Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing Prompt - Inside Your Character's Head with 2010 National Book Award Winner Kathryn Erskine

It is my privilege to share a writing tip from the 2010 National Book Award Winner Kathryn Erskine. In addition, recent announcements reveal that Mockingbird made the 2011 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List and the 2011 ALA Notable Children's Books List!

•*¨*•.¸¸❤CONGRATULATIONS❤¸.•*¨*•☆ Kathryn, on these well-deserved honors!

by Kathryn Erskine

How well do you know your characters?  I mean, really know them?  Have you been inside their shoes, their skin?  To write truly authentic characters you want to experience the world through their eyes.  That means being your character and knowing him or her inside out.  So go all the way (short of illegal activities, that is!).  Does your character get crammed in a locker?  Try it out!  How does it feel?  Where does it hurt?  What does it look like, sound like, from inside that locker?  What about the smells?  If there are things you can’t or won’t experience (I will never try skydiving, for example) talk with those who have.

So here’s my challenge:  Be your character for a day.  Try walking and talking like your characters and wearing those character’s clothes.  Even if you can’t use the language your character uses while you’re at school or at work, ask yourself what, exactly, would my character say/do in this situation?  Listen to the music your character listens to.  Eat the food and drink the beverage he or she does.  What are the mannerisms and nervous habits?  What are your characters dreams and hopes?  And at the end of the day, ask yourself (i.e., your character) the key question:  What do you really want? 

Kathryn Erskine, a lawyer-turned-author, grew up in six countries, an experience that helps her view life, and her writing, from different perspectives.  Her novels include Mockingbird (Philomel 2010), the 2010 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature, Quaking (Philomel 2007), an American Library Association Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and upcoming, The Absolute Value of Mike (Philomel, June 2011), described as Cannery Row meets Seedfolks.  While covering weighty topics, her books have warmth and humor, making difficult issues approachable.  She is a writing instructor and frequent workshop presenter.

For More About Kathryn, visit:
As a fellow alumnus of the Highlights Foundation Workshop at Chautauqua, I wanted to share the following press release from the Highlights Foundation regarding Kathryn Erskine:

If you've heard about the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, it's likely you heard from a fellow writer who has attended and is urging you to go. Our writers celebrate us and we celebrate them in return! This year we're celebrating with Kathryn Erskine, whose amazing novel Mockingbird was the 2010 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature.

Here's what Kathy has to say about her experience attending our Chautauqua writers workshop.

"Chautauqua is a launching point for your writing career. You'll join a community of authors and editors who want to help you get to the next level. They'll meet you wherever you are and encourage you, challenge you, cajole you to step it up. Soak up as much as you can and don't worry about processing it all in that one week. You'll find what you've learned coming out in your writing–in your own voice–and you'll realize that you carry their wisdom with you long after you leave.

. . . I will always be grateful to the Highlights family for giving me my start with those wonderful Founders Workshops and Chautauqua."

–Kathryn Erskine, 2010 National Book Award winner, Young People's Literature for Mockingbird.

This summer, things will come full-circle for Kathy as she joins Patricia Lee Gauch–one of her Mockingbird editors–as a faculty member for the 27th Annual Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, July 16-23, 2011. For twenty-six years, the Highlights Foundation has been helping children's writers and illustrators like you to reach their goals. We invite you to join us this summer for an unforgettable workshop experience.

For more information, visit our Web site or contact Jo Lloyd, toll free, at 1-877-512-8365.

Please feel free to share this e-mail with others who might have an interest or to include the information in blog posts or through other social networking forums.

Highlights Foundation, Inc.
814 Court Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
Phone: (570) 251-4500


  1. Thank you. That is very good advice. Two of us come at writing from an acting background. What you suggest takes what an actor does a step further. The next thing is to get some of the kernel of gold you discover about your character into that first paragraph, so that a casual book browser will want to take the journey with you.
    I just posted ten first line/paragraphs at Pen and Ink. Please check it out and tell me which of these writers would you like to follow on their journey?

  2. I thought this was really fascinating, how Kathryn's urging we, her fellow writers, to really get inside our characters. It's a good challenge! Thanks for sharing this, and for being part of the Comment Challenge as well!

  3. @Pen & Ink -- Thanks for visiting, LOVE your blog <3
    @Lee Wind -- It was a pleasure to meet you at SCBWI NYC #11. Love your blog, too <3