I start my fiction workshop by asking students to introduce themselves
by telling something they've never told anybody else. "It doesn't have
to be a big secret. Just a little thing." Well, they don't stop with
little things. Some students reveal truths and events and feelings that
I remember long afterward, honest, brutal things that their faces show
have been closely held. I am touched, but also shaken. People rip the
covers off their lives, all because I say, "Tell."
Often I ask
students, "Describe something you want." Wanting is fundamental to
fiction. "After all, your characters have to want something." I might
tell about something I want, or that one of my characters wants. I
might talk about Mrs. Dickinson, dangling that robin in front of me and
promising a bird a week, which to a six-year-old, is a bird forever.