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Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#102 Copy

Questioner

I wondered if there's a bit of you in all the characters... and it's characters where they don't have bits of you that you get stuck with writing them, and how you overcome that?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, getting stuck. So characters are the hard one for me to talk about because I plan my worlds in great detail before I start writing, in most cases, and I plan my plots in moderate detail. I plot backward, I start with what I want to have happen for a plot cycle; not necessarily the last scene, but, you know, something like this character learns to use the magic, and I've got the scene where it shows that this is working, and then I list a bunch of bullet points underneath. That's my-- And so if you look at my outline, it's like goal, bullet points, goal, bullet points, goal, bullet points-- that's my whole outline.

My characters, I figure out who they are when the book starts, but I do not outline them in great detail. The reason for this is we find that writers tend to fall into two general camps. We have what we call outline writers, and discover writers. Now, discovery writers, George RR Martin calls them gardeners, they like to discover their story as they go. Stephen King says you never start with an ending in mind because otherwise it ruins the book, he just goes and see what happens. They tend to write character really well. In fact if you're reading a good and you go "Wow these characters all feel really vivid and alive", that's probably a discovery writer. If you're-- On the other hand outliners, or architects as George RR Martin calls them, tend to plan everything out ahead of time and because of this they tend to have spectacular plots. If you've got somebody who's got a great plot, it's a page-turner, the great twist at the ending-- that's most likely going to be an architect, but the flaw of this is they tend to have weaker characters; and the flaw over here is they tend to have weaker plots. Terrible endings are a horrible kind of habit of the discovery writer. 

Over time I've really tried to kind of mitigate this by letting myself discovery-write my characters to kind of get some more of that living character status, which means I have to have a flowing outline where, once I've started writing my way into the character I will then have to rebuild the outline periodically to match the person they're becoming, which sometimes rips apart that outline quite a bit. The other thing that it requires me to do is I often have to kind of cast characters in a role. Vin is a great example of this, where I actually tried Vin three different times--I posted one of these on my website--with a different personality each time until I got one that would fit the story that I'm telling, and who she was, and I went from there.

And so it's really hard for me to pick out what I do with characters, but if my book is not working it's almost always that a character is not working for me. And this happened with Sazed in book 3 of Mistborn. I wrote this in the annotations, you can go and read it off that. Dalinar, in the original draft of The Way of Kings. When a character is not clicking 100% it is the biggest problem I run into with books, that takes a lot of drafting to figure out what to do. With Dalinar, if you're not familiar with what happened there, is I split him into two people. It always had his son Adolin, but Adolin had not been a viewpoint character, and the problem I was having with Dalinar was that I wanted to present a strong figure for the leader because people though he was going mad, but I also had to have him talk about this madness, and be really worried about it, and so he came on very weak, because everyone thought he was going mad, and he spent all of his time brooding about going mad. When I took the brooding out to his son, and had Dalinar be like "I'm not mad, something's going on, everyone thinks that I'm crazy, but I can deal with this", and had his son go "my dad, who I love, is going crazy", those two characters actually both became more alive, and worked better, than they had with the conflict of "I'm going crazy" being Dalinar's. So, it takes a lot of work to figure these things out sometimes.

Stuttgart signing ()
#103 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

How do you name your characters?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

It depends on how much work I've done on the linguistics. Some planets I haven't done a lot of work on that. On Roshar I've built out the linguistics a lot, so I build names out of that.

On Scadrial, however, I went more with real world inspirations or stuff I liked, like "Wax and Wayne", which is a pun they can't really understand. Names like Elend or Straff are Germanic in origin, Vin, Demoux or Kelsier are French.

Paleo (paraphrased)

Is Wax's name pronounced French in Scadrian?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Yes, it is. I can't even pronounce it. [Various people pronounce "Waxillium" with a French accent]

EuroCon 2016 ()
#104 Copy

Questioner

You've come a really long way since Elantris was first published. How has your process of writing changed ever since, in the sense that then you had the feedback from the publishing house maybe, now you have the feedback from the fans, from the critics, and also I can imagine, very much tighter deadlines. How can you reflect on Elantris from now?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, first let me say, I love you, but I had so much time back then! Now, it is a real challenge. Everybody left me alone. I wouldn't go back, because everyone left me alone at book signings, too. My books sat lonely on the shelves by themselves. But the great challenge of this phase of my career is finding enough time to do all the things I need to do. When I turned in Elantris to the publisher, they published it two years and three months later. When I turned in Words of Radiance, three months later. My books pay for the publisher to keep publishing, and they very much like to publish my books, and so it is difficult. I travel a lot, my signings are wonderful but long, and my deadlines are very tight, and everyone is stressed about me turning the books in. I'm just glad I spent all those years writing, with nobody knowing who I was, because that's when I built all of my habits. If you would've asked me, during that time, if it was nice that I hadn't published any books yet, I would've said, "No, I want to publish books," but that era was essential for turning me into the writer I am today. For those who don't know, I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one of them.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#105 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever find you own stories, your own characters, coming back and influencing you?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.  More, it's like I have these things I'm really interested in.  And so I find myself rounding those things again and again.  And I've actually started a list of 'You've covered this thing, Brandon.  You can't do this one anymore'.  Just because I work in the cosmere where everything is connected, so the underlying physics of the books are sometimes very similar.  And so I just have to be very careful not to repeat myself too much.  

White Sand vol.1 Orem signing ()
#106 Copy

Questioner

How did you like doing the graphic novel compared to normal stuff.

Brandon Sanderson

It was fun. The thing about it is, my main part in it was to write the book, 'cause its a prose novel that I wrote years ago, and then to look over things as my team was putting it together. They had a writer take my book and condense it down to the dialogue bubbles and things like this, and built it out and I would see a page and say "good". So I didn't really make a graphic novel I wrote a book that people who know what they are doing adapted into a graphic novel.

Questioner

Makes sense. Would you do more of it?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on how people react to this. If the fans like it and say "yes, this is a book we enjoy. Keep doing things like this." I will do more.

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

Questioner

How long did it take you to figure out how to kill your characters without really ticking off your readers?

Brandon Sanderson

Well. I think it still does tick them off. But my thing is, if I make sure that somebody has a satisfying resolution, even if they don't get to see it, usually people are satisfied then. So, if what the character wanted finds satisfying resolution eventually, that is where I go.

MisCon 2018 ()
#108 Copy

Questioner

So, when you were plotting out Mistborn, did you do the whole trilogy, kind of thing?

Brandon Sanderson

I did nine books when I did the plot for Mistborn. Normally how I approach plotting is: first book, I do with minimal outlining for the rest of the series. So there's-- I'll do a pretty good outline for the first book. And then I will write that first book (and of course everything changes from the outline as you're writing it) and then I sit down and I outline the series, whatever the series is going to be, with about a page on each book. And then when it's time to write that one, I sit down and I kind of attack that outline. Usually, I'm looking for about-- roughly, outline is 10,000 words for every 100,000 words of book. So, a lot of my YA outlines are 10,000 to 20,000. 15,000 words, something like that. For something big like Stormlight, we're looking at a lot more.

With Mistborn, I finished the first book, and I went to my outline and I created the spine of the three eras. (Which became four! Because I'm an epic fantasy writer.) And then I called my editor, I'm like, "Hey, this is what I want to do." And he's like, "Wow, you're ambitious."

Questioner

Are you going to complete 'em eventually?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I will. We're getting really close to doing the next era. So, Mistborn, if you haven't read them, there's an era of epic fantasy, there's an era of urban fantasy. (It's more like steampunk, there's a steampunk era). Then we're gonna go to a true urban fantasy, kind of 1980s level of technology. Which is gonna be really fun.

The fun thing (have I told people this before)? In the second era books, we did these newspapers, these broadsheets that we put in as art. And I always like to have some art in my books. It's gotten more and more over the years, as I've had the resources to do more and more. What I want to do for Era 3, as our art things, are comics of Wax and Wayne from the-- *crowd laughs* Like, they've become characters-- So, you might wanna do a Golden Age (you comic book fans will love this), a Silver Age, and then a new dark gritty reboot. You'll have, like, a Golden Age classic-Superman sort of thing. And you'll have Silver Age, where it's just bizarre. The giant monkeys attack the city. Silver Age comics, they liked monkeys for some reason, they always put them on the covers. Then we'll do this, like, Frank Miller sort of, "Here's the reboot of the Wax and Wayne comics that happened." It's gonna be a blast, 'cause it'll be three books.

Questioner

Sure it won't be four books?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't know...

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

Questioner

Which has been your favorite project?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't really have a favorite. It's whatever I'm working on at the moment. Every project, there are times where I am just so done with it. Every project, there are times where I'm super excited about it. And when I'm timing it right, the time I'm so done with it is the time where I can be done with it. And the time where I'm super excited about it is when I'm starting it and writing new material for it. I don't think that there is a single book that I haven't been, like, "I am so tired of this, I am so done," by the time I am at revision number five.

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

izyk

You mentioned in an earlier answer that learning to revise was one of the biggest factors in making your work publishable.

Would you give us an idea of the process you go through when you revise?

Thanks!

--Isaac

Brandon Sanderson

Thanks for the question, Isaac! (Isaac, by the way, is the person who introduced me to my wife and set us up on our first blind date.)

I view working on a book in the same way a sculptor might view working on a block of wood. The first draft is generally focused on getting things in place so I can work on them. In essence, I cut out the crude features of the sculpture—but when it's done, there is still a lot of work to be done. Readers who see the book in this stage can tell what the basic arcs and characters will be, but the emotional impact is lessened by the crude edges and unfinished lines.

Here's my process in a nutshell:

Draft one: Write the book in draft form.

Draft two: Read through the entire book, fixing the major problems. Often, I'll change character personalities halfway through the first draft as I search to figure out how I want the character to sound. I don't go back then and revise, as I need to try out this personality for a while before I decide to actually use it. Similarly, often I'll drop in new characters out of the blue, pretending that they've been there all along. In the second draft, I settle on how I want things to really look, feel, and work.

Draft three: Language draft. Here I'm seeking to cut the book down by 10%. I write with a lot of extra words, knowing I'll need a trim. This will make the prose more vibrant, and will make the pacing work better.

In a perfect world, this is where I writing group the piece and/or send it to my editor. (For lack of time, my writing group is getting Draft Two of The Way of Kings. Hopefully, I'll be able to do draft three by the end of the year.)

I let readers read the book, and I take some time off of it. I begin collecting things I want to change in the book in a separate file, called "Revision notes for ***", listing the name of the book. I organize these by character and by importance and/or pervasiveness. For instance, a need to rewrite a character's motivations will be at the top. Fixing one specific scene so that it has proper foreshadowing will be near the bottom.

Once this is all done, and I've gotten feedback and had time to think, I read through the book again with my revision notes file open beside the book file itself. I actively look for places to change, kind of like a sculptor looking over the statue and seeking places to knock off jagged chunks and smooth out the sculpture’s features.

I'll do this process several times, usually. In-between, I'll often do line-edit drafts, like the language draft above, where I'm focused on getting rid of the passive voice and adding more concrete details.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#111 Copy

Daz925

Where were you in your writing process for Elantris-- I know it was your sixth book and you were on your nineteenth when you got it published or--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, good question.So, where was I in my process when I wrote Elantris and when I got published, which was my sixth novel. So what happened with my career, it's kind of a very weird thing. You find that everybody has a different path to success as a writer. I heard early on that your first five books are generally terrible and this was really relieving to me, because I--a part of my brain-- this would not-- someone else, this might've been the worst thing to tell them. But for me it was the best thing because my brain said, "Okay, good, you don't have to be any good at this for your first five books".

And so my first five books I experimented quite a bit in story and tone. I did a gritty cyberpunkish thing. I did a comedy. I did an epic fantasy. I tried a lot of-- I did a space opera. I did a lot of different things. And once I had done all that, I came back and said, "You know, my first love is epic fantasy, and it's what I really want to do." So I sat down to write book number 6, which was Elantris.

And at that point, I had gotten a few books underneath me. I kind of knew what I was doing, though I was not-- I hadn't figured out my process quite as well as I would have liked. Elantris and a lot of the books during that era I did a lot more discovery writing, and I naturally am better when I have a stronger outline. But that's where I was.

My biggest weakness as a writer at that point was revision. I had spent those five early books just trying different things, and that permission for me to not be good yet also kind of gave me the psychological ability to be like, "Well, I don't have to revise this one, because I don't have to be good yet." But what that meant is I didn't practice revision. So once I finished Elantris, I was not good enough yet to know how to take a good book and make it great. So it went the rounds in New York and got rejected; rightly so, because it was very flabby and had not been focused. And I know, from a guy who writes thousand-page books, focus is a weird thing to say. *laughter*

And so, when I actually sold Elantris to Tor, it was after it had gone through four or five drafts and I had finally sat down and kind of buckled down and said "I need to learn revision and learn how to make my books better". So I sold it right after-- right while I was working on Way of Kings in 2002, 2003, somewhere around there.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
#112 Copy

Questioner

Do you find it difficult when you have to jump between the worlds when you write about like Mistborn and Stormlight do you find it difficult to transition like that?

Brandon Sanderson

Is it hard to transition? Is it hard to transition, the question is, between the different worlds that I write in. A little bit yes, but mostly no. The reason I jump so much is my writing style kind of requires me to do something new after I finish a big project. That's why I--  People ask me a lot how do I-- how am I so productive.  It is actually because that I found out if I jump to something new-- Like a lot of time a writer finishes a book it just wears them out for six months, right? Or if you're certain writers you're worn out before you finish it somehow. Naming no names. But really it happens, you get worn out after finishing a book. I found that if I jump into something very different I immediately get excited about that and get going on it. And it is a big part-- That is why you see those little novellas like Emperor's Soul and Legion and things like that, because I finished a project and jumped into something new. And it makes me really, like I said, excited. So yes it is a little hard to switch gears, but more so it is exciting to switch gears and it just keeps me excited and enthralled through this whole process. Which is why you see me jumping around so much. I tell people "Oh can't you just write on my favorite series", I tell them if I did that they actually wouldn't come out any faster, because I would hit that kind of lull that happens after a book where it's hard to write and you get slowed down by any little thing and if I switch to something else you just kind of get books squished in-between.

Oathbringer San Francisco signing ()
#114 Copy

Questioner

So, you always talk about how you're an outliner. So, what do your outlines look like, and how long are they ranging from your YA books to something like Stormlight?

Brandon Sanderson

So, the one for the new book, Skyward, is about five pages long, and it's mostly-- first it's "Here's the worldbuilding paragraph," there's a bunch of headings and paragraphs. Characters, about a paragraph or two about each one. And then five parts, I tend to do a lot of five act things. So, prologue, part one, part two, part three, climax. Just a bunch of bullet points.

Questioner

And how long would one be for, like, Oathbringer?

Brandon Sanderson

Oathbringer one's, like, 30 pages.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#115 Copy

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

Do you just start writing and hope for the best?

Brandon Sanderson

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

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#116 Copy

Questioner

When you're thinking about parallel stories and writing them, how do you keep them disparate so that you don't have characters from one story overlapping with another story...

Brandon Sanderson

This is a balancing act I perform when writing big, long books, because a lot of times for narrative reasons, it is better to write them "this set of characters, then the next set, then this set, then that", and go back and forth, but a lot of times, for continuity of theme and character building, it is better to write them straight through, right, that one character's throughline, so you make sure it has an emotional arc to it. And the longer the book gets, the more delicate that balancing act gets, right?

So on a Stormlight book, I usually split the book in my head into three parts, like I write a trilogy of books, and then bind them together as one, with a short story collection making up the interludes and things. And I usually would go, alright, part one, Kaladin from beginning to end of part one. Part one, Shallan from beginning to end of part one. Now I will weave these chapters together and I will read through for theme and make sure that the pacing is working, because the pacing and tone can really get messed up when you're doing that.

Fun story about that: A Memory of Light, I did this with some of the things, and I was weaving them together for the prologue, and two of the things I was weaving together, was characters getting engaged, it was the ladies making a bridal wreath to give to Rand, and the other was the fall of Caemlyn and the people who were trying to live as things were happening there. Not to go into too many spoilers, but it was a really dynamic action sequence, with a lot of terrible things happening, and when I wove those two together, the tone whiplash was terrible. And it was like, one of the worst parts of the book was "here's a happy thing where we're gonna get engaged, now this person dies, then we go back to this happy thing". *crowd laughs* So I had to yank the engagement sequence from the book, because there was no tonal place in that novel where it could go that it wouldn't do that.

And so you run into that trouble, but I think that with the longer books, what you're noticing, keeping the characters' throughline consistent is the more important factor. It's a lot easier, I think, to fix pacing and tone by where you move the chapters and what you cut out and what you add in in revision.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#117 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So the reason that I write so many different things is because I found every writer, when they are working on a book for a long time, perhaps you know this too, starts to hate that book. They get so tired of it because you do so many drafts, and spend so long. When I finish a book I dont want to work on a sequel to that book. I am done with that book. I need something very new and different to refresh myself. So like how you eat grapes in between bites of cheese. This is why I do so many different things.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#118 Copy

Questioner

How do you envision Patter and Syl when they are in their Shardblade form.

Brandon Sanderson

We're going to do sketches eventually, mhmm.

Questioner

Ok, cause I'm getting a tattoo at some point and i want to make it relatively accurate.

Brandon Sanderson

Send to Peter and to... well Peter can be in touch with him. Ben, who does a lot of the... Ben is the one that we have canonize the Shardblades, and so after i write a book he does a bunch of sketches for us of what I've describes and we kinda pick one, and i know we've picked one already, but I don't know. I cant draw it for you or anything but if you go to them they can give it to you.

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

Questioner

How do you decide what book you're gonna work on each day? Do you have, like, a schedule or something?

Brandon Sanderson

Good question. So, I can generally only be writing new prose on one book at a time. And so, I usually make the decision when I finish a book. I usually need something very different, once I finish a book, to try, to have a break from that world, rather than going right into it. So often, I have a lot of different projects floating, and I decide when I finish a book. A little bit of it is making sure, trying to keep myself from doing too many new things, when I still have things hanging. And that has been a constant struggle in my life. I taught myself how to write novellas, so that I could do some of these ideas-- Those are in Arcanum Unbounded. And most of those exist because I had ideas, and I'm like, "No no no. Don't start another series. Don't write another 300,000-word epic fantasy book that people are going to be asking for sequels to. Tell the actual story that you're excited about, but do it in 30,000 words, and then you can be done with it." And that's where Emperor's Soul came from, and that's where things like Edgedancer came from. Not having to balloon into their own huge series.

So, I decide. And once I get into the book, I need to keep momentum on it. I can't stop. If I stop, that's really bad for a book. You can see this with Rithmatist. Rithmatist was the series I was working on when The Wheel of Time came along. It was the one I was actively writing and working on the sequel to. And when Wheel of Time hit me like a freight train-- I actually wrote the first one in 2007, and it's been really hard to get back into that, because of that big interruption.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#120 Copy

Questioner

Of all the characters that you've written, which one do you think is the most like you, and is there one you want to be like?

Brandon Sanderson

Understand that there are none that are specifically "most like me." There's a piece of me in every one of them, it's been very hard for me to determine. If I had one that I think the best of is probably Sazed, maybe Dalinar. But I sure wouldn't mind being as clever as some of them are. You laugh, because, like, "You wrote them, Brandon." *laughter* The thing about being clever-- and I have some clever friends, I lived with a a guy named Ken Jennings for many years in college, and his brother's just as smart as him, and our mutual friend Earl, they were all on Quiz Bowl in college together, and he [Ken] won the Jeopardy thing, like 80 in a row. And Ken, and people like this, what really makes them smart is the speed of thought. They just snap off a retort, just like that, and you get them together, it's this weird thing, where, like, spacetime seems to warp around them and they start one-upping each other with references and cultural jokes and things like that, and you just step back, and, like, they're their own power source. Of random 80's inside jokes just going at each other. And that's what really makes someone witty, is the ability to pop it off. That's not smart, that's witty, in a book. Now they're also very smart. But in a book, you can emulate that, by giving yourself three hours to think of what the perfect comeback, and then writing it in the book. And they just came up with it, and everyone thinks you're brilliant, when you're just habitually that person who's like, "That would have been smart! That's what I should have said!"

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#121 Copy

Questioner

So, as a writer of so many books of epic fantasy, what is your crazy sleep schedule like? And how do you manage your life?

Brandon Sanderson

So, my crazy schedule is not as "crazy" as you think, just a little crazy. I go to bed at 4:00, and I get up at noon. I did not become a writer so that I could keep the job that a working stiff would have. My writing schedule is generally, I do one big block from about noon until 5:00. I hang out with my kids and my wife from about 5:00 until 10:00. And then from about 10:00 until 2:00 or 3:00, I do another writing block, and then I take an hour or two off and play video games or something like that. *laughter and cheers* The secret to my productivity is not much of a secret. It is that I work every day, I just get get up and I write. And I don't always publish what I write. Some of what I write doesn't work. But I like writing, I like telling stories. The creative process is really, really engaging to me, it's what I like doing, so I do it every day. And I'm not a really fast writer, I'm just really consistent at my writing.

YouTube Livestream 10 ()
#122 Copy

Argent

When coming up with the powers of the Metallic Arts, was there a magical effect you wanted to include but couldn't, for whatever reason? And what power would you have added if you could?

Brandon Sanderson

The one I most wanted to get was steelpushing and ironpulling. The others are all based around the things that I thought a gang of thieves would use. And that's the one that I'm just like, "This is cool. I'm gonna make this work. I'm gonna fit it in."

There weren't any powers that I really wanted that I couldn't fit in. There are a lot of powers I considered and didn't get around to. Like, there is often a disguise artist in a thieving crew. But I knew Lightweaving was gonna be a big part of the cosmere. (Even back then I had written Dragonsteel, which had Lightweaving in it, and I was contemplating using that in Stormlight.) And I thought, "Too much disguise/illusion, too many uses of Lightweaving, is gonna become a problem."

Plus, the moment you add that to a story, it does things to the story. From then on, you have to be playing weird espionage games. Which I like, don't get me wrong, but it changes the tone of things when anyone could be someone wearing a different face. So I just didn't put that into the books. I did a little bit of that with the kandra, in order to make a nod toward that, but I put some really strict requirements on it so that I could use it in the second book the way that I did. The kandra were designed for this; they weren't in the original (I don't believe) version of Mistborn before I came up with this story.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#123 Copy

Questioner

What's your ideal work environment?

Brandon Sanderson

Sitting by the fire, feet up, easy chair--recliner, laptop, music. It's not very complicated. I can write almost anywhere if at least the laptop and music are there. 

Questioner

What do you listen to?

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on my mood and what I'm into at the moment. Right now I've just got a playlist on Spotify that someone has made. It's called epic soundtracks and there's like 800 songs on it. I put that on shuffle. But I guess it just depends on my mood.

/r/fantasy AMA 2011 ()
#124 Copy

Remagoen

When plotting a series of books, how do you account for plot changes you didn't foresee you had to do? For instance, I read that Elend was originally going to be a minor character, but the end of Mistborn wouldn't have been the same without him. How did you work him into the plot later on without breaking the story?

Brandon Sanderson

After I wrote the first book, and Elend grew more important in my mind, I reworked the three-book-outline. Usually, when I build a series, I spend a lot of time on the first book and then have a few paragraphs on the rest. Then, after finishing the first book and seeing how it worked (and how the tone was) I go and do much more in-depth outlines for the rest of the series.

When the first book is happening, things are much more 'anything goes' as I don't have any established canon yet. I allow myself to toss the rest of the outlines out the window, and just try to make the first book the best it can be. From there, I have continuity, and I feel it is important to maintain that for the integrity of the series.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How do you come up with the David analogies and the metaphors?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, man, this is so much harder than you think it is. For those who haven't read them, the main character is really, really bad at similes. And where it came from is, there's actually a contest every year, where people intentionally try to write bad similes, and submit them. And every year it comes out and makes me laugh. Just-- I love it. And I started writing Reckoners, and-- Normally, you read this things as an author, to watch out for things to not accidentally do. If you read the bad metaphors, you can be like, "Oh, this is why you don't want to do this. You don't want people laughing." You get aware of this sort of thing. It's very good for you as a writer to watch. And, lo and behold, I'm writing a book series, and I wrote a metaphor, and I looked at it, and I'm like "That is really bad." And you do this as an author sometimes, and sometimes they slip in the books, you just write it and they're really bad. And I went to delete it and I'm like, "What if I ran with that?" This is because I tend to discovery-write my characters. So, I outline a lot for my settings, and I outline a lot of my plots, and then I go freewrite who these characters are, and then usually I have to do a lot of rebuilding of my plot after I figure out who's who. And in the Reckoners, I just ran with that, I did the whole sequence, I did the whole first chapter like that, and I'm like, "This is really fun." And then I locked myself into it, and it got so hard. Being bad on purpose is, like, ridiculously difficult. But it was also part of the fun. I would save them up, I'd be walking on the street, I'd think of something, and I'd be like "Ooh, how do I make that bad?" And I'd spend the next fifteen to twenty minutes writing a really bad metaphor. And sticking it in my pocket, because they all have to be bad in different ways. If they're all bad in the same way, then that's not any fun, you get used to it. So they all have to be bad in different ways, too. So, yeah, it was harder than I thought, but it was a blast.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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Questioner

Do you already know how The Stormlight Archive is going to end?

Brandon Sanderson

I do!

Questioner

Do you have all the details in mind, or do you just kind of have a general idea and you figure it out as you go?

Brandon Sanderson

So, I'm a planner. I tend to like having a pretty detailed plan. For something like The Stormlight Archive, that generally kind of boils down to: the next book has a five page plan, the book after that has a three page plan, the book after that a two page plan, one page, one page, and the last book we go back to a five page plan. So there is lots of wiggle room in one of these outlines, but at the same time, I've got touchstones and things I know I'm writing toward.

Oathbringer London signing ()
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Questioner

When you start planning your books, is there anything you start with? Is there always some sort of starting point, or do you start whenever an idea occurs and you run with it?

Brandon Sanderson

Every book is a combination of multiple ideas that are bouncing around in my head. And when they start sticking together, like when I've got an idea for a cool idea where "There's a storm all the time," mixing with "Hey, I want to tell this story about these ancient orders of knights." with "Ooh, this magic system might develop here." When these all start sticking together, that's what makes a book for me. And then I sit down and write out all the ideas I had, and then start I organize it into an outline.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

What has been the craziest, most off-the-wall, unexpected kind of feedback you've ever gotten--

Brandon Sanderson

Ooh. *crowd laughs*

Questioner

...you know kind of how it sent you in the right direction.

Brandon Sanderson

Wow, craziest off-the-wall feedback I've ever gotten and what direction did it send me. I have so much trouble with these things. Some people ask me the line "what's the weirdest thing a fan has had you write in a book". And I know, if I took the time, I could think of it, but off the top of my head it's kind of hard. I'm not sure what the craziest, most off-the-wall sort of feedback I've gotten. I've given a lot of crazy, off-the-wall feedback. Legion... came about because I was trying to convince my friend Dan Wells to write this book. *crowd laughs* "Oh, you could do this thing, and it could be like schizophrenia but not really, it could be a superpower," and he's like, "Brandon, that's not a Dan Wells book. That is a Sanderson book". And so I ended up writing the book, but that has happened. I've given weird feedback. I'd have to think about that one a little more.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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Questioner

How do you fool your writer's block?

Brandon Sanderson

I write a bad chapter. Usually, writer's block, what's stopping me is I that know the chapter's not gonna work, or something's wrong. I write it anyway. And then I think about it for a few days, and then rewrite it over. It works almost every time. Once in a while, it's a bigger problem that's stopping me. And those cases, often it takes, like, a big extensive rewrite to get the book going in a different direction. But nine times out of ten, I'm just having a funk on one chapter; changing the perspective or writing it poorly in a sitting and letting myself think about it works very well.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner

When you're developing magic systems do you have it all planned out before you start writing the scenes?

Brandon Sanderson

I usually do, but I let myself have some wiggle room to change things as I go. Usually by the end of the first book I have it all locked down. Before the first book I have an outline for my magic system. I write the book and see how it works and see if there are things I need to tweak, and then I go back and make sure that it's locked down, and then I can write the other two to be consistent with the first one.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
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Questioner

How much time do you spend writing new material versus rewrites?

Brandon Sanderson

Rewrites are about half of my time I'd say. Between a third and a half. So I can usually budget the same amount of time that it took to write a book to do the revisions, and each given one is a bit faster. I write at about 2,000 words a day and I revise at about 10,000 words a day, but it goes slower when I have to do new chapters. Like, I'll do 10,000 words one day, and then 2,000 the next when I have to do new stuff.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
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Questioner

What's your secret to inventing new magic systems?

Brandon Sanderson

I look for a couple of things in a magic system. The first thing I usually look for is interesting conflicts within the magic system; interesting limitations, interesting flaws in the magic. The question "What can't the magic do?" is more interesting to me than what the magic can do. That's what gives a magic system compelling plot hooks.

The second thing I'm looking for in a magic system is a different way to approach it. It is very hard to do powers that other writers haven't done before, new magical abilities, but my goal is to try to present them in a light that people haven't seen before. I usually try to apply some sort of scientific principle to the magic, to give it more of a realistic feel when I can manage it.

Last, I'm looking for something that just feels awesome. In a lot of discussions of magic systems I often neglect to mention that usually my inspiration for a magic system first comes with something that just strikes me as great--as interesting, as fun, as cool to write about. Then I go from there, making it work storywise. 

I have some essays on my website called Sanderson's Laws of Magic that approach some of the ways that I look at magic systems.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

Isaac Stewart

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Isaac Stewart

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

So, most of your magic systems are limited to only a slight portion of the population. Is that a conscious decision? Are there any that are open to anybody?

Brandon Sanderson

Certainly, the Warbreaker magic is open to everybody, and that's part of what I was doing, was I wanted to contrast the other ones. And this is just because it makes for good storytelling, honestly. And when I do this, I'm doing it too much, I go the other way. That's why Sixth of the Dusk is open to everyone, that's why different things are done differently in the magics. But, really, when I'm working on the books, I'm like, "Well, we need something dramatic and cool." And I would argue that at least some of them, such as in Stormlight Archive, those are open to anybody if you can convince a spren. And you're sincere, right? And I like going that direction. Certainly, the kind of old standby of "you're born with it" is really easy. It's really, what we call in Sci-Fi/Fantasy "grokkable." You can instantly, kind of, get it. You're like, "All right, this is just like a talent. Some people are born with different talents. Makes sense." It doesn't take a lot of explanation, you don't have to worldbuild a ton up front. Where something like Stormlight, you gotta send a lot of worldbuilding words to explain how it happens, why it happens, things like that. But the trade-off is, it's in many ways more satisfying if you do it the other way. So, I do try to balance those. But sometimes those short-hands are very handy.

Questioner

Is Forgery?

Brandon Sanderson

Forgery is a Selish magic system, so it is birth-based, tied to location.

TWG Posts ()
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Brandon Sanderson

How much [Writing Preparation] do you do? What files do you create?

I've done it various ways. Usually I have an 'outline' document for plots, a 'character' document for characters, and a 'world' document for magic systems and things.

Sometimes, the preparatory documents are only a couple dozen pages. (Elantris.) Sometimes they're hundreds of pages long. (Dragonsteel, Way of Kings.)