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Firefight release party ()
#1 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.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

You are very famous for being a fast writer, we talked about that in the other conversation, and I'm not going to ask you the secret of your superpower, if you got bit by a spider or something, but I don't want to ask about the discipline of sitting and writing [unclear] straight, or the deadlines of the publishers, because if there's something that is strange about writing, it's that, in your worst moments, when you [unclear] pressure, [unclear] family conflict, you write better, you are more capable of understanding how others feel, how is the world that's around you. And when you're happy, when everything is okay, you have time to find inspiration or the strength to write, because, "The world is amazing, I have these great friends, this great girlfriend, this amazing family to be with. Why do I have to stay five hours closed in my room thinking about people having terrible problems to be happy?" So, how do you make this to keep writing, and having what a fantastic life, with fantastic friends and fantastic fans?

Brandon Sanderson

What a fascinating question, I've never been asked that before! I've been asked thousands, of questions, so that is very interesting. I would say, I am not a writer who writes from a place of pain. Every writer is different, and they find different inspiration. I am best at writing when I am in a place of comfort. And so, I think that most writers are very observant, and this is how we express things in fiction. We pay attention. We listen. For instance, I don't have depression, but Kaladin does. If I waited until I had depression to write Kaladin that would probably be bad, because people with depression, number one, don't want to do anything, and number two, it's just not going to work, right? You just can't sit around and wait to experience everything you want to write. So, for me, it's about research, and listening, and paying attention. I happen to have several people I love dearly who do have depression, and so I talk to them. I take notes. I listen to the things they have to say, and that becomes the foundation for a piece of a character's personality. I don't know, though, maybe I'm just a sadist and I like to do evil things.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#4 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

...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.

Arcanum Unbounded Hoboken signing ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

I know the Cosmere has been around for a while. *inaudible* I guess it's a hard thing. Like, how soft...

Brandon Sanderson

No, it's all still evolving. It will continue. Like, you can't get so locked into an outline--even though I have them--that you don't change it when something better comes up. A big example of this is Adolin, right? Adolin was not *inaudible* character. And yet in the first book I needed *inaudible* I needed a viewpoint of somebody who was not imagining things, right? Somebody who was kind of more normal guy-ish. And he has a huge thing in the book. So now the outline of all ten books has changed because *inaudible*. And so, you've got to be willing to do that, I feel, as a writer.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
#6 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.

Boskone 54 ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

[For Mistborn Era 2-3, with taking technology forward]. Were there specific concerns you had, or concerns you have going forward, about how they will integrate?

Brandon Sanderson

No, I think I’m going to be fine on that. I mean there are things that will pop up, and I’m just used to the fact that I’m just going to have to say, “This is how this works, because we didn’t think of this ahead of time.” I’ll just deal with that. That’s the biggest thing that will probably happen. But, you know, I’m very confident that I can make it work. I’ve done it enough, and I’ve been working on Mistborn long enough. My biggest concern is not that, my biggest concern is that there are a certain segment of fantasy readers who just don’t like guns in their fantasy, and will never get to experience the later era Mistborn books because of that. And that’s just, well, you just have to deal with that.

BookCon 2018 ()
#8 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

You know, I read comic books, but I never really considered writing them. I don't feel I know that format well. I've done a couple graphic novels, but those I always give to a script writer for comic books who's practiced it, let them do it. I haven't really considered ever since I broke-in, because I'd feel like the basketball player playing baseball, you know. You might be okay at it, but might as well let the people who are really good at it, since they're really good at doing it.

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

GypsyKylara

My question is about writing, kind of.

As an author, you have achieved moderate success. People like you and have heard of you within the genre and you have established a relationship with your publishing company that lets you get a lot of books published.

This is the level of success I want as a writer and I am just wondering how financially viable this is. Like, can you write only or do you need a so-called day job? Are you able to support your family with your writing alone? That kind of thing.

Sorry if that is kind of a personal question. I've just always wondered how much money a writer makes once they've "made it".

Brandon Sanderson

I had a lot of questions like this myself during my days trying to break in. Everyone told me it wasn't possible to make a living as a writer—that, like an actor or a musician, I'd spend my life poor and obscure.

One of the big turning points came when I met and talked to a professional writer who had had modest success. Not a huge name, but a person who had done what you hope to do. Publish a book every year, never be a household name, but well-known enough in-genre that a large portion of the readers had seen his books on the shelves, though many still had no idea who he was. (The author was David Farland, by the way.)

I wish I could give you that same experience, though it's going to be harder while not face to face. The main tone of the meeting and his encouragement was this: IT IS POSSIBLE and YOU CAN DO IT!

Not everyone can make a living at writing. But it's very within reach, and for the dedicated author willing to practice and learn, it's not as difficult to make a living as many make it out to be.

I do make a living full time at this, and have for several years now. In the early years, it wasn't what many would call a 'good' income, but it was enough for me. Now, it is an excellent income. Not "Fly to Europe every week" income, but certainly "Take your friends out to eat once in a while" income.

A standard royalty for an author would be to 10-15% on a hardcover, and around 8% on a paperback. Usually, the percentage gets better the more copies you sell.

Now, books don't sell the huge numbers that people usually think they do. If you sell 2k hardcover copies in your first week, you can get on the NYT list. (Though it's not certain—it depends on what week it is and what other books came out. 3k is a pretty sure bet, though.)

Elantris—an obscure, but successful, book—sold about 10k copies in hardcover and around 14k copies its first year in paperback. I've actually sold increasing numbers each year in paperback, as I've become more well-known. But even if you pretend that I didn't, and this is what I'd earn on every book, you can see that for the dedicated writer, this could be viable as an income. About $3 per book hardcover and about $.60 paperback gets us around 39k income off the book. Minus agent fees and self-employment tax, that starts to look rather small. (Just under 30k). But you could live on that, if you had to. (Remember you can live anywhere you want as a writer, so you can pick someplace cheap.)

I'd consider 30k a year to do what I love an extremely good trade-off. Yes, your friends in computers will be making far more. But you get to be a writer.

The only caveat here is that I did indeed get very lucky with my placement at Tor. It's the successful hardcover release that makes the above scenario work. If you only had the paperback, and everyone who bought the hardcover bought that instead, you'd have to be selling around 60k copies to make it work. That's very possible, and I know a lot of midlist writers who do it.

Anyway, numbers shouldn't be what gets you into this business. If you have to tell stories, tell them. To be a writer, I feel you need to have such a love of the process that you'd write those books even if you never sold one. It's not about the money, and really shouldn't be. (And sorry to go on so long. I just feel it important to give aspiring writers the same kinds of help that I got.)

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#10 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.

Daily Dragon interview ()
#11 Copy

Daily Dragon

Your work is often praised for unique magic systems with interesting limitations, like the application of the laws of physics to the abilities of a Coinshot in the Mistborn series. What kinds of limitations do you think have the most potential?

Brandon Sanderson

There are lots of ways to go with this answer. It depends on how creative you are with your storytelling. I like to found my magics with certain rules so that I can force myself and my characters to be more creative in their application. I think that a good magic system is going to have some of this. Granted that my way is not the only way; there are a lot of great stories that don't do magic the way I do it. But if you're trying to tell a story where the way the magic works is a very big part of the story, then limitations are vital. I would say the best limitations are ones where creativity is forced on the part of the characters.

I don't like limitations such as kryptonite—this one thing negates the magic, which focuses the story around having it or not having it. I like limitations that are intrinsic to the magic and have a logical sense. When I can, I like the limitations to be bounded by the laws of physics—what requirements will physics put upon this magic that will make the characters have to use it in a more natural way.

The other big thing is that I split out costs and limitations in my head. A limitation is just what the magic can or cannot do, just like we have limits in our own world to what a physical body can achieve. Costs are what you pay for the magic, and these can add an economic component to a book and a magic system; they can add a lot of ties into the setting, and a great magic, I think, has a lot of ties into the setting.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#12 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.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#13 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.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
#14 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

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

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

But you personally, which one do you like better.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

The branching. 

Sofia signing ()
#15 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.

Firefight release party ()
#16 Copy

Questioner

First of all thank you for creating your own justified physics laws for your magic systems. Coming from a scientist I appreciate that, even though--

Brandon Sanderson

My pleasure. I like to have-- You know I was a chemist for one year in college, one year until I washed out. No really what it was… In high school chemistry is about blowing stuff up and doing cool experiments. They use that to trick you. *laughter* Because then you go to college and their like "Great! Now you are doing math equations, all day" And while I loved-- Oh, Eric's over here, he's like "Yes! That's what I love, math equations. Give me more!" I really did enjoy a lot of the concepts, I just did not enjoy the busy work so that's why I jumped ship. But I like my magic to make sense. Don't get me wrong, when I say "Err on the side of awesome" I don't mean "Write your stories in such a way that they don't make sense" but I will often start with "This is a cool image, I want to have work. How can I work out the logistics of that?" That's the difference between me and a science fiction writer. Science fiction writer extrapolates forward to what would happen with technology. I start with something cool and extrapolate backward.

Oathbringer Houston signing ()
#17 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

You have all these magic systems within the cosmere, <Allomancy and Feruchemy> and all that, and now they're starting to come together into one body. Do you ever worry that you're gonna treat that character where, like, they're drawing from so many systems that they're almost, like, the ultimate *inaudible*, like, they're drawing from five different magic systems and just don't *inaudible* anymore?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

You know, having done The Wheel of Time, where Rand was basically a deity, I'm not quite as worried about that as I was. I don't know if that'll ever even get to that point. And it turned out that that was just fine. The thing about it is, stories always happen in the intersection of what characters can't do. And there's always something you can't do. Unless you become, like, all-powerful, all-omnipotent. So, I'm not that worried about it. I have to keep an eye on it, but I'm not that worried about it.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#18 Copy

Questioner

At FantasyCon they had a panel on why there was so many Mormon sci-fi/fantasy authors and lots of opinions were put out there. Since you tend to think about trends and things like that I wondered what your take was.

Brandon Sanderson

What is my take on why there are so many Mormon science fiction/fantasy writers-- successful ones-- Why are there so many. We all have our own theories. It's funny, this is-- Like my first visit to my publisher in New York. One of the editors there asked me that very question, they're like "what's going on out there?" and I've had a lot of time to think about it. I've got a couple of answers, and these are just my arm chair answers.

Looking at myself, I grew up in Nebraska... so it wasn't like I was really immersed in Utah culture and things but I did notice when Tracy Hickman, and when the fantasy books I was reading, one was written by Tracy Hickman and he had on the back that he was LDS, and Orson Scott Card's books. I thought, "Wow, these are people like me and they are doing this." I think the early success of Scott Card and Tracy Hickman and some of these people was a big deal for those of us who were like "Oh, this is something that I can legitimately do."

I also think that science fiction/fantasy was a safe counter-culture, meaning, y'know for me in the eighties, yeah, y'know. Counter Cultures were big, sixties, seventies, eighties. They still are of course but you've got this punk and all of this stuff and, y'know, all my friends were smoking pot and all of this stuff and you want to rebel against your parents, right? At the same time you're a good kid, like "I don't want to rebel-rebel", and so when i got into sci fi/fantasy and they didn't get it at all I'm like "I found it!" I can rebel against my parents by playing Dungeons and Dragons, right. This is my grand rebellion! My mother heard all this stuff about Dungeons and Dragons and to her credit she came and just watched us and since there was actually a girl in our group, afterwards I asked her and she was like "You were hanging out with members of the opposite gender, talking to people instead of just playing video games like you always do? I thought it was awesome!" but she didn't tell us that. If I'd known she thought it was awesome it might have been bad, cause she was always like "uhhhh, roleplaying." So I think that that is part of it.

Early successes, safe counter culture, and then there's kind of the focus on literacy and reading in the community without, kind of-- like, for some reason, I think you can blame Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the community is not as scared of fantasy as some other religious communities are. You find a lot of Jews in publishing and science fiction and fantasy too, and I think for some of the same reasons that the community, the religion is not quite as frightened of these sorts of things for some reason, so with the focus on literacy you end up, I think, with writers of a lot of different stock. So that's my little sort of three part take on it. Maybe its true, maybe its not.

Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
#19 Copy

Questioner

[Complements artwork in The Way of Kings, asks how working with illustrators has changed the way Brandon sees the world]

Brandon Sanderson

One of my initial visions for The Way of Kings was one of these cross-genre books. I wanted to bring illustrations and-- you know there's this sense for whatever reason in contemporary fiction that illustrations are for kids, not for adults. That's not the way it always was. If you go back to the 1800's every book was illustrated, to an extent. And you'd get these beautiful bookplates and things like this that would be in the novels. I wanted to go back to something like that. Though I did want to be aware of the idea that you as a reader are participating, and I wanted to be careful not to define too much what people look like, particularly characters, because I wanted that to be through you.

So I wanted to be doing artwork in the books, but I didn't want to do artwork that was too specific to the characters—other than the cover art. This meant I wanted to do in-world stories, which is how Shallan started to develop as a character. She was based off of Pliny the Elder, as a character and my research about him and some of the people like him; and a little bit about Darwin and his travels and things like this. So I wanted-- I started to build her. She replaced a character in the original Way of Kings, what I call Way of Kings Prime, that I wasn't pleased with.

So I really want to do a lot of artwork for the books, and it's been a lot of fun. One of the first things I did when I went to pitch Way of Kings to Tor was I commissioned artwork of all the characters. Because it was going to be such a visual book, I wanted to have in hand for me reference material on characters, races, things like this. I wanted to have this like world book that you sometimes get in a book afterward, I wanted that in the before. So that I had it all in hand. Because there's a lot of screwy stuff going on in this world.

It really helped me to envision, to visualize how this book was supposed to go. Beyond that it's just awesome. Who here has read Watchmen? Have you guys read Watchmen? If you haven't read Watchmen it's amazing, particularly if you're a comic book geek like me. When I first read Watchmen-- what Watchmen does, it adds all sorts of ephemera. Like one of the characters is creating action figures of all the other characters and trying to market and sell them, and they include his pitch for the action figures and things like that. And it was part of what brought that book to life for me: not just the excellent writing, but it was the idea that this is not just a comic book, this is a comic book plus a world. And I wanted to write books that were not just a book, they were a book plus a world.

It's been a blast. I am in a position where I can hire the artists myself, which allows me to have a lot of control, and so the artwork inside the book is all stuff that I've commissioned. I've gone to the artists and I've talked to them myself, and I've picked my favorite artists and we do this awesome work just as part of it.

Hopefully it's something that people enjoy, it's something that I intend to keep doing and it's been a blast.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
#20 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.

Oathbringer Portland signing ()
#22 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#23 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.

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
#24 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.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#25 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."

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#26 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.

FAQFriday 2017 ()
#27 Copy

Questioner

What, for you, is the "core" to writing compelling fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

That is a really hard question to answer. Do you emphasize the fantasy, or not? A really great story is going to be about awesome characters that you fall in love with. Beyond that, it's going to need a really great plot. You can't separate these things from writing a great fantasy, because I think the worldbuilding needs to be really cool, if you have terrible characters and plot, it doesn't matter how good your worldbuilding is - you're not going to have a good story.

That said, the core of writing great fantasy as opposed to other fiction, assuming that you're already doing the plot and the character right, is to get down to that idea of the sense of wonder. What is wonderful about this place that would make people want to live there, or be fascinated by it? What's going to draw the imagination?

Fantasy is writing books that could not take place in our universe. For me, that's the dividing line. In science fiction there's the speculation "This could take place here," "This may be extrapolating science beyond what we know, but it could work." In fantasy we say, "No, this couldn't work in our ruleset, our laws of the universe." That's really focusing on it is what makes the genre tick. So you have to do that well.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#28 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

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 [PENDING REVIEW]

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.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#29 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 ()
#30 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.  

JordanCon 2014 ()
#31 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.  

Boskone 54 ()
#32 Copy

Questioner

Let’s say that the fires of industry keep progressing in Middle Earth, and someone builds a spaceship, they get in it and go up. What do you think happens?

Brandon Sanderson

In Middle Earth? I think it is heavily implied by the time that happens that Middle Earth has changed to a place where there is no magic, so I think it works just fine.

Questioner

[Follow-up on if Middle Earth is in the same universe as the cosmere]

Brandon Sanderson

You’re not talking to a Tolkein scholar here.

[...]

Yes, the cosmere takes place in a place where there is another branch of physics that is investiture, and that is the big change.

Questioner

Do you ever run into problems with that, does it break physics?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, yeah. If you look too deep in a fantasy book we are breaking the laws of thermodynamics and we are breaking causality. Those are the two big ones. And those are very important things to be… very dangerous things to be breaking. And you could probably write a fantasy novel that didn’t break those two things. Maybe? I don’t know. The way I avoid breaking laws of thermodynamics is by saying, we’ve got investiture that things can transfer into as well. We’ve got matter, energy, and investiture, I’ve added something to the tripod and therefore it looks like I’m just bending the laws of thermodynamics.

When you actually get down into the nitty-gritty, it starts to break down. It just has to. Causality is the big one. Once you have people teleporting and things like this, run the train experiment. I mean, you just have to say “It’s magic” at some point in a fantasy book. For most of them. I think you could do it, but in mine, with a  grand scale magic system I want to do, we just have to say, “at that point it’s magic.” And this is how I think a fantasy writer differs from a science fiction writer.

A SF writer takes today and extrapolates forward. I take what is interesting and extrapolate backward. Usually. For instance speed bubbles. “I want to have speed bubbles. This is how they work. Peter, tell me the physics.” And we work it out together. We work out physics and try to hit the big trouble points and build into the magic why certain things happen. But that doesn’t stop us from making speed bubbles where there is time passing differently without using mass or whatnot to create time dilation, and it causes all kinds of weird things to happen.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#33 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

As a writer, I believe that i am not providing the whole story for you. I provide a screenplay, a script, and you are the director of this story, and that as you read it and imagine it - that's when its completed. Its not done until you have done that. Its a participation and you have the right to change, in your version, whatever you want. Your pronunciation is correct in your version of the story.

Audience

*claps*

Brandon Sanderson

You are clapping for me, but I should clap for you because you make my art live. I really appreciate you bringing my art to life and giving it that extra imagination it needs.

The Way of Kings Annotations ()
#34 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.

Oathbringer release party ()
#35 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

In correlation to art. Leonardo DaVinci has the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo has the Sistine Chapel. Have you created-- Do you feel you've created your Mona Lisa, or is that something you're still working on?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Number one, I do not belong mentioned in the same breath. Let's establish that. I actually got to see the Sistine Chapel last year, and wow. You think you know it, because you've like, seen the pictures. It's not the same.

So, have I? That's not for me to decide. That is actually for readers and history to decide. Most entertainment is ephemeral. Most of what we release will go out there, it'll make peoples' lives better--I hope--it'll be fun, you'll all like it, but then it vanishes, and a new generation of artists create new things for that generation. And that's fine. Right? Like, I'm not chasing Voldemort's immortality in that way. But, maybe I'll create a Dune, right? Or an Ender's Game, or something that is larger than the author by orders of magnitude, and becomes an enduring part of the pop cultural landscape. Maybe. But that's not the sort of thing I think you can set out to do. It's like a combination of all kinds of factors come into these things hitting at the right time and working in the way that certain films and books do, like Harry Potter did. You know, ask me that in 100 years, and we'll see. It's a good question to think about. But it's not a good question for me, necessarily, to answer for myself.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#36 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.