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Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

Any advice you would give to a second grader learning to write?

Brandon Sanderson

For second graders? Until about high school, my recommendation is just to encourage them to write whatever they feel like writing. Not imposing too much structure, it's just about momentum. Just "Go go go" will be my recommendation.

WorldCon 76 ()
#2 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I actually have a really good resource for you writers out there, if you want. There's a YouTube series done by historical fighting recreationists in the U.K. And a lot of times, if I'm like-- I was writing Oathbringer, my latest book, I'm like, "I need spear versus dagger." Which is, you don't want to be in that fight, but someone got in that fight, and I'm like "Alright, what are his chances, what would he do to actually win?" And I Googled on this YouTube series, which I really love, and lo and behold, they had 20 matches of dagger versus spear with some discussion about what the strategy for the dagger fighter was, and what the strategy for the spear fighter was. They played it out and showed you. The dagger fighter won a couple times, it's totally possible. Grab the front of the spear, yank them forward, get in close range. But it was really helpful. So this is called Schola Gladiatoria, on YouTube. I've been following it for years, and it's really great. You'll be able to find sets of, you, "here's 2 swords versus sword and shield." He also does reviews of historical weapons saying, "Here is what it was used for." He just really likes swords so he buys them frequently and talks about them. Really great resource.

WorldCon 76 ()
#3 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

That's actually a really good point because often times you can also get away with things in fiction by making main characters who don't know what they are doing. Obviously, I couldn't do this when my character was a trauma surgeon. But, for instance, I'm pretty bad with horses. If you haven't read my books, I've ridden horses a couple of times, enough to know that people who really like horses really like you to get your horse stuff right.

And so, when I was approaching this series, I'm like, my character is the proverbial cabbagehead when it come to horses. He gets things wrong; he doesn't know what he's doing, and a lot of times if you do that, you not only give yourself a reason for your early readers, your beta readers, who know something about it to point out, "Oh here, here is a great way, here's what I see someone who doesn't know about horses do wrong." It's really fun, put it in the book; but it also gives you a sort of plausible deniability, where you're like, "Yes, that was from Kaladin's viewpoint, he has no idea about horses, he's describing it wrong. He's scared of the things."

FanX 2018 ()
#4 Copy

Questioner

Where do you come up with your names for books?

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on the book. Sometimes I'm using a real world culture's linguistics as inspiration, sometimes I'm building a linguistic trick for them, so it really depends. Listen to my podcast, Writing Excuses, look for the episode on, we're doing one on con-langs or naming. We've got some episodes on that.

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
#5 Copy

Yamato

I am currently trying to write a book in which the world is drastically different from earth. Do you think it is too ambitious to start out with such a complex setting?

Brandon Sanderson

No, not at all. Just don't try TOO hard to describe every aspect of it. It's good to be ambitious. However, be careful to keep you number of viewpoints down for your first few attempts--that will spiral out of control faster than worldbuilding will. Don't feel the need to explain too much, keep the focus on the characters, and you should be fine.

Warsaw signing ()
#6 Copy

Questioner/Translator

When you write short stories, do you write them separately, or do they just come along - when you are writing longer books that you come along them?

Brandon Sanderson

Usually I’m working on a book and I have a great idea for a short story and I force myself to put it off until book is done. I tried writing a short story on plane right here and it’s awful, it's so bad I don’t think I will let anyone ever see it.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

It's National Novel Writing Month. Do you have any advice for amateur writers jumping into this endeavor?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, NaNoWriMo. I did this for many years before I got published. I was already writing, my friends were all doing it, so I'm like, "Yeah, I'll keep going and, then I won't tell you guys my word count because then you'll feel bad." *laughter* We always had, like, a race board posted on a website, that just posted what the daily count was supposed to be. I often doubled it. So, I was like this even back then. I would say, for you, to-- Number one, don't let the word count goal intimidate you. If you don't get 50,000-- the whole goal is just to get you out of your writing comfort zone. So, for you, 25,000 is where you're going, and you actually still do that, that's fine. 50,000 isn't a novel anyway, they just say it is. I mean it is technically a novel, but I mean, how many novels are 50,000 words? There's not very many. A lot of middle grade is around 50,000 words. I would just go for it. The other thing is, have a daily habit of when you're going to write, and try to make that sacrosanct and get into this habit of, I'm writing for these two hours. And kind of unplug during those two hours and write during those two hours. Worry less about what your word count is you're hitting. Do try to not self-edit. That's the biggest thing that's gonna to help you. If you're not going back and revising and revising and revising, and you're pushing forward-- the goal is to teach yourself to finish something and to push forward and turn off your internal editor.

FanX 2018 ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

So, my question for you is writing related. I just finished a new first draft in my novel.

Brandon Sanderson

I know you! Yeah, ok sorry. It took me a minute.

Questioner

So yeah, I finished my draft; what was it that helped you when you... cause I recalled hearing on Writing Excuses, you talked about this, how editing was the bane of your existence earlier, you just didn't wanna do that, and I'm finding that too. I dont wanna jump in and fix all the terrible things. What was it that helped you kinda like...

Brandon Sanderson

It honestly is the thing that held me back the most. I think it was kinda partially just, getting rejected enough that I realized I just had to learn to do it. That was part of it. Giving myself space after finishing a book, writing something else and then coming back to it when I was feeling kind of fresh about it and exited about tackling it again, that helped a lot. It was also kinda like growing up as a writer, if that makes sense, and realizing I'm not ever gonna sell a book until I could learn to take a good one and make it great and then I just started buckling down and learning to revise.

Oathbringer London signing ()
#9 Copy

Aurimus

Advice for worldbuilders that are trying to create a scientific-based fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

Learn to differentiate between the three kinds of what we talk about with science-based magic. One is internal logic. One is logic with the world. And, oh, what is the third one? For instance, "logic with the world" meaning, "This is an explanation of how the magic actually could come to be." And a logic with "This is trying to break one rule, and then keeping the others as consistent with our universe as possible." With the difference being, like, for instance, Investiture keeping the laws of thermodynamics except for the fact that it exists is kind of a reference to the third. We're letting rules affect the laws-- the laws of our universe, we're trying to tie into that. You don't have to do that. Internal logic is the most important. Then the other one would be, kind of, the "How does this magic arise out of the nature of the universe? How could I take a few steps extra? Can I make it realistic?" That's a completely different rule. So look at those three things.

Aurimus

Is that where you fit Investiture in the magic? Matter, energy, Investiture?

Brandon Sanderson

Right, that's where I'm trying to do a little bit of all three of those things. But you don't have to. Understand that you can do one of the three.

YouTube Livestream 9 ()
#10 Copy

Questioner

How much do you have to show about the past of your characters in a flashback?

Brandon Sanderson

There are no rules. There's nothing you have to do. Flashbacks, though, they can be great, they can be a minefield. Let me talk about some of the minefield aspects of a flashback.

First is, you're gonna have to decide how you're gonna do your flashbacks, because there are a lot of different ways. I do my flashbacks in The Stormlight Archive as a separate narrative line and basically we have multiple timelines in the books, where you're getting a character's timeline catching them up to the start of The Way of Kings. This works very well in an epic fantasy because I have lots of space and I can separate these chapters off that are flashback chapters completely on their own and they can be isolated. More common, the type of flashbacks you'll see from a lot of people is the "stop and think about it" flashback, and then cut to a new scene and you are seeing actively what the character's remembering at that time. This is the Lost method, the TV show Lost, a lot of television shows and movies use this, and they actively show the character thinking about it. I rarely do this. Once in a while, in The Stormlight Archive, you'll see a character start to tell a story about their past, and I'll make it a line with the next flashback chapter that you're going to get, but really what's happening is a character's telling another person a really shortened version of events, because when you're getting the flashbacks, it's actually not a flashback, the characters thinking about it, that's a separate timeline.

Another way to do it is the kind of, in the middle of a chapter, you're not doing a scene break, you're just flashing back to what happened, and there it gets tricky with tense. Tense can be really a challenge with this. The "I had done this" or whatnot, or if you're not gonna use the tense, it can get really confusing if you're not gonna do a tense change, you're just gonna put that past tense too, both of which are viable, I've seen them done very well. But those in-scene flashbacks can get really "tell-y" and really hard for readers to track and kind of uninteresting for them to read. The danger with any flashback -- this is the one that has the most trouble -- is that the reader will feel like the story is not progressing and instead they're wasting time doing something else and that they're not interested in attaching to this. And this is a challenge even with The Stormlight Archive ones. There are people who just do not attach to the flashback sequences, because they are, by nature of their story, prequels. And that's a challenge of writing them.

What do you gain? Why would you do this? Well, it's a really cool way to build motivation for your character, depth for your character, and to show a different place and time in your story so that you can show how much has changed. We talk about show versus tell, and you can use a flashback to show a character's changes quite dramatically in this manner. You can also get information to the reader in ways that would've been really "tell-y" otherwise. Sometimes, flashbacks are really "tell-y". And when I say "tell-y", they're boring, because they're infodumps and they're just giving you a whole bunch of information. A lot of times, if you do a flashback right, it feels more active and more interesting way to get the same information across to the reader, rather than having the character sit and explain about their lives to people, you just get to experience and see it. But that's just one tool, right, and like all of them, gauge for your own story if this tool is going to enhance the story you're trying to tell or if it's something that you should save for a different story.

Firefight release party ()
#11 Copy

Questioner

For new writers is there pitfalls in trying to use, like, a more famous story to tell their story?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, I don’t think there are any major ones, just make sure the serial numbers are filed off enough. You know the best versions of these things are like when you realize-- well we talked about-- The Lion King, is Hamlet and when they sat down with Hamlet and said "We’re going to do Hamlet with talking lions" they made it different enough to claim it as their own. And that’s the real thing you have to do, is make sure you're claiming it as your own.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

My one question is how do you make it so writing isn't work, because if I'm writing for work I don't write as well. How do you get in the mind set?

Brandon Sanderson

You know for me, taking a walk before hand, listening to some awesome music, and just imagining why this scene is going to be awesome and the emotional impact of it really helps. But at the same time writing is always going to be a little bit work and there is no getting around that. I mean, it's hard sometimes and so-- I don't know. For me I've enjoyed it more as it has become work and I can devote more time to it and things like that. But... Try that.

Questioner

Just get in the mood...

Brandon Sanderson

Listen to music and put myself in that scene, what it feels like, what it sounds like, smells like. Just put myself here and think about what is going to make it incredible and I'll get really excited about writing it. Excitement translates I think at least for me onto the page.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

You obviously treat your writing career pretty much like a business. On your blog, you talked about staff, and stuff like that. So I'm wondering if you have advice for emerging writers to build their careers with an eye towards business? Business stuff?

Brandon Sanderson

A couple thoughts here. One is, nobody warns you that becoming a novelist is starting a small business, and it hits almost all of us like a ton of bricks when we realize, "Wait a minute. I have to do-- I have to get insurance. I am an independent contractor; I'm not working for the publisher, so I have to pay taxes in installments during the year." (What do you call those... estimated taxes. You have to do estimates, and things like this.) And you have to do all of this weird stuff that can be really hard. That no one-- The writing problems don't generally talk about this. And they don't talk about getting an LLC, or things like this. I had to stumble through all this. And so, I would say to you, do know that becoming a writer, you are starting a small business. So any kind of classes you can take, or things you can read online on starting a small business, are gonna be a huge help to you in that.

The other thing is, I often-- and this, I figured out pretty early on. I figured out that trying to write toward the market was an exercise in futility. I had a speech about that a couple years ago. Trying to always look at writing from a business perspective is going to drive you insane, for multiple reasons, like I just talked about, I just failed at writing a book last year, and I still don't know why. That's not something that really flies in the world of "everything adds up," because it doesn't. That should have added up to a book that works, and it didn't. Because writing is an art. There's an artistic side to it, there's a thing we can't explain. I can't explain very well how I get characters. Like, I outline my plots and my world; my characters come more organically, and it's really hard for me to talk about character for that reason, because putting it into words is difficult.

But one thing you can learn to do is that you can, when you're writing, try to throw all of that aside. Try to focus only on, "What are you passionate about? What does this story need?" And try not to think about the business side. When you finish that story, lock the artist in the closet, take the manuscript, run away cackling, and try to find a way to exploit it in any way you possibly can. *laughter* That is my suggestion on balancing the businessperson and the artist. Let the artist write whatever they're passionate about. And then the businessperson's job should be separate, but same person different hat, and learn how to turn that into food on your table. Try to learn how to make that balance work. And I think that will take you pretty far.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#14 Copy

Questioner

I have a question on when you use terminology because you use a lot of regular terms. If you've read Warbreaker, Breath specifically. So as a working writer, before ever reading Brandon Sanderson's novel, I might have come up with the Breath myself. So the question being, have you ever had that, where you work working on something and then read another book and found out they were using either a similar term or something--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah it's happened a bunch. Have I been writing a book when someone came up with a similar term? Janny Wurts wrote a book about someone called the mistwraith. There is a book called, like, The Curse of the Darkeyes, or something like that. It's hard to do something where someone hasn't used any of the terms before. Like trying to do the Steelheart books, which use superhero mythology, try and find a name for any superhero that DC or Marvel haven't had, it's like basically impossible. So I had to be like alright, ones that no one has heard of, that only appeared in one issue, if I come up with a cool name and they've used it once in like one issue, I can still use it. You just have to not let that get to you. Make the story your own through good writing and good storytelling, and no one's going to look at it and be like "Ohh this is a rip-off". And if your beta readers all say "Oh this is a rip-off", then maybe you change it, but they probably won't. That's my advice to you. Don't stress that one too much. Work on making your story great and don't worry too much if it is what someone else has done. 

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#15 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I draw from a lot of distinct and different things, mythologies and things like that and the question is "how do I do that, where do I find material on those." I like primary sources, so I like to find people from the culture that they come from, who believe in that specific religion, or have studied it and I like to interview them or hang out on their forums and read how they are talking and things like that. That has been a lot more recent for me, although I will often, (this is where i'll use audiobooks) I will often go grab books on the subjects and listen to audiobooks of them while I'm signing big stacks of papers or something like that.

Oathbringer Houston signing ()
#16 Copy

Questioner

How do you write books this long? Like, mental dedication to do that?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, it's all about breaking it down into something smaller, building it up as an outline. I couldn't do something this big without an outline. It's about step-by-step, right. Start with scene, go to chapter, go to sequence, go to book. It does take practice. Oh, yes, milestones are really, really helpful.

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.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#18 Copy

Questioner

How do you handle names, because it's like the hardest thing to do properly

Brandon Sanderson

So, easy mode is to pick a culture, a real world analog to your-- to one of your-- each culture in your book. Go get a list of baby names from that culture in our world. Play with those names. Don't steal them; play with them until you-- try to find something that works for you. That sounds right, and things like that. Hard mode is to come up with kind of some-- learn some linguistics, and build the names based on--

Questioner

From the ground up, kind of thing?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, don't build the whole language, but kind of build sounds, the morphemes, this sort of stuff. And then build names around that.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#19 Copy

Questioner

What do you do when you have writer's block?

Brandon Sanderson

So, the easiest way I've found to get rid of writer's block is to write anyway, and have it turn out badly. And then my brain will work on the scene, having written it poorly, the next day my brain almost always figures out how to just fix it. And so, I have to write the scene badly, and often I just have whatever happen. You know, just crazy things. And then set it aside knowing it's not going to go in the book... It's a little bit hard to write something you know isn't going to end up in the book and is wrong. But training yourself to do that so your subconscious can fix the problem is really handy.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#20 Copy

Questioner

When you're writing a book, and you're writing a character that's better at something than you are, like Shallan is very good at drawing, or Wayne is very good at imitating voices, how do you write that?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a good question. You get this old adage in writing classes where people are like "write what you know". And you're like, buuuuuut...writing about English professors gets a little old, unless you're writing literary fiction and that's like half of it. What do you do when you want to write someone that's better at something than you are? Excellent question. A couple of things. You can construct the perfect situation to show off what you want to show off, which is not how life normally goes. So I'm not nearly as clever as some of my characters, but I can construct the situation and then take like two hours thinking "Alright, what's the perfect comeback" Go get a burger and it's like "Ahh the perfect comeback". Like you might do when you're like "Ahh if only I'd thought of that. You can make that happen.

The other thing you can do is good research, and for a lot of things where it's a skill I don't have, what I try and do is I try to do enough research to get myself like seventy percent of the way there as an expert. And you can do that pretty fast, you take a couple of months, read a couple of books, and you can get yourself to the point that you don't sound embarrassing. Then you write the scenes and you find someone that is an expert, because that last thirty percent is what takes like nine years extra. And you give it to them and you say "Where am I wrong?". And since you've kind of done enough work that you're not just like completely out of left field, they can fix it usually, and they're like "Oh yeah, this is not something that a doctor would say", "This is not something you do, you fix it right here, but you got these parts all right, the context is correct". And that's what you want to do, if you can. Forums are very useful, in the internet age you can go and hang out, learn around people talking about all kinds of things. You can be like "How do these people think? How do people who think this way think?", and you can go there and get from their own mouths and their own voices, a lot of how they're talking and thinking, what their passionate about and things like that. And then you try to represent that the way they would represent it if they were writing the book.

Starsight Release Party ()
#21 Copy

Questioner

What do you when all your characters seem to think and act like you do?

Brandon Sanderson

What I do if I were in that problem is, I try to pick some attribute that's very different from me. A belief system, a way of acting, a psychology. And then go read a whole bunch of blogs by people who are talking about dealing with that issue and then try to do a steelman, is what they call it. The opposite of a strawman, make that person's argument or life philosophy as strong as you can make it in that character. And see what happens.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#22 Copy

Questioner

What is the best advice you got from a beta reader or editor on your female characters?

Brandon Sanderson

Stop treating them like a role and start treating them like a person. Most of the times when guys write girls poorly, it is because they are saying  "Well, this is the X. This person's role in the story is X," and then they make the person not exist beyond that. Every character, regardless of gender, should have their own motives, passions, and you should be able to know what they were going to do with their life if the plot hadn't smashed into them, and that can go a long way toward helping with that.

That was the big thing for me, was not writing anyone to a role... making everyone the hero of their own story. That was the big thing, but it was a process over time, figuring out treating people like characters instead of roles. That's kind of nebulous, right? Tell them to read a bunch of books by women, because a lot of them haven't, and that's part of the reason they're doing it poorly.

Oh and here's another big thing. The first way of being sexist in your writing involves writing people into roles, right? Into stereotypes. The next thing that people generally do, you'll see this a lot in cinema right now, is take the underrepresented group, or the token female or something, and make them awesome, so that they don't actually have any sort of-- they're just good at everything. Right? That's the next level of doing something wrong, and the third is where you're like, "Wait a minute. Let's make everybody kind of quirky and interesting in their own way, rather than putting anyone on a pedestal," and things like that.

And it's a process for all of us. You'll notice that like in the Mistborn books... I was so focused on making sure I had a strong female lead, that there is like no other women in whole the book. And that's a really common mistake... But you just get better at it the more you write.

WorldCon 76 ()
#23 Copy

Questioner

I'm an aspiring writer. I want to be a writer, and I'm working on submitting a story to Writers of the Future. Would you recommend starting shorter? Something less ambitious?

Brandon Sanderson

So, here's the thing: there are advantages to both ways. Sometimes, if you're the type that might get discouraged by trying something so big, and having it spiral out of control, then sometimes it's better to start small. Most of the time, as long as you're okay with the fact that your first one might spiral out of control, that process will teach you so much, that it's better to start ambitious, and just see where it goes. And just know, you may have to come back to it. Like, my first book, I never finished. I started when I was sixteen. But I wrote a big chunk of it, and it taught me so much. And then my next book, I did finish. And then eventually I came back to that first one, and used those ideas again for another book later on. So as long as you're okay with the idea as a new writer, it may not turn out exactly like you want it to, go ahead and start with something ambitious. Write what you're passionate about, and what you're excited about, and just be willing to let the process teach you. 'Cause nothing will make you a better writer than practicing.

Elantris Annotations ()
#24 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Four

As you can probably deduce from what I've said before, this Telrii scene is a late addition. It's not one of my favorites between Hrathen and Telrii--re-reading it, it makes me feel like Telrii is simply there to be persuaded. While the intention of these scenes is, indeed, to show Hrathen as a stronger character, their secondary purpose is simply to let him voice out loud some of the thoughts he's been mulling over. If you have trouble characterizing or motivating one of your characters in a book you're writing, try giving them someone--either friend or foe--to talk to.

Anyway, this particular scene is a little weak, and I suppose I could cut it without too much loss. It is a good idea to keep people thinking about Telrii, however, since he will be important later in the story.

Also, there is his warning to Hrathen about not being a pawn, which is some good foreshadowing for what happens later, when he casts Hrathen off and tries to become a Gyorn himself.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#25 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Writing Fight Scenes

A fight should be more than a blow-by-blow. I've talked about this before. In a book, you can't get away with action for the sake of action—at least not in the same way you can in a movie.

With a visual medium, viewers can simply enjoy the blow-by-blow. Character X hits Character Y can be exciting. In books, it's dreadfully boring. I think I went a little too far toward that in this chapter.

What makes a fight work? Well, emotional impact for one. If we're tied to a character and think that they might be in danger, that can make a fight work—but only insofar as we're seeing the danger's emotional effect on the character. (Which is something books can do far better than movies.) Also, interesting discoveries and ramifications can work to make a fight more exciting.

Why is Elend forcing these men to fight like this? Where are the armies he promised? How are they going to win? Hopefully these questions drive the action. Thus the final way to make something exciting in an action scene is to show the characters being clever through the way they manipulate the fight or the magic or the area around them.

That's just my take on it.

Starsight Release Party ()
#26 Copy

Questioner

I'm an aspiring writer and I really relate to one of your characters that has really smart days and really stupid days. I feel like I've had maybe a handful of really smart days and every other day, I just feel like an idiot and I don't know what I'm doing. I wonder if that's you maybe writing some of yourself into the story or into that character...

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. Yeah. Totally. 

Questioner

...and how have you gotten over those stupid days. 

Brandon Sanderson

I actually got it… Howard Taylor, who's a cartoonist friend of mine, one time was talking about, on our podcast, how some days he just feels dumb. And I'm like, I feel like that sometimes too. Sometimes, it's not working. It's not flowing. What I've found with writing is—now your mileage may vary—readers can't generally tell which of the two it was. It's more in your mind and more about your mood than it is about the actual quality of what you're writing. What's happening is on some days, you're just upbeat and you see what you're doing is working. And on other days, you're doing basically the same thing but you're a little bit down and your minds like "Oh, this is terrible. You are crap. No one's ever going to want to read this" and the truth is that it's actually still pretty good. The other thing that causes that a lot is… particularly if I'm reading something really good, like I go read a Terry Pratchett novel… and then I go to write and I'm like, "What am I even doing?" What you're doing there is you're comparing your first draft to published, final drafts by authors who've been doing this for 40 years and that's just not a fair comparison to you. If you want to go read my terrible first story that I wrote, the one that won the award, you can read that be like, "This is what Sanderson was writing? I'm better than this!", and you probably are. In fact, I hope you are. I would recommend trying to silence that voice as opposed to trying to reach for the smart days or not because the truth is, you're probably just as smart on both days; you're just feeling down. And instead, try to look for some of the things I talked earlier. The idea of creating good habits. Knowing the things that you can do that put you in the mood to actually do what you want to do. Listening to music will do it for me. Going on a walk, if I'm having trouble while listening to that music and if it's the right epic music. My playlists are on Spotify by the way, the stuff that I do this with. Just look for "Stormlight 3 writing soundtrack" and I have on for Skyward, too, that I think I posted. Just listen to whatever works for you. But you have to find out what tricks yourself like I talked about earlier. Every writer feels this, you are not alone, and that part of your brain is probably wrong.

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

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

Isaac Stewart

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Isaac Stewart

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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Dreamer129

Are there any useful exercises you could give to a writer who's trying to improve their technique? I've heard the one about four different people describing the same place, but I was wondering if you had any other good ones.

Brandon Sanderson

Try to describe an extended scene, with various things happening, four different times, once with a focus on visuals, once on scents, once using touch, once using sounds. See if you can evoke a different feel each time, using the same scene but different senses.

Practice both discovery writing and outline writing. Meaning, practice writing stories where you just go off on whatever strikes you, and practice writing a story where you spend a lot of time on an outline. Try to figure out which method works best for you when trying a specific type of story, and perhaps try some hybrids. Anything that helps you write better stories more regularly is a tool to keep practicing.

Try a dialogue scene, where you try to evoke character and setting using ONLY dialogue. No descriptions allowed. (This is best when you're focused on making the characters each distinct simply through how they talk.)

Finally, listen to Writing Excuses. ;)

EuroCon 2016 ()
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Questioner

I would like to make two questions for you. The first one is, when were you really aware that that was the book, or that was the style that could find a public, an audience?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, let me answer this one first. My first five books were very experimental. I wrote two epic fantasies, one comedy, one cyberpunk, and one space opera. I did this so that I could be very sure that what I wanted to do was epic fantasy. I heard a metaphor when I was young for dating which said, "Don't always just date the same flavor of ice cream. Even if you're very sure you love strawberry, date some chocolate, some rocky road, some variety of different ice cream flavors so that you can be sure." I say the same thing about writing. One of my best friends, Dan, first tried only writing epic fantasy, and was having a very hard time being a writer, and then he wrote a horror novel that was super, super creepy, and now he is a famous horror writer because he found his love in that genre. After doing this for five novels, I was sure that epic fantasy was what I wanted to do, and it is no coincidence that book number six was Elantris, the first book of the Cosmere written, and the first book that eventually sold.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
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Questioner

You continue a proud tradition of fantasy writers being very concerned about food. How do you approach that? How do you create that sense of realism and a multisensual experience.

Brandon Sanderson

So, I had a professor in college at BYU who was a folklorist, specializing in food-lore. She was very helpful in this. One of the reasons I think that a lot of the professionals, though I certain do not do George R.R. Martin levels of it, is kinda, food-lore is actually really important in our societies. But it's one of the ones we forget very easily, when developing a fantasy world. It's part of what makes fantasy worlds, when you don't use some of these things. Not saying every book has to. But it's one of them that's kind of on the small list of "these things make it feel actually real," rather than "imitation-real." Because we have so much of this food-lore. And food is so much involved, I mean, everyone has to eat every day multiple times. So we're gonna have all this lore and things. And if you skip all that, it starts to feel like the cardboard cutout, a fake city built for a movie set or something like that, instead of a real lived-in world. And, I happen to like food. Probably something that George and I share. So, you end up with food stuff in the books.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#31 Copy

Questioner

I also have problems with an English major with creative writing and fantasy. I'm just wondering, how do you get past that? Because I'm also trying to go into teaching, and it's the same with research.

Brandon Sanderson

...The first thing you should do as a writer, is you should listen to what those people are saying and teaching and try to learn from them. I think the strength of fantasy and science fiction as genres is that people think the wrong things about our genre. You can find literary writers in science fiction and fantasy. N.K. Jemisin is doing amazing things with literary fantasy right now. You should be reading her books, they're fantastic. Gene Wolf, Ursula Le Guin; they imagine that fantasy is way more strict than it is. So, if you take a class with someone, see what you can learn from them, that's the first thing. The second thing is, don't back down. Write what you want to write, and don't let them talk you out of loving what you love. Go ahead and try new things but apply it to what you think is going to help you, and if you're willing to take the grade hit for it.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#32 Copy

Questioner

What advice would you give to people who want to be authors?

Brandon Sanderson

What advice would I give to people who want to be authors? ...You want to be a writer? So, I have these little cards that say "so you want to be a writer", I'm going to pass one back to you. So the number one thing I'd say that as a writer you want to know is, your duty, your job, is to practice in such a way that you can become a person who can write great books. Your job is not to write a great book. Your job is to practice so you become people who write great books. So treat becoming a writer like you treat becoming a pianist, or becoming a doctor, or anything else that is a goal you want to achieve. Say, I'm going to take years to do this. I'm going to practice consistently. And I am going to not stress right now if I am not achieving what I want to do. You don't start off doing brain surgery, you don't start off playing Rachmaninoff. You start off practicing and just do that. If you are willing to do that, you will improve and you will be surprised how fast you grow. If instead you're like I need to write the perfect paragraph or the perfect chapter before I can move on, and you stare at that and beat your head against it you will never improve.

There's a story told by someone, you can google this online, just look for the, ah-- pottery-- uh, oh... trying to remember what it's called-- Alright I can't tell you how to google it but maybe your googlefu is better than mine when I tell you the story. So there's this person who teaches pottery and he shared in his book--and I've read the book, and seen it, and things like this--a story about how he one year split his class in half, and had one half, the new beginners in pottery, their job was each week their grade was going to be based on how good a pot they made. They've gotta make the best pot they can every week, turn it in, he would give them a grade for that week. And, you know, that's how good you were. The second group, he said you're going to get a grade based on the weight of all the pots you create this week, meaning we're just going to weigh them and if you hit this certain amount you are going to get an A, if you get this certain amount you're going to get a B. He did this for the entire semester teaching exactly the same way and at the end he said "Now make the best pot you can" to both groups. And the best pots all came from the group who did their grade by weight. All of them. The best pots came from that group. Not the people who tried to make a perfect pot every week, but the people who tried to make the most pots every week. And that works in creative endeavors quite a bit, that practice trumps perfection on the small scale when you're starting.

ICon 2019 ()
#33 Copy

Questioner

I am an editor.

Brandon Sanderson

Good for you. It's a terrible, terrible job. *audience laughs*

Questioner

What was your process for finding an editor that you liked and now work with?

Brandon Sanderson

So... I work with a couple of editors. My main editor is Moshe [Feder], at Tor, and I found Moshe by going to conventions and I would ask editors which new authors' books they were working on. Then I would go read those books when they came out and I was looking for the editors that were buying books that I liked.

And that's good advice for any of you who are writers: Find out what the editors are publishing, read their books and then if you go, you'll find out what the editor's taste is. If you go to the editor and say "What are you looking for?", the editor's response almost always is "Something good." They're gonna tell you, because they don't want you to limit yourself, but if you read what they're putting out, you can find out. Plus, you'll have to something to talk about with the editor. You go to the editor and say "I love this book." and they're like "You know that I edited it?", because editors are kind of unsung heroes who don't get enough attention. Then you'll have something to talk with an editor about and can make a connection.

This is what I did, I was looking for people who were writing books that I liked... editing books that I liked. The other thing is, I was looking for people who gave me good feedback. When I got rejections, did the rejections make good suggestions? Theses sorts of things... Once I got successful, I was looking more at the first, people whose books I admired, editors who worked on books... So, my team book editor I found because she was just putting out a bunch of books that I thought were really good. She had a good eye, so I went to her and said "Would you like to publish Steelheart?" and by then I was not Brandon Sanderson, I was Brandon Sanderson, and so she said "Yes, please!" So... it's a pretty different process.

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
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Yamato

Any advice for an aspiring fantasy writer? Besides the obligatory "Read a lot and write a lot!!!" Characterization advice is especially appreciated.

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I do have my lectures on this topic. Go to writeaboutdragons.com and listen to the characterization lecture. I think you'll find it helpful.

Do remember that your characters should have passions, goals, and flaws that are distinct from the plot of the story. They can sometimes align, but a character should have a life and passions outside of what happens TO them.

ICon 2019 ()
#35 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

When I was first naming all the characters, I did this--it's a very classic mistake new writers make. And sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't. And this is to name the characters things that relate to their role in the plot. So I was naming all these characters and I was basing their Aons on their personality. Which if you think about, doesn't make any sense. Parents could not name their characters after the trait the characters was going to eventually exhibit?

Questioner

But it's like a mystical thing! Maybe determined or fates...

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, you could say that. But at the end of the day, if you could look at the back and be like, "This one means Traitor. That character probably is the traitor!" It worked for Star Wars, right? He named Darth Vader, "Dark Father," in German, and none of us got it. When I went back to the books and I looked him over again, when I was editing it, my editor said, "Do you really want to do this. Do you want to name the character this, because they can just look in the back and find out what the character's name means." And I realized no parent would name their kid, "Traitor." I thought it was cute but it was actually just dumb. So I went back and changed it all.

Questioner

Who was it originally and what was his name?

Brandon Sanderson

I'm trying to remember who I named, "Traitor." I named one of the nobles, "Traitor." I'm trying to remember who it was.

Questioner

Probably the traitor one.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah probably the traitor one. It was more than that. I named all of the nobility these names based on what their role in the plot was.

Questioner 2

*Inaudible* Ahan maybe?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. That's who it was, yeah.

Calamity Austin signing ()
#36 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.
Warbreaker Annotations ()
#37 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Six

Lightsong Gets Up Early, Excited

Let this be a lesson to aspiring writers. People's reactions to these Lightsong sections—where he goes to investigate the murder—are proof of a long-standing rule of writing. Characters who do things are more interesting than those who don't.

Now, this may seem obvious to you. But let me assure you, when you start to write, you will often be tempted to include viewpoint characters with internal conflicts. Many times, poorly written, these conflicts result in the character being inactive. They can't decide about things, or they're a coward, or they're depressed or indifferent. All of these things are flaws the characters are going to grow out of during the story, and you're very tempted to build them into the character as a way of giving the character more growth and things to overcome.

That's not a bad instinct, but it's much more difficult to pull off than you think. The problem is that a lot of characters like that don't really do anything for the first part of the story. They're reactive, and they don't care about the plot, which makes the reader not care about the plot.

Until you've practiced a while, might I suggest that you stick with characters who are passionate about what they're doing and who try consistently to achieve their goals? Give them different internal conflicts, things that don't keep them from acting. Learning to write a good book is tough enough without tackling an inactive character in your first few stories.

WorldCon 76 ()
#38 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Say I'm excited about this, but I'm going to stake a claim on the panel's official cabbagehead position. Every time I'm on a panel or doing a podcast it is good to have a cabbagehead. Which is, I'm the writer, right? My job is, I've found, to know enough about these things to be dangerous, so if there are writers out there and you're feeling a little overwhelmed by this, here's how I approach it. I, when I was first writing epic fantasy I found out a few of these things, and I'm like, "Oh no, this kind of destroy the types of stories I want to tell."

But the more I learned the more I realized, no, it can shape the types of stories I want to tell it doesn't have to destroy them at all. What I did was I used this kind of rule, that is it takes actually a fairly brief amount of time to become dangerously knowledgeable in a subject. Like say, if you can get yourself 20 or 30 percent of the way there, you know enough to know what you don't know. My goal is to always get myself there with research, usually on pop-history books or pop-medicine books or things like this. Write my stories, and then to find an expert, which I've used extensively, particularly in the Stormlight books, where one of my characters is a field surgeon, that's his training, and go and say "What am I doing wrong?"

Usually, the response I get from the medical professionals is "Wow, this isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, you're still wrong about a ton of things. But you don't have to rip apart your story, the fundamentals are there, you know that a gut wounds is really dangerous and often takes a long time to kill. You know about these things and you are trying to deal with them and approach them. I can give you some tips to make it more authentic." That balance has just worked wonderfully well for me. 

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#39 Copy

Questioner

What do you wish that you could have asked your favorite writers about writing when you first became a writer? And what do you think they would have said?

Brandon Sanderson

This one is easy. I would have said, "How do you finish your book, Mr. Jordan? Specifically: X, Y, and Z that you didn't put in the notes."

Otherwise-- You know, a lot of the things that you do as a writer aren't about what you ask other writers. And a lot of the advice you'll get as a writer won't work for you until you have written. So I wouldn't have known the right questions to ask them until I was struggling through that myself.

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

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

Words of Radiance Seattle signing ()
#41 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

Strategies for the Sagging Middle.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Middles are tough. My experience has been that the writer thinks the middle sags more than it does, because you're not at the exciting beginning wherever everything's fresh and not at the end with the climax. Stagger the climaxes. For instance, Words of Radiance, I built it and plotted it like three books with multiple climaxes from major characters at the end of part 1, at the end of part 3, and at the end of the whole thing. It'll make your novel read like a trilogy.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#42 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever find that you are producing content so quickly that your mind comes up with a better idea after percolating for a while, and the book is already published? And if that does ever happen, how do you handle it?

Brandon Sanderson

This is dangerous, right? I think every author wants to go back and tweak things. And there is a fine line between pulling a Tolkien, where you go back to The Hobbit and you revise the ring conversation so it matches The Lord of the Rings, which has now become a classic conversation, we're all glad he did that, right? It ties The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings together better, it was a good revision. There is a fine line between that and Lucas-ing your work, right? Where instead of taking something and tweaking something to make it better, you tweak it just to make it different. I think there is a fine line there. There is a quote often ascribed to da Vinci, that a lot of people say it isn't his, but it's the idea that, he (maybe) said "Art is never finished, it is only abandoned."

You really have to take that perspective as an artist, you have to eventually just let things go. Not to sing an Elsa song, but you just gotta be willing to say "I'm done." And you are always going to have better ideas later on or ways you could tweak it. And more, it's not that you have better ideas. What happens is you change as an artist, and your goals change over time and the way you would approach something changes over time. While I've played in this realm, I've settled on that I should just avoid this most of the time. You could always tweak it to be better, and you've got to release something sometime.

I do find it very useful to finish something, write something else, then come back to the thing I've finished, because that gives me the right amount of balance between giving it time to rest so that I can approach it with fresh eyes, and also being regular with the releases. I haven't ever felt like I'm going too fast. I have had things that don't turn out too well, but those I just don't release. That happened with Apocalypse Guard last year where I wrote the book, I gave it some time, I came back and looked at it and it just wan't-- it didn't work. It was broken, it was not good, and I'm just like, "I've got to set this aside and think about it."

It's weird. Writing has a little bit more performance art to it than as a non-writer you might think. Meaning who you are in the moment, when you are creating this thing, the connections you make while you're making it are deeply influential to how the piece of art turns out. It's like you're freezing a moment in time for that author. Rather than trying to create the perfect work you are creating a reflection of who they are when they made it, and you have to kind of be okay with that as a writer.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#43 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Good question. So Mistborn, [he?] is complimenting the way it all kinda comes together at the end. So the question is, did I have it all planned out, and for Mistborn I did. I had a big advantage, and this is what i'll usually do for a series: I'll come up with a plan that really details the first book and has just a little bit about the next book. So I'll write the first book, then create a really intricate outline for the next two, then use that to revise the first book to match the next two, so the first one I get to explore a little bit further and go a little farther afield from where the outline was without impacting things too much. Then i can lock it in and write the other two. There are plenty of things I didn't have locked down when I wrote the first one, but then i did the two outline, revised the first one, and then wrote the second two books.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#44 Copy

Questioner

So you mentioned earlier that you couldn't write and code at the same time because it used the same part of your brain. Do you have any advice for coders who may also want to write?

Brandon Sanderson

I would just say "separate it". Give yourself a few hours in-between. I don't feel that I personally could code all day, write during my lunch break, code all day, or something like that. But I probably could get up in the morning, do a little bit of writing, then go to work, code all day, something like that or come home, take two hours to play with the family and things like that. You've got to have time for that reservoir, does that make sense, inside of you. I think trying to go right into it might be a mistake. But it's going to be very different based on your own writing styles. Some people it might work for. You might like-- still in the mood. Does that make sense?

Firefight Houston signing ()
#45 Copy

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

Do you just start writing and hope for the best?

Brandon Sanderson

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

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#46 Copy

Questioner

I was wondering, how do you feel about people using, like, the word "Allomancer" in their own stories?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I would s-- Depends on how it's used. If you're saying, it's for-- if it's the same magic system, I would recommend against that. If you are referencing-- like there's an-- actually a word called alomancy, spelled slightly differently, that is using sand to foretell the future. It's not like I have the thing trademarked or anything like that. So--

Questioner

Right, like, I was unsure, so--

Brandon Sanderson

But I would suggest coming up with your own magic system in your own terms. It'd just be a stronger story. But it's not like-- yeah, I don't have it trademarked or anything.

WorldCon 76 ()
#47 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Okay, so the question is: How do you draw the line between deciding to be realistic, and to fudge it in the name of drama, essentially. Pointed out, like, at the end someone gets shot in a way that would normally lay them out but you need the story to keep going. You have a number of options here, and sub-genre and tone is going to have a lot to do with it. The fact that Star Wars is not in any way realistic in its physics does not prevent it from being enjoyed by even a lot of us who understand how bad the physics is, right? Because Star Wars does not present itself as a story where they need to get the physics right. Whereas a hard science fiction movie that we're watching then make an enormous error-- I love The Martian, but this is why Andy Weir gets so much flack. It was way better than 99.9 percent of all science fiction stories; he gets one thing wrong and people will notice it because it's a hard science fiction story.

So, you're going to have to decide on the tone of your story, that's a large part of it. And the other thing is, you build up, in some ways, credibility, like I said, often with the small details. And then you use those small details. We often call it the pyramid of abstraction. You lay the foundation with concrete details, building the scene so the reader is on board for what you're doing. And then, when you need to fudge it and strain plausibility, even in a very realistic story, the reader generally gets on board and goes with it, and doesn't let it break immersion for them. In your example, if all the way through this story you had dealt with these things very realistically, at the end you even dealt with it realistically, but had the character kind of overcome it for a little while and push through. I am totally on board to buy that, right? I am there with you. I'm like, "This is the climatic moment. Yeah, he should have dropped, but instead, he manages to stand up and push the fire alarm or something like that." This sort of thing, readers will be on board. You just need to make sure to keep them on board and to sell them on the idea of the tone of your story. 

Panelist

As Sidney and Jen pointed out earlier, the wound that is ultimately fatal, often is not immediately fatal. That's one of the other Hollywood tropes that I sometimes hate is: sometimes he gets shot and immediately falls down. No, doesn't happen. A headshot maybe, but that's about it. 

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I was interviewing some people for a story I was writing, and I interviewed someone who had been shot. And he said "It felt like someone had tapped me on the back, just like that, and I didn't know I had been shot." The bullet went all the way through him, but he still was up and doing things for another couple of minutes.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#48 Copy

Oversleep

Do you have any advice on writing multiple magic systems? How to write it so that the reader is not confused in there being more than one? How to foreshadow combining them? How to play them off each other? How to balance them in one setting?

Brandon Sanderson

I really like to make sure I don't do too much at once. What has worked for me (both in Mistborn and Stormlight) is to introduce one system up front, and use it to start exploring the setting. Then I slowly add more in future books.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#49 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So my method of plotting-- I've been asked about, "Do I use seven-point story structure? Do I use three act format?" I actually don't use any of these things. So they're tools that I think are good to study. For me I use just a very simple: Promise, Progress, Payoff. This is what I focus on for plot,and I subdivide my stories into subplots and things and say, "What's the promise? How do I early on promise what type of plot this is. What's the progress? What's the payoff?" And you're asking how do you make sure that the hype lives up to the promise, and that is dangerous. The longer you go between books, the more that hype almost like-- I feel part of the-- If you're looking at The Wheel of Time, there were books when we fans were waiting for them to come out, that we were super frustrated by when they came out, that when I reread them in the whole series I didn't-- were less bothered by. It felt like, when I waited three years for something, the hype of what that needed to deliver was way different than when it was book ten bridging between book nine and eleven. And so that is a consideration.

My job-- I think that if your progress is right, if you can kind of-- like if you say, "We're moving towards something here," this is the sort of emotional reaction you're going to get from it by showing-- for instance, an easy way to talk about this is a mystery, right? If you want the mystery to be really cool, then it's your progress toward the mystery that's going to indicate what kind of reveal and surprise that's going to be. If, you know, the characters discovering clues and getting more and more horrified, then the payoff at the end has to be something horrific, right? But if they're like, "Ooo! This connection and this connection together are making something really interesting. If I can just figure this out then it'll click together." Then the payoff is, instead of discovering horror, the payoff is then, "Oh, this comes together and I understand now." So you need the reader to understand that's their kind of payoff, is it clicks for them like it does for the character. And it's really-- that progress is the most important of those three in a lot of ways. If you can indicate to the reader, "This is just going to be satisfying. This character is finally going to let down this burden. That's the progress we're working toward. It's not going to be a surprise, it's just going to be satisfying. That's how you do that.

There are certain things that there's just no avoiding the hype on. In fact, the further the series gets the more I'm worried about that, because-- in part because I'm such a believer in this kind of progress and things like this-- there are very few things, like in the Stormlight for example, that you'll get to that you will be super surprised by if you've been reading the fan forums, because the clues are all there in previous books. And so you just, I think, as a writer have to be okay with, if you're going to lay the foreshadowing, people will figure it out. And I can talk more about like, the third book has some big reveals about the world that I think the casual reader's going to be like, "Woah, mind blown!" where the people who have been on forums are like, "That's it? We've know that for years Sanderson!" But, you know, if you don't-- the only way to really surprise people is to do something completely unexpected. Which is, sometimes can be really nice, but a lot of times it just makes for a twist just to twist for twist's sake, so. I don't know that I've figured this one out a hundred percent across a series, but within a given book, yeah.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
#50 Copy

Questioner

How do you come up with all the different worlds, the magic systems, the religions, the-- everything. How do you come up with it?

Brandon Sanderson

Good question. It's a bigger question than I can really answer right now. But I can give you a few tips and I can point to places where I've answered it better. I've written three essays called Sanderson's First Law, Second Law, and Third Law... Those explain my theories on magic systems, that'll help you a lot. The real thing I'm searching for is conflict. I want to have interesting conflict to each world element that I'm spending my time on. Spend your time where there is going to be conflict. If you've got a story where the conflict is all religious and the character's religion is kind of an intersection between religion and something else, spend your time building your religions. Make them interesting, work things into them. But maybe you don't need to spend all your time building the linguistics for that world. Spend your time as the author on the things that are going to be full of depth and conflict and importance to the characters and don't worry about everything else. Unless you want to pull a Tolkien and spend twenty years preparing. Which-- I mean, you can do. I can't complain about the way Tolkien did it. But I prefer to be able to release a book every year as opposed to every twenty years.