Lucky me! I'm just back from Lennoxville, where I did a talk for students at Champlain College. I'm lucky because not only were the students a great audience, but also because I could not have asked for a more beautiful time of year to make the visit.
Lennoxville is about two hours from Montreal and I passed through the Eastern Townships on my drive there.
I talked to a group of about 100 students. I managed to tell them just about everything I know about writing and how it works for me (of course I pointed out that every writer has a different process and that they should find the process that works best for them). For many of the students at Champlain, English is their second language, but they seemed to be able to follow me without difficulty.
One of the things I discussed was how TROUBLE makes for great stories. First, I warned the students to STAY OUT OF TROUBLE!! But then I explained that for some of us (me included), sometimes trouble comes knocking -- even when we try to stay out of trouble. So I told students that should trouble come knocking they must remember one thing: TO USE IT FOR STORIES.
As I pointed out, no one wants to read a story about a character's best day ever. We are much more interested in what happens and how a character feels on his or her worst day imaginable. I also suggested that students who keep journals might try writing a sensory account of trouble. What, for instance, does trouble smell like? Gunpowder? Cigarette smoke? Alcohol? And what does trouble feel like, taste like, look like and sound like?
After my talk, a few students stopped to say hello. One was a young man named Daniel from Colombia who is studying nursing at Champlain. Daniel told me that when he was growing up in Colombia, his mom was a nurse and he sometimes accompanied her to work. He said that as a boy, he saw a lot of trouble: "I saw too much blood." When he told me that, I got goosebumps (always a sign for me that I am in proximity of a good story). A part of me felt sympathy for the boy this young man used to be, who saw "too much blood," but another part of me couldn't help but think... if you're going to be a writer (or in Daniel's case, a musician -- he told me he makes music), then USE IT.
Thanks to Ms. Evans for inviting me to Lennoxville. Thanks to the students for being a receptive audience, and to the other teachers for bringing their classes too! And to Ms. Evans's mom for the great cookies!