Monday, June 30, 2008

BYU WIFYR #8: Brandon Sanderson

BYU WIFYR #8: Brandon Sanderson, “Fantastic Fantasy: Making Worlds and Settings that Feel Alive”

[Note: I almost didn't go to this session because I don't think of myself as writing fantasy. But I'm really, really glad I did because it has got me thinking a new direction that has led to some breakthroughs on my novel. Very, very helpful session.]

Treat your setting like it is a character. It will interact with characters. It will change their actions and reactions. It should have quirks like characters.

A good setting should have Quirks, Conflict, and Blend of familiar and strange.

Conflict: look for places of intersection. Points of conflict in that setting are places to position characters. That provides plot.

Blend: something familiar with strange: “My Fair Lady meets Jackie Chan” “Pigs in Space”

Examples of elements that you could make strange:
1. Religion. What about a religion that worships handicapped people? What if deaf was considered best?
2. Economy. What is it based on? (Dune=spice. Farland=gifts.)
3. Government.
4. Gender.
5. History.
6. Geography.

Once you come up with two or so new concepts, start interconnecting things. These things influence character and plot. Example: Since, in Dune, spice is center of economy, it becomes center of religion.

There’s a continuum of magic, with rule-based on one end and wonder-based on the other. (Wonder-based means that the characters themselves don’t really understand the magic. Example: Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Earthsea.)

Rule based: characters understand it and, knowing the rules, can use it. They use the magic to manipulate things and solve problems.

Your ability (as author) to use magic to solve problems is directly proportional to how well the reader understands the rules behind the magic.

1. ability: what is it?
2. Cost: what is the price of this? (example: after using magic, character is “stupid” for a period of time)
3. Visuals: how can I describe it in interesting ways?
4. Limitations. (Most interesting! Example: boy can fly, but only when in the company with his brother)


William Morris said...

Brandon also does a fantastic weekly podcast on writing with Howard Tayler and Dan Wells called Writing Excuses.

Some of the shows are only applicable to those writing sci-fi/fantasy/horror. But most are great for writers of any type of fiction. Well worth checking out -- and they're short. Just 15 minutes long.

Zina said...

When I read the first three Harry Potter books several years ago, that was one of the first things that intrigued and pleased me -- the way that having magic didn't solve everyone's problems, the way it had to be managed/learned, the way it created its own problems.

Diana Wynne Jones has some fascinating ways of dealing with magic, too (as well as some intriguing settings.)

I think you're smart not to talk in specifics about your book (I like what J K Rowling says about how she never did that since it would tap her energy away from the writing) but when it's ready for an audience I'll be eager to read it.

Alex said...

"Character X died from.." is a spoiler! No, no! Story secrets need to be kept.

I'm delighted that you are against bashing an author (or at least, Meyer). Frankly, in my book, author bashing reeks of.. a lot of bad things that all implicate the basher is not creatively fulfilled.

Maybe that isn't fair.

Best with your writing. Shoot me a note when you have a draft please.

Darlene said...

Hey, Alex, thanks for visiting. I'm racking my brain to figure out who you are. Have we met? I'd love to shoot you a note when I have a draft . . . How?

Darlene said...

I think that would be "wracking" my brain. Would it? Is wrack a word? Hmmm, I'm unwithit today.