Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, discusses his writing process and how he creates characters. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Jeff Kinney
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
What is your writing process?
JEFF KINNEY: I go through about three major phases with my writing. My first phase is idea generation. So, for about four months, I'll just get into this routine where every day, every morning, every night, I'll go and lay on a couch and put a blanket over my head or maybe take a walk or something like that. And then after that, I go through just a two week period where I actually write my manuscript. So, I write every word in the book. And then after that I have about three or four months where I'm drawing all the time, and sometimes while I'm drawing, I think of better ideas for my book, and I go back and revisit the text. But, those are my three big phases.
BUSH HAGER: How do you create characters?
KINNEY: My characters are kind of a crazy combination of real life people and my imagination and, you know, things that are going on around me. So, I try to take the bits and pieces I like and then make them into fictional characters. I think Greg Heffley, the main character in my Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, is kind of my worst parts boiled down into one person. Greg, actually - he's not a bad kid. He's just a kid whose life is being recorded at a really awkward time. I take all the things that I did wrong as a kid and that I do wrong as an adult, and then I put them all into this one character, and, hopefully, people find him to be funny because he's so imperfect. What was most important for me when I was writing the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books is that they seemed authentic. I wanted people to really believe that the characters were real. A lot of times when adults write for kids or they create kid characters, you can really hear the adult's voice, and I wanted to make sure that my character seemed like it was really realistic, and so he's a very flawed character, and, you know, that comes across in his voice.
BUSH HAGER: What advice do you have advice for young writers?
KINNEY: The best advice I have for a young author or illustrator is to actually start by copying somebody else's style. If there is somebody you like, an author or illustrator, you like their work, what you could do is to try to write another story that's in their style, that's in that same kind of a voice, because I think that when you do that, you learn how that author or illustrator did what they did. So, I've seen a lot of kids copying the Diary of a Wimpy Kid style, but I think that kids will branch out after that. They'll say - That's part of my toolset, but I'm going to go in this direction. So, I think that that's a good way to start.
Jeff Kinney wears his pants properly now, not with the waistband high, up near his belly button. He is no longer skeletal. He certainly doesn't carry his patrol badge everywhere.
And when he strolled into his old elementary school gymnasium on Tuesday as a multimillionaire author, not the Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing goofball he once was, he was greeted like a celebrity. More than 200 children lost their minds, screaming and waving fans decorated with covers of his books.