Daniel Kirk, author of the picture book "Library Mouse," discusses how he creates characters, how he starts a story, and the importance of revision. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids- Daniel Kirk
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
How do you create characters?
DANIEL KIRK: I think when I'm creating characters, I'm either thinking of the situation that a character would find himself in - so, you could imagine, say, that a tornado strikes the elementary school, and then you go - ok, well now, in that elementary school, I'm going to have to think of some characters and how they're going to react to that sort of situation. And that'll give you sort of a hook to write your characters around. Or, if you think of an individual character, I think of my library mouse, Sam, and I think of - what's Sam like? What is he afraid of? What does he really love? You know, what means the most to him in life, you know? What does he want to do later, you know? What is he hoping to do with these books? How is he hoping to feel? What makes him happy? What makes him sad? Those kinds of things. I sort of ask my character's questions.
BUSH HAGER: How do you start a story?
KIRK: When I'm writing a book, I like to try to imagine the whole story happening before I ever put a pencil to paper or start working on my laptop to write it. I sort of try to see it like a movie, and I see what the characters are going to be doing, I see where it's happening, I see if there's some sort of a conflict, and I try to think it all the way through to the end so that when I actually sit down to write, I know what I'm doing. It's sort of like a mental outline, really, and that's usually the way I start.
BUSH HAGER: How do you end a story?
KIRK: Usually by the time I've finished the book, and the entire thing is done, then I'll go back to the beginning and see whether what I wrote in the beginning makes sense, and very often it doesn't, you know. I'll have to go back and write it again, and that happens with the ending of a book too. I very often write three or four different endings for any book that I'm doing just to see if something else works better, because when you're working from the world of your imagination, in fiction, anything could happen, and there's so many possibilities that you want to make sure you get something that really feels good and feels right and makes the reader happy. It helps, when you're finishing a story, to know in advance, if you can, how it's going to end, or think of all the possibilities of how it might end. You can't just leave something hanging. But, you have to have an ending that makes the story feel complete. It has to sort of be wrapped up in a bow at the end, unless it's a series or something that is going to require a sequel, where you can end with a cliffhanger, you know. But eventually, you're going to have to wrap up the story and have your characters get what they want or come to terms with the fact that they're not going to get exactly what they want, but they'll get something else.
BUSH HAGER: Do you rewrite your stories?
KIRK: When you're writing, you can put things in, and if you don't like it, you can take them back out again. Or, if you decide you want, you know, you want your main character to be an angry hippo one day, and then the next day, it's an alligator, or the next day, it's a penguin, you can just keep changing it as long as you want until it feels right. And some days, it feels right, and you think - I am such a great writer. I have written the perfect story. And then, you go back the next day and look and go - oh, that's really bad. What was I thinking? And so what you want to have happen is that when you read your story yourself over and over again, you get to the point where you go - that's pretty good. That's really the best I can do.
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