Learning As I Go

I’ve spent this week watching YouTube videos on writing and learning a lot. I decided to start with Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lectures on writing science fiction and fantasy.

The nice thing about YouTube is that I can pause the video and back up to make sure that I heard a concept correctly. Because of this, I’ve managed to watch only two of the lectures in the series. I already have seven pages of notes, all but one from the second session in which Sanderson talks about plot. I heard a lot of useful information in those lectures and can’t wait to hear more.

Here’s a peek at what I learned.

  • There’s no “right” way to write a book. The way one writes a book is as individual as the person writing it.
  • Keep your writing habits consistent. As you write more, you’ll begin to see and understand good writing practices and habits.

I’m not saying that Sanderson is the be-all, end-all of writers because I’m not. To be honest, I haven’t read any of his work, but I am familiar with it. While the tone of his lectures is specific to SF&F, the information is not. Some examples he includes are romance novels and thrillers, not just his own works or fantasy novels specifically.

The introduction also touches on what to say or not say in a critique of someone else’s work. Sanderson’s advice is to tell the author what’s working in the story and what isn’t working. Don’t try to change the story to fit how you might write it, but be descriptive in your emotions as you provide feedback. The trick is to make sure you aren’t suggesting changes to the author’s voice, which is probably much different than your own.

As I listen to the sessions, ideas for, and thoughts about my latest project roll through my head. I have written the part that I consider the Prologue. But where do I go from there? While I’m not out to write an epic, I’ve made promises to my readers in those few pages. As the author, I need to make good on those promises by the time I reach The End.

First, I have to identify those promises based on what I included in the Prologue. The protagonists have adventurous spirits and are athletic. They have a close-knit family who likes to do things together, but a sibling who doesn’t particularly care. They play Dungeons & Dragons. They find an anomaly while exploring. That’s all I know for now, but that is a lot of information in a bit over 1200 words. Next, I need to figure out what happens after.

Sanderson points out that epic fantasy novels and movies (he uses the Star Wars movies as an example) almost always begin with a prologue. The prologue sets up the conditions of the promise that should be delivered by the conclusion. He points out that most prologues have the following elements: Action hero beginning, getting necessary information, then dying before the information can be passed along. Chapter 1 then starts with the “kid on a farm” trope. That got me thinking about the epic fantasy novels I’ve read. Indeed, most of them begin with some kind of action-information-dying prologue followed by the “kid on a farm” first chapter.

What is a plot, exactly? According to Sanderson, it is a promise made at the beginning, progress toward fulfilling that promise, and a payoff at the end. I’ll go into more detail next week.

I’m glad I decided to watch these videos now, at the beginning of a new project. As I listen, I not only take lecture notes, but I’m also jotting down ideas that will propel my thoughts forward, hopefully to The End.

Follow me on Facebook: @jjshaunauthor.

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