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Skyward Seattle signing ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

How do you approach creating scenes? Do you create how you want the scene to play out, and then make the magic system? Or do you make the magic system work first?

Brandon Sanderson

Usually, I do magic system first. The way scenes, I construct, is usually I have big goals in my story. For instance, in Mistborn, Vin is going to learn to train all the powers of a Mistborn. By the end, I want her to be fairly competent. So then I have that goal, and I write down, "What are scenes that can move me toward that goal?" In that outline, it would be: she trains with Ham in one scene, she trains with Marsh in another scene, she trains with Breeze in another scene. What else can I make those scenes do to move character and stuff, to try to pack more into those scenes. But I'll construct those scenes as goals towards the ending.

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

Questioner

How much time do you spend writing new material versus rewrites?

Brandon Sanderson

Rewrites are about half of my time I'd say. Between a third and a half. So I can usually budget the same amount of time that it took to write a book to do the revisions, and each given one is a bit faster. I write at about 2,000 words a day and I revise at about 10,000 words a day, but it goes slower when I have to do new chapters. Like, I'll do 10,000 words one day, and then 2,000 the next when I have to do new stuff.

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

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.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#4 Copy

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.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

In that regard, you've been called like a million times a prolific writer, and you are, but many people tend to believe that you have some sort of superpower. You don't, you just said many times that your secret is persistent and consistent writing, and I was wondering if this ever lets you disconnect from your worlds, or even put them on standby, if it's easier having that sort of structure and saying, "Okay, now I'm going to write, and now I'm going to not write"?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a very astute question, because one thing that is very hard for writers is to write when we're supposed to. And this goes both ways, meaning, sometimes, for writers, when it's time to sit down and write, writing doesn't happen, but sometimes when we are supposed to be spending out time with our family then our brain is not there and we are somewhere else, and I would say that's the main source of conflict, often, in writers' interpersonal lives.

Though if I do have a superpower, I owe it to my mother. My mother is an accountant, and she is very, very logical, one of the most logical people that I know, and she trained me from childhood to do the things that I'm supposed to do--to do my homework, to do my chores, all of these things. I had a paper route, as a kid, delivering newspapers from age twelve, and I always remember whenever my money came in, my mother would sit me down, and she would hold the money, and say, "Okay, now how much do you put in this savings account?" And I would have to guess numbers until I got to what she thought was right, and she would put that in, and then the next savings account, and then the next savings account, and then I would get handed a dollar. But I was the one of my friends who had a Super Nintendo because of those savings accounts. She trained me very well, and I often say my biggest advantage, as a writer, is that I am an artist with the training of an accountant. And so, when it's time to do my writing, I'm very good, practiced. It took time, many years, but I am practiced, and I am able to be very productive on most days. It's art, so some days, it still doesn't work, but most days I am productive, and equally important, when it is time to spend time with my family, I can turn that off, go be a dad and a husband, and then turn it back on after they go to bed.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#7 Copy

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 ()
#8 Copy

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.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

I have been telling people you're my favorite writer for two reasons: ...your quality of writing is fantastic, and your quantity is high. That's very rare to get both of them in the same author.

Brandon Sanderson

You know, it's this weird thing where I have found that the more I keep up my momentum, the better I write. The worst things I write are the things where I take a long break in between. And it's sort of this thing like, if you stop playing baseball or a while, you're gonna start missing the ball. And I found, just for me, that if I do stuff that keeps me going, so I use a lot of these novellas and things to make sure I'm keeping momentum. And it's hard sometimes, because books take a lot of revision, and you can't just write them and send them out. So you have to do, like, six or seven drafts sometimes. Just keep that momentum.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#10 Copy

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.

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

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."

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#14 Copy

matgopack

About your characters - they're always a lot of fun to read about, and varied. Do you have a method while coming up with them and their personalities/motivations that you use?

Brandon Sanderson

Character is the most difficult for me to pinpoint my process on because I do a lot of experimenting, trying different things, and searching for the right voice. The most important thing for me tends to be finding a way this person sees the world that I want to explore more in depth.

General Reddit 2017 ()
#15 Copy

life_b4_death

I would love to know how Mr. Sanderson comes up with such wonderful names.

Brandon Sanderson

I use a bunch of different methods. Some involve creating a language, or parts of it, and building names out of that. Usually, though, I'm looking in those for something with the right sounds. I'll usually "audition" a name for a while by trying it in a book and seeing how I like it.

I also look for certain linguistic markers that can signify a character's country of origin. Symmetrical names for some people from Alethkar, for example.

YouTube Weekly Updates 2021 ()
#16 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

In the comments, I saw that one of you was asking about my prewriting process [for Wax and Wayne Four]. In short, for this one, what I did is: there were three big steps. The beginning was, I wrote down Character, Setting, Plot together in a document, and I then did a subheading for each of the main characters. For this book, it'll be Wax, Wayne, Steris, and Marasi. And I said, "All right; what are their character arcs? How do they change? What do they want in this book? What's going on with them?" And that was the first pillar I wanted to hit; I wanted to make sure that everybody was working and that I knew where they were all going and where they would end. Because this is the last book of that sequence, and I want the ending to be spectacular.

Next part was setting. In this, mostly it was developing the magic system, making sure that the things that I'm doing with it, the new ideas that are coming in and developments, are in line with the general goals for the Cosmere and for Scadrial, and that everything that I wanted to do worked within the bounds of the magic, and bouncing that off of my team and making sure that I was explaining things well, why things worked like they did.

And then the last part was to construct the actual plot. This is: what is happening, what are people wanting to do? How am I weaving in character arcs to this large construct that is the plot of the book?

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#17 Copy

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.  

Skyward Anchorage signing ()
#18 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.

Stormlight Three Update #7 ()
#19 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Back with another update. It's been a few months, and I have worked through the third draft of Oathbringer. Original draft didn't have a few of the interludes, so I added those in this revision, as well as incorporating feedback from my team and the team at Tor Books. Earlier today, I wrote the epigraphs and the Wit monologue, then polished off the ketek.

The current length is 514,000 words--so around 100k longer than Words of Radiance. Whew! That's big enough that we're not sure if we can bind it in paperback. (We can manage it in hardcover without too much trouble, though we might have to do some old term paper tricks such as expanding the margins.) The book won't be split in the hardcover US release, or in the ebook, but there's a possibility the US paperback might be split into two volumes released at the same time. (As has been common in the UK for all the books in the series.)

We'll see what happens. Next revision, 4.0, is to incorporate Beta Reader comments and to make some tweaks I've been thinking about. This should be the fastest of the drafts, as I don't need to make any big structural changes or write many new scenes.

5.0 (the final draft) will be a polish and trim. Publication date is still scheduled for this November. The US cover came in just recently, so expect a reveal on that soon. Michael did a fantastic job.

As a warning: I'm not going to be able to monitor this thread very well, as I'm off to Europe. (I'll be in Poland, Germany, and Bulgaria--details on the events section of my website.) So be warned in advance that I probably can't post many replies to your questions here.

I'm still making my way through my recent AMA on /r/fantasy, though, so you can pop over to that and read what I've had to say recently.

As always, thanks for your patience. Beta read responses to the book are strong, so I think you'll be pleased with the result come this fall.

ICon 2019 ()
#20 Copy

Nimrod Rappaport (paraphrased)

Have you read 1984?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Yes, I have.

Nimrod Rappaport (paraphrased)

In your lecture you talked about the three P's: premise, progress and payoff. I wanted to ask you about 1984 because I read the book and was engaged by it and I don't see how the three P's appear in the book, why is it so interesting?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The thing is that George Orwell is very good with setting, he can make very interesting worlds. The progress in 1984 is that of a person losing its mind, the payoff is in how broken he is the end and how his conscience has been shattered.

Footnote: The question was asked after the "tips for writing" lecture.
Direct submission by Nimi142
Words of Radiance Chicago signing ()
#21 Copy

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.

EuroCon 2016 ()
#22 Copy

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.

Oathbringer London signing ()
#23 Copy

Questioner

When you start planning your books, is there anything you start with? Is there always some sort of starting point, or do you start whenever an idea occurs and you run with it?

Brandon Sanderson

Every book is a combination of multiple ideas that are bouncing around in my head. And when they start sticking together, like when I've got an idea for a cool idea where "There's a storm all the time," mixing with "Hey, I want to tell this story about these ancient orders of knights." with "Ooh, this magic system might develop here." When these all start sticking together, that's what makes a book for me. And then I sit down and write out all the ideas I had, and then start I organize it into an outline.

ICon 2019 ()
#24 Copy

Questioner

I just wanted to know what you think about writer's notebooks and do you have one?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, mine's... I have two, I have a little... whatever they call them... the little leatherbound ones that I put in my pocket. That's if I'm working on a specific book. If I'm not in the outlining stage on a specific book, which I'm not right now because I'm writing prose on something. At that point, it's just my phone and I email cool ideas I have to myself to put in my file. It used to be called "Cool things that need to be used some time", but it was just too weird a title, so now it's just called "Working ideas".

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#25 Copy

Questioner

Do you backstock on neat characters?

Brandon Sanderson

I do have some characters I haven't found places for yet.

Questioner

Is it just kind of like a mix/match? Do you find a world for them or...

Brandon Sanderson

So characters are the hardest one for me to define. Because I need to discover who they are by writing through their viewpoint for a while. And it's an exploration. Other things, I can plot, I can outline, I can plan ahead. Characters, I can't. I need to explore them. So, really, what I have are seeds, conflicts. They could grow into a character. And I'll sometimes try them out, and they won't work, and I'll send that seed back.

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

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.

ICon 2019 ()
#28 Copy

Questioner

My question is connected to an acquaintance of both of us. Namely, a lovely, lovely Australian named Shad, who is an expert in weapons and medieval warfare. It is very easy to criticize books and everything about *interjection* because we have the real things in the world, but in all of your books, you have created magic systems that are so... real. How is the initial thought when you create a new world, what is the initial process of creating a new magic system?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, so first I'll point you toward my essays called "Sanderson's Laws", which are basically stepping through the rules I follow to make a magic system. There's three of those. I would recommend going and reading those.

The process is really me trying to create something that is both different and unique and something that approaches the theme of the story the right way. Like, I want a magic system that accents my story, not one that contradicts my story. And these things all come together into it: I'm looking for interesting flaws, interesting costs, interesting powers, and interesting connections to the rest of my world.

Lucca Comics and Games Festival ()
#29 Copy

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.

YouTube Livestream 5 ()
#30 Copy

Questioner

How do you decide which stories need to be told when as you work your way through the cosmere?

Brandon Sanderson

Mostly which stories need to tell when in the cosmere is affected by what I'm most excited to write right now. The cosmere so far has been separated enough that I can look at what I'm really passionate about and write it, and there's been no reason so far to put those very out of order chronologically. The further we go, the more that'll have to be. Like, the Wax and Wayne books happen chronologically after Stormlight 1 through 5. So it's already begun a little bit, but for the most part it was "What am I passionate about writing? What do I feel like is the best book for me to write?" And then I make sure it fits into the chronology rather than otherwise. Again, the further we go, the more these things lock into place. Like White Sand is jumping backward in time, and when I do Dragonsteel, it's going to jump even further, so this will happen more and more as we go, but right now? I write what I'm passionate about.

Waygate Foundation Write-a-thon ()
#31 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

For the same reason that I didn't want to do a transgendered on air streaming when I haven't done the research. I don't want to write a gay character without having the resources to send the book to my gay friends to read them and say "Hey am I accidentally being offensive" and things like that. It's just something that I want to be very extra careful on so I'm not going to do it on screen. There is just too many potential pit falls. I know that we want to try  to write the 'other', and that's important, but I worry that with all of this brainstorming this could go silly, so I just want to be careful.

YouTube Livestream 18 ()
#32 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

It is hard for me to keep in mind more than one big change for a book [while revising]. I can do it, but it's hard; it's a challenge. And fortunately, the way I write books is, generally I only have one big change per plot cycle or per viewpoint. Like, I can say, "For this viewpoint character, my big focus change for this is changing this part of who they are. This character needs to be more proactive." That's one of the ones that I had for the new Stormlight book, is there was a character that just wasn't proactive enough. And I'm like, "I need to change the way that they're viewing their life, and add a few scenes in appropriate places that up the character's proactivity."

That was separate from a different character, where I had approached some of the mental health things the wrong way, and early beta readers were able to point me the right direction on how to do it better. And that character, I didn't change structurally their plot; I changed their response to it, and then a few places where that response did require some major changes. But I could have them on mind: this revision, I'm doing this for this character.

And I had, like, three of those in my 4.0 draft. And for all the other characters, I could say, "In this, we are just focusing on tightening-normal-prose sort of cleaning." And that way, when I went to the 5.0, if there were things for those other characters, I could feel that I had already done the prose tightening for them, and I could get into some more of the problems they needed, and I was able to keep the big changes in my head for the other characters. And then, in the last draft, I was able to do the prose tightening on their viewpoints. And that worked really well for this specific book.

DragonCon 2019 ()
#33 Copy

Questioner

How are you able to create so many worlds without them getting repetitive?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, I worry about that a lot. Repeating yourself is like an author's greatest fear. I don't know that there is anything specific I do to keep... other than being aware that that is a danger. I really like creating worlds and I really try to use a little bit of a different inspiration each time, and sometimes my outlines look a little too similar, so I just kinda don't write that book, if that makes sense. Really, what you're seeing is "I'll build four or five different planets or worlds or ideas and only write one of them" these days. Yeah, it is a real concern - it's not something that I even know if I have fixed yet.

ICon 2019 ()
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Brandon Sanderson

I didn't know the whole cosmere when I wrote Elantris. In fact, a lot of the things I put into Elantris, like the shardpool, I put in feeling like I would connect them later on, but I had no idea how they were going to connect. By Mistborn, I did have all the cosmere. I have an advantage in that, because I took so long to publish, I was able to do a lot of practice books, and it let me really settle in on what I wanted to do, and I was able to build the cosmere... For instance, Dragonsteel (which I wrote after Elantris) is Hoid's backstory and his origin story and things like that. (And also has Bridge Four in it. Back then, they were on a different planet.) I was able to really experiment in Aether of Night with what shardpools meant, and the gods and the Shards of Adonalsium. You can read that one, that one's on the internet just for free. I think the easiest way to do it is to go to my forums and ask them for a copy. I told them they could give it away. It's not very good. It's not terrible, but it does have a lot of shardpool stuff in it, so if you're interested in that.

So by the time I wrote Mistborn, I knew what I was doing with all of this. And I think kind of retrofit to make sure Elantris still fit it all. Hoid still had an appearance, the Shardpools worked the way I wanted to, the magic systems were based off the cosmere magic, the realmatics were all consistent, and things like that.

People ask me a lot, "Where did you get the cosmere?" It was a gradual evolution during the unpublished novels, and then was done by the time I wrote Mistborn.

Shadows of Self Edinburgh UK signing ()
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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.

Subterranean Press Interview ()
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Gwenda Bond

The mysterious Sandra plays a big part in this final story—did you know from the beginning what her role would turn out to be or was this ending a surprise to you? (Without spoiling anything, of course!)

Brandon Sanderson

With my shorter works like this, I tend to let the story evolve over time more than I do with longer stories. This means more discovery, as I'm not sitting down with a framework—the goal, often, is to practice other skills in my writing. (Things that my novel writing doesn't teach me.) In this case, I had ideas for Sandra, and some of those ended up going all the way through—but some I discarded over time. I'm not one who is "surprised" by my writing, however. I don't generally like that phrasing. Sometimes as you're working on a piece, you discover a thread or theme that intrigues you—so you dig into it further, then develop it. Sometimes this means the final piece of art doesn't match the outline. It's not really a surprise so much as a common side effect of the writing process.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

I was gonna ask you for advice on writer's block.

Brandon Sanderson

Advice on writer's block, all right. My experience is that with writer's block, write anyway. Even though you don't feel like it ,you will write yourself through the writer's block nine out of ten times. And if you don't know what to write, that's not a problem. The way to get out of writer's block is to start your subconscious thinking about it. So, if you like to say, "Ninjas are attacking." Just do something. Write it the wrong way first. A lot of newer writers have a lot of trouble with writing something that's not gonna end up in a book, when they know it's broken. But if you write it anyway, your subconscious will be like, "Oh, what was wrong was, I had the wrong viewpoint for this." Or "Oh, I really need to be pushing from this character's motivations" or something. And if you just write this chapter poorly, you'll get that. And, one out of ten times, you'll do that, and you'll be like, "What was I worried about? This chapter turned out great! I should have had ninjas attack. This is how my book is now." Best thing is to do that, and kind of turn off your internal editor and just learn to go.

How do you get past writer's block, Isaac?

Isaac Stewart

How do I get past writer's block? Caffeine. What I have found is I just have to bully through it. Reread what I wrote before, think about things, maybe do some bullet points of what you've seen that came before that, where I wanna get. Sometimes I skip ahead and write a scene that I really want to write.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, that helps, too. Or saying, "Okay, the scene that I'm trying just isn't working, let's just put it in a completely new location that's exciting and interesting to me."

Isaac Stewart

If you have several different points of view, try a different point of view for that scene if that person's there.

Brandon Sanderson

And if it's the "I don't know what to write at all" writer's block, then just do something silly and goofy, 'cause you're practicing your skills, right. If a pianist doesn't know what to compose, they'll just sit down and play something to get themselves going.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

So, most of your magic systems are limited to only a slight portion of the population. Is that a conscious decision? Are there any that are open to anybody?

Brandon Sanderson

Certainly, the Warbreaker magic is open to everybody, and that's part of what I was doing, was I wanted to contrast the other ones. And this is just because it makes for good storytelling, honestly. And when I do this, I'm doing it too much, I go the other way. That's why Sixth of the Dusk is open to everyone, that's why different things are done differently in the magics. But, really, when I'm working on the books, I'm like, "Well, we need something dramatic and cool." And I would argue that at least some of them, such as in Stormlight Archive, those are open to anybody if you can convince a spren. And you're sincere, right? And I like going that direction. Certainly, the kind of old standby of "you're born with it" is really easy. It's really, what we call in Sci-Fi/Fantasy "grokkable." You can instantly, kind of, get it. You're like, "All right, this is just like a talent. Some people are born with different talents. Makes sense." It doesn't take a lot of explanation, you don't have to worldbuild a ton up front. Where something like Stormlight, you gotta send a lot of worldbuilding words to explain how it happens, why it happens, things like that. But the trade-off is, it's in many ways more satisfying if you do it the other way. So, I do try to balance those. But sometimes those short-hands are very handy.

Questioner

Is Forgery?

Brandon Sanderson

Forgery is a Selish magic system, so it is birth-based, tied to location.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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WritesGeekyStuff

Do you take a consciously different approach when writing YA versus writing an 'adult' fantasy? How do you vary your prose, or themes?

Brandon Sanderson

The biggest difference tends to be that in YA, I focus in on a single character and do their story in an intense and intimate way, where in the epic fantasies I'm trying to approach it as the story of the world as it moves forward.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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Questioner

Do you already know how The Stormlight Archive is going to end?

Brandon Sanderson

I do!

Questioner

Do you have all the details in mind, or do you just kind of have a general idea and you figure it out as you go?

Brandon Sanderson

So, I'm a planner. I tend to like having a pretty detailed plan. For something like The Stormlight Archive, that generally kind of boils down to: the next book has a five page plan, the book after that has a three page plan, the book after that a two page plan, one page, one page, and the last book we go back to a five page plan. So there is lots of wiggle room in one of these outlines, but at the same time, I've got touchstones and things I know I'm writing toward.

YouTube Livestream 11 ()
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Questioner

Maybe talking about your process about picking chapter titles for the Stormlight books?

Emily Sanderson

It's been really fun. I wouldn't say I really pick them, because the betas come up with a fantastic list of possibilities, and Peter has a lot of say about what really fits. But with... did I start in Words of Radiance? In Words of Radiance, I think, it was just Brandon and Peter were both just too busy. And so I got on the beta document and looked at everyone's suggestions, and kind of skimmed back. Because I'd read the book before; but I skimmed back through the chapters and chose a chapter title that would fit.

And it's been really fun to be involved in that way. Both to see the test audience reactions and... I get impatient, and as soon as Brandon will let me, I read the whole book. So when I choose chapter titles, I reread it again more slowly, and you always get different things out of it when you read it slowly.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner

What's your ideal work environment?

Brandon Sanderson

Sitting by the fire, feet up, easy chair--recliner, laptop, music. It's not very complicated. I can write almost anywhere if at least the laptop and music are there. 

Questioner

What do you listen to?

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on my mood and what I'm into at the moment. Right now I've just got a playlist on Spotify that someone has made. It's called epic soundtracks and there's like 800 songs on it. I put that on shuffle. But I guess it just depends on my mood.

Worldbuilders AMA ()
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Office_Zombie

Hey guys, how many drafts do you go through before you start showing to other people? What sort of workshopping do your books go through as you work on them? Do you have Alpha and Beta readers etc. or do you keep your groups smaller?

Brandon Sanderson

Drafting process: 1st draft: Rough Draft. (Written straight through, often ignoring big problems or changing characters mid-stride to get them down.)

2nd draft: Fix all the big problems from first draft.

3rd draft: First polish.

--Send book to Writing Group and Alpha Readers, including my Agent/Editor---

4th draft: Major revisions. Editorial comments.

5th draft: Medium revisions. Writing group comments.

--Send Book to Beta Reads.---

6th draft: Last chance at larger revisions.

7th draft: Copyedit (my assistant does this one.)

That's an ideal world. Sometimes it's condensed. Though on the Wheel of Time books, I ended up doing 12 or 13 drafts.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
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Questioner

You're writing so many stories at once with so many different characters. Does it ever get confusing?

Brandon Sanderson

Once in a while. But the way my brain chemistry works, it's good for me to be always thinking about something new and jumping around a little bit, it helps me a ton. Different writers are very different. They don't want to do that at all, and it's just fine. There's no one right way to do it. I don't usually have trouble. It's the excitement of keeping track of it all that's fun for me.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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Questioner

Do you have a set plotting strategy, or do you kind of adapt it to the way you formulate your idea?

Brandon Sanderson

My plotting, I have a set one, but it's a really flexible one. It's based off of my goals for a given subplot and what I think needs to happen to achieve those goals. So my outline is a list of goals and bullet points, which makes it a very flexible outline.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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Bradinator1

My question for Brandon would be:What kind of mental "retooling" does it take for him to work on an already established world/storyline like Wheel of Time since this is someone else's work?

Also, were there there a lot of notes or material left by Mr. Jordan to work from?

Brandon Sanderson

I thought about this quite a lot during the months when I was reading the Wheel of Time again straight through, trying to figure out how I would approach writing the final book. Obviously, this project wasn't going to be like anything I'd done before. I couldn't just approach it as I did one of my solo novels. And yet, it felt like trying to match Robert Jordan's style exactly would have made me lapse into parody.

A lot of the mental 'retooling' I did focused on getting inside the characters' heads. I decided that if I could make the characters sound right, the book would FEEL right, even if some of the writing itself was different. I also decided that I would adapt my style to fit the project. I became more descriptive, for one, and wrote viewpoint with the more intimate, in-head narrative style that Mr. Jordan used. Neither of these were attempts to match how he wrote exactly, but more me trying to match my style to The Wheel of Time, if that makes any sense.

In answer to the second question, he left LOTS of notes behind. He wrote complete scenes in places, dictated other scenes, left piles of notes and materials. The prologue was almost all completed by him (that will be split half in this book, half in the next.) The ending scenes were written by him as well. In the middle, there are a lot of scene outlines as well.

That's not to say there wasn't A LOT of work to do. The actual number of completed scenes was low, and in some places, there was no direction at all what to do. But his fingerprints are all over this novel. My goal was not to write a Brandon Sanderson book, but a Wheel of Time book. I want this novel (well, these three novels, now) to be his, not mine.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
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Questioner

I wondered if there's a bit of you in all the characters... and it's characters where they don't have bits of you that you get stuck with writing them, and how you overcome that?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, getting stuck. So characters are the hard one for me to talk about because I plan my worlds in great detail before I start writing, in most cases, and I plan my plots in moderate detail. I plot backward, I start with what I want to have happen for a plot cycle; not necessarily the last scene, but, you know, something like this character learns to use the magic, and I've got the scene where it shows that this is working, and then I list a bunch of bullet points underneath. That's my-- And so if you look at my outline, it's like goal, bullet points, goal, bullet points, goal, bullet points-- that's my whole outline.

My characters, I figure out who they are when the book starts, but I do not outline them in great detail. The reason for this is we find that writers tend to fall into two general camps. We have what we call outline writers, and discover writers. Now, discovery writers, George RR Martin calls them gardeners, they like to discover their story as they go. Stephen King says you never start with an ending in mind because otherwise it ruins the book, he just goes and see what happens. They tend to write character really well. In fact if you're reading a good and you go "Wow these characters all feel really vivid and alive", that's probably a discovery writer. If you're-- On the other hand outliners, or architects as George RR Martin calls them, tend to plan everything out ahead of time and because of this they tend to have spectacular plots. If you've got somebody who's got a great plot, it's a page-turner, the great twist at the ending-- that's most likely going to be an architect, but the flaw of this is they tend to have weaker characters; and the flaw over here is they tend to have weaker plots. Terrible endings are a horrible kind of habit of the discovery writer. 

Over time I've really tried to kind of mitigate this by letting myself discovery-write my characters to kind of get some more of that living character status, which means I have to have a flowing outline where, once I've started writing my way into the character I will then have to rebuild the outline periodically to match the person they're becoming, which sometimes rips apart that outline quite a bit. The other thing that it requires me to do is I often have to kind of cast characters in a role. Vin is a great example of this, where I actually tried Vin three different times--I posted one of these on my website--with a different personality each time until I got one that would fit the story that I'm telling, and who she was, and I went from there.

And so it's really hard for me to pick out what I do with characters, but if my book is not working it's almost always that a character is not working for me. And this happened with Sazed in book 3 of Mistborn. I wrote this in the annotations, you can go and read it off that. Dalinar, in the original draft of The Way of Kings. When a character is not clicking 100% it is the biggest problem I run into with books, that takes a lot of drafting to figure out what to do. With Dalinar, if you're not familiar with what happened there, is I split him into two people. It always had his son Adolin, but Adolin had not been a viewpoint character, and the problem I was having with Dalinar was that I wanted to present a strong figure for the leader because people though he was going mad, but I also had to have him talk about this madness, and be really worried about it, and so he came on very weak, because everyone thought he was going mad, and he spent all of his time brooding about going mad. When I took the brooding out to his son, and had Dalinar be like "I'm not mad, something's going on, everyone thinks that I'm crazy, but I can deal with this", and had his son go "my dad, who I love, is going crazy", those two characters actually both became more alive, and worked better, than they had with the conflict of "I'm going crazy" being Dalinar's. So, it takes a lot of work to figure these things out sometimes.

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

How do you decide what book you're gonna work on each day? Do you have, like, a schedule or something?

Brandon Sanderson

Good question. So, I can generally only be writing new prose on one book at a time. And so, I usually make the decision when I finish a book. I usually need something very different, once I finish a book, to try, to have a break from that world, rather than going right into it. So often, I have a lot of different projects floating, and I decide when I finish a book. A little bit of it is making sure, trying to keep myself from doing too many new things, when I still have things hanging. And that has been a constant struggle in my life. I taught myself how to write novellas, so that I could do some of these ideas-- Those are in Arcanum Unbounded. And most of those exist because I had ideas, and I'm like, "No no no. Don't start another series. Don't write another 300,000-word epic fantasy book that people are going to be asking for sequels to. Tell the actual story that you're excited about, but do it in 30,000 words, and then you can be done with it." And that's where Emperor's Soul came from, and that's where things like Edgedancer came from. Not having to balloon into their own huge series.

So, I decide. And once I get into the book, I need to keep momentum on it. I can't stop. If I stop, that's really bad for a book. You can see this with Rithmatist. Rithmatist was the series I was working on when The Wheel of Time came along. It was the one I was actively writing and working on the sequel to. And when Wheel of Time hit me like a freight train-- I actually wrote the first one in 2007, and it's been really hard to get back into that, because of that big interruption.