Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of "When You Reach Me," discusses a unique way for young writers to find inspiration and how to develop a good story. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Rebecca Stead
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
Where do you get your ideas?
REBECCA STEAD: I would say newspaper stories are probably my number one sort of source. My first book, First Light, the whole setting came from a New York Times Magazine article about a scientist that was working in the Arctic. I just loved, sort of, the idea of camping on an ice cap. What would that feel like? What would the fun parts be? What would the hard parts be? Would it seem exciting and then turn out to be boring? The setting sort of generated a lot of ideas and that all came from a newspaper article.
BUSH HAGER: How do you decide the narrator's voice?
STEAD: Voice is something I think about a lot. It's sort of the way a book talks to you. You know, sometimes you can read a book that's, sort of, very removed. There's sort of a fairy tale quality or you know that you're being told a story, kind of. And sometimes a book feels most much immediate, it's written in the first person and it's full of, you know, sort of, a tumult of thoughts as if you're inside someone else's brain. And sometimes there's a mix, sometime your hopping from head to head. And, whatever sort of path you end up on is, sort of, what I call voice. It doesn't refer to the voice of any particular character it's sort of about the experience of the story. That is really one of the very hardest things to do, is to finally decide how is this story going to be told?
BUSH HAGER: How do you develop a story?
STEAD: I am not an outliner. People say there are plotters and there are plungers and a plotter plots out the story ahead of time and knows what he or she is going to write and a plunger just goes, you know, just waits to see what's going to happen. And I am a plunger. So I don't really want to know what's going to happen in the story. I may know a few things. So I think my method is to carry paper, to try not to get frustrated, to pay attention. To pay attention to what's around me. I'm always looking for inspiration. And, you know, to respect every little spark of an idea that I may have because I've learned that if you dismiss, you know, ideas sometimes it's a long time before you have another one. My method is like gathering little pieces of dust and trying to put them together, you know, make something out of them and it requires patience.
BUSH HAGER: What makes a good story?
STEAD: The best part about writing is sort of surprising yourself. So I don't plan my stories, I always want to have secrets in my books. You know, I want there to be revelations. Any of my books if you start them and you think you know what's going on chances are that you don't. That's what I love in a story, I love to be surprised in a story, but I also like to be honest. I want it to feel truthful. I don't want it to feel artificial and flat or about characters that don't have depth and faults and real feelings and dark feelings. That always has to exist in a story.
BUSH HAGER: What advice do you have for young writers?
STEAD: My advice for young people who are writing is, they've heard it before, read. Reading is number one. I mean, it is the best most entertaining amazing education for writers that is, you know, possible. You can read about writing you can have people show you have to outline and revise but there is nothing like the model and the inspiration that reading provides.
Like a lot of young people, Joanna Rakoff took the first job she was offered, at one of New York's oldest literary agencies. But she had no idea what the business entailed. She didn't realise this agency represented the celebrated J D Salinger, author of "The Catcher in the Rye", or that it would be the first stepping stone on the way to becoming a writer and later, the novelist she is today.