Brandon Sanderson is, in my opinion, one of the best modern fiction writers today. He deals primarily in science fiction and fantasy (and I know those genre’s turn off a lot of people) but there is so much more to him than crazy, inventive worlds. His understanding of human behavior and the character development in his novels is so real, so compelling, that you have to know what happens to them next. How will they get out of this scrape? How will they save the day? I’ll have to stop myself now before I gush more and more about it.
I wouldn’t be the fan I am today without my sister pulling me to several of his events. On the release night of Arcanum Unbounded that I went to a few months ago, Sanderson gave a Q&A in which many audience members asked for some advice for budding writers. Here are the top 5 writing tips he gave that night:
Writing should involve going to a new place, familiar and strange. Nobody wants to read about something that is exactly like their own life. Reading is a way to escape. But you can’t stray so far that what you’re writing is no longer relatable to the reader. Books are a contract between author and consumer; writers have a conversation by presenting information to the reader, and the reader responds by relating to the material in the novel.
Writing should have a purpose. His example is the greek word talos, which means purpose in a more all-encompassing way. Whether that purpose is to tell a story, explore an idea, understand the world—it doesn’t matter. The story needs a purpose of some sort and it’s up to you to decide what that will be.
Books should have a sense of wonder and awe. This goes along with writing about strange and familiar things. The characters should perform tasks that shock you, say things that make you laugh out loud, be pulled into situations that leave you breathless, experience worlds your imagination could never dream up. If these things don’t happen throughout a book, the reader won’t finish.
True art doesn’t fulfill a purpose except to be experienced. Now, this threw me for a loop, because 15 minutes before that Sanderson told us to give our books any purpose. However, in his opinion true art’s ONLY purpose is to be experienced. Whether you’re an artist with paint, clay, words, yarn, numbers, etc. for it to be true art it needs to be experienced by others and not just sit around in the back of your closet, unseen by everyone except your winter coat.
Books don’t mean anything until they are read. Even when he’s giving advice, there’s a natural progression to what Sanderson says. He tells you to give art a purpose, so you do. He then tells you that true art has to be experienced, so you get it into the hands of others. And then he brings it home by talking specifically about books, his medium of art, and tells you that the number one goal of a book is to be read. Books cease to have meaning when they’re not read, because that’s the whole point of a book.
Straight from the mouth of the expert. Give your art meaning, whether it’s a piece of clothing you designed our a poem you penned. Get it out into the world so other people can experience it–people like me!