By popular demand, I am reposting these lecture notes given by Brandon Sanderson of last year.
Hello, my readers, I’ve got quite a gift to share with you today. The other week, I watched Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 lectures on creative writing. The whole playlist runs several hours, but I’ve put together a concise list of tips that I found helpful. Enjoy.
(Note, the lecture # is just how I organized the notations, not which lecture videos they relate to.)
Lecture 1: On Writing
- Always chase publication and book writing with a passion, but don’t be attached to it.
- Just enjoy telling stories.
- Try things, if they don’t work, try something else.
- Pantsiers vs plotters; both work.
- Know when to ignore the rules or the professionals.
- With experience, you gain intuitive writing ability.
- Make good habits for writing consistently. (This tip I bolded for emphasis)
Lecture 2: Plot and Character
- Plot, character, and setting are glued together by conflict.
- Setting is the least important of the three.
- Stories make promises.
- Introduction shows the promises.
- Remember to detail a character’s desires and goals.
- Indicate what kind of plot the story is about.
- Plot expansion twists can work.
- Check out the Hero’s’ journey by Joseph Campbell
Lecture 3: Plot and Character II
- Start the intro fast and explosive.
- Sympathize the audience with your protagonist ASAP.
- Multiple POV cast is a double-edged sword. It is good for variety, but readers will polarize towards certain characters and dislike others.
- Subverting expectations and promises isn’t a good idea.
- Exceeding expectations can make some subversions tolerable.
- Escalate rather than undermine expectations.
- Satisfying endings are better than a twist.
- Writers’ block solution: don’t stop writing, finish the story.
- Epistularies at start of chapters is a viable strategy.
Lecture 4: Magical Systems and Worldbuilding
- Sanderson Law One: your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.
- Soft magic: unknown cost or outcome of a magic.
- Sanderson Law Two: flaws and limitations are more interesting than powers.
- Sanderson Law Three: before adding something new to your magic or setting, see if you can instead expand what you have.
- Use world building in service of character and story building, not solely for showing off or building a world.
- Use more concrete methods through the eyes of the characters to worldbuild.
Lecture 5: Characters, Dialog, and Humor
- Characters as living tools to tell your story, the plot’s message.
- Establish empathy between characters and readers.
- Show others characters liking them.
- Establish motivation: show something they want, but can’t have. Connect personal desires of a character to the plot.
- Show character progress. How are they going to change? Show flaws or the journey taken.
- Characters ruled by: likability, proactivity, competence.
- Iconic hero does not change during the course of a story.
- Flaws: things to be overcome.
- Handicaps: the character does not have control over these.
- Quirks: things that make the character imperfect, but unique.
- Don’t write characters to a role.
- Avoid bland monologues.
- Dialog should convey likability, proactivity, competence, character arc, motivation, and humor.
- Dialect: is a personal choice, but less is better.
- Use dialog beats to slow down scene to focus on subtext.
- Telepathy: italics with ‘said’ tag, but up to author’s choice.
- Women in the Refrigerator: characters (especially female) killed off, tortured, or raped to further the plot or protagonist’s arc.
- Killing a character properly fulfills an arc, or it is the direct cause of the character’s choices.
- Wikipad, Dropbox, Hemingway are good programs to use.
- Humor is difficult and subjective.
- Comic drops to cut tension and induce humor.
- Comic juxtaposition: contrasting qualities to create humor.
- Repetitious scenario can create humor.
- Rule of three cycles of humor with gradual escalation.
Lecture 6: Publishing Traditionally and Indie
- Agents take 15% publishing profit, but do a lot of the business work.
- Query letter->synopsis–>sample chapters->full manuscript.
- Vanity press charges money to publish your novel. Stay away from them and agents who funnel to them.
- A good agent will never charge you money.
- Book offers with loan advances 10-20k for new authors split between costs.
- The bigger the advance budget for publishing a novel, the better the publisher push.
- Editors want to help you improve the story and make suggestions.
- You can pay back advance and cancel contract if you change your mind.
- Indie published authors get 70% of profit.
- Platform writing via blog posts or website is important to have an online presence.
- Need a good cover for your novel (300-500$ suggested).
- Also need good copyediting (0.007-0.009cents per word suggested).
- Content edits (0.012-0.015 cents per word).
- Proofreading (0.003 cents per word).
- Cross author promotions with other authors is a good idea.
- Mailing lists like Mailchimp are important to form an audience and fan base.
- Recommended Amazon price for epub novels is 2.99 to $9.99.
- Be wary of scams or vanity presses.
- Amazon is now a pay-to-play for advertising ebooks: thousands of dollars a month to advertise.
- 10-15% of cover contract for Hardcover sales.
- 6-8% of cover Paperback sales.
- 10% of cover Tradepaper sales.
- As a traditionally published author, you want advances that you can earn out in a couple of years.
- Indie publishing undercuts markets.
- Less $ for lower word count, more $ for higher on indie publishing.
- Book signing to improve reputation and make connections, but it is a lot of work and money to pay for travel, rent, etc.
- Sales within first week is significant, especially for best seller list.
- Niche genres: mashing two genres together.
- Free short stories do work to promote for indie publishers, but not for profit.
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks for reading!
—Ed R. White