Because Torrance can read minds, King said he was intrigued by the idea of having the character work in a hospice as someone who helps people cross over from life to death.
The author encouraged students to be people-watchers and pick up on traits that would let them create their own characters.
King also warned them against becoming discouraged about publishers' rejection slips and said not to use notebooks for story ideas. He said the stuff that's worth writing stays in your head.
"My method for starting anything is I tell myself the story when I'm laying in bed at night, waiting to go to sleep," King said.
The no-notebook idea made an impression on sophomore Joshua Beverage, who said later he'd give the method a try. The 19-year-old creative writing major said he's been reading King's stories and seeing movies based on them since he was 8.
"I never thought I'd actually be in his presence. That was really big for me," he said.
Sophomore literature major Chelsea Graham said she was impressed King said it should be up to readers to decide what books are important to them.
"I liked how he said it's a good book when it sort of takes over your life," the 19-year-old said.
Dubus, who joined King on another UMass Lowell stage later Friday for a talk before an audience of 3,000, said the earlier lecture meant a lot.
"He gives these students the sense that the university is important, where they are is important, what they're doing is significant, and that they count," he said.
But for as much writing advice as King shared with students, the horror master also left them with some mystery.
"I've always wondered who I am when I write," King said, "because once I'm doing it, I'm not in the room with myself."