Why I Sent My Main Character Through a Flash Flood

After main character Marlee, her sisters, and hiking buddies dealt with the natural consequences of winding up in an avalanche, I knew it was time to challenge them again. Chased takes place a year after Avalanche, so Marlee is 16 and is wise enough to not sneak away from camp in the middle of the night.

Writing Chased was very fun for me, and I wanted to give the characters another struggle (this time a double-whammy) without it being a result of a reckless decision.

First, Marlee’s group meets a dehydrated hiker on the trail. When they hydrate and feed him, they learn that his name is Thad, that he’s a highly motivated hiker, and that he wants to get away from them. Fast. As soon as he recovers, he questions them in meticulous detail about their itinerary and acts paranoid that they’ll be anywhere near him. My characters discover that he’s an aggressive modern day treasure hunter, and their families’ presence will cramp his style. In an effort to warn their parents, who are camping a few miles away, the group splits up and Marlee and Sawyer experience a dangerous side of Thad.

At that point in writing the story, I knew I had a great setup, but I needed to challenge Marlee further. She’s afraid of Thad and what he’ll do to her and Sawyer, and to top it off, she is increasingly worried that her older sister Ellie will move out soon. Marlee is not ready to be the oldest sibling at home, and she definitely does not want to be the last to hear about Ellie’s plans. To parallel her emotional turmoil, I needed her to face something equally powerful. In an adventure survival series, I chose none other than another natural disaster, and Marlee was in the perfect spot to experience a flash flood.

I experienced my first flash flood a while after writing Chased, and man oh man, was it an experience to remember.

I was able to take this picture on my phone, and I really don’t know how the phone survived other than to say that the Otter box is really good. You might glance and think, “No biggie. We have a creek by our house that’s way deeper.” But consider that five minutes before this picture, it was a dry stream bed. Bone dry, and the sun was shining with a sprinkling of cute cumulus clouds in the sky. Then there was a thunderclap, a downpour, and a few minutes after taking this picture, my group and I were fighting through thigh-deep, fast-moving mud.

Marlee had to go through this, too. She had to see something bigger than her fears. It’s what her character needed. In her words, here’s what she learned after the floodwaters receded:

“I was so caught up in how to map out my future that I didn’t see a massive thunderstorm approaching over the mountain ridge until the thunder shuddered right through my body. If I allowed everyday worries to take over my thoughts, what other storms might I not see coming? What spiritual storms might approach and threaten my faith? I knew then that it was time to start seeing the forest, not just the trees.”

The double-whammy of being threatened by Thad and facing a flash flood showed Marlee that God is working on an enormous masterpiece and she can work to fill her role well, but that she should not worry about every detail that is out of her control.

Readers, if you’re curious how I came up with the idea of Thad, check out this post where I discuss the experience that gave me that idea 🙂

Come back next week to find out why I later sent Marlee through a fire. Share your comments about flash floods or lessons you’ve learned through trials.

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