Brandon Sanderson Lecture 2020 Notes

Bestseller Brandon Sanderson

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.
  • Promise–>progress–>payoffs.
  • 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

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