Brandon Sanderson Lecture #9 – Characters Part 1

Overview – The meat of the lecture is at the beginning. The rest is multiple examples of excellent characters and undesirable characters. The last part of the lecture is a Q&A session. I enjoyed the entire lecture, but it is very hard to take notes after the beginning. This would be a lecture to watch multiple times.

What the purpose of Character is? Elements of your story. How to make readers care about your characters.

  • Establish empathy
    • Likeability
      • Showing like us
      • Nice
      • Show people liking them
  • Establish rooting interests
    • Motivation
    • Why can’t they have it (spiral into limitations, flaws)
    • Personal connection to plot
  • Establish a sense of progress with character
    • Flaw they have
    • Character journey
    • Mystery
    • What are they going to change?

A one note character that stays the same will get tiresome.

Character arc is super important.

Character quirks are good, but better if they relate somewhat with the plot.

Do not write a character to be a role. Every character should see themselves as the main character, even if they are not.

  • Motivations vs. Goals
    • Goals once accomplished, story over. Goals can shift.
    • Motivations can continue.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.


Brandon Sanderson Lecture #8 – Worldbuilding Q&A

Note: I’ve been putting off watching this video for far too long. I’m not sure why, but I have an aversion to Q&A lectures. Time to bite the bullet and quit procrastinating.

Overview – Brandon tries to answer multiple questions and since he only has about an hour, he talks very quickly. So it’s a bit hard to follow along. Luckily, someone on the YouTube page provided links to the relevant portions of the questions. For the most part, I think I could have skipped this lecture. At least if I ever need to review a certain point, it will be easy to quickly get there. Next lecture is the one I’m really looking forward to which is Character.


  • 1:38 – “What flaws do you (Sanderson) have, that make you a better writer?”
  • 4:54 – “How do you create a magic that doesn’t seem like magic?”
  • 6:11 – Internal vs. external consistency/logic
  • 10:30 – Goes back to explain how internal vs. external logic plays into creating a magic system, that doesn’t seem like magic.
  • 11:56 – “How do we give enough exposition to make the reader understand the world, but maintain mystery and twists?”
  • 17:28 – “Do you change or modify rules based on the age of the intended reader?” + “Do you, while you’re writing, ever change your rules?” (Tbc. at 24:26, after the question below)
  • 23:13 – “Do you ever have publishers or editors try to have you put more graphic content in?”
  • 26:02 – Follow-up question from one of the students: “My central character is eight years old. What is the danger with that? Why don’t we see more adult books with child protagonists?”
  • 29:05 – “This is back to the internal/external logic. What do you do if there’s a case where they may conflict? How do you choose which one is better?”
  • 32:56 – “Is there a way to see hard magic disguised as soft magic in a book?”
  • 35:37 – “How do you prevent world building from feeling like a chore?”
  • 40:38 – “What’s my (Sanderson’s) opinion on fanfiction?”
  • 41:34 – “How do you know if your magic system works?”
  • 45:54 – “I’d love to screen write for animation. Any tips?”
  • 48:02 – “Is editing fantasy/sci-fi a good backup plan?”
  • 52:39 – “How can you make limits or weaknesses appear natural and not contrived?”
  • 56:58 – “What does Brandon think of The Mandalorian?”
  • 58:52 – “Are Sanderson’s Laws absolute?”
  • 59:45 – “How do you decide that you need to add some new magic, and how do you add it smoothly without turning it into a deus ex machina/making it feel out of nowhere?”
  • 1:04:47 – About revision

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #7 – Short Stories with Mary Robinette Kowal

This video that introduced me to the world of Brandon Sanderson. I did a review of it earlier this year. You can find it here. This time around, I’m not going to do notes. Instead I’m going to attempt to write a short story using the guidelines that Mary sets forth. For each part of the story, she gives you just a few minutes to write it. Not much time at all, so I’ll have to be on my “A” game. No telling how good or bad the story will be, but it will be interesting to try it. I’ve set a timer on my phone for each part. Here goes:

Nick the engine jockey cursed under his breath at the weight of the diamond core engine he needed to tote to the star coaster engine bay.

Getting it down the ladder safely was going to be tricky. The anti-grav unit was on the fritz yet again, sparking angrily every time he tried to turn it on.

Nick grabbed a hoist and hooked it to the eyebolt over the ladder. Hooking the end of the chain to the engine, he pulled mightily to lift it. The engine lifted a few inches and then tipped over which is a very bad thing for a diamond core engine. He quickly set it back down on the deck and rolled it upright hoping he hadn’t damaged it.

In a fit of frustration, Nick kicked the anti-grav unit. As he was hopping in pain, the unit came online and lifted the engine. Hurriedly he unhooked the engine from the chain hoist and guided it down the ladder before the anti-grav unit conked out again. He set the engine in place and made the necessary connections. Closing his eyes and hoping the engine wasn’t damaged, he flicked the on switch.

The diagnostics startup flashed on the display screen. No faults! Nick was relieved and hoped that he would never have to replace the engine again.

This story was 219 words which is right in line with the guidance that Mary said we would be doing a 250 word story.

For a quickie story, it doesn’t look to bad to me. What do you think?

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #6 – Worldbuilding Part 2

Overall impression – Tremendous amount of information that is hard to quantify into notes. Lots of nuances. Definitely a lecture that needs to be viewed more than once.

Below is the notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.


Why world building?

  • Impossible made plausible
  • Theme
  • Sense of wonder and/or exploration
  • Sheer coolness
  • Cultural butterfly effect
  • Ability to approach ideas in disconnected way
  • Play God

Worldbuilding in service of story – To enhance the story.

Info dumps/conveying info – avoid encyclopedia entries

Avoid butler/maid dialogue

pyramid of distraction

abstract vs. concrete

How steep is your learning curve to know the world. What is the setting of the story and how does it enhance it.

Divide worldbuilding into two types – Physical / Cultural Pick one from each type to focus on.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

Some Days …

Photo by Mike on

Some days, I don’t feel like writing. Some days, I want to write but am fresh out of ideas.

Today is one of those days.

However, I am being productive as I have finally knocked off one of my “To Do” tasks. I’ve completed the setup of the Storylines page. I’ll be updating it as I continue a series or start new ones.

This is by no means an original idea to setup this page. I saw it over on The Mansionic Perspective by Tom Merriman and pretty much stole the format from him.

Currently I have the following series going:

  • Harmony (Six Sentence Stories)
  • Harry Gruen (Can be read in any order)
  • The Curse
  • Brandon Sanderson YouTube Lectures.

Harry Gruen is about to join the Six Sentence Story this Wednesday (Spoiler Alert)

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #5 – Worldbuilding Part One

Overall impression – At first I almost skipped the worldbuilding lectures as I’m not that into magic. I’m glad I did watch it as the writing process he uses for his fantasy books is also applicable to almost any genre. He explains worldbuilding by using a lot of examples. His second Law sparks a lot of ideas for me. Huge amount of information, I had to take periodic breaks to process what he was talking about.

Below is the notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.


Sanderson’s Laws

  1. Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic. (deus ex machina is a bad thing) – really a law of foreshadowing.
  2. Flaws/limitations/costs are more interesting than powers. – Characterization building.
  3. Before adding something new to your magic (setting), see if you can instead expand what you have. – Bigger is not necessarily better.

Hard magic vs. Soft magic – Hard is rules based, soft is more a sense of awe. Hard magic has consequences that is evident. Soft is also consequence, but hidden.

Sanderson’s Laws are for him to write. Writers can have their own laws for writing.

Avoiding info dumps when explaining magic systems. Use the try it out to explain it.

  • Flaws – Things characters can/need to fix
  • Limitations – Things characters can/need to overcome
  • Costs – Consequences for the characters choices

Dig deeper into a concept and explore the different ramifications of it rather than throwing a bunch of stuff into a book.

Iceberg theory of worldbuilding. Readers see just the tip of the vast worldbuilding the author has done. In reality, that is false. The worldbuilding below the water is hollow.

Sanderson’s Zero Law – Always err on the side of what is awesome. (Ideas)

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

The Curse – Part 4

Photo by Pixabay on

“A long time ago, a comet made a close approach to Earth and the earth passed through the comet’s tail. Shortly after that about 2% of all humans on earth started developing changes in what they could do. Scientists from all over the world started studying why these were happening for a while. They called them the Altered.”

“Is that why we call them Alties?” said the boy.

“I suppose so, boy. It was easier than saying the Altered every time.” I replied.

“Then what happened?” asked the boy.

“At first, everybody was fascinated by all the different things that Alties were able to do. Until the world was plunged into a world war when an eastern European leader developed mind control from being Altered. He was already an evil and twisted man and with this new found power decided he was best to rule the whole world, not just his little section of hell. They called it the Altered war and it lasted over 30 years. Almost all the people that developed any type of change were hunted down ruthlessly and killed. Even the ones that the change didn’t confer any special powers. There was a certain group that their eyes would change color depending on what mood they were experiencing. Those poor fellows were exterminated just like the mind readers, mind controllers, telekinesis and teleports.”

Through this telling, the boy’s eyes just got wider and wider. “Were you there at the beginning?”

“Yes, I was. I fought on the side of the Allies against the Alties.” I replied.

“Why wouldn’t you have fought on the side of the Alties?” he asked.

“I had no idea I was an Alty, until that fateful day when a fanatic Alty jumped into our foxhole and detonated a bomb.”

“How many times have you died?” the boy asked.

“Way too many to count.”

From the kitchen area, the man said, “Tell him what happened afterward.”

“It looked like the Alties were going to win the war, until a General in China launched about 10 nuclear missiles at the leader of the Alties capitol while he was there. After that, it was just a matter of hunting down any and all Alties.”

“I guess the biggest question for me and the boy, is how you have survived?” asked the man.

“Well, I’ve learned over the years to keep a low profile. I keep moving around and changing my name. For the first 100 years, it wasn’t that hard due to the massive upheaval that occurred from the war. Ironically, the war did cause the world to finally come under one government dominated by the old United States of America. This eventually devolved into the State. They said it was to protect everyone from the Altered, which may have been true to a certain extent. Most of the original Altered had died off in the Altered war, but it turns out that almost everyone was affected, they just didn’t know it. They passed on their latent mutation to their kids or grandkids. And that’s why the State scoops up all kids to monitor them in case they have become Altered.”

“So how did you end up on the chain gang?”

     “Simply put, I screwed up and bought fake papers and identity from an undercover policeman. You would think after all these years I would be more careful, but I got lazy. Sentenced to 5 years on the chain gang which the State had instituted 30 years ago.

     The man brought over three plates heaped with beans and cornbread, “Enough talking, let’s eat.” 

     The three of us had the best meal I’ve had in a long time. As night fell, I shook the man’s hand and wished him luck with his son. I thought of the boy at times during my trek north. Knowing the odds were against him. I slowly made my way from South Texas to New Canada. Avoiding towns and people whenever I could. If I couldn’t, then I would act as if I was a homeless bum. This landed me several stints in jail for vagrancy, but I could handle that.      It took over two years to reach the ice pack. By this time, I had developed a tremendous amount of patience. Hard not to when you are immortal. Heading due north using an old-fashioned compass I had stolen in Calgary, I felt the cold seeping into my bones. My feet quickly became numb, but I kept on going. I’m not sure how far I’ve come, but it was days before I could not move another inch. As I lay there on the ice, most of my body had lost all feeling. I hoped and prayed that my Altered state would allow me to be able to completely freeze, including my mind. I don’t know how long I lay there, but it took a very long time. My mind was slowing down and darkness was approaching. Finally I thought, I can be at peace if only my mind would simply quit being alive. This was heaven to me. My last thought? “REST IN PEACE.”

Note: I see now that this section is heavy into info dump. I’ll be putting a rewrite on my to do list.

All current parts of The Curse are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #4 Viewpoint and Q&A

Overall impression – Q&A is pretty interesting, but jumps around a bit as the questions differ, so no real coherent lecture. He briefly goes into Viewpoint but as he only has about 20 minutes, it is really rushed. If you are not familiar with viewpoints and definitions, it is easy to get lost. (I did and know I need to study viewpoints more). I put a link to the podcast in my notes. If you have Audible, it only covers season 16 and part of season 15. I’ll have to download season 11.

Below is the notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.

If you want to go directly to a specific question in the lecture, click the time to the left of the question. It will open up a new tab in YouTube.

  • 0:41 How long is too long for an introduction?
  • 6:49 How do you reverse engineer a story for its parts / Can you give us a master list of all the plot archetypes?
  • 9:42 How can I more effectively nest plots and not make them feel like diversions?
  • 17:25 How can I avoid cliché plot twists?
  • 24:15 Can a story be episodic and still keep you turning the page?
  • 27:27 Does there always have to be a twist?
  • 31:27 How can I tell if it’s my character or my plot that needs to change? Also advice on overcoming writer’s block for newer writers
  • 38:09 How can a very character-driven novel work? Lecture on viewpoints


Intro – sooner you get into story as a new writer the better. Make it as short as possible to achieve your goals for the style of story your telling.

No such list of master plot archetypes. Check this season 11 “Writing Excuses Elemental Genres” podcast.

Nesting plots – make sure the character is interesting and it advances the progress of main plot.

Avoiding cliché plot twists- What is the purpose of this twist. What is the emotional reason. There does not always have to be a twist. An escalation is like a twist, but not.

Viewpoint – 3 standard viewpoints Omniscient, First Person, Second Person.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

The Curse – Part 3

I froze at the sound of the voice coming from behind me. Slowly I turned around expecting to see someone with a gun pointed at me. Surprisingly this was not the case. I tightened my grip on the hammer in case I needed it as a weapon. I couldn’t see him clearly in the dark barn, but he wore an old cowboy hat and had on a long coat.

“You must be one of those two convicts they shot a while back and buried up near the road.”

What could I say? It was obvious that he recognized me. “Yessir, I am. I don’t mean you no harm, I just need to get this shackle off and then I’ll be on my way.”

He turned his head and spat juice at the floor and then nodded, “I think I can help you with that.”

“I appreciate it, but why would you help me? Obviously, I’m an Alty.”

“True, but I’m the type to live and let live. Also I had two kids become Alts and the State executed them. So, I’m not too fond of turning over Alties to the State. From what I can tell, you are the modern day equivalent of Lazarus I suppose.”

I nodded. The man turned to the corner of the barn and opened a cabinet I had missed in my search. He brought out a pair of heavy duty bolt cutters. I looked pointedly at him and then turned my head and stared at the door. He cocked his head for a second and then swiftly reached out and whipped open the door. A young boy stumbled inside.

“Boy! I told ya a hunnert times, do not come out of the house while it is light. Do you want the State to snatch you up and send you to the education camps?”

The boy stammered, “I… I … I just wanted to get a closer look at the Alty. Ever since I saw him come up out of the grave, I’ve been curious. Besides, I looked for patrols before I come out.”

The man shook his head, “That curiosity is what is going to get you skinned alive by the State. They’ll lock you up until you reach puberty to find out if you are one of the Altered and then kill you if you are. Let me get this gentleman’s shackles off and then we’ll sneak up to the house and have dinner. It’s the least I can do.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. It was almost unheard of for anybody to show sympathy to an Alty. The man cut my shackles off and then wrapped the boy under his long coat. He beckoned me to walk near him and we made our way to the house. Once inside, it definitely looked abandoned. Trash strewn everywhere and busted furniture laying here and there. The man led me to the kitchen and opened an old rusty refrigerator. The shelves inside had been busted out. He reached in and up to the corner and I heard a click. Like magic, the back of the refrigerator fell back revealing lighted steps. One by one, we went inside and down into what looked like a one room studio apartment. It had a kitchenette along one wall with a small open pantry. There was a small table with four chairs around it and a sofa along the other wall.

“Sit right down while I get the food ready.”

The boy sat with me and with a wondering look in his eyes asked, “Why does the State hate Alties?”

I paused and wondered what I could tell the boy. The man turned and said, “Go on ahead and tell him everything. I suppose getting it from the horse’s mouth so to speak would be better than the guesses I’ve given him. And speak up, I would like to hear the real history too.”

I cleared my throat and thought for a minute, then I told the story. 

to be continued . . .

All current parts of The Curse are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #3 – Plot Part 2

Overall impression – Lots of info in this segment. He uses Q&A quite a bit to delve into plot styles and plot structure. Very briefly goes into Discovery plotting. Even though I’m mostly a Discovery type writer, it was very interesting to see how to outline and why they work. This lecture should probably be viewed multiple times to get all the nuances as it is a lot of info.

Below is the notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.

Discovery writer vs. Outline writer – Outline writers do more upfront work, Discovery writers do more back-end work.

Outline means summary to editors. 3-5 pages are sufficient. They don’t want to see Heading A, sub-heading 1 etc.

Brandon gives an example of outline for one of his books. It looks like the traditional outline. He has three headings: Character, Setting, Plot.

Building a plot in Outline – Promise, Progress, Payoff. Most important is the Progress. Once you figure out that, then you can figure out correct Promise and make good on the Payoff.

Plot archetype – is not Plot structure (three-act, Hero’s journey) it is a style of plot (what we are trying to achieve) If you are doing a Heist plot, then it becomes handy to read Heist plot type books to see what they did.

When you decide on a plot style, it helps to ask why do people like this plot, why do you love this plot. You have to identify the steps of progress of your plot, otherwise readers will get bored if they don’t see progress.

Brandon goes into detail about various plot styles and why we like them and then figure out how you quantify the steps. Brandon outlines backward, what is the goal. Then how do you get there.

Books must have one central plot archetype to be the glue that keeps it all together.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.