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Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#51 Copy

Questioner

You continue a proud tradition of fantasy writers being very concerned about food. How do you approach that? How do you create that sense of realism and a multisensual experience.

Brandon Sanderson

So, I had a professor in college at BYU who was a folklorist, specializing in food-lore. She was very helpful in this. One of the reasons I think that a lot of the professionals, though I certain do not do George R.R. Martin levels of it, is kinda, food-lore is actually really important in our societies. But it's one of the ones we forget very easily, when developing a fantasy world. It's part of what makes fantasy worlds, when you don't use some of these things. Not saying every book has to. But it's one of them that's kind of on the small list of "these things make it feel actually real," rather than "imitation-real." Because we have so much of this food-lore. And food is so much involved, I mean, everyone has to eat every day multiple times. So we're gonna have all this lore and things. And if you skip all that, it starts to feel like the cardboard cutout, a fake city built for a movie set or something like that, instead of a real lived-in world. And, I happen to like food. Probably something that George and I share. So, you end up with food stuff in the books.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#52 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever reach a point where you've got your outline done, but you've got an impasse where you can't figure out how to get from A to B?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

Do you just start writing and hope for the best?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, you've got your outline, but you don't know how to get from Point A to Point B. What do you do? I just start writing. I find that the number one thing that helps me get me past problems in my stories is writing. Even if I take what I've written-- And this is very hard for some newer writers, is to know what your writing is gonna be set aside and not end up in the final product. But if you can change your mind over to you being the product, not the book-- Again, it's much easier to say "I'm gonna write today, and it's exploration that is not gonna end up in the book." And doing that will help you explore; you can try three different ones of those, and it will get you further faster than sitting and staring at the page, worrying that each paragraph has to be the right direction that you're going, that you're gonna to screw something up. Writer's block, the easiest way to get over writer's block I've found is to write anyway, even if you just have ninjas attack. In a world where no ninjas exist. *laughter* Like, you're writing a Regency romance and ninjas show up. Writing anything will get your mind working on the problems you've had and help you get past it. Another good thing to try is jumping to other viewpoints, or to-- setting the scene in a different location, to just kind of jar yourself out of that.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#53 Copy

Questioner

When you take stock of the idea that you have largely been responsible for the cultivation of millions of writers *Brandon laughs nervously* to me, that's what you really bring to the world.

Brandon Sanderson

How do I take stock of cultivating-- Millions? I don't know if there are millions, but there are tens of thousands that watch my lectures and listen to the podcast. I think it's great. When I was trying to break in, the way I learned to write was by going and asking questions of writers and they took time for me. Captain Kirk sat me down at a convention once and talked to me for like an hour about becoming a writer, L.E. Modesit did the same thing. They were a huge resource for me, and we live in an era of social media where I can be a resource in a different way. When I was doing it I just had to try to go to a con and find them, right, there wasn't an internet-- I'm old guys, there wasn't an internet when I was a kid learning how to write and so you had to find them, talk to them in person. I can post these things out there. So I hope that it's useful. I hope the main thing that people take away from my writing is there are multiple ways to do it and there is no one right way to write. There is not a Brandon Sanderson method other than, the Brandon Sanderson method is tools you should try, and you should try George's tools, and you should try Stephen King's tools, and JK Rowling's tools, and everybody who talks about it, try the different methods they have of writing and hopefully it'll end up working out and you'll find your own method.

White Sand vol.1 release party ()
#54 Copy

Questioner

I was just wondering how you come up with the names in your books?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the book.

Questioner

Is it usually like a cultural tie-in kind of thing or...?

Brandon Sanderson

It's one of two things. Either I go for a cultural tie-in, like you say-- that's if I want to do a shorthand. Something just a little bit easier because I'm not building the linguistics out. Like Mistborn is an example of this; I didn't build the linguistics of Mistborn. The linguistics-- I'm just like, "This is a French sounding area, this is uh--" You know, because I spent my worldbuilding time on other things. But in Roshar I spent a lot of time on the linguistics. I don't want the names to just sound like names from our world. Roshar is most different. It's not an Earth analog. And so I built the linguistics. Or I sometimes do kind of a hybrid, where I pick some weird linguistic trait and I build names around it. Like Warbreaker was this. I'm like, "I'm gonna use the repeated consonant sound as a theme, so you always know who's from what culture." And so you end up with Vivenna and T'Tellir and things like this, where it sounds like people are stuttering to those from other cultures.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#56 Copy

virgineyes09

Writing question. When writing a fantasy novel in which the setting and the plot are so tightly linked (i.e. the plot of Stormlight is linked inextricably and specifically to the world of Roshar) which area do you focus on first, world or story, or both simultaneously? Can you talk about Stormlight specifically and how you built the world and the story to work so tightly together? Do you ever make small changes in the worldbuilding that end up forcing you to make big changes to the plot and vice versa?

Brandon Sanderson

The way I design stories, I'm usually always thinking about items in three areas that catch my attention: Character conflicts, setting themes, and plot archetypes. I keep a notebook where I'm writing down in these three general areas, looking for ideas that strike me as feeling new or interesting in some way.

Books begin to form when several of these ideas start to grow together, and influence one another in interesting ways. Roshar, as a planet, was interesting--but the story wasn't working t until the idea of the spren, the characters who interact with them, and the world all together started to play off each other.

When I feel like something is really coming together, I sit down and build an outline from all of these idea. This back-and-forth experience leads to the story being interconnected as I jump back and forth between outlining plot, setting, and character. Often, these things will change one another greatly as I work through it, trying to see it all as a whole, rather than parts.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#57 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever find that you are producing content so quickly that your mind comes up with a better idea after percolating for a while, and the book is already published? And if that does ever happen, how do you handle it?

Brandon Sanderson

This is dangerous, right? I think every author wants to go back and tweak things. And there is a fine line between pulling a Tolkien, where you go back to The Hobbit and you revise the ring conversation so it matches The Lord of the Rings, which has now become a classic conversation, we're all glad he did that, right? It ties The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings together better, it was a good revision. There is a fine line between that and Lucas-ing your work, right? Where instead of taking something and tweaking something to make it better, you tweak it just to make it different. I think there is a fine line there. There is a quote often ascribed to da Vinci, that a lot of people say it isn't his, but it's the idea that, he (maybe) said "Art is never finished, it is only abandoned."

You really have to take that perspective as an artist, you have to eventually just let things go. Not to sing an Elsa song, but you just gotta be willing to say "I'm done." And you are always going to have better ideas later on or ways you could tweak it. And more, it's not that you have better ideas. What happens is you change as an artist, and your goals change over time and the way you would approach something changes over time. While I've played in this realm, I've settled on that I should just avoid this most of the time. You could always tweak it to be better, and you've got to release something sometime.

I do find it very useful to finish something, write something else, then come back to the thing I've finished, because that gives me the right amount of balance between giving it time to rest so that I can approach it with fresh eyes, and also being regular with the releases. I haven't ever felt like I'm going too fast. I have had things that don't turn out too well, but those I just don't release. That happened with Apocalypse Guard last year where I wrote the book, I gave it some time, I came back and looked at it and it just wan't-- it didn't work. It was broken, it was not good, and I'm just like, "I've got to set this aside and think about it."

It's weird. Writing has a little bit more performance art to it than as a non-writer you might think. Meaning who you are in the moment, when you are creating this thing, the connections you make while you're making it are deeply influential to how the piece of art turns out. It's like you're freezing a moment in time for that author. Rather than trying to create the perfect work you are creating a reflection of who they are when they made it, and you have to kind of be okay with that as a writer.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#58 Copy

PM_ME_WRITER_ADVICE

I love writing and it is what I feel I am the best at. When I finish this life, I want to leave behind a positive legacy through writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. Particularly, I would like to write in a way that will lead to greater depth of thought regarding paradigm shifting philosophical questions. I honestly believe that some of the worlds biggest problems are rooted in the rapidly increasing superficiality of thought among societies.

The problems that I encounter the most when I try to write are self-doubt and depression. I find it difficult to actually sit down and begin writing, as I have a bad habit of immediately beginning to over-analyze and over-criticize every word that ends up on the page. Have you ever dealt with similar issues, and if so, how were you able to overcome them?

Brandon Sanderson

I always love to get a writing question mixed into these, so thank you! This is actually an extremely common problem for new writers--perhaps the most common. (Though the second most common is the one I had, which is the reverse--that of never wanting to do revision.)

What's happening here is that your ability to recognize good writing has outstripped your actual skill at making it. This can be super frustrating, because you know stories--and you can physically do the act of writing. You've been learning that since grade school. Yet, the story you write doesn't quite live up to it.

Mixed with that is likely an over-critical eye, treating your work like it is worse than it actually is.

I often use this metaphor: I played trumpet in high school. I'd played since fourth grade. Senior year, I took jazz band, and fount it extremely frustrating. I knew how to play trumpet, and I could hear the improv jazz riffs in my head--so why couldn't I make them come out of the horn? Everything I actually managed to produce felt pedestrian at best.

The answer is both mental and procedural. The mental side this this: Recognize that what you're doing right now (by writing) is NOT producing your grand masterwork. It's the equivalent of sitting down in your garage with the trumpet and stumbling through riffs until you start to get that important connection between brain and instrument that lets the vision in your head actually flow unimpeded.

Don't think of this writing as something you're going to sell, any more than you'd tape and record your practice music sessions. Don't think of what you're writing as "wasting" an idea or "failing" at a story--you can and will re-use these story ideas in the future after you figure out your process. Remove the performance anxiety, the need to be great from the get-go, and the expectation that your first draft needs to look like your favorite authors' final, published draft.

As for procedure, try some strategies that work to limit self-revision while writing. Try writing stories longhand, both to separate yourself form computer distractions and to make it harder to revise. Try going to a specific place to write, like an office or library, and treating your hour or two there like work time--a destination for writing. Make good habits, be consistent, and note the things that work on some days to make you achieve your goals.

Good luck!

DragonCon 2016 ()
#59 Copy

Questioner

One of my favorite things about your books is your characters. And I was wondering... What advice would you give to an aspiring author about developing characters? 

Brandon Sanderson

Ooh. This is the hardest one for me to talk about, because for me, it was a matter of taking what I was doing wrong and learning to do it right, which-- How do you do that? That's the story of becoming better at anything. For me with characters, the big "click" that happened in my brain was when I realized every character is the hero of their own story. Every character sees the world through the eyes-- That's the only experience they've had, and they don't exist to fill a role. We don't exist to fill roles. We fill roles! We fill lots of them. But that's not why we exist, right? We aren't "sidekick", or we aren't "spouse", we aren't-- We fill those roles, and we identify in those roles, but we are not those roles. And when I started to treat my characters each like-- I ask, what is this person's passion in life? How do they see themselves? They're okay not being at the forefront of the story, but what in their minds do they see as their life meaning? What do they want, who are they, all of these things. And when I stopped sticking people into roles-- Which is really dangerous for an outline writer, sticking people in roles. When I stopped doing that. My characters really came alive a lot more. So that's-- I don't know if that helps, but the biggest piece of advice I can give you is try to figure out a way where you can let your characters-- Pretend like, well, if this person where the hero of the story, not just the sidekick, what would they do? How would they approach it? What would they be doing if they weren't saving the world? If this plot hadn't hit them like a freight train, what would they be doing in life. They would care about things! What would they care about, what would they be doing.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#60 Copy

Questioner

I was wondering, how do you feel about people using, like, the word "Allomancer" in their own stories?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I would s-- Depends on how it's used. If you're saying, it's for-- if it's the same magic system, I would recommend against that. If you are referencing-- like there's an-- actually a word called alomancy, spelled slightly differently, that is using sand to foretell the future. It's not like I have the thing trademarked or anything like that. So--

Questioner

Right, like, I was unsure, so--

Brandon Sanderson

But I would suggest coming up with your own magic system in your own terms. It'd just be a stronger story. But it's not like-- yeah, I don't have it trademarked or anything.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#61 Copy

Questioner

How do you handle names, because it's like the hardest thing to do properly

Brandon Sanderson

So, easy mode is to pick a culture, a real world analog to your-- to one of your-- each culture in your book. Go get a list of baby names from that culture in our world. Play with those names. Don't steal them; play with them until you-- try to find something that works for you. That sounds right, and things like that. Hard mode is to come up with kind of some-- learn some linguistics, and build the names based on--

Questioner

From the ground up, kind of thing?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, don't build the whole language, but kind of build sounds, the morphemes, this sort of stuff. And then build names around that.

Skyward Denver signing ()
#62 Copy

Questioner

What would be your advice in turning a short story that works great into a longer--

Brandon Sanderson

I usually attack this from two different directions. One is, more viewpoints. If I add another perspective to this, will it make it work? And then the other thing is, more complications. And that doesn't always work. Sometimes the format is strong without it. But more subthemes. Like, if it's a heist, there's something else they need to do. If it's a romance, an old flame comes in. Adding a subplot that can further-- Make sure it's not just spinning its wheels, though; it adds something to the characters by that experience. But try that. More complications, or more viewpoints.

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
#63 Copy

Yamato

Any advice for an aspiring fantasy writer? Besides the obligatory "Read a lot and write a lot!!!" Characterization advice is especially appreciated.

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I do have my lectures on this topic. Go to writeaboutdragons.com and listen to the characterization lecture. I think you'll find it helpful.

Do remember that your characters should have passions, goals, and flaws that are distinct from the plot of the story. They can sometimes align, but a character should have a life and passions outside of what happens TO them.

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
#64 Copy

Yamato

I am currently trying to write a book in which the world is drastically different from earth. Do you think it is too ambitious to start out with such a complex setting?

Brandon Sanderson

No, not at all. Just don't try TOO hard to describe every aspect of it. It's good to be ambitious. However, be careful to keep you number of viewpoints down for your first few attempts--that will spiral out of control faster than worldbuilding will. Don't feel the need to explain too much, keep the focus on the characters, and you should be fine.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#65 Copy

Questioner

When writing, how do you work out space versus time?

Brandon Sanderson

Space versus time, what do you mean?

Questioner

So I guess distance versus time. So like, you have your math and you're writing, is it more just kind of feel how the story goes, or is it "I know this amount of space is going to take the characters four months--"

Brandon Sanderson

Oh I see what you're saying. Ok, so how do you work with, when you've got traveling characters, working out how much time things are going to take, traveling and things like this in the book, it actually really depends on the plot archetype of the book. If the book is what we call a travelogue, which is about traveling places, exploring new locations, it's kind of got that adventuresome, exploration feel to it, then the destinations you go to are the main part of the plot. For most of the books I'm writing, I don't do travelogues very often. I've done a few but not very often. So for me, that stuff in the middle is the boring stuff, and I skip it. You'll see in my books, they start in one chapter and they're like "well, we've gotta get here", and the next chapter they're like "wow, that was a ride" and then were there, and that's because the plot archetype I'm working on is usually different than that. So you've gotta kind of understand what you're writing.

One of the big things to figure out about your story, either discovering it as you write or planning it, however you do it, is why are people turning the pages, what are the promises I'm fulfilling, what is the thing that they're going to read that book to get. It can be multiple things, but if that exploration's part of it, they don't want to miss that journey. I remember reading a book once, and this is kind of an example of why this is so important, and I'm not going to name who it is because he's a very good writer. But there's one of his books where he stops, takes a break, comes back to the characters a few years later, like in the middle of the story, and you've missed the main character falling in love and getting married and this stuff. And I was like "No!", because the book is a coming-of-age book, and so the coming-of-age book skipping falling in love really felt like a betrayal of my trust as the reader. There are other books I've read where you can skip that, and it's okay, does that makes sense? Because the book is not about that, it can be about something else. So make sure you're not skipping the stuff that people want to read. Make sure you skip the other stuff though.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#66 Copy

Questioner

I'm working on being an author as well. How do you worldbuild?

Brandon Sanderson

You look for what is going to be relevant and importnat to your characters, and spend your time there. So don't, for instance, build a whole bunch of new languages for a world where all your characters are going to be from the same country, and the languages don't play a relevant part. That is what I would say, particularly in the beginning. If you feel you need more to help you make the world feel fleshed out to you, do that. But worldbuild in service of the story you want to tell.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#67 Copy

Questioner

At what point in your career were you able to write full-time, and what led to your decision to incorporate Dragonsteel?

Brandon Sanderson

Good question! ...When did I go full-time? I went full-time before it was comfortable to do so. And my recommendation to most writers is the same. What I did is, I quit my job at the hotel the moment I got my first check. It was $5,000. But, I was working for, like $7/hr, so it wasn't like I was giving up a ton. I did keep my university courses, teaching those, as supplementary income, which I didn't quit until the next year, I spent another year teaching my university courses, I only kept on hold of one university class, my creative writing class.

I incorporated, about two or three years later, at the advice of a tax professional who said "This is a smart idea," incorporating, putting everything under the corporation's name. That way, if someone claims you plagiarized, and you have to go through a big lawsuit, the lawsuit is with the corporation and not you, and it protects you.

I think those were both very smart decisions. Going full-time before I felt comfortable, and incorporating. Incorporating cost 500 bucks, you just get a lawyer that specializes in this. It is totally worth that, plus deductions are way easier with a corporation. Like, you know, when you're deducting something on your own, they might look askance at some of the deductions you do, whereas when you're a corporation, you're so small-time as a writer that, who cares if they're not getting $3,000 for whatever. But it is fun, I do get to deduct my movies, when I watch movies, all of my video game systems and video games. Deductions! I get money every year from video game companies, and I have to stay up on what they're doing! You can have some fun deductions related to things like that.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#68 Copy

Questioner

So you mentioned earlier that you couldn't write and code at the same time because it used the same part of your brain. Do you have any advice for coders who may also want to write?

Brandon Sanderson

I would just say "separate it". Give yourself a few hours in-between. I don't feel that I personally could code all day, write during my lunch break, code all day, or something like that. But I probably could get up in the morning, do a little bit of writing, then go to work, code all day, something like that or come home, take two hours to play with the family and things like that. You've got to have time for that reservoir, does that make sense, inside of you. I think trying to go right into it might be a mistake. But it's going to be very different based on your own writing styles. Some people it might work for. You might like-- still in the mood. Does that make sense?

Calamity Philadelphia signing ()
#69 Copy

Questioner

How do you strike a balance between making sure you write something descriptive enough to get the scene across that you want but not overdoing it with too much...

Brandon Sanderson

Usually the thing to do, is to try to be really concrete. Don’t just say “a dog” say “a wet dog, limping and whining” and describe one really powerful sentence or two, and leave it at that. Describe a few of the small, powerful details and let the readers fill in the rest is a good rule of thumb. If you like things more descriptive you can go up from there. But that’s kind of where to start.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#70 Copy

Questioner

What do you do when you have a really great idea and you read a book and someone has already done that idea?

Brandon Sanderson

Weep into your pillow a little bit...

*Laughter*

Then remind yourself that Ideas Are Cheap; in science fiction and fantasy ideas are cheap. Writing skill is what people are really looking for. And so if your idea has already been done, you can take a new spin on it. You know how many people had written young kid finds out they are secretly a wizard and goes off to wizard school books? *laughter* I mean, there are so many of those. Diane Duane did a great series of them. I think it’s So You Want to be a Wizard or something like that. And so don’t let that destroy you. Ask yourself “What is my unique take on it. What’s my perspective on it?” and go ahead and do it. A ton of people had done heist novels as fantasy books before, but I wanted to do one. So I did.

WorldCon 76 ()
#71 Copy

Questioner

Do you have any general advice for an aspiring fantasy writer, things I should be doing to try to--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. So, coming to WorldCon's a good start. I don't know if you found them, but going to any panels that editors are sitting on. Often, there's a panel that will be like, "What's new from Tor.com" or "What's new--" That's just a good place to watch what the editors are excited about and learn from them. Maybe if you see them at a party or something later on, you can ask them about the things that they're releasing, and stuff like that.

The number one thing that makes a great writer is a mediocre writer who's willing to practice. Try not to put too much investment into any one piece. You wanna put your whole heart into it, but don't base your whole career whether on that piece turns out right. I'm not explaining this well, but idea is that the purpose of your writing time is to train yourself to be a better writer. And hopefully the product is this awesome book that you're passionate about, but if it goes haywire, that's gonna teach you, sometimes, a lot more than anything else. So just stick at it. Practice. Be willing to do it regularly and consistently. And if you can teach yourself to be consistent, that's your number one goal.

I was asking my agent the other night, just last night actually, I'm like, "So what breaks someone in these days?" 'Cause the market's so different. He said, "It's the same thing that always broke someone in: they write a great book." He says, "I've never picked up a book by an author as an agent that I have been passionate about and thought was great that didn't sell." So it says that a good book still sells, in his opinion. Breaking through that agent veil can be really tough, and self-publishing is a totally valid method of going these days.

I have a series of YouTube lectures, which are my university course that I just recorded. So go give those a watch. We talk a whole bunch about writing and the business and things like that.

Manchester signing ()
#72 Copy

Questioner

..One of things I had difficulty with was coming up with names for the characters and seeing how your names are more than just random collections of letters, a lot of them actually have meanings behind them. I was wondering how you were able to do that.

Brandon Sanderson

That's actually a very good question and number one you should keep writing, even if you feel like what you are writing is a rip-off, it is better to finish that first book and be acknowledging your influences because you want to be practicing. And sometimes it is very useful to lean on something else while you do it. In fact this is how Great Masters did artwork, you can find-- I don't know if you guys know this-- various different versions of the Mona Lisa, we saw one in Spain, my wife and I, that was done by DaVinci's student while DaVinci was painting the Mona Lisa. "Here's what I painted now you do it too"  That was the means by which the Great Masters would train their students, so leaning on someone is just fine. You just can't publish it like that, but it can teach you a whole lot. Don't feel bad about that.

Names, I use two general methods, and this is not going to give it the justice it deserves, I'm giving you the five minute version. One version is I look for the linguistic attribute that is interesting to me that will visually distinguish these people on the page. So when you are coming across them and you see that name, I want you to say "I bet that they're from this country". That is really tough because that means they all have to feel similar but you can't let everyone get confused over who's who and that's the real challenge, it's the getting confused. For instance in Warbreaker I tried using some different things like we don't in our world. In Warbreaker I used repeated consonant sounds, so you get someone like Vivenna, when you see that double v, you are like she must be-- Llarimar, there's a double L, you pronounce them both out. T'telir. And when you get double repeated consonants you are like "Oh they are from this region, that makes sense to me even though they start with different letter there is something to them" The same sort of thing is supposed to happen in The Way of Kings, you see names that are mostly symmetrical. When you see something like Shallan and her name is a derivation of Shalash, who was one of the Heralds and its a symmetrical name. When you see something that reads almost, or does read, forward and backward the same way you are like "They must be either Alethi or they must be-- They've got to be Vorin because that is the Vorin religion influencing this". And hopefully it will give you some subconscious cue when you run across those names and you'll get it.

Now a way to do this that is easier is than doing all of that is going to take a lot of work linguistically is to go get yourself a nice atlas and say everyone from this country is going to have names that are analogous to this region in our world and I am then going to take this atlas and look for these names and use baby names from that culture... I did this in Emperor's Soul, I just picked ancient Persia, I picked people who lived there in this era and what they named their cities there and I'm going to take those words and I'm going to screw with them until it is not actually a word but it feels like it might be one. That way everyone from this region is going to feel like they've got a similar name. Or I can just-- For that book it was much easier because the linguistics were not as big a deal.  I could basically just crib off the bat. And that works very well also.

Sometimes I do it intentionally, Mistborn was supposed to evoke a sense of 1820's Paris, or London, that was what I was shooting for with the grime and the dirt, the ash falling. So I used French names and Germanic names and Spanish names and things like this, so when you run into Vin, Vin is just wine in French and Kelsier [Kelsi-ay] is how they would say-- you can say Kelsier [Kelsi-er] if you want-- and they have Kelsier and Demoux so you can go "Oh this is a French sounding region" so when you get some like Elend and Straff you are like "They are from a different region. They sound like the eat meat and potatoes and they try to conquer Europe periodically, those guys" *laughter* That helps you distinguish the regions very easily.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#73 Copy

Questioner

How do you hint at something, like you hinted at some characters in Shadows of Self without making it feel forced?

Brandon Sanderson

This is all the sort of thing that you judge using early readers. You put in what you feel is right, you have them read it and give you responses to it, and then you back off if they're feeling like it's too heavy handed, and you add more if they're not noticing at all. And that is the best way to learn this, just by getting test readers. Because your own instincts are kind of hard to trust on things like foreshadowing and things like this. So yeah, just get some good early readers and see what they do.

Oathbringer London signing ()
#74 Copy

Aurimus

Advice for worldbuilders that are trying to create a scientific-based fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

Learn to differentiate between the three kinds of what we talk about with science-based magic. One is internal logic. One is logic with the world. And, oh, what is the third one? For instance, "logic with the world" meaning, "This is an explanation of how the magic actually could come to be." And a logic with "This is trying to break one rule, and then keeping the others as consistent with our universe as possible." With the difference being, like, for instance, Investiture keeping the laws of thermodynamics except for the fact that it exists is kind of a reference to the third. We're letting rules affect the laws-- the laws of our universe, we're trying to tie into that. You don't have to do that. Internal logic is the most important. Then the other one would be, kind of, the "How does this magic arise out of the nature of the universe? How could I take a few steps extra? Can I make it realistic?" That's a completely different rule. So look at those three things.

Aurimus

Is that where you fit Investiture in the magic? Matter, energy, Investiture?

Brandon Sanderson

Right, that's where I'm trying to do a little bit of all three of those things. But you don't have to. Understand that you can do one of the three.

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Brandon Sanderson

So my method of plotting-- I've been asked about, "Do I use seven-point story structure? Do I use three act format?" I actually don't use any of these things. So they're tools that I think are good to study. For me I use just a very simple: Promise, Progress, Payoff. This is what I focus on for plot,and I subdivide my stories into subplots and things and say, "What's the promise? How do I early on promise what type of plot this is. What's the progress? What's the payoff?" And you're asking how do you make sure that the hype lives up to the promise, and that is dangerous. The longer you go between books, the more that hype almost like-- I feel part of the-- If you're looking at The Wheel of Time, there were books when we fans were waiting for them to come out, that we were super frustrated by when they came out, that when I reread them in the whole series I didn't-- were less bothered by. It felt like, when I waited three years for something, the hype of what that needed to deliver was way different than when it was book ten bridging between book nine and eleven. And so that is a consideration.

My job-- I think that if your progress is right, if you can kind of-- like if you say, "We're moving towards something here," this is the sort of emotional reaction you're going to get from it by showing-- for instance, an easy way to talk about this is a mystery, right? If you want the mystery to be really cool, then it's your progress toward the mystery that's going to indicate what kind of reveal and surprise that's going to be. If, you know, the characters discovering clues and getting more and more horrified, then the payoff at the end has to be something horrific, right? But if they're like, "Ooo! This connection and this connection together are making something really interesting. If I can just figure this out then it'll click together." Then the payoff is, instead of discovering horror, the payoff is then, "Oh, this comes together and I understand now." So you need the reader to understand that's their kind of payoff, is it clicks for them like it does for the character. And it's really-- that progress is the most important of those three in a lot of ways. If you can indicate to the reader, "This is just going to be satisfying. This character is finally going to let down this burden. That's the progress we're working toward. It's not going to be a surprise, it's just going to be satisfying. That's how you do that.

There are certain things that there's just no avoiding the hype on. In fact, the further the series gets the more I'm worried about that, because-- in part because I'm such a believer in this kind of progress and things like this-- there are very few things, like in the Stormlight for example, that you'll get to that you will be super surprised by if you've been reading the fan forums, because the clues are all there in previous books. And so you just, I think, as a writer have to be okay with, if you're going to lay the foreshadowing, people will figure it out. And I can talk more about like, the third book has some big reveals about the world that I think the casual reader's going to be like, "Woah, mind blown!" where the people who have been on forums are like, "That's it? We've know that for years Sanderson!" But, you know, if you don't-- the only way to really surprise people is to do something completely unexpected. Which is, sometimes can be really nice, but a lot of times it just makes for a twist just to twist for twist's sake, so. I don't know that I've figured this one out a hundred percent across a series, but within a given book, yeah.

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Questioner

You obviously treat your writing career pretty much like a business. On your blog, you talked about staff, and stuff like that. So I'm wondering if you have advice for emerging writers to build their careers with an eye towards business? Business stuff?

Brandon Sanderson

A couple thoughts here. One is, nobody warns you that becoming a novelist is starting a small business, and it hits almost all of us like a ton of bricks when we realize, "Wait a minute. I have to do-- I have to get insurance. I am an independent contractor; I'm not working for the publisher, so I have to pay taxes in installments during the year." (What do you call those... estimated taxes. You have to do estimates, and things like this.) And you have to do all of this weird stuff that can be really hard. That no one-- The writing problems don't generally talk about this. And they don't talk about getting an LLC, or things like this. I had to stumble through all this. And so, I would say to you, do know that becoming a writer, you are starting a small business. So any kind of classes you can take, or things you can read online on starting a small business, are gonna be a huge help to you in that.

The other thing is, I often-- and this, I figured out pretty early on. I figured out that trying to write toward the market was an exercise in futility. I had a speech about that a couple years ago. Trying to always look at writing from a business perspective is going to drive you insane, for multiple reasons, like I just talked about, I just failed at writing a book last year, and I still don't know why. That's not something that really flies in the world of "everything adds up," because it doesn't. That should have added up to a book that works, and it didn't. Because writing is an art. There's an artistic side to it, there's a thing we can't explain. I can't explain very well how I get characters. Like, I outline my plots and my world; my characters come more organically, and it's really hard for me to talk about character for that reason, because putting it into words is difficult.

But one thing you can learn to do is that you can, when you're writing, try to throw all of that aside. Try to focus only on, "What are you passionate about? What does this story need?" And try not to think about the business side. When you finish that story, lock the artist in the closet, take the manuscript, run away cackling, and try to find a way to exploit it in any way you possibly can. *laughter* That is my suggestion on balancing the businessperson and the artist. Let the artist write whatever they're passionate about. And then the businessperson's job should be separate, but same person different hat, and learn how to turn that into food on your table. Try to learn how to make that balance work. And I think that will take you pretty far.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

I was gonna ask you for advice on writer's block.

Brandon Sanderson

Advice on writer's block, all right. My experience is that with writer's block, write anyway. Even though you don't feel like it ,you will write yourself through the writer's block nine out of ten times. And if you don't know what to write, that's not a problem. The way to get out of writer's block is to start your subconscious thinking about it. So, if you like to say, "Ninjas are attacking." Just do something. Write it the wrong way first. A lot of newer writers have a lot of trouble with writing something that's not gonna end up in a book, when they know it's broken. But if you write it anyway, your subconscious will be like, "Oh, what was wrong was, I had the wrong viewpoint for this." Or "Oh, I really need to be pushing from this character's motivations" or something. And if you just write this chapter poorly, you'll get that. And, one out of ten times, you'll do that, and you'll be like, "What was I worried about? This chapter turned out great! I should have had ninjas attack. This is how my book is now." Best thing is to do that, and kind of turn off your internal editor and just learn to go.

How do you get past writer's block, Isaac?

Isaac Stewart

How do I get past writer's block? Caffeine. What I have found is I just have to bully through it. Reread what I wrote before, think about things, maybe do some bullet points of what you've seen that came before that, where I wanna get. Sometimes I skip ahead and write a scene that I really want to write.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, that helps, too. Or saying, "Okay, the scene that I'm trying just isn't working, let's just put it in a completely new location that's exciting and interesting to me."

Isaac Stewart

If you have several different points of view, try a different point of view for that scene if that person's there.

Brandon Sanderson

And if it's the "I don't know what to write at all" writer's block, then just do something silly and goofy, 'cause you're practicing your skills, right. If a pianist doesn't know what to compose, they'll just sit down and play something to get themselves going.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

I'm writing a fantasy book that's like D&D. Do you have any advice for me? I'm about 6000 words.

Brandon Sanderson

A lot of great science fiction and fantasy have come from roleplaying campaigns. Not just Dragonlance, but also the Malazan Book of the Fallen started as a roleplaying campaign. And you will find this happens time and time again. Do understand that the things that you guys experience in your roleplaying session that are really funny are probably not going to be funny on the page, because they're funny in the situation, so you have to work on making the characters all work on the page, not as they work in your-- together. Make sure everyone's on board for you lifting and borrowing the stuff for your story. And make sure you don't use any of the Wizards of the Coast trademark things. For instance, you can't use Beholder. That's a trademark thing. But you can use zombies, because zombies are in everything. So learn the difference there.

But just have fun with it. Your job right now, as a newer writer, is just to write and practice. And that practice will teach you how you want to approach your stories as you move forward. And the more you you do it, the better you'll get at it. And the more you'll know what you need in order to make it better. And that can start from anywhere. That can start from a D&D campaign. That can start from a silly song lyric you hear. It can start from fanfic. It doesn't matter where it starts. The chore you have is to practice it and learn what works on the page, as opposed to what works in person.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

My one question is how do you make it so writing isn't work, because if I'm writing for work I don't write as well. How do you get in the mind set?

Brandon Sanderson

You know for me, taking a walk before hand, listening to some awesome music, and just imagining why this scene is going to be awesome and the emotional impact of it really helps. But at the same time writing is always going to be a little bit work and there is no getting around that. I mean, it's hard sometimes and so-- I don't know. For me I've enjoyed it more as it has become work and I can devote more time to it and things like that. But... Try that.

Questioner

Just get in the mood...

Brandon Sanderson

Listen to music and put myself in that scene, what it feels like, what it sounds like, smells like. Just put myself here and think about what is going to make it incredible and I'll get really excited about writing it. Excitement translates I think at least for me onto the page.

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Four

As you can probably deduce from what I've said before, this Telrii scene is a late addition. It's not one of my favorites between Hrathen and Telrii--re-reading it, it makes me feel like Telrii is simply there to be persuaded. While the intention of these scenes is, indeed, to show Hrathen as a stronger character, their secondary purpose is simply to let him voice out loud some of the thoughts he's been mulling over. If you have trouble characterizing or motivating one of your characters in a book you're writing, try giving them someone--either friend or foe--to talk to.

Anyway, this particular scene is a little weak, and I suppose I could cut it without too much loss. It is a good idea to keep people thinking about Telrii, however, since he will be important later in the story.

Also, there is his warning to Hrathen about not being a pawn, which is some good foreshadowing for what happens later, when he casts Hrathen off and tries to become a Gyorn himself.

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Questioner

What do you do when you have writer's block?

Brandon Sanderson

So, the easiest way I've found to get rid of writer's block is to write anyway, and have it turn out badly. And then my brain will work on the scene, having written it poorly, the next day my brain almost always figures out how to just fix it. And so, I have to write the scene badly, and often I just have whatever happen. You know, just crazy things. And then set it aside knowing it's not going to go in the book... It's a little bit hard to write something you know isn't going to end up in the book and is wrong. But training yourself to do that so your subconscious can fix the problem is really handy.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

I want to know how you get into the zone while writing. How do you go from normal Brandon Sanderson life to... how do you make the transition.

Brandon Sanderson

Usually, if I'm having trouble, going for a walk, turning on music, thinking about what I'm going to be doing for the day. Sitting down, turning on music and starting. If I'm having any trouble, reading what I wrote the day before helps. Usually there is not a difficulty for me but those help me if there is.

FanX 2018 ()
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Questioner

Where do you come up with your names for books?

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on the book. Sometimes I'm using a real world culture's linguistics as inspiration, sometimes I'm building a linguistic trick for them, so it really depends. Listen to my podcast, Writing Excuses, look for the episode on, we're doing one on con-langs or naming. We've got some episodes on that.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
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Questioner

I was wondering what made you so interested in the super rules-based magic system. Because you're probably one of the best at that, and in every different universe you manage to create a complete unique set of rules-based magic and they're all completely unique.

Brandon Sanderson

So there's a panel on magic tomorrow, so I hope I don't repeat myself too much. But the whole rule-based magic thing came about mostly because I was looking for holes in the market, right? Like, things people weren't doing that I wish they were doing. I often say to new writers, "Find the books that nobody's writing, that you want to read, and try to write those." That sounds-- I mean, that's just very vague. I don't know how useful that is, but that's kind of what I was doing.

But at the same time I like-- there are lots of soft magic systems I like. Uprooted which came out a couple years ago. It's a really great book with a very soft magic system. So it's not like I feel like magic has to be done this way. But I found something I was good at, that I didn't think people were doing enough of, that I felt like people would want to read, and so that kind of became my thing even before I published. Like when I was writing my books only for my fri-- I wrote thirteen before I sold one, if you guys know about that-- And so when I was writing those books it was, "What weird setting is Brandon going to do?" Because fantasy through the 80s and 90s-- I mean, there's lots of great writers. I love them. But I felt like they were really safe with their settings, and they didn't-- they explored other directions really well. But it-- we had a lot of these kind of faux-Medieval, elemental-base magic systems, and cultures that were very "England, but not England." And I'm like, "Well, fantasy should be the most imaginative genre. Where can we push it? Where-- what different things can we do?" And so I tried that during those years. The magic systems kind of grew out of that. Like, "What are people not doing?"

I will say there are some people who have done it even in the past. Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books. I've really liked those. Those kind of have-- it's not scientific, but it's rule-based, which is kind of-- are two different things. Being consistent is one thing, and then trying-- like I try to play off of physics and make it feel like it's playing off of physics when it's really not, because I'm a fantasy writer, right? Like.--

Questioner

In Mistborn it's pretty physics.

Brandon Sanderson

Pretty physics-- But even in Mistborn, right like if you-- the time bubbles-- speed bubbles. Like I have to fudge some things. Like I spoke with my assistants, like, "Alright, what would happen if we build these?" And we're like, "Well first thing would happen is that it would change the wavelengths of light and irradiate people." You know, like this sort of thing. We're like-- we just have to make a rule that it doesn't irradiate people. You can't just take a flashlight and melt people. Yes, you just have to come up with some-- And so for me, a lot of the big difference, I say, between a fantasy writer and a science fiction writer is, the science fiction writer is forward-- each step trying to be plausible-- and the fantasy writer a lot of times drafts it backward. "Here's a cool effect. Can I explain this in a way that makes it feel like it's real and logical?" But I'm working backward from the fact, not forward from what's happening here.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

What has been your best motivation for writing/What would you advise to aspiring writers?

Brandon Sanderson

Okay so what has been my best motivation in writing and what would I advise a new writer. So motivation is a tricky thing because it is very individual. For me, a big part of my motivation was wanting to tell these stories. Just having these stories in my head and wanting to find a way to make these books make people feel the way I feel by the books that I love. Like when I was reading Anne McCaffrey books and they had this powerful effect on me "I've gotta learn how to do that." It was just something that was in me. Mixed with the increasing knowledge as I went to school that I was preparing myself for something that as Oscar Wilde would put it, basically useless. And then if I didn't end up making it as a writer-- It's like I imagined, I say sometimes, that it was like a phantom cubicle chasing me and if it caught me I had to become an insurance actuary or something. I'm sorry if there's an insurance actuary, I'm glad we have you. *laughter* I'm glad we have Erics who love math... But anyway I felt if I didn't give it the best shot I could that I would never have another shot at it. So that worked for me. You are going to have to find your own motivation.

The number one thing I would tell a new writer is to treat learning to write like you would treat learning to draw or play a musical instrument, in that it's a creative process not an event. Writing a book is a process, and so your job as a writer is to train yourself to be someone who writes great books not someone who wrote one good book. That means you have time to practice, you've got to sit and-- like you do your scales, you have to spend time at it. I would also say take my class at BYU, or watch the versions online, and Writing Excuses, my podcast for writers. We started something brand new starting today where we are doing a master class in writing where every month we are going to take one topic and drill down very deeply into it.  It will be a great place to start.  Just go to WritingExcuses.com and click play and listen to our episode, okay?

Footnote: Brandon is referring to Season Ten of Writing Excuses here.
EuroCon 2016 ()
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Questioner

I would like to make two questions for you. The first one is, when were you really aware that that was the book, or that was the style that could find a public, an audience?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, let me answer this one first. My first five books were very experimental. I wrote two epic fantasies, one comedy, one cyberpunk, and one space opera. I did this so that I could be very sure that what I wanted to do was epic fantasy. I heard a metaphor when I was young for dating which said, "Don't always just date the same flavor of ice cream. Even if you're very sure you love strawberry, date some chocolate, some rocky road, some variety of different ice cream flavors so that you can be sure." I say the same thing about writing. One of my best friends, Dan, first tried only writing epic fantasy, and was having a very hard time being a writer, and then he wrote a horror novel that was super, super creepy, and now he is a famous horror writer because he found his love in that genre. After doing this for five novels, I was sure that epic fantasy was what I wanted to do, and it is no coincidence that book number six was Elantris, the first book of the Cosmere written, and the first book that eventually sold.

Warsaw signing ()
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Questioner/Translator

When you write short stories, do you write them separately, or do they just come along - when you are writing longer books that you come along them?

Brandon Sanderson

Usually I’m working on a book and I have a great idea for a short story and I force myself to put it off until book is done. I tried writing a short story on plane right here and it’s awful, it's so bad I don’t think I will let anyone ever see it.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Six

Lightsong Gets Up Early, Excited

Let this be a lesson to aspiring writers. People's reactions to these Lightsong sections—where he goes to investigate the murder—are proof of a long-standing rule of writing. Characters who do things are more interesting than those who don't.

Now, this may seem obvious to you. But let me assure you, when you start to write, you will often be tempted to include viewpoint characters with internal conflicts. Many times, poorly written, these conflicts result in the character being inactive. They can't decide about things, or they're a coward, or they're depressed or indifferent. All of these things are flaws the characters are going to grow out of during the story, and you're very tempted to build them into the character as a way of giving the character more growth and things to overcome.

That's not a bad instinct, but it's much more difficult to pull off than you think. The problem is that a lot of characters like that don't really do anything for the first part of the story. They're reactive, and they don't care about the plot, which makes the reader not care about the plot.

Until you've practiced a while, might I suggest that you stick with characters who are passionate about what they're doing and who try consistently to achieve their goals? Give them different internal conflicts, things that don't keep them from acting. Learning to write a good book is tough enough without tackling an inactive character in your first few stories.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
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Questioner

How do you keep motivation for writing in general, because i always have a lot of trouble with that.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, well that depends on what part of my career you are talking about. Early on I envisioned this cubicle chasing me and if it caught me i'd have to get a normal, boring desk job. That was actually a big motivation to me, because it was like I only had a certain amount of time to do this thing that I loved and if I didnt actually sit down and do it I was gonna have to be a real boy. After i got published and it got a bit hard I started using the carrot philosophy; i would let myself open up a new pack of magic cards if I hit a certain word limit every day.

Questioner

Oh, thats really cool!

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, and that worked really well during the hard years when I was trying to get through the Wheel of Time. They were great books but they were so hard to write cause they were way harder than writing my own fiction. Now I don't really need that anymore, now its kinda become this thing where I have all these fans who are waiting for things and I have to make good on the promises I've made to them. Now its more like a "i need to do this", so yeah.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
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Oversleep

Do you have any advice on writing multiple magic systems? How to write it so that the reader is not confused in there being more than one? How to foreshadow combining them? How to play them off each other? How to balance them in one setting?

Brandon Sanderson

I really like to make sure I don't do too much at once. What has worked for me (both in Mistborn and Stormlight) is to introduce one system up front, and use it to start exploring the setting. Then I slowly add more in future books.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

As a writer, I tend to be more character-driven. I love what you've done with the character development of the two of these guys throughout the series. How much of them growing throughout the series, as you work on everything else, it comes together?

You know, characters I don't plot out as much. It's very easy to write them being cardboard. So, I try to let it be an outgrowth of what they're passionate about. Just kind of letting the passions of the characters drive their reactions in the narrative, and I think you'll never go wrong with that.