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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Brandon Sanderson

Courtney Cantrell's weekly writing advice

Once upon a time, I started reading the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time (WoT) by Robert Jordan. Sadly, Mr. Jordan passed away before he could complete the series; however, author Brandon Sanderson is in the process of carrying on Jordan’s work. I have yet to read anything Sanderson has written for WoT, but I recently got my hands on a copy of his high fantasy novel Elantris and thought I’d give it a whirl to see if I like him.

I like him.

With Elantris, Sanderson has constructed a fantastical world so detailed, even the composition of characters’ names is directly linked to the intricate culture he has invented. The Elantrian world’s rich history provides a solid foundation for the events taking place in the story. Characters grapple with what they often consider dull traditions–which nevertheless appear vibrant to the reader because of their originality and otherness. And every character comes complete with gems of personal history that sparkle because they’re cut with precision and polished with care.

The beauty of it is, Sanderson reveals this wealth of backstory not in exposition, but in the characters’ interactions with each other and with their environment. As his characters go about their lives, reacting to each other as their individual personalities dictate, the author drops hints and leaves clues. He marks the path of the story with breadcrumbs that are delicious morsels of history to whet the reader’s appetite for more. He does not drop a four hundred pound loaf of pumpernickel in the reader’s way and expect said reader to chew a tunnel through the center. That, my inklings, is too big a mouthful for even this voracious reader to swallow.

So that’s what I learned from Mr. Sanderson this week: Don’t blockade your story with unappetizing chunks of explanation. Feed your readers the backstory one tasty little piece at a time. Take care not to treat your readers like children–no need for the airplane-into-hangar game–but be equally attentive to how much they can chew and swallow at one time. If you’re not sensitive to your readers’ need for well-proportioned bites, you might find yourself in possession of a story that’s congealing on the plate with no one interested in sitting down for a meal.

One forkful of yummy story at a time…and with every paragraph, sentence, and word, leave them hungry and demanding more.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

(Furthermore, the FCC wants me to tell you that if you click on any of the links in this post, and if you buy a product, This Starving Artist will get a few bucks. Consider it your small contribution to The Arts! ;o)

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

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