Ridley Pearson, co-author of the "Peter and the Starcatchers" series, discusses how he creates characters, and gives important advice on how to improve writing. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids-Ridley Pearson
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
Where do you get your ideas?
RIDLEY PEARSON: You know, inspiration for these things comes from all over the place. For “Peter and the Starcatchers,” which is a series about how a young boy becomes Peter Pan, I was reading to my then 5 year-old daughter, and we were reading “Peter Pan,” and she covered up the book with her hand and said, "Dad, how did Peter meet Captain Hook in the first place?" and my jaw kind of dropped. I thought, Wait, there's this kid who can fly and never grows old and he's running from these pirates and he can detach from his shadow, and none of that is explained in the classic. If you are willing to twist questions and twist reality you can find stories in almost anything.
BUSH HAGER: What makes a good story?
PEARSON: There are a few critical pieces to story-telling. The first is you have to have characters that you root for and love or hate, but you have to have characters. I'm a big plotter, I love plotting, but all the plot will not keep a person in a book. They will eventually throw it across the room and say- eh, I don't care. They have to care. You have to feel something, so you have to build sympathy into characters; you have to build regret into characters. That's the most complicated part. Plotting is tricky, but character building is crucial. It's critical that your central character learns something or wins something, or loses something, that's alright, but they can't just have an experience. So you have to set up something early on. Maybe it's a fear- they're afraid of heights - by the end of it they've overcome that - something simple like that. Maybe they're mad at their mom, and by the end of it they've reunited with their mom or they've run away. It just has to be that they've learned something, taken something away.
BUSH HAGER: How do you work with an illustrator?
PEARSON: One of the most fun aspects of writing books for young readers as opposed to my 'old' readers is that you get to work with illustrators. So suddenly you have put these--you spend all this time behind a computer or a pad of paper and you've got words in your head and you're trying to create in somebody else's mind an image, which is a very tricky thing. And then you work with an illustrator, and you see the image you've created because this person reads your material and then actually takes that idea that they see and makes it into something concrete that, as an author, you can pick up and go,-oh wow, this is what that person saw from my words. And it's an extraordinary moment for an author because it's sort of instant feedback of what your creations and descriptions have evolved into.
BUSH HAGER: What advice do you have for young writers?
PEARSON: My advice to young writers is always, especially with their homework, because I see my own daughter's do this, where they wait until the last night, they scratch out two pages and submit it, and they're shocked when they get a B. But, they don't look at Dad. Because, you know, if you as a writer, write a piece, put it away for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour, and then rewrite every sentence, put it away for 10 minutes and rewrite every sentence again, you will get a full grade higher. Your writing is never good enough the first time. You're too close to it. You're too involved with it. You need to go back and put in better verbs and take out the was's and is's. You need to shorten things. You need to move this idea to the front. Just keep reworking your material.
Kathleen Benner Duble is an author living in Boxford, Massachusetts. She writes books for children and adolescents and specializes in historical fiction novels, which are made-up stories based on true events in history. Her young adult stories take place in a wide range of time periods, including the Salem witch trials, the French Revolution, the Age of Exploration and more.
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