Daily Dragon (DD): We’re thrilled to have you back at Dragon Con. What do enjoy most about the con?
Brandon Sanderson (BWS): The sheer vibrancy of it. Some other big cons feel a little…inauthentic. You never get that at Dragon Con. It can be stuffy and crowded, but you don’t feel that you’re being marketed to every step of the way. You feel like you’re here to be part of the fun, more a parcitipant than a spectator. Dragon Con lives in ways that many other similar conventions just don’t.
DD: When can we hope to read book three in The Stormlight Archive?
BWS: I’m about 75% through with it, planning to finish in October, for a release next fall. It’s going really well, so I’m confident of that schedule!
DD: Your protagonists, as well as their compatriots, seem like normal people one might easily meet in real life—relatable, sympathetic, and yet unique. What thought process do you use when creating a protagonist?
BWS: I had real trouble with my characters feeling real early in my writing career. (Before I got published.) It took a long time to get my head around, and I don’t know if there was one “key” breakthrough. One leap forward was learning that while I could outline my plots heavily, I had to give the characters autonomy to grow and develop in ways that might be contrary with what I had planned. And in that case, I’d need to rebuild my story to match who they had become.
Another was the realization that I was stuffing characters into boxes based on their roles. Nobody in real life is only one person, or fills only one role. In fact, we’re all the heroes of our own stories, even if what we do heroically much of the time is support other people. I had to start asking myself what each and every character was passionate about other than the plot. What would they do with their life if they could do anything, and where would that have taken them if the story hadn’t interrupted?
DD: In writing strong female characters without making them cliché or removing their femininity, you display a rare empathy for and understanding of the opposite sex. How do you put yourself so accurately into a woman’s perspective?
BWS: I have trouble with this question, sometimes, as I often feel that I could do better about this. However, I try to listen a lot and read as many different perspectives as I can.
I also blame Anne McCaffrey for this, along with Barbara Hambly, as being the two first fantasy authors I read. (With honorable mention to Jane Yolen and Melanie Rawn.) I learned a great deal from these women in regards to writing all kinds of characters.
Finally, I suggest that people look up the essay “I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougall, as it does a better job than I ever could at explaining why this question sometimes is difficult to answer.
DD: When I read one of your stories, I know I’m in store for surprising twists that I should have seen coming. How do you come up with these twists, and how do you conceal them so well?
BWS: I love good endings, and good twists, and for me a solid outline is essential for this. I have to know where I’m going so that I can properly foreshadow. I often say a writer is like a stage magician, and we employ many of the same tricks. Hiding secrets in plain sight, distracting through the use of what seems obvious or bright and mesmerizing. Also, good readers of my early drafts (find these people thanked at the start of my books) give me a feel for what people are figuring out and when, so that I can tweak reveals.
DD: You always manage to write at least once scene per book that brings tears to my eyes. Do those scenes arise organically, or do you plan them in advance? Which scene had the most emotional impact on you personally?
BWS: I’d say they are half and half. Some are the pivotal moments that make me exited, and make me want to write the book in the first place. Others are outgrowths of the emotional journey I take with the characters, and become increasingly inevitable as I get to them.
I’d say my favorite right now is the ending of the third Stormlight book. Which I can’t tell you about yet…
DD: In The Rithmatist, you’ve combined magic with a light dose of mathematics. What gave you the idea for the book, and how did you approach integrating the diagrams and mathematical concepts while keeping the content interesting?
BWS: I think what the characters are passionate in, to an extent, will draw the reader’s passion—at least if you do it right. In The Rithmatist, the story isn’t about the charts and diagrams—it’s about the character who is fascinated by them. And in the end, you don’t actually have to understand them all as long as you understand Joel. Them being there helps you to make that journey, though. (At least I hope it does!)
DD: At this point in your career, what do you see as your biggest challenge?
BWS: Not getting stale. That’s probably my biggest fear—that I’ll fall into writing the same things over and over, without realizing it.
DD: What are your writing plans for the future?
BWS: To keep at it until I fall dead at the keyboard, and they discover me with my lifeless face having hit the J button ten thousand times.
DD: Thank you so much for your kindness in answering these questions. We hope you had a great time at Dragon Con and will return again next year!