Tales of a Wimpy Diarist

Author-illustrator Jeff Kinney answers our questions about his hugely popular series Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

One of today’s best-selling series for kids is Jeff Kinney’s fictionalized diary of a seventh-grader named Greg Heffley, a “wimpy kid” who tells his story daily in words and pictures. Authors from Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights) to Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) have framed their novels in the form of diaries to allow their characters to show themselves self-consciously and to structure their plots episodically. In Kinney’s hands, the fictionalized diary becomes a hilarious outlet for tales of the excruciating (but all-important) minutiae in the everyday life of an adolescent. His young protagonist is both self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, honest and self-justifying. Like every diarist, he has a unique voice. Kinney told us about his work on the series.

Why did you decide to frame your story in the form of a diary? How does the diary form affect how your stories unfold?

I decided to write in diary form because I thought that kind of presentation would allow Greg Heffley to come across as an authentic kid. And when a kid writes in a journal or diary, they write in unstructured daily entries. I thought that felt right for the character.

How far ahead do you plan Greg’s days? Do you know what’s going to happen to him very far in advance?

I spend a few months writing down ideas for jokes, and then I collect them all and string the best ones together in a loose narrative. I do try to have some structure in my books, but I also try not to overdo it.

Have you heard from many kids who decided to keep a diary-either in words or pictures-after reading your books?

I don’t think journal-keeping is natural for boys, so I haven’t heard of many boys keeping journals because they were inspired by my books. But I’ve seen many take a stab at it with a three-or-four-day entry.

For a kid who initially thought diary-keeping was for girls, your wimpy kid sure does take to the practice! Once he got started writing, has your character had any further reservations about diary keeping?

Greg thinks he’s doing a service to the world by keeping a diary. He’s going to be famous one day, so of course people will appreciate the fact that he’s put so much on record.

Is diary keeping for wimps?

No, it’s for people who are smart and introspective. Unless you’re Greg Heffley.

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