Your favourite writer-in-residence? Why, that’s me, of course! Today, I was back at Riverdale High School, where I am working with one of Ms. Scott’s Grade Nine classes on a project called Libres comme l'art. I get to write a book and the students are my team of personal consultants! In return, I’m teaching them everything I know about how to “spin” a story into a book.
Today was a big day because I’d written a first draft of Chapter 1. I handed round copies to the class, then read the chapter out loud. I have to admit – I was a little nervous. But you know what my favourite part was? When I got to the end of a page and I could hear the students flipping to the next one… I think they were curious to know more about my story. YIPPEE!
As I told the students, most writers I know write in a quiet room (or a noisy café) somewhere, and we rarely get reaction from our readers while we’re working on a story. So this was an exciting and inspiring first for me!
The class spent about an hour reacting to the chapter and giving me ideas for how to proceed with the story. Our focus was on developing individual characters. I explained to the students that the best fiction tends to be character-driven, meaning that once an author really knows his characters, then the plot becomes a function of the various characters’ feelings, thoughts, actions and reactions. We also talked about the role of foils in literature – how it helps when characters are different from each other.
Jared, one of the liveliest students in the group, thinks I should name one of the characters Logan – which happens to be Jared’s last name. When Matthew was speaking, I decided that maybe I’ll use him as the physical model for my protagonist – Matthew has blue-ish-grey eyes, light brown hair, the beginnings of a moustache and a scrape on his elbow!
And I got another idea for the book when Ms. Scott was mentioning Saturday morning detentions! (I’d never heard of Saturday morning detentions before.) That inspired me to do some research of my own. Fortunately for me, several of the students had had Saturday morning detentions. Kelly got one for missing two previous detentions (it all started when she didn’t get her French test signed). Here’s Kelly’s description of what the detention was like: “It was in the gym. There were a lot of people. You could read, but you couldn’t put your head down. I cried for half of it.” Hey, Kelly, I’m sorry you had such a bad time at detention – but look at the bright side… now you have a story to tell. And your story has inspired your favourite writer-in-residence.
I won’t see the class for a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ve got my own homework to do: I want to write Chapter 2 for them – and produce an outline for my story. Hopefully when Ms. Scott’s students hear more of my story, they’ll still want to keep turning those pages!!
PS: Lots of people to thank for making this project possible, but today, here's a special shout-out to Riverdale librarian Sue Strano. If you go to Riverdale and you're looking for a book to read, talk to Mrs. Strano. She's an expert at matching readers with books! Thanks, Mrs. Strano, for sharing your library with me for the Libres comme l'art project.