Brandon Sanderson: Fantasy Writing Lectures

I’ve been watching a series of lectures by fantasy author Brandon Sanderson on the craft of writing with the focus on the fantasy genre. These lectures took place at BYU. Whether you write fantasy or not, much of the writing advice applies to all stories.

I’m working my way through them, but what I’ve learned so far is:

  • I’m a chef, not a cook.
  • Conflict connects characters, setting and plot.
  • Everyone must be good at something.
  • Yes, but; no, and.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow is the perfect character who is incompetent, yet highly proactive, and that’s what makes him (and SpongeBob) interesting and entertaining.

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Supporting Characters Who Stole the Show

When we set out to write a story, we know which characters are the main characters, the ones readers will cheer and invest emotions in. That is until books are turned into movies and actors cast to play supporting characters do such a tremendous job, they steal the show from main characters.

Did you know the main characters in Pirates of the Caribbean were Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner? Jack Sparrow was a supporting character . . . until he stole the show.

Did you know Phil Coulson was only a supporting character in The Avengers. Writers thought it was okay to kill him off . . . until fans rattled their cage to have him resurrected.

The same happened in Thor: The Dark World. They killed Loki, then realised he was too big a character to knock off, and they had to bring him back. He was supporting Thor, but we know how that went down with Loki fans.

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Critical Drinker Inspires a Wins vs Losses List

Shortly before Christmas, I stumbled upon the Critical Drinker, a YouTube critic mostly of films, but he critiques books at times, too. The Drinker is Will Jordan, author of Redemption: Ryan Drake 1. I’ve watched several of his videos for both the entertainment and insight in to how movies were constructed or, in many cases, how they were poorly constructed. As a writer, he comments on character development, plot and other aspects of story building.

His dissection of the three recent Star Wars movies is brutal. I am a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy – Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – and his critiques tell me the new movies are ones I never want to see. In fact, they should be burnt. The stories trampled over our heroes of the past and are extremely disrespectful to their legacy. While I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was, I had an inkling of what was to come.

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The Over-used Trope for Character Development

Over the weekend, I watched Good Will Hunting. No, I’ve never seen the movie before even though it was released in 1997. That was the year I was working 40 hours a week at a garden centre, giving birth to my first child and settling into a new house, so I didn’t watch much of anything.

Throughout the movie, I was waiting for the inevitable. I say inevitable because many of the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched the past 20 years have used death to jolt the main character out of their ‘destructive’ daze and into change for the better. I’ve seen it so many times, I can often pick which character will be sacrificed for the good of character development. If it’s a character I’ve invested emotion in, I pull back before the death, knowing it’s coming. If I’m unaware, it feels like a betrayal by the writer.

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Writing Characters Who are Consistent in Actions

A book I finished reading a few days ago has stayed on my mind; I can’t shake it. Not because it was a great story. It was an okay story. I’d rate it 3 of 5 stars. I seldom rate anything 5, so 4 is what I rate a book I really enjoyed reading.

The book is not stuck in my mind because it contained a life-changing message. It’s not because it made me think of the world from a different perspective.

The reason I can’t shake the book from my thoughts and why I can’t help but analyse characters in my novels is because of character consistency. I can accept a lot of twists, but my mind is tripping over the main character, let’s call her Jill, in this story. Here’s a brief description.

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Chemistry Between Characters

I was reading reviews last week for a book on Amazon. One of the main complaints by readers was there was no chemistry between the main characters who met and fell in love in the novel.

That got me thinking about my characters. Is there chemistry between them, particularly those in love? I didn’t take chemistry in high school, so it’s a subject I know little about. However, I did take years of physics, biology and astronomy, so I understand the law of attraction, friction, biological similarities, procreation and out of this world relationships.

When it comes to chemistry, I feel lost, unable to say if my characters have it because I am so close to them and I can’t define it. I can see chemistry between actors. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have great chemistry in the Thor movies. But what does that mean exactly? They have a come back for every line the other says? They work well together? They play off their shared past experiences?

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What is Your Character’s Favourite Food?

Biscuits and Cranberry Jam
Homemade cranberry jam on my homemade biscuits.

I read an article last week about character flaws and quirks. Every one should have them unless it’s a nameless character there for one line.

This got me thinking about my characters and their quirks. I love quirks because we all have them, and they make us unique. My characters also have their favourite unique food they like that might not be liked by the average individual. I think everyone has this, too, so it goes well in a story.

I love cranberries, and I’ve eaten cranberry sandwiches for as long as I can remember. All through school—all 13 years—I’ve eaten these sandwiches for lunch. While many classmates in high school bought their lunch at the cafeteria, I brought a bagged lunch with, you guessed it, cranberry sandwiches. It was my thing. When I started working, the main item in my lunch was that sandwich. (PS: I’ve never had a urinary tract infection.)

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