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Firefight Seattle UBooks signing ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

How do you choose ages for your characters and how often does that change throughout the writing process?

Brandon Sanderson

How do I choose ages for my characters and how often does that change the writing process. I choose my characters... It's really hard to talk about. Because I can really drill down into how I come up with settings, so magic systems and things, and I can talk a lot about how I plot and why I plot. Character is the one that I discovery write. Writers tend to fall somewhere on this spectrum generally between what we call discovery writers and we call outliners, and I'm mostly an outliner. I like a nice tight outline, I like to know where I'm going and what's going on in my world before I start writing. But I found that I have to free write my characters, I have to figure out who they are as I write. Otherwise this outline is going to be too restrictive and I'm going to end up with characters who feel wooden. And I think that's the real risk of outlining too much, is writing the life out of your characters. And so the ages do change, and the personalities change. The famous one is Mistborn, which stars a sixteen year old girl named Vin, she was a boy in the first chapter I tried to write of that. And then that didn't work so I tried a girl with a different personality and that didn't work either. So it was the third try where it's like I'm having people walk in and and try casting calls and seeing who works. And that's generally how I go about it.

With Steelheart the character didn't click for me, and I was really worried about that. Like the prologue worked wonderfully and I wrote the prologue separately, I wrote it years before I went back to the book. Because I just had that prologue pop into my head and I wrote it out. So if you read Steelheart the prologue is like 5,000 words, it's huge, it's like twenty pages or something like that. It may not be that long, but it's a big chunk. It was the first thing that I did, and then I put the book aside. And I was really worried when I started writing that I didn't have a voice for the character, because the prologue takes place ten years before when the main character is a child. So I started writing and it didn't work, and I started writing again and it didn't work, and the thing that ended up working, this is the silliest thing, but it was when I wrote a metaphor that was really bad, a simile, right? And I'm like "Oh that's stupid" because that's what normally happens. That's what you do when you are writing, you come up with something and go "Why did I write that, it's dumb?" and you delete it. And this time I started to delete it and thought "What if I ran with that?" So I started running with it and this character grew out of the fact that he makes bad metaphors. And that's just a simple trope, a simple thing, but it grew into an entire personality. This is a person who is really earnest, trying really, really hard. They are smart, they are putting things together, but they just don't think the same way that everyone else does and they are a little bit befuddled by things. It's like they are trying a little too hard. Ironically-- Or I guess coincidentally, not ironically, the metaphor of writing bad metaphors became what grew into the personality for David. His entire personality grew out of this idea of someone who is trying so hard, and you just love him because he is trying so hard but sometimes he just faceplants. And my children do this. Like I remember my child when he was five years old and he was running toward me so excited, telling me about something and this thing that he had in his hand and there was a pole in front of him but the thing was so important. And he smacked right into and fell right back over just stunned. Like "Who put this pole in front of me?" *laughter* It was at our house, it's not like he didn't know there was a pole there, right? He was just so excited by this thing Dad, this thing! And that was where David came from.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

Also about The Reckoners, just out of curiosity, David's metaphors, so amazing, did you write them all? Was there a time when you had friends come over and say, "I have a crazy great metaphor, you have to use it for the book"?

Brandon Sanderson

For those who don't know, The Reckoners are told first person viewpoint from the viewpoint of a man named David, and though he tries hard, his metaphors and similes are awful. He says things like, "She was as perky as a sack full of caffeinated puppies." And the reason for this is, number one, the material itself is kind of dark. A world with no heroes could be a very, very dark place, so I knew I wanted a hero who was optimistic despite this, but David's main personality attribute is that he is a little too earnest. He tries a little too hard, and doesn't always think before he does something. So, I wanted a personality trait that quickly and easily reflected and indicated this to the reader, and the way that his metaphors don't quite work, but almost do, was the perfect method of conveying this. When he says things like, "You are a potato in a minefield," it doesn't make sense until he explains what it means. That, for instance, he was walking through a minefield, stepped on something he thought was going to kill him, and it turned out to be a potato instead. And then it's like, "Hey, free potato!" When we do this, it allows you to see that he is just speaking a little too fast, that his heart is right, and somewhere between his heart and his brain and his mouth, the wrong thing comes out. So, I guess what I'm saying is, the bad metaphors are actually a good metaphor for David's personality.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#4 Copy

Questioner

Do you have a special way of coming up with your bad analogies?

Brandon Sanderson

Do I special way of coming up with bad analogies. Which are actually similes. So here's the thing-- So Steelheart, I wrote Steelheart in like 2008 or 2009, it was pretty early on, I had the idea-- I was touring for some book, I think-- I feel like it was Warbreaker or Mistborn 3, any way I was touring for one of these books and I get cut off in traffic, I get really mad at the person, and I imagine blowing up their car. I get horrified, like "If I had superpowers is this what I would do? Would I blow up cars of people who cut me off in traffic?" and I was like "OOh that's a story". So I went and wrote the prologue, like almost immediately, I think on that tour I wrote the prologue. I remember reading it at DragonCon that year, whenever year that was.

Then I put the whole book aside and had to wait for like 5 years because I'm like "I'm working on The Wheel of Time I have no time to write this other side project." I was much better at that and not going crazy on side projects when I was doing that. When I finally got back to it I had this prologue-- The prologue was ten years before in-world time, like the character grew ten years between the prologue and chapter 1, so I was "Alright I need a voice for this character" and I started writing, doing my standard thing. I was having so much trouble coming up with a distinctive voice for David, the main character, and I accidentally wrote a bad metaphor. That happens a lot when you're writing-- you just come across something and it's a terrible analogy and you delete it, but here I said "Well what if I ran with that?" The fun thing is by coincidence that became a metaphor for his entire personality. He tries so hard, is very earnest, but sometimes he tries a little too hard, and looks beyond the mark, and stumbles a bit. And that is who he became as a character, and the bad metaphors are a great metaphor for that.

Coming up with them now is really hard. Doing it on purpose is way harder than coming up with good metaphors. They are rough. Sometimes I'll sit-- Like the most time I spend staring at the screen when working on these books is coming up with one of David's metaphors.

Goodreads February 2016 YA Newsletter Interview ()
#5 Copy

Cassidy

What was your premise behind the main character David [in The Reckoners]? Why did you create him as he is, scared yet fearless at the same time, smart about specific things yet totally ignorant about others, etc.?

Brandon Sanderson

I built David around two pillars of personality. One is his interest in the Epics, which balances between hatred and fascination. The other one is his fierce determination, which leads him to be impulsive and bull-headed at times, but also pretty inspiring at others.

I feel that as people, sometimes our greatest strengths are also our greatest liabilities. In this respect, every human being is a conundrum in at least one or two ways. With David, his fixation on the Epics is a huge strength but he's been so narrowly focused in his interests that he neglected many other areas of study. So he's both smart and stupid. At the same time, he's impulsive and determined, which leads to acts of great bravery, but he lives in a society that beats people down so if he stops and thinks too long, he can often psych himself out.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

Do you draw from any kind of like specific set of life experiences for your writings? Or is most of it just from your imagination?

Brandon Sanderson

Do I draw from a specific set of life experiences for my writing or is it just from my imagination? I would say my imagination is fueled by my specific life experiences. So the answer is both. Everything I see can become a part of my books, but at the same time sometimes it's just a happy accident.

People ask about Steelheart, the bad metaphors. One of the things about the main character is he is really bad with metaphoric language, comically bad. That happened on accident, I was writing his viewpoint and I'm like "This character is dry, he needs more of a soul, he needs more life. How can I make him work?" and I accidentally wrote a bad metaphor. That happens a lot when you're writing, you know, purple prose and bad metaphors just come out when you're not looking. It's like they sneak out onto the page and you're like "That was really bad". Then I paused and thought "Well, let's go ahead and leave it in *laughter* and run with this." And it was great because it became a metaphor for David's metaphor-- kind of coincidentally or ironically or whatever-- that bad metaphors become a metaphor themselves because he became the character who tries too hard. He's really earnest and he's going to get stuff done but he's trying a little too hard. And that's where the bad metaphors come from, he over-thinks them. He tries too hard to put something together and it ends up as just a big mess. But his earnestness comes through it, and that became his character and it works really well. But that one's just an accident.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

At the end of Firefight when it says that if you overcome your fears that the corruption kind of ceases to exist. Does that mean an Epic's weakness is resolved also?

Brandon Sanderson

That is a question for the sequel.

Questioner

So would that imply that maybe David has a power but he doesn't know it because he overcame the water fear?

Brandon Sanderson

That's entirely possible... You're asking good questions.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
#10 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

Bands of Mourning release party ()
#11 Copy

Questioner

Megan's weakness was fire, she overcame it. David's weakens was water, I feel he overcame it when shooting at the window. So my conspiracy theory is that he didn't have to take power from Calamity because he overcame his weakness or he was never experiencing the negative aspects of being an Epic *audio obscured*

Brandon Sanderson

You are getting warmer... You're theorizing is wise and you'll just have to see where it goes. But yeah you are definitely getting warmer.