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White Sand vol.1 release party ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

I was just wondering how you come up with the names in your books?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the book.

Questioner

Is it usually like a cultural tie-in kind of thing or...?

Brandon Sanderson

It's one of two things. Either I go for a cultural tie-in, like you say-- that's if I want to do a shorthand. Something just a little bit easier because I'm not building the linguistics out. Like Mistborn is an example of this; I didn't build the linguistics of Mistborn. The linguistics-- I'm just like, "This is a French sounding area, this is uh--" You know, because I spent my worldbuilding time on other things. But in Roshar I spent a lot of time on the linguistics. I don't want the names to just sound like names from our world. Roshar is most different. It's not an Earth analog. And so I built the linguistics. Or I sometimes do kind of a hybrid, where I pick some weird linguistic trait and I build names around it. Like Warbreaker was this. I'm like, "I'm gonna use the repeated consonant sound as a theme, so you always know who's from what culture." And so you end up with Vivenna and T'Tellir and things like this, where it sounds like people are stuttering to those from other cultures.

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

MarlonRand

Finally, do you have any advice for people that would like to write for a living?

Brandon Sanderson

First and foremost, don't give up. It can take a while. It takes time to master anything—whether it be writing, playing the piano, or brain surgery. People are willing to dedicate eight years or more to becoming a doctor. If you really want to be a writer, you need to be willing to dedicate the same amount of time and effort. Practice. Practice some more. Write a book, then write another, then write another. (I didn't sell my first, or my second, or my fifth. Elantris was my sixth book.)

Secondly, write what you love. Don't try and guess the market. Read the type of books you want to write, pay attention to what they do, and decide what it is you want to say and how you will add to the discussion. What makes your additions to the conversation unique? Write it because you feel it inside of you, not because it's what seems to be hot right now.

Finally, if I may make a plug, hop over to writingexcuses.com and listen to me and the others on our writing podcast talk about this sort of thing. ;)

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#3 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.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
#4 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Do you find it harder to write from a male or female's point of view?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It is harder to write… the more different someone is from me, the more difficult they are to write. Gender is only one part of that, however, and so some characters who are very like me, but maybe… maybe a woman, would be easier to write than someone who is very different from me but is a guy. But that's all part of it.

Early in my career, before I got published, I was actually really bad at this; but the main thing I learned from that era of my writing was that I was writing people to a role in the story. It wasn't that I was bad a writing women, it was that I was writing all women as the love interest. Which resulted in bad story telling and flat characters. And if you start to be able to learn: treat each character they are the protagonist of their own story, treat each character like they see themselves, not as a bit part, but as the story themselves; and start to explore who they are rather than putting them in a role in the story, your characters will get better all around.

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

Questioner

I want to know how you get into the zone while writing. How do you go from normal Brandon Sanderson life to... how do you make the transition.

Brandon Sanderson

Usually, if I'm having trouble, going for a walk, turning on music, thinking about what I'm going to be doing for the day. Sitting down, turning on music and starting. If I'm having any trouble, reading what I wrote the day before helps. Usually there is not a difficulty for me but those help me if there is.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#6 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.

FanX 2018 ()
#7 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

When you take stock of the idea that you have largely been responsible for the cultivation of millions of writers *Brandon laughs nervously* to me, that's what you really bring to the world.

Brandon Sanderson

How do I take stock of cultivating-- Millions? I don't know if there are millions, but there are tens of thousands that watch my lectures and listen to the podcast. I think it's great. When I was trying to break in, the way I learned to write was by going and asking questions of writers and they took time for me. Captain Kirk sat me down at a convention once and talked to me for like an hour about becoming a writer, L.E. Modesit did the same thing. They were a huge resource for me, and we live in an era of social media where I can be a resource in a different way. When I was doing it I just had to try to go to a con and find them, right, there wasn't an internet-- I'm old guys, there wasn't an internet when I was a kid learning how to write and so you had to find them, talk to them in person. I can post these things out there. So I hope that it's useful. I hope the main thing that people take away from my writing is there are multiple ways to do it and there is no one right way to write. There is not a Brandon Sanderson method other than, the Brandon Sanderson method is tools you should try, and you should try George's tools, and you should try Stephen King's tools, and JK Rowling's tools, and everybody who talks about it, try the different methods they have of writing and hopefully it'll end up working out and you'll find your own method.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

At what point in your career were you able to write full-time, and what led to your decision to incorporate Dragonsteel?

Brandon Sanderson

Good question! ...When did I go full-time? I went full-time before it was comfortable to do so. And my recommendation to most writers is the same. What I did is, I quit my job at the hotel the moment I got my first check. It was $5,000. But, I was working for, like $7/hr, so it wasn't like I was giving up a ton. I did keep my university courses, teaching those, as supplementary income, which I didn't quit until the next year, I spent another year teaching my university courses, I only kept on hold of one university class, my creative writing class.

I incorporated, about two or three years later, at the advice of a tax professional who said "This is a smart idea," incorporating, putting everything under the corporation's name. That way, if someone claims you plagiarized, and you have to go through a big lawsuit, the lawsuit is with the corporation and not you, and it protects you.

I think those were both very smart decisions. Going full-time before I felt comfortable, and incorporating. Incorporating cost 500 bucks, you just get a lawyer that specializes in this. It is totally worth that, plus deductions are way easier with a corporation. Like, you know, when you're deducting something on your own, they might look askance at some of the deductions you do, whereas when you're a corporation, you're so small-time as a writer that, who cares if they're not getting $3,000 for whatever. But it is fun, I do get to deduct my movies, when I watch movies, all of my video game systems and video games. Deductions! I get money every year from video game companies, and I have to stay up on what they're doing! You can have some fun deductions related to things like that.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#10 Copy

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.

DragonCon 2016 ()
#11 Copy

Questioner

One of my favorite things about your books is your characters. And I was wondering... What advice would you give to an aspiring author about developing characters? 

Brandon Sanderson

Ooh. This is the hardest one for me to talk about, because for me, it was a matter of taking what I was doing wrong and learning to do it right, which-- How do you do that? That's the story of becoming better at anything. For me with characters, the big "click" that happened in my brain was when I realized every character is the hero of their own story. Every character sees the world through the eyes-- That's the only experience they've had, and they don't exist to fill a role. We don't exist to fill roles. We fill roles! We fill lots of them. But that's not why we exist, right? We aren't "sidekick", or we aren't "spouse", we aren't-- We fill those roles, and we identify in those roles, but we are not those roles. And when I started to treat my characters each like-- I ask, what is this person's passion in life? How do they see themselves? They're okay not being at the forefront of the story, but what in their minds do they see as their life meaning? What do they want, who are they, all of these things. And when I stopped sticking people into roles-- Which is really dangerous for an outline writer, sticking people in roles. When I stopped doing that. My characters really came alive a lot more. So that's-- I don't know if that helps, but the biggest piece of advice I can give you is try to figure out a way where you can let your characters-- Pretend like, well, if this person where the hero of the story, not just the sidekick, what would they do? How would they approach it? What would they be doing if they weren't saving the world? If this plot hadn't hit them like a freight train, what would they be doing in life. They would care about things! What would they care about, what would they be doing.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

How do you hint at something, like you hinted at some characters in Shadows of Self without making it feel forced?

Brandon Sanderson

This is all the sort of thing that you judge using early readers. You put in what you feel is right, you have them read it and give you responses to it, and then you back off if they're feeling like it's too heavy handed, and you add more if they're not noticing at all. And that is the best way to learn this, just by getting test readers. Because your own instincts are kind of hard to trust on things like foreshadowing and things like this. So yeah, just get some good early readers and see what they do.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

How do you keep motivation for writing in general, because i always have a lot of trouble with that.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, well that depends on what part of my career you are talking about. Early on I envisioned this cubicle chasing me and if it caught me i'd have to get a normal, boring desk job. That was actually a big motivation to me, because it was like I only had a certain amount of time to do this thing that I loved and if I didnt actually sit down and do it I was gonna have to be a real boy. After i got published and it got a bit hard I started using the carrot philosophy; i would let myself open up a new pack of magic cards if I hit a certain word limit every day.

Questioner

Oh, thats really cool!

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, and that worked really well during the hard years when I was trying to get through the Wheel of Time. They were great books but they were so hard to write cause they were way harder than writing my own fiction. Now I don't really need that anymore, now its kinda become this thing where I have all these fans who are waiting for things and I have to make good on the promises I've made to them. Now its more like a "i need to do this", so yeah.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#14 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.

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

Questioner

I'm working on being an author as well. How do you worldbuild?

Brandon Sanderson

You look for what is going to be relevant and importnat to your characters, and spend your time there. So don't, for instance, build a whole bunch of new languages for a world where all your characters are going to be from the same country, and the languages don't play a relevant part. That is what I would say, particularly in the beginning. If you feel you need more to help you make the world feel fleshed out to you, do that. But worldbuild in service of the story you want to tell.

BookCon 2018 ()
#16 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

I'm in <a MFA and> one of the things I'm interested in is writing multiple perspectives. So how do you go about that and make the characters sound distinctive?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I think really distinctive viewpoints is a big part of it, particularly in the third-limited. It's much easier in the first to distinguish them in some ways, though it's harder to keep track. But in third limited you want to make sure your viewpoints are really distinctive. I always ask myself the question, "How would they describe a cup of water?" Would they see that as if they are thirsty, or how would they describe that thing...

Third limited gets away with a sort of more general voice of the narrator a little bit, to kind of lean on that as long as the focus on descriptions and voice and thoughts of the characters.

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

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. ;)

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#20 Copy

Questioner

Any advice for finding a good, constructive writing group?

Brandon Sanderson

Writing groups, your best bet is to find somewhere, like, at a convention, that's doing writing critiques, and get in on one of the group critiques that happen there, usually led by, like, an author or somebody, and see who's giving good critiques. And then approach them and see if you can start something up. I would say that's the best. University classes, you can get into one of those, some sort of writing class where you can kind of get a preview for how people critique and things like that. That's your best bet, conventions, or writing classes.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#21 Copy

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.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#22 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.

Oathbringer release party ()
#23 Copy

LadyKnightRadiant [PENDING REVIEW]

So you're really good at ending books, especially like post-climax resolution that I feel is always my real weak point. I always find that I tend to write things that end up sounding really, really cheesy. I feel like you have, like, perfected the, like, decent resolution that's not horrifically cheesy. I was wondering if you have like any tips on how to end things properly.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It's all about promises, right, and I've talked about this a lot. Like, what-- remember that the ending, if you've earned it-- Cheesiness is based on whether the reader is on board with you or not-- Cheesiness is not like this intrinsic property of a scene. Cheesiness is, are they on board? Do they want this? Have you done a good job with this? So if you get people on board-- yeah.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#24 Copy

Questioner

What do you do when you have a really great idea and you read a book and someone has already done that idea?

Brandon Sanderson

Weep into your pillow a little bit...

*Laughter*

Then remind yourself that Ideas Are Cheap; in science fiction and fantasy ideas are cheap. Writing skill is what people are really looking for. And so if your idea has already been done, you can take a new spin on it. You know how many people had written young kid finds out they are secretly a wizard and goes off to wizard school books? *laughter* I mean, there are so many of those. Diane Duane did a great series of them. I think it’s So You Want to be a Wizard or something like that. And so don’t let that destroy you. Ask yourself “What is my unique take on it. What’s my perspective on it?” and go ahead and do it. A ton of people had done heist novels as fantasy books before, but I wanted to do one. So I did.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#25 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.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#26 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. 

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#27 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.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#28 Copy

Questioner

As a writer, I tend to be more character-driven. I love what you've done with the character development of the two of these guys throughout the series. How much of them growing throughout the series, as you work on everything else, it comes together?

You know, characters I don't plot out as much. It's very easy to write them being cardboard. So, I try to let it be an outgrowth of what they're passionate about. Just kind of letting the passions of the characters drive their reactions in the narrative, and I think you'll never go wrong with that.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#29 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.

Elantris Annotations ()
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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.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#31 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.

Calamity Austin signing ()
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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.
Firefight Houston signing ()
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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.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#34 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.

Calamity Austin signing ()
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Questioner

I would like to know how do you make cultures so vibrant?

Brandon Sanderson

So, dig deep rather than go wide. One or two cultures that play off of each other in an interesting way, where you've considered a lot of the ramifications, are gonna to be better than trying to create thirty different cultures. Try to keep focused on what's going to be important to the characters and the books, and try to spend your worldbuilding there. So like if the characters are going to have conflict over religion, spend time on religion. But if instead they're going to have different linguistics and that's a source of conflict to them, spend time on the linguistics.

FanX 2018 ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Where do you come up with your names for books?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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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.

Calamity Austin signing ()
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Questioner

I can write dialogue, I can write a couple of other things, but I suck at worldbuilding. And that's something I've watched you do online, I love it, it's great, but I cannot describe it. And any time I start I get two to three pages into it and then I just can't do it.

Brandon Sanderson

Practice. Number one, keep practicing. Less is more. If you can build great dialogue and great characters, you can pick a couple of cool things, just a few, and make everything else like-- try to [write dialogue] anyway. Pick an Earth culture. Changed it a little bit. You would much rather be good at character dialogue than worldbuilding, I can tell you that right now. A great character in a generic world is still a great story. But a weak character in a great world is a weak story. So, don't stress this one too much, it'll get better as you go along. But just try picking one thing that is cool for you, that's different, and make that swap, and try writing a story. Don't stress this one too much.

Oathbringer London signing ()
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Aurimus [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

Manchester signing ()
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Questioner

..One of things I had difficulty with was coming up with names for the characters and seeing how your names are more than just random collections of letters, a lot of them actually have meanings behind them. I was wondering how you were able to do that.

Brandon Sanderson

That's actually a very good question and number one you should keep writing, even if you feel like what you are writing is a rip-off, it is better to finish that first book and be acknowledging your influences because you want to be practicing. And sometimes it is very useful to lean on something else while you do it. In fact this is how Great Masters did artwork, you can find-- I don't know if you guys know this-- various different versions of the Mona Lisa, we saw one in Spain, my wife and I, that was done by DaVinci's student while DaVinci was painting the Mona Lisa. "Here's what I painted now you do it too"  That was the means by which the Great Masters would train their students, so leaning on someone is just fine. You just can't publish it like that, but it can teach you a whole lot. Don't feel bad about that.

Names, I use two general methods, and this is not going to give it the justice it deserves, I'm giving you the five minute version. One version is I look for the linguistic attribute that is interesting to me that will visually distinguish these people on the page. So when you are coming across them and you see that name, I want you to say "I bet that they're from this country". That is really tough because that means they all have to feel similar but you can't let everyone get confused over who's who and that's the real challenge, it's the getting confused. For instance in Warbreaker I tried using some different things like we don't in our world. In Warbreaker I used repeated consonant sounds, so you get someone like Vivenna, when you see that double v, you are like she must be-- Llarimar, there's a double L, you pronounce them both out. T'telir. And when you get double repeated consonants you are like "Oh they are from this region, that makes sense to me even though they start with different letter there is something to them" The same sort of thing is supposed to happen in The Way of Kings, you see names that are mostly symmetrical. When you see something like Shallan and her name is a derivation of Shalash, who was one of the Heralds and its a symmetrical name. When you see something that reads almost, or does read, forward and backward the same way you are like "They must be either Alethi or they must be-- They've got to be Vorin because that is the Vorin religion influencing this". And hopefully it will give you some subconscious cue when you run across those names and you'll get it.

Now a way to do this that is easier is than doing all of that is going to take a lot of work linguistically is to go get yourself a nice atlas and say everyone from this country is going to have names that are analogous to this region in our world and I am then going to take this atlas and look for these names and use baby names from that culture... I did this in Emperor's Soul, I just picked ancient Persia, I picked people who lived there in this era and what they named their cities there and I'm going to take those words and I'm going to screw with them until it is not actually a word but it feels like it might be one. That way everyone from this region is going to feel like they've got a similar name. Or I can just-- For that book it was much easier because the linguistics were not as big a deal.  I could basically just crib off the bat. And that works very well also.

Sometimes I do it intentionally, Mistborn was supposed to evoke a sense of 1820's Paris, or London, that was what I was shooting for with the grime and the dirt, the ash falling. So I used French names and Germanic names and Spanish names and things like this, so when you run into Vin, Vin is just wine in French and Kelsier [Kelsi-ay] is how they would say-- you can say Kelsier [Kelsi-er] if you want-- and they have Kelsier and Demoux so you can go "Oh this is a French sounding region" so when you get some like Elend and Straff you are like "They are from a different region. They sound like the eat meat and potatoes and they try to conquer Europe periodically, those guys" *laughter* That helps you distinguish the regions very easily.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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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.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#42 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.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#43 Copy

Questioner

I write as well, and I was wondering what books you use to improve your own writing?

Brandon Sanderson

I have found both of Orson Scott Card’s books to be very good. Stephen King's book is very good. I find that my writing improves more when I read people's writing that I admire and then ask myself what they did well. That helps me more than some of the textbooks. 

Questioner

That's kind of how I was feeling too, for myself, so excellent.

Brandon Sanderson

Breaking down someone who's really good at this, like Anne McCaffrey, or somebody like that, and saying "what is she actually doing?".

Firefight Houston signing ()
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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?

17th Shard Forum Q&A ()
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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.

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.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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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.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

What has been your best motivation for writing/What would you advise to aspiring writers?

Brandon Sanderson

Okay so what has been my best motivation in writing and what would I advise a new writer. So motivation is a tricky thing because it is very individual. For me, a big part of my motivation was wanting to tell these stories. Just having these stories in my head and wanting to find a way to make these books make people feel the way I feel by the books that I love. Like when I was reading Anne McCaffrey books and they had this powerful effect on me "I've gotta learn how to do that." It was just something that was in me. Mixed with the increasing knowledge as I went to school that I was preparing myself for something that as Oscar Wilde would put it, basically useless. And then if I didn't end up making it as a writer-- It's like I imagined, I say sometimes, that it was like a phantom cubicle chasing me and if it caught me I had to become an insurance actuary or something. I'm sorry if there's an insurance actuary, I'm glad we have you. *laughter* I'm glad we have Erics who love math... But anyway I felt if I didn't give it the best shot I could that I would never have another shot at it. So that worked for me. You are going to have to find your own motivation.

The number one thing I would tell a new writer is to treat learning to write like you would treat learning to draw or play a musical instrument, in that it's a creative process not an event. Writing a book is a process, and so your job as a writer is to train yourself to be someone who writes great books not someone who wrote one good book. That means you have time to practice, you've got to sit and-- like you do your scales, you have to spend time at it. I would also say take my class at BYU, or watch the versions online, and Writing Excuses, my podcast for writers. We started something brand new starting today where we are doing a master class in writing where every month we are going to take one topic and drill down very deeply into it.  It will be a great place to start.  Just go to WritingExcuses.com and click play and listen to our episode, okay?

Footnote: Brandon is referring to Season Ten of Writing Excuses here.
Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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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.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#50 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.