Brandon Sanderson's Blog, page 8
June 24, 2016
Cutting the last scene was not without costs to the story. For the longest time, after removing this scene, something about what remained bothered me. I had trouble placing what was wrong.
The story went through editorial revisions and beta reads, none of which revealed what was bothering me. This process did convince me to add two scenes. The first was scene with the “paintball” fight in the noir city, which was intended to mix some action and worldbuilding in while revealing more of Kai’s personality. The second was the flashback scene where Kai and Melhi meet on the “neutral zone” battlefield, intended to introduce Melhi as more of a present threat in the story.
Something was still bothering me, even after these additions. It took me time to figure out exactly what it was, and I was able to pinpoint it in the weeks leading up to the story’s publication. (Which was good, as it allowed me to make some last-minute changes. I’m still not sure if they fixed the problem, but we were satisfied with them.)
The problem is this: removing the final scene hugely undermined Sophie as a character.
The deleted scene provides for us two complete characters. We have Kai, who wants to retreat into his fantasy world and live there without ever being forced to think about the falsehood he’s living. He wants just enough artificial challenge to sate him, but doesn’t want to explore life outside of the perfect world prepared for him.
As a contrast, we have Sophie, who refuses to live in the perfect world provided for her—and is so upset by it that she insists on trying to open the eyes of others in a violently destructive way. She tries to ruin their States, forcing them to confront the flaws in the system.
Neither is an ideal character. Sophie is bold, but reckless. Determined, but cruel. Kai is heroic, but hides deep insecurities. He is kindly, but also willfully ignorant. Even obstinately so. Each of their admirable attributes brings out the flaws in the other.
This works until the ending, with its reversal, which yanks the rug out from underneath the reader. Sophie’s death and the revelation that Kai has been played works narratively because it accomplishes what I like to term the “two-fold heist.” These are scenes that not only trick the character, but also trick the reader into feeling exactly what the character does. Not just through sympathy, but through personal experience.
Let’s see if I can explain it directly. The goal of this scene is to show Kai acting heroically, then undermine that by showing that his heroism was manipulated. Hopefully (and not every scene works on every reader) at the same time, the reader feels cheated in having enjoyed a thrilling action sequence, only to find out that it was without merit or consequences.
Usually, by the way, making readers feel things like this is kind of a bad idea. I feel it works in this sequence, however, and am actually rather proud of how it all plays out—character emotions, action, and theme all working together to reinforce a central concept.
Unfortunately, this twist also does something troubling. With the twist, instead of being a self-motivated person bent on changing the mind of someone trapped by the establishment, Sophie becomes a pawn without agency, a robot used only to further Kai’s development.
Realizing this left me with a difficult conundrum in the story. If we have an inkling that Sophie is Melhi too early, then the entire second half of the plot doesn’t work. But if we never know her as Melhi, then we’re left with an empty shell of a character, a direct contradiction to the person I’d planned for her to be.
Now, superficially, I suppose it didn’t matter if Melhi/Sophi was a real character. As I said in the first annotation, the core of the story is about Kai being manipulated by forces outside his control.
However, when a twist undermines character, I feel I’m in dangerous territory—straying into gimmicks instead of doing what I think makes lasting, powerful stories. The ultimate goal of this story is not in the twist, but in leading the reader on a more complex emotional journey. One of showing Kai being willing to accept change and look outward. His transformation is earned by his interaction with someone wildly different from himself, but also complex and fascinating. Making her shallow undermines the story deeply, as it then undermines his final journey.
There’s also the sexism problem. Now, talking about sexism in storytelling opens a huge can of worms, but I think we have to dig into it here. You see, a certain sexism dominates Kai’s world. Sophie herself points it out on several occasions. Life has taught him that everyone, particularly women, only exist to further his own goals. He’s a kind man, don’t get me wrong. But he’s also deeply rooted in a system that has taught him to think about things in a very sexist way. If the story reinforces this by leaving Sophie as a robot—with less inherent will than even the Machineborn programs that surround Kai—then we’ve got a story that is not only insulting, it fails even as it seems to be successful.
Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do have a tendency to do that. Either way, hopefully you now understand what I viewed as the problem with the story—and I probably described this at too great a length. As it stands, the annotation is probably going to be two-thirds talking about the problem, with only a fraction of that spent on the fix.
I will say that I debated long on what that fix should be. Did I put the epilogue back in, despite having determined that it broke the narrative flow? Was there another way to hint to the reader that there was more going on with Melhi than they assumed?
I dove into trying to give foreshadowing that “Melhi” was hiding something. I reworked the dialogue in the scene where Kai and Melhi meet in person, and I overemphasized that Melhi was hiding her true nature from him by meeting via a puppet. (Also foreshadowing that future puppets we meet might actually be Melhi herself.) I dropped several hints that Melhi was female, then changed the ending to have Wode outright say it.
In the end, I was forced to confront the challenge that this story might not be able to go both ways. I could choose one of two things. I could either have the ending be telegraphed and ruined, while Sophie was left as a visibly strong character. Or I could have the ending work, while leaving Sophie as more of a mystery, hopefully picked up on by readers as they finished or thought about the story.
The version we went with has Sophie being hinted as deeper, while preserving the ending. Even still, I’m not sure if Perfect State works better with or without the deleted scene. To be perfectly honest, I think the best way for it to work is actually for people to read the story first, think about it, then discover the deleted scene after they want to know more about what was going on.
Even as I was releasing the story, I became confident that this was the proper “fix.” To offer the story, then to give the coda in the form of Sophie’s viewpoint later on. It’s the sort of thing that is much more viable in the era of ebooks and the internet.
Either way, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think. Does it work better with or without the deleted scene? Do you like having read the story, then discovered this later? Am I way overthinking what is (to most of you) just a lighthearted post-cyberpunk story with giant robots?
Regardless, as always, thanks for reading.
June 22, 2016
This story began with the idea of taking some common tropes in science fiction—the brain in a jar, the Matrix-like virtual existence—and trying to flip them upside down. In every story I’ve seen with these tropes, they’re presented as terrible signs of a dystopian existence. I asked myself: What if putting people into a virtual existence turned out to be the right thing instead? What if this weren’t a dystopia, but a valid and workable system, with huge benefits for humankind?
Kai’s and Sophie’s stories grew out of this. I loved the idea that putting people into simulated worlds might actually be the rational solution, instead of the terrifying one. An extreme, but possibly logical, extrapolation of expanding populations and limited resources. There are certain branches of philosophy that ask us to judge what is best for all of humankind. I think an argument could be made for this case.
This is the first reason why I cut the deleted scene. It shifted the focus too much toward “Let’s escape the Matrix” instead of the theme of technology doing great things at the price of distancing us from human interaction.
All that said, Sophie’s arguments in the story do have validity. One of my thematic goals for the story was to reinforce how the fakeness in Kai’s and Sophie’s lives undermines the very things they’ve built their personalities upon.
For Kai, this is his heroism. The fact that there was never any actual danger for him meant that he was playing a video game on easy mode—all the while assuming he was on the most hardcore setting. This asks a question, however: if his heroism felt real to him, does it matter if he was never in danger? I’m not sure, but I found it one of the more intriguing elements of the story to contemplate.
Sophie has a similar built-in conflict. Just like Kai’s heroism is undermined by his safety net, her revolutions and quests for human rights are undermined by the fact that she was fighting wars that had already been won in the real world. Her state was intentionally built without these things, just so she could earn them.
And yet, does the fact that the conflict has been won before make her own struggle any less important and personal to her?
She thinks it does. She thinks that the conscious decision of the Wode to put her into a world with fake problems and suffering is an unconscionable act. One that undermines any and all progress she could have made.
I like that the deleted scene helps raise the stakes for questions like this. However, there’s a more important reason why I felt I needed to cut it. And that has to do with a problem I have noticed with my writing sometimes: The desire to have awesome twists just because they are unexpected.
In early books, such as Elantris, this was a much more pervasive a problem for me. I was eventually persuaded by my editor and agent that I should cut some of the twists from that book. (There were several more twists in the ending; you can see the deleted scenes for Elantris elsewhere on my website.) I was piling on too many surprises, and each was losing its impact while at the same time diluting the story’s theme and message.
I felt like this ending was one “Gotcha!” too many. I see this problem in other stories—often long, serialized works. The desire to keep things fresh by doing what the reader or viewer absolutely would never expect. Some of these twists completely undermine character growth and audience investment, all in the name of a sudden bang. Sometimes I worry that with twists, we writers need to be a little less preoccupied with whether or not we can do something, and a little more focused on whether it’s good for the story. (With apologies to Ian Malcolm.)
A twist should be a natural outgrowth of the story and its goals. In Perfect State, I decided that my story was about Kai getting duped: duped by the Wode, then duped by Melhi. The twists in the published version contributed to this goal, giving in-story proof that his heroism could be manipulated, and that his existence had grown too comfortable.
I worried that the extra epilogue would divert the story away from these ideas. And so, in the end, I cut it. (Though I’ll talk in the next annotation about some ramifications of this that still trouble me.)
Several years back, grad student Scott Ashton asked me if he could record my BYU lectures and post them for an online curriculum as part of a project he was doing. I said yes, and it was never supposed to be “a thing,” not really. It was a student doing a project, and using my lectures as a way to explore online education.
Well, since that time, those lectures (which are collected at Scott’s site, which he called Write About Dragons) have been viewed tens of thousands of times, and become one of the big hallmarks of my web presence, at least as far as writing education goes. I’ve been blown away by the reception to them. At the same time, I’ve been keenly aware that the recording was subpar. This isn’t Scott’s fault—he actually did an excellent job, considering his background. But the lectures are at times difficult to hear, and the filming was handled on a single amateur camera.
For years, I’ve been wanting to do something better. And this year I had my chance. My good friend Earl is a semiprofessional filmmaker, and was looking for a new project. I pitched a better-recorded set of lectures, filmed this year in my class, and he jumped at the idea.
I’m extremely pleased with how these turned out. I think the lectures have evolved over time in ways you’ll find useful, and the filming is top-notch. (No promises about the jokes though.) We’ll be releasing these at a pace of around one a week, and it is my hope for them to replace the previous series as the “canonical” version of my writing lectures online.
So, it is with great pleasure that I give you the 2016 Sanderson Lectures, with thanks to Earl Cahill and his assistants for their camera work and editing. (Earl’s company, Camera Panda, gets a shout-out as well.)
I hope you find them useful!
June 20, 2016
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wanted to post a deleted scene for Perfect State (which is nominated for the Hugo Award for best novella, and voting is now open for all 2016 Worldcon members), as well as annotations. My assistant Peter has finally gotten around to editing them for posting. The deleted scene is up now, and the annotations will follow this week.
In other news, as I’ve shared on Twitter and Facebook over the past few days, the Mistborn: House War kickstarter from Crafty Games has gone live, and it’s now already over 300% funded with six stretch goals under its belt.
I’m thrilled that Crafty Games has built this new board game with the same attention and care they’ve long given to the Mistborn Adventure Game. Playing through it, my team enjoyed battling each other for supremacy in Luthadel. Mistborn: House War (a title I cam up with myself, by the way) melds strategy and player interaction into a unique mix. A real house war could turn out a lot like this! I hope you’ll enjoy the game.
Here’s what Crafty says about the new board game:
Mistborn: House War puts you in command of the Final Empire’s great Houses during the cataclysmic events of Mistborn: The Final Empire.
Together, you must cooperate to solve myriad problems facing the empire, from environmental and social turmoil to political strife and outright rebellion. You’ll even have to stave off Kelsier, Vin, Sazed, and the other heroes of the novels to maintain the delicate balance held in place for the last thousand years.
Simultaneously, you’ll compete to become the most powerful House in the land by currying the favor of the almighty Lord Ruler. To win, you must build alliances, negotiate deals, and undermine both your enemies and your allies—all at just the right time. But be careful! Should the players’ stewardship fail, unrest will tear the Final Empire asunder and the House furthest from the top shall emerge the victor.
Mistborn: House War is created and developed by Crafty Games, publishers of the Mistborn Adventure Game, with cooperation from Brandon Sanderson and Dragonsteel Entertainment.
Designed by Kevin Wilson (Arkham Horror, The X-Files, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past), Mistborn: House War is the perfect addition to any gamer’s table, and every Sanderson fan’s collection. Whether you’re a cunning strategist or cautious diplomat, there’s plenty to love in this box.
This scene is to be read after you finish reading the novella. I do consider this to still be canon for the world of Perfect State, but I cut it for various reasons that I will discuss in the subsequent annotations.
Melhi pushed idly with her foot, swinging her swiveling bucket chair first right, then left. Back and forth in front of her monitor.
On her screen, Conan the Boy Scout talked to his sniveling machine-born servant about the Wode.
Even his expressions are ridiculous, she thought, sipping on iced scotch from her glass. That beard, like you’d find on some Greek statue. Sorrow, like sappy poetry. And that voice . . . every sentence sounds like it’s from a movie trailer.
She tapped her glass with her fingernail. It felt good to be back in her bunker. Sleek, metallic, and filled with all kinds of things that the Emperor Superhero would find amazing and magical. Like flush toilets. She loved buffed steel décor; perhaps she should change it. Her comfort here could mean she was becoming complacent again.
The others conversed in the conference chamber, their voices drifting in through her open doorway. They sounded like barking dogs. Liveborn, every one. Accustomed to ruling the world, to being the most important person in the room.
“I traveled through six states to be here!” Gnass’s voice. “Now she can’t be bothered to pull herself away to join the meeting?”
“Who cares? The food is good.” That was Ho Nam. He would attend the execution of his favorite nurse, so long as it was well catered.
“I’ll check on her,” Dionissa said, followed by footsteps.
Melhi continued to watch Kai on the screen, enjoying her drink. Data reports scrolled by on the two screens next to his image.
“Sophie?” Dionissa asked from her doorway. “Are you coming to the meeting?”
“Don’t call me that,” Melhi said.
“Very well, dear.” Dionissa strolled in, then leaned down beside the terminals. She wore a filmy blue dress, antiquated style, but had her hair in a pixie cut that was dyed bright pink.
Dionissa ignored Kai, studying the data streams. “Curious. They haven’t noticed?”
Melhi shook her head. “Not so far. Unless they can mask themselves from my sentries—which they have never shown any sign of spotting before.”
“They locked you out,” she said, pointing. “Here, here. Here.”
“The obvious hacks,” Melhi said. “Which they think themselves clever for finding. The distraction worked perfectly. Invade a communal state, send them into chaos. They think they’ve isolated my touch, but they were so focused on my primary hacks that they didn’t find the riders. My network expands.”
“We could actually do this.”
Melhi wasn’t certain what “this” was yet. But getting into the general system was a good step forward, regardless of what direction the next part took. For months, the others had been complaining that she was too overt, drawing too much attention. They said the Wode was going to strike, cut her off. Doom their movement before it even got a chance to start.
So she’d done what she’d always done. Defy them all, even her allies. It had even been fun.
“Come, tell the others,” Dionissa said.
Melhi nodded her chin toward Kai, still on the screen. A data feed the Wode would certainly have cut off if they’d known she could access it—proof, the best she could provide, that her access to the system was unprecedented.
“He’s contacting nearby states,” Melhi said. “He’s accepted what he is, what we all are.”
“Melhi,” Dionissa asked flatly, “you can’t possibly be thinking of recruiting a fantasy stater.”
“You’re from ancient Rome.”
“Fake real Rome.”
“That’s a long leap from fake Narnia. Look, you know how they are.”
Yes, she did. So easy to manipulate. So . . . straightforward. But also genuine. So little in her life could be considered genuine. Even most Liveborn were as interested in power and inter-state politics as they were in freedom from the Wode. Only Gnass was completely trustworthy, and she had her hands full with her own projects.
Still, Melhi left Kai and the monitor, joining Dionissa and walking out into the conference room. She’d spent years trying to wake up—or destroy—nearby staters. She didn’t really mind which she accomplished. But that was losing its charm. She needed a bigger challenge.
“Welcome,” Melhi said to the group of five Liveborn. “So far as I know, this is the first meeting of its kind. Completely obscured from the Wode, taking place in a state that they don’t even know exists. We, ladies and gentleman, are trapped, imprisoned, confined to a nearly solitary existence within a machine.
“Let’s talk about how to get out.”
Annotation coming soon.
June 14, 2016
If you were unable to get your hands on a signed and numbered copy of The Bands of Mourning, now is your chance! Weller Book Works has announced that they have some available to purchase, and they ship worldwide. Click here to see more details and order your copy. They also have a few copies of The Stormlight Archive Pocket Companion available for free—all you have to pay for is shipping. For more information on the pocket companion, email email@example.com.
Also, Audible just released their “Best of the Year (so far!)” list, and The Bands of Mourning is included in the Sci-Fi & Fantasy category. Check out The Bands of Mourning and all the other customer favorites and editor picks.
In this week’s new Writing Excuses episode, Stakes!, we talk a lot about “raising the stakes” in our writing. When we say “stakes,” we’re referring to the things that keep our characters involved in the conflict, rather than just walking away and doing something else. We dig into what this really means, and how everyone in the story must be driven by things that they have at stake.
Last week, in Tor.com’s continuing reread posts for Words of Radiance, Shallan located a gate, Adolin made good use of a slain rock, and Kaladin struggled to stand between Elhokar and Moash. This week, in Chapter 84, Shallan begins to figure out the gate, Adolin proves his dueling prowess, and Kaladin stands.
My assistant Adam has updated the Twitter post archive for June.
June 10, 2016
I will be at the Orem Barnes & Noble this Saturday, June 11th, for the first ever B-Fest. This is a national teen book festival that will take place in Barnes & Noble stores all over the country June 10th–12th. Hundreds of authors of teen books will be making appearances around the country, so check here to see what’s happening at your local Barnes & Noble, or here for everything at the Orem store.
You can see my event schedule below or on the upcoming events page on my website. I hope to see many of you there!
Date: Saturday, June 11th
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Address: Barnes & Noble University Crossings
330 East 1300 South
Orem, UT 84058
Phone: (801) 229.1611
1:00 p.m.: Sabaa Tahir
4:00 p.m.: Brandon Sanderson
6:00 p.m.: Dan Wells
Wristbands will be handed out starting at 9:00 a.m. on June 11th to save your place in line!
June 9, 2016
Gwanna105th Wed Jun 01
@BrandSanderson I just legged the last 150 pages of TWoK this morning and I’m utterly speechless. Most satisfying ending ever.
BrandSanderson Wed Jun 01
macy_chris Wed Jun 01
@BrandSanderson Excited to see you at Phx ComiCon. At least, I hope to see you, I know you’re busy
BrandSanderson Wed Jun 01
@macy_chris I am doing plenty of signings, so hopefully it works out!
June 7, 2016
As I shared on Twitter and Facebook yesterday, one of my readers from Australia, David Fonti, for his visual effects class made a cool video of himself in Shardplate. Great work, David. I’ve embedded the video below.
As a quick reminder, today is the last day to get your copy of the Elantris ebook for $2.99. And now through June 16th, The Rithmatist ebook will be only $1.99. My Hugo Award-nominated novella Perfect State is also still priced at 99¢, worldwide!
In this week’s new Writing Excuses episode, Examining Unconscious Biases,
mystery may well be the most common element in use, at least in some form or another, across the many bookshelf genres comprising fiction. We discuss the driving force of elemental mystery, how to evoke those feelings in the reader, and the importance of being able to write mystery effectively.
Last week, in Tor.com’s continuing reread posts for Words of Radiance, Navani’s fabrials aided in the battle for the Plains, while Kaladin made a difficult choice back in the warcamp. This week, in Chapter 83, Shallan searches for the Oathgate while the battle rages, and Kaladin stands firm.
June 1, 2016
I’m heading to Phoenix today along with the entire Writing Excuses team to attend a massive bookstore signing (it’s free!) and for Phoenix Comicon (registration required). You can see my event schedule below or on the upcoming events page on my website. I hope you can make it to either event (or both!)
Date: Wednesday, June 1st
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Address: The Poisoned Pen
4014 N Goldwater Blvd
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Phone: (480) 947.2974
Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, V.E. Schwab, Pierce Brown, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Sigler, Dan Wells, Beth Cato, Jason Hough, Django Wexler, Leanna Renee Hieber, Sam Sykes, Michael J. Sullivan, Adam Christopher, Michael Martinez, Ryan Dalton, Kevin Hearn, Brian McClellan, and Tom Leveen.
The Poisoned Pen says:
We are limiting the number of books that can be signed by Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss to three each per person. We will be issuing colored wristbands that will correspond to 45-minute units of time. We will begin issuing these at 6:00 p.m., and the first group will run from 7:00 to 7:45 and so on. We will be asking people to line up by the front door at the beginning of their group’s time. They will have to line up outside if numbers are large, so we want them to be prepared. Wristbands will either be issued by the front counter or, if numbers are large, by staff members in front of the store. Wristbands are free, however we are requesting everyone to buy something at the store, though that is not required.
Dates: Thursday–Sunday, June 2nd–5th
Address: Phoenix Convention Center
100 N 3rd St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Phone: (602) 262-6225
Thursday, June 2nd
4:00–5:00 p.m., Dragonsteel/Writing Excuses booth 1378
Brandon’s crew will have hardcover backstock, shirts, and other swag for sale, as well as convention exclusive posters of the new Elantris maps, released this weekend for the first time.
Friday, June 3rd
Writing Excuses Podcast
12:30–2:30 p.m., West 301A
Join Writing Excuses hosts Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Taylor as they interview Greg Van Eekhout, Trina Phillips, and Victoria Scwab.
Building A Believable World: The Deets
3:00–4:00 p.m., North 129A
Building a believable world is more than just a good map: Discussing the finer points of constructing a believable universe.
Brandon Sanderson, Bradley Beaulieu, Dan Wells, Michael Martinez, Shannon Messenger, Victoria V.E. Schwab
4:30–5:30 p.m., 127AB Author Signings
Brandon Sanderson, Weston Ochse, Shannon Messenger, Michael Martinez, Michael Kogge, Jason Hough, Holly Jennings, Dan Wells, Bradley Beaulieu
Would You Lie To Me
Friday, June 3rd
6:00–7:00 p.m., North 128B
Authors lie for a living, but are they any good at knowing when they are being lied to? Hosted by Jason Hough, our two teams of authors will try to outwit each other and discern fact from fiction.
Beth Cato, Brandon Sanderson, Jason Hough, Mary Robinette Kowal, Sam Sykes, Scott Sigler, Victoria V.E. Schwab
Saturday, June 4th
Spotlight: Brandon Sanderson
12:00–1:00 p.m., North 129A
Join Brandon for a discussion of his projects past, present and future.
Glowy Swords: Magical MacGuffins
1:30–2:30 p.m., North 129A
The One Ring, Harry Potter’s wand, Excalibur—epic fantasy is full of magical MacGuffins, but is this just a mere plot device or is there a deeper purpose?
Alyssa Wong, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Sam Sykes, Victoria V.E. Schwab
3:00–4:00 p.m., North 127AB Author Signings
Brandon Sanderson, Alan Dean Foster, Becky Chambers, Dan Wells, Django Wexler, Howard Tayler, Kevin Hearne, Michael Kogge, Scott Sigler, Todd Lockwood
4:30–7:00 p.m., Dragonsteel/Writing Excuses booth 1378
Brandon’s crew will have hardcover backstock, shirts, and other swag for sale, as well as convention exclusive posters of the new Elantris maps, released this weekend for the first time.