All successful stories are personal in some way. He was able to, with his story, make it personal for each of us. He explained what it was like growing up with a sibling that picked on him. It was a story of retaliation, which even if we don't have siblings, we can relate to. In fact, even today, when his brother drives up to visit (it's like a four hour drive) the first thing Markus Zusak says to his brother is some snide remark about the egg.
"When are you going to let that go?" his brother will ask. And Markus Zusak will answer, "Never!"
His story had purpose. It was personal and meaningful. The stories we tell should be as well.
2) Specific details
In his story, he gave specific details. He told us about the color of his brother's lunch pail (blue) and how he sat on a paint bucket every day at lunch. These details are not only to make the story more vivid, but it made the story more believable.
He said that he once lost his jacket at an airport and when he told the security guard about it, the security guard asked him what color his jacket was. He told him "black" and added that there was a folded piece of paper in the right hand pocket. The security guard pulled out the jacket, reached his hand in the pocket, found the folded piece of paper, and handed it to Markus Zusak without any further questions. The specific detail proved that it was his.
3) Give the unexpected
Markus Zusak says that he always thought the part when his brother cracked the unboiled egg on his head would get the biggest laugh, but it never was. It was the part where his dad said, "That is brilliant!" It's because it was unexpected.
He said he has told that story "heaps" of times. And each time, he would add a bit that he remembered or a detail that will make it better. The first time he told the part about going to his dad, he got the best response. It's all about trial and error.
5) Know what has happened to each character before the story/ Dip back into backstory
Because he's told his story so many times, and he's edited it, he knew where to "dip back" into backstory. He didn't give it all at the forefront, but he told us the story, for example, about him painting himself in a corner and calling for help at the moment he was telling us about his dad because it helped us understand both characters better. Just like our family members, we need to know them inside and out. We need to know what experiences they had before the story takes place.
Read and re-read
He didn't list this as one of his five, but he talked about how some people read, like, 30 different books in a year or something while he will read the same book thirty times. One of his favorite books of all times (which made me smile) is The Outsiders by S.E Hinton. He's read it a thousand times and uses it as a model for his storytelling.
Of course, having read both authors, Markus Zusak has a very different writing style and story to tell than S.E Hinton. But I think what he meant is that he looks at the plot and "steals" ideas for telling a good story like character development, point of view, etc.
A fellow Aussie
The line to meet Markus Zusak was incredibly long, and it was already almost 9:30pm, but I'm glad I waited to get my books signed, both Bridge of Clay and The Book Thief. I made friends with the gal ahead of me, and we talked about how great it is that he came all the way to Arizona.
As we got closer to our turn, I noticed how everyone seemed to have something to say to him. I had no idea what I was going to say! I decided to let him know that I lived in Australia for a while (a year and a half), so I did. I figured he'd ask me why, and I prepared myself to tell him. But instead, he asked me what part of Perth. Oh, man! My mind went blank. But I finally blurted out Albany, which is true, but it's about as far away from the main city as you could get. I've lived in Girrawheen, Como, and Balcata as well.
He was super friendly, though, and said it was nice to meet someone who had experienced the "long" flight, which we agreed wasn't that bad. In my book, he wrote: "Love from Sydney." Not sure if he wrote that in all the books he was signing, but I think that means we're besties. Right?
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkok Street, Hong Kong"