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Ad Astra 2017 ()
#51 Copy

Questioner

Do you make a conscious effort to incorporate *inaudible* morals? Like not...

Brandon Sanderson

Um, yeah...

Questioner

I mean, more sexually.

Brandon Sanderson

Right, so, I personally don't like reading things that kind of are explicit themselves. I feel like I shouldn't force all of my characters to keep the same moral code, because that's not accurately representing the world. It's-- But at the same time, what I think is moral influences things. So it's like very conscious that--

Questioner

More like how you describe it.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. And also, you know, you go to some-- a place like Roshar, where it's based on oaths and things like this. That's playing into part of what I think is moral, right? So, yeah. But the same time we have people like Wayne, whose just like-- you know Wayne is not going to-- yeah, he's got very loose morals-- that's who he is. And if I didn't put people like that in my books there would be something wrong. But I don't feel like I have to be explicit, is the thing.

Skyward Denver signing ()
#52 Copy

Questioner

My question is - I am writing a paper in my *inaudible* and thinking about Plato's allegory of the cave and how America has created an echo chamber with the media, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

Brandon Sanderson

Okay, clever. Boy, that is a really interesting premise. I agree 100% with that exploration. Do I have any thoughts on it? I think part of the purpose of fiction is force us to explore people who are not like ourselves and don't think like ourselves. And my biggest worry with the echo chamber is it's going to start crowding out the art that has anything you don't agree with, which I think are the most important things to be reading. And,at least, for me, that was always the most important thing to be reading, so, I would say, as an artist, this worries me, because it kind of undermines one of the most important purposes of art.

Firefight release party ()
#54 Copy

Questioner

What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

Brandon Sanderson

What do I hope to accomplish?

Questioner

It's kind of a deep, philosophical question.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. It is. It is indeed a philosophical question. At the end of the day the number one thing I want to do is tell great stories. Everything else is kind of an appendage to that. I'm a storyteller. And great things come from stories, but if the only thing I do is entertain some people and make their day brighter, that's a success. So sure, I'd like to create something in fantasy that's never been made before, right? Like I would like the cosmere to become this thing that people are like "No one's ever done that, look at this cool thing!" but that's secondary to just wanting to tell great stories and make people's lives a little brighter.

Yeah, I think that great books make you think, but not because they try very hard to make you think. If that makes any sense?

Questioner

I agree with it...

Brandon Sanderson

I would like to-- I would like to write something that is as immortal as Ender's Game is likely to be, right? Most of the body of Scott Card's work will probably be forgotten, but in two hundred years, they'll still be reading Ender's Game. And most everyone's work, that most everyone writes, will be forgotten but once and a while somebody creates something that is likely to stick around for a while. I'd like to do that. But that's secondary.

Brandon's Blog 2018 ()
#55 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

One of the most common questions I get, as a writer, is some variation on, "Do you ever hear voices, or feel like your characters are real?" People ask it timidly, as they don't want to be offensive, but there seems to be genuine curiosity about the way a writer's brain works. (Other variations on this theme are questions such as, "What are your dreams like?" or "Do you ever get so wrapped up in your worlds that you have trouble coming back to our world?")

They're legitimate questions, though I'm not convinced that a writer's brain works in any consistently different way from someone else's brain. I think you'll find the same amount of variation in the way writers work as you'll find in any profession. There are as many ways to approach stories as there are people writing stories.

That said, I have talked to a lot of writers who imply a certain autonomy to their characters. "I had to write their story," one might say. "They wouldn't leave me alone until I did." Or some version of, "I was writing one story, but the characters just didn't want to go that way, and so took off in another direction."

To me, these are ways of trying to voice the fact that the way our minds work—and the way we construct art—is in some cases a mystery even to those involved. Human beings have this fascinating mix of instinct and intent, where we train ourselves to do complex tasks quickly through repetition. In this way, writing a book is somewhat similar to driving home from work—you can consciously think about it, and make each decision along the way. Or, more often, you just let your body do the work, interpreting things your brain says should happen without you thinking about it directly.

I spend a lot of time teaching how to write and talking about writing, but I don't consciously use a lot of the techniques I talk about. I've used them so much that I just move forward, without formally saying something like, "Now I'm making sure my chapter ties together the sub-themes it introduced at the beginning." The truly conscious technique comes during troubleshooting, when a story isn't coming together for me—and so I have to step back, take apart what I've been doing, and find the broken bits.

So again, a mix of intent and instinct is where books come from for me. I don't generally feel that the characters "want" to do things—but I still write them by gut feeling most of the way, and only look at breaking down their motivations specifically when I'm either working on the outline or trying to fix something in revisions.

On one hand, I know exactly who the character is and what they would do in a situation. So it does feel a little mystical sometimes, and you can have eureka moments during writing where you finally find a method to express this character that will convey the right idea to the reader. In that way, there's almost this Platonic version of the character that you're chasing—and trying to explore, figure out, and commit to paper.

On the other hand, it's likely that these characters feel right to me not because of any mystical connection to the abstract. It's because I'm unconsciously drawing from tropes, characterizations, and people I've known before—and I am putting them together on the page to form something that will feel right because of the backgrounds I'm drawing upon.

It's an exhilarating process for me, but also can lead to troubles. Which I'll talk about in Part Two.

MisCon 2018 ()
#56 Copy

Questioner

In your magic systems, they all require the character to go over a great stress before they obtain that-- Do you use the concept of the price that comes with magic in a plausible magic system when you came up with that idea, or was it more about the idea of flawed characters are awesome?

Brandon Sanderson

In the cosmere magics, a lot of times in order to get the magic, there needs to be-- the internal logic argument is: Souls, once they have gaps in them, those gaps can be filled with other things, which often give you access to magical powers. Great trauma or stress--this is an age old fantasy idea, goes back many many years in the genre--will let you attain some of these powers, kind of as a balancing thing and mostly this is for narrative reasons.

Flawed characters are just way more interesting to write, and I gravitated to it pretty naturally as I was building the magic of the cosmere. And I would say it was mostly narrative reasons, as opposed to, when I was building the magic, some rule that felt like it needed to be there. But it's also a little of a balancing factor. It's trying to build into--whoever asked the question about the god--having god-like powers, but their flaws making it hard for them to use it.

It's a check on giving the powers to my characters, if I make sure to establish, this character has some holes in their-- some gaps and flaws in who they are, that might make them use their powers wrong once they get them, and that is in some way a narrative check on that, if that makes sense.

Arcanum Unbounded Hoboken signing ()
#57 Copy

Questioner

I know the Cosmere has been around for a while. *inaudible* I guess it's a hard thing. Like, how soft...

Brandon Sanderson

No, it's all still evolving. It will continue. Like, you can't get so locked into an outline--even though I have them--that you don't change it when something better comes up. A big example of this is Adolin, right? Adolin was not *inaudible* character. And yet in the first book I needed *inaudible* I needed a viewpoint of somebody who was not imagining things, right? Somebody who was kind of more normal guy-ish. And he has a huge thing in the book. So now the outline of all ten books has changed because *inaudible*. And so, you've got to be willing to do that, I feel, as a writer.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
#58 Copy

Questioner

Do you have any plans of writing any prequels for the Mistborn [series]?

Brandon Sanderson

No, not right now. One of the reasons that-- I have to put an asterisk on that. I did write out a prequel story happening hundreds of years earlier that was going to be the video game, that ended up never getting made. So there's a chance I will do something with that,a graphic novel or something. So there is a chance. What I won't probably tell is the story that you read in the epigraphs, the story of Rashek and Alendi and all those things, because I feel like that story is told best the way it is in the books, that you get it revealed as it's going along. If I told it again, I feel like it would just be a rehash of that. I can see myself telling other stories potentially, but I am the type that generally likes to keep moving forward. There are some great prequels out there to books that I love, but mostly I like sequels, so I like to move forward. Not impossible, but yeah.

MisCon 2018 ()
#59 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever feel like it can be bad if you have too many characters that have really politically or socially unhealthy perspectives?

Brandon Sanderson

That is dangerous, yeah. Particularly in the hands of an inexperienced writer. It's not a reason to not do it, but I'm reminded of Save the Pearls. So, this is a well-meaning young woman who is obviously writing from a position of privilege who wrote a book about reverse racism where the black people are racist against white people. And the black people are called Coals, and the white people are called Pearls. And it is really heavy-handed and poorly done, and really... is bad for the whole discussion. It is horribly, horribly racist in the way it treats black people in the book that's supposed to be about how bad racism is. And her intent was good, it's like, "Hey, let's let white people experience how it would be to be racist against people," but it just-- in her hands, it's just terrible. It is dangerous to not be part of the conversation and try to say something about the conversation. To not do your leg work, and things like that.

But at the same time, as an artist, I don't feel like you should not try to have things to say. But you should maybe research a little more, things like that. What if you want to write a book where main characters are racist? They hold unpopular and unhelpful opinions, they are dead-out wrong. How can you write this without contributing to the problem? And people have different answers to this. I would go research online and see what people have said about it. I mean, Stormlight is about a bunch of racist people who don't know they're racist. They just don't know. And this is me tackling that really dangerous problem, and it is a place you can get burned by doing.

But again, I think you should do it. I think we should be having these discussions, but make sure to read first. And there are ways to go about it where you indicate, "Hey, this is part of life. And it sucks." But it is part of life, so if we pretend it's not there, then it's also doing a disservice to the discussion. So, yeah, it is something to worry about. It's definitely something to think about. It's definitely something that should inform the way you approach your writing. But be careful.

Daily Dragon interview ()
#60 Copy

Daily Dragon

Your work is often praised for unique magic systems with interesting limitations, like the application of the laws of physics to the abilities of a Coinshot in the Mistborn series. What kinds of limitations do you think have the most potential?

Brandon Sanderson

There are lots of ways to go with this answer. It depends on how creative you are with your storytelling. I like to found my magics with certain rules so that I can force myself and my characters to be more creative in their application. I think that a good magic system is going to have some of this. Granted that my way is not the only way; there are a lot of great stories that don't do magic the way I do it. But if you're trying to tell a story where the way the magic works is a very big part of the story, then limitations are vital. I would say the best limitations are ones where creativity is forced on the part of the characters.

I don't like limitations such as kryptonite—this one thing negates the magic, which focuses the story around having it or not having it. I like limitations that are intrinsic to the magic and have a logical sense. When I can, I like the limitations to be bounded by the laws of physics—what requirements will physics put upon this magic that will make the characters have to use it in a more natural way.

The other big thing is that I split out costs and limitations in my head. A limitation is just what the magic can or cannot do, just like we have limits in our own world to what a physical body can achieve. Costs are what you pay for the magic, and these can add an economic component to a book and a magic system; they can add a lot of ties into the setting, and a great magic, I think, has a lot of ties into the setting.

JordanCon 2018 ()
#61 Copy

Questioner

In reading about Adonalsium and Odium, I get the sense that it's more related to lerasium and atium than it is to, like, Preservation or Ruin. Because, sometimes it seems like we're identifying... Odium and Adonalsium as beings instead of, like, the body of--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, it is a little confusing by design. The question is, like, telling the difference between the Vessel who is holding the power, the intent of that power, and the physical manifestations of that power as Investiture or as whatever, these things are confusing. And I did this on purpose. I like that blurring between them. One of the things I did when I was designing the magic for the cosmere, was-- you guys know this very easily from looking at the books, I love the ideas of quantum theory, string theory, all this stuff. And even, just looking at quantum mechanics as we understand them right now. And the further you get into the details, the more the rules that you built, everything you understand upon, become blurry. And we live in this world where certain scientific principles, like-- I was sitting at a writing group, talking to my friend who's a mathematician, and I'm like, "I really like math 'cause it is objective. One plus one equals two." And he's like, "Well, the further you get in math, the less that actually is true, and the more 'One plus one equals two' is a philosophical statement, not an actual objective truth." And we talked about the nature of, the further you dig into things--

So, I tried to build the cosmere magic-- For instance, how the Bands of Mourning work. We are getting away from Step 1, which is, "Metals push or pull." We can get that. Into Step 2, where we are building complex machines out of the interactions between the magic. And we will then get to Step 3, where it's like, we can explain the principles, but you need to be a computer engineer to understand exactly how the computer is working. And I wanted to be able to build to get to that point. With the philosophy of, "What is the power, what is the individual, what is the intent," and things like that, we're kind of going that direction, in a philosophical direction. What does it mean? What are the answers?

Humans like things to be divided and put in boxes, but in nature, these boxes are usually arbitrary, of our distinction. So, I like that aspect of our interaction with the real world. So, the answer to your question is, this is not a question for me, this is a question for philosophers. Where does the intent stop, and the being begin? And what does it mean to have a body? Is the body of the original person that has taken up the Shard, the Vessel, when that drops out when they die, is that their real body? Or is that just the power pushing out something that it absorbed and recreating it, and dropping a copy of it? What is that? What's going on there? What's it mean? How much can a Vessel influence their intent? This is all a question for philosophers, that I'm going to explore in the books, but it's not the sort of thing that you're like--

Does one plus one equal two? The answer is, one plus one equals two according to this proof that we believe explains the universe, but is a little fuzzier than you think it is.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#62 Copy

Aurimus_

From a writerly perspective - as part of your process, how do you come up with magitech solutions that feel like they're a natural part of the magic system - IE fabrials, medallions?

Brandon Sanderson

As for magitech, I try to make them still have a sense of mystery and magic to them--but also have those who, in world, do understand them. To walk that line between science and the fantastic.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#63 Copy

Rgkavodkar

If you have two written books, Book-A and Book-B, and you are prouder of Book-B, does it feel weird if Book-A is more popular and better received?

Brandon Sanderson

I know this does happen to writers, but I've not really experienced it. Generally, if I write something a little more niche, I'm aware ahead of time. (And am doing it on purpose.) I also don't tend to be "more proud" of certain books--I write a wide variety of things because I'm interested in a wide variety of story types.

But I guess I'm also comfortable with the idea that a lot of work does not equal a successful piece. I, of course, would prefer to write things that everyone loves--but I learned early in my unpublished career not to chase the market, and that attitude has served me quite well.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#64 Copy

Questioner

In Words of Radiance you have a great line which said "careful planning is the water which nourishes creativity". I was wondering if, when you wrote that line, were you specifically thinking about novel outlines?

Brandon Sanderson

So there's a line in Words of Radiance that's says "careful planning is the water which nourishes creativity". Was I specifically thinking of outlines? So when I speak most lines like this, I'm trying to speak through someone's eyes. That's Navani, I believe, who says that am I right? The idea being that that's the way they'd perceive it. There are other people who would disagree. Now I am a planner, so I understand that mindset a lot. I use a lot of outlines. There are other people who don't plan at all and their books still turn out awesome. So I think there are a lot of different ways to be creative. But I don't think that Navani thinks that there are a lot of different ways. If that makes any sense. She has a different perspective on it perhaps.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#65 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Religious Philosophies

There is a belief that many people hold in the world, and I like to call it the "spokes on the wheel" belief. This is the belief that as long as you struggle hard and try to live your life well, you'll make it to heaven, or nirvana, or whatever lies on the other side of death. People who believe this tend to take an "It doesn't matter what road you take; they all lead the same place" approach. Every religion is a spoke on the wheel, leading to the center.

There is a lot of nobility to this belief. It's an attempt to be inclusionary, and the people I've met who believe this way tend to be sincere—or at least very accommodating—in their personal convictions.

I don't write books to disprove any one philosophy or belief. People who believe this way are not idiots, nor are they fools. This was the belief Sazed followed through the first two books of the trilogy. However, I see a danger in this set of beliefs, and Sazed's trials in this book are a result of that danger. If you believe everything, it seems to me that it is difficult to find any hard-and-fast truth.

Monotheism has its own problems, and I explore those in other books. Don't take this as a bash against your beliefs if you follow Sazed's previous philosophy. I simply saw a potential conflict, and couldn't help but explore it.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#66 Copy

Questioner

Something I found really interesting and refreshing--it's sad it is that way, but it is--about your books are female characters, and I recently read that for a while you were kind of mortified because, talking about feedback, someone told you that you were writing really plain female characters. Now, seeing Vin or Megan, I barely can believe that, and I think as fans sometimes maybe get a bit too caught up in how amazing your worldbuilding is, and your magic systems, and we sort of disregard something that really works as well, and that's characters. I really like that your characters have, even if they are kind of secondary, they have purpose, they have motive, they have a backstory, they are not just there as background, really. So, could you describe how is character building for you and how has it changed since then?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, this is an interesting thing to think about, as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, because the thing that draws us all to sci-fi/fantasy, the reason we're here, is because of the setting. And yet, the setting is in some ways the least important part, because, if you have a bad setting, but great characters, you usually can still have a good book, but if you have terrible characters and and interesting setting, usually that book is still going to be boring.

This was a problem early in my writing, as you have brought up, particularly my female characters. I can still remember sharing one of my first books with someone, and being very excited for their feedback, and hearing how much they loved the magic system, and then getting to the criticism and saying, "It's unfortunate that the female lead is so wooden," and this was something that I needed to work on. No writer starts out good at everything. I was fortunate in finding early on some of these things that I needed to work on.

For me, one of the big breakthroughs came when I started to look at each character as the protagonist of their own story. In some of these early books, characters were fit into a definition by my brain. This is the love interest, this is the sidekick, this is the mentor. But that's not how we are in our lives. Every one of us is a romantic interest at times, a mentor at times, a sidekick at times, but throughout the course of all of it, the only perspective we have of it is our own, and we are always the protagonist in that story. So when I started asking myself for each character, no matter how insignificant to the plot, who are they, what are they passionate about, what would they be doing today if the world weren't ending, and how are they the hero of their story.

Orem signing ()
#67 Copy

Questioner

How do you get the Asian themes in without it being so corny?

Brandon Sanderson

You try to break down... Use multiple inspirations and tie them together. Try to extrapolate. Try to look at what are caricatures and stray away from that. Being influenced by the philosophy and the thinking and the culture to create things that are similar but going their own direction will help you do that sort of thing. Justifying things in-world rather than just dropping them in. Take a look at the safehand, which is based off of not -- but as an Asian culture thing, when I lived in Korea, you didn't show the bottom of your feet to people. It was considered rude. That was really interesting to me, and creating a similar taboo but with different groups and different reasons, it was... You can see my experience in how it came out. Do things like that.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#68 Copy

Questioner

When writing, do you ever encounter a problem where you're building a world or writing a book is very similar to other things going on in popular culture, something like that? How do you build your world to be different from those, so it doesn't feel similar?

Brandon Sanderson

Artists and writers are more afraid, in my experience, of being thought derivative than they generally should be. A lot of times what you'll see is, people who have a similar sort of background and are reading the same sort of things will start to create things that are similar. There's a reason Brent Weeks and I both released color-based magic system books within a year of each other. And it's not because we were talking; we didn't even know each other then. But we both grew up reading the same sort of things and were exploring magic in the same ways.

I don't think you need to stress this nearly as much as you do. At least as much as you probably do. My experience has been that the only thing that's really gonna be original about your story is you. And you are going to add things to this story. Look at the number of people who have told Beauty and the Beast in different ways. Or Cinderella. We had a Cinderella book become one of the biggest books of the year just a few years back, in Cinder. You are going to be able to add things. If you have early readers say, "This feels derivative." You can always change that, or you can always write something else. Don't stress it. Write the book you want to write, and train yourself to be a writer, and it really isn't gonna be as big a problem as you might think it is. It wouldn't matter, for instance, if you released a book the same year as Mistborn that had a metal-based magic system. Like, X-Men has a character with a metal-based magic, and it was the biggest movie of the year a couple a years before Mistborn came out, and people don't read Mistborn and be like, "Wow, that's just Magneto, only lamer." *laughter* Thankfully, they don't say that. So, don't worry about this as much as you might.

Oathbringer release party ()
#69 Copy

Questioner

In correlation to art. Leonardo DaVinci has the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo has the Sistine Chapel. Have you created-- Do you feel you've created your Mona Lisa, or is that something you're still working on?

Brandon Sanderson

Number one, I do not belong mentioned in the same breath. Let's establish that. I actually got to see the Sistine Chapel last year, and wow. You think you know it, because you've like, seen the pictures. It's not the same.

So, have I? That's not for me to decide. That is actually for readers and history to decide. Most entertainment is ephemeral. Most of what we release will go out there, it'll make peoples' lives better--I hope--it'll be fun, you'll all like it, but then it vanishes, and a new generation of artists create new things for that generation. And that's fine. Right? Like, I'm not chasing Voldemort's immortality in that way. But, maybe I'll create a Dune, right? Or an Ender's Game, or something that is larger than the author by orders of magnitude, and becomes an enduring part of the pop cultural landscape. Maybe. But that's not the sort of thing I think you can set out to do. It's like a combination of all kinds of factors come into these things hitting at the right time and working in the way that certain films and books do, like Harry Potter did. You know, ask me that in 100 years, and we'll see. It's a good question to think about. But it's not a good question for me, necessarily, to answer for myself.

JordanCon 2018 ()
#70 Copy

Questioner

In the early 2000s, you started toying with this idea of the cosmere, these interconnected stories that are separate, but you've got your little Easter eggs. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Marvel movies started coming out. Were you like, "Wow, I can't believe this got so popular, this idea of--"

Brandon Sanderson

Like, it had always been in their comics. I didn't invent interconnected universe. I didn't even invent them in books. Like, Michael Moorcock, I don't know if you guys have read Michael Moorcock, but I really like Michael Moorcock's work, and he connected a bunch of his things together. And Stephen King famously did it. I think the one that first blew my mind when someone did this was when Asimov connected Robots and Foundation together. 'Cause I had read the Robots books, then I read the Foundation books, and then I read the later Foundation books and I'm like, "They're the same world?!?" That was a very mind-blowing moment for me.

But when I was writing a lot of this stuff in the late 90s, early 2000s, the rule of thumb was, "People don't want continuing narrative." Like, I still remember watching the DVD extras on the Deep Space Nine DVDs. (Which is the best Star Trek, fight me.) And in Deep Space Nine, they would talk about how they would have to-- they had this big arc they wanted to do for seasons. Go listen to it, it's hilarious. They're like, "But we couldn't tell the executives about that, because they would say 'People don't want continuing story arcs, they want individual adventures.'" So, they would write the Ferengi episodes, which were standalones that were goofy and funny, and sent those as their samples to the studio execs, and hide the fact they were making this big, interconnected epic out of Deep Space Nine. And that was the conventional wisdom. That's just where storytelling was going. So, I'm like, "I have to be really hidden about this, everybody's gonna--"

But, Marvel wasn't the first case we have. It was the television show 24. When 24 came out (this is old news to a lot of you, it's like 20 years ago), but when that show came out, people were like "Wow, a continuing narrative. Some people really like this." And then Marvel did their thing, and Marvel became Marvel over the next years. And that was, like, a thing. And then Netflix started doing stuff where it's like, "We're releasing a whole season at once so you can binge. It's like a nine hour movie." And meanwhile, this whole time, I'm like, "Yes! I was born at the right time!"

I will tell you that when DMG came to buy the Cosmere, it was with stars in their eyes, because shared universes were suddenly the thing, and I had the only one on the market for sale. They're all really really stretching, they're like, "Universal Monsters universe?" They're always trying to make some shared universe. And meanwhile, they're like, "There's a guy who already has one. We'll just go buy it!" That was a big part behind them grabbing that. I think that now, people are more wary, because so many of them that they tried to make failed. But the reason they failed, at least in my opinion, is because they did it the wrong way. Instead of starting with something great, that people would want more of, they started saying, "You are going to get 30 of these. You'd better like the first one. Oh, you think it's mediocre? Well, you'd better like the second one, right?" Where this has always been a theme for me with the Cosmere, that I really want each individual story to stand on its own, and if you want to dig into the connections behind them, there is that depth for you to dig into, and you can start making all of these connections and being part of the fandom. But if you just want to read Warbreaker, it is a standalone. You don't need any of this other stuff, it's all Easter egg, and I think that is part of the issue with some of these. It's this thing I told the writers the other day. This magic phrase of, "Everybody wants to start a book thinking it's a standalone and wants to finish it thinking, knowing it's a series." Like, you want to pick up that first book, or whatever it is, and have it be so good that it wraps up and just knocks your socks off. And at that point, you want a sequel. You don't really want the sequel when you start, you just want a good well-told story. So, I tell a lot of writers, try to make sure that first story is really good, and then worry about sequels. So, that's been my philosophy, and hopefully it has worked out.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#72 Copy

Questioner

I could be completely wrong, but I believe a skill is something that you pick up after years of being beaten in a school system, and talent is something that you're born with. If you've ever been out on a karaoke night, you know the difference between a skill and a talent. Is writing a skill or a talent?

Brandon Sanderson

What a wonderful question! ...I think writing draws on both. And I think writers need both. And to explain the difference, the skill of writing is learning plot structures. Learning how different plots play out. Learning what types of words to use in what situations. But the art of writing, the talent of writing, comes in bringing it all together to something that is somehow bigger than the sum of its parts. And figuring out that balance, and how to take something that you've constructed out of pieces that you've learned and turn it into something that is a little more magical (no pun intended) is the art of writing, and that's the part that I can't explain. I can teach you the skill of writing, and I can teach you maybe to train yourself to express the art. But at the end, the talent is something that can't be defined.

YouTube Livestream 9 ()
#73 Copy

Questioner

In Warbreaker, you dealt delicately with sex and sexuality, especially in the first half. How did you find that line of what was appropriate and what wasn't, especially given the culture of sex in the region in which you live?

Brandon Sanderson

With Warbreaker, with all of my books, basically I'm thinking less about the culture in which I live and more with my own personal lines on these sorts of things. And I've constantly said, and I still believe, that one can write mature fiction without graphic content. That is what I like to try to do. And Warbreaker is, in part, an attempt to explore where I would want to go with these themes and ideas, and a book where I was expressly not being explicit, but also going further across lines than I normally went, to see... "across lines" is probably the wrong term. Going further along a path. Because I don't think, really, that I have lines. I have paths I go on, and at some point, I'm like "This is as far as I want to go on this path." And it's not like I draw some line in the sand, it's just my own gut instinct. With Warbreaker, I just wrote what I was comfortable writing, and maybe even pushed myself a little further and said, "Am I comfortable with this or not?" as I was writing and I thought, "No, this is dealing with the topic in a mature way that I like" and it worked for me. It was an experiment and kind of a give-and-take, but every book that I write is that to one extent or another. This is just one of the areas that I was focusing on when I wrote Warbreaker.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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White_Sign_Soapstone

If I were to guess: allo- would have its roots in the word allos (Greek for different, also the root of alloy), feru- would be ferrum (latin for iron), and hema- would be haima (Greek? for blood).

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I could mix traditions and linguistics a little and pass it off based on my theory of translation for the books. The construct is that the person translating them for us is looking for words that evoke the right feel in English, not for exact 100% accuracy. So she can mix greek and latin roots, play a little loose and free, to give the right vibe to the reader--when in the world, they would have a single in-world linguistic tradition.

Either way, you've popped out the right ones, though I want to say the last was hemat as a root.

Aaronator17

Hang on a moment.... I always assumed that the translation effect from in-world language to English (or other Earth languages that allowed us to read the books) was more of a passive thing, almost like we are 'Connecting' to the stories which enables us to read the words that make sense to us.

Are you saying here that the process is actually by design? That someone (from the sounds of it Khriss) is somehow actively translating the events of the books and that's why we read them in our native language? Is this something that has been discussed before and I missed it?

Brandon Sanderson

I've always imagined a hypothetical translator into English, more as a writing construct (to explain certain things and the way I do things) than anything else. I wouldn't consider it canon, in that there is no Earth in the cosmere, but it's how I frame the process for myself. It's how I explain to myself that certain metaphors work and the like.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
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unknown

How come they're still called EARTHquakes in Mistborn?

Brandon Sanderson

I know it's a joke, but I actually have an answer! One I stole from Tolkien, who mentioned all his books are "in translation" to English from an original language--so the translator takes liberties. They're called earthquakes for the same reason that Shallan's puns work in English--the one taking them from the original language to English came up with something that works for us, even if it isn't a one-to-one translation. :)

WorldCon 76 ()
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Questioner

When you finished a book, or years away from a book, when you realized, "Oh, there was a loophole here, something didn't make sense." How do you react to that?

Brandon Sanderson

I react to it by saying, "Well, that always happens." Happens to everybody. You got two options. Well, maybe, like, three. One is, you just leave it alone. One is to do what Tolkien did, where he just rewrote the book. The Hobbit, he just did a new version that had the loophole closed. Or you can later on find a reason to explain it in world, which we call 'retconning' it. Any of those are fine. Don't stress about it: everybody makes mistakes. If Grandpa Tolkien had loopholes, then everybody's gonna have loopholes.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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GypsyKylara

My question is about writing, kind of.

As an author, you have achieved moderate success. People like you and have heard of you within the genre and you have established a relationship with your publishing company that lets you get a lot of books published.

This is the level of success I want as a writer and I am just wondering how financially viable this is. Like, can you write only or do you need a so-called day job? Are you able to support your family with your writing alone? That kind of thing.

Sorry if that is kind of a personal question. I've just always wondered how much money a writer makes once they've "made it".

Brandon Sanderson

I had a lot of questions like this myself during my days trying to break in. Everyone told me it wasn't possible to make a living as a writer—that, like an actor or a musician, I'd spend my life poor and obscure.

One of the big turning points came when I met and talked to a professional writer who had had modest success. Not a huge name, but a person who had done what you hope to do. Publish a book every year, never be a household name, but well-known enough in-genre that a large portion of the readers had seen his books on the shelves, though many still had no idea who he was. (The author was David Farland, by the way.)

I wish I could give you that same experience, though it's going to be harder while not face to face. The main tone of the meeting and his encouragement was this: IT IS POSSIBLE and YOU CAN DO IT!

Not everyone can make a living at writing. But it's very within reach, and for the dedicated author willing to practice and learn, it's not as difficult to make a living as many make it out to be.

I do make a living full time at this, and have for several years now. In the early years, it wasn't what many would call a 'good' income, but it was enough for me. Now, it is an excellent income. Not "Fly to Europe every week" income, but certainly "Take your friends out to eat once in a while" income.

A standard royalty for an author would be to 10-15% on a hardcover, and around 8% on a paperback. Usually, the percentage gets better the more copies you sell.

Now, books don't sell the huge numbers that people usually think they do. If you sell 2k hardcover copies in your first week, you can get on the NYT list. (Though it's not certain—it depends on what week it is and what other books came out. 3k is a pretty sure bet, though.)

Elantris—an obscure, but successful, book—sold about 10k copies in hardcover and around 14k copies its first year in paperback. I've actually sold increasing numbers each year in paperback, as I've become more well-known. But even if you pretend that I didn't, and this is what I'd earn on every book, you can see that for the dedicated writer, this could be viable as an income. About $3 per book hardcover and about $.60 paperback gets us around 39k income off the book. Minus agent fees and self-employment tax, that starts to look rather small. (Just under 30k). But you could live on that, if you had to. (Remember you can live anywhere you want as a writer, so you can pick someplace cheap.)

I'd consider 30k a year to do what I love an extremely good trade-off. Yes, your friends in computers will be making far more. But you get to be a writer.

The only caveat here is that I did indeed get very lucky with my placement at Tor. It's the successful hardcover release that makes the above scenario work. If you only had the paperback, and everyone who bought the hardcover bought that instead, you'd have to be selling around 60k copies to make it work. That's very possible, and I know a lot of midlist writers who do it.

Anyway, numbers shouldn't be what gets you into this business. If you have to tell stories, tell them. To be a writer, I feel you need to have such a love of the process that you'd write those books even if you never sold one. It's not about the money, and really shouldn't be. (And sorry to go on so long. I just feel it important to give aspiring writers the same kinds of help that I got.)

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
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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.

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Argent

During past events and interviews you've said that you've had to make your peace, so to speak, with some fans guessing reveals in future books before those books have even come out. Obviously you can't write for just a fraction of your fans who obsess every detail, and every word that Hoid ever utters. (Balderdash.) But have you ever written anything specifically for those people going, "Oh, that's gonna blow their socks off"?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, yeah. So, for any who didn't hear, I get the question of, "How do I feel about fans guessing things before I've revealed them in the books? How do I respond to that?" And I've said I have to just make peace with that. Because I feel like trying to change-- like, I'm such an outliner, that if I change the target, if I change what I'm doing, then it's just not gonna work at all. Changing the target after I've shot the arrow, it would mean me moving the target away so the arrow misses, and saying "Haha, you guys got it wrong!" just wouldn't work for the way I tell stories. But the way I tell stories, you need to be able to see the arrow flying. I like that. And when you get three years in between books, you're gonna see where those arrows are flying. So, I just had to make peace with the idea that the hardcore fans, and maybe even some of the medium-core fans, they're going to know, they're going to see these things. Like, the big revelation-- one of the big problems I had with this was: the big revelation at the end of Oathbringer was something that the hardcore fans had figured out in book one. But the characters hadn't, because they are steeped in this world, and in the lore, and in the customs of the world. So something that was mind-shattering to a lot of the characters was old hat to some of the readers. And I had to figure out how to-- one of the things the beta readers helped me with on that book was figuring how to make sure I layered surprises at the end of Oathbringer, so that ones would be emotionally impactful to the readers while the characters were reeling from something the readers might not be reeling from. That was a challenge.

Anyway, the actual question he asked is, "Are there things I write saying 'Oh, they're gonna love this one'? Do I tease?" Yes, I totally tease. I write in words that I'm like, "Oh, I'm gonna name-drop this person they have never heard of. Because I feel like the character would name-drop, and plus it's gonna drive them crazy." I try to hold myself to the cosmere-aware sections of the books for doing that. Things like Secret History or the Letter epigraphs, and things like this. Places where the casual reader will be like, "You know, I don't get any of this, so it doesn't matter. I can move on." Where I'm kind of, like, taking you and quarantining you in your own section of letters from the cosmere, and stuff like that. But I'm gonna read you one of those in a minute.

YouTube Livestream 9 ()
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Questioner

What makes fantasy creatures good and how do you go about creating them?

Brandon Sanderson

I try to build mine from the ecology of the world of the world I'm building. I try to extrapolate from that and this is just because I have this sort of "one foot in fantasy, one foot in science" approach to writing the cosmere in particular. And because of that, I want the flora and the fauna to feel integrated with the world that they're on and to be interesting in that aspect. Obviously, I have not done this in most books to the extent that I did in Stormlight. But one of the fun things for me to do is to ask, "What have I changed about this world? What would that do to the ecology?". What do I look for other than that? I want something that's visually interesting. I want something that'll draw well. I want something that'll not just be what I've seen before and that will be a nice take on what I've seen before. That's the thing, I mentioned before: human creativity is about recombining things in interesting ways. That's how we seem to work. We don't come up something we've never seen before, we put a horn on something we've seen before and call it something new, which is cool. We're remixers, is what we're really good at doing. And I ask myself, "What can I remix that I haven't seen remixed before?"

Sofia signing ()
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Kiril

You're very meticulous about your magic systems. Aren't you afraid sometimes that this takes away the sense of wonder? For example in The Way of Kings, it's more wonderous, in my opinion, than in Mistborn. So, how do you manage this?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an excellent question. It's actually something I think about a lot, and tomorrow my lecture ('cause they asked me to do a lecture) will be a little bit about this idea. So, if you're interested in writing, you can come to the lecture. But balance between a sense of wonder and a sense of understanding of the magic, that's a difficult balance. And I don't think there's a right way to do it. I think a lot of great books sometimes use both. For instance, I don't know if you've read Name of the Wind, but Pat Rothfuss uses both a hard magic system and a soft magic system. The Naming, which is very soft, and the Sympathy, which is very hard. Hard is a term for very rule-based, so we explain it a lot. The more you explain, the less sense of wonder you have. But the more you explain, the more you can also use the magic to solve all kinds of cool problems and create sort of an intellectual enjoyment. And so it's a different distinction between wonder and this sort of intellectual problem-solving sense, and I tend to go this direction a little bit. I think fantasy naturally has a bunch of wonder to it in the settings and the world, so I think that they balance each other naturally when I push a little bit in this direction. But it is a trade-off. It is something that I wonder about.

Oathbringer Houston signing ()
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Questioner

You have all these magic systems within the cosmere, <Allomancy and Feruchemy> and all that, and now they're starting to come together into one body. Do you ever worry that you're gonna treat that character where, like, they're drawing from so many systems that they're almost, like, the ultimate *inaudible*, like, they're drawing from five different magic systems and just don't *inaudible* anymore?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, having done The Wheel of Time, where Rand was basically a deity, I'm not quite as worried about that as I was. I don't know if that'll ever even get to that point. And it turned out that that was just fine. The thing about it is, stories always happen in the intersection of what characters can't do. And there's always something you can't do. Unless you become, like, all-powerful, all-omnipotent. So, I'm not that worried about it. I have to keep an eye on it, but I'm not that worried about it.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
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Questioner

At FantasyCon they had a panel on why there was so many Mormon sci-fi/fantasy authors and lots of opinions were put out there. Since you tend to think about trends and things like that I wondered what your take was.

Brandon Sanderson

What is my take on why there are so many Mormon science fiction/fantasy writers-- successful ones-- Why are there so many. We all have our own theories. It's funny, this is-- Like my first visit to my publisher in New York. One of the editors there asked me that very question, they're like "what's going on out there?" and I've had a lot of time to think about it. I've got a couple of answers, and these are just my arm chair answers.

Looking at myself, I grew up in Nebraska... so it wasn't like I was really immersed in Utah culture and things but I did notice when Tracy Hickman, and when the fantasy books I was reading, one was written by Tracy Hickman and he had on the back that he was LDS, and Orson Scott Card's books. I thought, "Wow, these are people like me and they are doing this." I think the early success of Scott Card and Tracy Hickman and some of these people was a big deal for those of us who were like "Oh, this is something that I can legitimately do."

I also think that science fiction/fantasy was a safe counter-culture, meaning, y'know for me in the eighties, yeah, y'know. Counter Cultures were big, sixties, seventies, eighties. They still are of course but you've got this punk and all of this stuff and, y'know, all my friends were smoking pot and all of this stuff and you want to rebel against your parents, right? At the same time you're a good kid, like "I don't want to rebel-rebel", and so when i got into sci fi/fantasy and they didn't get it at all I'm like "I found it!" I can rebel against my parents by playing Dungeons and Dragons, right. This is my grand rebellion! My mother heard all this stuff about Dungeons and Dragons and to her credit she came and just watched us and since there was actually a girl in our group, afterwards I asked her and she was like "You were hanging out with members of the opposite gender, talking to people instead of just playing video games like you always do? I thought it was awesome!" but she didn't tell us that. If I'd known she thought it was awesome it might have been bad, cause she was always like "uhhhh, roleplaying." So I think that that is part of it.

Early successes, safe counter culture, and then there's kind of the focus on literacy and reading in the community without, kind of-- like, for some reason, I think you can blame Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the community is not as scared of fantasy as some other religious communities are. You find a lot of Jews in publishing and science fiction and fantasy too, and I think for some of the same reasons that the community, the religion is not quite as frightened of these sorts of things for some reason, so with the focus on literacy you end up, I think, with writers of a lot of different stock. So that's my little sort of three part take on it. Maybe its true, maybe its not.

MisCon 2018 ()
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Questioner

Speaking of the cosmere, because it's this multiverse that's the setting for all these different epic fantasy series, do you ever feel restricted by the cosmere in a sense of sort of wanting to do with a plot or the magic or wanting something really epic to happen but be like, "Wait that's not legal in the system I've created?" 

Brandon Sanderson

It doesn't happen very often because, most of the times in my outlining process, I notice these things and I move something out of the cosmere. If it's just not going to work with the cosmere magic, it just doesn't have to be cosmere. And I'm really glad I gave myself that freedom because I think that you can get too locked in, right? If I'm like, "Everything has to be cosmere!" then either I'm going to break it, which is going to decrease the value of the continuity, or I'm just not going to be able to write some books that I'm excited about. And I don't like either of those options.

And so being able to say, "You know what? This magic that I'm working on for FTL does not match any of the ways that the cosmere FTL could work. I'm going to move this out of the cosmere." That's what happened to Skyward. Skyward was in the cosmere for a little while, but then I moved it out. I'm like, "No this matches other stuff better. I'm going to go with this FTL, that is not a cosmere FTL." That frees me like--

Skyward is a science fiction space opera, starship pilots and things like that. And if I would have done this in the cosmere, I would have just had to avoid talking about things that would be spoilers for other cosmere books, which would have been terrible, right? So either you have the Skyward books that have their hands bound so that I can't give spoilers, or Skyward gives all the spoilers, and then cool things happening in the future of the cosmere are just like, "whatever". I take option number three, which is I'm just not going to do this as a cosmere book because obviously it doesn't fit.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

I wanted to ask you question about your worlds in general. I've read Mistborn and Elantris, and now I'm reading The Way of Kings, and you seem to always associate such important parts of your magic system or your personality system or your dating system with the land, with the geography of wherever they live. Do you have a secret geography degree or...

Brandon Sanderson

No. The reason I do this comes down to a fundamental philosophy I have about epic fantasy. Epic fantasy is the genre of discovery and immersion. Grandpa Tolkien did this by taking a map and putting it in the book. And it wasn't just a map, it was the map they had. So the map becomes an artifact of the world. And I love that. I love the idea that you can have a map that's wrong, that it's not an exact map. I love that you can have a scientific table in the back of the book that represents their understanding and human beings' attempt to organize the world, but is actually flawed because it just represents their attempt at organizing things. And I love these ideas. I love the idea of the land and the artifact and the story all being one. I really--

One of the books that I love, even though the maps aren't the thing, is Dune. Dune is about how your environment shapes your culture, and how your culture in turn interprets your environment. And I love how that works. I think it really influences how great epic fantasy creates its sense of immersion. I love how Watchmen did this with including ephemera in its books. By saying, and creating a form where one issue does this certain thing to enhance the feel of the issue. I love when the form and the shape of the book does the same thing, so this is all kind of my nerdy writer loving-the-shape-of-things-ism that I have, whatever that is.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

So, when there's wordplay in The Stormlight Archive, we know they aren't speaking English, so are you to assume that that is a translation of the...

Brandon Sanderson

This is what Tolkein said, and I always rely upon this. You're reading the book in translation, and the person translating it is going to try to use the closest in feel, but to also make it translate to English. So even when they use idioms and things like that, sometimes they translate and the translator can drop them in. Sometimes they just don't translate, so the translator comes up with something that works in English... It gets you a lot of loopholes, like if you accidentally call something an ottoman and people are like, "But there's not an Ottoman Empire in this fantasy world!" But you're like, "Yeah, all words work that way." It's in translation. This is why when you read something like Allomancy, and they're like, "Well, it's got Latin roots, right?" Yeah... it's just the roots in their language would be something old Terris, and the easiest way to convey that feeling is to use something that's got-- you know. Stuff like that.

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Pagerunner

If you need to bring food into Shadesmar, why don't you need to bring air?

Brandon Sanderson

Y'know, we actually talked and thought about this. There are certain things I just decided for narrative reasons... I wanted Shadesmar to be travelable and I wanted it to be a real place, and so I just made air, I came up with kind of my own hacks. There are times I do this for narrative reasons. 

Let me give you an easier example. In the Mistborn books, and I've told people this before, I was working on speed bubbles. Slowing down time, speeding up time in a small little bubble around you, right? I went to Peter and I'm like, "This is what I'm going to do, what are the problems with this?" And he's like, "Well, redshift." Which means that basically you would be irradiating everyone with the light coming from inside the speed bubble. I'm like, "alright, we're just going to say that doesn't happen." This is where the line between for me science fiction and fantasy exists. When I'm building my story, I do try to have one foot in science with things like this. But I tend to work backward... A lot of science fiction starts with what we have now and extrapolates forward to [an] interesting, plausible premise. For my fantasy works, I start with some cool idea. And then I work backward in plausibility, trying to justify it. And we kind of meet in the center, but at the end of the day I am breaking the laws of thermodynamics, right? Just straight-up breaking laws-- I mean, we have our whole Realmatic Theory and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, I am trying to tell stories where certain extreme situations exist. Like, I bent over backwards to make the science of Roshar work with the greatshells, but at the end of the day, we still have to have a magical solution, right. To get beasties as big as we want to do, it doesn't matter how high your oxygen content is, if you've got .7 gravity or not, all these concessions we've made: the square-cube law says those things crush themselves. You just can't have things this big. And so we built in a magical solution. The spren creating this symbiotic bond is making it so these things don't crush themselves. 

And when I was looking at Shadesmar, there are a couple things-- what I want for the narrative is this place. I am going to work backward and try to make as many concessions and nods toward science as I can. But the air one, I just said "You know what? There's just gonna be air in Shadesmar. I am just gonna make it so that you can." I want you to be able to walk between the planets on Shadesmar, I don't want people to have to worry about bringing a Windrunner with them and plants or whatever to get oxygen. I'm just gonna make that the case. Your in-world answers, I'm like "Well, air kind of permeates and has escaped through and things," but really do we have an oxygen cycle there? We've got plants, but are they really--

The answer is, there is air in Shadesmar because I want there to be air in Shadesmar. 

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

So Skyward, do you consider it science fiction or science fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

I consider it-- Is Skyward science fiction or science fantasy?

I generally separate the plot archetypes in my head from the genre trappings, and a lot of times people have plot archetypes that are science fiction. I do a lot of science fiction plot archetypes with fantasy settings. That's what Elantris is, right? The plot archetype is about information and researching information and coming to a scientific understanding of something that happened in the past so you can use it to fix the future; science fiction plot archetype fantasy setting for Elantris.

Skyward's backwards, right? It's the fantasy plot archetype. It is the the coming of age struggle against society through use of a fantastical boon to prove yourself, right? Very kind of classic fantasy thing but the trappings are science fiction. So I don't know that I look at these things the same way. Like, Stormlight, the Bridge Four sequence is an underdog sports story with fantasy trappings. That's the plot archetype...

As a writer, where I would shelve it? I would shelve it in science fiction because the trappings are usually-- And because of that. I would shelve Star Wars as science fiction, even though Star Wars is very much mystical, fantastical plot archetypes going on. Shelve it with where the genre trappings are, that's just for our sanity right? So we can know what box to put things in. Just for ease of discussing it and things like that. Nothing ever matches either genre trapping or plot archetype. It's just there for us to be able to have the framework to talk about it. 

General Reddit 2017 ()
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Brandon Sanderson

I've watched this conversation with interest, and wasn't planning to step in, as it's exactly the sort of thread that's generally better without me. Author intervention can derail a good discussion.

But after considering, I decided I did want to talk about this topic a little. There are two things going on here. One is the mistake I made with Jasnah in Words, which I've mentioned before. One is a larger discussion, relevant to the cosmere.

Warning, WALL OF TEXT. This is me we're talking about.

You see, Jasnah wasn't originally meant to be a fake-out. Jasnah originally was going to go with Shallan to the Shattered Plains--but she was really messing up the outline, diverting attention from Shallan's character arc and pointing it toward Shallan/Jasnah conflicts instead.

My biggest breakthrough when outlining the book in detail was the realization that the book would work so much better if things I'd planned to do with Jasnah in it were diverted to later books. When that came together, WORDS really started working. Hence her jaunt into Shadesmar. I initially wrote the scenes with it being pretty clear to the reader that she was forced to escape--and it was super suspicious that there was no body.

In drafting, however, early readers didn't like how obvious it was that Jasnah would be coming back. I made a crucial mistake by over-reacting to early feedback. I thought, "Well, I can make that more dramatic!" I employed some tools I've learned quite well, and turned that into a scene where the emotion is higher and the death is more powerful.

HOWEVER, I did this without realizing how it mixed with other plotlines--specifically Szeth's resurrection.

We get into sticky RAFO areas here, but one of the biggest themes of the Cosmere is Rebirth. The very first book (Elantris) starts with a character coming back from the dead. (As I've mentioned before, a big part of the inspiration for Elantris was a zombie story, from the viewpoint of the zombie.) Mistborn begins with Kelsier's rebirth following the Pits, and Warbreaker is about people literally called the Returned. (People who die, then come back as gods.) The Stormlight Archive kicks off with Kaladin's rebirth above the Honor Chasm, and Warbreaker is meant as a little foreshadowing toward the greater arc of the cosmere--that of the Shards of Adonalsium, who are held by ordinary people.

Szeth's rebirth, with his soul incorrectly affixed to his body, is one of the things I've been very excited to explore in The Stormlight Archive--and the mistake with Jasnah was letting her return distract from that.

That said, you're not wrong for disliking this theme--there's no "wrong" when it comes to artistic tastes. And I certainly wish I'd looked at the larger context of what happened when I shifted Jasnah's plot in book two. (Doubling down on "Jasnah is dead" for short term gain was far worse than realizing I should have gone with "Jasnah was forced to jump into Shadesmar, leaving Shallan alone." I consider not seeing that to be the biggest mistake I've made in The Stormlight Archive so far.)

However, the story of the cosmere isn't really about who lives or dies. We established early on that there is an afterlife (or, at least, one of the most powerful beings in the cosmere believes there is--and he tends to be a trustworthy sort.) And multiple books are about people being resurrected. What I'm really interested in is what this does to people. Getting given a second try at life, being reborn as something new. (Or, in some cases, as something worse.) The story of the cosmere is about what you do with the time you have, and the implications of the power of deity being in the hands of ordinary people.

More importantly (at least to me) I've always felt character deaths are actually somewhat narratively limp in stories. Perhaps it's our conditioning from things like Gandalf, Obi-Wan, and even Sherlock Holmes. But readers are always going to keep asking, "are they really dead?" And even if they stay dead, I can always jump back and tell more stories about them. The long cycle of comic books over-using resurrection has, I think, also jaded some of us to the idea of character death--but even without things like that, the reader knows they can always re-read the book. And that fan-fiction of the character living will exist. And that the author could always bring them back at any time. A death should still be a good death, mind you--and an author really shouldn't jerk people around, like I feel I did with Jasnah.

But early on, I realized I'd either have to go one of two directions with the cosmere. Either I had to go with no resurrections ever, stay hard line, and build up death as something really, really important. Or I had to shift the conversation of the books to greater dangers, greater stakes, and (if possible) focus a little more on the journey, not the sudden stop at the end.

I went with the latter. This isn't going to work for everyone. I'm fully aware of, and prepared for, the fact that things like Szeth coming back will ruin the stories for some readers. And I do admit, I've screwed it up in places. Hopefully, that will teach me better so that I can handle the theme delicately, and with strong narrative purpose behind the choices I make. But do warn you, there WILL be other resurrections in my books. (Though there are none planned for the near future. I took some extra care with the next few books, after feeling that things happening in Words and the Mistborn series in the last few years have hit the theme too hard.) This is a thing that I do, and a thing that I will continue to do. I consider it integral to the story I'm telling. Hopefully, in the future, I'll be able to achieve these acts with the weight and narrative complexity they deserve.

If it helps, I have several built-in rules for this. The first is that actual cosmere resurrections (rather than just fake-outs, like I did with Jasnah) can happen only under certain circumstances, and have a pretty big cost to them. Both will become increasingly obvious through the course of the stories. The other rule is more meta. I generally tell myself that I only get one major fake-out, or one actual resurrection, per character. (And I obviously won't use either one for most characters.) This is more to keep myself from leaning on this narrative device too much, which I worry I'll naturally do, considering that I see this as a major theme of the books.

...

(Sharders, please don't start asking me at signings who has had their "one death" so far. This is me drawing the curtain back a little on the process, I really don't want it to become an official thing that people focus on. Do feel free to talk about the mechanics of resurrection though--it should be pretty obvious now with Elantris, Warbreaker, Szeth, and a certain someone from Mistborn to use as guides.)

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#91 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 ()
#92 Copy

Questioner

Let’s say that the fires of industry keep progressing in Middle Earth, and someone builds a spaceship, they get in it and go up. What do you think happens?

Brandon Sanderson

In Middle Earth? I think it is heavily implied by the time that happens that Middle Earth has changed to a place where there is no magic, so I think it works just fine.

Questioner

[Follow-up on if Middle Earth is in the same universe as the cosmere]

Brandon Sanderson

You’re not talking to a Tolkein scholar here.

[...]

Yes, the cosmere takes place in a place where there is another branch of physics that is investiture, and that is the big change.

Questioner

Do you ever run into problems with that, does it break physics?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, yeah. If you look too deep in a fantasy book we are breaking the laws of thermodynamics and we are breaking causality. Those are the two big ones. And those are very important things to be… very dangerous things to be breaking. And you could probably write a fantasy novel that didn’t break those two things. Maybe? I don’t know. The way I avoid breaking laws of thermodynamics is by saying, we’ve got investiture that things can transfer into as well. We’ve got matter, energy, and investiture, I’ve added something to the tripod and therefore it looks like I’m just bending the laws of thermodynamics.

When you actually get down into the nitty-gritty, it starts to break down. It just has to. Causality is the big one. Once you have people teleporting and things like this, run the train experiment. I mean, you just have to say “It’s magic” at some point in a fantasy book. For most of them. I think you could do it, but in mine, with a  grand scale magic system I want to do, we just have to say, “at that point it’s magic.” And this is how I think a fantasy writer differs from a science fiction writer.

A SF writer takes today and extrapolates forward. I take what is interesting and extrapolate backward. Usually. For instance speed bubbles. “I want to have speed bubbles. This is how they work. Peter, tell me the physics.” And we work it out together. We work out physics and try to hit the big trouble points and build into the magic why certain things happen. But that doesn’t stop us from making speed bubbles where there is time passing differently without using mass or whatnot to create time dilation, and it causes all kinds of weird things to happen.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#93 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

As a writer, I believe that i am not providing the whole story for you. I provide a screenplay, a script, and you are the director of this story, and that as you read it and imagine it - that's when its completed. Its not done until you have done that. Its a participation and you have the right to change, in your version, whatever you want. Your pronunciation is correct in your version of the story.

Audience

*claps*

Brandon Sanderson

You are clapping for me, but I should clap for you because you make my art live. I really appreciate you bringing my art to life and giving it that extra imagination it needs.

The Way of Kings Annotations ()
#94 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter 11

And now comes the redemption chapter.

This is the sort of thing that I write books to do. It's the sort of chapter that I really hope to be able to pull off. That may seem strange to some of you, as it's not the climatic ending or the like—but it's the turning point of the story. Probably the most important one in the book.

I've said before that I feel Epic Fantasy is about return on investment. We often demand a lot of readers in terms of worldbuilding. There's a lot to catch up on and follow in a book like this. The goal, then, is to be able to deliver powerful scenes that make use of the investment.

The reward for the early chapters is this chapter. It lays a foundation for the entire book. I've brought Kaladin as low as I could bring him, and now we get to experience the scramble upward.

Perhaps I think about these things too much. However, this was exactly what was missing from Prime when I wrote it. I was baffled, at the time, as to why the book just didn't work. It had all of the elements of a good epicw, and yet the book felt hollow somehow. There were fun adventures to be had, but no real impact. What it needed was this sequence, which has a lot of motion (and hopefully heart) to it.

This chapter makes the book for me.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
#95 Copy

Questioner

How do you deal with hecklers? Do you ignore them, do you take their advice?

Brandon Sanderson

So, it depends. Hecklers, I ignore. Criticism, I don't. I am lucky in that I have a team, and I, these days, have my team watch. Like, "You read the one-star reviews. Tell me if there are things popping up that I need to pay attention to," and things like that. Reading one-star reviews is generally a bad experience, but reading three-star reviews is usually a really handy experience for you to do. That's what you're looking for, those three-stars, the people that could have loved the book-- and if you give it three stars, you liked it, but there were things that bugged you. And if you start seeing themes like that pop up, try to address them.

But also understand that art is about taste. Every type of art. And you are going to write things that are the right piece of art, but that somebody doesn't like. Just like some people don't like my favorite food. Some people hate it. I like mac and cheese, other people hate it. I have a friend who hates ice cream. I'm like, "What? Who hates ice cream?" But he hates ice cream. It's okay. So, learn to separate taste from things that are actually skill level problems. And as you're a new writer, in particular, focusing on craft, just practicing, is more important than the feedback, often, on your first few books. 'Cause you'll know. You'll figure it out. Your first couple books, you'll be like, "They don't have to tell me; I know what parts are not working." But you can't get better at that until you write them.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#96 Copy

gauzemajig

Do you think you'll ever go outside of the established raunchiness of your books? I don't mean a murder sex party, but you know, straying a bit into the dark and gritty. It's just my opinion but I feel like you play it a little safe. Not necessarily a bad thing though!

Brandon Sanderson

I don't think I've crossed the line where I'm personally comfortable doing, but I think I'm close. Usually, I give a few characters (like Wayne) the ability to go further than others, as an acknowledgement that there are good people out there who don't happen to have my same prudish nature.

I think the thing you'll see that is the closest is when (and if) I write the Threnody novel.

For everything else, you'll have to settle for knowing that one of my quirks as a writer is that I do indeed play it a little safe--and probably will always do so. I'm very aware that my children, nieces, and nephews read my books. Beyond that, I feel that I'm an intentional and specific contrast to other writers in the genre--I consider it my duty to prove that (like many of the classic movies) you can write something that is for adults, and has depth, without delving into grittiness.

This is not a disparagement of people like Joe Abercrombie, who I think is an excellent writer, or others like him--and I'm glad we have them in the field. However, my own path goes a different direction, and I think it's important that I also publish, proving to those who perhaps wish to be more circumspect in these areas that there is a place for them in the genre too.

Xluxaeternax

Does that mean that you recognize that the stories that take place on Threnody, a world of your creation, are stories that you are uncomfortable exploring because they are too harsh or intense? If that's the case I find that absolutely fascinating and very impressive- it's almost as if the cosmere is a real place with real people and you're just communicating their stories to us. I personally would rather you never told those stories instead of forcing them to be something that is untrue to what you created them to be.

Brandon Sanderson

A writer must be willing to do uncomfortable things; I fully believe that. Stories like Snapshot (my most recent novella) have done this before, and if I write the Threnody novel, I intend to do it well. (But also be very clear to audiences that it's darker than other cosmere books.)

It's not about intensity--I feel other books are intense. Or even about violence or darkness. It's about how far the narrative needs to delve into these things, or the relationship of light and hope to the darkness.

Dalinar's backstory in Stormlight is uncomfortably dark, and I won't pull punches from it. But it's balanced by the man he has become. In Threnody, some of the stories don't have that balance.