Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An Hour With Brandon Sanderson

by Beth
The coolest thing I saw at Dragon Con (besides the Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show of course) was the Brandon Sanderson panel. I think I've already mentioned how great it was, but I took the trouble to record it to share with all of you. I didn't get any interviews this year so this was as close as I was going to get to an author that I really enjoy and respect. Unfortunately I had major issues with my recorder, and hadn't been able to recover the audio. I was pissed since it was a really long, and extremely in-depth panel. I couldn't possibly remember everything that he talked about well enough to relate accurately to you. At long last I have gotten my audio back (and will be buying a new recorder for next year), and can at last bring you some of the many highlights of this great panel.

I didn't start recording right away because really the first 10 minutes went towards introducing him, and how he got started. If you don't know who Brandon Sanderson is I'll give you a little background (but really why are you reading this if you don't know him?). He's a prolific writer of truly epic fantasy novels. He completed Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (and has my vote to finish the Song of Ice and Fire series if Martin kicks it before finishing. Partially because we already know he does a great job picking up where another author has left off, but mostly because he writes so damn fast). After the success of his work on Wheel of Time his own works started picking up speed. If you're interested in a place to start I'd go with Elantris since it's a good introduction book. Most of his books take place in the same universe which is called the Cosmere, and he's currently working on the third book of The Stormlight Archive. Just as a warning, this is not a series for the less devoted readers among you. The first two books are close to 1000 pages each, and it's going to be a ten book series as he has it planned now. That's why it helps so much that he can write so quickly. He's only in his early 40's so it's unlikely that anything will happen to him before he can finish them. I also highly recommend the Mistborn trilogy, and the Wax and Wayne books which take place on the same planet just several hundred years apart. Anyway, what follows are the highlights of the best panel I've been to in my many years of Dragon Con. I don't go word for word because you don't need to read every "um" and uh-huh". It's also over 40 minutes of audio so transcribing that would take forever if I didn't edit just a bit. I think I've left in the most important and interesting stuff though so hopefully that'll be good enough for you guys.

As a writer you become a writer to tell you stories, not to become famous right? If you would have gone to when let's say 1999/2000 when I was in the thick of writing all these books, and said "we're gonna give you...40,000 grand a year for the rest of your life and you can write books" I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I can publish a book a year, I will have enough readers so that I can make a living on it like that is all I ever wanted. Well (chuckling) now with over ten million books out there it's different. But at the same time being a writer is awesome in that like, I sat next to somebody on the plane over here and they're like "oh what do you do?" and I'm like I'm a like writer. "Oh should I know who you are?" And my response was: no actually because I'm really really famous with a very small and weird group of people. And that's got to be the best kind of famous. If I go out I'll sign maybe one or two autographs...but then I just go on with my life. If you're gonna be famous be writer famous.

On to the Q&A portion. I normally hate these, but there were actually some intelligent people asking well thought out questions for a change. I did leave out some of the gushing praise though. Obviously you're a fan or you wouldn't be at his panel. Just ask your questions people.

Q: ...One of the things I like is that you know when to stop. There are a lot of fantasy writers that just keep going and going. How much pre-planning do you do for your writing and how do you know when to put the brakes on things?...

A: ...I am a heavy outliner, and usually what you find with outliners as writers is that they write good endings, but they have trouble with character. I kind of came up with this hybrid method...and if the character is growing into someone that the plot wouldn't work for I either take that character out and put a new one in and grow someone else in that place or I rebuild the plot to match them. But I like good endings...and a lot of books just don't quite bring it together. So it's something very important to me. I don't start my book until I know what that ending I'm pointed toward is. I always feel that a piece of art...needs to finish at some point to actually be a piece of art. ...the publisher hates that I ended the Mistborn trilogy. "You just hit the bestseller list. Hop on the best seller". Yeah, but I'm done. It's finished. A lot of authors have this trouble where people latch on to a series, and not the author. So then they feel tied to the series, and I never want to do that. Like you said, I think that there are plenty of series and the author's always loved it. But I also have read some series where it feels like the author feels chained to the series and they only write one of these when they actually need a paycheck or something like that. Mistborn trilogy? Yes, I'm going to come back to that world, but the story of these characters is done. I would rather be the person who writes a lot of different things even if it means that I have a smaller audience because I like jumping projects. It keeps me fresh. I think I'm lucky in that I didn't get published early, and so I had to have a job and go through school all while finding time to write 2000 words a day. And I did that for 10 years before I got published, and so I had momentum. ...so when I finish something I immediately look for something different to do. That means you shouldn't be frustrated when I do a book that's not your favorite series because your favorite series would not be coming any faster...

For the sake of time I'll sum up the rest. Sanderson is great, but he tends to go off on tangents. That makes him great for giving information or writing books, but when you're trying to keep an article under 2000 words it can be a little bit of a hindrance. Basically, if you look at the rate he puts out the Storlight Archive books he's not any faster than Martin or anyone else, it's just that he's always working on something. You just may not get the book from the series you want when you want it. Believe me, I've been eagerly awaiting the next book in the Stormlight Archive for a year, but I bet it'll still be out before The Winds of Winter. Get to work old man!

Q: ...what advice would you give to an aspiring author about developing characters?

A: This is the hardest one for me to talk about because it was a matter taking what I was doing wrong and learning to do it right. For me with characters the big click that happened in my brain was when I realized that every character is the hero of their own story. They don't exist for fill roles. We don't exist to fill roles. We fill roles, we fill lots of them, but that's not why we exist right? We aren't sidekick or we aren't spouse. We identify in those roles, but we are not those roles. When I stopped sticking people in to roles...my characters really came alive a lot more.

Q: Have you always had these ideas for these various universes with gods and magic systems and things like that or are you sort of creating them as you go?

A: It's yes and no. A lot of the ones that you're seeing in the Cosmere are things I created at the beginning, but I left some holes intentionally because I knew I would come up with some cool things that I wanted to add. I'm always coming up with new ones, and there are way more that I want to do than what I can write. The one I keep wanting to find a chance for is...wireless energy. Like what if there were a world where that happened naturally? And can we have giant toads that shoot out their tongues and create a current and they're like taser tongues? Sanderson's 0th law is always err on the side of what's awesome. It's usually less even a what if, and more of a that's so cool taser toads! If you really want to know the truth of where the Stormlight Archives started...magical power armor, yeah! Magical power armor is cool! 

So hopefully this was as interesting you for as it was for me. If it wasn't then what the hell did you click the link for anyway? I did leave out a lot of stuff, but again, he's very free with information. He's also funnier than I thought he would be, and very genuine. I saw him later in the weekend while I was in line for another panel, but he looked like he was on his way somewhere and I thought it would be creepy to chase him down. The big deal that didn't fit in anywhere else is that we will eventually get a Hoid book. If you've been paying attention in the various books of the Cosmere you'll know that Hoid gets around. I'm pretty excited to find out just where he came from, and what it is he's really up to. Regardless, I'll be back with more foolish nerdy gibberish soon so you've always got that to look forward to even if you're not looking forward to Brandon Sanderson's next book.


Beth got her start writing for a site called Movie Criticism for the Retarded (which has been reborn as dorkdroppings.com. Check it out sometime), but was pulled out of an early retirement to write for Needless Things. When she isn't writing she plays video games and watches bad horror movies while eagerly awaiting the zombie apocalypse. She may try to save her husband and/or their cats, but luckily hasn't had to make those tough decisions yet. Follow beth0rama on Instagram or on Twitter @NeedlessBeth where she doesn't post often enough to be annoying, but updates way more than Google+

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