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Back in May I posted about the Brandon Sanderson lecture series. Well it is underway! I'm in a 6-person group and we just had our first submissions today. To stir up discussion when we haven't been writing, I decided to summarize the lectures as they are released (we'll see how long this lasts lol). I did find it very useful and realized that one of my stories that I'm currently working on really needs some world-building.

His class is sci-fi/fantasy focused, but still contains useful advice for any writer.

If you'd like to view the original videos, they are at YouTube under the Write About Dragons account. Be warned that Lecture 2 does have some random blue line problems, but since Brandon's handwriting is basically illegible, you're better off listening to it anyway.

Info dumps need to be unobtrusive and in-character.

Every book - especially fantasy - has a learning curve.

Gradual learning curves: You need to get your reader immersed in your world without overwhelming them with jargon. YA and Middle-Grade books generally have shallow learning curves.

Steep learning curve: Books that that throw a lot of names, places, and things at you right away and you either sink or swim. Brandon names Steven Erickson's books and Moby Dick as examples.

How to set up your worldbuilding:

Be wary of cliche. Brandon notes that most fantasy readers are well-read in the genre, so if you use a common cliche (he uses the rural village kid exploring the world as an example), then your readers might not stick with the story. Readers want a blend of familiar and strange.

Summed up advice on what to write: Find what you like to read and write that.

Brandon starts his world building with two major sections: physical setting and cultural setting.

Physical: all the cool stuff about your world that would be there if people weren't involved. Examples: Elements of geography, flora and fauna, weather patterns, topography, day and night cycle, what type of star is your planet orbiting, how many days in the year, climate.

Cultural: All the stuff that exists because people are involved. Examples: Religion, race relations, customs, history, politics, language, social structure (castes), government, gender roles, food, fashion, economy, occupations, pop culture, pets, etc.

Magic or tech is the third sub-section depending on your genre.

Magic is going to be a divisive subject for some of you, depending on what kind of story you're writing. The "Tolkien" kind of magic used in Lord of the Rings cannot be explained using the following rules. There are other books like this, and Brandon notes that in general, these books with this kind of "mystical" magic have human character-centric solutions instead of a magical solution.

Sanderson's laws of magic (you can read his essays on his laws on Brandon's website):

1) Your ability as a writer to solve problems in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands the magic.

2) Limitations are more important than powers. (aka magic should have rules. I've actually had a friend who told me that Brandon's books feel more like science fiction to her because of the almost "technological" way that his magic works)

3) Everything influences everything.


Showing versus telling:

If you can "show" all of the setting stuff above without telling, your writing will be much better.

Dialogue is inherently more interesting to a reader than bricks of description. work setting stuff into conversation, but avoid "maid and butler" tropes.

In-character thoughts. I.e. If your protag meets a new person and thinks "I hate redheads", that's automatically better than describing the new person in exposition as a redhead.

Focusing your story:

Avoid world-builders' disease, unless you want it: What does that mean? Don't plan your setting for 17 years before you write your story, unless that's what you are planning to do, ala Tolkien and Erickson. Don't fall into world-building disease accidentally.

You want to worldbuild enough for the story you are trying to tell.

Look at the list of setting examples and pick a few to focus on. That's how you can get an interesting mix of familiar and strange. (i.e. Ender's Game is the underdog sports story but in space.) Focus your efforts on making these few things interesting and unique and you'll get more mileage out of your worldbuilding. If your world is similar enough to our own to not be worth mentioning, focus on your characters.