Last of the Summer Series: Brandon Sanderson BYU Writing Class

Children are back in school, pumpkin spice lattes are making a reappearance, and I’m getting back to a more normalized schedule.  Fall is here and I have one last link to share as a part of the summer series of YouTube videos (and podcasts) I have found helpful for writing.

I was able to spend a lot of time this summer listening to writing podcasts and an assortment of audio books at work, all of which I believe have helped to strengthen my craft.  I’ve also developed a taste for Yoga and I’m hoping the introduction of a new discipline will also aid in getting back into the regularity of a writing routine (though bribing myself with pumpkin spice lattes are also likely to help).

That said, here’s the video of the week.  Brandon Sanderson, in addition to hosting “Writing Excuses”, also teaches a creative writing class over at BYU wherein the assignment of the semester is to create a novella.  I believe one of the stipulations of him teaching the class is that his lectures must be allowed to be available online.

What that means for the rest of us is a free workshop on writing fiction with one of the great high fantasy authors of our time.


Character Analysis: Qrow Branwen, RWBY

I like the idea of doing a character analysis on here every now and then.  In a way, it makes me work a little harder at studying story crafting while I’m enjoying shows and books I like.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last month since the finale mulling over volume 4 of RWBY.  It’s a web anime series produced by RoosterTeeth and you can catch Volumes 1 – 4 for free on both their website and YouTube.  If you haven’t seen it, please do – it’s fantastic, but be warned there will be spoilers in this post.

RWBY takes place in the world of Remnant where a society with modern technology coexists with typical fantasy tropes, like big bad monsters (grimm) in the wilds that threaten to destroy humanity without the protection of cities guarded by hunters and huntresses.  There are four universities that specialize in training these individuals which is where we first meet our main characters: Ruby, Blake, Yang, and Weiss.  Each is associated with a color: red, black, yellow, and white respectively.

A note on the color schematics, I think it is fascinating that color is so integral to the characters and their names.  The idea in the story is that during the great war art was disregarded, so a tradition of naming children in a way associated with colors was an homage to art.  Also, many of the characters are nods to real life legends and fairy tales such as : Joan of Arc, The Wizard of Oz, Thor, Odin, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, among others.

The first two volumes can be a bit rough to watch as the episodes were short and the animation was not yet polished, but the story is good.  There is a significant turn in volume 3 as the animation gets better and the story really starts to deepen.

Now, I love the characters but I didn’t have a true favorite until recently.

  • Ruby is great, she’s got a big heart and dreams to be a huntress.  But she’s still so inexperienced and naive.
  • Blake is angsty.  A little over the top for me.  Though I do like her.
  • Jaune is well, Jaune.  Sorry, you’re going to have to watch the show to see what I mean.
  • I was not initially interested in the Ren and Nora story, but I can safely say after Volume 4 I definitely appreciate the characters a lot more.  This is true of most of the cast in general.
  • I get why Weiss is the way she is, but she is so.  Snobby? Uptight? Annoying? Ridiculous?  I’m sure I’m being too hard on her, especially since I like her character more in Volumes 3 and 4, but pretty rich girls for me are very hard to relate to.

Qrow on the other hand intrigues me a lot.  He is only referenced in Volumes 1-2 and immediately the viewer gets the impression he’s an important character.  This is especially true when a short message from him is seen at the end of Volume 1.

The viewer does not actually meet Qrow until Volume 3 when we see him in a bar, right before he picks a fight with Weiss’ sister, Winter.

He’s introduced in a bar.  Glynda later states he’s always drunk, though that’s debatable.  He’s extremely coherent in the majority of scenes he’s in, the only one he’s swaying in is his introduction.  So, I’m not entirely sure how useful this is as a plot device except for comedic relief when necessary.

In the world of RWBY there are unique weapons everywhere and Qrow’s is no exception (really, the only exception in this world to unique weapons is android James Ironwood who favors hand to hand combat and a pistol).  Qrow is a sword-scythe-gun user.  It’s a huge sword that transforms to a scythe that is also a gun.

Regarding his personality, he’s on the blunt and gruff side.  He trained his niece Ruby and was around to keep an eye on both her and her half sister Yang.  He’s very much like a second father to Ruby.

In terms of his other relationships, he’s in Ozpin’s inner circle and seems to know a good deal more about the bad guys than he’s revealing.  Being Raven’s twin brother, he also knows where to find Yang’s mother (who had previously abandoned her husband and daughter).

In volume 3 we see him as Ozpin’s loyal agent and one of his best fighters.  In volume 4, we get to see him as far more vulnerable with a broader range of reactions.  The turning point for me was when he rushed in to Ruby’s aid in team RNJR’s fight with Tyrian, one of Salem’s minions.  The way he flew in (it’s heavily implied, if not outright confirmed he can shapeshift into a crow) and ran to her aid, blocking Tyrian’s stinger and giving Ruby a self confident smug grin.

That was a fantastic piece of characterization, in some ways, the fight with Tyrian summed up the character of Qrow beautifully:confidant, vulnerable, loyal, family oriented, and a skilled fighter.  Ultimately he got hit with Tyrian’s poison and slipped in and out of consciousness for the rest of the volume (leaving the fans with bated breath each week until the finale).  But we did get some interesting tidbits of potential backstory from what one could assume were his hallucinations.

To date, I think he is by far the most complex of the characters represented.  Don’t get me wrong, the main characters are all great if a bit angsty –  but they’re allowed to be, they’re still teenagers.  Qrow on the other hand is old enough to have experienced a great deal.

I suspect he doesn’t drink just because he likes to. I think it’s deeper and that there’s a pain there we haven’t seen yet.

So, here’s my own personal takeaway: Qrow is a representative of the complex characters I love to write.  Those who are driven by many and sometimes competing motivations.  He’s a reminder that I need to craft a believable and thorough backstory for each of my own characters.

I’m looking forward to seeing where RoosterTeeth goes with his story and can’t wait for volume 5.


Between my family and friends I have seen my fair share of lives changed by the united utterance of “I do.”  One such time was this past weekend.  Two of my more recent friends committed their love and lives to each other, and it was utterly beautiful.

In the midst of their love, there was also a larger scale showing of support.  I’m not sure I have ever seen so many friends instead of family take lead on throwing a wedding together, but we did (not to say the family wasn’t involved, just that the brunt of the wedding day set was taken care of by us).

Again, it was beautiful.

Tying that back to me, there’s a term I absolutely love: husbandry.  I have always conjured up this image of a farmer being wedded to the land.  A man or woman committed to the land through the good and the terrible, in an unshakable relationship.

Maybe that’s why I keep writing.  I am wedded to the work in a way more deeply than I had ever comprehended when I started.  It’s an overly optimistic obsession (much like farming).  And the writing contains my blood, sweat, and tears just as much as the land that I work on.

However, a marriage doesn’t work without support.  Just like how my friends and I love and support each other, without their support I would likely not be as far along in my projects as I am now.

I suppose if I were to sum it all up: without commitment rooted in love – the books, the farmland, friendships – all would fail.  We need each other.  We need commitment.  And a wedding is an amazing symbol of that.

The Advantages of Longhand

(The above interview makes note of longhand but also has some fantastic general advice)

I am not one of those authors who will write everything out by hand and then meticulously copy it into the computer.  That being said, I am experiencing my own resurgence in using paper and pen instead of a strict computer model.

I’m finding that I’m less distracted when I’m plotting, creating character notes, and world notes by writing rather than immediately typing up my ideas.

Now while I may be using a computer first model for novels, for short stories, I have been writing a first and very rough copy by hand.  Once those are done, I enter them into my computer and make a few adjustments as I’m typing.

I am finding that with physically handwriting the stories, the ideas have a little more clarity in the early draft than some of my projects that were exclusively done on the computer.  As a result, I have been writing chapters of my novels in long hand when I find I need a little more momentum without the distractions that a computer offers.

All that said.  Here’s a quick breakdown of a few of the benefits I’ve found:

Retention – I quite literally remember more of the details that I’ve written.

Brevity – The physical act of writing at a slower speed keeps the superfluous words to a minimum.

Clarity – When it takes more time to write a phrase down, it is easier to keep the target in sight.

Edits – It’s far easier to make notations in different colors on a manuscript than to go through all the steps to get a comment in on the computer.  I also appreciate how it is ultimately always visible when you are looking at the physical document.  This is also why the edits on my first draft are all in pen/pencil on a printed copy.

Attention – I am far less likely to browse the web if I have a piece of paper in front of me than a blank document on a screen.  My attention is drawn to the paper, and while I may check my phone, I am still often more productive with the pen and paper method in the same amount of time as I would have spent on the computer.

I’m still working on my own process.  As I find more tips, tricks, and recommendations I’ll be sure to pass them along!

For additional reading:

The Very Weird Handwriting of Very Famous Authors

This Is What A Handwritten Novel By Neil Gaiman Looks Like 

(Both of the above links make me feel a whole lot better about my own handwriting style.)

8 Ways Writing Longhand Amps Your Muse


I have been working on a few micro fiction pieces recently, spanning no more than a paragraph in length.  This was my favorite from those I created this weekend.  If you like it or have some suggestions, feel free to let me know:

The woman sat in the corner of the bar, watching the door as she tapped her fingers together.  A picture of grim beauty as her dark hair fell in contrast to her sultry red dress.  As the music blared the smell of cheap liquor overwhelmed her nostrils.  It was a proper place for revenge she thought as the tips of her fingers sizzled with energy. The fire gathering between them was ready to be unleashed on her command.  Her lover would soon emerge from the backroom with his new mistress, but this time she would be ready.


Often when faced with uncertainty I freak out, pray, breathe, freak out, line out the steps that I need to take, breathe, freak out, and take action.

This does not always happen in that order.

The last week has been challenging.  I am in a week gap between an old and a new job.  I just moved quite a ways and went through more good byes than I like.

And then, a family emergency hit.  Next came the news that my short story “Skipping Stones” will be published over at Flash Fiction Press in January.  And meanwhile, I have all sorts of work to do in order to finalize the move.  People to notify, work to do, and oh goodness, lots of organizing and storing of miscellaneous boxes to do.

There are at least two takeaways from all this.  The first, coloring is actually quite therapeutic (I had gotten books as presents for other family members and might have also tried it out myself). The second, it does no good to worry about what you have no control over.

Put another way, the serenity prayer really does ring true:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Another quote I’m fond of is from Victor Hugo

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

So those are my takeaways. I’ve already discussed my misgivings about this year, but I am hopeful. There are books I will finish this year, short stories I will publish this year. We’re all still here, and we’re all still walking through this life step by step, together.

The Nature of my Work

I have always enjoyed epic tales of fantasy.  There is an element of escapism in them captured in the moments where we identify with the protagonist and feel as if it is possible for us to also save the world.

It’s always hard coming back down to reality.

The story I’m working on is similar.  I have taken elements from the normal realm of fantasy and mixed them with our present reality.  In so many ways the result is reminiscent of my own life.

About six years ago, we found out my grandfather had cancer.  Up until that time, cancer and death had really only visited friends of the family, distant relatives, and pets.  I was woefully unprepared for depression, fear, and anxiety of the coming months.  As is so often true in life, it was also a time of a spiritual deepening and appreciation of life and love.

It was a moment where I realized to the core of my being, life is not a fairy tale.  Crap does indeed happen.  It cannot be planned, out of the blue a phone call can come and surprise you.  It can throw you a curveball that will quite literally knock you off your feet.

And I’m incorporating this into my story.

Over the years I have seen a lot of hard stuff occur.  Friends of our family lost two of their three children before they were the age of 18.  One in an accident in the woods and the other as a suicide.  I’ve been out fishing when a teenager drowned, the boy was pulled under and pinned against a log until there was no life left in him.  Onlookers were desperate to locate him but by the time we found him it was too late.

There is death.  There is a curse.  And we as humans are left wandering through it all, with the joy of life, but also the terrible grief of our existence in this world.

So my stories are not necessarily happy.  They are about good versus evil.  And they are very much about characters who have their options taken off the table.  Characters who continue on anyway because their hope is in the light as they scream their defiance into the void.

So yes, even I find myself a bit surprised with where I take my writings, but as I’m editing, I hope to be able to effectively communicate both the darkness and the hope.