Brandon's Blog 2019

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Name Brandon's Blog 2019
Date Jan. 1, 2019
Entries 6
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#1 Copy

A. Martinez

You talked about the prologue and the promise. I am a discovery writer by the way, but sometimes I like to walk outside while listening to epic music to get inspired. The thing is that I don´t really feel comfortable doing a prologue because that could spoil a little bit the story. However, I am concerned about the readers. If I don´t make a prologue and I start with chapter one… well, of course, it will not be that interesting as the magical battle or evil growing on the prologue.

So what should I do? Spoil a little bit? Or just start showing my character from 0. I’ve had this dilemma for a while. I can assure you, Mr. Sanderson, that my story is going to be epic and different from the conventional. Just mindblowing. Transcendental. It will have a lot of scaling so I have to start from 0. But how can I lure my readers on the first pages without spoilers?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I’m proud to have been able to chat with you before you make it big! I like how you talk and how you think. Stay confident, but also to be willing to listen to feedback and criticism. If you want to become the great writer you dream of being, you do so (in my experience) by listening.

As for prologues, I should say that you certainly do not need them. In fact, many authors use them as a crutch. It is perfectly acceptable (even recommended by some editors I know) to skip the prologue and go right into your story. (Though it’s not something I often do myself, so perhaps this is a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of situation.)

The important part is not what you call your opening, but in making certain your opening is making the right kinds of promises. You say you want to start at zero and ramp up–that’s great, and you can totally do that. But try to devise an opening to your story that is engaging, and gives foreshadowing of the type of story you want to tell. Figure out how to start small, but make big promises. Some stories do this with a prologue. But other stories start with the protagonist trying something bold and beyond their skill, to show that they are challenging themselves–and this can be something as simple as running a foot race, or boldly speaking when others remain silent. It doesn’t have to actually include something epic to imply epic turns are coming.

Best of luck to you! I suggest just starting where it makes the most sense, then writing your story. Once you are done, you can look back at that opening and see if there are revisions you could make to better align it with the story you ended up wanting to tell.

#2 Copy

P. Lavy

As a beginner, I would like to ask your advice on how to narrow that gap between my storytelling and story writing. (I have watched your online lectures on fantasy and sci-fi writing).

Brandon Sanderson

You phrase this in a great way, as the writing and the storytelling are two distinct skills that often intertwine.

Reading into your question, I think that what you’re asking is how to make the things in your head (the storytelling) work on the page (the story writing). I have to warn you, however, that a lot of times there’s a little more going on than I might have mentioned in my lectures.

The metaphor I often use in the lecture is how, as an early trumpet player, I could hear some music I wanted to play in my head (specifically when doing improvised jazz) but didn’t yet have the skill to make those sounds come out the front of the horn. This is a good metaphor, but it leaves something unsaid.

A lot of writers can imagine a perfect story, but then have trouble writing it down. My experience tells me, however, that much of the time, that story isn’t actually perfect in our heads. We pretend it is because we can’t see the problems with it when we’re imagining it—we gloss over the difficulties, the issues that are quite real but invisible until we actually try to put the thing together on the page.

So you have two potential problems. One is that the story in your head isn’t, and never was, as flawless as you imagined. The second is that your skill in writing isn’t up to telling the things that ARE working in your head. Both are eventually resolved through practice.

To finally get around to some practical advice like you wanted, however, there are a couple of ways to bridge this gap. One is to practice outlining. Now, I’ve often been clear that there is no one right way to write a story, and non-outlining methods are valid. However, if you really want to start looking at the structure of your story critically, forcing yourself to outline it first can really help. Plus, one big advantage of a solid outline is that you’re able to keep less in your head while working for the day. You can look at the outline, know what story beats need to be accomplished, and focus your mental energy on things like showing instead of telling and really nailing character voice/motivations instead of worrying if this plot point will end up working or not.

These fundamentals are another really great way to bridge that gap. Few new writers fail because they lack vision, originality, or ambition. They fail because it is difficult to write a character that is compelling. Or they fail because it’s tough to evoke a sense of wonder in exploring a new world while at the same time not bog the story down with unnecessary details. Practicing things like voice, showing instead of telling, and evoking setting through character can let you make the page-by-page writing interesting and compelling, which then serves to make your story work long enough for you to get to the grand ideas.

#3 Copy


My commute to work has given me the opportunity to make my way through your youtube lessons and I’m now listening to the writing excuses podcast, so I consider you my favorite professor. I apologies if you have covered this in some form, I may not have listened to that yet.

My question is about flashback scenes. When thinking about where I’m going in my story, I imagine needing to use flashbacks, although I haven’t yet. My question is – what method do you use instead of a flashback? How do you give a sense of what happened and previous info without using a flashback?

Brandon Sanderson

Hey! Good luck with your writing.

That’s a great question, because often you don’t want to use a flashback. You have to be very careful with them, for while they can do some interesting things with narrative, they can also kill story momentum dead.

My favorite way to indicate things that have previously happened without using flashbacks is to make certain your characters act like they have established history together. They will have inside jokes, will make references to the past, and otherwise indicate that they’ve known each other for years. (Where appropriate.)

Likewise, things that happened in the past that you don’t intend to show in a flashback can have a huge effect on society. Think about the 9/11 disaster in America, which many are talking about this month. Could you convey in your story that similar disaster happened, but without going into too much exposition or a flashback? Practice trying it with real-world events, making your characters talk about it naturally. (Without straying into them telling each other information that they’d both obviously know. Like I didn’t need to say to you, “Well, almost twenty years ago there was this terrorist attack on the United States…”)

Practice subtlety like that, and often you won’t need flashbacks. (And it will perhaps teach you when a flashback is more powerful or useful for you to use.)

#4 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

All right, the question that arises here is pretty obvious: How in the multiverse did Davriel let himself get caught up in the mess happening on Ravnica. Well, the events of the story I wrote kind of blew his cover—and, just as feared—soon after, he got several visits from extra-planar entities looking for planeswalkers to recruit for their cause. He also got a very cryptic message that I’ll, perhaps, get into some time in the future.

Suffice it to say that in the end, he decided to show up and do his best to encourage everyone that he was useless. He figured that way, next time everyone decided to go murder one another, they’d neglect to invite him. Unfortunately, he arrived, and everything has basically gone to hell. (And, having been there before, he’s not a fan.)

We can therefore summarize Davriel’s opinion on events with the following list:

  2. Zombies. Why is it always zombies? Aren’t there any evil, power-hungry overlords out there with good taste in minions?
  3. He wonders what the Ravnican insurance policies look like. It would be curious to have a look at the fine print, and see how likely the local actuaries rated “Extra-planar invasion by megalomaniacal dragons.”
  4. Said megalomaniacal dragon really needs to be more careful with his rampaging, as he quite nearly destroyed Davriel’s favorite local noodle shop with his latest destructive tirade.
  5. Did anyone get the name of that Demon in the loin cloth? You know, the fellow with the glowing face and a mouth that looks like it can toast its own bread while consuming it? Because Davriel currently has a hole in his staff and is offering very competitive rates on his soul.

Now, if you’ll excuse him, he’s going to go see if Cruel Celebrant’s party has any snacks not infused with the blood of the innocent. (It really tastes far worse than everyone claims, and he’s convinced they just like to look trendy by consuming it.)

#5 Copy

A. Worland

Whenever I write, I have all the inspiration and stuff to do so and I know what I want to write. But when I come back to what I have written the next day or so, that feeling of inspiration and satisfaction that I had when I was writing goes away and I feel unsatisfied with what I have written. I have great ideas that I think are great, but sometimes I don’t think they are great anymore. Often times I re-write it, but the situation is a continuous loop. Any advice?

Brandon Sanderson

This is a common sort of attitude, and you are not alone. Writers tend to fall into two camps, I’ve found. The people who think their writing is terrible while writing it, but then discover it’s not so bad afterward—and the people who think it’s great while writing it, but then look back and find it disappoints them. I don’t think either attitude is 100% correct, but I can understand both.

What I see happening here (as an off-the-cuff diagnosis not knowing you enough to do a detailed and specific one) is that your ability to see a perfect and wonderful book in your head is not yet matched by your actual writing skill. You’ve likely read a lot of books, and have developed a very discerning eye for what works and what doesn’t in fiction. You feel like you should be able to produce that great fiction, therefore.

But you’re like a person who has become an expert in tasting cheese—that doesn’t mean you can make your own. You have an advantage over someone else, but you still have to put in the work to learn the process of cheese making. Here, you’re comparing the perfect version of the book in your head (or, perhaps, the published books you’re reading) to the first draft, unpracticed work you’ve written.

The challenge here is to recognize your first draft doesn’t have to match a published finished draft. Beyond that, you’re going to grow a lot as a new writer as you finish your first few books—to the point that you will often be much better as a writer by the end of a sequence than you were at the start.

In all these cases, however, the solution is the same: keep your eye on the goal. Finish that story. You can’t learn to do endings until you practice them. Learn to let yourself be bad at something long enough to be good at it. This is an essential step many artists have to take. You can and will make that story better, but you need to finish it first.

#6 Copy

J. Hirz

I’m absolutely in love with the world I’ve created and have spent years in its building—magic systems, political systems, cultures, races, etc.—but I feel it is not original enough to warrant publication. I have, to a certain extent, trapped myself in the tropes of fantasy—mid to late 13th-century setting, races based off the classics of orcs, dwarves, and elves, and unwittingly I created a nation of people who I fear will be compared to the Seanchan in their intent, if not their culture.

The storyline itself is very original (with the exception of the Seanchan-esque nation), and the few people I’ve spoken to about it have said it sounds exciting.

So I guess my concern is this: do you think I have a legitimate concern in that my work may be perceived as unoriginal and therefore not worth publication? Or can writing style and an original storyline make up for that fact?

Brandon Sanderson

My experience has been that writers worry about this more than they should. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t worry about it at all—but generally, readers are a little more forgiving of us showing our influences than we think they will be. The Wheel of Time has some very Tolkien- and Herbert-inspired sections, and is generally considered to be a highly original setting, even if it’s true that the Aiel are inspired by the Fremen.

Harry Potter wasn’t actually that original an idea; wizard schools have been a staple of middle-grade fantasy for years. But her combination of everything together was amazing. So I think you can absolutely take tried-and-tested, well-worn tropes and combine them into something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

My suggestion to you is to write the book. I think that, because you’re aware of this possible problem, you’ll naturally take it in different directions. Then give the book to some readers and try very hard not to predispose them toward what your fears are. After they read the book, let them give you feedback. If a lot of them are saying it feels derivative, maybe see if you can make some things more your own. However, most likely they’ll say something like, “This feels like the Seanchan, but in a good way.”

We are all inspired by the things we read, watch, and love. Learning to take this inspiration and make it into something newly yours is part of the process of becoming a writer. Give yourself that chance, and I think you’ll find a balance you like.

Event details
Name Brandon's Blog 2019
Date Jan. 1, 2019
Entries 6
Upload sources