FAQFriday 2017

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Name FAQFriday 2017
Date Jan. 1, 2017
Entries 19
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#1 Copy


Are Hemalurgic spikes fabrials? Is a body that has been spiked a fabrial? Are koloss and kandra also something similar?

Brandon Sanderson

No, actually.

Fabrial means specifically a bit of Investiture that has been trapped by a gemstone and then modified to do something else. Hemalurgy is its own thing--though there is a slight similarity. In most Hemalurgy, Investiture keyed to the Identity of someone (a bit of a soul) is ripped off, and then magically grafted onto someone else's soul. Not the same, though I can see the confusion.

Koloss and kandra are similar, though in this case, the soul is mostly just being distorted by using an Invested spike. In the cosmere, the body will attempt to match the soul, and so a twisted soul (Spiritual aspect of a person) can have profound effects on both mind and body.

#2 Copy


If you had a pet animal that you could communicate with (just like dæmons in the trilogy His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman) which animal would you choose?

Brandon Sanderson

Can I cheat and make an animal that doesn't exist? Because if so, I'd pick a dragon. Because then I'd have a cool animal to talk to AND I'd be the only person around with a DRAGON.

If it has to be an animal that's real--a kind of spirit dragon--I would pick some kind of intelligent bird. A parrot or a raven. Something that can fly, do things I cannot, and look totally awesome sitting on my shoulder and glaring at people.


#3 Copy


I just had a question about writing, specifically regarding your laws on magic. Your first law states that the ability to solve problems using magic is directly proportional to the reader's knowledge of said magic. My question comes kind of as the opposite. What is your opinion on the ability of the author to create problems using magic? Does the reader need to know a lot about the magic system for you to be able to have the "villain" use it to create problems for the protagonists? Or can you create problems with this magic without the reader knowing a lot about it?

Brandon Sanderson

One thing to remember about my laws is that they're laws I devised for myself--laws I find make my writing stronger. I think they hold very well in general, but there are no "rules" for fiction. There are as many ways to do things as there are people doing them. However, like most things, I DO have an opinion. :)

Magic causing problems in the story is a great thing--as more conflict generally makes for a stronger story. Obviously, this isn't a 100% correlation, but it's a good rule of thumb. Using the magic as a kind of "human vs. nature" style plot is a great idea, and I've used it to great advantage myself. One could say that in Elantris, the magic (which is broken) is a primary antagonist of the story.

There are a few things to be aware of. First, avoid what my friend and colleague Bryce Moore dubbed "Deus Ex Wrench." Yes, that doesn't quite work. But the idea is this: Just like solving problems out of nowhere, with unforeshadowed powers or advantages, can be unsatisfying, sometimes just having problems happen out of nowhere in a story can be unsatisfying.

If a dam breaks, risking flooding the city, it's much stronger if we know the dam is there--if the characters have walked along it, or if something similar happened somewhere else in the story in parallel. Likewise, having the magic create problems unexpectedly, if handled without some measure of foreshadowing, could be unsatisfying. (For example, if the One Ring suddenly started--three quarters of the way through the series--melting your friends if they crossed their eyes.)

Just as I think you can create a great magic system that doesn't have explicit rules, I think you can have the magic be a huge problem in the books if the reader/characters don't understand it. Doing so in this case is probably going to be about making sure that the major conflict is not FIXING the magic, but overcoming it.

For example, if the magic in your world--when used--causes rainfall that floods and kills crops, one story (the explicit rules story) would be about finding out why, and learning to use the magic safely. But another story would be about surviving a terrible flood, and another about hunting down and stopping the people who use the magic. All three can use the magic as a huge conflict, but only one would probably need deep explanation of the magic system in order to have a satisfying resolution.

#4 Copy


When all of the contest judges, beta readers, and writer's groups say that your work is ready, but all of the agents say it's just not right for them, how do you find out what would make it right for them?

Brandon Sanderson

Sometimes, you can't.

One thing you have to be ready for is that even the best piece of writing will have people who don't like it. this is the nature of art--because human beings are different, we simply like different things. It doesn't have to have a value judgement attached to it. There is no "fixing" a painting so that everyone loves it. By fixing it, you would sometimes just make it so that different people love it.

That isn't to say that skill level is flat, and art can't be improved. I'm just saying that sometimes, you just can't change a piece in a way that will make a specific person like it--at least, not without changing it into a completely different piece of art.

If your honest feedback from contest judges and early readers is all great, and if you feel that the stories you've been submitting are ready, then you should keep going and keep submitting. And keep writing. Elantris was rejected several times, as were many famous books. Sometimes, what the agents need to see is that you can be consistent.

But beyond that, if you keep writing and submitting, one of several things will happen.

1) You'll eventually find an agent or editor who loves your fiction as much as all these other people.

2) You'll grow as a writer and realize that the book you've been submitting, though enjoyable to many people, were still flawed in big ways and can be revised (with your new skill) to make them work better for an audience who doesn't know you.

3) You'll realize that your stories have an audience, and the agents are just not getting it. (All too often, they miss excellent writers.) You'll self-publish to great success.

I can't say which of these is the future of any individual story, and I can't say if it's a legitimate flaw that professionals are seeing in your writing or not.

I can say: keep writing, be patient. If you want to traditional publish, keep submitting. Agents can be timid. If they don't pick hits, they don't eat.

But do write for you, first, and don't let yourself be pushed into trying to be someone else, writing-wise.

#5 Copy


Can I become a beta reader for Brandon's books?

Brandon Sanderson

Beta readers are some of the people to whom I send early versions of my books for feedback. Usually, these are different from alpha readers, who include industry professionals like my editor, my agent, and my writing group. Beta readers, instead, are usually fans and "average" readers, used as a test audience. I don't expect them to offer solutions to problems; more, these are the people i want to use to gauge how the book will be received.

Most of these people fall into two groups. The first are old friends who have been reading my writing for a long time, and whose opinion I trust. The second are people who have made insightful comments on places like the 17th Shard, Tor.com, or my Facebook page. They are generally people well known in the fandom community surrounding my books--people who have good reputations, with whom we feel we can entrust early copies of books without leaking them.

We do pick from general fans sometimes to do beta readers, but there are a LOT of people who want to do this--and not many slots available. Usually, we pick people who have a special experitise relating to a book I'm working on. (We might pick a person who has been an EMT, for example, when reading Stormlight--to help with Kaladin's surgery scenes.)

I don't generally pick beta readers myself. I leave this to my team, mostly Peter Ahlstrom. I suggest not pestering him with requests, however. Instead, if you really want to beta read, participate in the fan community and get to be known there. Another great way to help is to find typos that HAVEN'T YET been found and post them in the appropriate thread for that book on the 17th Shard. (Don't just send these via email; chances are, peter already knows about them and has fixed them in a newer edition of the book.)

#6 Copy


If you could make one change to the cosmere that is impossible to change now, what would it be?

Brandon Sanderson

Hmmm.... I gave this some thought all week, and had trouble deciding because the things I would change are more about individual books, and less about the cosmere as a whole. I don't know if I'd change anything about the big story--mostly because the things I would want to change would all take place in the Dragonsteel era, and that book isn't canonical anyway. Once I write it for real, I can change any of the things that I don't think are working.

As for the core of the cosmere...I might make some small tweaks to Allomancy. I have hever liked how the signal of sixteen worked in Hero of Ages. (for those not in the know, I talk about this in the annotations--I was looking for a sign that Preservation could send that Ruin wouldn't notice, along with help for mankind.) In the end, i think this ended up being a little clunky. Other things (like slatrification in sand mastery) are small enough I can change moving forward, but not Allomancy. So I might take another stap at that.

On the whole, though, I'm very pleased with how the larger cosmere story is playing out.

#7 Copy


If you could have dinner with three characters from books (not just yours), who would you dine with, and why? Plus what would you be eating?

Brandon Sanderson

Hmm... Let me answer this as one from a classic, one from a sf/f book not my own, and one from a book that is my own. Otherwise the question is too big for me to get a real answer to, as there are so many.

Well, my favorite character from a classic is Jean Valjean. I don't know what we'd eat, but I'd avoid ordering bread...

My favorite character from a fantasy book not my own is probably Perrin from The Wheel of Time, though that's a half-cheat, as I worked on the series. So it would either be him or, if I had to pick another, maybe Sam Vimes from Discworld. We'd avoid sausages in a bun.

From my own books, I don't know if I can pick a favorite, as they're all my children. So maybe I'll just tie it to who would be the most fun to go to dinner with. Kelsier would be too dangerous--you never know who is going to show up and try to kill him. Probably Shallan, as I feel she'd have the most interesting conversation. We wouldn't order men's food because I'm too much of a wimp, and it would probably be way too spicy.

#8 Copy


Why didn't Dalinar get the powers of a Stoneward when he bonded Taln's [Honorblade]?

Brandon Sanderson

Some readers have already figured this out, so I don't think I'm engaging in too large a spoiler to dig into this one here.

There are several oddities going on here. The most important one relevant to this question is the Blade in question. If you compare the descriptions of the sword described in the epilogue of The Way of Kings to the one that traveled with the madman (allegedly Taln, the Herald) to the Shattered Plains, you'll find they are different.

The one that the characters obtained in Words of Radiance is NOT an Honorblade. It's an ordinary Shardblade (as ordinary as one of those can be called.) I'm not going to say specifically what happened to the Blade Taln arrived with at Kholinar, but I will say that it IS a different weapon from the one in Words of Radiance.

The other issue here is the somewhat lesser question of whether this character is actually Taln, the Herald, or not. Some characters in-world don't believe that it is, though his viewpoint in Words of Radiance strongly implies otherwise. This isn't specifically relevant to the conversation for reasons I'll talk about below--but it is tangentially related. Because in the cosmere, Intent is important to many of the types of magic. It's theoretically possible to hold an Honorblade and not realize what its powers are, and therefore be unable to access them.

As an aside, this character was actually the primary protagonist of the version of The Way of Kings I wrote in 2002. A man who woke up, with lingering memories of madness, and claimed to be a Herald when nobody believed him--as he couldn't manifest any powers, seemed to have lost his sword, and lore said the Heralds weren't coming back anyway.

When I wrote the new version of The Way of Kings in 2009 or so, one goal was to focus the storyline. I'd included so many characters in the 2002 version that none of them progressed very far in their arcs, creating a strong setting and interesting characters--but a bad book. During the new version, I decided that this character would be moved to the later books, and I'd explore him there.

In the 2002 version, the text was very dodgy on whether or not Taln was a Herald. Confronting the fact that he might be crazy was a major arc and theme of the book--however, as I've worked on the new version, I've realized that it would be dangerous to be too vague on this. Stringing people along with the question for a book or two is one thing, waiting until book six or eight to do a character's arc, and leaving the question of whether they're a Herald or not all that time, seemed unfair.

So the text is going to be making manifest fairly quickly who this person is. You'll have confirmations long before we dig into his viewpoint in the later books.

So, a recap:

1) The swords WERE swapped somehow.

2) Someone could hold an Honorblade and not realize they had access to powers.

3) This character may or may not actually be a Herald--but the text is going to make the answer clear, and I'm not trying to trick you.

#9 Copy


Was there ever a time when you had intended to kill off a character, but changed your mind because you liked them too much?

Brandon Sanderson

Hmm... I'm trying to think of whether or not this happened. I do believe that Adolin died in the original draft of The Way of Kings, which I wrote in 2002. he had a much smaller role in that book, and it played out very differently. When I did the newer version, which I rewrote from scratch, Adolin evolved much differently.

For those who don't know, he wasn't intended to have as large a role in the plot--but I ran into a problem during writing. Dalinar was feeling inconsistent as a character. I wanted to present him as strong and confident, but at the same time had him troubled by worries that he was insane from visions he was seeing.

This worked in outline form, but when I actually wrote, it seemed like he spent WAY too much time standing around worrying that he was crazy. So I expanded Adolin's character, providing a contrast. Dalinar, confident (to an extent) he was seeing something real--and his son, who worried his father was going insane.

Through this development, and giving Adolin more time on the page, he became a much more rounded character.

Another instance of this was Spook from the Mistborn series, who grew to have a much larger role than I'd originally intended.

There's another in this category--but it could include spoilers for an upcoming book. I'll talk about it eventually.

Brandon Sanderson

ETA: Szeth originally died permanently in the end of Words of Radiance. I also changed my mind to let Amaram live in the scene with the poison dart. Adolin killed off Sadeas instead.

#10 Copy


Can holders of Shards give them up voluntarily? If so, what would happen?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, a Vessel for a Shard of Adonalsium can give up their power if they wish.

As for what would happen...well, there are some variables in there. Kind of like the variables in what happens to a bucket of water if you dump it out. Depends on where it falls, how strong the wind is, what the air is like.

Power dropped like this, if left alone, could end up Splintering and turning into something like spren/seons. It could become something more like the Stormfather--a large, self-aware entity. It could become something like the Dor or many of the Unmade--something proto-aware, but not truly an individual. There are other possibilities as well, depending on lots of factors. (Are sapient beings involved? what is being done with the power--is it concentrated in the Spiritual Realm as normal, or is it being pushed somewhere else?)

#12 Copy


If a fantasy book had an unhappy ending, would that affect how it was received by publishers and readers?

Brandon Sanderson

This is an interesting question to be asking! I'm going to preface this by saying a couple things.

First, there is a difference between UNHAPPY and UNSATISFYING. These are two completely different things. For example: many classic tragedies are enitre stories with momentum pushing toward the tragic. A modern fantasy example would be some of George R. R. martin's work, where the books often have tragic endings, with the protagonists losing or dying. (Granted, his series isn't done yet, so there's no way to know yet if the final ending will be tragic or triumphant.)

These books are still satisfying, however. The tone of these stories implies that tragic events will occur--and sadness is a powerful emotion. Stories exist, in part, to explore emotion. If the Story is built well, and handled expertly, the reader will be SATISFIED with the ending even if it's tragic. You will feel, "This is where the story was supposed to go. Even if I don't like what happened, it's beautiful in its tragic nature."

Many long form stories also tend to have a balance bittersweet ending. Some things are accomplished, some things are lost. As one might say on Roshar, it's not about the last page--it's about whether the journey there was worthwhile.

In response to your question, then, my instinct says that the sadness of the ending doesn't have a direct correlation with sales, goodreads rating, etc. Quality and deft ahndling of the material will certainly affect these things--but not specifically if the ending is happy or not. Publishers would certainly publish one with a sad ending. Note that if you take the bodies of work by some creators (Including both Shakespeare and Star Wars) the most popular and most successful installments WERE the ones with the sad endings.

(Note that I DO think certain readers are going to dislike an ending that is sad, while others are going to dislike an ending that is too neat and happy. Individual certainly will have opinions. I just think the balance, at the end, will probably be around the same.)

That said, you do focus on a "Bad" ending, equating it with sad. So in the interest of discussion, I'll call this a sad ending to an otherwise upbeat book--a twist of tone that happens right at the end, unexpectedly, leaving the reader frustrated. This would be an ending that completely defies genre conventions. The heroic adventure story where the hero unexpectedly dies at the end, or the Jane Austen style romance that ends with the love interest running off with some other woman.

There would be a subset of people who would just love this, but I think if the book doesn't give the proper tone promises at the start, it would create a less commercially viable work. I don't think this is a reason not to try something like that as a writer, but I do think you might have more trouble finding an audience.

#13 Copy


If you could bring one character from another universe into the cosmere, Who would it be?

Brandon Sanderson

What an interesting question. I'll play along in a moment, but I'll point out that it's generally not tempting for me to write other creator's characters. The ones I were most interested in writing were those in The Wheel of Time--and somehow, that ended up happening already.

Generally, when I consider a character that I love, my mind starts breaking down the "Why." I look at what effect they had on me, and what about them I really love--what is it this character does to the story that is so intriguing. Often, if I boil that down, I can start creating new characters who draw upon this, and other traditions--and that is what excites me.

That said, who would I bring to the cosmere, if I had the chance? I'll take a different tactic on this than, perhaps, you'd assume. I'd grab some of my favorite villains from other media, because it would be interesting to see how the characters would react. If Magneto were to deal with a world of people with magic, how would he react--and how would the characters react to him? What about Moriarty? Javert? (Okay, Nale's already got some Javert in him.)

Cthulhu? Nah. That's going to far

#14 Copy


Do you ever have crazy ideas that are too crazy?

Brandon Sanderson

This happens all the time.

Greatness is often born of brashness. Of a reckless, bull-headed intent to do something everyone tells you is stupid. Sometimes, the best ideas are the ones you can't articulate in brief, because distillation ruins the very performance. Reduce a symphony to three notes, and it will seem pedestrian. Some ideas take to summary with ease. For others, explaining them is like trying to help someone climb Mount Everest after they say, "I'd like to take the quick route, please."

As a writer, you grow accustomed to saying, "It will work when I write it." You get use to saying, "I can do this, even if everyone tells me I can't." Becoming a writer in the first place is often done in defiance of rational good sense.

And sometimes, you're wrong. You try to prove that the idea works, you OWN it…and it's just not working. You're convinced it's your skill, and not the idea. If you could just figure it out…

This happened several times on The Wheel of Time. River of Souls, the famous deleted sequence from Demandred's viewpoint, is one of these. Perrin's excursion into the Ways in book 14 (also cut) is another. Early on, I pitched Perrin deciding to follow the Way of the Leaf to the team–but I wasn't actually serious on that one. More, I was in a brainstorming session with Team Jordan, and throwing out things that could possibly fulfill Perrin's arc in an unexpected way.

The 10th anniversary of Elantris has some deleted scenes, and the annotations talk about how in that book, I originally decided to have Hrathen turn out to be of a different nationality (secretly) as a twist at the end. The man who was doing all these terrible things was from Arelon all along!

That was stupid. It undermined much of his arc. It was a twist to just have another twist–in a book that already had plenty. Early reactions from Alpha readers helped me see this.

Lately, I've been trying to do some things with backstory and "cosmology" for the Stephen Leeds (aka Legion) stories, and Peter's not sold. We'll see if this turns into a "it will work when I write it" or a "That's a twist you don't need, Brandon."

#15 Copy


What is your most memorable gaming experience/best gaming memory?

Brandon Sanderson

Probably Final Fantasy 10. At that time I was working the graveyard shift at a hotel, and I was doing a lot of writing on my own trying to get published. I would come home every morning at seven a.m. and play for a couple of hours alone in the quiet apartment, thinking about my own stories, experiencing the story of the game.

Other than that, I would say, honestly, the game that sucked most of my time was probably the original X-Wing game, which really made me feel like I got to be an X-Wing pilot, which, you know—Star Wars geek! That was so much fun! In a lot of ways every space game since then has failed to live up to the sense that I got from that game.

#16 Copy


How did you come up with The Stormlight Archive's gem magic/technology?

Brandon Sanderson

One of the things to keep in mind is I that developed this book before Mistborn was published. I do wonder if sometimes people are going to say, "Oh, he did metals before, and now he's doing crystals." But the thoughts arose quite independently in my head. You may know that there is a unifying theory of magic for all of my worlds--a behind-the-scenes rationale. Like a lot of people believe there's unifying theory of physics, I have a unifying theory of magic that I try to work within in order to build my worlds. As an armchair scientist, believing in a unifying theory helps me. I'm always looking for interesting ways that magic can be transferred, and interesting ways that people can become users of magic. I don't want just to fall into expected methodologies. If you look at a lot of fantasy--and this is what I did in Mistborn so it's certainly not bad; or if it is, I'm part of the problem--a lot of magic is just something you're born with. You're born with this special power that is either genetic or placed upon you by fate, or something like that. In my books I want interesting and different ways of doing that. That's why in Warbreaker the magic is simply the ability to accumulate life force from other people, and anyone who does that becomes a practitioner of magic. 

In The Way of Kings, I was looking for some sort of reservoir. Essentially, I wanted magical batteries, because I wanted to take this series toward developing a magical technology. The first book only hints at this, in some of the art and some of the things that are happening. There's a point where one character's fireplace gets replaced with a magical device that creates heat. And he's kind of sad, thinking something like, "I liked my hearth, but now I can touch this and it creates heat, which is still a good thing." But we're seeing the advent of this age, and therefore I wanted something that would work with a more mystical magic inside of a person and that could also form the basis for a mechanical magic. That was one aspect of it. Another big aspect is that I always like to have a visual representation, something in my magic to show that it's not all just happening abstractly but that you can see happen. I loved the imagery of glowing gemstones. When I wrote Mistborn I used Burning metals--metabolizing metals--because it's a natural process and it's an easy connection to make. Even though it's odd in some ways, it's natural in other ways; metabolizing food is how we all get our energy. The idea of a glowing object, illuminated and full of light, is a natural connection for the mind to make: This is a power source; this is a source of natural energy. And since I was working with the highstorms, I wanted some way that you could trap the energy of the storm and use it. The gemstones were an outgrowth of that.

#17 Copy


What's your secret to inventing new magic systems?

Brandon Sanderson

I look for a couple of things in a magic system. The first thing I usually look for is interesting conflicts within the magic system; interesting limitations, interesting flaws in the magic. The question "What can't the magic do?" is more interesting to me than what the magic can do. That's what gives a magic system compelling plot hooks.

The second thing I'm looking for in a magic system is a different way to approach it. It is very hard to do powers that other writers haven't done before, new magical abilities, but my goal is to try to present them in a light that people haven't seen before. I usually try to apply some sort of scientific principle to the magic, to give it more of a realistic feel when I can manage it.

Last, I'm looking for something that just feels awesome. In a lot of discussions of magic systems I often neglect to mention that usually my inspiration for a magic system first comes with something that just strikes me as great--as interesting, as fun, as cool to write about. Then I go from there, making it work storywise. 

I have some essays on my website called Sanderson's Laws of Magic that approach some of the ways that I look at magic systems.

#18 Copy


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

Brandon Sanderson

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

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

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

#19 Copy


Do your children sometimes inspire your writing?

Brandon Sanderson

Having children has certainly been a big help in understanding the way that younger people think.  I spend a lot of time reading with them, and seeing what engages them in other books.  This has been an excellent help to me in my writing.

So far, I haven't taken any of their specific ideas–but they're still a little young.  They do offer suggestions, but they tend to be things like, "You need a big orange dinosaur that builds itself a robot suit to fight ninjas."

On second thought, that's a pretty cool idea, isn't it?

Event details
Name FAQFriday 2017
Date Jan. 1, 2017
Entries 19
Upload sources