Trip The Rope!

helen and neva
My sister and me back when my dad still had a team of horses.

by Neva Bodin

Start with a hook. Great advice. But, where in the story is the hook? Sometimes, I start a story at the beginning, another cliché. Then realize that’s boring, cut it off and start in the middle of the first chapter.

How about starting when the rope trips?

When I was growing up on a farm in my early years, we mowed hay with the tractor, raked it into shocks (mounds) with the horses, hand pitched it into a hayrack and hauled it home with the horses (and later a tractor). There a process that required tripping a rope moved it to the top story of the barn where the haymow was.

Before my brother and Dad pitched the hay from the shocks into the hayrack, they lay a sling of 3 ropes, connected at one end by a ring, and spread out like a fan on the hayrack floor. Halfway through the load, they lay another sling rope on top the hay already loaded.

When we reached the barn, the hayrack was pulled parallel to the front under the overhanging peak where a large hook hung from a track seaming the inside peak of the roof. The hook was let down and hooked to the ends of the sling. Another rope coming from the bottom was hitched to the horses (or tractor) and pulled away from the barn, lifting the load of hay up and into the haymow.

“Trip the rope,” someone would yell when the hay had moved along the track to the appointed place in the mow. And a large pile of loose hay fell on whatever was below. The fallout was fragrant and messy. Beware a chicken, mouse or cat who might be sitting below.

I believe this is where our current culture/readers would like the story to start. Where it may be fragrant and messy or smothering and restrictive to whoever is in the way of the situation you wish to write about.

A situation falls into a life; it causes conflict, panic, and varied kinds of fallout. And we as authors get to “trip the rope” at just the right spot in that life, to cause the most conflict needed to grow that character into someone the reader can identify with and care about.

Incidentally, that big red barn burned down in 1988 when my brother turned a light on in the haymow and it somehow started the fire. My dad built that barn in the late 1920’s. I still can feel the thrill of driving the big black Percheron horses (Tom and Beauty) and growing strong enough to “trip the rope.”

This barn is similar to the one we had, only there was a “lean” on both sides. 


9 thoughts on “Trip The Rope!

  1. What a childhood! You have some great stories to tell – that barn must have been magical in its own way – I still love barns and there is nothing better than climbing hay bales – just don’t get caught!


    1. I guess it was kind of magical. I use to go into it in the middle of a summer day when only the pail fed calves might be in their pen, and listen to the pigeons cooing in the pigeon cot Dad had built in the lean-to part. If lucky I would see two babies in a nest. In the winter, it was warm and comforting filled with horses and milk cows and the upper story insulated with the hay. Only when we had to clean it did it not feel magical!


  2. Neva, I like your rope analogy, However, although I agree it’s good to have a hook, as a reader, I get frustrated with authors who start their stories in the middle and then back track. The key is to have a hook at the beginning of the story, and that’s what I try to do.


    1. Yes, it’s great to grab that interest at the beginning, but then I guess we need a cliff hanger which is a kind of hook at the end of each chapter too now that i think about it. Maybe I can do another analogy to fishing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have started outlining too albeit after my first draft. It helps me keep track of things and organize my thoughts, kind of after the fact though. I do think it helps with the timeline too.


  4. That’s an excellent analogy, Neva. “Where it may be fragrant and messy or smothering and restrictive to whoever is in the way of the situation you wish to write about.” I love your stories of farm life–the thrill of driving the Percherons. It’s a thrill to read about them.


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