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Stepfamilies and Other Stories

Apr 08, 2013

Liesl Shurtliff on The StudioWhen writer Liesl Shurtliff was 8, her mother remarried and Liesl inherited three new siblings, plus a baby her mother had with her stepdad. Suddenly, she was the fifth of eight children! “Every summer my [mom and stepdad] piled all the kids in a 12-passenger van, complete with a license plate that read ‘8SGREAT’ and drove to California, where we did not go to Disneyland,” Liesl remembers. “We spent our summers on mountains and lakes and beaches, which is far more magical than Disneyland, if you really think about it. Also our van broke down a lot, which was not so magical. It was hard in lots of ways, but looking back, we also had some really great times. Even though families can be hard, they are worth it.”

Amidst the chaos of a big family, Liesl discovered reading. “Stories were a source of comfort to me,” she says, “and it didn’t matter how many I read or heard, I always wanted more. I think it was this fact, more than any other, that made me want to write my own stories. My own stories are a comfort to me, and there can never be too many.”

In her book, RUMP: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, Liesl helps her main character, 12-year-old Rump, find comfort by finding out his true name.Rump has a great desire to discover what his whole name is, and not just because his half-name is embarrassing, but also because a name is directly tied to one’s destiny,” she explains.

Liesl advises young writers to make their characters relatable by having them want something. “A great character always has desires and reasons for those desires,” she says. “We all know what it’s like to want something, and we usually have reasons attached to our wants. Every character, whether big or small, should have something they want.”

For more of Liesl’s list about how to create one-of-a-kind characters, go to The Studio.