View Full Version : WorldCon Flash AMA, 31 August 2013

Marie Curie 7
01-09-2014, 06:23 PM
2013 WorldCon Reddit Fantasy Brandon Sanderson Flash AMA
San Antonio, TX, August 31, 2013

This AMA (Ask Me Anything) was hosted by the Reddit /r/fantasy booth at WorldCon in San Antonio, TX, on August 31, 2013. Some questions were answered online; those are available here (http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/1lhf1e/worldcon_flash_ama_brandon_sanderson/?sort=old). Other questions were answered by video; those are available here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr5CByprBpo). The complete Q&A session, including both the online and video answers is available in the WoT Database here (http://theoryland.com/intvmain.php?i=1030).

A transcript of the video questions and answers is given below.


Questions came from fans at the table and online via Brandon's AMA at: www.reddit.com/r/fantasy.

Question: Why are you at WorldCon?

Brandon Sanderson: Yeah, why am I at WorldCon? In the early days trying to break in, WorldCon was one of these wonderful resources, right? Where I would come here to meet editors, to meet other writers, and it was just a great community. It's very different from the media cons like Comic-con, where it's a spectacle. This isn't a spectacle. This is a bunch of fans hanging out, and so I just like it. So I come back to WorldCon–usually I come at least every other year–just to meet everybody. And also, you know, all the authors were coming when I was trying to break in and had such great advice. I feel like it's useful for me to appear on panels and talk about breaking in, in the era I did. Granted everything's changed since then, but it's changed even more since the older guard broke in, so hopefully I can be of some use to people.

Question: How are you seeing the internet impact the industry?

Brandon: One thing it's really changed is allowing authors to have a lot more direct interaction with fans, which is wonderful because we are directly supported by readers. Even though there are editors and people, there are very few middlemen even in fantasy, even in writing. To the point that, when you interact with me, what I mean is you're interacting with the content creator directly, which is fun. It's awesome. It allows me to actually get feedback from fans, to talk to fans, to thank the people who are supporting me. And like I said, there's very few layers between, but in the old days there was that buffer. You know, people used to send letters to the publisher, and then the publisher would send to the author, right? And granted, the publisher's not opening them and stuff. It's not like there's a big buffer there, but it's taking time, and there's just that step. And that step has vanished, which I like.

It is changing publishing. It's democratizing publishing. I really think this is a good thing for particularly our genre, where you will have a lot of things in sci-fi/fantasy that are not even the mainstream of sci-fi and fantasy. And sci-fi/fantasy alone is already not the mainstream. So when you go a couple niches down, you can find these things that a certain core audience would love, but it's very hard to market nationally. And this helps a lot more variety come into the genre. And that whole connecting directly with fans helps with people building a brand and breaking in, even if they aren't going traditional. The whole self-publishing has been a great boon, I think, specifically to science fiction and fantasy, in helping to add variety.

Ebooks mean that when I write 400,000 word novels, I don't have to apologize quite so much. Because people can buy it in ebook, and I say it weighs the same amount. So there is that. Otherwise, there are so many things changing.

Question: [What is your opinion on] outlining versus free-writing?

Brandon: I tend to . . . based on the project. Some projects, you need an intricate outline. Usually what an intricate outline will do for you is it'll allow for a more explosive ending. But the danger of an intricate outline is you risk not being able to discover as much of your story, so your story won't feel as alive sometimes. And so, trying to balance that, making sure your characters have this life to them. Because in the real world people make weird decisions all the time, and we don't follow this rigid path that's set out for us. And if you are too rigid with your outline, you'll have this stilted feel to your writing. But if you don't do any outlining, then your ending tends to kinda just be this thing . . . you're like, "Eh, now I've reached the ending."

And often you can tell writers, whether they're discovery writers naturally or whether they're outline writers, based on those kind of things. If you go look at your favorite series and it seems like it meanders a lot, that's probably a discovery writer, but their characters are probably really strong. Both George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan are discovery writers–Robert Jordan was, and George R. R. Martin is. And these are strengths of their writing, but also the ending thing is not something that works as well. A lot of authors, if they can hybridize–like I know Robert Jordan said all along he had the ending in mind, and his ending was very good. And having that one piece of ending that he's working to would help focus, and that's something that you can help do if you're a discovery writer.

For me, I just try to use both tools, so that when I'm working on a book I use the tool that fits the book the best. If I want more spontaneity, I will outline less. If I want more of a powerful intersection of five different viewpoints coming together, I'll outline more.

Question: [What is] the last sentence you wrote that you were proud of?

Brandon: I wish I could say, because things go through so many transformations as I'm writing. I would have to have a book open before me, and go look and say, "Wow, which of these sentences is the best?" The honest truth is that I am less of a sentence person than someone like Pat Rothfuss. Rothfuss writes beautiful sentences, and I'm in awe of his sentences. I try for workmanship prose. I try for prose that does not distract from the writing. And often if I write a really beautiful sentence, it stands out like such a sore thumb in my writing that it's better to kind of tone that sentence down. We call it windowpane prose. My goal is to write prose that doesn't ever distract you from the story. And there are certain level of writers that can do beautiful prose and not distract from the story. I have always just tried for . . . if there is a mark on the window, you'll look at that and not the story. This is George Orwell talking about this–I learned it from reading about him. And some writers, like in literary fiction, they will try to write this beautiful stained glass window, and what you see on the other side doesn't really matter. It's the stained glass window that you're paying wonderful attention to. I don't want the window to distract you. And so, I do like to have a clever witty line now and then, but my goal at the end is for you to not notice the writing and only pay attention to characters and story.

Question: Can you elaborate on the use of atium at the end of Mistborn: The Well of Ascension?

Brandon: Heh-heh-heh. Yeah, this is a pretty in-depth one. So . . . yeah. How about I send you to my annotations for that chapter, where I explain in depth on my website. I have annotations of all of my books. And in Mistborn 2, if you read the chapters through there–like I can't talk this through in the right way–and if you go look at the annotations and read those chapters, the explanation is in depth in there. And hopefully the explanation there will make better sense to you than what I can blab out off the cuff right here.

Question (Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series): And so, you had this dream of being a writer, and you achieved it. You achieved it probably beyond your expectations. Is it what you expected? I mean, you're on tour all the time, you have deadlines barking at you. How do you like it?

Brandon: Man, that's a good question. You know, I like meeting readers–that's fun. Being on tour, as much as I go, is not so much fun. And I think this is the first year where I said "yes" to too many things. I've just made too many appearances, and it's impacting the writing. Nobody tells you–that's why you make such an astute question. No one warns you that when you first break into this business–you know, you think, "Oh, I'm going to sell a book, and then I can go full time as a writer, and all my time will be writing."

But then, you break in and realize the touring and stuff almost becomes like a second job to you. You become . . . I describe it like in Hollywood you have the writer who writes the script and sends it off, and then the director who directs the script, and then the actors who go out and do the publicity later on. And in writing you're all those people, plus the business person financing it all in the back end. And so you have to wear so many hats. It's bizarre, how many things you have to do.

That said, I really love doing signings. I just wish that I could manage that a little bit better. So we're trying to, starting next year. Just a few fewer cons, making the tours a little bit shorter–make sure that I'm not stretched so thin. And it came about partially because we released three books this year, and last year released zero, which is a really stupid idea of us. Right? You really would rather be releasing a book or two a year, instead of three in one year and none the year before. But that's how things played out.

Question: Your fan interaction through Magic: The Gathering and airport book signings: planned, or more like luck?

Brandon: It's a little of both. The signing in airport thing, I lucked into. I just started doing this, and then the Twitter response was so amazing. I'm like, "Well, I've got to get things to hide in these." People were buying tickets and going through and buying books, and then getting their tickets refunded to go in and get these books. And so, I'm like, "My goodness, I've gotta do stuff with this." And so now I hide little goodies in there–nothing amazing, though. But they're fun, they're just little things.

And I started doing the Great Hunt, which I did for the Wheel of Time, which if you aren't familiar, this is where I hide something in the books in the airport that has a code on it. We're going to do this for Steelheart, actually–my next book. There are going to be these cool things that we printed off just for Steelheart–I'm not going to tell you what they are, but they're awesome goodies. I'm going to hide them in books–not just in airports but around–and then they'll have a code on the back. And the code will take you to a password-protected part of my web site, where you get a free story. And the more codes that get inputted, the more content will unlock on that page. Then on your little code it'll say, "You can share this with your friends, don't post it online, but you can direct message people." So, just keep the fun going. And so anyone who finds this can then share it with all their friends, and they can go read the story. And when you find yours, you'll be able to post a message on the board the first time you put in the code, and then everyone else who puts in the code can just see the stuff. More of them will unlock, and it's going to be this fun thing that we can do together. And this is just completely accidental.

Magic: The Gathering actually came about because of Jim Butcher. Jim Butcher LARPs with his fans. And he was telling me once that this LARPing thing–it was wonderful because when you go to a signing, it's all so kind of formal, and people get like a couple seconds to talk to you. And everyone's like . . . awkward–you're awkward, they're awkward. He said, "I found that doing something that was just my nerd hobby allowed for a natural interaction." I thought, "That is awesome. I want to do something like that." And I've always been a Magic: The Gathering addict, and so I just started playing Magic at cons, but because of Butcher's advice. And it's been great because even people who don't play Magic know that during that time, you can come talk to me. And it's not going to be me across the table. It's going to be me shuffling my cards and geeking out because I drew a mythic or something like that.

Question: Brian McClellan (the Powder Mage trilogy) was a student of yours. Why is it that you recommend his writing so frequently?

Brandon: You know, when I read his very first story–he wrote this cool thing, I hope he posted it online somewhere–it was a novella he wrote for my class the first year. You get so many authors through the class that sometimes you start forgetting them–most of the time, honestly, I get so many. But once in a while, a person comes along and their writing is just amazing. And at that point, I shift from the mode of "I'm going to help you become a better writer" to the mode of "you’re already doing all the stuff I'm talking about, you just need to know the business side now." And Brian was one of those. I can't take any credit for his writing because it was already awesome.

And he wrote this wonderful story about these paragons in the world. It was our world plus, where people get chosen as paragons as like a religion . . . it was so cool. There's like an ancient Greek paragon next to a Christian paragon that's based on kind of . . . anyway, it's great. You ought to have him post on it. It was the best thing I had had come through the class in a long while. It's a mixture of a lot of things. Mostly, I talk about the grand scale of being a fantasy writer is being able to, in the first few pages, get across a sense of character and world without dumping paragraphs of thick text on us. And that is the best–if someone can learn to do that, if you can pick it up and read it, and read a few pages and feel like you're in the world and character, but you haven't been dumped on–that's what Brian was doing. Also, the premise was awesome, the premise was great. But you know, it's that character voice. And it's weird because in fantasy, right, it's our magic systems and our worldbuilding that distinguishes us. But a great magic system and terrible writing is a bad book. And a weak magic system with great writing is a great book. And so even though this is what it's about, the skill that a writer really needs to learn is not the magic systems or not the worldbuilding–that's great. The skill is telling a powerful character in a different world from ourselves without making you feel like you're reading a history textbook. And Brian did that.

So, there you go . . . so you guys should read the book. I just finished it–I read it late. This is what a bad teacher I am, right? He gets published, I read the book a year later. It came out in April and I finished it in June, but he gave it to me . . . It's really just good, it's fun, it's great. So, I should have read that earlier. But Brent Weeks was on the ball, and he got a cover blurb. So yeah, Brent took care of us.

Question: What do you get out of doing your Writing Excuses podcasts?

Brandon: So what do I get out of it? I get to be part of the community. I went to my very first convention when I was seventeen. It was held in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I was growing up. I'd never been to a sci-fi con before, and Katherine Kurtz was the guest. And I wanted so badly to be a writer, but I knew nothing about any of this. I chatted with her for a good 45 minutes about being a writer. She sat down with me and chatted with me, and it blew my mind. She's a best seller, she was top of her game. And it was so inspiring to me. And later on, Lee Modesitt did the same thing. Robin Hobb did the same thing. When I started coming to the conventions, I would say, "I want to be a writer. I have no idea what to do." And they'd say, "Sit down, kid." And they would start telling me stuff, and I try to regurgitate it on Writing Excuses. The thing to remember, guys, if you listen to the podcast, remember that everything we talk about is a tool you can try. It is not the method, because there is no method. Keep that in mind. But I'm trying to just be part of this. Writing is so solitary that when you can have a community and be part of one and chat with people, it's wonderful.

Reddit: Some final online questions from /r/fantasy . . .

Question (read by Brandon): One more. It says, "How is it going with Words of Radiance?"

Brandon: Ah, yeah. It's going. It will meet the March deadline, this one. The reason it got delayed just was a couple of things, mostly that this year has been so busy for me. I wanted to give the book the time it needed, we needed time on the art. I just turned in the first chunk of the next draft to my editor. It looks our deadline to turn it in is November 1st, and that's what we’re going to want to do, is bring the last draft to be copy edited then. So it's going all right.

Question (read by Brandon): "A bit of a different question: I've been trying to write a fantasy story for a few months now, but I have a chronic procrastination tendency."

Brandon: Yeah, so we kind of all do.

Question (read by Brandon): "I've tried to write, but I think I've written about five lines so far. It's pretty ridiculous, I know. It's just very hard for me to do."

Brandon: Understood.

Question (read by Brandon): "Have you done something similar in the past, and/or do you know any writers that just have the utmost trouble with actually writing something? It's not about a writer's block, where you don't know what to write. It's more along the lines of a cringing feeling you get when you try to write. It just does not feel right even though you want to. Would love to hear from you."

Brandon: Okay, this is perfect. This is a great question, okay? Here's the thing. You are in the unenviable position in that you know good writing, and you're trying to write right now. This is unenviable because when I started, I was stupid. I was a teenager, and I was not a very good reader or a very good writer. I had just discovered fantasy novels, and kind of found myself in them, and I started writing. And I had the sense of everything I did was awesome because I couldn't recognize good writing. I could, deep down, but I couldn't, you know . . . I thought everything I did was awesome. I didn't get embarrassed by my writing. A lot of people do, especially if they have a better eye for editing and a better eye for writing.

What you've got to remember is writing is like any other art. You don't start off doing it the right way. It's more like playing the piano than you would think. And when you sit down to play the piano for the first few times, you're not going to be very good. You've got to push through, anyway. You've just got to write. Get a notebook, go outside, go away from the computer so you can't self edit, and sit down without any distractions and try writing longhand–that works for some people. But remember, you are not writing the perfect book, you are training yourself to write the perfect book. Just like an artist has to train himself to be an artist. Just like a baseball player has to train himself to hit the baseball. And in the future, you will get to the point that you will know how to swing at this baseball naturally. And you don't know that yet. Right now you're missing with every swing, and you recognize it. But you just have to put your dues in. You just have to work hard. You have to be willing to suck at this long enough to get good at it. All right? And you can do it, you gotta go for it. Okay?

Brandon: All right, I think that's all the questions there, and I've got to get running. So, thank you guys very much. Hopefully you enjoyed this, and best of luck with your writing, guys.

Reddit: Thanks to Hugo Award winning author Brandon Sanderson!