Author Topic: What can writers learn from Mistborn? *Spoilers*  (Read 1875 times)

HezekiahKidron

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What can writers learn from Mistborn? *Spoilers*
« on: October 28, 2008, 05:41:59 PM »
I'm a writer and am interested in discussing the Mistborn trilogy from a writer's perspective. That is, what can writers learn from Mistborn about writing good books?

I really don't know where to begin--there are so many examples of why these books work--so will try keep it simple a first.

One of the things that stands out most to me is that it's the high-level view that makes the book most pleasing. The Mistborn books are great, but I don't know that it's the writing that makes them great. The style is transparent, designed simply to convey the story, not to make you think, "Hmm, that was good writing. Very clever." I imagine Brandon can write that kind of stuff, but simply didn't choose to do that with these books.

Rather, what I repeatedly found myself thinking was, "Wow, that was smart. The way those pieces fit together was very clever." To me, it speaks of great world building and superb character building. Most things were internally consistent. For smaller stories, that's not such a hard thing to accomplish, but for three long books, with so many details, it says a lot about the planning and/or editing and revising.

I don't know if Brandon is a genius or an extremely hard worker. It might be both. I heard him say recently that he writes about 2000 words a day. My guess is that those 2000 words themselves make up only a small part of his writing work each day. You can whip out 2000 words in a few hours. If you're on a roll, maybe even an hour. But there's got to be a lot more to it. There's planning. There's double checking. There's going back to the different sections and tweaking this or that. There's probably a lot of thought about the characters and world.

Writing, as it turns out, is about a lot more than how the writer strings words together. It's a necessary skill. But, lots of people who can do that write bland, uninteresting stories are bland.

Now that I think about it, this should probably be filed under the "duh" category. But it's easy for me to forget stuff like this as I'm plowing through to get my words in for the day.

Anyway, I suppose there's a start for a discussion, if anyone is interested.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2008, 03:41:55 AM by Nessa »

Relient A

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2008, 09:07:00 PM »
Well... I am by no means a writer. Even years of school haven't helped me to be able to string a paragraph together correctly, so all I can really gather, off the top of my head, is to go for what is required for the benefit of the story, not shock value or cliches (although, one can argue that shock value IS a cliche.)

This is particularly eveident with the characters killed off in Mistborn... As much as I wanted to scream and yell *obviously a spoiler ahead* at EUOL for axing Kelsier and Vin... it was for the purpose of furthering, or completing the story, not so much because the characters "served their purpose".
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Nessa

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2008, 09:14:14 PM »
Rather, what I repeatedly found myself thinking was, "Wow, that was smart. The way those pieces fit together was very clever." To me, it speaks of great world building and superb character building. Most things were internally consistent. For smaller stories, that's not such a hard thing to accomplish, but for three long books, with so many details, it says a lot about the planning and/or editing and revising.

'Planning' as in really detailed outlines. This is true with anything you write, from term papers to book reports, but is so much more important with stories that expand through multiple novels.

It takes practice to write good outlines. And while some writers can just sit down and write a story off the top of their head (not many can do this successfully), writing a good outline takes work, but doing that makes putting down the story later so much easier (and, surprisingly, faster).
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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2008, 09:36:13 PM »
Rather, what I repeatedly found myself thinking was, "Wow, that was smart. The way those pieces fit together was very clever." To me, it speaks of great world building and superb character building. Most things were internally consistent. For smaller stories, that's not such a hard thing to accomplish, but for three long books, with so many details, it says a lot about the planning and/or editing and revising.

'Planning' as in really detailed outlines. This is true with anything you write, from term papers to book reports, but is so much more important with stories that expand through multiple novels.

It takes practice to write good outlines. And while some writers can just sit down and write a story off the top of their head (not many can do this successfully), writing a good outline takes work, but doing that makes putting down the story later so much easier (and, surprisingly, faster).

Indeed.  That's one of the things I see in Mistborn--it was planned out quite well.  Most of (if not all) the open doors have been sealed shut.  One way that Brandon lucked out, though, is the fact that he pretty much wrote all three books at once, so there was still a bit more flexibility.

Amazing, nonetheless.
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HezekiahKidron

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2008, 11:38:10 PM »
I think outlining plays a role in it, but I think that's important or not so important depending on the author. Brandon has says he writes an outline, but falls somewhere between Stephen King, who doesn't do much of an outline, and Orson Scott Card, who plans meticulously for months and months before sitting down and writing a book in about one month.

I think that while outlining plays a role, writers still have to learn how to improvise, develop a presence of mind that allows them to consider how each scene--scratch that, each detail--relates to the over-arching plot, what role it plays, and how it will make the ending more poignant. I bet that if we looked back through the Mistborn books, you could look at each scene (or most of them) and find a reason they make the ending better. How many little details could you find that enhance the story? That's a lot of stuff to keep track of.

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2008, 07:39:09 AM »
It's all in the storytelling. Having editors helps with that. But what I've noticed in Brandon's books (and also in Terry Pratchett's books) is that little things are there for a reason. It's that attention to the details that makes a difference.  Small things in the beginning that the reader ignores but by the end are found to be important details.

That's helped a lot by multiple drafts. We got to see it in Warbreaker; the final version (and even that's not completely final) went through 6 + drafts to get there; that gives the author time and feedback and all that to add in all those little details and clean up the unnecessary clutter.

HezekiahKidron

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2008, 06:26:20 PM »
It's all in the storytelling. Having editors helps with that. But what I've noticed in Brandon's books (and also in Terry Pratchett's books) is that little things are there for a reason. It's that attention to the details that makes a difference.  Small things in the beginning that the reader ignores but by the end are found to be important details.

I think that's key. The question is--how do you know which little things should matter in the end? I think you need a very clear vision of how the story will end. Not just in general, but very clearly, very specifically. Maybe that vision doesn't come until you've actually written it. If that's the case, you'll have to go back and retro-fit the ending, filling in gaps and making changes where necessary. Along the way, you may even think of more things to add to the ending, and then have to change the ending to fit it. If you have that vision from the start, you can do all that from the start, but even then, I imagine things will occur during the book that you didn't foresee, and you'll have to change the ending.

Here are some examples.

By the time the ending comes around, I was relatively convinced that Sazed's bracers were pretty unimportant in how the ending would happen. They were still important to his personal conflict, but not to the resolution of the world conflict. Like him, I'd given up on them and accepted the fact that it was time to move on and accept some things on faith alone. Wasted effort. Noble, but wasted. And then--whamo! They become critical to the world conflict. It was a brilliant move on Brandon's part.

Same with Vin's earring. I' told my wife from the beginning that the earring was imporant. When Vin shot it through Marsh's head, I was pretty certain it's duty had been fulfilled. But then Brandon turns it around on us.

I don't think you can do that type of thing unless you know very clearly how the ending will happen. And I almost mean every little sentence, every tiny detail. The problem is that every little sentence, and every little detail, is a product of everything that came before it. For me, it almost becomes a chicken and egg question. I'd be curious to know how early in his writing process Brandon realized that the earring was a spike. Clearly before the end of Final Empire. How soon in his writing process did he know that the bracers would be so important?

It almost gets back to this, for me: world and character building. Make an interesting world and characters, and then figure out how you can do unexpected, interesting things in that world, with those characters.

Every paragraph I type leads me to a new topic, so I'd better stop, now.

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2008, 08:29:18 PM »
Sazed's bracers were quite possibly the best foreshadowing I had ever seen in a book. Every religion that was mentioned at the end were mentioned earlier in the trilogy, and I had thought they were merely religions Brandon came up for the express purpose of Sazed trying to convert them. I had never in my wildest dreams thought that the religions themselves had such a potent reason for existing...

Hezekiah is definitely correct saying that these small, unimportant events which suddenly become important are absolutely essential for a satisfying ending. Surprising, yet inevitable.
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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2008, 08:35:08 PM »
I'm pretty sure the earring wasn't even in the first drafts of The Final Empire and didn't get added until he wrote the second book.

Also, as a curiosity, in the first drafts of WoA there were multiple Mist Spirits.
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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2008, 09:41:40 PM »
Yes, I remember that he said that in an annotation. I wonder what THAT would have turned out like in the end...
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HezekiahKidron

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2008, 03:54:58 PM »
On a new topic, I think Brandon made some great choices in how he told the story. The way the world was set up (and worldbuilding is an entirely different topic), there was a lot of unknown information. The Lord Ruler purposefully obfuscated key information. We only learned that gradually throughout the books.

Now, I imagine that fifteen or twenty years ago we would have had some kind of lengthy prologue explaining everything. I think of some David Eddings stuff, in which the very first book provides information about events from long ago. It sets the world and the overall conflict. In contrast, Brandon started small, and only slowly did we realize the scope of the entire thing. That makes for a lot of "Ah ha!" moments.

It may be that Fantasy writers have matured over the last twenty years (I guess the value of a prologue that sets up the world history is debatable), or the style has simply changed (although there was something of what I'm talking about at the beginning of Elantris). Either way, I think it was an important decision (and probably a conscious one) that made the eventual payoff even stronger.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2008, 03:56:54 PM by HezekiahKidron »

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2008, 02:06:08 AM »
I am overall impressed with the entire trilogy and have since taken what I have seen and applied it to my own writing. Not a copy-cat by any means, but I have found that telling the story is more important than stringing flowery words together. My first impression about Vin when I read the final empire was "man, she shrugs a lot."  I will even admit that it got to the point that I was like, "no more shrugging, please." But how the story was developed overpowered that, and her character grew more confident over time = less shrugging. Ended up loving that.

So if anything can be learned about developing a story is to have a plan, arrange your twists, angles, puzzles, but don't give anything away too soon. Notice in the Empire prologue that the first mention of Allomancy was "Kelsier burned tin".  The next couple paragraphs explained a little about what that is, but instead of info dumping and explaining every rule about Allomancy, Kelsier left to help the girl. That grabs the reader and makes them want to learn more, and keeps the momentum flowing. Bravo Brandon, btw.


HezekiahKidron

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2008, 06:29:09 PM »
For beginning writers, info dumps early in a story are so tempting to use because they have a cool world they want to tell about. The problem is that the info dumps are so damaging to the story. They stop the action. Far better to only hint at these new, crazy things and keep the story moving forward. Aside from providing plot progress, this gives the reader yet another reason to keep reading. It creates a question in the reader's head. What was that? It was cool! I'll have to keep reading to find out, I guess.

I think this applies to all kinds of info dumps. Character. Magic system. Setting (the unique world). Anything. Tell the story first, and fit the other stuff in as subtly as you have opportunity, one piece at a time. Giving it to the reader all at once reduces questions and tension. Can you imagine how different (that is, not as good) HOA would have been if we'd gotten Sazed's GOD BOOK at the beginning, in one big chunk? Blech.

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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2008, 03:39:56 AM »
What I learned from all this is not to be afraid of drafts.  I usually feel that my story needs to be near perfect the first time out, but now I realize that it's a first draft.  Go ahead and info dump.  go ahead and go on tangents.  go ahead and get the main character (and all the side character's) names wrong.  Don't worry, because it's a first draft. 

Something too transparent the first time? move it farther down, or hint.  Beginning taking too long?  Cut.  oh for the love of sanity, cut.  But realize that the first draft is there to get the story on paper, like a lump of clay.  The other drafts are to make that book the best it possibly can be.
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Re: What can writers learn from Mistborn? --Spoilers Abound--
« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2008, 05:18:57 AM »
What I learned from all this is not to be afraid of drafts.  I usually feel that my story needs to be near perfect the first time out, but now I realize that it's a first draft.  Go ahead and info dump.  go ahead and go on tangents.  go ahead and get the main character (and all the side character's) names wrong.  Don't worry, because it's a first draft. 

Something too transparent the first time? move it farther down, or hint.  Beginning taking too long?  Cut.  oh for the love of sanity, cut.  But realize that the first draft is there to get the story on paper, like a lump of clay.  The other drafts are to make that book the best it possibly can be.

Amen to that. I just started writing a book, and in the first scene he appears in, an antagonist (as main as the book is going to get) acts pretty much like a straight-outta-Bond megalomaniacal jackass. Rather than going with my first temptation of rewritting it entirely within seconds of finishing it, I figured it'd be a better idea to finish the book, and rewrite it once I had a better grasp of the character.