Sanderson Lecture 3 – Prose And Style

This lecture is the first one on Prose and Style. Sanderson talks on such issues as viewpoint and conveying background and setting information smoothly.

Sanderson emphasizes that if you can convey information naturally in your prose then you will probably eventually sell your book. He ignores issues of “voice” and says that it will come with time.

Sanderson begins the lecture speaking on the “Learning Curve of your story. How much information is needed by your reader to understand the story? In addition how fast does your reader need to get this information. He provides a number of ways to convey information naturally in your story.

How To Convey Information Naturally

  1. Start Normal then Transition – Here you start in your character’s normal life. This gets the reader acclimated to your story. You then have the big transition into your “fantasy world.” An example would be the Matrix, where Neo starts in his normal life, and then after taking the right pill he goes down the rabbit hole into the new world. This method requires little information to get started. The reader is invested before the hard work of understanding a new world even comes.
  2. Watson Character – Here you have a character that is there largely to provide a vehicle to give information to the reader while you are explaining things to the “Watson Character.” This allows the main character to tell things to the reader in dialog rather than as a narrative block of data from the narrator.
  3. Limit Viewpoint Characters – The more characters there are the more information will need to be conveyed. Limit information by using first person viewpoint or third limited.
  4. Start with a Familiar Event – The example given was maybe like a family dinner. Even though the dinner may take place in a fantastic world, just the concept of a family sitting around at a dinner helps the reader to become oriented to the story before tackling some of the more difficult components of the new world you have created.

Young woman using a tabletSanderson kind of reiterated these ideas by talking about how to handle info dumps. These are to put it in dialog. Another way to handle this is to show and not tell.

Sanderson moves on to issues of style by quoting a prominent writing teacher by saying that every sentence should do at least 2 of 3 things it should

  • Evoke Setting
  • Advance Plot
  • Describe Character

I wanted to add in a thought from another writing instructor that I have listened to on this subject of style. Dean Wesley Smith said that every 2 or 3 pages we should hit all five senses in our writing. So we should talk about what the character sees, smells, hears, feels, and tastes.

Sanderson emphasized that “voice” comes with time and practice, but that following these points can help us become better writers sooner.

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