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Expert advises Willmar students: Minnesota author speaks to Willmar elementary students

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Josslyn Heck, from left, Alejandra Mejia and Mercedes Turrubiates write down ideas for characters for a book. They were among about 450 students assembled May 1 at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar to hear children's author Lisa Bullard speak about telling and writing stories.1 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Caleb Ammerman writes down ideas for a story while Lisa Bullard, author of "Turn Left at the Cow," talks May 1 during a presentation to Kennedy Elementary School students in Willmar. 2 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Amelia Tauber, left, waits in line after Erin Dresler to ask questions of children's author Lisa Bullard, who spoke May 1 at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. Bullard spoke last week about books and storytelling with groups of Willmar elementary students who are right now learning to write stories themselves.3 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Some 450 Kennedy Elementary School students fill the bleachers at the Willmar school for a presentation May 1 by Lisa Bullard, author of "Turn Left at the Cow." Bullard talked to the students there and during other presentations last week about how to create a story.4 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Lisa Bullard, author of "Turn Left at the Cow" and other children's books, talks May 1 to Kennedy Elementary School students in Willmar. Bullard talked to the students about how to create a story.5 / 5

WILLMAR — Willmar's elementary students are learning to write stories, and a Minnesota-based children's author during her visit last week offered some tips to make it easier.

Lisa Bullard listed the basics of telling a story and talked about books May 1 with Kennedy Elementary School students in grades 3-5. She also spoke to other groups at Kennedy and Roosevelt schools during the week.

Bullard faced bleachers filled with about 450 children holding notebooks and pencils in their laps. She knew they would be writing stories in school, she said, and she also knew some of them may not be looking forward to it.

"Let's talk about ways to make storywriting easier," she said. She gave them a list of three things needed in every story: a lead character, whether a person or creature; a setting; and a conflict or problem.

As writers, they would get to choose what all of those things would be, she said. She talked through the list with them, giving them time to write down ideas along the way.

"You can always change your mind later, but write something down now," she said. "It's a lot easier to write a story if you have lots of ideas."

Ideas for characters and settings are easier to choose, she said, but "sometimes that third part, conflict, is kind of hard."

Bullard used examples from children's literature to demonstrate the concept. The conflict can be funny or serious, simple or complicated, or a mystery, she said.

In the children's book "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus," the conflict comes from a pigeon who wants to take over for a bus driver, but no one else wants him to, she said.

The Harry Potter series revolves around the basic problem that Harry and his friends need to stop a bad guy, she said.

The fish-out-of-water idea is a good conflict for a story. She said it was what she used in her book "Turn Left at the Cow," which most of the students had read.

The story is about a boy from a big city in California who comes to rural Minnesota to learn about his father, who died before he was born.

Bullard grew up going to her grandparents' cabin on Green Lake, and her character does the same thing.

While the names are different in the book, readers will recognize Green Lake and things like the former Big Store in New London and Spicer's Fourth of July parade.

Bullard said the ideas they had written down during her talk should give them a good start on writing their own stories.

When she opened for questions, students asked which of her books is her favorite. She listed two — her first, "Not Enough Beds," and "Turn Left at the Cow," which relates to her childhood.

She became interested in books when she was a tiny child, because her mom read to her a lot, she said.

"I have loved to write since I was a little, little girl," Bullard told the students. An inspiration for her was having a letter to the editor published in her local newspaper when she was in fifth grade. She liked seeing her name in print and knew she wanted to see it more often. She even began practicing her autograph.

Bullard, of Blaine, worked in publishing in the Twin Cities before eventually quitting to write full-time. She has written more than 90 fiction and non-fiction books for children of different ages.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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