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Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#1 Share

Questioner

When you do your outline, all the revelations and twists, do you always stick to your outline?

Brandon Sanderson

I do not. Now the difference between me and someone who's more of a discovery writer is I will rebuild my outline when I start going off of it. So what I'll usually do is I'll try, if I think I’m gonna break the outline, I’ll try a chapter that direction, see if I like it. If I do I'll then rebuild the outline and then go forward on it.

Questioner

Do you ever refer back to your previous book?

Brandon Sanderson

Definitely. Usually what I'll do is I make an outline for the first book, I'll write the first book, and then I will outline the series. That's very common for me.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#2 Share

Questioner

So I just finished The Bands of Mourning, which was my favorite out of that series.  Did you know when you were writing Alloy of Law how you were going to link this to the original, with the kandra, the bands of the Lord Ruler...

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah the kandra were seeded, MeLaan you can go and look back in the original three.  Like I’m going to use her in the next series, for sure.  Now what I usually do is when I’m starting a series, and I did this for this one, is I will write the first book in the series.  So I did this with Steelheart, I did this with the original Mistborn, I did this with Alloy of Law.  I write the first book, I sit down, and say “Okay, what worked about that, what can I expand upon” and then I outline the series with those characters and then go back and revise the first one to match and then I release the first one.  Does that make sense? So not everything do I know writing the first one but by the time I’m through the revisions I usually do.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#3 Share

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.

Waygate Foundation Write-a-thon ()
#4 Share

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, you want an intersex. That’s something very tough for me to write because I’ve only interviewed a few intersex people and transgender. I think they would make a wonderful character but I think that’s kind of a minefield doing on screen, since it’s not something I’ve done my research for right now.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#5 Share

Questioner

When you started writing, especially Mistborn, did you know you were writing a series, or were you just kinda writing--

Brandon Sanderson

Did I know I was writing a series, or was I just kinda writing? I usually know I'm writing a series. I like to outline. The beginning, middle, and end; then what came before, and what came after before I start any project. That is different for some few; for instance, the Alcatraz books were more freeform. I didn't know how long they were going to be until I wrote the first one, but almost everything else I know the length of what I'm shooting for. It's just kind of a quirk in the way that I write.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#6 Share

Questioner

You've come a really long way since Elantris was first published. How has your process of writing changed ever since, in the sense that then you had the feedback from the publishing house maybe, now you have the feedback from the fans, from the critics, and also I can imagine, very much tighter deadlines. How can you reflect on Elantris from now?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, first let me say, I love you, but I had so much time back then! Now, it is a real challenge. Everybody left me alone. I wouldn't go back, because everyone left me alone at book signings, too. My books sat lonely on the shelves by themselves. But the great challenge of this phase of my career is finding enough time to do all the things I need to do. When I turned in Elantris to the publisher, they published it two years and three months later. When I turned in Words of Radiance, three months later. My books pay for the publisher to keep publishing, and they very much like to publish my books, and so it is difficult. I travel a lot, my signings are wonderful but long, and my deadlines are very tight, and everyone is stressed about me turning the books in. I'm just glad I spent all those years writing, with nobody knowing who I was, because that's when I built all of my habits. If you would've asked me, during that time, if it was nice that I hadn't published any books yet, I would've said, "No, I want to publish books," but that era was essential for turning me into the writer I am today. For those who don't know, I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one of them.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#7 Share

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fifty-Five

Treledees Almost Tells Siri How to Pass On the God King's Breath

We get to see more of Siri taking charge here. In this tense situation, a lot of others would have been reduced to hysterics, but she's come into her own, taking command, trying to get the information she needs.

Treledees lies to her here about two things. First off, he does know how a God King can have a child, but he knows that the secret is also held by a secure group of priests on the islands. He doesn't think letting Siri in on that one for now is a good idea. But he does want to pass on how to get Susebron's Breaths away from him, should it become necessary. He knows that those need to be passed on, even if the God King does have a child. That's the greater secret, but the one that needs to be known to Siri. Those Breaths cannot die with Susebron.

So, anyway, he's lying about the God King not being able to have a child. (Or at least he sidesteps it. He says that the God King can't sire a child, which is true unless certain steps are taken. He also says that he doesn't know how the First Returned bore a child, which is true—he doesn't know for certain if the First Returned used the same method that Treledees knows. He's also sidestepping the fact that he does believe that the blood of the First Returned flows in the veins of the royal Idrian line.)

So why not bring this up in the book? Well, I learned in Elantris that it's easy to overtwist an ending by having too many reveals. This is a very small point, and there is good rationalization for why Treledees doesn't let on what he knows. So I felt it was better to let the story stand as is, without delving into this.

Of course, there is a hint in the text about it—or at least a question. If they depended only on a Returned child taking Susebron's place, then why were they worried about Siri having sex with Susebron? They didn't need her to sleep with him unless they expected that sex to do something.

I'm sorry to leave this issue a mystery, and I'm even more sorry to not explain how Susebron can give away his Breaths. It's not important to this book, and so I felt that having Treledees give the explanation here would just bog things down. I'd rather wait until a sequel, where I detail the magic system in a more complete form, to give you these explanations.

That leaves us with the cliché of someone who almost passes on information, then dies. As I said, I am sorry to do this. I nearly didn't put it in, but I felt it very important to include something that let you know that the priests did have a way to get those Breaths.

Note that Treledees is not lying about letting Susebron live out his life with Siri in peace. They have allowed previous God Kings to do that, once they had a successor in place.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#8 Share

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#9 Share

Questioner

Do you ever find you own stories, your own characters, coming back and influencing you?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.  More, it's like I have these things I'm really interested in.  And so I find myself rounding those things again and again.  And I've actually started a list of 'You've covered this thing, Brandon.  You can't do this one anymore'.  Just because I work in the cosmere where everything is connected, so the underlying physics of the books are sometimes very similar.  And so I just have to be very careful not to repeat myself too much.  

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#10 Share

Questioner

What does your writing desk look like?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't have a desk. I set in an easy chair. I sit, lean back, and relax.

Questioner

So maybe it's comfy when you're leaning back and relaxed.

Brandon Sanderson

Yep. And I do-- I go, like, walk on the treadmill or run on the elliptical-- I don't know what you call it on an elliptical, half-run or whatever-- and plan out my writing of the day. And then I go sit in my easy chair, and I-- it's by the hearth-- and I just work.

White Sand vol.1 Orem signing ()
#11 Share

Questioner

How did you like doing the graphic novel compared to normal stuff.

Brandon Sanderson

It was fun. The thing about it is, my main part in it was to write the book, 'cause its a prose novel that I wrote years ago, and then to look over things as my team was putting it together. They had a writer take my book and condense it down to the dialogue bubbles and things like this, and built it out and I would see a page and say "good". So I didn't really make a graphic novel I wrote a book that people who know what they are doing adapted into a graphic novel.

Questioner

Makes sense. Would you do more of it?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on how people react to this. If the fans like it and say "yes, this is a book we enjoy. Keep doing things like this." I will do more.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#12 Share

Questioner

I asked you the Legion question, so I've been reading. I've been working my way through that series, so I'm excited to hear there's a third one coming up.

Brandon Sanderson

Yep. The goal is to write it for that anthology, so that I at least can start wrapping some things up.

Questioner

Well there's a lot to wrap up, right?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.

Questioner

There's a pretty high demand, for sure, right? But it's cool, it was interesting to see, "Oh, maybe this is your break, a little bit, of trying to get away from it." A little bit.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, right. Most of those- the short fiction I write, is to take a break.

Questioner

Yeah.

Brandon Sanderson

Just to do something different.

Questioner

And get the creative juices flowing in a little different area.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#13 Share

Clippership14

Do you have a "drawer-full" of ideas waiting to be put to paper?

Brandon Sanderson

More like a brain-full, but yes. It's particularly bad now as I had to shelve a number of projects I was working on in order to do the WoT. I don't regret it at all, but those stories keep pounding on the inside of my skull, yelling and begging for me to let them out.
Brandon's Blog 2017 ()
#14 Share

Karen Ahlstrom

I knew I’d have to deal with it sometime, and it finally caught up with me today. My Master Cosmere Timeline spreadsheet has far too many relative dates, and not enough absolutes.

Roshar’s date system

The biggest reason I have put it off is that the date system Brandon made up is both supremely logical and at the same time totally crazy. A year has five hundred days, but there’s also a thousand-day cycle with different highstorms around the new year. In each year there are ten months of fifty days each. The months are broken into ten five-day weeks. The date indicates what year, month, week of the month, and day of the week it is and looks like this: 1173.8.4.3. It is impossible for me to do the math in my head to decide what the date would be 37 days ago, so I don’t use the dates in my reckoning, and only calculate them as an afterthought. This dating system is also a hassle because two weeks in our world is almost three weeks there, and a month there is almost two of ours, and when writing Brandon doesn’t even pretend to pay attention to those differences.

Day numbers in The Way of Kings

But then we have to talk about my relative date system. The timeline of The Way of Kings is a mess. The story for Shallan starts more than 100 days earlier than Dalinar’s storyline. And Kaladin is roughly 50 days different from that. So for that book I had to pick a day when I knew there was crossover between the viewpoints and work forward and back from there. So a date in The Way of Kings might be marked on my spreadsheet as D 23 or K -57.

Day numbers in Words of Radiance and Oathbringer

For Words of Radiance I started over at day 1 for that book. Those numbers count up until the new year which is day 71. Oathbringer starts just after the new year, so I used the day of the year for my book-specific day number. Of course switching systems at the start of each book made it hard for me to calculate just how many days there were between events in WOR and OB. So I put in another column which indicated a relative number of days counting before and after the arbitrary date of the end of WOR.

Flashback dates

The next problem I dealt with were the line items that say something like “five years ago” for their date. With more than a year of onscreen time from the first chapters of The Way of Kings to the end of Oathbringer, it’s really necessary to note that it’s five years before what event with a solid date. Once I have a date to assign to it, I also have to decide how exact the date is. When I come back three years from now I will need to know whether this date is firm, or if it would be okay to put it three or four months on either side.

Putting it all together

When Peter found an error in the spreadsheet one day, I decided to match a serial number to each date after the year 1160 (which makes for easy calculating), and make that my absolute day number from here until forever (though I’ll probably still make a book relative date, since it’s a useful way to talk about things with the rest of the team). To find the Roshar dates from the serial numbers I made another spreadsheet with a vlookup table for the dates and serial numbers, then translated all the dates from the three books into that single new system (finding several more errors as I went).

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#15 Share

Brandon Sanderson

My favorite time period is when superstition was transitioning into science. I am very fascinated by that idea, superstition and science. Isaac Newton believed in Alchemy and tried to make it work, and many scientists did. This is really cool to me because this is both the dawn of enlightenment and understanding, but also it has mythology and lore to it. In my books I am usually trying to recreate this idea, we're sifting through the lore and pulling out the science. Magic is transitioning into science, but it is a world with a new branch of physics. This allows me to mix what we call a sense of wonder with a sense of reason. It makes me very exited when I have a good idea to connect mythology and science together.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#16 Share

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Questioner

Oh, thats really cool!

Brandon Sanderson

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

Oathbringer London signing ()
#17 Share

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

How do you write the <Shardblade> fighting, like the fencing aspect of it? I guess you do all the research for that, the way the Shards actually work?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

So, the fight scenes, right? The first drafts are usually pretty bad. I kind of just get down what's happening, who it's happening to, what I want the outcome to be. And then I do a lot of refining, and I try to find people who are actual fencers...

And I usually try to add something to my worlds that doesn't exist in our worlds, like Shardblades and things, just so I can have a little more suspension of disbelief for people like yourself, where you're like "Well, they have different positions."

...But I do try to get some primary sources who can tell me where I'm doing stuff really bad... Matt Easton's YouTube channel is really great for that. Schola Gladitoria, Matt Easton. When I have two people who are fighting with actual weapons, I go-- He usually has done some HEMA things where you see, like, ten bouts with that. And I can watch it, and be like "Alright, this is how it would go down."

Firefight release party ()
#18 Share

Questioner

I know that with creation you start to lose-- honestly, your confidence in it, with creation. I was wondering if you experience that loss of worth in it, and if so, what do you do to counteract it?

Brandon Sanderson

It happens mostly when I'm working on a book. Once it's done I'm usually proud of it, but about the three-quarter point--

Questioner

I've heard that a lot. Just what do you-- How do you convince yourself it's still worth, y'know--

Brandon Sanderson

...When it starts to happen to me, I sit down and say "How can I make this scene awesome? This one that I'm writing right now?" because I can use my tools, my skills, and my practices as a writer to make that scene really awesome. And usually I'll shake things up a little bit, I'll write a different viewpoint or I'll do something I wasn't expecting to do according to the outline, just to make that scene really great. And that restores a lot of my confidence.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#19 Share

Joshua_Patrao

The Eternal Question: Mac or PC?

Brandon Sanderson

PC. Not out of any avid devotion, but because it's what I've grown up on. My wife is a Mac person, though.

Joshua_Patrao

Your word processor of choice?

Brandon Sanderson

Word. Same reason as above.

Joshua_Patrao

Do you have music on real loud when you write (I've heard Steve King writes like that) or is it soft in the background?

Brandon Sanderson

Soft in the background.
Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#20 Share

Questioner

Where does the concept for the broadsheets come from?

Brandon Sanderson

So I get together with my team: which is Ben McSweeney who does a lot of the artwork, Isaac who does all the symbols and maps, my editorial assistant, and myself. And then we brainstorm as many cool things as we can, and then Isaac lays it out, Ben does all the art, and then together we all just write different *inaudible* for the articles so it feels like a newspaper that a lot of different people are writing.

Questioner

That's awesome. Thank you very much this is very cool.

Brandon Sanderson

That's how we do it.

Isaac wrote the Allomancer Jak pieces in the next one so you should read that one. It's really fun, it's his debut of fiction.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#21 Share

carmen22

 How did you ever keep the unique power systems all straight and use them so well for your readers to understand?

The powers, to me, were just so fascinating, well developed, and unique on so many levels! I think with a lesser artist than yourself the powers might have been too much to take in, but I found them quite easy to follow and understand. Just amazing! You seriously are one of my favorite authors. I'll be in line for all of your books!

Brandon Sanderson

Thanks! It took a lot of practice. Keeping them straight for myself isn't so difficult—it's like keeping characters straight. The more I've written, the easier it's become.

What is more difficult is keeping it all straight for the readers. This can be tough. One of the challenges with fantasy is what we call the Learning Curve. It can be very daunting to pick up a book and find not only new characters, but an entirely new world, new physics, and a lot of new words and names.

I generally try to introduce this all at a gentle curve. In some books, like Warbreaker, starting with the magic system worked. But in Mistborn, I felt that it was complex enough—and the setting complex enough—that I needed to ease into the magic, and so I did it bit by bit, with Vin.

In all things, practice makes perfect. I have a whole pile of unpublished novels where I didn't do nearly as good a job of this. Even still, I think I have much to learn. In the end of Mistborn One and Warbreaker both I think I leave a little too much confusion about the capabilities of the magic.

Stormlight Three Update #5 ()
#22 Share

Brandon Sanderson

All right, folks! Time for the fifth update. This should be the last one that I post before some redditor inevitably beats me to the "It's Done!" post by watching my twitter feed very closely.

I do hope to post another update or two during the next year, discussing how the editing and publication process is proceeding.

Part Four is done as of half an hour ago. The part is around 80k words long, and brings the book total so far to 420k words. Final book is still projected at 450k, though I do plan to try to trim it back in revision. (Tor's book binding company can't do a book longer than Words of Radiance, so if I go longer, we have to shrink the font or change binders. I won't cut important parts of the book just to meet this length requirement, but I also generally need to trim significantly in revisions to tighten language.)

Part Four turned out very well, and I'm very pleased with the book so far. I consider it as strong, or stronger than, book two. I also don't see any major structural or characterization problems that will slow editing. (So far, my editor's comments on Parts One and Two have been minor, save for the slow-down in Part Two that I was aware of--and probably don't mind existing, since Parts Three and Four are much faster, and the characterization in Part Two is strong.)

If you're following the Visual Outline from the second update, there structure of the book has undergone some revisions as I've worked through it. It now looks something more like this

Unlisted is that I nudged one flashback into Part Five. Shown is that Secondary Main character #2 had their viewpoint stretched through all five parts, but has a slightly smaller number of viewpoints in all of them. I juggled tertiary characters, making Parts Two and Four the expansive ones (with many viewpoints) and Parts One and Three the narrow ones (with a focus only on the main characters.) Yes, this is complicated, and you don't need to pay any attention to it. I posted this for those who like to dig into these things.

I'm going to power forward into Part Five starting tonight, then do a second draft of Parts Four and Five together. (I'm not sure why I'm treating those like proper nous.) After I turn that in, I will still need to write the prologue, some of the interludes, and the epigraphs. (Those little bits of text at the starts of chapters.)

And then, revisions. My favorite part. Yay.

As with previous threads, I'll try to post answers to questions where I can--but I have to balance that with the actual writing, so some questions will go unanswered or get a quick RAFO. I apologize in advance for that. Despite jokes to the contrary, I really am just one person, and I can't do ALL THE THINGS, as much as I would like to.

Also, thank you to the community for your kind words. I know that people joke about my writing speed, but this book has taken over a year of dedicated writing--and that's not counting the year before of outlining and writing out some of Kaladin's chapters. It's been two full years of work, and then some, to finish this book. With another six months of revision ahead. Together with other projects, that will make three and a half years between books two and three. So I do beg your patience with this series. The books take a lot out of me, and while I'm very proud of the result--and consider this series to be my opus--the novels aren't going to be terribly fast in their release schedule.

Shadows of Self Houston signing ()
#23 Share

Questioner

The fight scenes in the Mistborn novels are incredibly visual. How do you write that, do you have to *inaudible*?

Brandon Sanderson

Right, how do I write the fight scenes from something like Mistborn? Actually, you do a lot of research by watching Jackie Chan films, but really what you're doing is actually, at least the way I approach it, you can do whatever works for you, but the way I do it is I actually approach what I want the emotional and mental beats to be in the scene and I build the scene around that. What is someone going to realize. What is someone going to feel. What is someone going to connect. How are they going to bring these things together. And then I use those to construct the scene so that even if someone is not following it, or is not as interested in the action, they'll get the emotional parts, and have these focuses for themselves. And I just construct the action around that. And often in the first draft, it's actually pretty rough. One of the biggest things I have to do in second drafts and third drafts is fix blocking for these battle sequences, which is where everyone's moving, because I'm working on the emotional beats first. And I feel like that's the way to go for me. I can construct a really awesome looking fight scene but the problem is you can't do a Jackie Chan thing in a book, like he punched him, he punched him really fast, this other person punched her twice as fast but then she kicked him twice. It's just boring right, and even the blow by blows, when they get exciting, kind of feel boring sometimes. But if you've got those emotional and mental things connecting, and pulling the reader through the story, then it's going to work better.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#24 Share

Questioner

Which has been your favorite project?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't really have a favorite. It's whatever I'm working on at the moment. Every project, there are times where I am just so done with it. Every project, there are times where I'm super excited about it. And when I'm timing it right, the time I'm so done with it is the time where I can be done with it. And the time where I'm super excited about it is when I'm starting it and writing new material for it. I don't think that there is a single book that I haven't been, like, "I am so tired of this, I am so done," by the time I am at revision number five.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#25 Share

izyk

You mentioned in an earlier answer that learning to revise was one of the biggest factors in making your work publishable.

Would you give us an idea of the process you go through when you revise?

Thanks!

--Isaac

Brandon Sanderson

Thanks for the question, Isaac! (Isaac, by the way, is the person who introduced me to my wife and set us up on our first blind date.)

I view working on a book in the same way a sculptor might view working on a block of wood. The first draft is generally focused on getting things in place so I can work on them. In essence, I cut out the crude features of the sculpture—but when it's done, there is still a lot of work to be done. Readers who see the book in this stage can tell what the basic arcs and characters will be, but the emotional impact is lessened by the crude edges and unfinished lines.

Here's my process in a nutshell:

Draft one: Write the book in draft form.

Draft two: Read through the entire book, fixing the major problems. Often, I'll change character personalities halfway through the first draft as I search to figure out how I want the character to sound. I don't go back then and revise, as I need to try out this personality for a while before I decide to actually use it. Similarly, often I'll drop in new characters out of the blue, pretending that they've been there all along. In the second draft, I settle on how I want things to really look, feel, and work.

Draft three: Language draft. Here I'm seeking to cut the book down by 10%. I write with a lot of extra words, knowing I'll need a trim. This will make the prose more vibrant, and will make the pacing work better.

In a perfect world, this is where I writing group the piece and/or send it to my editor. (For lack of time, my writing group is getting Draft Two of The Way of Kings. Hopefully, I'll be able to do draft three by the end of the year.)

I let readers read the book, and I take some time off of it. I begin collecting things I want to change in the book in a separate file, called "Revision notes for ***", listing the name of the book. I organize these by character and by importance and/or pervasiveness. For instance, a need to rewrite a character's motivations will be at the top. Fixing one specific scene so that it has proper foreshadowing will be near the bottom.

Once this is all done, and I've gotten feedback and had time to think, I read through the book again with my revision notes file open beside the book file itself. I actively look for places to change, kind of like a sculptor looking over the statue and seeking places to knock off jagged chunks and smooth out the sculpture’s features.

I'll do this process several times, usually. In-between, I'll often do line-edit drafts, like the language draft above, where I'm focused on getting rid of the passive voice and adding more concrete details.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
#26 Share

Questioner

Do you find it difficult when you have to jump between the worlds when you write about like Mistborn and Stormlight do you find it difficult to transition like that?

Brandon Sanderson

Is it hard to transition?  Is it hard to transition, the question is, between the different worlds that I write in.  A little bit yes, but mostly no.  The reason I jump so much is my writing style kind of requires me to do something new after I finish a big project.  That’s why I--  People ask me a lot how do I-- how am I so productive.  It is actually because that I found out if I jump to something new, like a lot of time a writer finishes a book it just wears them out for six months, right?  Or if you’re certain writers you’re worn out before you finish it somehow.  Naming no names.  But really it happens, you get worn out after finishing a book.  I found that if I jump into something very different I immediately get excited about that and get going on it.  And it is a big part--  That is why you see those little novellas like Emperor’s Soul and Legion and things like that, because I finished a project and jumped into something new.  And it makes me really, like I said, excited.  So yes it is a little hard to switch gears, but more so it is exciting to switch gears and it just keeps me excited and enthralled through this whole process.  Which is why you see me jumping around so much.  I tell people “Oh can’t you just write on my favorite series”, I tell them if I did that they actually wouldn’t come out any faster, because I would hit that kind of lull that happens after a book where it’s hard to write and you get slowed down by any little thing and if I switch to something else you just kind of get books squished in-between.

Words of Radiance Chicago signing ()
#27 Share

Questioner

May I ask you what your revision process is?

Brandon Sanderson

My revision process is very goal-oriented. I decide what I want to change about the book, I write it all in a big notes file, and I organize them by how important it is and how far-reaching the changes are. And then I start revising with <the file> open beside me, always watching to make tweaks to fit the goals I have established.

Questioner

Oh, okay. And do you find yourself able to remember everything you've written when you go back and--

Brandon Sanderson

No, that's why-- you got your document here and you've got your revision file here and watching [the revisions file] while revising I'm trying to clear things off this list, and then things near the bottom will move up. And I'll sometimes need to do two or three drafts to clear everything off the list, but being goal-based in it helps me a lot.

DrogaKrolow.pl interview ()
#28 Share

DrogaKrolow

The last one, a bit offtop, Me and Klaudia-- We dream about becoming a fantasy writer. I'm sure she's wondering too: how does it feel when your first book was published...

Brandon Sanderson

Man that's so hard to define. I'm a writer, I should be able to do this, but it was amazing. It's validation for having spent twenty years trying to learn how to do this. Maybe not twenty. Fifteen years trying to learn how to do this. At the same time, theoretically in some way it's also just a released breath. Okay it happened. It worked. But at the end, you write for yourself. I don't know if you guys have heard this story; I've told it before, but I had a really down point in my writing career before I got published. 

DrogaKrolow

Yes the four hundred-- uh, when you sold Elantris.

Brandon Sanderson

See, when I was trying to get published, everyone was telling me you need to be more like George RR Martin. They really did. They'd say that, and they would also say my books are too long. So they would tell me these two things. You need to be more like George Martin and your books are too long. They were all looking for Joe Abercrombie. That's who they wanted to find, right? They wanted short, brutal books. And Joe's a great writer, so there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not me. And I tried doing that. That's what Final Empire Prime and Mistborn Prime--unpublished novels--were. I took some of my ideas and I tried to write something more Joe Abercrombie-esque, even though Joe hadn't been published then. So it was just a short, sort of grimdark thing, and they were terrible. They were absolutely terrible. And so I sat back and I'm like, "Okay, nobody wants to read what I'm writing, but if I try to write what they say to write, it turns out to be a terrible book. Should I just give up?"

And I thought about that for a while and I eventually came to the decision: I'm not writing for them. I'm writing for me. That's the point. And if I die at age 90--let's say age 100 *laughter*--and I have 150 unpublished books in my closet, then I'm a success, because I kept writing, because that's what's important, was enjoying and loving that process. Even if I never got published, I wanted to be that person. And that's when I sat down and wrote The Way of Kings [Prime], which was my proverbial flipping the bird at the industry. I said, if you say my books are too long, I'm writing one twice as long. If you say my books are not George Martin enough, I'm going to go the complete opposite direction. High magic, high fantasy, all the awesome stuff. Knights in magical power armor. All of this stuff. And I wrote that book fully expecting no one would ever publish it. And that's when I got the call from an editor buying Elantris, which I'd written five years before at that point. It might have been four years, but you know. 

But when Elantris came out, I'd already made the decision that I'm a writer, no matter, I don't give up. I write for me. And so in some ways it was hugely relieving and thrilling. But in some ways the more important decision had already been made. I was a writer, and I didn't need that validation to be a writer. Because the only one that says whether or not I'm a writer is me. I get up every day and I do it.

Calamity Philadelphia signing ()
#30 Share

Questioner

We were kind of joking about it that in the original Mistborn trilogy Kelsier, you notice that he--we kind of had a little joke about it that every once in a while he’d raise his eyebrow, and we were like “How many eyebrow raises did you count this time?”  And in the Secret History, we were both kind of like “Did you notice any?” and there weren’t any.  And I was just a tiny bit disappointed that he didn’t get a--

Brandon Sanderson

So what happens is--

Questioner

We were just curious if you got some kind of feedback that told you to stop that...

Brandon Sanderson

No, writers start to notice what their tells are, and so your tells will shift.  If you go look through the Mistborn books another one is “maladroitly”, I use that one all the time.  And all that happens is the copyeditor notices them and starts bracketing them over the course of “Oh I use this too much” I don’t usually mean to cut them all, there should have been one or two.  And it just meant they got bracketed and I was “Oh this one isn’t appropriate” and I just took a bunch of them out.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#31 Share

Questioner

How many hours a week do you spend writing? You write more than anybody--

Brandon Sanderson

I do it in normal person's job, I'm... Eight hours a day probably. Two four-hour sessions usually. I'm not that fast, I'm just very consistent. It's just my personality. It's served me really well in writing, just because I can consistently write everyday. I don't go through mood swings and things.

Oathbringer release party ()
#32 Share

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

How much do you plot books? How much do you plan out what happens before you start writing?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I am a plotter. I am very naturally-- I do a lot of extensive plotting. So, I would say I have, like, 90% of it before I start most books, thought I knock out like, 10% or 20% while I'm writing and change it if something better comes along. 

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Do you go chapter by chapter, or do you kinda just--

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It's more like an outline of, like, "Here's my goal. And here are ways to achieve it." I do a whole lecture on it in the BYU lectures, if you're interested,  that are on YouTube.

Oathbringer San Francisco signing ()
#33 Share

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

So, you always talk about how you're an outliner. So, what do your outlines look like, and how long are they ranging from your YA books to something like Stormlight?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

So, the one for the new book, Skyward, is about five pages long, and it's mostly-- first it's "Here's the worldbuilding paragraph," there's a bunch of headings and paragraphs. Characters, about a paragraph or two about each one. And then five parts, I tend to do a lot of five act things. So, prologue, part one, part two, part three, climax. Just a bunch of bullet points.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

And how long would one be for, like, Oathbringer?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Oathbringer one's, like, 30 pages.

Firefight Houston signing ()
#34 Share

Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

Do you just start writing and hope for the best?

Brandon Sanderson

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

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#35 Share

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Going back to when you first started writing books, how did you go about figuring out how to revise them?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

...Through lots of pain. *laughter* I am not a natural reviser. I still don't like it. I spent six months of this year in revisions on Oathbringer, and every minute of it was pain! No, I'm joking. I mean, I still have the best job in the world, right? I get to sit in my chair and tell stories. And then, for some reason, people throw money at me. Revision was hard, and for me, part of the breakthrough was to treat a revision like I treat a first draft, in that I create an outline for the revision. I create a bunch of goals, I create a bunch of bullet points and things I want to work on. And I come up with a strategy, because I am naturally an outliner, for making the revision work. And when I started doing that, revision got a lot better for me, but it was also just a lot of practice.

Brandon's Blog 2017 ()
#36 Share

Karen Ahlstrom

I just finished the timeline for Oathbringer, and thought you might like to hear about the process. (Spoiler warning: There may be tidbits of information in this article about the plot of Oathbringer, but I have specifically made up many of the examples I use, so you can’t count on any of it as fact.)

I know that some of you think, “Brandon posted that he had finished writing Oathbringer months ago. Why do we have to wait until November before it’s on the shelf at the bookstore?” This is a natural question. I asked it myself years ago when I heard similar news about a Harry Potter book. The timeline is one small part of the reason, but it will give you a small glimpse of what is going on at a frantic pace here at Dragonsteel trying to get the book ready to go to press.

You may know that I’m Brandon’s continuity editor. I keep records of every character, place, spren, and piece of clothing to name just a few. The next time a person appears, I make sure they have the right eye color and eat the right kind of food. There’s so much more to it than that, but it gives you an idea of the level of detail I try to be on top of.

Another thing I track is the timeline of each book. I have a massive spreadsheet called the Master Cosmere Timeline (I can hear some of you salivating right now, and no, I won’t let you peek at certain corners of it).

In some of Brandon’s books, there are a few main characters who spend most of their time together in the same place. For those books, the timeline is simple. Take The Bands of Mourning for instance. It’s about four days long. Nobody goes off on a side quest. The timeline only takes up 32 lines in the spreadsheet because there are that many chapters. On the other hand, the current spreadsheet for the Stormlight books has over 1100 lines.

Here’s a sample of the timeline spreadsheet. The white columns are the dates, which I have an entirely separate post about. In column F we have an event that happens in the book. Column E tells how long it has been since the last event. Then I have the quote from the book that I used to justify the timing, the chapter the quote appears in, and whether the event happened on the day of the chapter, or sometime in the past or future.

The timeline for Oathbringer starts on day 4 of the new year, and ends on day 100. (Which, for those of you who keep track of such things, makes the date 1174.2.10.5). My day count could change by a day or two here and there, but I’m pretty happy with how I got the different groups of people to all end up in the same place at the same time.

Why bother? Well, sometimes Brandon writes a flashback and someone is looking at a cute baby. It’s important to tell Brandon that this particular kid wasn’t born for another four years. A character might think to themselves, “It’s been a month and a half since I was there,” and though it has been 45 days, a month on Roshar is 50 days long, so it hasn’t even been a single month. Brandon often glosses over those conversions in early drafts.

The most important purpose, though, comes when two groups of characters are apart for some length of time. Let’s take Kaladin and Dalinar in The Way of Kings. Kaladin was running bridges for battles where Dalinar and Sadeas cooperated. Were there the same number of days in Kaladin’s viewpoint between those battles as there were in Dalinar’s viewpoint? The answer is no. I was assigned this job after that book was finished, and as much as we squashed and fudged, there is still a day or two unaccounted for. An interesting tidbit from The Way of Kings‘ timeline is that Kaladin’s timeline has 50 days in it before Dalinar’s starts. Chapter 40, when Kaladin recovers from being strung up in the storm, is the same day as the chasmfiend hunt in Chapter 12.

Going back to Oathbringer, sometimes I’m amazed at the power I have. As I go through the manuscript, I can take a sentence like, “He spent four days recovering,” and simply replace the word four with two. Brandon gives me a general idea of how long he wants things to take, and I tell him what it needs to be to fit. It’s a big responsibility, and sometimes I worry that I’ll mess the whole thing up.

Oathbringer is the first book in the Stormlight series where I worked with a list of the storms from the start. Peter tried on Words of Radiance, but Brandon wrote what the story needed and expected us to fit the storms in around that (A perfectly reasonable process, even if it makes my job trickier). In Oathbringer though, the Everstorm and highstorm are each on a much stricter schedule. We need such exact timing in some scenes that Peter (with help from beta reader Ross Newberry) made me a calculator to track the hour and minute the storms would hit any given city.

Yet another thing we needed to calculate is travel time. How fast can a Windrunner fly? How many days does it take to march an army from here to there? Kaladin might be able to do a forced march for a week, but what about Shallan or Navani? How long could they manage 30 miles a day?

Hopefully now you can see why we’ve needed months of work to get this far, and will need months more to get it finished in time. At some point, we’re just going to have to call it good and turn the book over to the printer, but even though you think you want to get your hands on it now, it will be a much better read after we have the kinks worked out.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#37 Share

Brandon Sanderson

I generally write on only one books at a time. This is different, some writers aren't like that, Ray Bradbury famously had a big filing cabinet of half finished stories and he would, every morning, get out one and get out the typewriter and type more lines on it until it didn't work for him anymore and then he put it back and grabbed another one and started typing on it, which blows my mind. I cant imagine that; I can only usually do new fiction for one at a time, though I'm often panning in my head or working on the outline for the next one while I am writing the prose for this one. It uses different parts of the brain usually.

Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
#38 Share

Questioner

Do you hear the-- when you write the Parshendi have such a musical language. Do you hear it when you're writing, like what the songs sound like?

Brandon Sanderson

To an extent, yes, but I am not as musically inclined as some, and so if we ever do it, I would probably have somebody else come up with something more... It's more of a cadence though, like the difference between iambic and things like that.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#39 Share

Brandon Sanderson

So the reason that I write so many different things is because I found every writer, when they are working on a book for a long time, perhaps you know this too, starts to hate that book. They get so tired of it because you do so many drafts, and spend so long. When I finish a book I dont want to work on a sequel to that book. I am done with that book. I need something very new and different to refresh myself. So like how you eat grapes in between bites of cheese. This is why I do so many different things.

Shadows of Self Portland signing ()
#40 Share

Questioner

How do you envision Patter and Syl when they are in their Shardblade form.

Brandon Sanderson

We're going to do sketches eventually, mhmm.

Questioner

Ok, cause I'm getting a tattoo at some point and i want to make it relatively accurate.

Brandon Sanderson

Send to Peter and to... well Peter can be in touch with him. Ben, who does a lot of the... Ben is the one that we have canonize the Shardbaldes, and so after i write a book he does a bunch of sketches for us of what I've describes and we kinda pick one, and i know we've picked one already, but I don't know. I cant draw it for you or anything but if you go to them they can give it to you.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#41 Share

Questioner

How do the characters come to be? I think one of the most interesting, my favorite character is probably Kaladin. How does Kaladin...

Brandon Sanderson

So, Kaladin had an interesting story behind him. I had originally wrote Way of Kings in 2002, and one of the things that didn't work with that draft was that Kaladin's character didn't work. He was called Merin back then. And it's just, personality didn't work. I'd written him too much like a classic apprentice kid on the battlefield who distinguishes himself, it was just too standard of a kind of fantasy storyline. And so I'm like, "Who is this person?" I needed more depth for him, so I added the whole "His father's a surgeon, he's trained as a surgeon" thing. That was one of the first big pillar I added to add more depth to Kaladin, was "All right, he's a surgeon, but he's been forced to go to war." The kind of field medic who also learns he's really good at killing people. That was, like, the first big thing that I got for Kaladin.

The other thing was the big tragedy that happened in his past, followed by the big tragedy involving the Shardblade led me down that path. And the last thing I added was the depression. This was, like, seven years of evolving this character before he actually came together. Characters are hard for me to put a finger on, because I usually write them by instinct. I'll write a chapter from their viewpoint, see how they see the world, step back. And I'll usually throw that chapter away and try it several times until I get the right... soul, cast in the role, if that makes sense. I can talk a lot more about other things, but character is trial and error until someone feels right.

The more distinctive you can make a character's viewpoint, the stronger, I feel, it will come across. When I feel like it's really working for me is when I can write a few paragraphs and say, "No other character that I've ever written could have written those paragraphs, just in how they describe the world."

Stormlight Three Update #8 ()
#42 Share

Brandon Sanderson

This might be our final Oathbringer update--as today, I finished the fifth and final draft of the book, and am ready to send it off to Tor. From here, the book is in /u/peterahlstrom's hands as he handles the copyedits, the gamma read, and the proofreads. It's possible I'll make a few small tweaks to the text, but the book is mainly his burden now.

I'm extremely pleased with the final draft, which I managed to cut to 450k words. That meant trimming about 64k off of it--roughly 12.5%. These are mostly line edits, with only a few small scenes being cut out. I improved pacing, and even added a few small sections to smooth out certain plot lines.

Fans tend to hate the idea of cutting--but trust me, this version reads far better. I did make sure to keep anything substantive I cut so you can see it later as deleted scenes.

We're still planning a November 14th release in the US. (I think UK releases on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays, so it would be a few days later over there.) Simultaneous audio and--if we can swing it--simultaneous Spanish.

For now, I'm at Supanova in Sydney and Perth--which unfortunately means I won't be monitoring these comments (or my direct messages.) Be forewarned, you might not get a reply to questions posted here. (I will try to do a proper AMA about the book once it's out.)

My next project will be The Apocalypse Guard, a book with loose connections to the Reckoners. I'm chomping at the bit to do some actual writing again, as I've been working on revisions of Oathbringer nonstop for almost exactly six months now. I think the last time I wrote anything non-Stormlight was Snapshot, fourteen months ago. Whew!

By the files in my folders, the first chapter I wrote for Stormlight Thee was started on June 24, 2014. The last scene I added was written today, in my hotel in Sydney. The bulk of the writing happened June 2015-December 2016, with revisions lasting until just now.

It clocks in at 122 chapters, with 14 interludes, plus a prologue, epilogue, and ketek.

Looking forward to you all being able to read it, come November. Thanks, as always, for your support--and your patience.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#43 Share

Questioner

*inaudible* How and when do you manage to sleep? You read and write and have a family...

Brandon Sanderson

So, I'm not allowed to talk about the clones.

I have a strict schedule, and what I do is, I get up at noon, because I'm a writer! And I'll write from noon until 5:00. 5:00 until 8:30 or 9:00 is family time, and that's sacrosanct. I don't do anything else during that time except hang out with family, I play video games with the kids, if you've got a seven or eight year old, Terraria, great for *inaudible*. It's like an easier minecraft. We play games, I go out with my wife, we do stuff like that. And then, at about 9:00, the kids are in bed, we're usually back, and then I go back to work. And I work from about 9:00 until as long as I need to work to get my work done. And when I'm home, that schedule works very well. It can get me up to twelve hours of writing time in a day if I'm really crunching on something. Since I don't have a commute, I get that extra time in my day. And when I don't have a time crunch, then I can be done by, like, 2:00 AM and play some video games or something. My mental health is good. You don't have to worry about me not sleeping, and things like that. On tour? All bets are off. These things usually get done about midnight or 1:00 AM, and I often have a flight the next morning at 8:00. So, on tours, I just don't sleep. And I usually don't eat, either.

Salt Lake ComicCon FanX 2016 ()
#44 Share

Questioner

So, as a writer of so many books of epic fantasy, what is your crazy work schedule like?

Brandon Sanderson

So, my crazy schedule is not as crazy as you think, just a little crazy. I go to bed at 4:00, and I get up at noon. I did not become a writer so that I could keep the job that a working stiff would have. My writing schedule is generally, I do one big block from about noon until 5:00. I hang out with my kids and my wife from about 5:00 until 10:00. And then from about 10:00 until 2:00 or 3:00, I do another writing block, and then I take an hour or two off and play video games or something like that. The secret to my productivity is not much of a secret. It is that I work every day, I just get get up and I write. And I don't always publish what i write. Some of what I write doesn't work. But I like writing, I like telling stories. The creative process is really really engaging to me, it's what I like doing, so I do it every day. And I'm not a really fast writer, I'm just really consistent at my writing.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
#45 Share

Questioner

Of all the characters that you've written, which one do you think is the most like you, and is there one you want to be like?

Brandon Sanderson

Understand that there are none that are specifically "most like me." There's a piece of me in every one of them, it's been very hard for me to determine. If I had one that I think the best of is probably Sazed, maybe Dalinar. But I sure wouldn't mind being as clever as some of them are. You laugh, because, like, "You wrote them, Brandon." The thing about being clever... and I have some clever friends, I lived with a a guy named Ken Jennings for many years, and his brother's just as smart as him, and our mutual friend Earl, they were all on Quiz Bowl in college together, [Ken] won the Jeopardy thing, like 80 in a row. And Ken, and people like this, what really makes them smart is the speed of thought. They just snap off a retort, just like that, and you get them together, it's this weird thing, where, like, spacetime seems to warp around them and they start one-upping each other with references and cultural jokes and things like that, you just step back, and, like, they're their own power source. Of random 80's inside jokes just going at each other. And that's what really makes someone witty, is the ability to pop it off. That's not smart, that's witty, in a book. (Now they're also very smart.) But in a book, you can emulate that, by giving yourself three hours to think of what the perfect comeback... and then writing it in the book. And they just came up with it, and everyone thinks you're brilliant, when you're just habitually that person who's like, "That would have been smart! That's what I should have said!"

Boskone 54 ()
#46 Share

Questioner

How do you do it? (after saying he likes the characters and societies that Brandon writes)

Brandon Sanderson

Lots of practice. Lots of reading in the genre and loving the genre. A little bit of talent, a lot of loving the genre, and a lot of practice for a long time.

Questioner

I haven’t read Mistborn, but I’ve read this one [Stormlight]. How do you come up with the culture, the society?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the book. Stormlight is my best series. If you haven’t tried Emperor’s Soul, it’s the other thing that I think is on Stormlight’s level, but it’s a short. What I’m looking to do with something like Stormlight is to say that the fantasy genre should be the most magical genre, right? Classically, science fiction has done a better job with the worldbuilding, and fantasy has tended to do a better job with things like characters and story. Not that there’s not science fiction that has great, you know, but usually science fiction’s been about the ideas and the interesting settings, but in fantasy we play it safe with the settings and try to do interesting characters. Which I’ve always thought, “Why do we do that? Why do we play it safe with our settings? Why don’t we have really bizarre, fantastical settings?”. So for years, even before I became a published author, I was searching for ones that would have one foot in science fiction. I want to do something magical as an origin, like the highstorm, you know, the physics of the highstorm don’t actually work, but we take it for assumed and then we try to extrapolate a realistic extrapolation of the world from that. That’s just what I’m doing, I’m trying to set up some sort fantastical setting or environment and then let science fiction take over and try and build how it would grow. On the cultures, usually I’m taking things I’ve learned about our culture and I am just trying to [...] a fantastical version. Sometimes when you do that you can say something interesting about human society, removed from the baggage of human society. There was a brief time in the pre-Victorian era where, for women, showing your ankle was more taboo than showing your chest. In fact, they would have pictures painted of them, noblewomen, in a state of what you’d call topless. Not a problem; a little risque, like what wearing a low-cut shirt is now, but no big deal. That’s bizarre to us, because, our society that’s not how it is. But if I put that in, in a fantasy book as a safehand, I can say, look, human beings do bizarre things as far as gender roles, socialization of gender, and what we find attractive. This should be very bizarre to you, but the reactions are normal. That disconnect is what helps build a fantastical society and lets me say a few things about our society, I hope in interesting ways.

Boskone 54 ()
#47 Share

Questioner

How is it that you’re able to write such real and strong women characters that are feminist in their own way but in very different ways from book to book? Is your wife your inspiration? Can you do a workshop for other male writers?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a huge compliment, thank you. It is something that I’ve worked on a long time. I would blame the authors I read getting into fantasy, Barbara Hambly, Melanie Rawn, Anne McCaffrey. They were the first three authors I read. I internalized some of the things they were talking about. I also do have some good models. My mother graduated first in her class in accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the accounting department. She’s currently the accountant for the city of Idaho Falls. So getting it wrong was a big deal to me, and I did get it wrong on my first few books. The unpublished ones, fortunately. What I realized was, it was a bigger problem than just doing the female characters wrong, though that was the biggest sign that I was doing something wrong. What was happening was I was writing people to roles in the story, rather than writing them as people having a role in the story. That sounds really simple, right? But once I realized people don’t see themselves as the plucky sidekick, usually, and people don’t see themselves as the romantic interest. People see themselves as a person who plays a part in someone else’s life, but plays a different part over here, and a different part over here. Those of us who are extraverts might be introverts in some situations where we don’t know very much. Those of us who are introverts might be extraverts when you put us in front of a room and tell us to do a reading, we’re like “Yeah! I can handle that!”. We all fulfill lots of different roles in different settings, in different people’s lives. Everybody has motivations and passions, and gender identity, racial factors, your upbringing, your culture, these are all parts of who you are, but when you let one of those things define you too much, you become a flat character, in fiction. [Talks for a minute about Lost, where the character who loses his son becomes a flat character because it comes to completely define the character. He’s talked about this before in his lectures so I’m not going to type it out]. When you’re writing people to just a role like that, you end up with these flat characters, you end up with people who don’t really live. And I think the first big revelation for me was that I was doing that. And this was particularly true of the female characters. When you start writing, it’s very normal to just write a protagonist who’s much like yourself and then writing people who aren’t like yourself like, this is this role, this is this role, and then boom. But there was something else I had to learn. There’s still lots of things for me to learn, but there was something else big that I had to learn. This was the problem that I’ve only recently begun reading essays about it, which is the natural inclination of someone is to first off write everyone as kind of a stereotype, and then you learn and you get better. But then the next inclination is to write the person who is different from ourselves as super super awesome. Just so that we’re not accidentally being sexist. And you’ll see this a lot too, this happens a lot with African Americans, in video games in particular. I was playing a video game once, and it’s a bunch of burly white guys who are awesome with guns and they’re killing stuff. And they talk about their friend, the black guy. You don’t know he’s black at the time. And then they get into trouble and they can’t save themselves. And the black guy bursts through the ceiling with guns blazing, mows down the enemies, says “Alright guys, go for it!”, and then runs off into the sunset. He’s like the coolest guy ever. He only stops short of doing a rap song for the end song, right? They don’t want to be racist, so he’s awesome, but he also doesn’t get a character arc. Everybody else has deep character arc and is messed up. They didn’t want to, and I understand this instinct, they didn’t want to make the black guy messed up because he’s the minority and they are so worried about screwing it up that instead they put him on a pedestal. You see guys do this with women, and you see women do this with the men characters. If you read a book, often the guy, by a female writer, the guy has very few faults, he’s just this guy, and the woman is this messed up, neurotic, interesting character. Same in reverse with the guys. The woman in the book ends up being the one who is very responsible, the one who’s like “We need to go do this”, the kick-ass “strong female character” [he literally says “quote-unquote” about strong female character] who just awesome, but doesn’t have a character arc and isn’t messed up in the ways that make people interesting. That’s another level, when you’re like, we have to make all the characters interesting, and all the characters messed up and individual, rather than even doing that level. And that one’s been even harder to internalize and figure out how to do.

Firefight Houston signing ()
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Questioner

When you write your stories, do you plot them by outline, or do you start with the first thing--

Brandon Sanderson

Good question. Do I plot with an outline or not? I am an outliner. I like start with a really good outline, though I outline backward. I start with the climax and what I want to have happen, and then I work forward, working out what's gonna work to lay the groundwork for the ending that I want to have happen. But then I write forward, I start with the first page and go.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
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Questioner

How do you start a new book?

Brandon Sanderson

I start with an outline.  I like very detailed outlines, and I like to know where I'm going before I start.  If I don't have an ending in mind I'm in trouble.  So, I will often spend a lot of time imagining that I'm *inaudible*, you know, walking on the treadmill or going for a walk or something, and getting through my head just what I would imagine being the cool scenes from this book.  What are the scenes that people are going to want to read, that are going to make it all come together.  And then I build those into my outline.  And I usually outline backward, start with those cool scenes, and then I write my book forward.  

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

How do you become a beta reader?

Brandon Sanderson

People always want to know this! We have beta and gamma readers. Alpha reads are only my agent and my writing group. Beta readers are people from fandom who have proven that they know their stuff and are a part of the community. Peter picks these from people who are on my Facebook, who are interacting with him there, or who are on the 17th Shard. There's no promises you can get in on this. We do change it every book and get some new people, because sometimes we just want people to give fresh eyes on something.

Gamma reads, if you want to read things early, are bug hunters. They can spot a type form a hundred paces. If you are really good at finding typos, you can go to the thread on the 17th Shard, for every book there is a thread, a forum thread that talks about typos. And if you are consistently finding typos no one else has found, chances are good Peter will be like, "Hey, do you want to proofread for us?"

But don't feel like you have to do this because it actually diminishes the book a little bit, even though you get to do something cool, because it's not in its final form yet. I don't like beta reading when I don't have to, I'd prefer reading something with polish.