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EuroCon 2016 ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

I would not like to say commonplace, but there are some prejudices of people when they read you, when they read your work, because of the religious elements, right? This can be a challenge, but there are three things that are absolutely important in your work. One is faith, the other one is moral, what you organize around faith, and then you always, always have the critical spirit that really fights against all of this, and that tries to find value. And this is very peculiar, because you were discussing very transcendental, very important things with this touch of spirituality, but there's always reason and a critical spirit underneath. I would like to know whether you could explore this farther?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. It is something I have thought about a lot as well. I am a man of faith. I am religious. I am Latter-day Saint for those who don't know. And I am a man of science. I was a chemistry major originally in college, and I am a very big believer, at the same time, in skepticism and logic, and I have a somewhat more rational approach to my faith than perhaps many others do. But I'm not sure if even that is true, I just think that many people are not as vocal as some of those who are faithful, but determinedly ignorant, also.

I feel that, as a writer, one of my mandates is to express multiple viewpoints on topics, and try to work through them by having rational people, sympathetic people, on multiple sides of an argument. Few things bother me in fiction more than a cast of characters who all agree on some topic, except for one idiot who exists to be proven wrong. I don't think that's who we find truth. I think we find truth through disagreement by people who all have good arguments. When two people who disagree discuss an issue, and both listen to each other, both learn, and their understanding of the world expands. And because of my own inherent biases, by being religious, one of the things I seek very strongly to do is to make sure that the opposing opinion to what I believe is strongly represented by someone making the arguments that that side would make if they were writing the book. A falsehood or a weak belief can survive dumb challenges to it, but truth can survive good arguments against it, is what I believe. So you can see, I'm very fascinated by this topic, and the things that fascinate me come out in my books, but it is very important to me that my stories be about questions and not about answers, because of all of this, that questions lead to truth, and thinking you have answers don't go anywhere.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

We all appreciate that you write real heroes who always try to do what's right, instead of the anti-hero.

Brandon Sanderson

There is a lot of anti-hero out there right now.  And I will let that to other writers.  I am more interested in people who are basically good people who are sometimes put in very difficult situations.  That is more fascinating to me than someone who has no morals or has very little of them.  

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
#3 Copy

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.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
#4 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.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

So Skyward, do you consider it science fiction or science fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

I consider it-- Is Skyward science fiction or science fantasy?

I generally separate the plot archetypes in my head from the genre trappings, and a lot of times people have plot archetypes that are science fiction. I do a lot of science fiction plot archetypes with fantasy settings. That's what Elantris is, right? The plot archetype is about information and researching information and coming to a scientific understanding of something that happened in the past so you can use it to fix the future; science fiction plot archetype fantasy setting for Elantris.

Skyward's backwards, right? It's the fantasy plot archetype. It is the the coming of age struggle against society through use of a fantastical boon to prove yourself, right? Very kind of classic fantasy thing but the trappings are science fiction. So I don't know that I look at these things the same way. Like, Stormlight, the Bridge Four sequence is an underdog sports story with fantasy trappings. That's the plot archetype...

As a writer, where I would shelve it? I would shelve it in science fiction because the trappings are usually-- And because of that. I would shelve Star Wars as science fiction, even though Star Wars is very much mystical, fantastical plot archetypes going on. Shelve it with where the genre trappings are, that's just for our sanity right? So we can know what box to put things in. Just for ease of discussing it and things like that. Nothing ever matches either genre trapping or plot archetype. It's just there for us to be able to have the framework to talk about it. 

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
#6 Copy

Questioner

If you were to choose a magic system between personalized magic, where each person has their own custom ability, versus one which is an overall thing with branches, which one would you think better? 

Brandon Sanderson

Uh, depends on the story you're trying to tell. They can both be really advantageous. They have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Questioner

But you personally, which one do you like better.

Brandon Sanderson

The branching. 

Brandon's Blog 2018 ()
#7 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

One of the most common questions I get, as a writer, is some variation on, "Do you ever hear voices, or feel like your characters are real?" People ask it timidly, as they don't want to be offensive, but there seems to be genuine curiosity about the way a writer's brain works. (Other variations on this theme are questions such as, "What are your dreams like?" or "Do you ever get so wrapped up in your worlds that you have trouble coming back to our world?")

They're legitimate questions, though I'm not convinced that a writer's brain works in any consistently different way from someone else's brain. I think you'll find the same amount of variation in the way writers work as you'll find in any profession. There are as many ways to approach stories as there are people writing stories.

That said, I have talked to a lot of writers who imply a certain autonomy to their characters. "I had to write their story," one might say. "They wouldn't leave me alone until I did." Or some version of, "I was writing one story, but the characters just didn't want to go that way, and so took off in another direction."

To me, these are ways of trying to voice the fact that the way our minds work—and the way we construct art—is in some cases a mystery even to those involved. Human beings have this fascinating mix of instinct and intent, where we train ourselves to do complex tasks quickly through repetition. In this way, writing a book is somewhat similar to driving home from work—you can consciously think about it, and make each decision along the way. Or, more often, you just let your body do the work, interpreting things your brain says should happen without you thinking about it directly.

I spend a lot of time teaching how to write and talking about writing, but I don't consciously use a lot of the techniques I talk about. I've used them so much that I just move forward, without formally saying something like, "Now I'm making sure my chapter ties together the sub-themes it introduced at the beginning." The truly conscious technique comes during troubleshooting, when a story isn't coming together for me—and so I have to step back, take apart what I've been doing, and find the broken bits.

So again, a mix of intent and instinct is where books come from for me. I don't generally feel that the characters "want" to do things—but I still write them by gut feeling most of the way, and only look at breaking down their motivations specifically when I'm either working on the outline or trying to fix something in revisions.

On one hand, I know exactly who the character is and what they would do in a situation. So it does feel a little mystical sometimes, and you can have eureka moments during writing where you finally find a method to express this character that will convey the right idea to the reader. In that way, there's almost this Platonic version of the character that you're chasing—and trying to explore, figure out, and commit to paper.

On the other hand, it's likely that these characters feel right to me not because of any mystical connection to the abstract. It's because I'm unconsciously drawing from tropes, characterizations, and people I've known before—and I am putting them together on the page to form something that will feel right because of the backgrounds I'm drawing upon.

It's an exhilarating process for me, but also can lead to troubles. Which I'll talk about in Part Two.

Brandon's Blog 2018 ()
#8 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

In the last post, I talked a little about how characters come into existence, walking the line between an instinctive process and an intentional one.

Working this way can create some issues. The first is that sometimes when I talk about my process, this part of it ends up getting presented as a lot more… deliberate than it really is. I spend a lot of time trying to help new writers, and I worry that in presenting all of these outlines, exercises, and techniques, we miss emphasizing just how little we really understand about the process.

In some ways, writing a story is like hitting a baseball. You can talk all you want about the physics involved in how a baseball is pitched, then hit with the bat. But the truth is, neither pitcher nor batter are thinking about any of this in the moment.

This makes the process feel overwhelming to some new writers, who think they need to have all of this in hand before they can write a story. Truth is, I'm generally explaining things I did by instinct early in my career, then figured out ways to talk about as I proceeded to study what I'd already done.

You don't need to feel some mystical connection to characters to start writing—and if you focus too much on the idea that your characters should "feel" right and "do what they want," you can end up frustrated, as you don't have the practice writing yet to get them to do what needs to be done to actually create an interesting story.

Another problem with the voices in my head is the worry that I'll repeat myself. Working by instinct, as so many authors (including outliners like me) do, can lead to repetition. Something can "feel" right because you've seen that thing done so many times, you think it is the "right" way—even when it makes for a worse story.

This sort of writing, even when you're doing something interesting and new to you, can get repetitive as you only write in one way or style. In fact, I see a lot of writers talking about the "right" way to do something, as if it's a hard and fast rule—but it's not really that, it's simply the way they've trained their instincts to respond. Something that goes against this feels off to them, but only because of a kind of tunnel vision.

You can also start to regurgitate stereotypes and other weak or harmful tropes because they're part of your historical experience with genre—and you take them for granted. I did this in the original Mistborn novels, where I spent a lot of time working on Vin as a character, wanting an interesting and dynamic female lead for the stories. But then I wrote the rest of the team as men—not because I consciously decided it, but because stories like Ocean's Eleven, The Sting, and Sneakers (which were part of my inspiration) contained primarily male casts.

It isn't that you can't make a story that does this, or couldn't have reasons for writing a primarily male cast in a story. But I didn't have any of those reasons in mind; I did it because I was mimicking, without conscious thought, things I'd seen before. It felt "right" to me, but during examination later, I felt the story would have been stronger if I hadn't just run with the default that way.

Overall, I think that repeating myself is my biggest worry as a writer. Specifically, I worry that I'll end up writing the same characters over and over, or look at themes the same way time and time again, without even realizing that I'm doing it. That's one of the reasons I force myself to approach stories like the Legion ones—where I have to get out of my comfort zone, write in a different kind of setting with different kinds of storytelling expectations, and see where that takes me.

And so, the third part of this series will look at the Legion stories specifically, and where the voices in my head came from in that regard.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

Warbreaker had just come out, and I was talking about how you used more comedy in the book, and I was asking about it and everything else, and I was so pleased that you've done such a wonderful job with it, I enjoyed the humor aspects, besides it just sets everything up perfectly.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

I feel that a great book is going to have a wide range of emotions, so I try to stick various different ones in.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
#10 Copy

Questioner

In the first three Mistborn books, and Elantris and Warbreaker, you focus a lot on sort of gods and religion, is there a particular reason for that?

Brandon Sanderson

Why do I focus on gods and religion in my books. Well there's a couple of reasons. The main one is the kind of overarching story of the cosmere, which all my books are connected, there is some divine force named Adonalsium that was broken apart long ago and the scions of that-- people who have that power are showing up and causing problems and things on planets. So that's kind of the hidden epic behind the scenes, and so because of that religion is a very big part of what happens there.

I'm also a religious person. For those who don't know, I'm Mormon, I'm LDS. And so religion is important to me and whatever I'm fascinated by works it's way into my books. Now I'm generally the type of writer who doesn't feel like I should go into a book with a theme, I should explore what the characters are passionate and let the theme manifest naturally. And so I do that a lot, I don't go in saying "Oh I'm going to teach people this" I say "Who is this character, what are they passionate about" But the things I'm interested in you see. That's why you end up with stories about a god who doesn't believe in his own religion, from Warbreaker. Or you end up with these different things, with Kelsier founding a religion to use it, or having people with different types of faith. And I really think that part of the point of fiction is to, for me, to explore different ideas from different angles and try to just tackle them. And so you'll see me coming back to some of the same concepts again and again, because I want to try them from a new angle, see how this person thinks, see how this character deals with it. Because that's just really interesting to me.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#11 Copy

Questioner

Do you make a conscious effort to incorporate *inaudible* morals? Like not...

Brandon Sanderson

Um, yeah...

Questioner

I mean, more sexually.

Brandon Sanderson

Right, so, I personally don't like reading things that kind of are explicit themselves. I feel like I shouldn't force all of my characters to keep the same moral code, because that's not accurately representing the world. It's-- But at the same time, what I think is moral influences things. So it's like very conscious that--

Questioner

More like how you describe it.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. And also, you know, you go to some-- a place like Roshar, where it's based on oaths and things like this. That's playing into part of what I think is moral, right? So, yeah. But the same time we have people like Wayne, whose just like-- you know Wayne is not going to-- yeah, he's got very loose morals-- that's who he is. And if I didn't put people like that in my books there would be something wrong. But I don't feel like I have to be explicit, is the thing.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#12 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.

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

You mentioned one time that there were guards hiding under the bed and in a secret room when Siri was first *inaudible* the God King?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, I at least imagined it that way.

Questioner

Do you always add details like that in your imagination?

Brandon Sanderson

It's very frequently I do. Just cause I want to be a few steps ahead. And I want to be making sure that my motives for the characters—particularly the side characters, we're not seeing through their eyes, make sense. Motives are really important to me.

Idaho Falls signing ()
#14 Copy

Questioner

Are you cameo'ing as a [Seventeenth Shard] character, worldhopper, in any of your books?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, I haven't really wanted to do that, I'm not sure why. If we did movies, I would want cameos. But I haven't cameo'd myself in the books. I was tempted more in Wheel of Time than in my own books. But, I think since we already have this connection thing happening with Hoid and stuff, I don't want to imply that I am Hoid or something like this, if that makes sense. Clive Cussler did that, it was always fun to find him in the book. I don't know, it's never been something that I wanted to do.

Questioner

There's just kind of a Where's Waldo for him.

Brandon Sanderson

When I first started this, I wanted Hoid to be a real thing, so I was putting this in. I feel like if I started doing cameos for me also, one would be silly and one would not be, and it'd kind of confuse the--

WorldCon 76 ()
#15 Copy

Questioner

When you finished a book, or years away from a book, when you realized, "Oh, there was a loophole here, something didn't make sense." How do you react to that?

Brandon Sanderson

I react to it by saying, "Well, that always happens." Happens to everybody. You got two options. Well, maybe, like, three. One is, you just leave it alone. One is to do what Tolkien did, where he just rewrote the book. The Hobbit, he just did a new version that had the loophole closed. Or you can later on find a reason to explain it in world, which we call 'retconning' it. Any of those are fine. Don't stress about it: everybody makes mistakes. If Grandpa Tolkien had loopholes, then everybody's gonna have loopholes.

The Way of Kings Annotations ()
#16 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter 11

And now comes the redemption chapter.

This is the sort of thing that I write books to do. It's the sort of chapter that I really hope to be able to pull off. That may seem strange to some of you, as it's not the climatic ending or the like—but it's the turning point of the story. Probably the most important one in the book.

I've said before that I feel Epic Fantasy is about return on investment. We often demand a lot of readers in terms of worldbuilding. There's a lot to catch up on and follow in a book like this. The goal, then, is to be able to deliver powerful scenes that make use of the investment.

The reward for the early chapters is this chapter. It lays a foundation for the entire book. I've brought Kaladin as low as I could bring him, and now we get to experience the scramble upward.

Perhaps I think about these things too much. However, this was exactly what was missing from Prime when I wrote it. I was baffled, at the time, as to why the book just didn't work. It had all of the elements of a good epicw, and yet the book felt hollow somehow. There were fun adventures to be had, but no real impact. What it needed was this sequence, which has a lot of motion (and hopefully heart) to it.

This chapter makes the book for me.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#17 Copy

Questioner

I'm actually a big YA reader, and I became a fan of yours through your YA books; I read The Reckoners first. And I actually found-- to put it in a nice way, some resistance from some of your fans because I like your YA stuff better. But I guess my question would be, what would you say to your readers that are really stuck on Stormlight or your older books that are reluctant to read either yours or other teen books?

Brandon Sanderson

It's really weird to say "adult fantasy" in this context. I once had a panel where they introduced me as the "adult fantasy guy," and I'm like, "Well, yes?"

...I would say, number one kind of most important thing in this is, "Don't feel bad for liking something and not liking something else." This is a big thing to me. It is okay that I hate fish sticks, and some people in this room love fish sticks. And if we acknowledge that writing is an art, and stories are an art, then I think we have to acknowledge that like or dislike of them must kind of have an inherent subjectiveness to it. Because if we all liked the same sort of art, that would not really be a world I want to live in. So it is okay to try things out and say, "This isn't for me." Whether it's written by me or anyone else, that is perfectly all right.

Though I would also say, if you haven't given a try to a genre just because of-- there's a lot of snobbishness to art, at the same time. Like, I was reading an essay recently about how fiction has existed in this state of feeling snubbed by nonfiction, which was the "true" writing, ever since the novel was invented. But of course, once the novel was invented, we started subsetting into different genres where you could be snobbish against other people in that. And then in the subgenres, you're like, "Science fiction is better than furry fanfic," or whatever. So suddenly, all we do is, we spend time being snobbish about somebody else's art that they love. And you see this a lot in science fiction with-- Someone enters reading Eragon, and they love Eragon, and they go somewhere and say, "Eragon's my favorite book ever." And they're like, "Oh, that's just a bad ripoff of Star Wars and Anne McCaffrey." Instead of being like, "Wow, I'm glad you loved something. Welcome to our community." They're like, "Oh, you don't like the right thing." So, if you kind of let this get to you, and you haven't tried any genre, whether it be one of the YA, or a lot of people in Sci Fi/Fantasy (I won't state the specific genres) like to point and say, "Well, at least we're not as tropey as them." I think you will find, in a lot of variety of places, things that you love and you can learn from. And YA in particular, particularly when I was trying to break in, YA had started doing all the really exciting things in Sci Fi/Fantasy. So if you haven't read some Garth Nix from that era, or if you haven't been reading some of the really cool YA. (I just read the Star Touched Queen, which is amazing.) If you haven't been reading some of this stuff, YA has been doing a lot of really cool explorations of setting and genre and stuff like that, then you are doing yourself a disservice not trying it out. You don't have to like it, but I would suggest that you try it out. So that's what I would say.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#18 Copy

Questioner

Is there any character that you think you have learned something from while writing? Or--

Brandon Sanderson

Each character that I write is a mix of two things. It is a mix of some part of me, and something very different from myself. In order to write those characters, I usually do a lot of exploring and trying to find out about people who are like the character that I'm writing, and that teaches me a ton. You could say that the character has taught me a lot on that case. Doing, for instance, Kaladin, and trying to write a hero with depression whose story is not about having depression, and going to people I know and people I love and people I don't know, and asking them what it feels like, has taught me a whole ton. I don't know if that answers your question, but often the exploration of where a character goes is me exploring my own thoughts and feelings on an idea. And I would say that every character, to an extent, takes me on a journey as I write them, and kind of combine myself with something else. So yes, they all have, but also they all are partially me.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#19 Copy

MoriWillow

I've noticed a sort-of pattern in some of your work of human/non-human partnerships (spren, Aviar, Seons, etc, and now spaceships). Is this a concept you're consciously interested in? (It's actually probably one of my favorite parts of the relevant works.)

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it's something I'm very interested in. It happens to be a theme of the cosmere, so you'll see it a lot. One reason for this is that I think a purpose of SF/F is to explore things that don't exist to our current knowledge (things that are intelligent, but not human) but which it's very plausible humanity will some day deal with. Another reason is that I like the idea of looking at the things we do from the outside--and the perspective of something like a spren or a machine is very interesting for me to try to wrap my head around.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#20 Copy

Questioner

As Professor Sanderson, do you get situations where past students have success but you don't really care for it and how do you handle it?

Brandon Sanderson

That has not happened to me. The students who have gotten published, particularly lately-- To get into my class at BYU, you have to submit an application and chapters and there's a three-day window and we get a hundred applications and we take fifteen. These days, about a third of those students that get in tend to be what we call, "continuing education," meaning they are people who have gone to BYU and take only that class. Oftentimes, they move to Provo to take that class. So there's some pretty stiff competition and the writers who are in the class these days are really good.

But even in the older days, the people who got published, you can usually tell, and even if you can't, I mean, there's not a lot of writing out there that I can't read and say, "Wow! I understand how someone appreciates this," right? Part of, I think, being a writer and an artist is learning to appreciate things, even if you don't necessarily care for them, to be able to recognize, "This is good and someone is going to love this. This has craft, even it's not something that I particularly enjoy." But none of my students have even been there. All the ones that have gotten published, I'm like, "Wow, this is a great book." So, maybe someday I'll have to deal with that, but I haven't really had to deal with it so far.

Skyward Anchorage signing ()
#21 Copy

Questioner

How do you go about jumping from something like Stormlight into a science fiction instead, of something like Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an interesting question for me because, as a writer, I don't look at genre trappings perhaps the same way that you might. I look at story structure and genre trappings as two very different things. Two very important things, but two very different things. And story structure is different.

For instance, the Bridge Four sequence from Way of Kings and the movie Hoosiers and the book Ender's Game are all what we call underdog sports stories. And those are three different stories in three different genre trappings. Modern-day, science fiction, and fantasy; and yet all three of them use the same plot archetype as the core of their story. And you'll find, for instance, that a buddy cop movie and a regency romance will sometimes use the exact same plot archetypes, despite being different subgenres. And so, as a writer, one of the things we do is we start to learn to divide plot archetype, character archetype, genre trappings, and all of these things to build the story that we want to with the feel we want to.

So that's kind of like, when people ask me, "Star Wars. Science fiction, or fantasy?" Well, it's a fantasy plot archetype. (Really, it's a western plot archetype, but they both use the same idea.) The plot archetype is fantasy, it's the hero's journey epic; and the genre trappings are science fiction. So I would place it in science fiction, but with fantasy underpinnings.

So when I'm moving from Way of Kings to Skyward, it's not so much about how the shift between fantasy versus science fiction is. Really, the things I'm looking for that are the big shift are: a narrow focus on one character, versus a wide focus on a large cast. That's the biggest difference for me. Also, the kind of setting-as-character in Stormlight Archive, where you're going to get to know this deep setting, versus setting-as-mystery, which is the setting archetype I'm using for Skyward. We don't know what the enemy is. We're trying to figure out what's going on. We don't know our past.

So those sorts of things, I look as very differently as a writer than I think maybe a reader might look at them.

Firefight release party ()
#22 Copy

Questioner

What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

Brandon Sanderson

What do I hope to accomplish?

Questioner

It's kind of a deep, philosophical question.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. It is. It is indeed a philosophical question. At the end of the day the number one thing I want to do is tell great stories. Everything else is kind of an appendage to that. I'm a storyteller. And great things come from stories, but if the only thing I do is entertain some people and make their day brighter, that's a success. So sure, I'd like to create something in fantasy that's never been made before, right? Like I would like the cosmere to become this thing that people are like "No one's ever done that, look at this cool thing!" but that's secondary to just wanting to tell great stories and make people's lives a little brighter.

Yeah, I think that great books make you think, but not because they try very hard to make you think. If that makes any sense?

Questioner

I agree with it...

Brandon Sanderson

I would like to-- I would like to write something that is as immortal as Ender's Game is likely to be, right? Most of the body of Scott Card's work will probably be forgotten, but in two hundred years, they'll still be reading Ender's Game. And most everyone's work, that most everyone writes, will be forgotten but once and a while somebody creates something that is likely to stick around for a while. I'd like to do that. But that's secondary.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#23 Copy

Michael M. Jones

Are there any particular messages that you hope readers will take away from this book?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't really go into books with a message. I like to explore the characters and their passions, and the theme, without any overt agenda. I just want readers to be able to see through the eyes of people who are different from them, to see that our biases do affect how we perceive the world—and that's both a good and bad thing. I just want them to come out of the story saying, "That was great, let me think about this some more."

Skyward Seattle signing ()
#24 Copy

Questioner

How do puns work with all-

Brandon Sanderson

How do what work?

Questioner

Puns, because they're speaking different languages?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, yeah, the books are in translation; you have to imagine I am the translator, and what I am doing is, I am searching for something in our language that best replicates what they said in their language. That is the same thing for things like Veristitalian and stuff like that that uses Latin in our world. That's indicating it's using a similar older language in their world to build the thing. So you have to understand Wit doesn't actually say that exact pun, he says something that is a pun that I translate into English into a similar pun.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#25 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever feel like, as the author of these stories, you are basically the God of these books?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. It feels-- Honestly, I would look at it more-- The better way I feel is more like the historian. I've constructed the story in the outline, and now as the historian I'm writing it out and recording it. Because it's already kind of happened to me as the outline doing it. So I feel more like that. Like, I'm gonna do what the story demands. I'm not sitting there playing God, like, "I'm doing this to you!" I'm like, "This is what the right story is, and I'm going to write it."

Questioner

When you have to make changes, do you ever feel like you're betraying something in your story, when you have to make a change that maybe you weren't planning on?

Brandon Sanderson

No, it's the other way around. I never have made a change I haven't been comfortable with. It's only if I feel a story's gonna be stronger and it's better for the characters. A revision is more like an exploration of "Something was wrong in this, I did it wrong the first way. I'm gonna try to nudge it toward the way it should be." And when I can't do that, that's when I have to pull the book, because I can't figure out what it should be, if that makes any sense. It's kind of nebulous. But I'm trying to get it closer and closer to the perfect version of the story I'm trying to tell.

JordanCon 2014 ()
#26 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Hoid waxes poetic on the idea that the more people expect, the more difficult it becomes for the artist. This is more the critic in me having noticed that my own expectations for a piece play dramatically into how much I enjoy it. Some of my best experiences at the cinema have been films where I had no idea what to expect. The Sixth Sense was like this for me. I had never heard of the film, my friends dragged me to it, they said it's a horror and I said "I'm not sure if I want to watch a slasher pic, but I think it's going to be terrible but whatever." And I watched it and it was a great movie and I came out of it saying, "Wow, I did not expect that." And yet something like The Dark Knight Returns, which is a fantastic film, well done. Yet the second film was so good that I went into the third film and it wasn't quite as good as the second film and I came out and said, "Eh." Where it is a great film and yet my expectations-- It's unfair to the artist but it is the way I think a lot of us work. That our expectations do play a lot into how our experience is for the story. A lot of things when I go into things like that, I'm not trying to let the author speak so much as I'm trying to say what would someone who analyzes art like a critic in my analyzes art what would be an observation they would make. Hoid is not me and he does not voice necessarily my personal opinions, but he is an artist and a critic and so he notices some of the things I notice.  

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#27 Copy

Questioner

What is your philosophy on prologues? You do a lot of them.

Brandon Sanderson

I do a lot of them. I don't think they're necessary. I'm fond of them. Usually, if you can find a way to not do one, your story will probably be stronger. But they do let you do something like, for instance, if you know that the later tone of your story is not going to match the early tone of your story, you can hint what the tone is actually going to be in the prologue, which is really handy. And there are other things you can do. You can start with a bang with a prologue in a way that maybe sometimes you wouldn't be able to do if you were going right into the main story. There's things that I like about them. But I do think that they become a crutch to some writers, and that might include me.

Questioner

Do you have a recommended length in terms of how long it should be? ...Or maybe how long it should not be? What would be the max for a prologue?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, Robert Jordan's kind of became books unto themselves, and that worked for him. But when you're getting that long, you might be-- Short and sweet is probably your best. One of the best prologues ever written is the prologue to Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. But there's no real-- Just try to avoid the classic '80s one where it's like, "Prologue is all the worldbuilding dump that I couldn't fit in to the first chapters."

MisCon 2018 ()
#28 Copy

Questioner

Speaking of the cosmere, because it's this multiverse that's the setting for all these different epic fantasy series, do you ever feel restricted by the cosmere in a sense of sort of wanting to do with a plot or the magic or wanting something really epic to happen but be like, "Wait that's not legal in the system I've created?" 

Brandon Sanderson

It doesn't happen very often because, most of the times in my outlining process, I notice these things and I move something out of the cosmere. If it's just not going to work with the cosmere magic, it just doesn't have to be cosmere. And I'm really glad I gave myself that freedom because I think that you can get too locked in, right? If I'm like, "Everything has to be cosmere!" then either I'm going to break it, which is going to decrease the value of the continuity, or I'm just not going to be able to write some books that I'm excited about. And I don't like either of those options.

And so being able to say, "You know what? This magic that I'm working on for FTL does not match any of the ways that the cosmere FTL could work. I'm going to move this out of the cosmere." That's what happened to Skyward. Skyward was in the cosmere for a little while, but then I moved it out. I'm like, "No this matches other stuff better. I'm going to go with this FTL, that is not a cosmere FTL." That frees me like--

Skyward is a science fiction space opera, starship pilots and things like that. And if I would have done this in the cosmere, I would have just had to avoid talking about things that would be spoilers for other cosmere books, which would have been terrible, right? So either you have the Skyward books that have their hands bound so that I can't give spoilers, or Skyward gives all the spoilers, and then cool things happening in the future of the cosmere are just like, "whatever". I take option number three, which is I'm just not going to do this as a cosmere book because obviously it doesn't fit.

MisCon 2018 ()
#29 Copy

Brainless

If you had a chance to go back for Elantris and the early Mistborn books and stuff like that, would you potentially consider adding more crossover characters, because you did put Hoid in all of those, but would you potentially put other smaller things from other planets, like other worldhoppers, in it?

Brandon Sanderson

So, the cheeky answer to this is, I've read The Monkey's Paw, and I've read enough science fiction stories to know that if someone says "Do you want to change this thing about your past?" that you say "No." Because depending on the writer you are either going to end up in a horror story, or you are going to have to learn some lesson about how important you are, or your family is, and then it will all be a dream, so no, I wouldn't.

But really the answer is no, I wouldn't change. I like the fact that the cosmere has a very light touch on those early books. I like it in part because I feel like people who are just getting into my fiction, I don't want them to feel like they have to follow everything to enjoy one book. And yeah, I'm adding little bits more into Stormlight, but that's inevitable because so much will take place in Shadesmar, which by it's nature is far more cosmere-aware, and so we're going to have to do more things the further Stormlight gets and the further Mistborn gets, because it will become inevitable. And that's fine, I'm embracing that. The further we go in the cosmere, the more you're going to have to be on board for the idea of the crossovers working. But I don't want the initial books that you get into to have to be like that. I was very intentional with my light touch on those early cosmere books and I wouldn't go back and add more. Even Way of Kings, right? Has what has Hoid and Felt in it, and that's just about it.

Chaos

Felt's in Words of Radiance.

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, is he in Words of Radiance? He's not even in Way of Kings.

Several Questioners

*talking over each other*

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, you saw Galladon, you saw the seventeenth shard. So there's like one scene in the whole book, maybe two, depending, but Hoid isn't even very Hoid-like in that first one. It's the second one where he mentions Adonalsium and stuff—

Several Questioners

*correct the previous statement*

Brandon Sanderson

Is it the first one? It's the first one. It's that party at the thing with Dalinar. So there's two scenes in Way of Kings, and that's very intentional. By the time we get to the second stage Stormlight books, and the fourth stage Mistborn books, you'll just have to be on-board. But by then you're entrenched. If you're reading Stormlight seven, then the Stormlight series is already longer than everything else, so you might as well just've read everything else.

MisCon 2018 ()
#30 Copy

Questioner

In your magic systems, they all require the character to go over a great stress before they obtain that-- Do you use the concept of the price that comes with magic in a plausible magic system when you came up with that idea, or was it more about the idea of flawed characters are awesome?

Brandon Sanderson

In the cosmere magics, a lot of times in order to get the magic, there needs to be-- the internal logic argument is: Souls, once they have gaps in them, those gaps can be filled with other things, which often give you access to magical powers. Great trauma or stress--this is an age old fantasy idea, goes back many many years in the genre--will let you attain some of these powers, kind of as a balancing thing and mostly this is for narrative reasons.

Flawed characters are just way more interesting to write, and I gravitated to it pretty naturally as I was building the magic of the cosmere. And I would say it was mostly narrative reasons, as opposed to, when I was building the magic, some rule that felt like it needed to be there. But it's also a little of a balancing factor. It's trying to build into--whoever asked the question about the god--having god-like powers, but their flaws making it hard for them to use it.

It's a check on giving the powers to my characters, if I make sure to establish, this character has some holes in their-- some gaps and flaws in who they are, that might make them use their powers wrong once they get them, and that is in some way a narrative check on that, if that makes sense.

MisCon 2018 ()
#31 Copy

Questioner

What do you feel about the role of allegory? The whole debate between Lewis and Tolkien. But connected to that, the other side of it, how do you feel about the duty of fiction to say something good, or send a message...

Brandon Sanderson

So, where I fall on that is, I fall on Tolkien's side. In my own fiction, I do not want my fiction to be an allegory of anything other than "Here is how some people see the world." And I think that that is a powerful thing that fiction does, is it shows different perspectives on the same issues. I stole a quote that I swear was from Robert Jordan. I hope someone finds it one day, where said he wrote his stories to give people interesting questions. He didn't write his stories to give them answers. And I put that as a quote from one of my characters in one of my books. I haven't been able to find where Robert Jordan said that, but I swear he said it at some point. That the idea is, that I think fiction is about questions and not answers. But that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy reading Phillip Pullman, who's like, "This is an allegory for my life experience." I enjoy reading C.S. Lewis. I don't enjoy certain authors, we won't extrapolate further along that path. But there are lots of authors that have written books as allegory that I think are great books. A Christmas Carol is an allegory. It's a great allegory, it's fun, but that's not how I generally write. I generally write by saying, "Who is this person? What are they passionate about?" I will look for theme in what the characters are struggling with and bring that theme out as a manifestation of the characters, but I won't go in saying "I'm gonna teach people about the nature of honor." But maybe one of the characters is really interested in the nature of honor, and so they'll talk about it.

MisCon 2018 ()
#32 Copy

Questioner

Do you ever feel like it can be bad if you have too many characters that have really politically or socially unhealthy perspectives?

Brandon Sanderson

That is dangerous, yeah. Particularly in the hands of an inexperienced writer. It's not a reason to not do it, but I'm reminded of Save the Pearls. So, this is a well-meaning young woman who is obviously writing from a position of privilege who wrote a book about reverse racism where the black people are racist against white people. And the black people are called Coals, and the white people are called Pearls. And it is really heavy-handed and poorly done, and really... is bad for the whole discussion. It is horribly, horribly racist in the way it treats black people in the book that's supposed to be about how bad racism is. And her intent was good, it's like, "Hey, let's let white people experience how it would be to be racist against people," but it just-- in her hands, it's just terrible. It is dangerous to not be part of the conversation and try to say something about the conversation. To not do your leg work, and things like that.

But at the same time, as an artist, I don't feel like you should not try to have things to say. But you should maybe research a little more, things like that. What if you want to write a book where main characters are racist? They hold unpopular and unhelpful opinions, they are dead-out wrong. How can you write this without contributing to the problem? And people have different answers to this. I would go research online and see what people have said about it. I mean, Stormlight is about a bunch of racist people who don't know they're racist. They just don't know. And this is me tackling that really dangerous problem, and it is a place you can get burned by doing.

But again, I think you should do it. I think we should be having these discussions, but make sure to read first. And there are ways to go about it where you indicate, "Hey, this is part of life. And it sucks." But it is part of life, so if we pretend it's not there, then it's also doing a disservice to the discussion. So, yeah, it is something to worry about. It's definitely something to think about. It's definitely something that should inform the way you approach your writing. But be careful.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#33 Copy

gauzemajig

Do you think you'll ever go outside of the established raunchiness of your books? I don't mean a murder sex party, but you know, straying a bit into the dark and gritty. It's just my opinion but I feel like you play it a little safe. Not necessarily a bad thing though!

Brandon Sanderson

I don't think I've crossed the line where I'm personally comfortable doing, but I think I'm close. Usually, I give a few characters (like Wayne) the ability to go further than others, as an acknowledgement that there are good people out there who don't happen to have my same prudish nature.

I think the thing you'll see that is the closest is when (and if) I write the Threnody novel.

For everything else, you'll have to settle for knowing that one of my quirks as a writer is that I do indeed play it a little safe--and probably will always do so. I'm very aware that my children, nieces, and nephews read my books. Beyond that, I feel that I'm an intentional and specific contrast to other writers in the genre--I consider it my duty to prove that (like many of the classic movies) you can write something that is for adults, and has depth, without delving into grittiness.

This is not a disparagement of people like Joe Abercrombie, who I think is an excellent writer, or others like him--and I'm glad we have them in the field. However, my own path goes a different direction, and I think it's important that I also publish, proving to those who perhaps wish to be more circumspect in these areas that there is a place for them in the genre too.

Xluxaeternax

Does that mean that you recognize that the stories that take place on Threnody, a world of your creation, are stories that you are uncomfortable exploring because they are too harsh or intense? If that's the case I find that absolutely fascinating and very impressive- it's almost as if the cosmere is a real place with real people and you're just communicating their stories to us. I personally would rather you never told those stories instead of forcing them to be something that is untrue to what you created them to be.

Brandon Sanderson

A writer must be willing to do uncomfortable things; I fully believe that. Stories like Snapshot (my most recent novella) have done this before, and if I write the Threnody novel, I intend to do it well. (But also be very clear to audiences that it's darker than other cosmere books.)

It's not about intensity--I feel other books are intense. Or even about violence or darkness. It's about how far the narrative needs to delve into these things, or the relationship of light and hope to the darkness.

Dalinar's backstory in Stormlight is uncomfortably dark, and I won't pull punches from it. But it's balanced by the man he has become. In Threnody, some of the stories don't have that balance.

Oathbringer Portland signing ()
#34 Copy

Questioner

I just have been noticing this, and it's not exclusive to any author, it's just this kind of theme that simply tires me. Main characters, they die, and then they come back to life. or they just don't die. And it makes it so much less exciting for me. So, I wanted to ask you what you think about that?

Brandon Sanderson

So, here's the thing. Because fiction isn't real, death is meaningless in fiction. The only real things in fiction are the emotions we make you feel, and different stories try to do that in different ways with different themes. For instance, I don't think Lord of the Rings is ruined by the fact that Gandalf has a resurrection, because of the emotions you feel, and then the other emotions you feel, and things like this-- and there's something universal about it. And so, I don't think I'm as big on it as that, because deaths-- maybe it's because I'm a writer, everything feels arbitrary in books, except the emotion that I put upon it, if that makes sense? And I always find that what the characters are going through is the more interesting than an abrupt end, but I guess that's just kinda me.

If you say that, then books can't have resurrection as a theme, or rebirth, which is, like, one of the most interesting themes in existence. But everyone has different tastes, there's no wrong. Not liking it is not wrong. I mean, plot armor also has this thing where we tend to not kill characters arbitrarily, we tend to do it at dramatic moments, and things like this, because the story is better that way, right? And there are some people, like George Martin, who just try to throw this out the window, to tell a different story by doing that. But, of course, resurrection is a huge theme in those books.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#35 Copy

Questioner

I could be completely wrong, but I believe a skill is something that you pick up after years of being beaten in a school system, and talent is something that you're born with. If you've ever been out on a karaoke night, you know the difference between a skill and a talent. Is writing a skill or a talent?

Brandon Sanderson

What a wonderful question! ...I think writing draws on both. And I think writers need both. And to explain the difference, the skill of writing is learning plot structures. Learning how different plots play out. Learning what types of words to use in what situations. But the art of writing, the talent of writing, comes in bringing it all together to something that is somehow bigger than the sum of its parts. And figuring out that balance, and how to take something that you've constructed out of pieces that you've learned and turn it into something that is a little more magical (no pun intended) is the art of writing, and that's the part that I can't explain. I can teach you the skill of writing, and I can teach you maybe to train yourself to express the art. But at the end, the talent is something that can't be defined.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#36 Copy

Questioner

When writing, do you ever encounter a problem where you're building a world or writing a book is very similar to other things going on in popular culture, something like that? How do you build your world to be different from those, so it doesn't feel similar?

Brandon Sanderson

Artists and writers are more afraid, in my experience, of being thought derivative than they generally should be. A lot of times what you'll see is, people who have a similar sort of background and are reading the same sort of things will start to create things that are similar. There's a reason Brent Weeks and I both released color-based magic system books within a year of each other. And it's not because we were talking; we didn't even know each other then. But we both grew up reading the same sort of things and were exploring magic in the same ways.

I don't think you need to stress this nearly as much as you do. At least as much as you probably do. My experience has been that the only thing that's really gonna be original about your story is you. And you are going to add things to this story. Look at the number of people who have told Beauty and the Beast in different ways. Or Cinderella. We had a Cinderella book become one of the biggest books of the year just a few years back, in Cinder. You are going to be able to add things. If you have early readers say, "This feels derivative." You can always change that, or you can always write something else. Don't stress it. Write the book you want to write, and train yourself to be a writer, and it really isn't gonna be as big a problem as you might think it is. It wouldn't matter, for instance, if you released a book the same year as Mistborn that had a metal-based magic system. Like, X-Men has a character with a metal-based magic, and it was the biggest movie of the year a couple a years before Mistborn came out, and people don't read Mistborn and be like, "Wow, that's just Magneto, only lamer." *laughter* Thankfully, they don't say that. So, don't worry about this as much as you might.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#37 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Religious Philosophies

There is a belief that many people hold in the world, and I like to call it the "spokes on the wheel" belief. This is the belief that as long as you struggle hard and try to live your life well, you'll make it to heaven, or nirvana, or whatever lies on the other side of death. People who believe this tend to take an "It doesn't matter what road you take; they all lead the same place" approach. Every religion is a spoke on the wheel, leading to the center.

There is a lot of nobility to this belief. It's an attempt to be inclusionary, and the people I've met who believe this way tend to be sincere—or at least very accommodating—in their personal convictions.

I don't write books to disprove any one philosophy or belief. People who believe this way are not idiots, nor are they fools. This was the belief Sazed followed through the first two books of the trilogy. However, I see a danger in this set of beliefs, and Sazed's trials in this book are a result of that danger. If you believe everything, it seems to me that it is difficult to find any hard-and-fast truth.

Monotheism has its own problems, and I explore those in other books. Don't take this as a bash against your beliefs if you follow Sazed's previous philosophy. I simply saw a potential conflict, and couldn't help but explore it.

DragonCon 2019 ()
#38 Copy

Questioner

The concept of bridge warfare and the life of a bridgeman was one of the most horrific things I've ever heard of. Was that inspired by something specific or...? 

Brandon Sanderson

So, there's a couple of inspirations. One is some of the first-hand accounts of World War One I read, where tactics changed so dramatically that people were being thrown into battle not understanding that this was just terrible tactics, you know, charging machine guns, that's, turns out, bad idea in a lot of situations. And the other half of it is being inspired by actual siege warfare.

One of the things I like to do in my books is, I like to have fantastical versions of things that happen in our world, right? And this gives me a way I can look at history. I can read the accounts of, you know, what it's like to run a ladder, change it to suit my own desires and kind of have a bit more expertise where I can say, "In this situation, this is what they're doing." It allows people who know their medieval history to say, "Oh, that's cool," but also, at the same time, suspend their disbelief, right. Like, if you're a medieval historian and you're reading about actual siege warfare, I have to get it really right, or I'm gonna kick you out of the story. But if, instead, they're running bridges, it allows a lot of the mystique for medieval historians to say, "Oh, this is a different tactic, so we can't say one hundred percent what people would've done in that situation. I can enjoy the story too." And as long as I get enough right, that does that.

So you see me doing that sort of thing quite a bit. Otherwise, I do try to get the things that I do right--as right as I can--but I was just visiting some nice fellows who were showing me their sword fighting in Plate. And you'll see, Shardplate is another thing like this. Actual historical plate combat... I wanted to have Shardplate divorced from that a little bit for the same sort of reasons, right? Number one, it allows me to have the kind of epic fights the way I want to have them, it allows me to draw out the fights. And you'll notice if you watch a lot of historical people reenacting fights, the Shardplate fights will look a lot more like people sparring nowadays and not actually trying to kill each other. And that's intentional, because I can watch a lot of those online, right. I can go to conventions like this and see people doing that. You can't see first-hand two people in plate actually trying to kill each other. And if I can make the fight realistically have a good reason why it would feel like a bout, you know, with Shardplate and things like that, instead of what you'd try to do in a normal plate battle is shove a dagger under someone's armpit, right? Well, that doesn't work in Shardplate, so what do you want to do? You wanna hit them in the same place a couple times. Feels a lot more like a sparring duel in our world, and it just allows me to have this line between realism and theatricality that I really like, and allows people who know a little bit about it to be able to like, "Oh, that feels real, but I can also enjoy it." You see me doing that sort of thing a lot.

That's more than you asked, but that's occupational hazard, going on and on and on and on.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#39 Copy

Anushia Kandasivam

Vin stands out to us at the Pixel Project because she went through a lot of abuse in her young life, physical and psychological, at the hands of family and people that she should have been able to trust. She is a survivor, and with the help of her new friends she eventually finds self-worth, she realizes she can overcome her past trauma, she grows as a person. The question is, why did you decide to write a character with this kind of background, and what kind of research did you do to write the character who is an abuse survivor?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. So, two part question. First up: How and why did I decide. There are two main parts to this. One is, I knew I was writing in the world of Mistborn, a very less than perfect society. Let's just put it at that. The pitch for myself was, what if Sauron had won? What if you had to grow up in Mordor? I felt that if I had a character who was untouched by that, that the story would lack sincerity. If the only main character was someone who had somehow avoided that, there would be a certain-- like I said, lack of sincerity. There would be a certain, sort of-- I feel that, when you're writing stories, one of the things you should be looking to is to let characters who are part of a problem, solve the problem, rather than people outside the problem coming in to fix the problem. It's generally stronger storytelling, and generally more respectful of people who have had these life experiences themselves. So, I knew I needed someone who had been through a lot of trauma, because of the things we needed to change in this society.

The other part about it was planning-- I am an outliner, with my plots and my worlds and my characters, I discovery write. And oftentimes, what I'll do when I start a book is I'll start with multiple attempts at writing a person into that world. It's almost like I have a bunch of actors come in and try out for the part. I wrote three very different first chapters for that book, and the one that worked was the Vin you ended up with. What drew me to her as a character was the mix of strength and vulnerability at the same time, that she has. It's hard to explain why I came up with that, because really, as a writer, you're just kind of searching for someone whose voice works and whose soul matches that of the story. And it gets very mystical, for me, when you talk about characters, which I don't like, I like to be able to break things down, and talk about how it works and why I made the choice I did. But I made the choice of Vin because Vin was right. Part of that was, she was solving a problem that she had been directly-- that had directly affected her life.

How did I go about doing it right? This is where the best research that I get is reading the stories of people who are willing to share them with the rest of us. Reading firsthand accounts from people who are willing, because that takes a lot of bravery. It takes a lot of-- it's not something I could ever ask anyone to do, but it is something that people offer. On their blogs, and on forums, and spending your time listening to what people say, and trying to get the characters to express the way that these people would express it if they could write that character in their story, is one of my main goals. In fact, I think that's my prime mandate as a writer, is, try to write the characters like the people who have their life experience or beliefs would write them if they had my skill as a writer. And, so I spent a lot of time on blogs, I spent a lot of time on forums, and I wasn't ever posting on these, I was just listening. And then I made sure I had some good readers. Shallan has gone the same way. I can directly credit some very helpful beta readers who have had life experience similar to Shallan's, which have made sure, at least I hope I do this right, and always do better, that I'm walking a line between not sensationalizing, and not glorifying, but using this person's life experience to help them become the person that they want to become.

Anushia Kandasivam

And is that why we don't learn about the characters abuse on screen-- it's never on screen, it's always in their thoughts-- did you purposely write it like this because you didn't want...

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. This was very, very conscious. I feel like one of the biggest traps that writers in fantasy fall into, is using abuse of women, specifically, but all people who are in positions of lacking power, as a means of proving how bad your villains are, or how heroic your heroes are. I think that there are certain authors who are really good at doing this without making it a sense that this is how the world is. So it's not me pointing fingers and saying you shouldn't do that, but I felt that if I was to put it on screen, I don't think I could handle it without sensationalizing it. And by making it there, but never explicit, I think everyone knows it was there, I think everyone knows that Vin suffered abuse, but I could write a story that can deal with overcoming these things without having to sensationalize the thing itself.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#40 Copy

Anushia Kandasivam

Let's talk about geek culture. So, geek culture in general, including science fiction and fantasy, has had its share of critics saying that it's still too male-dominated despite there being a rising number of prominent, well-respected, well-known female authors. Plus, there's still plenty of hostile misogynist and sexist behavior by male geeks towards female geeks. What do you think needs to be done to make geek culture as a whole, whether it's comics or gaming or books or conventions, more welcoming for women and girls?

Brandon Sanderson

Wow. I don't know if I'm the right person to ask, right? I am at the top of this social structure, and so asking me this question-- I mean I'll try to give an answer, but let's point out that I may not be the best person to answer this question. I see it a lot in Magic: The Gathering circles, where you go to the game stories, and there are just so many guys who are--

I wanna say this the right way. I have had female friends, who when they visit, feel like they are being evaluated by everyone in the room based on their dateability, primarily. And I think this could be a big part of the problem, is that-- maybe not emphasizing in your head, that when a woman enters our realm-- It shouldn't even be "our realm," right? There's my bias speaking right there. But when we look at women who walk into an area that has a lot of male dominance, and then everyone hits on her? I can't imagine how off-putting that would be, right?

I think we need to listen. I think, when women explain their experience in some of these circles, we need to be less dismissive. I mean, these are, like, 101-level things... Oh, man, I see these posts, and the immediate explaining of why they're wrong, and I'm like, "This is a person's experience. Their experience can't be wrong. It is what they experienced in life." It's not there for argument. It's their expressing who they are, and what they've been through.

So, what can we do? Boy. We can certainly listen better. We can try to make these atmospheres less focused on, like I said-- do a little less-- You see how much I'm struggling with this? Because I feel I need to listen better on this topic myself. And I need to have other people telling me. I'm not the one who needs to be saying what we can do.

I do think there's still a problem. There's obviously a problem, because people who are writing about it are saying there's a problem. And they're the ones who have experienced it. And I think that sci-fi/fantasy, in particular, we like to pride ourselves on being forward-thinking. This is what science fiction's all about, let's look to the future and try to imagine a better world. Sometimes, we imagine that better world by displaying a terrible one and saying, "Let's not become this." But either way, it's kind of about trying to imagine a better world. And fantasy, I think, doesn't look backward. fantasy is talking about the world we live in right now by using certain metaphors and storytelling.

So, yeah. We think that we're very good at this. And we need to be willing to acknowledge that we're not. And be willing to listen about how we're not. And be willing to change in the ways that people who are not me tell us we need to change.

So, I don't know if that's a good answer to your question. Because it's a hard question for me, specifically, to answer. My response would be, "Well, let's here what women who are having problems with-- Man, how can I even say it without-- Yeah, let's listen to the women, and see what they say.

JordanCon 2018 ()
#42 Copy

Pagerunner

If you need to bring food into Shadesmar, why don't you need to bring air?

Brandon Sanderson

Y'know, we actually talked and thought about this. There are certain things I just decided for narrative reasons... I wanted Shadesmar to be travelable and I wanted it to be a real place, and so I just made air, I came up with kind of my own hacks. There are times I do this for narrative reasons. 

Let me give you an easier example. In the Mistborn books, and I've told people this before, I was working on speed bubbles. Slowing down time, speeding up time in a small little bubble around you, right? I went to Peter and I'm like, "This is what I'm going to do, what are the problems with this?" And he's like, "Well, redshift." Which means that basically you would be irradiating everyone with the light coming from inside the speed bubble. I'm like, "alright, we're just going to say that doesn't happen." This is where the line between for me science fiction and fantasy exists. When I'm building my story, I do try to have one foot in science with things like this. But I tend to work backward... A lot of science fiction starts with what we have now and extrapolates forward to [an] interesting, plausible premise. For my fantasy works, I start with some cool idea. And then I work backward in plausibility, trying to justify it. And we kind of meet in the center, but at the end of the day I am breaking the laws of thermodynamics, right? Just straight-up breaking laws-- I mean, we have our whole Realmatic Theory and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, I am trying to tell stories where certain extreme situations exist. Like, I bent over backwards to make the science of Roshar work with the greatshells, but at the end of the day, we still have to have a magical solution, right. To get beasties as big as we want to do, it doesn't matter how high your oxygen content is, if you've got .7 gravity or not, all these concessions we've made: the square-cube law says those things crush themselves. You just can't have things this big. And so we built in a magical solution. The spren creating this symbiotic bond is making it so these things don't crush themselves. 

And when I was looking at Shadesmar, there are a couple things-- what I want for the narrative is this place. I am going to work backward and try to make as many concessions and nods toward science as I can. But the air one, I just said "You know what? There's just gonna be air in Shadesmar. I am just gonna make it so that you can." I want you to be able to walk between the planets on Shadesmar, I don't want people to have to worry about bringing a Windrunner with them and plants or whatever to get oxygen. I'm just gonna make that the case. Your in-world answers, I'm like "Well, air kind of permeates and has escaped through and things," but really do we have an oxygen cycle there? We've got plants, but are they really--

The answer is, there is air in Shadesmar because I want there to be air in Shadesmar. 

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#43 Copy

diffyqgirl

What is writing plot twists in a world with online theory forums like? It always seemed to me like it must be incredibly hard to be clever enough that the theory forums don't figure everything out, while still dropping enough hints to keep the casual readers from being confused. As an example, while there were plenty of surprising things in Oathbringer, I had kind of forgotten that the characters didn't know that humans aren't native to Roshar.

Brandon Sanderson

Well, there are a lot of ways to look at this. The one you highlight was a particularly tricky one, because the books have to work on multiple layers. First, they have to keep the hardcore fans interested. Secondly, they have to work for what the characters know. But thirdly, they can't be so obtuse that they edge out the readers who don't follow every detail on the forums.

With the specific element you mentioned, I tried to layer a reveal that would act as a twist for the readers with a separate one that would shock the characters (but which the majority of the fanbase had already figured out.) But on in the long run, I've realized that trying to one-up the fanbase is a bad path to go down--I have to accept that people are going to guess what I'm going to do, because there are only so many rational things that are in-character that the characters can do. And going outside that requires either bad characterization or bad foreshadowing.

Therefore, one of the best methods is to point the tension away from certain questions toward others that depend on character strength. For example, "Will modern Knights Radiant be able to get armor?" is a weak question, and one that is pretty obviously answered in the books already. But "Will this character be able to work out their issues enough to progress in the oaths" is a stronger question, as it is in doubt--and depends on how the choices the character makes.

Given the option, though, I'd rather live in this era where I can get away with stronger demands upon readers in terms of continuity than you used to be able to reasonably do. I think it makes it easier to do the types of stories I like to tell.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
#44 Copy

Questioner

Do you have any plans of writing any prequels for the Mistborn [series]?

Brandon Sanderson

No, not right now. One of the reasons that-- I have to put an asterisk on that. I did write out a prequel story happening hundreds of years earlier that was going to be the video game, that ended up never getting made. So there's a chance I will do something with that,a graphic novel or something. So there is a chance. What I won't probably tell is the story that you read in the epigraphs, the story of Rashek and Alendi and all those things, because I feel like that story is told best the way it is in the books, that you get it revealed as it's going along. If I told it again, I feel like it would just be a rehash of that. I can see myself telling other stories potentially, but I am the type that generally likes to keep moving forward. There are some great prequels out there to books that I love, but mostly I like sequels, so I like to move forward. Not impossible, but yeah.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#45 Copy

unknown

How come they're still called EARTHquakes in Mistborn?

Brandon Sanderson

I know it's a joke, but I actually have an answer! One I stole from Tolkien, who mentioned all his books are "in translation" to English from an original language--so the translator takes liberties. They're called earthquakes for the same reason that Shallan's puns work in English--the one taking them from the original language to English came up with something that works for us, even if it isn't a one-to-one translation. :)

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#46 Copy

Questioner

In Words of Radiance you have a great line which said "careful planning is the water which nourishes creativity". I was wondering if, when you wrote that line, were you specifically thinking about novel outlines?

Brandon Sanderson

So there's a line in Words of Radiance that's says "careful planning is the water which nourishes creativity". Was I specifically thinking of outlines? So when I speak most lines like this, I'm trying to speak through someone's eyes. That's Navani, I believe, who says that am I right? The idea being that that's the way they'd perceive it. There are other people who would disagree. Now I am a planner, so I understand that mindset a lot. I use a lot of outlines. There are other people who don't plan at all and their books still turn out awesome. So I think there are a lot of different ways to be creative. But I don't think that Navani thinks that there are a lot of different ways. If that makes any sense. She has a different perspective on it perhaps.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#47 Copy

Questioner

You were talking about change. Do you-- A lot of fantasy has this cyclic nature to it, as to the linear nature that a lot of times we think about. How do you think that plays with the idea of change, if you're just doing the same thing over again?

Brandon Sanderson

No, that's a great question... What I love about fantasy is the ability to play with theme. Obviously, with The Wheel of Time, this was one of the themes, that history repeats itself, which is a theme of our world as well, and things like this. I like how they're able to play with that. One of the things we do in fantasy is, we take a few concepts, and we'll often just kind of throw realism out the window, in order to try and do something. And that's the whole point of fantasy, right? Realism's out the window. We'll make you feel like it's plausible, but realism's out the window. We're gonna have a society that doesn't change very much across 2000 years of time, and then we're gonna have them change dramatically in a year and a half. And this concept allows you to exaggerate the things that we've all kind of felt in our life, that change is outpacing our ability to keep track of it, and play with that concept of nostalgia vs keeping up with change, and I think Robert Jordan did a really good job with that. And I wouldn't look at the genre and say "The genre is backward-thinking" because of that-- And some people do. Because I feel that fantasy, like science fiction, is fundamentally about the now, that's what we write about. Science fiction and fantasy approach it differently, but Stormlight Archive is not about what it's like to live a long time ago. I don't know what that's like. I'm not a historian. I'm writing about the now through the lens of everything I'm kind of interested and passionate about... The idea of what I'm interested and passionate about ends up in the books, even if I don't think about putting it in directly. This is how I explore the world.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#48 Copy

Questioner

Is there any magic system you consider softer? And any magic system you consider harder than most of the general audience would think they are?

Brandon Sanderson

...So, this is gonna dig into definitions of what you consider a soft and a hard magic system. And I don't know that we can come to an agreement on this in such a large crowd. I do think that sometimes Harry Potter gets a bad reputation for being a soft magic system where I feel like Harry Potter's a really good study in how you can have a very rule-based magic system for one book. Though she tends to ignore her own rules book-to-book, but that's okay, because that's what the story is. It's a hybrid, where it's really hard for one book, and the rules set up in that book are then used to great effect, and in the next book we get a new set of rules. Which is, you know, the same way that James Bond does it and things like this. Kind of resetting her magic a little bit between books. Not completely, Harry-Potter-philes, I'm not trying to trash on it. I think it's interesting to look at, because I think people don't understand what she's doing, some of the times, with that magic. But whether something is hard or soft doesn't really matter to me in general. It's the sort of thing I think people expect me to think about a lot. I just want the story to work, right? I don't care if it's a hard magic or a soft magic, if it's low magic, if it's high magic. If the story works, and the magic is in service of the story, I'm gonna like it, regardless of what it is. Even if it's-- like, people will be like, "I bet you hate those elemental magic system, where it's just the same old magic system." I'm like, no! My favorite magic system is probably The Wheel of Time, which is an elemental magic system. Even a step away from that, Jim Butcher's Codex Alera did an elemental magic system really well. It doesn't-- There's nothing that's just, like, "You shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that." Tell a good story.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#49 Copy

Questioner

One of the characters in this book replied with "I've got this," or "I got this." It seemed really modern, like colloquially modern.

Brandon Sanderson

I've got an answer for this. So here's the thing. I use Tolkien's philosophy on this, which is that you are reading the books in translation, and the person translating the English tries to use the closest English approximation to the same sentiment that would happen in the books.

And we try to move away from being too modern colloquial, and things like that, but the actual answer is they said something that's a similar saying in this, and people did talk colloquially even if they didn't have modern slang. Like, the name Tiffany is a medieval name, people don't know that. There's all these sorts of things that people did even back then. But we try to find something that is not going to kick people out. We are less worried about historical accuracy, and more about what's going to convey the right idea. So just kind of pretend that. Pretend that it's being translated by someone like me, Brandon Sanderson, who can read the original Alethi and be like, "Oh, they said something that means this. What's the modern equivalent?"

Sofia signing ()
#50 Copy

Kiril

You're very meticulous about your magic systems. Aren't you afraid sometimes that this takes away the sense of wonder? For example in The Way of Kings, it's more wonderous, in my opinion, than in Mistborn. So, how do you manage this?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an excellent question. It's actually something I think about a lot, and tomorrow my lecture ('cause they asked me to do a lecture) will be a little bit about this idea. So, if you're interested in writing, you can come to the lecture. But balance between a sense of wonder and a sense of understanding of the magic, that's a difficult balance. And I don't think there's a right way to do it. I think a lot of great books sometimes use both. For instance, I don't know if you've read Name of the Wind, but Pat Rothfuss uses both a hard magic system and a soft magic system. The Naming, which is very soft, and the Sympathy, which is very hard. Hard is a term for very rule-based, so we explain it a lot. The more you explain, the less sense of wonder you have. But the more you explain, the more you can also use the magic to solve all kinds of cool problems and create sort of an intellectual enjoyment. And so it's a different distinction between wonder and this sort of intellectual problem-solving sense, and I tend to go this direction a little bit. I think fantasy naturally has a bunch of wonder to it in the settings and the world, so I think that they balance each other naturally when I push a little bit in this direction. But it is a trade-off. It is something that I wonder about.