Advanced Search

Search in date range:

Search results:

Found 102 entries in 0.281 seconds.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#51 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.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#52 Copy

Questioner

What is your philosophy on prologues? You do a lot of them.

Brandon Sanderson

I do a lot of them. I don't think they're necessary. I'm fond of them. Usually, if you can find a way to not do one, your story will probably be stronger. But they do let you do something like, for instance, if you know that the later tone of your story is not going to match the early tone of your story, you can hint what the tone is actually going to be in the prologue, which is really handy. And there are other things you can do. You can start with a bang with a prologue in a way that maybe sometimes you wouldn't be able to do if you were going right into the main story. There's things that I like about them. But I do think that they become a crutch to some writers, and that might include me.

Questioner

Do you have a recommended length in terms of how long it should be? ...Or maybe how long it should not be? What would be the max for a prologue?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, Robert Jordan's kind of became books unto themselves, and that worked for him. But when you're getting that long, you might be-- Short and sweet is probably your best. One of the best prologues ever written is the prologue to Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. But there's no real-- Just try to avoid the classic '80s one where it's like, "Prologue is all the worldbuilding dump that I couldn't fit in to the first chapters."

Boskone 54 ()
#53 Copy

Questioner

How is it that you’re able to write such real and strong women characters that are feminist in their own way but in very different ways from book to book? Is your wife your inspiration? Can you do a workshop for other male writers?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a huge compliment, thank you. It is something that I’ve worked on a long time. I would blame the authors I read getting into fantasy, Barbara Hambly, Melanie Rawn, Anne McCaffrey. They were the first three authors I read. I internalized some of the things they were talking about. I also do have some good models. My mother graduated first in her class in accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the accounting department. She’s currently the accountant for the city of Idaho Falls.

So getting it wrong was a big deal to me, and I did get it wrong on my first few books. The unpublished ones, fortunately. What I realized was, it was a bigger problem than just doing the female characters wrong, though that was the biggest sign that I was doing something wrong. What was happening was I was writing people to roles in the story, rather than writing them as people having a role in the story. That sounds really simple, right? But once I realized people don’t see themselves as the plucky sidekick, usually, and people don’t see themselves as the romantic interest. People see themselves as a person who plays a part in someone else’s life, but plays a different part over here, and a different part over here. Those of us who are extroverts might be introverts in some situations where we don’t know very much. Those of us who are introverts might be extroverts when you put us in front of a room and tell us to do a reading, we’re like “Yeah! I can handle that!”. We all fulfill lots of different roles in different settings, in different people’s lives. Everybody has motivations and passions, and gender identity, racial factors, your upbringing, your culture, these are all parts of who you are, but when you let one of those things define you too much, you become a flat character, in fiction. [Talks for a minute about Lost, where the character who loses his son becomes a flat character because it comes to completely define the character. He’s talked about this before in his lectures so I’m not going to type it out]. When you’re writing people to just a role like that, you end up with these flat characters, you end up with people who don’t really live. And I think the first big revelation for me was that I was doing that. And this was particularly true of the female characters. When you start writing, it’s very normal to just write a protagonist who’s much like yourself and then writing people who aren’t like yourself like, this is this role, this is this role, and then boom. But there was something else I had to learn. There’s still lots of things for me to learn, but there was something else big that I had to learn.

This was the problem that I’ve only recently begun reading essays about it, which is the natural inclination of someone is to first off write everyone as kind of a stereotype, and then you learn and you get better. But then the next inclination is to write the person who is different from ourselves as super super awesome. Just so that we’re not accidentally being sexist. And you’ll see this a lot too, this happens a lot with African Americans, in video games in particular. I was playing a video game once, and it’s a bunch of burly white guys who are awesome with guns and they’re killing stuff. And they talk about their friend, the black guy. You don’t know he’s black at the time. And then they get into trouble and they can’t save themselves. And the black guy bursts through the ceiling with guns blazing, mows down the enemies, says “Alright guys, go for it!”, and then runs off into the sunset. He’s like the coolest guy ever. He only stops short of doing a rap song for the end song, right? They don’t want to be racist, so he’s awesome, but he also doesn’t get a character arc. Everybody else has deep character arc and is messed up. They didn’t want to, and I understand this instinct, they didn’t want to make the black guy messed up because he’s the minority and they are so worried about screwing it up that instead they put him on a pedestal. You see guys do this with women, and you see women do this with the men characters. If you read a book, often the guy, by a female writer, the guy has very few faults, he’s just this guy, and the woman is this messed up, neurotic, interesting character. Same in reverse with the guys. The woman in the book ends up being the one who is very responsible, the one who’s like “We need to go do this”, the kick-ass “strong female character” [he literally says “quote-unquote” about strong female character] who just awesome, but doesn’t have a character arc and isn’t messed up in the ways that make people interesting. That’s another level, when you’re like, we have to make all the characters interesting, and all the characters messed up and individual, rather than even doing that level. And that one’s been even harder to internalize and figure out how to do.

DragonCon 2016 ()
#54 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.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#55 Copy

Questioner

What is the worst writing advice you've ever gotten?

Brandon Sanderson

...The thing about writing advice is, most people are giving writing advice that works for them which means it's actually good advice to try out. The only really bad advice is, "This is the way it must be done." Because different writers have very different approaches. Can you imagine Stephen King. Stephen King can't write with an outline. So he says "Don't outline." Orson Scott Card says, "I've gotta have an outline or my book stinks." Both of those can't be right. But one of them might be right for you. The truth is, most writers I know don't outline some things, do outline other things, and come up with this, like, Frankenstein of different pieces of advice that work for them.

The absolute worst thing I that ever heard, and I'm not gonna say who said this, was they were telling my students, while I was teaching them, my students came in and said "What do you think of this," to include a glossy headshot with every submission. To get the attention of editors. And not include a SASE, a self addressed stamped envelope (back in the days, you know, where we did this all in print). If they liked it enough, they'd track you down.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#57 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.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#58 Copy

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.

ICon 2019 ()
#59 Copy

Questioner

My question is about, especially in the Stormlight series, I noticed that you use a lot of different languages and that when people speak in languages that is not their mother tongue, they use different phrases and they make mistakes that really remind me of the mistakes that we Israeli do when we speak English. Do you speak multiple languages and can you tell us a bit about languages in the Cosmere?

Brandon Sanderson

So, yeah. I do speak... poorly... I studied French all through high school and my French is really bad. And I was a missionary in Korea and learned Korean and my Korean is slightly less bad. *speaks Korean* I said, "I don't speak Korean very well, I speak about as much as a rat's tail," which is a phrase in Korean. Learning another language was really helpful for writing fantasy books. Going and living in another culture? Really helpful for writing fantasy books.

Languages in the Cosmere are going to vary based on my needs for a given book. I spend my worldbuilding time on what is relevant to the characters and story. So, for instance, the linguistics in Elantris were really important to the story. The linguistics in Mistborn were not as important to the story and so I spent more time on the languages for Sel than I did for Scadrial. I did spent a decent amount of time on the languages for Roshar because all the different cultures and things like that having conflicts with one another is a big part of the story.

Worldbuild in service of the story, is my suggestion to you guys. Spend your times on things that are going to be relevant to the characters.

White Sand vol.1 release party ()
#60 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.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#61 Copy

Questioner

What did you do to get into the head of the opposite gender?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an excellent question. She is saying that Vin turned out really well and it's hard for her to write male characters. This was actually really hard for me at first too. Several of my first unpublished novels had really lame, weak female chaarcters and it was one of the big transitions I had to make in transitioning from aspiring to professional.

 The biggest change was just a mindset change for me, and this might not be your problem, but I found that I was sticking people into roles rather than creating character who had a life outside of the story and then saying what happened when the story happened to them. It was this transformation in my head where I'm like "Wait, everyone is the hero in their own story, what would they be doing otherwise, what are they passionate about, how are they weird, how are they quirky."

 This is the problem with a lot of people who are kinda aware of this issue who write the other gender: they don't make the other gender weird and quirky. You'll see this: female writers, the men will just kinda be this paragon. Male writers: the woman will be up on this pedestal. They don't feel real because of that. Try to say, "if they were staring in the story, how would I design them. What makes them weird, what makes them passionate, why don't they fit their role?" That's the best thing you can ask, "why dont they fit their role."

WorldCon 76 ()
#62 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.

ICon 2019 ()
#63 Copy

Questioner

We were talking about Nightblood. How do you go about creating characters that are inanimate objects, but come to life? Because it seems a lot different. Also, gods... like, things that are otherworldly, because characters like real people, it's easy to write that. But considering gods and inanimate objects, that's beyond, sort of.

Brandon Sanderson

Well, fortunately, for us writers, nobody among our audience will be able to contradict us. Right? So, in some ways, writing something that nobody has ever experienced is a lot easier than writing something that a fair percentage of the population has experienced but you have not. And so, I just do my best. Being a writer is about learning to, "fake it." To pretend you're someone you're not, to pretend to have the experience that you don't, so that character sounds authentic. And faking something that no one can call you on is actually fairly easy.

Calamity Philadelphia signing ()
#64 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.

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

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.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#66 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!

Calamity Austin signing ()
#67 Copy

Questioner

I would like to know how do you make cultures so vibrant?

Brandon Sanderson

So, dig deep rather than go wide. One or two cultures that play off of each other in an interesting way, where you've considered a lot of the ramifications, are gonna to be better than trying to create thirty different cultures. Try to keep focused on what's going to be important to the characters and the books, and try to spend your worldbuilding there. So like if the characters are going to have conflict over religion, spend time on religion. But if instead they're going to have different linguistics and that's a source of conflict to them, spend time on the linguistics.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#68 Copy

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.

WorldCon 76 ()
#69 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

One of the things I relied on my surgeons for when I was working was, they would periodically say, "Cauterize this one, not this one." I'm not sure I ever really figured out why, but I just did what they said. But I think that could be really handy for the audience. Any suggestions?

Panelist 1

Yeah, I had that on my list. So, cautery has been around for a very long time, and properly applied it can both stop bleeding, what we mostly use it for now, and limit infection by sealing the skin. So that's a perfectly valid therapy from way way back. 

Panelist 2

From a surgeons perspective cautery is a primary tool that I use in the operating room all the time. Mainly on small vessels. In the same, when you're doing abdominal surgery is that charcoal doesn't bleed, today. The problem with cauterizing a very large vessel is that it will stop the bleeding, and then the eschar, the charred part falls off and it starts bleeding again. So cauterizing your entire arm to stop bleeding is not as effective as cauterizing, say, an open bleeding wound that doesn't involve a major blood vessel.

Oathbringer release party ()
#70 Copy

LadyKnightRadiant

So you're really good at ending books, especially like post-climax resolution that I feel is always my real weak point. I always find that I tend to write things that end up sounding really, really cheesy. I feel like you have, like, perfected the, like, decent resolution that's not horrifically cheesy. I was wondering if you have like any tips on how to end things properly.

Brandon Sanderson

It's all about promises, right, and I've talked about this a lot. Like, what-- remember that the ending, if you've earned it-- Cheesiness is based on whether the reader is on board with you or not-- Cheesiness is not like this intrinsic property of a scene. Cheesiness is, are they on board? Do they want this? Have you done a good job with this? So if you get people on board-- yeah.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#71 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.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#72 Copy

Questioner

I wanna write books, too... One thing that really drags me down is that I'm afraid that my book is gonna be too short. Do you have any tips for beefing up your story?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, if you add paragraphs about the architecture, *laughter* and where the clothing comes from--

Number one way to add length to a book without making it feel irrelevant is to start adding viewpoints form other characters who have a different take on what's happening in the story, and by naturally adding in some of those viewpoints and giving them their own arcs, you will lengthen the story in a way that feels natural. It will start to edge it into a different genre. The more of those you add, the more it's going to feel like a different style of story, either a historical epic or an epic fantasy or things like that, so you do want to be careful with it. But if you get done and your story's 50,000 words, and you want it to be 80,000 words, that can be a really good way to do it.

But honestly, I wouldn't stress about this too much. There are fantastic books that are 50,000 or 60,000 words long that get published. I don't know how long the new Stephen King one is, but it's like 180 pages. So it's probably, like, 40,000 or 50,000 words. Like, A Christmas Carol is what, 30,000, or something like that? Write the book; practice at the length you are comfortable in. And if it's consistently a problem that things actually end up too short, then start asking about, "Can I add subplots? Can I add other characters to give a different perspective on this?" But I wouldn't stress it too much at the beginning.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#75 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.

WorldCon 76 ()
#76 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

One of the things I read regarding blunt trauma that Hollywood and authors like to ignore is-- I've been told by several experts, the old "Hit 'em on the back of the head and knock them out thing" is just not a thing. If you hit them on the back of the head hard enough to knock them out, chances are you have done serious damage to them. This [is] just not a thing.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#77 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.

ICon 2019 ()
#78 Copy

Questioner

What's one of the major pitfalls that you, like, know yourself. Like, "People, don't do that", but still you see so many times that first time writers really should be careful about?

Brandon Sanderson

Ooooh, the one you really need to be careful about is making your opening too full of info dumps. You want your opening of your story, in particular, to evoke a character's voice and to have things happen in it. It doesn't even have to be a fight, doesn't mean you have to start with action, but it does mean there's gotta be motion, a character wanting something and a clear sense of story - not a big info dump about the world. And that's the number one pitfall, stay away from that.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#79 Copy

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.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#80 Copy

MarlonRand

Finally, do you have any advice for people that would like to write for a living?

Brandon Sanderson

First and foremost, don't give up. It can take a while. It takes time to master anything—whether it be writing, playing the piano, or brain surgery. People are willing to dedicate eight years or more to becoming a doctor. If you really want to be a writer, you need to be willing to dedicate the same amount of time and effort. Practice. Practice some more. Write a book, then write another, then write another. (I didn't sell my first, or my second, or my fifth. Elantris was my sixth book.)

Secondly, write what you love. Don't try and guess the market. Read the type of books you want to write, pay attention to what they do, and decide what it is you want to say and how you will add to the discussion. What makes your additions to the conversation unique? Write it because you feel it inside of you, not because it's what seems to be hot right now.

Finally, if I may make a plug, hop over to writingexcuses.com and listen to me and the others on our writing podcast talk about this sort of thing. ;)

Calamity Austin signing ()
#81 Copy

Questioner

I can write dialogue, I can write a couple of other things, but I suck at worldbuilding. And that's something I've watched you do online, I love it, it's great, but I cannot describe it. And any time I start I get two to three pages into it and then I just can't do it.

Brandon Sanderson

Practice. Number one, keep practicing. Less is more. If you can build great dialogue and great characters, you can pick a couple of cool things, just a few, and make everything else like-- try to [write dialogue] anyway. Pick an Earth culture. Changed it a little bit. You would much rather be good at character dialogue than worldbuilding, I can tell you that right now. A great character in a generic world is still a great story. But a weak character in a great world is a weak story. So, don't stress this one too much, it'll get better as you go along. But just try picking one thing that is cool for you, that's different, and make that swap, and try writing a story. Don't stress this one too much.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#82 Copy

Questioner

How many character chapters is too many? ...My first book has three character chapters, my second has six. I'm wondering if that's too--

Brandon Sanderson

Nothing is too many. It's good practice. You might lose control of it. My advice would be if you can keep those characters in clusters, meaning if you split them off into their own plots if they are together in one or two batches, it's going to be a lot easier. Adding more viewpoints is not too much harder when you're doing that. It's when they're all off on their own. But there's nothing that's too much, right? Even if it doesn't end up working out you will have taught yourself something.

WorldCon 76 ()
#83 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

This is where the writers can exploit this a little bit, and it's always a balance, right, as a novelist. The original question was: Alexander the Great survived, famously, a punctured lung. And so, the fact that it does happen means you can get away with it in your fiction, you can get away with a lot of things. But as it was brought up earlier on the panel, one of the things we try to do in fantasy, and I would say the hallmark of an epic fantasy is the sense of immersion. That's why we are writing epic fantasy, we want to draw people in, and while you are reading this book you want to feel like this is a real place and these are real events that happened.

YouTube Livestream 1 ()
#84 Copy

Tristan Gilmore

This is perhaps more of a Writing Excuses question, but at what point in the story do you intentionally finish "building up" and transition to reveals and answering the intrigue you've established? Or do these need to be intertwined to keep the novel from being a constant uphill/downhill of interest?

Brandon Sanderson

In answer to your second question first: yes, it is good to stagger these a bit. This is something I didn't understand as well when I was brand new into writing, in some of my early - particularly unpublished - books. The "Brandon avalanche" which people talk about that comes at the end of a book where all the threads are finally coming together and stuff, was just way too much in these early books, and what happened is you couldn't follow all the threads or give them time to actually have impact, because always another one was happening. And it ended up having kind of boring situations leading to too much excitement that you couldn't actually take time to reflect on anything that was happening. So staggering your reveals is a really good thing to practice. Even if you want to have an avalanche at the end like I have, staggering some of that, having some character climaxes happen at different parts, in different points in the story, just a really good idea.

But where do you start doing it? That's kind of the definition for me... like that transition... that moment act 2 into act 3, the moment right after where things have just turned south, is the moment where I start trying to have those reveals in most books. But again, I'm trying to stagger them, I'm trying to have mini-reveals. Particularly in a big epic fantasy, you want lots of ups and downs.

Firefight release party ()
#85 Copy

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.
Skyward San Diego signing ()
#86 Copy

Questioner

What's the most important thing to do when writing to ensure that the story has the tone you want it to have?

Brandon Sanderson

Boy, I'm not sure if there's a one catch-all most important thing. The answer, unfortunately, to most writing questions is: practice a lot, and then show your work to people and get feedback, and then learn how to target it better. With tone, one thing I've noticed that is really tough to pull off is switching very frequently between something that's supposed to be humorous and something that's supposed to be serious. And this is not a bad instinct, because some of the great filmmakers and writers we know are able to do this. This is like a Joss Whedon hallmark, right? We're gonna go from witty comeback to sudden gravitas in the matter of, like, whiplash. So we're like, "Wow, I like movies like that, I like books like that. Terry Prachett can make me laugh and then make me cry in the space of a page. I want to learn to do that." But it is really easy to have your tone go completely off the wall when you're trying to do something like that. And whenever I fail on that thing, on tone, it's almost always because I'm trying to inject something funny into the middle of something with a lot of gravitas.

This actually happened-- "Funny" is maybe the wrong term for it, but in the last Wheel of Time book, a scene we cut. The beginning of the Wheel of Time book, to not give spoilers, start with a really dramatic fight scene where some people are struggling to survive under terrible situations, and they are getting picked off and dying, and things are burning. And I alternated that with a different scene I had written separately of several characters getting engaged. Which were both scenes I wanted in the book; but when I finally came to fold the stories together, these different threads, this one went opposite this one, and wow, it did not work. It was so bad. You would be reading these scenes about people dying, you'd be like, "I'm not interested in the people getting engaged." Even though it's something that maybe you've waited for the entire series to read because of the tone mismatch of where you're jumping back and forth. So that was one where we actually cut out the scene of the engagement, and just let the scene that was the more powerful scene stand on its own.

YouTube Livestream 5 ()
#87 Copy

Questioner

How can you control the ramping of power levels from human to godlike?

Brandon Sanderson

Knowing how long your series is gonna be, or at least how long you would like it to be at the start, is definitely going to be a help here. Also, understanding how to make character conflicts that both fall into the character's skill wheelhouse and those that don't, meaning finding a challenge for a character... I often talk to my boss about the idea that stories happen around the things that the character or the magic can't do, generally. This is just kind of storytelling basics. If you've got a character that is an excellent, excellent boxer, then you tell a story about either someone who is a stronger boxer than them that they have to face, or you tell a story about boxing being a side story to the rest of the character's story. And this is just so that there's tension and conflict. And getting good at balancing those is going to be very helpful for you. Because you don't want to just have things happen that the character's skill means nothing to. If your character's a boxer, you need boxing matches to be happening in your story in almost all varieties of stories you're going to be writing. And if your boxer's the best boxer in the world, you still are going to be expected to have boxing matches, you're going to have to find a way to make it still tense. But you can do this in a lot of different ways. It can be someone is better than them. It can be that they get injured. It can be they get older, and their skill isn't what it once was. Or they can be at the height of their skill, but there's some sort of marathon they have to go through, where they're going to have to defeat a bunch of opponents in a row. Just understanding how you can ramp up those kinds of conflicts and then how you can balance them with character conflicts, internal conflicts, and conflicts about what the character cannot do, and you will find that it works. Superman still works as a character -- I know that there are a lot of stories that don't work with him, but there are a lot of stories that still do, and he's near deific in power. Rand al'Thor in the Wheel of Time is basically a demigod by the time I took over the books, and he was a blast to write. I never felt worried about power level concerns in the three books I was writing, because I was able to balance these sorts of things because Robert Jordan had left me the seeds or the half-done story threads to be able to do this. So, practice those things.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#88 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.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#89 Copy

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.

Oathbringer release party ()
#90 Copy

Questioner

How could I be a better beta reader? Because I suck at giving feedback.

Brandon Sanderson

It's just practice. And try not to fix things, try to just give your responses to them.

Questioner

Like how I felt about certain things?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, you don't have to tell them how to fix it, you just have to say, "I was bored here." "I was not empathizing with this character." "This line was really great." That sort of stuff.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#92 Copy

Questioner

I write as well, and I was wondering what books you use to improve your own writing?

Brandon Sanderson

I have found both of Orson Scott Card’s books to be very good. Stephen King's book is very good. I find that my writing improves more when I read people's writing that I admire and then ask myself what they did well. That helps me more than some of the textbooks. 

Questioner

That's kind of how I was feeling too, for myself, so excellent.

Brandon Sanderson

Breaking down someone who's really good at this, like Anne McCaffrey, or somebody like that, and saying "what is she actually doing?".

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#93 Copy

Questioner

I want to write books... Do you have any trouble with trying to figure out what you want your main character's name to be?

Brandon Sanderson

Names... I will tell you this. You're probably stressing too hard about the name, because usually if you just pick one and start writing, you will grow to see that character by that name, and they'll be come entwined, and you won't stress about it anymore. That happens most of the time, if you just settle on one.

If you're writing Sci Fi/Fantasy, there are a couple of things you can do. If you want a really easy sort of Sci Fi/Fantasy hack, assign sort of a linguistic structure to a bunch of different countries in your world, and be like, "All of these are going to have Ancient Babylonian sounding names." And then you can go kind of look at that language and build some names out of that. That's an easy way to do it.

But really, I would not stress this. Just name the characters, start writing. If it feels wrong to you after you've written for a while, swap something else in, see if that works, and write for a while. Usually the person will grow to match the name, and then name will become synonymous with them in your head, to the point that it can be really hard to change their names later on when you decide, as I've sometimes decided, "Wow, this name doesn't fit the naming paradigm for this culture; I'll change their name." And then I just keep calling them the wrong name when I talk about them.

BookCon 2018 ()
#94 Copy

Questioner

I'm in <a MFA and> one of the things I'm interested in is writing multiple perspectives. So how do you go about that and make the characters sound distinctive?

Brandon Sanderson

I think really distinctive viewpoints is a big part of it, particularly in the third-limited. It's much easier in the first to distinguish them in some ways, though it's harder to keep track. But in third limited you want to make sure your viewpoints are really distinctive. I always ask myself the question, "How would they describe a cup of water?" Would they see that as if they are thirsty, or how would they describe that thing...

Third limited gets away with a sort of more general voice of the narrator a little bit, to kind of lean on that as long as the focus on descriptions and voice and thoughts of the characters.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#95 Copy

Questioner

Any advice for finding a good, constructive writing group?

Brandon Sanderson

Writing groups, your best bet is to find somewhere, like, at a convention, that's doing writing critiques, and get in on one of the group critiques that happen there, usually led by, like, an author or somebody, and see who's giving good critiques. And then approach them and see if you can start something up. I would say that's the best. University classes, you can get into one of those, some sort of writing class where you can kind of get a preview for how people critique and things like that. That's your best bet, conventions, or writing classes.

Skyward Denver signing ()
#96 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.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#97 Copy

Anushia Kandasivam

Now, you have been so very incredibly supportive of our Read for Pixels campaign and of our anti-violence-against-women work as a whole. Could you tell us, why do you support the cause to end violence against women and what do you think authors can do to help with the cultural change needed to eradicate violence against women and girls?

Brandon Sanderson

I think that one of the main things we can do is something that I mentioned a little earlier. This is specifically to the other writers out there. Using violence against women, specifically because they are women, as a main plot point in your stories, is not just kind of creating bad stereotypes, it is often times lazy writing. We do it because it is the easiest answer, and because a lot of media takes it as the easy answer, because it elicits immediate visceral responses in an audience. Kind of in the same way that potato chips are bad for you, I think some of these things are bad for us as a society. They are unhealthy, but they are easy.

It is easy to beat up someone's mother, so that the male protagonist has a motivation to go about their life and their story. And this isn't to say we shouldn't ever have people in crisis and characters saving other characters. But what we need to do is we need to look at and say, "Am I taking the easy route? Am I doing this because I've been shown a lot of media, where the way to make a male character motivated is to kill his girlfriend and to give him a revenge plot? Am I doing this just because I've been told this is the way that media is? Or am I doing this because this is actually the story I want to tell?" I don't think any of us are saying that stories should not include women who are in violent situations.

We shouldn't stop writing female characters who get into violent conflicts who are not action stars and things like that. I think what we're all saying is, we should stop the lazy storytelling and we should stop using stories where violence against women because they are women is the way that we further our plots. And so I think as writers, we need to make better stories. We need to not reach for the easy answer, we-- your stories will have more depth, they will be more interesting and they will last longer if you will reach a little further and you will find motivations for your characters that are different. And, I do not uphold myself as the ultimate paragon in this regard. I have a lot of characters who part of their motivations is based off of loss that they have experienced in the past. And you're going to write characters like this too, and it's okay, but examine it, and ask yourself. And, you know, remember that even if you're not writing for your story to be a-- something that is upheld, as the way people should be, you are contributing to the climate of storytelling that people who read those stories will assume is the way that stories are to be told.

Why do I support this cause? Because I am-- I feel very passionately that this is something that we need to step up on, as a community, as entertainers. And that we should stop using sensationalized violence against people, not just women, but children and people who are in weakened social-economic situations as sensationalized ways to make our main characters look awesome. So that's my answer on that, and we can also, like I've said a lot in this particular broadcast, we can listen a little bit better. And I think it'll make us better writers. 

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#98 Copy

Questioner

Can you talk a little bit about writing your action sequences?

Brandon Sanderson

Writing action sequences, alright, alright... So writing sequences. The trick to writing an action sequence as a novelist is to not try to do what Hollywood does well, on the page. Instead do what a book does well. What I mean by that is, I can watch, like I assume most people can, Jackie Chan, he can fight for an hour and I'm loving it. He can introduce physical comedy into it and just the punches and stuff are just great, the blow by blow is fun. But if you tried to write a blow by blow in a book, you know "he punched him", then "he kicked him", then "he punched him really hard", and then "he jumped over and kicked him" it would just get boring. And so the way I think to write and engage the action sequences is, number one, make sure the reader knows very soon on what's at stake and have them care about what's at stake. Number two, get them inside the head of the character, so what the character's thinking, feeling and what connections they're making. In other words, make the fight sequence into a puzzle. Your main character's got to solve this puzzle in some way, and maybe the way to solve that puzzle is to just stab a bunch of people really hard, but you want to follow that thought process and have motion in the scene that involves the character's desires, goals, and thoughts, and things like that, and you'll have a stronger action sequence that way. It's the sort of thing that movies can't do. They can't show you the thoughts unless it's David Lynch doing Dune, and then-- have you seen that movie? You know how that turned out, it was really weird.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#99 Copy

Questioner

Do you find it harder to write from a male or female's point of view?

Brandon Sanderson

It is harder to write-- The more different someone is from me, the more difficult they are to write. Gender is only one part of that, however, and so some characters who are very like me, but maybe-- maybe a woman, would be easier to write than someone who is very different from me but is a guy. But that's all kind of part of it.

Early in my career, before I got published, I was actually really bad at this; but the main thing I learned from that era of my writing was that I was writing people to a role in the story. It wasn't that I was bad at writing women, it was that I was writing all women as the love interest. Which resulted in bad storytelling and flat characters. And if you start to be able to learn: treat each character they are the protagonist of their own story, treat each character like they see themselves, not as a bit part, but as the story themselves; and start to explore who they are rather than putting them in a role in the story, your characters will get better all around.

Manchester signing ()
#100 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.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#101 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.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#102 Copy

Questioner

When building out your magic in your books, what process do you go through, they're certainly intricate compared to a lot of others.

Brandon Sanderson

Good question! ...I could give you three lectures on this, and I have done it before. Fortunately, I wrote it all down. So, I've got a couple resources for you, this goes for anyone who's interested in writing. My website... there are three resources on there. The first are my essays on magic systems. I've done three essays so far, my speech last years was my fourth, you'll have to find that online somewhere. Sanderson's Zeroth Law. I named them after myself, because, I mean, Asimov did it. *laughter* I don't think he actually named them after himself, but-- So, those are gonna talk about magic systems, how I develop them in-depth.

The other resource I have for you is Writing Excuses, my podcast. Fifteen minutes of writing advice every week. Start with January of this year. I think they get better and better as we've gone along, so this year's are better, and we started kind of a new thing.

And the last thing is, if you're hardcore, and you're kind of masochistic, you can watch my university lectures, which are a little more boring and dry, they're an hour and a half long, there's thirteen of them, they're linked on my website. And I made the university let me record them and post them online as part of having me in there to teach...