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Warbreaker Annotations ()
#1 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Meets with the Slumlords

When I write a scene like this, I am never quite certain how much time I want to spend distinguishing the side characters who make an appearance. (Another scene like this is the one where Lightsong plays the game with the three other gods.) Here, we're introduced to three different slumlords. They all have distinct personalities and different ways of looking at how Vivenna can help them. However, how much time do I spend explaining them and making them have an impact? It's a tough line to walk. I don't want to bog the scene down and spend a lot of time on characters you'll never see again, but I also don't want the scene to feel ambiguous or lacking precision because you can't imagine the slumlords.

I suspect that most readers won't care about telling the difference between the three, so I don't dwell on it—but I try to give hints that will help those who want to visualize the scene exactly.

The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
#2 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fifty-Two

The Battle Begins

You'll notice something about these next chapters. Instead of focusing on the trained warriors during the siege of Luthadel, I spend my time inside the heads of Breeze and Sazed–the two least experienced with war and killing in the entire crew.

This is intentional. I want to give the sense that Luthadel is a place unprepared for war. Even its soldiers aren't really fighters. There hasn't been much war in the Final Empire, and those veterans who do exist are in Cett or Straff's employ. I would rather show the battle against the koloss, then, through the eyes of men who will be horrified and confused at what to do, as I think that will be the norm for this conflict.

It heightens the tension, and the tragedy, of this all when you get to see Breeze and Sazed trying to cope with the horrors of a battlefield. Plus, the opposite has been done quite well a lot–whether it be in a David Gemmel book or in Lord of the Rings. You've seen brave warriors defend a city. Now watch a politician and a scholar try to do it.

Shadows of Self London UK signing ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

How come you don't have any gay, lesbian, or transgender characters in your books?

Brandon Sanderson

I do! This one [Shadows of Self] actually has one. Ranette is lesbian. Let's see, transgender is awkward because I have the kandra who are kind of no-gender and both, that doesn't really count, but it's kind of me testing the waters and seeing whether I can write someone who has fluid gender and not be offensive with it, does that make sense? So keep an eye on what I do with the kandra through the books. The other gay person is Drehy from Bridge 4, he's based on my good friend Ryan Dreher who is gay, and so you will see his husband appear in the series eventually as well, but we really haven't talked about that one yet, there really hasn't been an opportunity, but Ranette we've talked about and it becomes more and more obvious as we talk about it in the books.

Stormlight Three Update #5 ()
#4 Copy

amealz

How do you decide on how much time passes between your world's big "magical moment" and present tense? For example, in Stormlight thousands of years pass between the Recreance and Shallan and Kaladin kicking it in a chasm. How do you know if 1,000 years or 100 years is appropriate?

Brandon Sanderson

There's no set rule for this, I'm afraid. I just run on instinct on this one, though I'm helped by having a larger continuity and timeline between books, so I have an idea of how things have played out cosmere-wide.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#5 Copy

TupaczHologram

How emotional do you get when you write the sadder parts of your books? I sobbed like a baby at the end of Hero of Ages, and I wonder what it’s like to conceive something like that.

Brandon Sanderson

I'm generally more emotional about the books when planning the first ideas of them--when I'm listening to the right music and planning the way the story will play out. When I actually get there in the writing, I'm more focused on sticking the landing, so to speak, than being emotional myself.

WorldCon 76 ()
#6 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. 

Starsight Release Party ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

What character have you written that you felt is most inspired by your own personality?

Brandon Sanderson

My mom says it's Alcatraz, my middle grade series, is most like me so I trust her. Other than that, it's hard for me to say. You have to go to my friends and things. I feel like ever character's part of me and every character's not. Stephen Leeds, from the Legion series, has a lot of writer-ish stuff in it. Particularly the last of the three if you've ever read that one. That was kind of a very personal book and it was getting into kind of the way... So maybe Stephen Leeds as a middle manager. I feel like a person who's controlling all of these characters. Rather than this person having the adventures, I'm keeping them organized.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#8 Copy

Wifrin

How did you find the experience of writing in an established universe that wasn't your own? Did the setting having a much softer magic system than you usually write present a challenge you, and what do you feel it taught that you can take back to your other writing?

Did you get any access or information about Magic lore that wouldn't have been available to fans yet?

Lastly, I feel like this story had less of your trademark "Sanderlanche" in it. Do you agree? Do you think that is a function of it being a short story, or other elements? Was it intentional, or did a more gradual set of revelations just work better for this story?

Brandon Sanderson

  1. I found the experience to be a lot of fun. The system was soft, but I created my own very hard corner of it to play in, so that worked just fine for me. Most of what this taught me was how to better collaborate--I am glad for the experience in that regard, and hope it will help me better at similar writing tasks in the future.

  2. I did!

  3. Most of my short fiction has a smaller Sanderlanche. Basically, I need lots of threads intermixing so that I can start pulling them together rapid-fire for a good Sanderlanche, and short fiction will need smaller ones in turn. Most of the stories in Arcanum Unbounded had climaxes similar to this one.

Legion Release Party ()
#10 Copy

Questioner

The natural sarcasm in Wit, is that just purely natural? Or do you have inspiration for all of those sarcastic comments?

Brandon Sanderson

I often, if I have to write a lot of the character, will look for a similar humor style, and see if I can channel it. If I'm writing Wit, for instance, I'll go to somebody more biting. Some modern comedians, or occasionally Oscar Wilde. If I'm writing Shallan, I'll try to look for something softer and more wordplay-ish, like Jane Austen. And just kind of read a bunch of it, and try to get the feel. It just depends. If I'm writing Lopen, I will try to look for the kind of uplifting humor, self-effacing style. Like, I just kind of have a different style for each type, and I try to find a person or writing in the real world that has that type of humor and try to use it.

The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
#11 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Vin Tries to get to Luthadel in Time

These scenes involving Vin running toward Luthadel formed one of the pivotal sequences for me during the plotting of the story. Unlike most focal scenes like this I write, however, I'm not completely satisfied with these. Not because I don't like the sequence; I think the writing in the scenes turned out very well. However, I do wonder if the tension behind them works.

You see, with the finished product in hand, the plot sequence I worked out feels just a tad contrived to me. It's hard to avoid this in novels; if you plot out as much ahead of time as I do, then often you end up with contrived sequences because they ARE contrived. You designed them to work a certain way. In these areas, however, the "smoke and mirrors" I often mention comes into play. How good is the author at hiding his hand on the work? How easy is it for the reader to feel what the characters feel, rather than being drawn into playing the game of the metastory.

If the smoke and mirrors work, then you'll feel anxiety here. Is Vin going to arrive on time? Will she get there and find her friends dead? Will she even be able to do anything if she arrives on time?

However, if the smoke and mirrors fail, the reader will feel manipulated by the fact that I sent Vin away, only to have her turn around and come back a few chapters later. The reader will think "Of course she's going to make it. That's what this sequence is all about."

Often, I'm pleased with how the plotting keeps my readers feeling that anxiety. But in this sequence, I think the author's hand shows a little more than usual. Could just be my critical eye inspecting my own work, but I see it. Hopefully, you can read and appreciate the sequence for the emotions the characters feel, rather than the slight awkwardness of the plotting.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

What is the most unforgettable frustration ever since you became a writer?

Brandon Sanderson

Ah most unforgettable frustration since becoming a writer. Boy. I would say that, as a writer, since being published the number one frustration is sometimes I have to meet a deadline instead of just going off and writing whatever bizarre thing I want. I still do that a lot but once in a while I've got to meet a deadline, and I've been training myself to be like no, I'm writing this book, and I have to be creative and excited about that book. And I can't write until I get creative and excited about it. So it's that trying to get myself to make sure that I'm created and excited about a book, that's very difficult. I would say that touring is also, it gets very exhausting. I was surprised at by how exhausting  going on tour a lot can do. We've mitigated that by keeping me from having to get early mornings, when I don't have to have an early morning I'm much more chipper. I'm not a morning person, I'm a night person, and numerous days in a row with not enough sleep can make me a zombie.

Fantasy Faction Q&A ()
#13 Copy

Tym

Hi, I could be wrong, but I think I read somewhere that you're writing an Urban Fantasy? Just double checking that :P

Brandon Sanderson

I wrote one as a 'for fun' deviation during a break about a year and a half ago. I do this often, experimenting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This time, it was fun, but it wasn't high enough quality to release. Perhaps I will re-visit it, but more likely, I will leave it alone. Any artist creates 'b-sides' so to speak as they practice different styles and experiment. This was one of mine, and I don't like the idea of releasing something that didn't turn out well enough.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#14 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Siri Is Taken to the God King, Then Discovers Who Is Really Behind the Attacks

I'm hoping that by this point, readers will be very confused about the nature of this third force that is attacking. I hope it's the good kind of confusion, though.

Let me explain. When I write, I sometimes want to inspire confusion. It helps keep the mysteries of the book shadowed and vague. It helps the reader connect with the characters, who—presumably—are also confused. But there's a danger here in being too confusing. If the readers think that they've missed something, or if they can't follow what is going on at all, then they will just put down the book.

The trick is to make certain to telegraph that the characters are confused as well, as I mentioned above. If the reader knows that they are supposed to be searching for answers, then it will be all right. (As long as it doesn't get prolonged artificially.) If, instead, they get the impression that the author has simply made a mistake and isn't explaining things clearly, they'll react very differently.

Anyway, I hope that you have the first reaction and not the second. The twist of who is really behind everything should come as a shock, but I hope that it's also well foreshadowed. The big clincher is the question that, perhaps, you've been asking this entire book. If the war is going to be so bad for everyone involved, then who could possibly be pushing for it to occur?

I've seeded quite a number of hints about the Pahn Kahl in the book. The first is Vahr and his rebellion, but there are a number of others. The first time that Siri assumes Bluefingers worships the Returned, he purses his lips in annoyance. We've got a lot of little hints like that that the Pahn Kahl are frustrated by their place in the empire. They controlled this land long ago; we discovered that from Hoid's storytelling.

It's well foreshadowed, but I still worry that it will be too surprising to people. This is primarily because I think that readers will just pass over the Pahn Kahl while reading. They're forgettable by design. Easy to ignore, and most of the other characters have trouble remembering that they aren't just Hallandren. They aren't an angry and vocal minority, like the Idrians. They're just there, or at least that's how everyone sees them.

One of my big goals for this book, however, was to have a good reversal for who is the bad guy pulling the strings. It's not the high priest. It's not the crafty god. It's not even the brutal mercenary. It's the simple, quiet scribe. It's one of the biggest conceptual reversals in the book. Hopefully it works for you.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
#15 Copy

Questioner

On my reread of Reckoners, I remembered it being really kitschy and light-hearted, but the prologue of the first book is really dark. Is the rest of the book so light-hearted because it is David trying to make the best of a really crappy situation, or is it because it's Young Adult?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. It's also partially, I wrote the prologue, stepped away, came back, and wrote the rest... One of the things I regret about the books is that-- I was telling a story about assassinating superheroes. So I thought it was going to go darker than it did, once I found David's voice. And if I could go back, I might take out the baby skeleton... I couldn't cut it because it's such a great image, but I should have. My biggest regret with that series is the tonal mismatch... It's this thing where I'm like, "That would be the best book for, like, a fourteen-year-old to read of mine, except the prologue which involves dissolving babies."

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#17 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty-Two

Siri Lies in Bed and Decides to Take Charge

Reading through this scene again, I feel like it needs a bit of a trim. Ah well. There are always going to be sections like that that make it through.

I felt that there needed to be a scene where Siri finally stopped looking toward the past and berating herself for not being more like Vivenna. For her to step forward and become the woman she must be, she needed to do it of her own choice, with her own motivations. She needed this chance.

Sometimes in writing classes or in books on telling stories, they'll mention a moment somewhere in act two where the character decides to take charge. I always dislike explanations like that, since I think it's too easy for newer writers to look at such explanations as an item on a checklist that you have to do. I never use things like that. I don't think, "This is act two, so the characters need to do X." The tendency to follow a formula like that is part of what bothers me about the screenwriting profession. It seems like if you always follow the rules, there's never any spontaneity in a book.

Still, those guidelines and suggestions are used by a lot of people who tell good stories, so I guess you use what works for you.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#18 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Six

Siri Is Bathed, Then Sent to the God King

This was a strange sequence of chapters to write. I've spoken before on writing characters of the opposite gender. This has grown easier and easier for me over the years, partially—I think—because I started out so bad at it that I insisted on forcing myself to practice and practice. Now, it's usually as easy for me as writing men. In fact, I don't even think about the gender of the character when I'm writing—I think about who the character is. What their motivations and conflicts are. How they see the world and how they react to things. True, their gender does influence this—just as it influences their personalities. But I don't sit down and say, "I'm going to write a woman now." I sit down and say, "I'm going to write Siri." I know who Siri is, so I can see through her eyes and show how she reacts.

All that said, I'd never before tried writing a wedding night from the viewpoint of a woman. It presented a few interesting challenges. For one, there's a whole lot more nudity in this book than in my other books. I don't shy away from this (even though I myself am probably more conservative than most of my readers in areas of sexuality), as I feel that what you do with your imagination is your own business. This scene could be done in a PG way, a PG-13 way, or an R way. It's completely up to you how you want to imagine it.

One interesting thing to note is that my own wedding happened during the process of writing this book. I wrote this chapter before then, but I was engaged at the time. While working on the novel I got to go through the entire progression of awkward moments of a wedding night myself. (Yes, it was our first time, by choice.)

I think that probably colored how I wrote Siri's viewpoints throughout the entire book.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#19 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Eleven

Siri Visits the God King's Chamber Again

To be honest, in a perfect world, I'd probably slow this down just a tad. I'd insert another chapter from Siri's viewpoint with her going to the chambers, the God King watching her, and her being subservient. I wouldn't do this chapter, where she explodes at him, until their third scene together.

But that would only happen in a book where I don't have quite so much going on with other viewpoints. My books are already a tad on the long side, as far as the booksellers are concerned. They'd like it if epic fantasy novels shrank down to about 120,000 words (instead of my average of 240,000).

If I'd really thought it mattered, I'd have put the extra scene in. The real problem is that since Siri is only one of four major viewpoints, I needed to be careful. If this book were only about her, I could have filled her chapters with more political intrigue and added a lot of subplots. That would have made a slower pacing with the God King work. However, I decided not to go that direction with the book, so I needed instead to make sure the pacing was quicker on the main plot she's involved in.

Brandon's Blog 2013 ()
#20 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

On my tour, I frequently read from the first chapter of a new novel in the Mistborn world, a sequel to The Alloy of Law. (In fact, you can watch my entire presentation right here. This reading comes at the 45:45 mark.) Tor, understandably, wanted to know when they could publish this book.

Well, it's far from finished, but I do need to be thinking about what comes next. I know that many of you hope that it would be the third Stormlight book, as there has been such a long delay between the first and second. I do promise I'll be more speedy with Stormlight novels in the future—this long delay should, hopefully, be the exception and not the rule. However, my process being what it is, I probably can't move straight into Stormlight Three.

I've spoken about this concept a lot, so I might be repeating myself for some of you. One of the things that excites me about being a writer is the constant energy that comes from switching projects. I'm not one of those writers who can pick a series and write on it exclusively for years and years. Though I will frequently have one main project, I do other things between those larger books. Usually, these other books are small, quick, and the means by which I refresh myself and keep myself from getting burned out on the large project.

While writing the original Mistborn series, I wrote books in the Alcatraz series. While working on The Wheel of Time, I wrote a number of novellas—and The Alloy of Law itself. Now that I'm turning my attention to the Stormlight books as my main project, I'm going to need some things to squeeze between books in order to refresh myself.

For now, that's going to be Alloy-era Mistborn novels. The second and third books in that series will include the same protagonists from the first, and will—if I'm doing it correctly—be exciting, fun, and deep, but not require you to keep track of a lot of characters or plots between novels. This way, I can balance the large, in-depth sequence of the Stormlight Archive with something lighter and more standalone in nature.

As many of you know, the Mistborn series was pitched to my editor way back when as a trilogy of trilogies, with an epic fantasy trilogy, followed by an urban fantasy trilogy with the same magic in the same world, followed finally by a science fiction trilogy in which the magic had become the means by which space travel was possible. The Alloy books aren't part of this original plan, but in them you will find foreshadowing toward the second trilogy.

In the teen book realm, I'll be bouncing between doing the The Rithmatist sequel and the sequels to Steelheart. I realize I have a lot on my plate, and I appreciate you putting up with me as I explore the stories I want to tell. My goal for the next five-year span is to finish up a number of these series, rather than starting anything new.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#21 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 Pre-Release AMA ()
#22 Copy

Kyrroti

What's your process for writing Rosharan Myths such as Fleet's race? They are always my favorite parts of the Stormlight novels.

Brandon Sanderson

I love folklore, and spend a lot of time looking into the folk myths and stories for various cultures. I try to make the various myths, particularly those shared by Wit, have a different "Voice" from my normal narrative voice, as I want them to feel like legitimate ephemera from the world.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#23 Copy

Questioner

When it comes to major, pivotal plot twists. Moments where the reader goes "WOAH" or "Oh my god". Are those something you write as starting point or ending point?

Brandon Sanderson

What I do is I plot my outline backward, starting with those scenes. And then I write the book forward to those scenes. The reason I can do it that way is because in the plot I don't need to know the characters' emotional state, I can just come up with "This is going to be a great scene". But I have to have been with the characters through the journey to write their reaction to the scene. So I can't actually write it early.

Firefight release party ()
#24 Copy

Questioner

I want to know how long it took you to write your first book.

Brandon Sanderson

First book took about three years.

Questioner

Three years?

Brandon Sanderson

I got a lot faster after that.

Questioner

<How did you do that?>

Brandon Sanderson

Practice. Know-- Confidence, knowing what I was doing. Finishing a book you're like "Wow I can actually do this" and after that like-- It was like, this is a weird metaphor, but it's like the first time I got a girlfriend, had a relationship for a while, "Why was I so stressed about getting a girlfriend? That was actually-- I can do that!" and after that I dated a lot. You know what I mean?

Firefight Seattle UBooks signing ()
#25 Copy

Questioner

When you started writing Cosmere novels, how much of it had you outlined? How far ahead had you thought?

Brandon Sanderson

When I started writing Cosmere novels? When I started started, I was a teenager. Totally hadn't thought very far ahead. When I was an adult and I was writing them, I wrote one when I was like 20, and I had an inkling, and I played around with things. The first one that I wrote with a real, conscious eye toward the cosmere was Elantris. So the ones that have been published, yes. But when I first started, I had a little bit of an inkling.

Questioner

Have you ever backed yourself into a corner with it?

Brandon Sanderson

Not yet! I have backed myself into corners by saying things to fans that I've already changed in my notes and hadn't realized I had, and stuff like that - I do that all the time. But usually when I do that, I just tell them. "Ah, I'm sorry, I just changed this, guys." I'm still convinced that Stayer and Stepper - that [Robert Jordan] didn't know those were two different horses. I'm utterly convinced that he made the mistake, and then just covered it. Because that's the sort of things we writers do.

Stormlight Three Update #3 ()
#26 Copy

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.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#27 Copy

NightWillReign

So you said that you’ve moved Szeth and Kaladin’s fight from book 3 to Words of Radiance. Did you make any changes like this on your outline for Oathbringer?

Brandon Sanderson

There was a lot of general restructuring of Oathbringer after book two was written, but there's no one "big" sequence that was moved into the book.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#29 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Guns in Fantasy

Gunpowder is mentioned in the epigraph. It's odd how we fantasy fans feel an inherent and deep aversion to gunpowder. We have this idea that guns will damage the fantasy feel of a book. I still remember reading a fantasy book when I was younger—I think it was one of Robin McKinley's—and running across a passage where it mentioned that the characters had rifles. I felt suddenly and strangely betrayed, as if the book had just been ruined.

That's silly, of course. A story can have guns and still be fantasy—at the very least, Pirates of the Caribbean proves that. Still, I'm always hesitant to use guns. Maybe I will someday, but for now I'm keeping them out. Fortunately, in this series I had a very good and interesting reason why we could have nineteenth-century canal and civil engineering technology but no use of gunpowder.

Skyward Denver signing ()
#30 Copy

Questioner

[What is your favorite] disorder to write about?"

Brandon Sanderson

I don't know if I have a favorite. I have revisited dissociative disorders in multiple different ways because they make for interesting narrative... but it's not the disorder that's interesting to me, it's the person interfacing with the world and the challenges they deal with. And writing about that sort of thing is really interesting to me. I try not to let the disorder define the person, though it is sometimes a little harder, particularly with something like Legion.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#31 Copy

6th_account_so_far

How much of an impact did interviewing professional fighter pilots have on the story? Did anything learned from them actually change parts of the book in significant ways? Did you learn anything weird or unusual that you found fascinating?

Brandon Sanderson

The pilots were a HUGE help. The biggest issue I had, which was really hard to get through my skull, was the different ways that G-forces interacted with the human body.

I knew the basics, and had flight suits operating correctly and was watching for people pulling too many Gs. But the fighter pilots kept explaining things like "eyes out" and how it wasn't just number of Gs, it was the direction they were pulling. It wasn't until I called one of them and had a lengthy conversation that it started to click with me.

From there, some of the direct feelings of pulling Gs--feeling like your skin is sliding off your body, or that you've aged a hundred years--I got from them.

As always with a sf/f book, one of my goals is to walk the line between realism and fiction. I tried to make the battles feel real enough to not kick an actual pilot out of the story, but at the same time, I specifically gave the fighters technology that we don't have, in order to spice up how the combat would work.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#32 Copy

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.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#33 Copy

Michael M. Jones

Spensa comes across as overconfident and bombastic at times, while her AI sidekick, M-Bot, is both comic and tragic. What else can you tell us about developing characters?

Brandon Sanderson

They really play off one another. With M-Bot, I needed both a friend and a foil for Spensa, since there's a lot of conversation between them. I also needed an outside perspective. Spensa's culture has problems. Humankind crashed on this planet decades ago, and has been subject to these alien invasions and air raids for so long, that their entire society is built around the machine of war to protect themselves. The technology and temperament revolve around getting pilots into the air at all costs, and it’s skewed everything as a result. I needed an outside voice to ask questions and raise concerns, even if it's through humor.

Because Spensa is such an extreme character, one of the challenges was to depict that a person who's spent most of her life alone, hunting rats, while imagining herself to be a great warrior, is going to have a warped perspective on what it means to be a fighter pilot, weirder than the rest of the society might.

In a way, she's a stand-in for someone like me, who enjoys larger-than-life action movies but has never experienced real violence. She’s like the person in the seat with the popcorn, who’s confronted by the reality and discovers it’s not what she imagined.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#34 Copy

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 San Francisco signing ()
#35 Copy

Questioner

You've developed so many worlds and so many magic systems, how do you keep them all straight?

Brandon Sanderson

How do I keep everything straight, all the worlds and all the magic systems? I use a wiki--

Questioner

You do your worlds all at once--

Brandon Sanderson

Nah I jump around-- I use a wiki. I use a personal wiki called WikidPad, you can't use it, it's only mine, and it's like 400,000 words at last count, which is about the length of Way of Kings. And I have now a continuity editor who goes in after I write a book and they put everything in. That's my method. But I am kind of scatterbrained, I will forget my keys, I'll go to the airport without my wallet and have to talk my way through security. But I don't forget stories. They stick up there.

Salt Lake City signing ()
#36 Copy

Questioner

Do you have-- Or have you determined an equivalency between how much Breath it takes to make a certain gem's worth of Stormlight?

Brandon Sanderson

I have recently assigned Peter to this task, and he is feeling overwhelmed by it. It was actually during the writing of Oathbringer where I finally said, "Yeah we need to standardize this, so start working on it." So it was like, "Oh great". Which means he has to read through all the books for references and start figuring it all out. And we're going to need like an equivalent of a jewel or something like this, right? *gestures to a sphere that a fan made* And we've been putting it off because it sounds like an awful lot of work. 

So the answer is no, we don't have it yet. It's something I've known for years we're going to need. And on this book, I just started saying, "All right.  I'm going to have them do all the stuff they need to do. And then you're going to tell me how many spheres they need to start with." Right? Like, I write the book, and then we retrofit how many spheres they needed to have how much Stormlight, so that we could be consistent with that.

But we haven't done across magic systems calculations, yet.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#37 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Siri Is Locked Up, and Her Guards Change

Just a quick reminder here of what's going on with Siri. I worry about her next few sequences looking too "damsel in distress." I tried to counteract this in several places, which I'll mention. Still, I had a problem here. Once things turn to combat and fighting, there is very little that Siri can do. She's not Vin—she can't approach things the same way.

However, since Elend got to play damsel in distress fairly often in the Mistborn books, I think I've earned the right to put a female protagonist into that role here. It's appropriate to the plot, and I don't think it could have worked any other way.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#38 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Suits Up and Leaves

Vivenna is in a similar position to Siri here in these last chapters. Things are getting so dangerous that both women (well, and Lightsong too) are rather out of their elements. However, I knew that I had to have them both involved. It would be incredibly frustrating to read an entire book focused on two characters, then have them get pushed around for the entire climax.

So during my outlining, I made certain to build the story in such a way that they could be useful, even if they're very much out of their elements. I feel this makes the story more tense in a lot of ways, since they're forced to deal with things for which they're completely unprepared.

Here, we have Vivenna sorting through her own emotions and finding enough determination left to go out and do something. This is an important moment for her, even though she doesn't realize it. This is the moment where she takes her first real step toward becoming her new self.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#40 Copy

Questioner

To get into the mind of Bleeder, was that hard?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, to get into the mind of Bleeder, who is an antagonist in Shadows of Self, is probably the darkest I've gone in one of my books, and yeah. It was, but it was also somewhere I hadn't explored before, and so it was really interesting to me.

Questioner

It's my favorite character so far.

Brandon Sanderson

You will like, if I ever write the Threnody novel, you will like that one. Which is the Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, that book. I do have a book in the Cosmere sequence planned in that world, but it doesn't have that character.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#41 Copy

Questioner

In the second Stormlight Archive book... Wit... the Shattered Plains party, where he's introducing all the guests, and just the sheer list of insults. Was that an easy thing to do, and you've got books and books of--

Brandon Sanderson

Man it is so hard to come up with good insults because it's so hard to use one that Winston Churchill hasn't used already. *laughter* But I try to channel the best insult comics and people like that. Being witty in writing is actually the hardest part, but the fortunate thing is that I can take two hours to come up with a line that he's supposed to snap off in a few minutes or a few seconds, and that's how we can imitate being smarter than we are. I totally have to do that in my books.

It's interesting, I got an insight into really smart people. I was roommates with a person who won a ton of money on Jeopardy. Ken Jennings for any of you guys that watch Jeopardy. He won like 80 times in a row, right? I'm serious. He won 80 times in a row, or something like 78-- and before he did that, he was my roommate, and I knew him, and he-- the big difference between him and other people is that speed, that speed of making the connection and snapping it off. You say something and he comes with a comeback, just like that, and then you think  about it and you're like "oh, that was really clever". That's what a lot of these people are, it's not the only type of intelligence by far, but it's one of the ones that this sort of discussion with Wit-- it's what we look for. So it's kind of a marker for somebody that's a little bit too smart for their own good.

Calamity Austin signing ()
#42 Copy

Questioner

I'm really confused about how you, as a male with three sons, how you create <believable?> female characters.

Brandon Sanderson

Practice. Number one, practice. Number two, talk to women. So, write... you're a teenager, it can be hard, but write a scene, give it to women, say "What am I doing wrong?" And then see, it's even better, back up a little bit, start thinking of characters as their passions, and their life experience, not just by their role in the story. That's a big a problem that a lot of people run into, it's that they go "oh, this is the romantic interest", and so you make them the romantic interests, and so you don't give them a full spectrum of emotions and characterization like you do to the protagonist. And so, try those things. Have you listened to my podcast?

Questioner

No.

Brandon Sanderson

Okay. Podcast. Start in January '15, but also look for podcast about "Writing the other", we have people come on and talk about this sort of thing. Alright? You can just push Play on a browser, you don't have to do a podcast thingy.

Footnote: Brandon likely refers to S7E40: Writing the Other (http://www.writingexcuses.com/2011/09/11/writing-excuses-6-15-writing-other-cultures/), of his podcast Writing Excuses.
Hal-Con 2012 ()
#43 Copy

Questioner

I was just curious, as a writer, what you find the hardest in writing a book. Is it development of the characters, keeping them separate? Or plot--

Brandon Sanderson

For me, usually the hardest part is revision, because getting a book 90% of the way there is not easy, but easier for me. Getting that last 10% is the really hard part, and often requires knocking out walls, figuratively, or killing your darlings and all of these sorts fo things. It's really tough, so I find revision the most difficult part. If we're talking about the rough draft, usually the most difficult part of the book for me is about at, I would say, right around the middle. Right smack-dab-- sometimes it's the one-third part; sometimes it's about the two-thirds mark. There's a point in there where you're not quite to the ending yet where all the exciting things that you've planned are happening. But all the cool stuff you frontloaded on, you're really excited about the project, and it's new, and right in there is a point where you're like, I need to keep this exciting and interesting, and yet now it's my job, right? There are points in the writing where it's just, it's your job to get up every day and get a little bit more done, and you get all these other little projects dancing around in your head, like "ooh you could do this, hey? Here's a wacky magic system, write a screwy story about that, Brandon." *laughter* And you've gotta remain focused, and you've gotta keep on working on the book and not let yourself get distracted; that's also somewhat of a hard part.

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

Jesse

I love stories in any medium, and I would love to tell one myself. But, I don't think I have anything in particular to say that hasn't been done a thousand times before. I invariably come across some story that already parallels my ideas. What makes a story worth telling even when its like has been done before?

Brandon Sanderson

The answer is simple: YOU are what makes your story worth telling. Harry Potter wasn't an original story, and yet told very well, it became an excellent series.

My suggestion to you is to ask what unique passions or life experiences you have that aren't found in the average fantasy book. This genre still has a lot of room to grow. A person passionate about sports could write a very different fantasy novel from one passionate about lawn care—assuming they take what they know and love and make us, as readers, come to know and love it as well.

Good luck!

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
#45 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Waxillium gets pushed to the brink, watching the robbery

I realize it's amusing for people to think of the process of this book, which began as a "short" story. Perhaps I'll post my original attempts at writing the book. As a matter of note, Wayne was the first person I imagined for this series. In very early notes I scribbled down, he was actually going to be a hatmaker. (If you can believe that.) He developed a long way from there.

Many of you may know that I wrote this book during my "time off" between finishing Towers of Midnight and starting A Memory of Light. However, the ideas for this story had been around for some time longer, perhaps a year or two. I decided I wanted to do some shorter stories between the first two larger-scale Mistborn trilogies, and . . . well, this is what "short" means to me, I guess.

Anyway, the first scene with Wayne I dabbled in (this was before the break) was him out in the Roughs riding into town on a kandra that had the body of a horse. It was a nice spin on a typical Western motif—instead of being the quiet gunman of Western cliché, he was a screwball hatmaker. And his horse was sentient and grumbling about having to carry him around; she wanted to get back into a human body as soon as possible.

The scene didn't work, though. I didn't get far into it. Wayne wasn't working for me as a main viewpoint character at that time, and I hadn't gotten around to filling out his character with the things he eventually became. (His "borrowing," his love of accents, his good nature despite a dark past. Things like this grew as his character became more deep.)

The other thing that didn't work in those original scenes was the fact that there was no Wax. Wayne needed someone to play off, someone to be dry and more solemn—but still make for good banter. And Wayne just wasn't a leading man. The story was wrong when it was just about him. I needed to tell a story about someone else and fit him into it.

That brings us to this sequence. When I planned the original short story, this sequence at the party was going to be the end of it. The Vanishers weren't in the book—it was just a simple gang of thieves taking a hostage. The prologue didn't exist, as I've spoken of earlier. It was a more simple story of a man coming into his own and deciding to fight again after losing someone dear to him.

For that reason, this sequence here—this chapter with the next—may feel like a climactic sequence to you, of the sort you often find at the end of my books. Originally, this was going to be the ending. (Though by the time I reached this chapter in the writing, I'd already decided I was going to make the story much longer, and had greatly expanded my outline. Hints of the story's origins can still be found, however. Note that we don't get a Wayne or a Marasi viewpoint until after this sequence when we hit the expanded outline material.)

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#46 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Forty-One

Vivenna, Sick and Disoriented, Gets Turned Away by the Restaurant Keeper

One of the ways I decided to make Vivenna's sections here work better was by enhancing the fuzziness of her mind. By giving her this sense of numbness, I hope to indicate that something is not right with her.

It's common for someone who suddenly becomes a Drab to get sick almost immediately. For a time, her immune system was magically enhanced and warded, in a way, to keep her from becoming ill. With that removed suddenly, sickness can strike. She hasn't built up immunities to the sicknesses going around, and by becoming a Drab, her immune system suddenly works far worse than that of other people.

These things combined made her come down with something pretty nasty the very day she put away her Breath. This would have killed her, eventually, if she hadn't done something about it. She would have grown so dizzy and confused that she wouldn't have even been able to walk.

By sending men to find her, Denth saved her life.

Anyway, I feel that these scenes work much better now. We can look at Vivenna's time on the streets in the same surreal sense that she does. They happened in the past, in a strange dream state. In that way, they can seem much longer than just two chapters and a couple of weeks.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#47 Copy

Questioner

Do you know the value of a heliodor and a smokestone and all that, the relative values?

Brandon Sanderson

Peter does. I wrote it out once and now I have him just fact-check it for me when I write the books. So I will often say, "Worth about this much, give me the right money and change". So I made the original guide that they follow, but nowadays I don't have to use that; I can just bracket and say, "Something worth about this much".

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#48 Copy

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.

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

iwinUlose2

If you were going to write a novel in a genre other than scifi/fantasy which genre do you think that you would write in?

Brandon Sanderson

Hmm... Perhaps a historical. Something I could really sink my teeth into. I could also see myself writing a mystery or a thriller.

The thing is, unless I'm under some kind of restriction, I know that any of those three would probably end up having fantasy or sf elements. It's just how I think.

Alloy of Law Manchester signing ()
#50 Copy

Tortellini (paraphrased)

Someone asked if it were hard to write Jasnah, an atheist character, for a devout Christian.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Brandon said he read a lot of atheist message boards for inspiration. Also, it sounded like he'd had the character in his head for a while, but hadn't found the right book to put it in—e.g. he said it would make no sense to put an atheist in a world where gods walk around (i.e. Warbreaker).