plan in action. The steer’s head stretched forward as the rope tightened—would he strangle or break his neck before he freed himself? Finally Diablo’s hooves lifted, sucking out of the mud. On solid ground, he shook his head, caught his breath.

Nick patted Buttercup on the shoulder, “We did it. We got him out. No problem.”

Diablo bellowed behind him. Mojo barked excitedly. Nick caught sight of a red blur the moment before the rope twanged taut and the horse lurched sideways. He hadn’t predicted that tug-of-war could go both ways.

Buttercup recovered, facing the steer along the stretched rope. Now what? Nick prayed for inspiration. Let’s see what happens if I move the horse ahead; create some slack. 

He eased Buttercup forward three steps, Diablo cut to the side. When he took up the slack, he kept running, in a circle now, around a tree, under the horse’s nose.

They were back at a stand-off—this time with a tree in the middle of the tugging contest. Nick was desperate. Something had to give. He couldn’t take the rope off the steer. That left untying the rope from the saddle. But then what? He couldn’t hang on to it. The only alternative was to untie from the saddle horn and hope to catch him in the open.

Once freed, Diablo lumbered through the woods with Mojo barking nearby. When the steer eventually broke into the pasture, Mojo held him at bay until Nick could pick up the rope, twist it around the saddle horn and begin towing 1200 pounds of reluctant beef to the loading pen.