Children's book author Mae Respicio joined our 3rd through 6th grade students last Friday for a virtual visit to talk about writing novels, where she finds inspiration for character details and plot lines, and a little bit about her Filipino culture. Respicio has written several books, Any Day with You, The House that Lou Built, and the forthcoming How to Win a Slime War.
"I keep writing journals everywhere -- in the car, my nightstand, even in my dog's hiking backpack," Respicio told students, as she held up a colorful journal with an inspirational quote and a fun-looking pen. "I write down anything that strikes me as interesting, including parts of conversations and things I observe." She encouraged students to do the same.
Using How to Win a Slime War as an example, Respicio explored the key parts of a novel -- premise, plot, character, and setting. The inspiration for the book came from her son, who loves to make slime. Respicio shared fun photos of some of the slime creations they made together recently, including gooey slime and fluffy slime. To figure out the premise of her book, she told students that she always starts with the question: "What if?" For this book, she asked, "What if a kid wanted to make his dad proud of him?" She uses each question to brainstorm, leading to more questions that help round out the premise and eventually the plot, she explained.
In discussing the development of characters, Respicio talked about the importance of asking questions about each of them to come up with details to make them more interesting. A key question she asks is, "What are some challenges that will help my characters grow?" Then she read an excerpt from Slime War that introduced a character, and analyzed it for details that showed the reader his personality, how others perceived him, his physical appearance, and character traits.
Finally, Respicio talked about the importance of setting, and how she tries to use all five senses in her writing. She read another excerpt from her book to demonstrate examples of how she incorporates smells, feelings invoked, and more. Students then took a few minutes to try writing their own description of the room they were sitting in with as many details as possible, drawing on all of their senses.
The visit wrapped up with Respicio answering several student questions. One student wanted to know how long it took to write a novel. In answering his question, she emphasized how much of the writing process is really about revising. "It took me four months to draft, followed by eight months of editing and revising," she explained.
Another student asked what Filipino authors inspired Respicio's writing. Respicio shared that growing up, there were no books about Filipino-American kids, so that is why she wanted to write them. Now, she explained, there are many books that feature Filipino-American characters, and she showed students photos of some of those that she recommends.