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The Road Trip Story Skeleton

Last week, we examined the Mystery skeleton. This week, we take a look at the building blocks for the Road Trip skeleton.

The overall story problem is a lesson that needs to be learned or a secret that needs to be revealed.

The reader asks: How did this journey change them?

It can be mixed with any other genre with the caveat that two or more people are forced into traveling together. They can be trying to reach somewhere or running from something. It isn’t the end of the journey that matters as much as the friction between the characters and the obstacles they encounter along the way leading to the lesson learned or truth revealed.


The participants can be strangers, friends, lovers, relatives, coworkers, siblings ,or parent and child. The Road Trip often throws two opposites together who must then find common ground. The Road Trip story can be a light and frothy comedy, veer toward serious literary, or incorporate a crime spree as they go.

It can be two strangers who travel together because they have to reach the same destination. Their differing approaches to life teach the other person a valuable lesson about compromise and what is important. 

It can be an estranged mother and daughter who, over the course of the bumps and detours, come to terms with the source of the hurt that drove them apart. It can also be a romantic pair whose relationship is tested as they navigate the complications of their journey. 

Variations on this structure include the treasure hunt and road race where people work together and at crossed purposes to win a prize. 

In Road Trip stories, the protagonist is the person who needs to come to terms with something or learns something important about himself or others.

The antagonistic force usually acts more as foil or sounding board than foe. He will force the protagonist to deal with the story problem by refusing to let the topic go.

External Conflict scenes involve the stops along the way, the obstacles to the physical journey. The characters can be in a car, train, airplane, on bicycles, or on foot. They can be traveling to a specific event like a family reunion or a sick parent’s bedside. They can be trying to reach home for Christmas, but external events conspire against them reaching it: a blizzard hits, the car engine dies, or the road is blocked by an avalanche. These obstacles force them to find another way to complete the journey.

Antagonist Conflict scenes can follow a more benign teacher character rather than an actual “bad guy”. The antagonist supplies the friction that makes the protagonist review whatever opinion, prejudice or need that is causing their personal dilemma. In some versions there can be an actual antagonist who does not want them to reach their destination. The antagonist’s POV is rarely explored in these stories. These are scenes where the antagonist is directly applying pressure to the protagonist to change his way of thinking. If you follow the antagonist with your verbal camera, these scenes will show him plotting to make the journey harder for the protagonist or show him expressing his thoughts to a friend or foe.


Interpersonal Conflict scenes involve the people who help them and cause delays in their journey. They often serve to pose different sides of the thematic argument. If a man is re-evaluating his relationship with his girlfriend, he can meet different types of couples, some are happy and others are poster children for why people shouldn’t get married. The friends and foes may be unwitting participants in the play. They are going about their business, but their business causes a snag in the protagonist’s plans.

Internal Conflict scenes deal with the protagonist’s personal dilemma that the journey forces him to face. The personal dilemma is resolved just before or directly following the end of the physical journey. These scenes show the fluctuation in his thoughts toward and away from the right way of thinking.


For more information on building the Road Trip story, check out the newly released Road Trip Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book versions.

Next week, we examine Romance subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and explore the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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