Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
The ‘Ugly’ in The Ugly Truth
by Jeff Kinney
Photo provided by Jeff Kinney, 2010
It was a challenge coming up with a title and a cover image for the final book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Abrams). I always planned to call it Rowley’s Revenge, so I sketched what I thought might make a good cover.
But as I reviewed the manuscript with my editor, Charlie Kochman, we realized that there wasn’t a ton of Rowley in it. Furthermore, we already had a title in the series with alliterative “Rs”… Rodrick Rules. So a few months before it was set to ship to the printer, the book still didn’t have a working title.
Charlie and I went back and forth with different suggestions for weeks and couldn’t come to an agreement.
Finally, one day I woke up and it hit me: the title should be The Ugly Truth. There’s nothing pretty about adolescence, so it seemed to fit. I called my editor that morning, and he loved it.
Now we were getting somewhere. I tweaked the drawing and sent it to Charlie.
I thought the art was good. OK, so main character Greg Heffley looked more smelly than ugly, but it had all of the right elements: Rowley, Greg, and stink lines. But my editor thought the sewer and manhole didn’t say puberty; I went back to the drawing board.
Here’s what I came up with next:
Not bad, but Charlie and I agreed that the picture was too literal…and too boring.
Both of us pored over the book trying to find a central image that would crystallize the theme without clonking readers over the head. We finally found what we were looking for in a sequence where Greg is suffering through the “Facts of Life” unit in his Advanced Health class.
In it there’s a sequence where the teacher tells her students how difficult it is to take care of a baby, and she hands each kid an egg that they must carry around for 24 hours.
Greg completely misses the point of the exercise and can’t figure out what a chicken egg has to do with a human baby. He concludes that he’d probably be getting a better education in a private school.
But the moment works: Greg isn’t ready for the full download in Advanced Health, and the egg symbolizes his confusion. All I needed to do was modify Greg’s pose, which was modeled after Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.
When Charlie and I saw it on the cover, we knew we had it. And that’s a good feeling.