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The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#1 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

We're moving in the story, timewise, much more quickly here than we were at the beginning of the book. Often there will be a week or so between chapters. It's kind of hard to tell in my books, as I don't talk very often about time passing. That's not one of my things; my books tend to feel very compressed, as if they happen over the course of a few days. However, each of the Mistborn books has covered many months—the first one covered almost an entire year. The nature of the Final Empire, where it tends to have very mild winters, makes the changing of seasons rough to follow.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

My question is, your stories are so intricate and huge and I-- maybe it's because I'm not as genius as you are *Brandon makes a funny face* but where do you come up with these ideas in the first place. Like are you given a vision by the Stormfather, or-- *laughter*

Brandon Sanderson

So here's what I say to this, if you think I'm naturally a genius go read the story I wrote in high school. I posted it on my website and it is terrible... It's a matter of practice and a lot of spending time working on these sorts of things. This is kind of what I wanted to do my whole life now, so I practiced to be able to do it. And it's a good thing I took off because I would be worthless otherwise. I mean I did go to college, I did get a Master's degree, but all the other people in the Master's degree were running right and left to get into PhD programs and being on Student Council/Government or things like that. And meanwhile I was just writing stories. I didn't do any of that stuff. And so I'm very lucky that it took off.

I do have my own wiki, which you can't find, it's only on my computer and my assistants' computers to keep track of all this, because it has grown to the size that we need tools like that. In fact Peter Ahlstrom's wife, Karen Ahlstrom is the keeper of the wiki and her job is to go through my books and keep the wiki updated and make sure that I'm not contradicting myself.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How does it feel to be now known as a mentor to younger writers?

Brandon Sanderson

How does it feel to be a mentor to younger writers? Well I think the fact that I've taught a university course on How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy for ten years, I kind of had to get used to that pretty early. I took over the class because they were going to cancel it because there was no one else to teach it. The teacher who had been teaching it retired. And so I stepped in and took it over and I still teach it to this day. My requirement being that I get to post the lectures online. So if you want to read them-- err watch them, you can watch them at brandonsanderson.com/writing-advice. Or you can ask for one of these little cards that has my url on it when you come through.

How's it feel? It feels pretty cool honestly. I like interacting with new, young writers. I like helping them out. I'm really proud of like Brian [McClellan] and Janci [Patterson] who've gotten published. *aside to the booksellers* You have Brian's book right there? It's really quite good. He's one of those ones I really can't take credit for, because he came through and he was writing awesome stuff and so I told him like the business side. Here's how you go get published. Some of the other ones, I've been able to give them pointers on their actual writing, that I think have helped out. But I think with Brian he was there already, he just needed the boost to get into the industry.

It feels pretty cool.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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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.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
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Questioner

I just had a question about writing, specifically regarding your laws on magic. Your first law states that the ability to solve problems using magic is directly proportional to the reader's knowledge of said magic. My question comes kind of as the opposite. What is your opinion on the ability of the author to create problems using magic? Does the reader need to know a lot about the magic system for you to be able to have the "villain" use it to create problems for the protagonists? Or can you create problems with this magic without the reader knowing a lot about it?

Brandon Sanderson

One thing to remember about my laws is that they're laws I devised for myself--laws I find make my writing stronger. I think they hold very well in general, but there are no "rules" for fiction. There are as many ways to do things as there are people doing them. However, like most things, I DO have an opinion. :)

Magic causing problems in the story is a great thing--as more conflict generally makes for a stronger story. Obviously, this isn't a 100% correlation, but it's a good rule of thumb. Using the magic as a kind of "human vs. nature" style plot is a great idea, and I've used it to great advantage myself. One could say that in Elantris, the magic (which is broken) is a primary antagonist of the story.

There are a few things to be aware of. First, avoid what my friend and colleague Bryce Moore dubbed "Deus Ex Wrench." Yes, that doesn't quite work. But the idea is this: Just like solving problems out of nowhere, with unforeshadowed powers or advantages, can be unsatisfying, sometimes just having problems happen out of nowhere in a story can be unsatisfying.

If a dam breaks, risking flooding the city, it's much stronger if we know the dam is there--if the characters have walked along it, or if something similar happened somewhere else in the story in parallel. Likewise, having the magic create problems unexpectedly, if handled without some measure of foreshadowing, could be unsatisfying. (For example, if the One Ring suddenly started--three quarters of the way through the series--melting your friends if they crossed their eyes.)

Just as I think you can create a great magic system that doesn't have explicit rules, I think you can have the magic be a huge problem in the books if the reader/characters don't understand it. Doing so in this case is probably going to be about making sure that the major conflict is not FIXING the magic, but overcoming it.

For example, if the magic in your world--when used--causes rainfall that floods and kills crops, one story (the explicit rules story) would be about finding out why, and learning to use the magic safely. But another story would be about surviving a terrible flood, and another about hunting down and stopping the people who use the magic. All three can use the magic as a huge conflict, but only one would probably need deep explanation of the magic system in order to have a satisfying resolution.

EuroCon 2016 ()
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Questioner

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to ask this question, because, when I'm reading your books, I always find myself making the questions that you want me to make, right? And at the end, there's always a surprise, but I'm wondering how you manage to achieve that, to have me asking the exact questions that you want me to ask.

Brandon Sanderson

This is lots of practice as a writer, and paying attention to how the art of writing works, that's certainly part of it. I would say that being a writer is a little like being a stage magician. You often distract the audience with what you're doing with one hand, while you are slipping something else out of your pocket and getting ready to throw it in their face. The best twists in fiction are the ones that are right in front of you. Anyone can have something unexpected happen. Sometimes, it's appropriate, but sometimes, just having the unexpected happen without foreshadowing is very unfulfilling. So, if you can lead the reader to be asking certain questions, sometimes they will ignore the question right beneath the surface that is in front of their eyes, but hidden by a larger, more domineering question.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

Do you ever write like two versions of a scene in a book and if you do how do you decide which--

Brandon Sanderson

Do I ever do two scenes in a book--

Questioner

Like two versions--

Brandon Sanderson

Two versions of the same scene. I do it quite frequently. Every book there will be a couple times. Usually what happens is I'm writing a scene and I'm not pleased with it and so I put it aside and I write it again the next day. And usually letting me subconscious work on it means I end up fixing it. About one out of ten times I start writing it and I realize "It was right the first way, why am I writing something new?" And then I just go back to the book, and it wasn't that the scene was bad it's just I had a bad day. And sometimes you do, no matter what you write you are going to think it stinks. How do I decide? It's very instinctive, I've never had one like "These are both equally good". Always I know one of them is not working. In fact the best way to get over writer's block, I find, is to write the scene anyway, have anything you can think of happen--even if it doesn't make sense in your story--so that you get the scene out, and then attack it again the next day after you have had time to think about it.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How do you decide who lives and who dies? Do you know before or is it up to the characters?

Brandon Sanderson

How do I decide who lives and who dies? I just decide based on the demands that they make to me by their character arcs and the risks they want to take. I don't ever feel like I'm killing characters off, I feel like I am writing the stories that need to be written the way they have to be written. They often are planned out ahead of time, I'm an architect as a writer, I come up with an outline and then I hang my story on it. But characters have veto power over the story, if they decide they want to go somewhere else. If who they are growing is somebody the story demands-- I say they decide, it doesn't really happen that way for me. If when I'm writing the story I'm like "This character would not make this decision. I either need to put in a new character in this place or I need to rebuild my outline to match who this person is." And both of those have happened to me. Usually I'm not replacing the character except in the early parts. Usually if I like the character enough as I'm going I replace the plot.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

When you develop a character, like as the change over time, does it come naturally or do you have to force it?

Brandon Sanderson

As I develop characters and they change over time, does that come naturally or do I have to force it? For me it comes very naturally. I do a lot of planning ahead of time on my plots and a lot of planning ahead of time on my settings. I do less on my characters. I cast people in roles. I start writing someone in this role and I see what becomes of them in the first few chapters and if I'm not liking that I put it aside and cast someone else in that role and write for a few chapters and then set that aside until I find a mix that I like and then it is a very natural progression as I write them. That's just the way that it works for me. It's a matter of practice making that happen.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How do you consistently create compelling magic systems?

Brandon Sanderson

How do I consistently create compelling magic systems? Well you will maybe want to read Sanderson's Three Laws of Magic, which are basically each essays on this. The short answer is I look for something awesome and what that means is I look for something no one else is doing, or a ramification of a magic system that no one else is using and I extrapolate from it. As a reader of fantasy, who loved fantasy, and still does, for many years I got very tired of seeing the same two or three magic systems in every book that I read. It was really frustrating to me as a writer because I felt fantasy should be the most imaginative genre, it should be the most distinctive and different. And so it was bothersome to me that there weren't enough people doing interesting things with magic and so I just started doing it myself.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

Do you ever consider going back to some of your earlier work and doing a prequel or expanding the world?

Brandon Sanderson

Did I ever consider going back to one of my previous books and doing a prequel or expanding the world? Yes, I will be doing these things. The Cosmere Sequence. So if you are not familiar my epic fantasy books, so anything that doesn't mention Earth, they're all set in the same universe. So Elantris, and Mistborn, and Way of Kings, and they all have crossover characters that you can spot if you look really closely, that are interfering. So there will be some parallel stories that show what some of these other people were doing behind the scenes. There will be a series that starts it all off, long before the first books happen, and then there will eventually be--

Mistborn kind of forms the core of this. I pitched Mistborn to my editor as an epic fantasy trilogy, followed by an urban fantasy trilogy, followed by a science fiction trilogy--a science fiction trilogy where they've learned to use the magic system to make space travel possible. That was my original pitch. The Alloy of Law was actually a happy accident, and so we've added a fourth one in, an early industrial era. I'm actually doing four of those, because I really fell in love with them. So you'll be getting two more of those, one in September or October and then one in January. And then the final Reckoners book should come sometime early next year like probably April or May and then the new Stormlight book will be in the fall. So yay Stormlight. *cheers*

Manchester signing ()
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Questioner

My question was about your writing process... When you are writing do you become emotionally attached to the characters you are writing about? Does it become hard to distinguish between what you think the characters should be doing and what you actually have planned out for them? And how did that affect your Wheel of Time writing? You didn’t create them, but you took over their story arcs and did you become attached to any of those?

Brandon Sanderson

What an excellent question. I do grow attached to all of my characters, however character is the weird one for me. Character is very hard for me to define how I do it. With my plot I can talk about outlining the plot and these sorts of things. And my worldbuilding, I've written lots of essays about worldbuilding, and building magic systems and things like this. But with character I really sit down with this plot, this world, together and I start writing somebody in a role and I write a chapter and I see how they feel. It's almost like casting someone in the role. If that doesn't work, then I get rid of them, I get rid of that and I write a new chapter using a different character's personality but who feels very much the same in some ways. For instance, Mistborn,  I did this quite famously, Vin started with a guy, I tried Vin as a guy and then I tried Vin as a woman, but a different, a very different person from what you read, who was very confident and more Artful Dodger type person, and then I tried the Vin that ended up in the book. I can't really explain to you why I knew those first two were wrong, they just were. So I ditched them and tried again. I do that until I've hit the right character and then I let them start growing and developing as I write the book and if the person they turn into is not the person who would do the sort of things that are in my outline I either have to change my outline, which I will sit down and do, or I'll say "this character is awesome but they don't belong in this role. I will write a book around them later, and find a place for them." And that's-- Usually I just re-write the outline, once in a while I pull out the character and put someone else in that place. If a book is going wrong for me, it almost always because of one of the characters, something is wrong with them, and I wish that I could explain it better. It's actually really thrilling for me, when a character is alive and working well enough that I know they wouldn't do what is in the outline. That's not a sad moment that's a "Aha! I've got something good here. This character is working, they are strong enough on the page that they can balk these constraints that were placed upon them." Because an outline, while it is a great tool, the danger is that the outline constricts your story and it doesn't allow it to actually feel alive. This is when you get these wooden characters that just kind of cardboard cut-out through a book. That's when often the outline just takes too much-- takes over too much of the characters. So it's exciting, but it can be very frustrating when it's not working.

It did happen with the Wheel of Time but in a different way. The Wheel of Time characters were like my high school friends growing up, these were my buddies. I was a nerdy kid who sat in my bedroom and read books, and these were my friends. So writing them I was really worried that it would be difficult to write them. But it was actually very easy, their voices snapped for me quite quickly, I knew what they would do. So much in fact that Mat was a little off in Gathering Storm, I didn't notice it because I was so used to characters coming very easily to me. And yes I feel very much in love with writing them and these sorts of things because of these sort of things but it was because of my past familiarity with them that allowed me to do that.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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kakarotoks

As for Skyward, you said before that you got stuck because you weren't liking it, then you finally figured out how to fix it, will you write a blog post after release about how it was before and what needed to be changed to make it fit your standard?

Brandon Sanderson

Did I say that about Skyward? I got stuck on Apocalypse Guard, and pulled it for that reason. I don't believe I had any big issues with Skyward that weren't up to standards, just normal revision issues. The biggest hurdle came long before writing the book, as I was trying to figure out ways to approach this plot archetype in a way that wouldn't simply be a rehash of what people have done before.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

You know how usually you read a good book and it will change your perspective on some aspect of life, do you ever finish writing a book yourself and-- From your own writings do you ever "Ah I've never..."

Brandon Sanderson

It's usually the research I do. Like when I'm like "I need to get in the mindset of this type of person" and I go read about it. I see the world in a different way after I become immersed in that.

Questioner

So what character have you written that was the hardest to imagine or get into?

Brandon Sanderson

Jasnah was very hard originally, and that took a lot of research into the mindset of people who think differently from myself. In The Wheel of Time books Aviendha and Tuon are both very different cultures so getting into those.

Questioner

How was it writing Mat? Was it pretty easy or--

Brandon Sanderson

No, Mat blindsided me. Mat I thought would be easy because Perrin and Rand were and I grew up with Mat, Perrin, and Rand, right? But the thing is Mat is a really hard character to write, meaning actual-- you look at him, he says one thing, he does a second thing, but he thinks a third thing. And so there is a lot of contrast to him and I just started writing him naturally and I wasn't getting all of that contrast because I was like "Oh I know who Mat is. Mat's my--" But he was saying the things that he never said, if that makes sense? I got his actions right but I flipped what he said and what he thought. It was actually really hard to get him down.

Questioner

You mean how he would say that he was going to avoid trouble and then run straight into it?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it's like "I'm going to avoid trouble", he runs into trouble, and he's thinking all the way about something completely separate, and then something else leaves his mouth.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

You have said you are an architect, so I was wondering if the plot twists at the end of the book, did you have those at the beginning?

Brandon Sanderson

I would say most of the time I have them at the beginning but sometimes during the writing I rebuild my outline to do something different. You always have to be open to that I feel as an architect, to rebuilding your plot for when the creative process takes you in a different direction.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

When do you know a book is finished and send it to an editor/agent/whatever, wherever it gets sent?

Brandon Sanderson

I would say... that my process is I write the first draft and I do a second draft where I am fixing the problems that I recognized on my first draft. Then I do a third draft where I try to clean up the prose, that's just making the writing line by line better. I try to cut 10% and I just try to take each line and make it tighter. At that point I send it off. But I generally send it-- At that point I send it to my alpha readers, which are my agent and editor for me. If you are doing it I would suggest giving it to a round of readers from friends first. Get feedback from them, then do one more draft and then send it off.

Stormlight Three Update #3 ()
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Stormdancer

How do you manage your time to keep writing productively, during all that time on the road? Do you find yourself thinking about the WIP while signing book after book after book?

Brandon Sanderson

It's hard, and I'm not that productive, honestly. That's why I generally work on some new project, like a novella, instead of the main project. It's tiring enough on the road to write; writing something that is intense and requires a lot of working with other pieces in the story is even harder.

I can't think about the WIP while signing--otherwise I'll miss questions people ask. The last thing I want is for someone to wait four hours to meet me, then feel like they got brushed off. If I'm going to do the signings, I need to be mentally there for the signings.

I do get a lot of thinking done in the mornings before flying out to my next location for the day.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

Also what is it about about the Fantasy genre in particular that lends itself to these sorts of questions about the nature of religion?

Brandon Sanderson

Well I think that there are a lot of things. One of them is that fantasy is one of these genres where we can take away a lot of the contemporary baggage. For instance, since it is hard to talk about things like the Catholic Church and the religion without getting into the social issues in our world right now, but if you create a fake religion that you can narrow down and focus on one aspect of it-- Fantasy is really good at that. Tolkien did it with racism, let's have an elf and a dwarf and have them interact, and take away all the baggage of civil rights era America or England and instead said "Let's see if these two races can get along".

Bystander

It's the same reason why I like Star Trek, you can kind of create a scenario and--

Brandon Sanderson

But I also think that because of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis having such an influence on the genre you can do Good vs Evil, which lends itself. Like Robert Jordan's works there's no religion there's just a lot of spirituality. So there is no religion because people can actively check and see if God is real, the Creator. The magic is there, it's the proof, they don't need a religion. Which is a really interesting way to approach it.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

Where did the idea of spren come from?

Brandon Sanderson

Comes from two primary inspirations. One is my perhaps too-much fondness for things classical philosophy. Specifically some of the ideas that Plato talked about with certain Ideals, and the ideal picture of something, the theory of the Forms, and all this stuff. Mixed with the idea of, in the Eastern religions and mythology, you have the idea of the kami, or things like thsi, in which everything has a soul. A rock that you pass has a soul to it. And these two ideas kind of mashing together is where the spren were birthed out of.

I can also point a little bit at The Wheel of Time. One of the things I always liked about The Wheel of Time is, there's a character named Perrin who can smell people's emotions. And as a writer, when I was working on The Wheel of Time, I'm like, "This is so convenient!" Super convenient as a writer. Because it gets really cliched to use the same sort of phrases to indicate emotion. If you're always having somebody smirk as they talk, it starts to really stand out. But since, when I get to Perrin scenes, he can describe emotion in a completely different way, because he was using different senses, almost a synesthesia sort of thing where he would catch scents and know someone's emotion, it was a really cool writing tool. And I think the spren popped a little bit out of that, the ability to show emotion in a different way in my narrative, and that would change society in some (I thought) very interesting ways, made for a really interesting narrative tool for me as a writer.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

If characters are reflections of their authors, which character do you feel reflects you the most?

Brandon Sanderson

Which character reflects me the most. I don't think there is one… I think each of my characters represent me in some way and each character is different from me in other ways. So I can't say which one represents me more or less. They're all a bit of me.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How much research do you have to do in sciences and technology and history to create a world that is more relate-able if not as believable as they are?

Brandon Sanderson

What it takes is a lot of general knowledge, meaning you read a lot of history books, a lot of science books, and this general knowledge that you then incorporate. It's not like I go and say "I need to know more about this thing". I'll do that for characters and some aspects of the worlds sometimes but mostly this is coming from spending 10 years learning all this stuff. Does that make sense?

Questioner

It makes total sense, and my 10 years of community college will help me write.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes it will.

Questioner

My 120 credit-hours.

Brandon Sanderson

120 credit-hours, that's what makes a good writer... That really turns-- You can pick out "Oh that's my linguistics class" and I'd be like "Oh that's my chemistry class. Oh that's the class I snuck into, the psychology class".

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
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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.

/r/Fantasy_Bookclub Alloy of Law Q&A ()
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Questioner

I just wanted to say ... I like how the main characters are named Wax and Wayne.

Brandon Sanderson

Thanks. In all honesty, I was hesitant about the pun. I liked it, on one hand, but also worried that it was too goofy. By the time I tried changing the character names, however, they were too strongly cemented in my head, so changing them proved too difficult and I just left them as-is.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

If you wanted your sons to grow up to be one of your characters, would you want them to?

Brandon Sanderson

Uhhh. If they grow up to be Dalinar, without going through the phase of being a murderous tyrant, I would probably pick that one.

Questioner

Alright, no murderous tyrants.

Brandon Sanderson

No murderous tyrants. If they could grow up to be Sazed without being, y'know, castrated that might be-- But that's the thing. A lot of my characters have been through some rough stuff.

Questioner

Almost right.

Brandon Sanderson

No, I don't think that torment necessarily makes you a good character person, there are plenty of good people who have never been through things like that, but it makes them interesting to write about.

/r/Fantasy_Bookclub Alloy of Law Q&A ()
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zas678

A little safer question- Why did you not have Waxillium fall for Marasi? Why stick with the contract with Steris?

Brandon Sanderson

Marasi, as she was in Alloy of Law, was just plain wrong for Wax. As I write books, I allow my characters to grow more free-form (while my setting and plot are outlined in detail.) In writing the book, I felt that a Marasi hook-up at the end would not only be wrong for the character, but wrong for the story. If I do direct sequels (which I probably will) perhaps things will change.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

I had another question, did you ever read books by other authors to get your ideas?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes I read a lot of books by other authors and what I usually do is I will read something and if they did it really well, I don't want to do anything like it. But if I think they messed it up then I'm like "Oh I need to do a story that does this the right way" Does that make sense? It is one of the most fun parts of being a writer. You can watch a movie and go "Ah they totally did this the wrong way... and then do it yourself, the way you want it to be.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How did you sort of develop and write the character of Vin? 'Cause her upbringing is so different from anything we-- that I have experienced and I'm guessing you had a similar experience. So did you have a model or somebody you could talk to?

Brandon Sanderson

I-- Not really. Now I did have two sisters, which helped, but my sisters were not raised in such a manner. It is more just trying out personalities, like I talked about in my speech until I got one that worked. Lots of practice if you want to be a good writer, lots and lots of practice. Try writing people very different from yourself and try to get them right. Give it to people and have them see if anything "Yes this feels right" and things like that. Just do lots of practice.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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Phantine

What's up with Mare? Here's my Conspiracy Wall about her.

TL;DR Paalm was Mare. She spent most of Shadows of Self trying to imitate Kelsier.

Brandon Sanderson

This one is a RAFO, I'm afraid. As I've said, there are things about Mare I haven't gone into.

Phantine

Putting aside whether this theory was accurate...

Have you seeded anything else in the books that this level of newspaper-clippings-connected-with-string thinking would be necessary to figure out?

Brandon Sanderson

I have put things in like this, but generally I don't think I'm putting in enough foreshadowing for them to be recognized--I'm just working under an assumption on my part, which then reflects in the writing, which then people put together. (Which sometimes surprises me.)

So, I don't generally put in puzzles this complex intentionally to make people figure them out. But the puzzles do end up in the stories, and can be figured out, nonetheless.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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WeiryWriter

Are you planning on using what you learned from writing Renarin and Steris to improve the characterization of Adien when you write Elantris 2?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. Adien is one of my-- regrets is probably the wrong term. But I talked earlier about coming to terms with the fact that as you grow as a writer, there are certain things that you will have done less well then you can do them now. I consider Steris and Renarin my-- Again, apology's the wrong term. I tried very hard when I wrote Elantris. I was not the writer I am today, and I did not have access to the helpful readers who could point me-- you know, by writing Adien a little pop culture-y, the pop culture version of someone with autism, I was able to be told by people, "you know, this is kind of a stereotype." What Adien is does exist, but very rarely, and if you wanna have a more complete picture of it, you should read this resource or talk to this person. That's one of those areas that, here I thought I was being all forward thinking. And I did something that perpetuated a stereotype at the same time. That's not something I think you need to be embarrassed of, as a writer, as long as you're willing to listen and do better.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#30 Copy

Questioner

Do you set out to write a specific-- like a teen book or an adult book? Or are they just--

Brandon Sanderson

I usually do set out these days. Originally I was not as cognizant of it, but I do think keeping audience in mind is an important attribute of writing. The thing is when you are doing a teen book it's not about writing down it's about dealing with issues, like it's the type of conflicts that really make something a teen book in my opinion. And those conflicts can transcend into adult books but-- I don't know it's just there's a feel for it.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#31 Copy

Questioner

In Alcatraz, he mentions a souvenir about a bullet that can pierce steel. Was that nod to Reckoners?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, that's a nod to Reckoners. There's lots of them. If you read the Alcatraz books, there's an Asomedean joke, there's a Spook's street slang joke. The Alcatraz books, if you haven't read them, are kind of me practicing my improv skills as a writer. Every writer, I think, needs to have some measure of ability to outline, and some measure of ability to just "pants it," as we say. And the Alcatraz books, I write completely pantsed. I give myself a list of things that need to be in the book, and I try to work those in as I go. And that ends up with a lot of me making jokes about myself and my process.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#32 Copy

Questioner

In Skyward, what is your callsign? And what was the process for creating so many callsigns?

Brandon Sanderson

My callsign is Mr. Prolific. That probably wouldn't work as a good callsign, but it was my callsign way back when I was in my writing group, my first writing group with my friends.

The process was, actually, I wanted to pick a callsign that used the same sound as their real name, to help people keep them straight. Because you basically have a double number of names in the book. So same letter or same sound, creating it. And I just started with that letter or sound. And then I wanted them each to feel distinctive. If they're all, like, initials. Or they're all one-syllable names, it can be really easy to mix them up. So I wanted some that were two or three syllables. Some that, they wanted to reinforce who the character was sometimes, things like that. That's where I went on that.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#33 Copy

Questioner

I've been watching some of the videos online and you say writing-- ideas are cheap, and they are, you can get ideas pretty easy, but how in the world do you get-- I can get the beginning and figure out an end but how do you do get all the stuff in the middle?

Brandon Sanderson

So if you've got your end, try and say what things, try to get a brainstorming session where you write with bullet points underneath it what things will help me earn this ending so that it feels-- that it has the emotion that I want. And try to brainstorm five or six things and make those waypoints along the way, if that makes sense, between-- Where it's not just one point and two points, it's five points, "I'm going to hit this one, this one, and this one" and if you can come up with four or five interesting things to happen through the end of your book that you can earn that way you're going to have a sequence of like twenty touchstones that can each form a chapter or a couple of chapters that you can work on to get to that ending.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#34 Copy

Questioner

There's a huge movement in the genre, almost away from heroic, truly good figures and it seems to me like a lot of your books are kind of, there is some darkness in them but you are holding really tight to the light… What do you think about the idea of the true heroic character and where they're going?

Brandon Sanderson

I think that people can be truly heroic and I'm happy that the genre has lots of room for different types of storytelling, but the books I'm most interested in are the ones that are people still trying to do what is right, and so that's what I want to write about.

Firefight release party ()
#35 Copy

Questioner

It seems like-- So the cosmere stuff keeps the physics in there, with the Coinshots, and things like that, it doesn't ignore mass an inertia.

Brandon Sanderson

No.

Questioner

I love that! And I love that about Jim Butcher's books too. 'Cause they keep the physics. It seems like, with the young adult stuff, it's more based on intent...

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, the young adult stuff, I do not keep physics. In Steelheart, or in Alcatraz... or in Rithmatist. I don't even worry about it.

Questioner

They didn't know what the line did until they knew what it was supposed to do.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, intent is important in-- Remember the magic system for Rithmatist started as cosmere. And then I made the decision with it that I was not going to have it be in the cosmere. But the magic system started as a cosmere magic system...

*audio lost*

...you can do a lot when you can break laws of conservation of matter and energy, when you can cheat them by using the Spiritual Realm. But things that we really cheated on is redshifting and things like this on the time dilation in Mistborn. I don't know if you noticed that, but there should be redshift, there should be weird radiation things, there should be-- And so we had to work around a lot of those things. And we've got our workarounds in the back of our heads. But the other weird one is when Wax is flying, and he reduces his mass, I have to remember that he speeds up, when his mass goes down because of centripetal force.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#36 Copy

Questioner

For Jerkface... Was he supposed to stay a jerk, or did you want him to...

Brandon Sanderson

I planned out his arc. I tried very hard to evoke Malfoy, Crabbe, and... Goyle. I tried very hard to evoke that, and then try to pull the rug out from underneath that. Whether I was successful or not, depends on your interpretation, but he was always supposed to be.

And the real fun and twist to this book is, Spensa's kind of the bully, but she presents him as the bully. And hopefully, as you read, you're like, "Wait a minute..."

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
#37 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Wayne's adoption of personalities

One thing that I wanted to be aware of when writing Wayne was how he saw himself during these excursions where he becomes someone else. My first instinct was to blend the personality completely, until he was thinking of himself directly as the person he was imitating.

That felt like it went too far. For one thing, it was confusing to have the narrative not refer to him as "Wayne" but as the persona. For another, I didn't want Wayne to go that far—in my mind, he always has control of these things. He's not losing himself in his part; he's always aware of who he really is and what he's doing.

So, in a way, he's a method actor. He reinforces who he is in his head, occasionally giving himself thoughts as the persona to remind himself to stay in character. He lets himself feel the emotions they do, and adopt their mannerisms. But it's a coat he can take off or put back on. It's not a psychosis. That was an important distinction for me to make as a writer.

He does, however, become more and more comfortable as he plays a role. One example of this is how Wayne still thinks of constables as being lazy partway through this, though he slowly loses his prejudice as he plays the role longer, shifting to thinking of them as "constables" instead of "conners" in the later part of the chapter.

Goodreads: Ask the Author Q&A ()
#38 Copy

M.M. Schill

I always wondered. You say you produce clean drafts, and you apparently produce stories quickly (relatively to a lot of people I've met.), how do you keep cranking it away? What is the motivation to keep creating? (I think this might be the key to why some many people start and never finish projects. ??)

Brandon Sanderson

I'm not actually a fast writer, hour by hour, but I am very consistent. I enjoy writing, but I will admit, some days it is hard. What keeps me going? This has changed over the years. At first, it was a desire to prove myself, and to make a living doing this thing I love. Eventually, it has transitioned into a feeling of obligation to the readers mixed with a desire to see these stories in my head told.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#39 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fifteen

Ham

I've expressed before that I wish I could have done more with Ham. Of the main crew, he's the only one other than Clubs who never got even a token viewpoint in the series.

I just didn't have the time for everyone. Perhaps, as I write more and more, I'll get better at covering more ground with fewer pages. That will let me branch out into studying more of the lesser characters and rounding them out. However, for this series, I had to pick and choose carefully. Ham's story didn't have enough conflict, tension, or growth in it. So, I went with Spook and TenSoon instead.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#40 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty - Part Two

Vin Doesn't Explain Her Dress

This chapter and the next Vin/Elend chapter form the major force of nostalgia in the book. I love the ball scenes—in fact, I think the one in the next chapter makes it another of my favorite chapters in this book (the third on that list so far).

Here we get Vin's line "We Mistborn need not make sense," which is a direct quote from Kelsier back in book one, where he bursts in on the crew through the balcony door, surprising them after a night of creating political tension between the houses.

Orem signing ()
#42 Copy

Questioner

What was your hardest scene to write?

Brandon Sanderson

I'll have to pick it by book, right. Like actual, actual hardest. Have you finished Oathbringer? Hardest scene in Oathbringer to get right was actually the scene where Kaladin met with the guy in the lighthouse, that involves the foreshadowing of where he needs to go and stuff like that. No, actually that's not it. The first chapter. The Dalinar scene where he is in the vision and he jumps off and he goes and inspects the rubble and things, I did four versions of that chapter that were completely different, that weren't in the vision. That one was actually really hard. Finding out where to start this book so that it felt like it had it's own soul, but it wasn't, you know--

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
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Arcanist

According to [Sanderson's Second Law of Magic] your characters have flaws, weaknesses. What is the reason, that in a lot of them (Vin, Elend, Kaladin, Dalinar, Spook, etc) the most significant weakness is the lack of self-confidence?

Brandon Sanderson

It's because of mode-shifting. The people you noted have been doing one thing for a long time, and are now forced into something else. The self confidence is a side effect of that. However, I wouldn't say it's the primary character attribute for any of them, however. I think you're blanketing self confidence as a larger issue, when it's the smaller part of something larger for each character.

Vin: Trusting Others

Elend: Idealism

Dalinar: Conflict between the killer he was and the man he wishes to be.

Spook: Self Worth

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#44 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

I love Writing Excuses and I'm actually going on the Retreat this year. I think the cruise is a good idea.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

See Mary did the Steampunk cruise, and she just kind of asked "Wait a minute, what are people paying for this?" and it was less than we had to charge them for the retreat at her house, because of all the food and stuff we had to do. We were like "Wait a minute, you can do this for the same price or less? Why are we doing this at her house?"

Questioner (paraphrased)

Cruises are a blast.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

I've been on several and I've enjoyed everyone of them.

Questioner (paraphrased)

The Alaska cruise has been one of the best experiences of my life. So it's going to be good for writing and inspiration.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

My cruise story is the Taravangian interlude [in Words of Radiance] was written on a cruise with my family. I sat on the little balcony to our room typing while everyone else went off and did stuff where there were people. And I was by myself and it was great.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#46 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.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#47 Copy

Questioner

A lot of filmmakers and authors that have ended up producing not-great work, a lot of times, they'll cite the publishing house, they'll cite the studios, things like that, and they pressure that they get to release earlier than they initially wanted to. How have you managed that relationship with your publishers to effectively make sure that all of your books have met at least your criteria for excellence? And certainly your fans seem to enjoy them. How do you work that?

Brandon Sanderson

It is a balancing, because there is a business side to this. Writers don't get as much push as filmmakers do, because no one has invested $200 million into me making a book, right? And recently, I have moved my contracts away from advances and more to kind of just being a cooperative publishing deal with the publisher, kind of with the understanding that they don't get to give me deadlines. I write the book and I turn it in. And I'm able to do this because they trust me to actually write the books and turn them in.

And so, it is a balancing act, though, in a different way. I've never really felt pressure from the publisher. But at the same time, there's that famous quote, "Art is never finished; it's only ever abandoned." You can always do another revision. And where to stop your revision is something that I think each author kind of has to come to terms with. Because if the book were released a year later, it would be a different book. It may not be better; it might be better. It may just be different. So learning to balance that, to know when you're done with revisions and things like this, I think is certainly a part of it. It isn't a big problem for me.

Words of Radiance is the closest it came to being a problem. Because we had the publication date set, and then the revisions just took longer than we expected. And my core assistant, who was doing copyedits, was spending way too long on those copyedits. We've tried to learn to balance that. But it's something that authors have to learn to balance, so good question. I'm not sure I have a straight answer for you on it, though.

WorldCon 76 ()
#48 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I will say that one thing that I did after doing a lot of this research was I just decided early on I needed some natural antibiotics. I just did. Because I'm telling a story about a bunch of people who are slaves in a warfare situation whose lives are not cared for, and there's one guy with some medical training who ends up among them, and he considers it his job to keep these guys alive. And I learned very [early] on I needed some natural antibiotics. I just needed-- And that's the thing you can do in an epic fantasy, is you can decide, "You know what? I'm going to make this call, I'm going to build into my setting this way around it," because there were certain stories I wanted to tell, and if he couldn't save anybody, then this story doesn't work. 

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
#49 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Wayne's Backstory

This was the final piece of figuring out who Wayne was. When I'd toyed with him as a character in the original short story, I'd intended for there to be something like this in his past. In the case of this book, however, I didn't decide upon it until I was quite a ways into the story.

I've mentioned that when it comes to characters, I often "discovery write" who they are. Meaning, I work my way into them as I write. With plots and settings, I tend to do a lot of planning and know pretty much where I'm going from the beginning. But with characters, I do a lot of exploring. If a book isn't going well for me, it's often because I can't get the characters down the right way.

That stated, one might wonder why I don't just plan them out like I do my plots and settings. It's because it doesn't really work for me to do it that way—the characters don't stick to the plan in the same way that plots do. I've found that I need this element of improvisation in my writing to give it authenticity. The characters have to breathe in a way that the plots don't need to, for me. I have to let them be more real, in a way, though I'm not certain if it's possible to explain this process.

Anyway, my instincts said there had to be something in Wayne's past like this, and I had felt for a few chapters it had to do with why he didn't use guns. But until I wrote this chapter, I hadn't settled on how it was actually going to have played out.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#50 Copy

Questioner

Why do you do interludes? What possessed you to go that direction instead of just including it as another chapter?

Brandon Sanderson

I felt that one of the foibles of the large series epic fantasy genre is the tendency of authors to go afield down paths of side characters. It happened to Robert Jordan, it happened to George R.R. Martin. And so reading theirs I hoped to learn from them and say "I'm going to do this thing that gives me a pressure valve to tell these stories that are outside the main line but I'm not going to give myself enough room that I can just turn this into a full character, yet." That allows me to do goofy stuff around the world but have a form for it built into the book.