In this post, I’ll tell you some of the things I learned when Brandon Mull http://www.brandonmull.com/ spoke to Rick Walton’s class. Brandon doesn’t have an MFA in writing and doesn’t think a degree makes a writer. (Since I majored in English at the University of Utah with a Communications minor, but didn’t finish the degree, I found this hopeful.) When the chance came and Chris Shoebinger http://www.shadowmountain.com/ read Brandon’s first manuscript he didn’t want the book Brandon had written, but Chris asked Brandon to write something else so he wrote Fablehaven, and Chris took it as soon as he read it. (Since I’ve had agents and editors tell me they didn’t want what I’d submitted but to feel free to send them something else. It was encouraging to know someone else has had this experience, written something else, and had it accepted.)
Brandon said getting a good agent is as hard as getting a good editor. (I’ve heard this many times before, and Brandon confirmed it.)
Brandon said you never get “done” getting better. Practice writing –creating a good scene. There are 2 big questions in writing: What makes a story worth telling? How do you tell it? The guts of a story include five things: Characters, Relationships, Trouble, Decisions, and Consequences. It’s like a 3 Act Play, Act I – get characters up a tree; Act II – throw stones at them; Act III – get them down.
He said editors are “Looking for life” in books –-a “Yoda-isk” saying of a Caldecott winner – characters as well as illustrations must be full of life to be interesting and make people want to read the book. Anticipation is one of the big things that makes people read.
Rick asked if Brandon thought there was a glut of fantasy writers in Utah, and, if so, why? Brandon’s theory is that Mormons “can’t do some stuff” (no drugs, drinking, immorality) so they get creative– “Centaurs” are okay.
Rick asked if there is a Mormon mafia? Brandon said there is but there isn’t. Rick is the unofficial leader– Rick helps organize everyone in the industry and knows everyone. Utah has a great community for childrens book writers and illustrators. We have lots of fantasy writers and so it has become a trend. Unofficial mafia is just a coincidence. There are lots of crazy daydreaming people in Utah.
Someone asked the question: How much detail do you add to your books? Brandon said: Add just enough detail to keep pacing moving. In general, writers look for evocative details ( i.e. flecks of mud on her ankle, hairy wrists), juxtaposition sometimes gets you there. Flash between two things. Juxtaposition is the essence of poetry.
Rick asked Brandon – What do you wish you had known when you started out? Brandon said – The first question the editor/publisher will ask is: Who can I sell this to? Is it a good book? Brandon advised to write inside a “category” that is good for editors. Write for the audience: make smart, likeable kid characters. Adults were once kids, but kids think 18 year olds have one foot in the grave. Build momentum when you find your niche. The smart thing is to write to your readership. Not a formula book but for the same readership.
Another question was asked: Do you stress that your book might be similar to another? Brandon’s answer was: not too much. How you dress up a book makes the story different from others so it feels fresh. Find something that differentiates your book from others. Make your characters different from each other and authentic—it’s an art.
Brandon said he loves the process of writing, loves sharing his work, loves to take stuff that was in his head and get it down on paper.
Brandon is a great writer and a fun speaker! I learned a lot and he made me feel like I can make it as a writer, too.