Can We Guess Why Warmaker is a Standalone Novel?

Brandon Sanderson is probably my favourite living fantasy writer, and has published some highly entertaining and multi-faceted fiction in notable series such as the Way of Kings, but with all these successful series can we guess why Warmaker is a standalone novel? Or his debut novel Elantris for that matter?

It’s not as though Warmaker lacks anything in the thoroughness of the world’s depth or texture. All the backstory, the unique magic system (involving the use of “breath”), the fascinating characters such as sisters Vivenna and Siri, the indolent Returned  Lightsong and other scheming Returned that are worshiped as gods in Hallandren, along with the remote God-King, who is not all that he seems.

So why write Warbreaker as a standalone?

The first and most obvious guess is that this was the size of the idea. As many writers will tell you, some ideas come in short story length, other as novellas, while others have such breadth they demand the broader canvass of the full novel. The key is what is driving the story. What was that core idea, that first “wow” moment that gave the impetus for the world’s creation in the first place?

For Warbreaker, I find that key idea difficult to pin down. Did Sanderson have the idea for the magic system and then create the story around it? One of the things I do love about Sanderson is the invention in his magic systems – look at the use of metals for magic in the Mistborn series. The magical sword in Warbreaker is particularly entertaining (don’t worry it’s introduced early).


Or is it in the characters? The backstory does link the key villain to the royal line, of which Vivenna and Siri are scions. Was it the character development of the two princesses that drove the story for Sanderson? I guess if that was the case, its resolution would present a natural end point.

What do you think?







Want to check out Chris McMahon’s fiction?

The Tau Ceti Diversion, the first interstellar exploration vessel Starburst sets out from Earth in 2157, but this is no NASA science mission, it’s funded by the mega-corporation ExploreCorp. On approach to the planet Cru, the Starburst is hit with a surge of deadly radiation that kills most of the crew and disables the ship. It’s a fight for survival as sub-Commander Karic struggles to get control of the fusion drive before the ship turns into a giant hydrogen bomb.






In The Calvanni, first of the three-book fantasy series, The Jakirian Cycle, Cedrin, a street-wise calvanni (knife-fighter), is summoned to the secret underground tunnels of the Brotherhood and forced to join in a rebellion. Caught between the threat of death and his suspicions that all is not what it seems, he must try to keep his friends alive and escape.


Judging Your Own Work

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Now this is something I find almost impossible to do.

Every single time I sit down to write I make the journey from ‘My God this sucks’ to ‘this is starting to hang together’ to ‘I’m liking this!’ and back to ‘this is total crap.’

Somewhere through that process I actually get a buzz – usually when I forget to think critically at all.

I’ve won prizes and been shortlisted for genre awards. Other writer friends say I write well. Every now and then I will get a shock when a dedicated critiquer who does nothing but criticize me and my work introduces me as a ‘fine writer.’

It seems that I have no capacity for objectivity. When I look at the work that I have done I see the prose through a microscope (showing ugliness usually) and the story from a lightyear away – focused on the shape of the whole thing and its various subplots.

Getting critique is one way to get feedback. Reviews on published work are another. I’m not sure which one is crueler, probably the reviews since they are public and liable to effect sales.

On a day-to-day basis, how are you supposed to get any sort of handle on your work? I guess writing is a never-ending series of judgements you make – is the sentence too long, is there enough description, should the clown really kill the president, how big are his shoes etc. Yet when the high of actually being in the flow fades, all I am left with is a sense of unease.

How do you go about judging your own work as you progress? Is it actually impossible?


Is There a Role for Passive Text?

Talking about writing rules, one of the first that got drummed into me (actually, more like beaten into me — around the head with what was left of my frayed manuscript) was the importance of active writing; making the prose immediate, rather than passive. The shorthand for this is ‘Show don’t Tell’. You could do a lot worse than plough through your manuscript with this mantra repeating in your head. Certainly for action, it’s an absolute must. But it really got me wondering — is this really universally applicable?

Some of the books I admired most as a young reader, such as Lord of the Rings, were full of passive text. Huge wads of backstory and enormously long sentences that would never get past a modern editor. Yet it worked. Another book I admire tremendously is Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen. Accustomed to more modern prose, the passive style put me off initially, but it did not take me long (about two pages), to get sucked right in. That book is an absolute classic.

I guess one of the things that is really attractive about passive prose (often combined with an omniscient PoV) is that it has a sort of reflective power, enabling a deeper level of insight to be injected into the work — be it on the level of character or life, the universe and everything. That sort of thing is difficult with strictly ‘active’ prose. Often tongue and cheek humor also works best in a passive mode (outside of dialogue that is). I think this is one of the things that I tried to emulate in my first attempts to write fantasy, which in my case came off as excessive backstory with overly grandiose metaphors (hey – don’t say anything about PoV!).

The other thing about active prose is that is takes space. I often wonder if there is a case for a blend of active and passive prose, just for the sake of economy. Its a lot faster to say ‘Joe survived the battle, running from the fiends of the Hegemon with his sword between his legs,’ than to go through the whole scene recounting every shiver of fear and blood-filled drop of sweat. If the scene is not really that crucial to the story, but merely a bridge, does it really matter?

Is just makes me wonder. Is passive text total taboo, or is it just one more tool, and perhaps a valid one in some cases?

Drawing the Reader into Character


Is building sympathy for your character the key to hooking a reader?

Beginnings – and hooking the reader – have always been my bugbear. Big complex plots, interweaving stories, multiple characters, action scenes – no problem. Getting someone to read the story in the first place – Big Problem.

The difficulty is that what one reader responds to in a character is often vastly different to another – in fact often diametrically opposed. One reader’s cool detached hero is another’s arrogant, insufferable narcissist.

I used to come home from critique groups puzzled by contradictory comments that made little sense until the penny finally dropped. If people don’t like your characters, they will just  not gel with your story. Once you reach that stage the critter will start (often unconsciously) working overtime to find all the things ‘wrong’ with your piece, when the real problem is that it simply has no resonance for them. They will talk vehemently about the punctuation on p3, or how they got mixed up in the dialogue, the logic error in par 5, or yada yada, yada… The same thing happens with editors. The reasons they give for rejecting your manuscript may have little to do with the real reason, which may be that they struggled to emotionally connect with the character.

Even very successful writers don’t seem to have real control over reader’s reactions.

One of David Gemmell readers all tim