Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Posted by Goodreads on February 16, 2016
While Brandon Sanderson was getting his master's degree at BYU, he received the call—an editor at Tor wanted to buy one of his books. That was Elantris, an epic fantasy which came out in 2006. Since then, Brandon has been building on the Cosmere universe, which includes the enormously popular Mistborn series. Here on earth, we're are about to see the final book of the Reckoners series. Brandon talks to Goodreads about how he keeps so many different series straight, whether he's mastered any special super skills and more. Read on!

Caleb: What was it that inspired you to write a superhero series in which all the super-powered heroes had become so corrupt? And Szilvi also wonders: What made you think about people with superpowers that could destroy the world, since most people make people with super powers the good guys?

I did it exactly because I hadn't ever seen anyone do it! I've enjoyed the superhero genre quite a bit during my years, and as a writer I'm generally looking to do something similar to stories I've loved in the past. At the same time, something in me rebels at just doing "the same thing" again. This is the conflict of fan against artist inside me—and the result is usually that I spend time thinking about a genre of stories, and try to find a take on it that feels fresh and original. It's like eating my cake and having it too! I feel that I can add something to the genre, giving people a new story, yet also incorporate some of the things I love about the genre—the things that make it really work.

Cassidy: What was your premise behind the main character David [in the Reckoners]? Why did you create him as he is, scared yet fearless at the same time, smart about specific things yet totally ignorant about others, etc.?

I built David around two pillars of personality. One is his interest in the Epics, which balances between hatred and fascination. The other one is his fierce determination, which leads him to be impulsive and bull-headed at times, but also pretty inspiring at others.

I feel that as people, sometimes our greatest strengths are also our greatest liabilities. In this respect, every human being is a conundrum in at least one or two ways. With David, his fixation on the Epics is a huge strength—but he's been so narrowly focused in his interests that he neglected many other areas of study. So he's both smart and stupid. At the same time, he's impulsive and determined, which leads to acts of great bravery, but he lives in a society that beats people down—so if he stops and thinks too long, he can often psych himself out.

D.I: I've heard you are a plotter, yet chose to write The Reckoners as a pantser. What were some of the unexpected difficulties or advantages of pantsing?

I "pantsed" the first few chapters of Steelheart, but I quickly went from there to creating an outline. The early part was exploration, the first three or four chapters. That's not uncommon, even for an outliner. However, I did then stop and produce a really solid outline for the book. (Actually one of the most solid I've ever made.)

When you're discovery writing, you often have a lot more success creating and discovering characters, in my experience. That's why I often free-write a few opening chapters to a book, so I can get a feel for who these people might be. However, a difficulty with discovery writing (pantsing) is plotting—it's very difficult to create a tight narrative without an outline. (That said, many people who love to discovery write can fix this problem in revisions.)

Jim: When doing your worldbuilding and plotting work prior to writing do you ever work with maps and soldiers? Do you build out your fights with models etc?

I don't build any of my action sequences with models, though that's an excellent question. I have a vivid imagination, and generally don't need to place things on a map to create an action sequence. In fact, I think doing so might be dangerous, as I'd be tempted to describe things happening across the action sequence all over, rather than what is immediately happening to the viewpoint character—which is where my focus needs to be.

Often, the only map-based worldbuilding I'll do is a general sketch of a continent or city so I know broadly how everything is related. But then I write the book, and let what has to happen in the book happen—good storytelling trumps cartography. I can always rebuild the map to be accurate once I write the book.

The exception is large-scale battles, like some of those in The Wheel of Time, where I had to involve real warfare strategy and tactics. In those cases, I need to know enough that it's best to draw it out and have a full battle map.

Howard also wonders: How often (if ever) do you reread your own books to make sure the content stays fresh in your mind? Or do you just rely on your notes and timelines you have for your books?

Depends. If it's been a long time, I'll reread. (Or at least look up specific chapters.) It depends on how much the story is "present" in my mind as well. The Stormlight Archive and The Reckoners have been solidly in my mind these last five years, and I have enough a grasp on the story that I'm in control of it and can work with it the way I need. When I get back to The Rithmatist, however, I'll need to reread the whole thing.

Hoa: How do you prioritize the various series you are writing? Are you influenced by your creative interest, schedule, fans, family, etc.? You have so many wonderful, intricate storylines and series such as The Rithmitist, The Stormlight Archive, The Wheel of Time and others that are all being released simultaneously.

Deciding what to work on is a balancing act. On one hand, the artist in me always wants to be doing something new, and it pushes me that direction. On the other hand, the completionist in me knows that there is great, great satisfaction and power in finishing a piece of art. It pushes me to work on the established series, and keeps me from going too many directions at once.

In general, I only write new fiction on one story at once. But when I finish one, I have to make sure I do something very different from it to keep me from being burned out. I am absolutely influenced by my schedule, my fans, and my family—all of these things give me ideas, and also require some very careful juggling of priorities to make sure everything gets the time it deserves.

Cade: Brandon, what has been the influence of your LDS religion on your writing? Have aspects of Mormon doctrine been incorporated into your worldbuilding?

I'm very interested in the concepts of religion and the ideas that surround it, and I often find myself writing books that deal with things I'm interested in myself. I allow the themes of books like these to grow naturally out of the world I've built and out of the stories that I want to tell. Specifically, I kind of let the characters decide what the themes of a book are going to be. I don't go into it saying, "I'm going to write about this," but the worlds that I create betray my own interests very strongly.

What is it about faith and deity? This is something that is unique about us as human beings, something very interesting to me, and it felt like this area was an open space to explore in fantasy in ways that hadn't been done before. I always find myself gravitating toward things that I feel haven't been explored as much as they could have been. That interests me and fascinates me.

Jessica: In Shadows of Self a few characters use some variation of "Hell!" as an exclamation when things go awry. I don't recall any reference to "Hell" as a place or philosophy in the religions of the Mistborn series. How does this word fit into their world, does it differ from our own?

The characters in Mistborn have been using "biblical" curses since book one. This was a specific choice made on my part, as I want the "feel" of mistborn to be like London in the early 1800s. All of my books are to be read as if there's a phantom translator who took it from the original language and translated it into English. In many cases, there isn't a word that is an exact translation—so the translator does their best.

In The Final Empire, there was indeed a kind of "hell." Though there wasn't a specific idea of a devil—it was just the punishment ascribed to the souls who failed or disobeyed the Lord Ruler. Even the skaa knew of this, though religion was forbidden them. So it was a more vague sense, than specific theology, to them.

David: Having completed the The Wheel of Time series for Robert Jordan. Who would you want to complete your books if anything should happen to you?

Boy! Let's hope that I make it. But, having done what I did for The Wheel of Time, I've had to consider this. I think right now, I'd like either Brent Weeks to write it (as he and I have very similar styles, and I like his books a lot) or Brian McClellan, my former student who is now writing excellent fiction. (I can't take much credit for Brian, as he was an excellent writer before he took my class.) I haven't asked either of them to do this, though, so it's more just idle consideration to me.

Bobby: Do you have any advice for new fantasy writers to smooth out any road bumps on the way to getting published and how do you juggle success with the life you had before your books took off?

I have a ton of advice, but most of it I can't put here. I have a couple of resources where I go into depth. The first is Writing Excuses, my podcast. I suggest that you start listening the with January 2015 episodes—it will be very helpful. For something more in-depth, I post videos of my writing lectures on YouTube. This is the class I teach at BYU, and goes very in-depth on publishing.

Here, I'll just say this: Practice a lot. Write the kind of books that you wish were being written. Make good habits, and learn to be a writer long before you publish—own being a writer. Do the work, learn to think like a writer, and guard your writing time as if this were your job. Then when it actually happens, it will be more like "Hey, it finally happened" than "Wow. What do I do now?"

Megandia: I know you have your masters in creative writing, as do many authors, though some do not. How much has getting your masters helped you as a writer?

No class, even the one I teach, can take the place of writing on your own and practicing. That will be the most useful thing to you in your career—practicing lots of styles, lots of writing tools, and lots of types of stories. Your job is to learn for yourself what works for you, and develop your own mix of strategies—writing methods, outlining methods, viewpoint/tense decisions, prose decisions—that help you consistently create great books.

A writing program does several things. First, good writing classes should give you tools to try out, and explain to you what they normally do in writing, and why you might like this too. They give you feedback from established writers. And they give you a writing community to be part of—people to make into a writing group, to bounce ideas off, and to help you along your path.

The danger of a masters in creative writing is that some professors are determined to help people create only one kind of fiction, very narrowly defined, and will try to shove you away from other types of writing. Don't let them do this to you—they should be a resource to you, rather than a force that tries to homogenize you into a single type of storytelling.

Atanas: What would you say is the best approach to battle the growing apathy, greed, violence, corruption, pollution and misery in the world today―using Sazed's wisdom, education, research on religions and unity through equal- mindedness or Kelsier's way of personal example, sacrifice, and unity through action?

I am more a Sazed than a Kelsier. Sazed is focused on patience, careful change, and thoughtfulness. But we need Kelsiers too—people who are willing to act decisively, to become the type of person that others follow, and to make things happen, even if sometimes there are terrible consequences.

E.D.E.: If you could have an Epic power in your everyday life—you know, just every once in a while, not enough to corrupt you—what would it be?

I would love to be able to fly. It's not the "right" decision, which would probably be some kind of healing/comforting power to make myself and those around me more healthy. (Even if it is to get rid of the common cold.)


Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Barbara (new)

Barbara But......flying!!!

message 2: by Andrea (new)

Andrea In the end of the first book, Steelheart refers to David by an unexpected term. No further mention of said term . . . hopefully this is addressed in the final book?

message 3: by Josh (new)

Josh Grover Andrea wrote: "In the end of the first book, Steelheart refers to David by an unexpected term. No further mention of said term . . . hopefully this is addressed in the final book?"

I can't remember what you are referring to from book one, do you remember around what chapter it is located so I can go back and take a look? it would be much appreciated.

message 4: by Gabe (new)

Gabe it is good i like his fablehaven it is fun

message 5: by Chandler (new)

Chandler Currier Gabe wrote: "it is good i like his fablehaven it is fun"

Brandon Mull wrote fablehaven. Brandon Sanderson wrote Mistborn, the Stormlight Archive, Warbreaker, Elantris, The Emperor's Soul, Legion, Alcatraz, and the Reckoners.

message 6: by Hihihi (new)

Hihihi I love this guy! I read the thing he put for Nano Wrimo. He seems to really have a heart for writing, and his books rock! Go Sanderson! I want to be like you someday!

message 7: by Gus (new)

Gus Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite writers. His world building and character development are second only to the master: Robert Jordan. High fantasy rocks!

message 8: by Bidyut (new)

Bidyut I wonder, who would win a fight between Steelheart and Superman?

message 9: by Greta (new)

Greta Bidyut wrote: "I wonder, who would win a fight between Steelheart and Superman?"

Steelheart. Duh! His weakness is much harder than superman's! the reckoners could take superman down in about two seconds, while Steelheart got a whole book to himself.
Also, as bad as this sounds, Steelheart is corrupt, which means he wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone who got in his way. He has a relative army at his hands, which he wouldnt be afraid to use ethier.

message 10: by Greta (new)

Greta Chandler wrote: "Gabe wrote: "it is good i like his fablehaven it is fun"

Brandon Mull wrote fablehaven. Brandon Sanderson wrote Mistborn, the Stormlight Archive, Warbreaker, Elantris, The Emperor's Soul, Legion, ..."

You sound like quite the Sanderson fan! Yes, Mull wrote fablehaven, Gabe, get it straight! Sanderson is completely different!

message 11: by Jarrad (new)

Jarrad Sanderson stated "So he's both smart and stupid." In his interview, referring to David. I feel like he's being unfair in his assessment of his created character. If I remember correctly in the first book he made mention that he had to study everything in his schooling to get just the right amount of questions wrong in the standard tests. That to me showed pure genius on his part. I would say David could best be described as a carrot in a beet pie, because....

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