Most will hear this and think: At that rate, none of the words could possibly be any good. They’d be right, in a way, and that’s what Sanderson agrees with. At the sentence level, he is no great gift to English prose.
The early books especially. My god. Here’s a sample sentence: “It was going to be very bad this time.” Another one: “She felt a feeling of dread.” There’s a penchant for redundant description: A city is “tranquil, quiet, peaceful.” Many things, from buildings to beasts, are “enormous.” Dark places, more thesaurically, are “caliginous.” On almost every page of Mistborn, his first and probably most beloved series, a character “sighs,” “frowns,” “raises an eyebrow,” “cocks a head,” “shrugs,” or “snorts,” sometimes at the same time, sometimes multiple times a page. I count seven books in which one of the characters frets about their metaphors. “I have trouble with metaphors,” one literally says. Of his own work, Sanderson has said: “I detest rewriting,” “I write for endings,” and “I write to relax.” It shows. He writes, by one metric, at a sixth-grade reading level.
Here’s where I’ll stop using Sanderson’s words, written or spoken, against him. It’s not fair. He’s simply not, I’ll say it again, very quotable. I spent days with the man. I watched his YouTube videos, made a dent in his podcast empire (most of it, incredibly, about writing). Like his books, it all blurs together. I typed some 40 pages of notes for this story, and who knows how many pages of transcripts the AI spat out when I fed it the many hours of recorded audio. Now that I’m writing, I find I’m referring to none of it. Possibly, this is the influence of Sanderson himself, on me. Graphomaniacally get thoughts down. Have fun. Write for the ending.
So I will. This story has an ending, I promise, and I’m sprinting toward it, as if to a vacation. Like the best of Sanderson’s endings, my ending should surprise you. Because, you see, Sanderson actually did say one thing to me, one miraculous thing, that stuck, that I remember, these five months later, with perfect clarity. Just seven words, but true ones. You’re not ready for them just yet. You need more story first. For now, there is only Sanderson, both wordful and wordless, the best-selling writer no writer writes about because writers only know how to talk about words. Sanderson’s readers—loving, legion—care about something else.
Ten seconds to go until the launch. The lights are flashing, the music thumping. “This is siiick,” someone whispers behind me, as a Cosmere’s worth of nerds count down the remaining seconds. At zero, an enormous applause. Then the VP of merchandising and events walks out.
This is Dragonsteel 2022, the second annual convention for Sanderson’s worlds and works. At the first one, the year before, 1,200 fans showed up. At this event, a two-dayer in November, attendance is closer to 5,000. Even though the con is being held in the biggest venue in downtown Salt Lake City, the Salt Palace Convention Center, fans are turned away from panels left and right. The first morning, I was panting by the time I reached the end of the line, down multiple city blocks abutting stony Mormon gothica. Some 7,000 people are expected for Dragonsteel 2023, the VP of merch and events tells me later—and in 2024, the year Sanderson plans to release Book Five (of 10) of The Stormlight Archives, his biggest franchise, the one with the 400,000-word books, a full 12,000 people. The Dragonsteel planners will need to think bigger.
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