Writing

Ode to Sanderson’s First Law


Brandon Sanderson has done a pretty good job of populating himself on YouTube through videos at conventions…and let’s not forget his online seminar, which you can find at Write About Dragons.  The website also runs through a YouTube channel as well.

For this post, I’m going to try to explain Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic, which I swear to up and down.  If you’d like to read it from the man himself, here’s a link to his blog.

That said, Brandon has revised his law in recent years to include a new word that I’ll take the liberty of underlining.

“The ability for magic to satisfactorily resolve conflicts is directly proportional to how much the readers know about said magic.” – Brandon Sanderson

Imagine a line.  On the left end is wonder and mystery.  On the right is cold hard science.  The closer the magic is to the right, the better it can solve problems satisfactorily.

Now, what does that word mean?

As far as I’m concerned, satisfactorily means – “In a way in which the reader does not feel cheated in the experience.”

Sure, I can swoop down a fleet of angels and save the fleet from utter annihilation…and that would solve the problem pretty well, but the reader would feel cheated.

Now, if it built up through the whole book that the main character could summon angels, then…yeah, maybe.  Still probably not, unless we’ve a clear idea of what the angels can and can’t do, but whatever.

Point said, I think his original thought when he created the law was that magic should not solve problems at all if the reader can’t understand its powers and limitations.  There was no spectrum of how satisfying it would be or what problems a less known magic could solve.

That sentiment seemed to have changed in recent years…for whatever reason, but I still love this law.

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