Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Cover of Mistborn I first heard of Brandon Sanderson soon after he was given the task of finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga.

I doubted anyone could finish the series and maintain a similar voice to Jordan’s, let alone continue the story as well as Jordan had, but I hoped for the best.

After reading Sanderson’s first Wheel of Time book, I assumed most of it had probably written by Jordan before he died, it was that similar in style.

Sanderson’s second installment suggested otherwise (surely Jordan couldn’t have written most of the rest before he died), and convinced me he was a damn good writer. After listening to a podcast interviewing him about it, I decided to look up more of his works. I’m glad I did.

I came across Mistborn first, and I wasn’t dissapointed. It’s an epic saga, and though it maintains many of the fantasy tropes – “young orphan with special powers rises from obscurity and challenges the evil overlord” – it’s also quite original and compelling for the most part.

There are quite a few point-of-view characters, but it’s Vin, the abused and downtrodden young orphan who we empathise with.

Early on, Vin is rescued by Kelsier from her dangerous life as the youngest member of a gang of petty thieves. Recognising her inborn talents, Kelsier instructs Vin in the use of Allomancy – the ability to ‘burn’ metals to gain amazing powers.

Like Kelsier, she’s also among the rarest allomancers, a Mistborn, able to burn the full complement of metals, not just one.

From there it gets a little more complicated, as only full-blooded allomancer nobles are tolerated by the Lord ruler. As Vin’s both an allomancer and the bastard child of a noble and a skaa (peasant), she quickly finds herself on the Lord Ruler’s hit list.

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy.
Mistborn Trilogy

Kelsier, however, has other plans for Vin. He intends to take down the Lord Ruler despite the fact the Lord Ruler is known to be a immortal God and the world’s savior – and Kelsier needs all the help he can find.

With Vin tasked to infiltrate the nobility, Kelsier and his crew begin plans to set the noble houses to fighting, to build an army, and eventually to bring down the Final Empire and the Lord Ruler himself.

And so begins Mistborn – a very good read.

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Save the cat Book Cover Probably the best book I’ve ever come across on the subject of structure, Save the Cat is the book you need if you want to write fiction of any variety.

Although  designed as a tool for scriptwriters, most of the information works just as well for novels, and a lot of it could, and probably should, be applied to short stories.

It’s not about the nitty gritty stuff like punctuation, grammar or formatting – it’s about what goes where in your story and why. Think The Hero’s Journey made clear and concise. It’s very easy to read and simple to refer back to.

No matter how much you might like to avoid the subject of structure, your story needs more than just  a beginning, middle and end.

Believe it or not, those broad categories actually have to do something – readers expect certain things from a story – and if you don’t give it to them, they’ll walk away feeling as if something wasn’t  quite working.

Save the Cat teaches you what each part requires and how to make it all work together.

The most useful thing Save the Cat taught me was how to answer to the simplest, most basic question you need to ask before you start writing – What’s the story about?

There’s a pretty simple reason Snyder promotes discovering the answer to this question.

Have you ever taken a thought, concept, image or idea and just ran with it?

Unless you get really lucky, it’s hard to edit ‘freewritten’ stories after the fact. Even with the story on the page, you probably still haven’t defined what it’s actually about.

Save the Cat will explain how to distill your story into a single sentence, and that’s just the start of what it will do for you.

Highly recommended.