Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sanderson, In Person

The Abigail and I just got back from a Brandon Sanderson signing at Borderlands Books. The occasion? The release of The Way of Kings, the first book in Sanderson's new Stormlight Archive series. And boy. Are my legs. Tired.

Actually, that's from our epic quest for Dynamo Donuts. We must have walked for almost an hour. But I digress.

Anyway, I was struck by several things about Brandon Sanderson. Firstly, he's awesome, extremely intelligent, and filled to the brim with geek-charisma and artistic integrity. I know I am verging on dangerous levels of fanboyism here, but I really do think that he and I would be friends, if the circumstances of our lives made that even remotely possible. Secondly, he is a great speaker, and did a good job entertaining his audience (especially once the lemonade showed up - Borderlands in-joke). Finally, Sanderson is a really good writer.

I know it's odd for me to say this after hearing Sanderson speak, as opposed to after, say, reading his books. Sanderson, however, is a rare find, a writer who can talk about his process without sounding pompous, incomprehensible, or both (I'm one of the last, I'm afraid).

Sanderson turns out to be somewhere between a discovery writer and an outliner. For the uninitiated, discovery writers (like myself) are those who prefer to begin with some characters, a premise, and see where things go. Outliners, on the other hand, like to know where they're going before they set out, something they accomplish with (you guessed it) outlines. Also for the uninitiated, discovery writers and outliners are sometimes quite argumentative, as though there were a "right" way to write.

Also for the uninitiated: go. The secrets of Hatanku are not for you. Come back when the elders have judged you a woman grown, and not before.

Anyway, Sanderson says that what he likes to do is start with a rough outline and character notes, but keep an open mind about how his understanding of the story might change. Sanderson's approach really drove home for me that there are very few "pure" discovery writers or outliners. Most of us are somewhere along a continuum, outlining and note writing a little, letting creativity take us here it will a lot (or vice versa).

I was also (possibly most) impressed by Sanderson's dedication to research and verisimilitude in character. The Abigail says that she read somewhere that Sanderson is a Mormon (oh, look, there's confirmation), but when he writes atheists (as he did in Mistborn), he does extensive research about atheist point of views, up to and including spending time on atheist message boards. He goes on similar question quests when writing anyone whose point of view differs significantly from his own. You've got to respect someone who goes to that much trouble to make sure his characters have valid points of view. Love or hate Sanderson's characterizations, there are no straw men in his worlds.

But most of all, I liked Sanderson's style. He's clearly smart, creative, and likes engaging with his fans. I will definitely keep an eye out for more opportunities to meet him in person.

Hopefully by then I'll have finished Sanderson's new book, the one the Abigail and I bought at Borderlands. I mean, seriously, have you seen this thing? Hatanku's hoary hemipenes, it's a doorstop!

Tune in next time for reflections on NaNoWriMo and 100% less hemipenes.

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