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Brandon's Blog 2018 ()
#1 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.

Idaho Falls signing ()
#2 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--

Skyward Houston signing ()
#3 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.

MisCon 2018 ()
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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.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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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.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
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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."

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#7 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.

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Questioner

After people die, in this universe, where exactly do they go? Because, at first they appear in this one world, and then they go somewhere else.

Brandon Sanderson

So where do people go when they die. *laughter* In the cosmere. One of the things that's very important to me as a writer, when I am writing stories, is when we get to these kind of fundamental questions about faith and religion and things like this, that the narrative is allowing multiple characters' viewpoints to be plausibly true, if this makes sense. For instance, I am not gonna come out and say, "Is there a capital-G God of the cosmere, is there an afterlife?" These are not questions I'm gonna answer, because in-world, they can't answer them. What they can say is, your Investiture will leave what we call a Cognitive Shadow, which is an imprint of your personality that can do certain things. And that most of those fade away, and you can see them, glimpse them, and then watch them go. But, are they going somewhere? Or are they not? Is that simply the Investiture being reclaimed, Is it more of a Buddhist thought, where your soul is getting recycled and used again? Is it nothing, you return to, you know, being-- yeah, is it a different type of matter? Or is there a Beyond, is there a capital-G God? Things like this. These questions are not answered. I'm never gonna answer those.

Now, the characters will try to answer them. But it's important to me that both Dalinar and Jasnah can exist in the same universe, and that the story is not saying "This one is right, and this one is wrong." The story is saying "This is how this one sees the world; this is how this one sees the world." It's very important to me from the beginning to do that, just because-- Like, I hate reading a book where someone espouses my viewpoint only to get proven wrong by the entire structure of the narrative, and in that universe, that person is wrong. But I'm like, "In our universe, I don't think that I am. Just the way you constructed everything makes it so that I have to be wrong, if I were living in your universe, even if it's a universe that's not a sci-fi/fantasy one." If that makes sense.

This is just kind of for respecting my characters and for the people who hold the viewpoints of my characters, in particular if they happen to be different from my own viewpoints. I feel there are certain lines I'm not gonna cross.

So, the answer is: who do you believe? Which of the philosophies in the books do you look at and say "Yeah!" Or, even better: listen to lots of different ones, and maybe these different viewpoints are all gonna have interesting points that'll give you things to think upon.

Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
#9 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.

Boskone 54 ()
#10 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.

Skyward Anchorage signing ()
#11 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.

BookCon 2018 ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

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.

MisCon 2018 ()
#13 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.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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White_Sign_Soapstone

If I were to guess: allo- would have its roots in the word allos (Greek for different, also the root of alloy), feru- would be ferrum (latin for iron), and hema- would be haima (Greek? for blood).

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I could mix traditions and linguistics a little and pass it off based on my theory of translation for the books. The construct is that the person translating them for us is looking for words that evoke the right feel in English, not for exact 100% accuracy. So she can mix greek and latin roots, play a little loose and free, to give the right vibe to the reader--when in the world, they would have a single in-world linguistic tradition.

Either way, you've popped out the right ones, though I want to say the last was hemat as a root.

Aaronator17

Hang on a moment.... I always assumed that the translation effect from in-world language to English (or other Earth languages that allowed us to read the books) was more of a passive thing, almost like we are 'Connecting' to the stories which enables us to read the words that make sense to us.

Are you saying here that the process is actually by design? That someone (from the sounds of it Khriss) is somehow actively translating the events of the books and that's why we read them in our native language? Is this something that has been discussed before and I missed it?

Brandon Sanderson

I've always imagined a hypothetical translator into English, more as a writing construct (to explain certain things and the way I do things) than anything else. I wouldn't consider it canon, in that there is no Earth in the cosmere, but it's how I frame the process for myself. It's how I explain to myself that certain metaphors work and the like.

YouTube Spoiler Stream 1 ()
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Vishal Pani

Why didn't Kaladin seek help from Zahel during the occupation of Urithiru?

Brandon Sanderson

Zahel... At some point I'll tell you what he was doing, but he was not available. That is a RAFO.

It came up multiple times, and there were various points where I was going to delve into it, and it just was one of those things that I just could not fit in. It is a thing that I wanted to, because we have this foreshadowing that Zahel's there; like, we have a scene with him and Kaladin to remind everyone that Zahel's around. And then we don't even bring him up. Alpha readers asked about it, beta readers asked about it. I could not find time for it. So maybe you'll get a deleted scene that is not a deleted scene, that's just a scene that I eventually write, showing what he's doing. This is one of those things like: what happened with Elhokar and the Herdazians and why does Lopen think he's a king? That scene just never fit into the books either.

Maybe I'll do it, maybe I won't. It's entirely possible, both options are possible. If I eventually never do it, I'll talk about it, but we are gonna have a little more Zahel in an upcoming volume of the Stormlight Archive, where some of these things coming out might fit into the story, to the point that your answers will come in that volume. There's a lot of various moving parts on what's going on with Zahel, and with Azure as well, and their relationship to Nightblood that there's just not space in the Stormlight Archive to talk about.

JordanCon 2014 ()
#16 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 Pre-Release AMA ()
#17 Copy

MasterDex

I love every book of yours I've read. However, I'm a sucker for grim, dark and/or mature fantasy tales (Malazan, Black Company, The First Law, etc). Have you ever considered going right down that route? Have you any stories that you think would fall into more mature/darker territory? Or do you feel that you have no need to go there? (obviously, Stormlight Archive has some quite dark and mature moments but not quite to the level of the aforementioned series)

If you're answer is No, could you explain why?

Brandon Sanderson

The Threnody novel, if I find time with it, would probably be the closest you'll see from me. I've read and enjoyed each of the authors you listed above, though my own writing tends to not lean that direction. One reason is that I tried (when trying to break in) to make my style more gritty to see, since GRRM-like was what everyone was searching for. It just didn't feel true to my own voice.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#18 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.

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.

Sofia signing ()
#20 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.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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Anushia Kandasivam

We have a lot of different characters in your books. There are, of course, misogynistic characters in your books, and there are storylines that feature violence against women. But generally, the male/female relationships between the main characters are quite equitable. The heroes are respectful of women in their plots and decisions. But oftentimes, the line between consent and coercion in fantasy isn't always clear. Whether it's epic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance. Do you think this is an issue that writers in the genre have started tackling successfully in recent years?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. I do think... This is an issue, at least in my culture, American media culture, that stretches back pretty far. We showed my kids the original Star Wars movies, which I still love. But Empire Strikes Back, you talk about a line between consent and non-consent, and there's a scene where Han Solo backs Leia into a corner and tells her that she wants him, when she says she doesn't. And it's really uncomfortable to watch in the current climate and realization that our entire society has emphasized a certain sense of masculinity through our media for many, many years. And it's not something that I would have ever noticed if people hadn't started pointing out, "Hey, there's a problem here."

And I do think people are doing a better job with it. I think we, as a culture, though, bear quite a burden for the way that we have glorified this kind of behavior, even in some of our best and most beloved media properties. And this goes back to my philosophy, though, that we try to do better. We don't-- Pointing backward and vilifying the creators of Empire Strikes Back because they were part of it is not my goal. My goal is for us to say, "Hey, we can do better than this. We should do better than this.

And I guess one of my pet peeves, as a side topic to this, is that showing good relationships between people in committed relationships is just not a thing that media is good at, because media wants to have conflict. And conflict is story. But because of that, what we end up with is a whole lot of really dysfunctional relationships being held, and it's hard. Like, when I sat down to write Stormlight Archive, I wanted to write a misogynistic and racist culture that you didn't hate, but that at the same time, you're like, "Yeah, you know,it is." And how do you do that without setting it as a standard? You want to approach it and say, "Look, this is-- through a lot of history and a lot of cultures, cultures that human beings have created have been pretty misogynistic."

So, how do you write a fantasy book that doesn't glorify this, but still says, "This is how cultures often are"? And there's a really fine line to walk there. And one of the things I think we, as a culture, need to do is, we need to get better about distinguishing between, "Hey, this is how this character is, and this is how people should be." And I'm not sure if I have the answers on that, at all. But one of the things I do like to do is to show, people can be in relationships that have some conflict, but still who genuinely love each other, and genuinely do work their problems out like rational human beings do in the real world. And you can still have conflict and a great fantasy story with people whose relationships are functional.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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thegatorgirl00

What made you decide to release chapters in advance for Skyward and Oathbringer? I personally don't like reading books in this format and haven't for either novel since it's harder for me to get sucked into and lose myself in the story when it's split up, so I'm wondering what gave you the idea for it.

Brandon Sanderson

I've always disliked doing summaries of my books--I feel that I'm not nearly as good at it as I am at just writing them. My instinct going back to when I began trying to break in was that if I could skip the summary and just get someone reading the story, it would be more efficient.

The releases done this way are, hopefully, to get people talking about the book. I realize that a lot of readers who like my work are just going to wait and read the book when it comes out, but (particularly with Oathbringer) releasing chapters like this was a good way to get some conversations about it started.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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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.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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Anushia Kandasivam

Now you just talked about writing characters that are flawed. Your female characters are generally flawed in some way, as are all people, nobody's perfect. And of course there are women who are villains. So my question is, when you write female characters, do you ever feel pressured by gender and cultural stereotypes to make them likeable or relatable? Do you ever get any flack for not making a female character likeable enough?

Brandon Sanderson

I have not really gotten flack. I think these-- this is the sort of thing that we worry will happen to us, and we use an excuse... just kind of in the back of our mind without it actually really being an issue. I think, readers want interesting characters who are strong character archetypes, that doesn't mean unflawed. And I think, as readers that's what we want. But there are long standing sort of assumptions, that you can't do this, or can't do that.

One of the things that I kind of had to push through when I was writing, and again, I am not the perfect example of how to do these sorts of things. There are people, particularly women authors, you should listen to more than you listen to me, talking about things like feminism, right? Go watch Feminist Frequency, or something like that if you want to-- if you want to get a real in-depth and well done look at it.

But I noticed at least for me, one of the things that happens is, you start off, determined to not fall into the stereotypes, whatever it is. You know, we'll talk about in terms of sexism, right. So what you do when-- men do this a lot, but women do this with male characters also. This does happen, you just don't see it as often, where what happens, you say "I'm going to make sure, that I am writing this person who is different from me, in a way that's not going to be at all offensive." And so the first step you take is you make them just awesome. And you see this in a lot of media, particularly in a lot of media where there's an all male cast and they put one women in the cast. They make sure that women is good at everything, is really, really strong and is a great action hero and things, and this is like the step you take to make sure that you're not falling in the trap, which is a bad trap, of the women always needing to be saved.

But I think there's a step beyond that where you start asking yourself, "Well, how can I make all of my characters interesting? How can I make sure they all have a journey, that they're all flawed? That they-- that instead of-- there's a certain level of sexism to putting someone on a pedestal, as well as to making them always have to be saved. And certainly, it's a step forward to trying to avoid fridging all of your female characters, or things like that, but if they don't have autonomy, if, you know the character is different from you, is only there to be in a perfect ideal paragon, then that's not doing a justice to your characters either. And that's a trap that I think, we all as writers, particularly male writers like me, fall into a little too often. 

Anushia Kandasivam]

So, I guess, do you just have to be brave, and do what you think is right?

Brandon Sanderson

You also have to be willing to fail, and that's really hard. And you have to be able to own up to doing something poorly, even something you thought you were doing well, you have to own up to the fact that you might have gotten some things wrong and that's hard. That's just super hard. We're all very sensitive about our art, and we're very sensitive about trying-- we want to tell a good story and do well by it, and it's hard to listen to any sort of criticism and so-- but the more you listen as a writer, the more, I'm convinced, you become a better writer. 

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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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.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
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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. :)

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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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. 

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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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 Houston signing ()
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Questioner

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

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.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
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cantoXV1

Did you struggle with the limits of the Magic world and magic system since you're so used to creating your own?

Brandon Sanderson

I worried about this a lot when going into the Wheel of Time--but I found that I really like taking an established magic system and pushing it this direction or that direction. It's a lot of fun to me to dig into how something works, and see if I can "break" it in interesting ways.

I suspected I'd have a similar experience with MTG, and I did--though I did need something I could play with to be unique. I settled on the kind of "Gonti/Nightveil Specter" ability to steal spells from someone else, then use them yourself. This was a really fun space for me to play with, and I found it thoroughly engaging.

Orem signing ()
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Questioner

How do you get the Asian themes in without it being so corny?

Brandon Sanderson

You try to break down... Use multiple inspirations and tie them together. Try to extrapolate. Try to look at what are caricatures and stray away from that. Being influenced by the philosophy and the thinking and the culture to create things that are similar but going their own direction will help you do that sort of thing. Justifying things in-world rather than just dropping them in. Take a look at the safehand, which is based off of not -- but as an Asian culture thing, when I lived in Korea, you didn't show the bottom of your feet to people. It was considered rude. That was really interesting to me, and creating a similar taboo but with different groups and different reasons, it was... You can see my experience in how it came out. Do things like that.

Brandon's Blog 2018 ()
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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.

Boskone 54 ()
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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.

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

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

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

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

JordanCon 2018 ()
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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. 

MisCon 2018 ()
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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.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

I wanted to ask you question about your worlds in general. I've read Mistborn and Elantris, and now I'm reading The Way of Kings, and you seem to always associate such important parts of your magic system or your personality system or your dating system with the land, with the geography of wherever they live. Do you have a secret geography degree or...

Brandon Sanderson

No. The reason I do this comes down to a fundamental philosophy I have about epic fantasy. Epic fantasy is the genre of discovery and immersion. Grandpa Tolkien did this by taking a map and putting it in the book. And it wasn't just a map, it was the map they had. So the map becomes an artifact of the world. And I love that. I love the idea that you can have a map that's wrong, that it's not an exact map. I love that you can have a scientific table in the back of the book that represents their understanding and human beings' attempt to organize the world, but is actually flawed because it just represents their attempt at organizing things. And I love these ideas. I love the idea of the land and the artifact and the story all being one. I really--

One of the books that I love, even though the maps aren't the thing, is Dune. Dune is about how your environment shapes your culture, and how your culture in turn interprets your environment. And I love how that works. I think it really influences how great epic fantasy creates its sense of immersion. I love how Watchmen did this with including ephemera in its books. By saying, and creating a form where one issue does this certain thing to enhance the feel of the issue. I love when the form and the shape of the book does the same thing, so this is all kind of my nerdy writer loving-the-shape-of-things-ism that I have, whatever that is.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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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.

Skyward Denver signing ()
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Questioner

My question is - I am writing a paper in my *inaudible* and thinking about Plato's allegory of the cave and how America has created an echo chamber with the media, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

Brandon Sanderson

Okay, clever. Boy, that is a really interesting premise. I agree 100% with that exploration. Do I have any thoughts on it? I think part of the purpose of fiction is force us to explore people who are not like ourselves and don't think like ourselves. And my biggest worry with the echo chamber is it's going to start crowding out the art that has anything you don't agree with, which I think are the most important things to be reading. And,at least, for me, that was always the most important thing to be reading, so, I would say, as an artist, this worries me, because it kind of undermines one of the most important purposes of art.

YouTube Livestream 9 ()
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Questioner

What makes fantasy creatures good and how do you go about creating them?

Brandon Sanderson

I try to build mine from the ecology of the world of the world I'm building. I try to extrapolate from that and this is just because I have this sort of "one foot in fantasy, one foot in science" approach to writing the cosmere in particular. And because of that, I want the flora and the fauna to feel integrated with the world that they're on and to be interesting in that aspect. Obviously, I have not done this in most books to the extent that I did in Stormlight. But one of the fun things for me to do is to ask, "What have I changed about this world? What would that do to the ecology?". What do I look for other than that? I want something that's visually interesting. I want something that'll draw well. I want something that'll not just be what I've seen before and that will be a nice take on what I've seen before. That's the thing, I mentioned before: human creativity is about recombining things in interesting ways. That's how we seem to work. We don't come up something we've never seen before, we put a horn on something we've seen before and call it something new, which is cool. We're remixers, is what we're really good at doing. And I ask myself, "What can I remix that I haven't seen remixed before?"

EuroCon 2016 ()
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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.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#44 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.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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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. 

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
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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 ()
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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.