Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Practice. Don't worry about anything other than finding time to write—then spend that time on your stories. Publishing shouldn't worry you; nothing should. Just practice.
Indeed, I cannot underscore enough the value of belonging to a good critique group. I would also offer up Brandon's Laws (again from Wikipedia):
"Sanderson's First Law is that "An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic." While originally created as a rule for magic systems in fantasy novels, Sanderson has specified that this law need not apply just to fantasy, but is also applicable to science fiction. This Law was originally defined in Sanderson's online essay "Sanderson's First Law". In the essay he qualifies the two extremes of design as being:
1. Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands. As a result, one can use this to solve conflict more easily as the capabilities are cleanly defined. Sanderson classifies this as "Hard Magic". C.L. Wilson in her essay "Worldbuilding 101 — Making Magic" advocated this method of creation, stating, ". . . create your rules, then follow them."
2. Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to deus ex machina decreases. Sanderson classifies this as "Soft Magic". Lawrence Watt-Evans specifically advised "The trick is to be a benevolent and consistent deity, not one who pulls miracles out of a hat as needed."
Sanderson's Second Law is "Limitations > Powers", that a character's weaknesses are more interesting than his or her abilities. It was initially set down in Episode 14 of the podcast Writing Excuses. John Brown, likewise looked to Sanderson's work in his own essay involving magic systems, noting "What are the ramifications and conflicts of using it?" Patricia Wrede likewise noted several issues on this topic ranging from magic suppressing other technologies, to how a magic might affect farming. In explaining the second law, Sanderson references the magic system of Superman, claiming that Superman's powers are not what make him interesting, but his limits, specifically his vulnerability to kryptonite and the code of ethics he received from his parents.
Sanderson's Third Law is that a writer should "Expand what you already have before you add something new."
Sanderson's Last Law is that a good magic system should be interconnected with the world around it. Sanderson points out that magic does not take place in a vacuum. It is related to the ecology, religion, economics, warfare, and politics of the world it inhabits. The job of the author is to think farther than the reader about the ramifications of the magic system. If magic can turn mud into diamonds, that has an effect on the value of diamonds. Sanderson states that readers of genre fiction are interested not just in the magic system but how the world and characters will be different because of the magic."
How do you imagine all this magic? Tell us briefly of your rules of magic.
Seven or eight years ago, I was thinking about what I love in fantasy. My love of the fantasy genre is this sense of another world that really couldn't, but for a while, we pretend that it could. With a science background, (I started my academic life as a chemist) I like to imagine worlds where our fundamental laws of physics don't apply but other fundamental laws of physics do. And so, for me, I like "magic" to be a new branch of physics that only exists in these worlds. That sounds a little sterile. It's more sterile than I wanted to sound because I think science has this wonder to it, and as you discover and you learn, there's this beautiful sense of discovery.
It's where the great discoveries of our age is happening and scientific. I love particularly the era at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. The feel the people had for science back then—I often find myself writing in my books during a similar era, an age you might call an enlightenment. That's really the Renaissance, a little post-Renaissance age of industry where people are discovering that the magic follows rules and laws.
I have rules for myself about how to write my magic systems and these are really just storytelling rules. I call them Sanderson's Laws. I can't really go into depth in an article here. (I've done essays on them, you can Google them.) But they're really writing advice to myself. I call them Sanderson's Laws, not because I think everyone should follow them, but they are laws I follow myself.
They have to do with things like properly laying the foreshadowing for my magic so the reader understands what it can do and looking and exploring the different aspects of what a magic can do rather than adding a ton of new powers. Taking one power and setting (to see) if I can really explore it in its depth, things like that.
Sanderson's Three Laws of Magics:
1) An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
2) Limitations > Powers (i.e. "Superman is not his powers. Superman is his weaknesses.")
3) Expand what you already have before you add something new.
In the years leading up to and during his time concluding The Wheel of Time series, Sanderson developed three Laws of Magics for the fantasy genre. He's been quick to point out on his blog that the laws merely serve as "guidelines" for his own writing, but his insight is revolutionizing the traditional approach to fantasy writing.
Literature has a history of ignoring rules when it comes to magic—it is magic, after all. But the 21st century is cultivating a new breed of reader who doesn't take magic for granted. Sanderson's laws appeal to their desire to understand how Dorothy's ruby slippers transport her between worlds and why the Phial of Galadriel shines brighter when used by Sam vs. Frodo. From allomancy to surgebinding, the magic systems in Sanderson's novels are both incredibly original and comprehensively detailed.
Beyond his penchant for establishing unique systems of magic in multiple worlds, Sanderson has a tendency to dream astronomically.
"At some point," Sanderson says, "I was inspired by Michael Moorcock's Multiverse and the way Isaac Asimov eventually connected his Foundation novels and robot novels, to write a 'stealth' series into the background of my novels." Enter the Cosmere.
An entire universe distinct from our own, the Cosmere consists of 10 (and counting) planets with autonomous magic systems, geographic characteristics and storylines. All of Sanderson's novels (excluding his YA and The Wheel of Time titles) exist within the Cosmere, but each planet's book(s) can be read independently of the others. In simpler terms, Sanderson has subtly connected everything—so subtly, in fact, that only one character is granted the ability to travel between worlds.
Hoid, the world jumper and mysterious fan favorite, appears in every Cosmere-set novel. But don't plan on always recognizing him; the intelligent trickster favors disguises. And, to be honest, no one besides Sanderson understands Hoid's significance at this point.
"I have said before that choosing a favorite [character] is a tough question," Sanderson says. "Very tough. I'll have to say Hoid, but I can't say why without giving spoilers."
How much time do you usually spend on creating a magic system?
It really depends on the book, the length of the story, and how integral to magic is to that particular story. Some are as fast as a couple of days; some take months and months. It is also difficult to answer this question because I spend a lot of time thinking about a book before writing, and the Magic is often part of that. I will often spend years with an idea growing in the back of my mind before writing—and in those cases, the actual "outlining" may take a month, but that doesn't begin to cover the time spent on the idea.