Link to Part 1 of Lecture 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt_7wdsQTow&feature=g-vrec
Part 1 - 16 min 15 sec - What makes a good plot
Part 2 - 21 min 16 sec - Plots by outlining
Part 3 - 13 min 27 sec - Plots by discovery
Part 4 - 18 min 48 sec - YA (Young Adult) genres
Part 5 - 19 min 09 sec - Adult genres
Sanderson’s method of story building:
Combine ideas until you have a story – misty nights + cathedral lights
When he has enough connections – makes story map
- opens document map on the side
- writes plot setting character
- has a document called “cool stuff that has to be used sometime” from which he pulls ideas
- then goes through a process of filling in the holes and patching with brainstorming: setting is most extensive first off; only a few lines about characters
- Sanderson plots backward and right forward
Setting – physical (environment) and cultures (people create)
Different books have different focuses. Don’t think you have to do it all. For one book, you might need a distinctive set of languages, because that’s important for the plot of the book. For another book, you might have everything taking place in the same city, so the culture is homogenous. In some books, you’ll want to world build the religions very deeply, or the science very deeply. You can just be very vaguely aware – whatever your comfort level is. 2-3 hrs worth of brainstorming max.
Building story outlines
- By starting with the coolest moments – character moments, plot moments, scenes
o Then ask – what do I need to have happen in a way to make this fulfilling or satisfying? What things will make this moment more powerful, to really make it shine? List them. What problems need to happen first?
- He usually has a dozen of these things listed out with bullet point under them. So, when he writes a scene, he takes a bullet point from one, combines it with another bullet point from another sub plot, say a mystery, with the next thing that needs to be revealed, here, shake them up, figure out what the best viewpoint and setting would be, then write a scene achieving those goals. He’s a goal-based writer. Once he finishes one, he checks it off, and gets kind of an instinct about which ones he needs to do next.
- Another way to view this is the points on a map philosophy: I’m driving from point A to point B – that I know. Now, where do we want to visit along the way?
- How do you know what won’t work in an outline? You won’t always. But do make sure they have some consistency. Seven out of ten writers don’t put enough ideas in, and some include everything and the kitchen sink.
- Keep direct research to a minimum until you finish the first draft. Kaladin as a field medic – sometimes Sanderson would write things like, “he makes it better.” Because, there is no way to tell if that would be an important part of his character or how much of it he would use. So, initially just do the bare minimum to not sound like an idiot. Then, do more to sound competent enough; then for the last 30%, give it to an expert who can fix the little tiny details.
o Though, some people get really excited about the book through the research. But that is not Sanderson’s process. He doesn’t look to the research for a book he’s trying to tell.
- Sanderson is typically writing one new draft, revising a second, and planning a third – that’s about the most he can do
Discovery writing books
- Keven J. Anderson method: detailed description that you turn into an outline and finally into scenes
- For new writers, try to stick to 2-3 pts maximum and 4 for epic fantasy
- His Alcatraz books were like “whose line is it anyway” – wacky, crazy things that make him laugh, random elements, and then write a book where they all make sense
- The older we get the more we want our silliness and seriousness separated; it’s hard to pull that off for adults unless your Terry Pratchet
- Kids like random element silliness, but adults generally prefer word plays or dramatic irony
- Dialect: metaphors they use, fishing metaphors, words, not Mark Twain style, direct blunt speech, placate people and verbose
- What does the character write most and why can’t they have
Genres and Understanding Audience
Learning to consider audience is very useful, especially when writing for children, which goes up to age 18 and 19. Always talk in word counts, not page counts – that’s how professionals speak, because page counts change depending on the size of the page.
Why is genre important to consider?
It will help place where you will market your book. But there are no rules. There are guidelines that make a book more or less publishable by the standards – every book will break some of them. You must know what they are, so you can chose which ones are important to you in your story, and break them wisely.
Middle grade novel – age 8 to 13/14 – 6th, 7th grade is average – maximum of 55k words
(you can break this, but break it knowing it’s pretty hard to do; attention span is shorter younger; like to use large point, to feel like it’s reading quickly, to give you a sense that it’s a page turner – used a lot in thrillers, NOT epic fantasy). If you compare the average James Patterson to typical epic fantasy, Patterson’s will have more space between the lines and large margins. It’s deceptively long looking.
- Whimsical stories, usually (kids leave our world and go to another world)
- Fun adventure, can be in school or not
- Tend to be 3rd person 65% of time
- They are given to the kids by adults (librarians and parents super influential); edited for content
- 1 viewpoint, relatively simple plot, many take place in “1 day” or “this summer”
- Recurring theme: adults are useless (Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Events)
YA (Young Adult) novel – age 13 to 19ish, upper word limit is a lot more loose, but tends to be around 75k words. Twilight was 120k and still got published (biggest one heard of recently).
- Very frequently, stories set at school, or fantasy land comes to school. Why? Becoming more realistic; school is conflict
- Kids start buying themselves – that changes everything
- Most YA is NOT edited for content (kids in rebellious stage – edginess is big) – can have sex, swearing – though you don’t have to write that; Twilight is edgy is different ways, or like Hungar Games, a very brutal novel
- Recurring theme: adults are untrustworthy. As Harry Potter transitions to YA, it gets edgier, it becomes less whimsical kids in fantasy land and start being boys/girls, main focus of J.K. Rowlings brilliance is her understanding of children, angst, ‘problem novels’
- Keep in mind, you don’t have to do any of this, theme-wise
Generally, I’d say, write the book you want to write first, and don’t worry about these things, but if you can guess what genre it might be in, and can include one of these elements without affecting your story, it’s usually a very good idea.
Examples: later Harry Potter, Percy Jackson
Do note that there are several epic fantasy YA. Probably Ranger’s Apprentice. Fantasy bleeds both young and old. Back in the old days, we started seeing YA divisions come into being. It used to be there was only children’s books and adult. YA happened because teens don’t want to go into the children’s section to get books. As soon as they say, “I’m not a kid,” they’re YA.
Sword of Shannara would probably be targeted at YA more these days.
Epic fantasy – large cast, world building focused, larger than life (worlds at stake), as a new writer shoot for 120-150k words. That may seem short. Elantris was 250k. People were not willing to read Elantris, because it was too big. You can get longer later on when you have an established track record. The reason this is because a book 2x as long is the same price. Also, for new writers, write it as a stand alone, with sequel potential. Don’t stop in the middle, that just kind of ‘ends.’ You want to have a mash tie up ending, but suggests a second book.
“Heroic” fantasy – “dudes with swords,” gritty fantasy, smaller cast usually, examples include Conan (granddad of this genre, or Edgar Rice Burough), The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, R.Scott Baker, David Gemmell, Michael Moorcock, R.A. Salvatore. George R. R. Martin is actually a hybrid between epic fantasy and heroic fantasy, though a little more on the epic fantasy scale and borrowing a few of the tropes from heroic fantasy. Other people have tried it, but no one has pulled it off like he has. These are shorter (80-100k), lots of action or movement (even if it’s a thoughtful book). You aren’t standing around having a lot of political conversations like you can in epic fantasy. Epic fantasy will forgive you for that. Heroic fantasy will not.
Urban fantasy – “chicks in leather kill demons” – sometimes they don’t wear leather, like Buffy. Also called “Dark urban” or “paranormal.” Our world, with a dark underworld; often mystery style plots, really fast paced (70k words, an explosion at the end of every chapter, kind of stuff). Examples: Dresden Files (get a bit too graphic for Sanderson)
Science fiction includes… (on length, shoot for 80-100k range for these…)
*Can go longer, if there’s a good reason. Military almost never does. Space opera can, but Sanderson thinks it is a mistake to do so – every time that Sanderson saw one longer it usually was a bad idea; though, some that are ‘space epic fantasy’ can go longer, like Dune or A Fire Upon the Deep; the hard SF can go the longest, 60k to 200k – whatever the story demands (Sanderson is not even sure what they’re doing).
Military – space marines – YEEEEEAAAAHHHH!!! Can be thoughtful books, tend to revolve around big space battles that are realistic (waiting 15 min for torpedoes to hit because they’re crossing such massive space; have to wait 5 min to find out if they hit for the light to travel back, and stuff like that). Examples: Honor Harrington (bestselling military SF right now); to pull it off well, you kind of have to have a military background or a lot of familiarity with the military
Space Opera – adventures in space! Kind of catch all, not really military (in military, what type of gun they are using is really important. In space opera, it’s just a phaser, and people shoot it and others die). Examples: Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, fun space adventures. If you’re not worried about the hard science fiction or what type of gun you’re shooting, it’s probably space opera.
For some reason, not a lot of people are writing write now. Sanderson’s speculations: SF tends to sell worse than fantasy, so many authors jumped to fantasy. Some people say that during the 90’s all the really serious SF writers moved to writing hard SF, and a lot of the readers didn’t like hard SF, so jumped to fantasy, but there still is some. Examples: Simon R. Green, Timothy Zahn
Another thing you’ll see done is space opera masquerading as military, with a serious mask. Old Man’s War is one example. Maybe, Ender’s Game. Card took the underdogs sports team story put it in space, and nestled it in a military shell.
Hard – written by people with Ph.D.’s – joking but Examples: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Kim Stanely Robinson who wrote Red Mars, the science is very important and should be accurate (extrapolation of if this scientific thing happened, where would it go)
Dystopian – Phillip K. Dick, 1984 style, steam punk and cyberpunk
Understanding what your genre is will help you know who you are writing it for. If you get the officer, enlisted man interactions wrong or the type of gun wrong in military, it will ruin the book for the readers. Space Opera doesn’t care about that. Star Trek doesn’t worry about that. Practically everyone’s an officer accept for Chief O’Brian. He’s just called ‘chief’ because it’s fun. There’s no rules about fraternization. That does not fly in military SF because it’s trying to extrapolate real military people in space. At the same time though there’s this undertone of “space marines – YEEEEAAAAHH!!!” “We’re going in with guns blazing, and we may all get cut to pieces, but YEAAAAHHH!!!” So you have this weird mix of hard SF focus only on the military hardware, and focus on characters going into battle and what not, or if you’re Heinlein, going to school. Starship Troopers is not about starship troopers, it’s about “starship trooper school.”
It’s very useful to go to publish and use as modern author as an example of what yours is like, such as “it’s kind of Joe Abercrombie-ish, BUT it has this cool element of my own.” Very unhelpful to try to re-invent the wheel and explain from the beginning.
David Gemmell made a career or writing books like 300 – armies with gritty men with hearts of gold, standing on a wall and slaughtering each other