Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

Writing TipAll my life, I’ve been told to not make mountains out of mole hills. Why? Because situations are usually not that dramatic or life-threatening. If we can stop and evaluate the situation, we often find we can deal with it without creating too much anxiety.

However, as a writer, you should get in the habit of making mountains out of mole hills in your fiction. They make for interesting stories, ones readers can’t put down.

We all have stories in our lives—real stories. We go through our day doing small and medium sized things. We get the kids up and ready for school, we clean up the garden to prepare for planting, we drive to work through heavy traffic and so on. All of this doesn’t sound very interesting, but if you let your imagination run wild—and mine often lives on an open plain—we can turn a simple outing to a park into a story others might want to read.

We can also take that little scene and drop it into the middle of a larger story. Here’s how it works. Below is a simple story, one that actually happened to me. The names of my children have been changed.

We walked away from the SUV, and I looked back at it, cursing. Why had it failed to start at the end of a dirt road, miles away from houses and the main road? Glancing at the sun, I determined we had about four hours of daylight left. It’d take us over half of that to reach the first house where we might find someone at home to drive us the rest of the way to our camp.

I adjusted the baby in my arms. Billy was only nine months old and not that heavy, but carrying him any great distance would put a strain on my muscles. My other two children—Sarah and Hank—were enjoying the adventure, skipping and looking for treasures along the old, dirt road. Being five and four years old respectively, they didn’t feel the sense of emergency I had for reaching civilisation before darkness set in.

Thirty minutes into our journey, I spotted a young coyote. He was no bigger than a full-size beagle, but I still worried about his intentions and if he was alone. I kept the kids near, walking upright to pose as a bigger threat to the animal that ducked in and out of the bushes as it followed us. Sarah and Hank hadn’t seen the coyote, so they continued their happy chatter without concern.

An hour later, the coyote still trailing us, I heard the familiar sound of bikes; they were coming towards us. My kids heard them too, and talked about who it might be. The two four-wheelers stopped, and we recognised the drivers as father and son who had a cottage a short distance from our camp. I knew we’d get back to our home safely.

Truth to Fiction

This story is bland and certainly couldn’t stand alone. If it were a small segment of something bigger, it might connect two interesting scenes more important to the plot. However, it can be made more interesting by adding fascinating—but untrue—details which would make it a bigger part of a connecting scene, or it could be fleshed out to be a complete story.

I won’t write a complete story here, just add fiction to the truth to spruce it up.

I walked away from the Jeep, looking back at it, cursing. Why had it failed to start at the end of a dirt road, miles away from civilisation, on a back road only fools travelled? Glancing at the sun, I determined I had about one hour of daylight left. It would take me that and three more hours to reach the main road to find help.

I adjusted the backpack. It held everything I owned in this world, including the daggers my father had left me in his will. The load wasn’t extremely heavy, but carrying it any great distance would put a strain on my muscles.

Thirty minutes into the journey, I spotted a coyote ducking into the bushes. My eyes easily followed it; I had never seen one that large. Maybe it was a dog, a German shepherd. I walked straighter to pose as a bigger threat to the animal. The movement in the trees suggested it followed me. Then I heard something behind me. I turned quickly and saw another, and this time I was certain it was a coyote.Mountains vs Mole Hills

I swung the pack from my back, and as I walked, I pulled a dagger from one of the pockets. Adjusting the pack into its former position, I gripped the dagger, ready for the attack if it came.

An hour later, the coyotes still trailed me. I had seen at least three different ones, but guessed there were others. The farther I travelled, the braver they became. At one point, the largest of them stood twenty feet away before it ducked back into the words.

The familiar sound of bikes reached my ears; a mixture of relief and fear invaded my senses. The strangers would save me from becoming coyote food, but in this part of the province, the inhabitants weren’t as friendly as outsiders might expect.

The two four-wheelers stopped, and I recognised the drivers as father and son who owned the shack next to the old pit. The father was under investigation for the murder of the county judge. Rumour had it, the judge wasn’t the first person to fall beneath his blade. The smell of booze floated in the air. I gulped as he peered at me with beady eyes. Perhaps it would be better to face the coyotes.

This is how my mind works. It takes something simple from everyday life, adds interesting possibilities and runs with it to create a story. In other words, I take that mole hill and create a mountain.

Have you ever taken a true life event and added extreme details to create a story?

Editor Diane Tibert


6 thoughts on “Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

  1. An awesome example of turning truth into fiction. I do this often as well. Of course I love turning mole-hills into mountains (much to my husbands annoyance at times!)


    • Thanks, Darlene. I do this in fiction, but I seldom do it in real life. Strange. I guess it’s the writer in me who wants to observe the action, but more importantly, I want to observe how others react to the action. Then I can write that into a character.


  2. I love how you turn the well-worn phrase around for the benefit of writers. Yes, we SHOULD turn mole hills into mountains!! I’m going to use this idea for my creative writing students. You gave a great example, turning truth into a bit of fiction. And yes, I do this all the time, and used some real-life experiences being a medical editor into a page-turning romantic suspense in my book The Right Wrong Man. We writers – we make huge mountains, and are proud of it. 🙂


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