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Artist Profile: Brandon Sanderson on Fan Theories, ‘Wind and Truth,’ and Building His Fantasy Empire

Brandon Sanderson became one of the biggest names in fantasy after finishing the Wheel of Time novels, and now his audience awaits the fifth installment of the Stormlight Archive series, “Wind and Truth.”
Brandon Sanderson became one of the biggest names in fantasy after finishing the Wheel of Time novels, and now his audience awaits the fifth installment of the Stormlight Archive series, “Wind and Truth.” By Courtesy of Octavia Escamilla
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

Brandon Sanderson is more than just an author: He’s an institution. The writer became one of the biggest names in fantasy after finishing the late Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time novels. Sanderson’s original books, including his “Mistborn” and the Stormlight Archive series, are now splashed across nearly every BookTok and Bookstagram account in the nation, and many have called him one of the best fantasy authors of all time. Beyond the page, Sanderson also heads his company, Dragonsteel Entertainment, and teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.

In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Sanderson expanded on the difficulties that come along with juggling so many endeavors.

“I have 50 to 70 employees, depending on how much we need in the warehouse at the moment,” Sanderson said. “Fortunately, I haven’t had to pick up most of that load. My wife, Emily, has.”

“I kind of say, ‘the writing is mine, but the company is ours,’” Sanderson said.

The writing that Sanderson takes ownership of has made his career. The author is known for his grand and meticulous style and produces his work at a stunning speed. In 2023 alone, Sanderson released six individual projects, including “Tress of the Emerald Sea,” which The Crimson deemed one of the best books of the year. On his website, Sanderson tracks the progress of his upcoming pieces; at the moment, three books have been satisfyingly updated to be “100%” finished. While Sanderson seems to have the writing game down to a science, he maintains that it remains, at its core, an art that can still lead him in new directions.

“An outline for me is more about this idea that using some of these constraints helps my creativity. I think that limitations breed creativity,” Sanderson said.

The creativity of Sanderson’s novels is apparent in all parts of their production, and the author’s storytelling is often supplemented by a myriad of illustrations designed by artists at Dragonsteel. Sanderson explained that he finds these visuals integral to his worldbuilding.

“I just love having a lot of art in my books. You can see this from ‘Elantris,’ where I drew the symbols myself — which is why they’re a little rougher than some of the things later on,” Sanderson said. “I just feel like this is a part of making a story feel real, all of the things that surround it. I like the blending of art and text.”

Sanderson’s fans like this blend, too. The author’s novels, and especially his Secret Project works, are often praised for their beauty as well as their engaging storylines online. Beyond praising his works, fans also use social media to publish their reviews, show off their #sanderlanche reactions — a term fans use to describe Sanderson’s thrilling final acts — and keep up to date with their beloved “Brando Sando.” While the demands of social media may daunt some authors, Sanderson embraces his fans and their energy online as contributors to his career success.

“I love social media because it’s worked really well for me,” Sanderson said. “I found that interacting with fans, generally, is a very positive experience.” To stay close to fans, Sanderson runs a YouTube Channel, where he livestreams and produces book-related content.

Alongside these interactions inevitably comes a deluge of fan theories. Some authors get a little apprehensive about the predictions made by audiences, but Sanderson embraces them as a fantasy fan himself.

“I grew up in the Wheel of Time fandom and watched the theory crafting that happened around those; I was not surprised when it started happening to my books,” Sanderson said. “I know a lot of my author friends change things if people guess what's going to happen. I have found that is not a method I like to use.”

Instead, he described his preferred approach, which focuses on foreshadowing and storytelling.

“I like to layer in really powerful foreshadowing for events, and I will change those events if the narrative demands it,” Sanderson said.

As he acknowledges with his references to the Wheel of Time series, Sanderson is a reader as much as he is an author. Amidst all of his endeavors, Sanderson still finds time to read. He “just finished” and wrote a cover blurb for a novel by one of his former students, “The Doll Makers” by Lynn Buchanan. Now, he’s rereading “Foundation” in preparation to write a foreword to the new edition.

Working with students such as Buchanan has taught Sanderson how to mentor young authors. When asked for advice, Sanderson advised young writers to focus on the art itself as much as the end result.

“Treat yourself as the product of your writing time, not the actual story,” Sanderson said.

“If you focus on what your writing is doing to you, how it’s making you a better writer, how forcing yourself to stretch and do more difficult things with your narrative is going to change you, that, particularly as a new writer, I think is really helpful,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson’s love for the craft, along with his dedicated work ethic, have made fans excited to follow his next move. His audience is currently waiting for the fifth installment of the Stormlight Archive series, “Wind and Truth,” which will complete the first arc of the ten-book series. The contents of this novel are currently under strict wraps, but Sanderson hinted at a few things for fans to expect.

“It’s going to answer a lot of questions,” Sanderson said. “It’s going to delve into the lore of Roshar more than any book has so far.”

Sanderson is a CEO, professor, reader, and author. He is an institution in the fantasy world that seems to grow more beloved with each passing day. But, ultimately, he is most interested in honing his craft to share his epic and thrilling fantasy stories with the world — and that is why his fans keep reading.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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