Jacqueline Woodson, author of several award-winning books for children and young adults, discusses the importance of characters and how she goes about creating them. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Jacqueline Woodson
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
What makes a good story?
JACQUELINE WOODSON: A good story has to have good characters that the reader cares about. It has to have an emotional core so that the reader has something, along with someone, to kind of attach to and go on an emotional journey with. There should be some physical journey there, and it can be a physical journey that never leaves a house or never leaves a city or never leaves a block, but something that changes in the main character and, you know, lets some kind of metamorphosis happen, and it can be the slightest metamorphosis.
BUSH HAGER: How do you create characters?
WOODSON: I think about my characters for a long time or they're somewhere in my head, and I think about what they're doing, what choices they're making, who they're becoming and a lot of that does happen before I sit down to start writing them. And once in a while I'll jot down notes and time periods and maybe even physical stuff about that time period. What was the fashion? What was the music of that time? What were the things kids did? What did they have if they were coming from a working class poor to a middle class community? All those notes I'd take and just keep thinking about it but not start writing the story yet.
BUSH HAGER: Do you rewrite your stories?
WOODSON: I rewrite as I go and I read everything I write out loud. It has to sound a certain way, it has to look a certain way on the page. Well, with picture books especially it has to have a certain urgency to it. So, the rewriting brings all of that to the page, and the reading out loud really helps me hear what I'm doing and see where the holes are in it.
BUSH HAGER: What do you do about writer's block?
WOODSON: I don't believe in writer's block. I think it's something someone made up to have an excuse for not writing. And I think the thing that people call that thing that doesn't exist is - it's fear. I think people are scared to tell their stories; they're scared someone's going to judge it; they're scared they're not going to do it well. What I always do, and what I think writers should do in general, is, with the first draft of something, say, no one's ever going to see this. And then you're just writing for yourself, and it gets rid of a lot of that fear.
BUSH HAGER: What advice do you have for young writers?
WOODSON: You learn so much about writing through reading. If you're writing poetry, you have to be reading poetry; if you're writing plays, read plays; And write, just write as often as you can and know that everybody has a story. When I was a young writer I didn't see people--books about people like me in the world. I didn't see books about my neighborhood or my family or people who looked like me. There weren't--there just weren't a lot out there. And I thought, 'well, this must not be a story worth telling. And as I got older I thought, well, this is my work to put these stories on the page. They're not there because I haven't written them yet. And so, what are the stories that still need to be written and told and are important? And most likely those stories are the stories that are important to that young writer. So, do it.
Jacqueline Woodson, author of more than 30 titles in children's literature, was given a hefty title of her own earlier this month. She was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.