Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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On the question on how he could keep track of every person, culture, nation, etc., Robert Jordan answered that he had a file for every person, nation, city, culture, etc., describing it. In the case of persons, traumatic experiences, origin, favorite foods and colors, family, education, etc., is stored. Every person that appears several times, or has the chance to appear several times has a such file. Similar information is stored on the other entities. This information is used to flesh out the characters etc. and make them three-dimensional before the book itself is written.
Part of this information is going to be given in the Guide to the WoT books that is going to be published this autumn, but far from everything.
No, because when I'm with the character I do get into his head, quite intimately. Or her head. In an aside, the biggest compliment I've had in a way was paid to me when I was autographing for the second book. At two different signings, I had a woman approach me and say that she had lost a bet, or an argument in one case, because I was a man. They'd been sure that 'Robert Jordan' was a pseudonym for a woman because the women characters they thought were so well written that no man could do that.
But I do get into their heads. It's one of the reasons the books are as large as they are. There are that many layers and I cover that much territory and still get intimate, if you will, with each of the characters. Or at least each of the characters who is being a main character, or a viewpoint character at least, in that particular book.
The descriptions come from years of reading history, sociology, cultural anthropology, almost anything I can put my hands on in any and every subject that caught my eye. Including religion and mythology, of course, necessities for a fantasy writer, though I went at them first simply because I wanted to. It all tumbles together in my head, and out comes what I write. I don't try to copy cultures or times, only to make cultures that are believable. I can't explain it any better than that.
I don't base characters on real people. With one exception, at least. Every major female character and some of the minor have at least a touch of my wife, Harriet. I won't tell her which bits in which women, though. After all, what if she didn't like it? She knows where I sleep.
I can't pick three characters who are my favorites because my favorite is always whoever I am writing at the moment; that is, whoever is the point of view character for any given scene, I like that person and I like that person more than anyone else. I think that's a very basic human emotion. We like ourselves. And the reason that sacrificing yourself for someone else is such a big thing is because we do like ourselves very strongly. Now, if I don't like that character that I'm writing more than I like any of the others, then the character doesn't come out as being real.
There's something tainted in the writing. Something false.
Because I'm trying to get inside that character's skin, inside their head while I'm doing it. My wife will surprise the devil out of me. I'll come into the house with the day's writing, and before I've even said a word, she'll say to me, "Oh, you've been writing Padan Fain today, haven't you?"
And what's really frightening about it is one, I haven't said a word, and two, that even if it wasn't Padan Fain, it was somebody else that you really don't want to be alone with.
When you have the choice of many characters in a scene, how do you choose which character you will take the point of view from?
Choosing the POV character is a matter of choosing whose eyes are the best to see a scene. What do I want the reader to know in that scene? What do I want to leave them uncertain about? Since the POV character is the one whose thoughts you have access to, the easiest way to leave someone's motivations, reactions or future plans murky is to have someone else be the POV character. Or, if I want to set a certain tone, or to present events in a particular way, that influences the choice of POV character. Faile and Perrin, for example, will not see the same event in exactly the same way or react to it in the same way, nor will Min and Rand, or Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene, or Rand and Perrin and Mat.
There are a lot of battles, wars, and great conflicts in your books. Did your military experiences influence that part of your writing?
To some extent, but mainly the thing that comes out of my experiences in the military is that I know what it's like when someone is trying to kill you. And I know that being in a battle is confusion. You know what you can see; you don't know what is happening beyond your sight. That's what comes from the military. To tell you the truth, the battles aren't nearly as interesting as the people. I like the interactions of the people—the character development, the way people play off one another.
It seems that some of your readers don't think of your novels as fantasy so much as a really fine-grained history of a world that might have existed or might yet exist. Do you perceive your world as real?
I think that I have to. Any writer has to try and think of his world as real, because if he thinks of it as a construct, that's going to come across to the readers. It's very much like the question I'm often asked: who is my favorite character. It's whoever I'm writing at the moment. Even someone like Padan Fain or Semirhage. Most people like themselves, and if I don't like the character I'm writing, then it's going to come across to the reader that this character doesn't like himself or herself. My wife says she can tell when I've been writing Padan Fain or somebody like that when I come into the kitchen in the evening. I make myself see this as a real place when I'm working on it. That way it comes through, I hope, that I see more than I write.
Are there any characters in the books that are based on historical figures?
No. The groups are sometimes in ways based on historical organizations. The Whitecloaks have a lot of, say, Teutonic Knights. The Aes Sedai organization comes from the way convents were organized between A.D. 1000 and 1800, a time when there was real political power behind convents.
There is one real-life individual who has contributed a lot. My wife has given me, involuntarily, at least one major character trait for all of the major female characters in the books. I'm very mean to her, I won't tell her which character traits I have taken.
What got me involved in the project was a lot of bullying by my wife and my publisher, my wife being my editor. And at that time, she was also the senior vice president and editorial director of TOR Books.
I agreed to do one Conan novel—very reluctantly. I had a lot of fun doing it. I searched around to find some time in his life that hadn't been written about and settled on writing about him between the ages of 18 and 22. It is an age range where most young people think they have everything figured out. You know how the world works now and you are ready to take it on, and you are absolutely wrong—you don't know how anything works.
I had such fun doing that book, in a weak moment I agreed to do five more and a novelization of the second Conan movie [Conan the Destroyer]. By the end, I was glad to get out, to go back to writing my own stuff.
FRIDAY 23 July 2004
Things went even more smoothly on Friday.
Les Dabel picked them up again and I met them at the curb. RJ was in a great mood and had a smile on his face pretty often. This time we went right to the autograph area where a table had been setup for him to sign books. The Dabel Brothers and their team were all there. There were other celebrities nearby: I think Stan Lee was over at the next table signing photos of himself.
RJ signed books for about an hour. Again, he was able to personalize most of them, and there were few enough people where he was able to sign as many as they brought. One guy had 12 or 13 things for him to sign: all ten WoT novels, plus the Guide, some promo items I had sent out, and even some copies of Jordan's other books.
After the signing was over, Harriet and RJ had some lunch plans. I met up with them a few hours later when it was time for the second panel discussion. This one was entitled "Painting the Big Picture—Speculative Fiction on a grand scale".
During this discussion, RJ was much more talkative. He spoke quite frequently, at length at times. He cracked several jokes. He talked about many things he's talked about before: how he writes seven days a week, sometimes misses lunch, how Harriet can tell when he's been writing Padan Fain, how when we goes fishing and they aren't biting he feels like he should still be writing instead, and how he is the OLD TESTAMENT GOD in the lives of his characters.
Afterwards, I met up with him and Harriet and escorted them over to the final book signing of the weekend. It was by far the most popular one, and so I suggested that people just have two books signed per trip through the line. (If you were somebody in line with more than two books, sorry!! That rule always bugged me whenever I went to book signings, but now I see why they do it.) In the end, everyone had time to get all of their books signed. The few people who had brought suitcases of books (yes, suitcases!) were patient enough to just wait until the end, and then RJ signed all of their stuff.
After the signing, the Dabels took them back to their hotel and I went to go watch the special The Return of the King footage from the Extended Edition DVD. :)
My question for Brandon would be:
What kind of mental "retooling" does it take for him to work on an already established world/storyline like Wheel of Time since this is someone else's work?
Also, were there there a lot of notes or material left by Mr. Jordan to work from?
I thought about this quite a lot during the months when I was reading the Wheel of Time again straight through, trying to figure out how I would approach writing the final book. Obviously, this project wasn't going to be like anything I'd done before. I couldn't just approach it as I did one of my solo novels. And yet, it felt like trying to match Robert Jordan's style exactly would have made me lapse into parody.
A lot of the mental 'retooling' I did focused on getting inside the characters' heads. I decided that if I could make the characters sound right, the book would FEEL right, even if some of the writing itself was different. I also decided that I would adapt my style to fit the project. I became more descriptive, for one, and wrote viewpoint with the more intimate, in-head narrative style that Mr. Jordan used. Neither of these were attempts to match how he wrote exactly, but more me trying to match my style to The Wheel of Time, if that makes any sense.
In answer to the second question, he left LOTS of notes behind. He wrote complete scenes in places, dictated other scenes, left piles of notes and materials. The prologue was almost all completed by him (that will be split half in this book, half in the next.) The ending scenes were written by him as well. In the middle, there are a lot of scene outlines as well.
That's not to say there wasn't A LOT of work to do. The actual number of completed scenes was low, and in some places, there was no direction at all what to do. But his fingerprints are all over this novel. My goal was not to write a Brandon Sanderson book, but a Wheel of Time book. I want this novel (well, these three novels, now) to be his, not mine.
For elementfwwe, what keeps me going is that I enjoy what am doing. Think about it. I can make a living doing what I enjoy more than anything except sex.
I don't pattern characters after real people, but I do sometimes lift part of a real person for a character. I will say that a character in Knife of Dreams, Charlz Guybon, is named after a man whose wife won an auction for naming rights after I agreed to be part of a fund raiser for an English charity that works with victims of torture. She sent me his description, which I used. As I've often said, each of my major female characters has at least one element drawn from Harriet. And I won't tell her which parts of which characters came from her. That despite the fact that, as she likes to point out, she knows where I sleep. She did figure out that she is Semirhage when the garbage doesn't get to the curb on time, though.
As for my idol, that is my father, now deceased. He was a wonderful man, with a rich life. I'll try to paint a small picture. He got his first car, a Model A, at the age of thirteen because he had the habit of hitching rides with bootleggers in the Tennessee mountains, and after he was in a wreck where the driver ran off and my father told the police who had been chasing them that he had been driving, his father decided to put an end to the hitching. He was a noted middleweight boxer in the 1930s, rising in the rankings, but stopped after he badly injured another man in the ring. He was a veteran of WWII who spent a lot of time behind the Japanese lines, a quiet, gentle man who taught me to rebuild automobile engines, to hunt and fish. He told stories over the campfire when we were out hunting or fishing, thus starting me on the road to storytelling myself. He never said a word about me stealing shotgun shells from his stock so a known bootlegger and poacher would take me into the woods with him. Well, I didn't know about the poaching until later. But Junior knew more about the woods than anybody else I've ever met. My father was a poker shark with a photographic memory who allowed me to sit in for three hands whenever the weekly game was at our house, even when I was young enough to need to sit on three encyclopedias to be able to get my arms on the table. He staked me, he ate the losses, and we split any winnings I had. I did win one of those hands while sitting on stacked up Encyclopedia Americanas. He told my brothers and me that he had few requirements of us. Be honest. Keep your word always. Try to do better with your life than he had done with his. And whatever you decided to be, whether it was a college professor or an auto mechanic, be the best at it that you could manage to be. Yes, he was, and is, my idol.
DomA asks whether I feel sadness at the hatred of Cadsuane. No, nor do I feel sadness over those who dislike Egwene or Elayne or Faile or insert name here. The characters are who I want them to be. Some, people will like, and others people will dislike. In any case, I've noticed that even Faile has her supporters. As for her, I like her a lot. But then, I like all of my characters, even Semirhage. Even Padan Fain. As a character, anyway. As for Faile, she is a tough woman with a lot of gumption. Taken prisoner, enslaved in truth, caught in a cleft stick by the threats of Galina and Therava, she has (1) tried to get her people to freedom as she could and (2) worked toward an escape for the rest. However tough her situation gets, she wastes zero time on moaning about it. She gets on with trying to make it better. And Cadsuane? She's the tough maiden aunt a lot of us have had. Not the one who tries to keep you a child your whole life. She's the one who began expecting at least some adult responses out of you at about age six, the one who was willing to hand you responsibilities that everyone else thought you were too young for. You probably had a more nerve-wracking time, and more excitement and adventure, with her than you did with any three or four other adults in your life.
For N.O. Scott, no development in any of the characters has ever caught me by surprise, though once or twice I have realized that I could use someone in a fashion I hadn't expected to. There have been a few things that I intended to do but didn't. Sometimes, choosing to take a character in a certain direction precludes other things. The only thing that I wish I hadn't done was use the structure that I did for Crossroads of Twilight, with major sections beginning on the same day. Mind, I still think the book works as it is, but I believe it would have been better had I taken a more linear approach. When you try something different, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.
He answered NO and then proceeded to say that he tries very hard to get into the character he's writing about. He mentioned that sometimes when he's helping Harriet prepare dinner she'll go, "Have you been writing about Padan Fain today?" He said she's usually spot on, though it might not be Padan Fain but Semirhage, or Graendal or someone of that ilk.
He then told a story about how when he was a little boy (I didn't catch the age but I would guess 5 or younger) a neighbor woman went to pick him up. He mentioned that he had noticed the way the dress shifted with her movements and how unlike it was with his mother and how the perfume this woman was wearing was different than his mothers, and when this woman went to pick him up she slipped a bit and his "face got buried in her busom" and he felt a bit light headed. (big laugh) The woman laughed and called him precocious. He then said that ever since that day he's paid special attention to women. He said that he's paid so much attention to women that he now has an insight into how they react. This is why he has tried to create a gender equal environment in WoT.
RJ's answer, "No" but he then said that there is at least one character trait of Harriet's in each of the main female characters. He gave the joke of Harriet is Semirhage when the garbage doesn't get taken out to the curb.
He then went on to talk about the male characters and himself. When he was growing up he most wanted to be someone like Lan. Rand exhibits many of the feelings he felt growing up. He was big for his age like Perrin, and learned to be careful around others as he might accidentally hurt someone. Most of his fights were with three or more kids.
He said that Harriet insists he's Loial "down to his toenails". He said he had no idea why, he doesn't even have tufted ears. (big laugh) Someone then shouted out "Mat?" "Mat is me as a teenager and into my early twenties". (bigger laugh)
One of my favorite parts of the evening was when a question pointed him at who he felt he most resembled and someone in the audience suggested Loial because "he was a big teddy-bear" (yes, you may surmise this was posed by a woman...). He laughed at that and said that an old girlfriend used to call him a "teddy-bear but knew that he wasn't because she had seen the shadow of the man walking next to her and it more resembled a grizzly-bear..." He enjoyed the memory...
Never said who he felt closest to but did say, again, that it depended on who he was writing that day... He said he hated it when he came into her room and his wife would say, "You've been writing Padan Fain today!" Needless to say, he implied he wasn't popular on those days!
I was also pleased to hear him say that Lan had been modeled after his father. If only we could all be that type of father!
Before I start a book I always sit down and try to think how much of the story I can put into it. The outline is in my head until I sit down and start doing what I call a ramble, which is figuring how to put in the bits and pieces. In the beginning, I thought The Wheel of Time was six books and I'd be finished in six years. I actually write quite fast. The first Conan novel I did took 24 days. (I wrote seven Conan books—for my sins—but they paid the bills for a number of years.) For my Western, I was under severe time constraints in the contract so it was 98,000 words in 21 days—a killer of a schedule, especially since I was not working on a computer then, just using an IBM Correcting Selectric!
I started The Wheel of Time knowing how it began and how it all ended. I could have written the last scene of the last book 20 years ago—the wording would be different, but what happened would be the same. When I was asked to describe the series in six words, I said, 'Cultures clash, worlds change—cope. I know it's only five, but I hate to be wordy.' What I intended to do was a reverse-engineered mythology to change the characters in the first set of scenes into the characters in the last set of scenes, a bunch of innocent country folk changed into people who are not innocent at all. I wanted these boys to be Candides as much as possible, to be full of 'Golly, gee whiz!' at everything they saw once they got out of their home village. Later they could never go back as the same person to the same place they'd known.
But I'd sit down and figure I could get so much into a story, then begin writing and realize halfway in that I wasn't even halfway through the ramble. I'd have to see how I could rework things and put off some of the story until later. It took me four years to write The Eye of the World, and I still couldn't get as much of the story into it as I wanted; same with The Great Hunt. I finally reached a point where I won't have to do that. For Knife of Dreams I thought, "I've got to get all of that into one book: it's the penultimate volume!" And I did. Well, with one exception, but that's OK. That one exception would probably have added 300 pages to the book but I see how to put it in the last volume in fewer.
For Egwene, yes, I read Ray and Janny's Empire Trilogy and enjoyed it. Harriet has been the editor from the beginning with these books, but she has never been a co-writer is any sense or I would have credited it. My women come from observation of women in the world around me ranging back to my family. You see, I started early. When I was no more than three or four my mother gave a garden party, and a friend of hers picked me up. It didn't feel like being picked up by mother or by a baby sitter. I remember feeling her soft summer dress slide against her skin. I recall the soft, floral scent of her perfume. My mother might have worn that perfume, but this woman did not smell as all like mother.
She bent to set me down, and her grip on me slipped. Now her dress was one of those summer dresses that buttoned up the front, and as her grip slipped, I slid down, burying my face in her cleavage. My head seemed about to burst with the scent of her. Then she had me upright again, and she laughed, and ruffled my hair, and called me precocious. Which I recall because I ran off to learn what it meant.
After that, I looked around at the boys and girls my age. When we were dressed differently, we were very different, but if we were all dressed alike, in khakis or cut-offs for crabbing or to help with the shrimping, there wasn't much difference at all in how we looked or acted. The thing was, I could see me growing into my father, but I could not see any of the girls growing into that woman who had picked me up. So I began studying these strange creatures. I'll say nothing of methodologies. I have spent more than one night being harried across the rooftops by a mob of women carrying torches and pitchforks. We say nothing of sickles, of whatever size. We will not speak of those.
In any event, along the way I came to some small understanding of a small part of what makes women tick, and this has allowed me to write women that women find to be real.
For a fan of rolan_dcs, no characters in my books are based on any real people, living or dead. With the possible exception of myself, anyway. And the bits I took from Harriet for various female characters.
By the by, I've seen a lot of comment, apparently from men, that my female characters are unrealistic. That's because women are, for the most part, consummate actresses who allow men to see exactly what they intend men to see. Get behind the veil sometimes, boys, and your hair will turn white. I've been there, and mine went white and didn't stop there; a great deal of it actually turned dark again, the shock to my system was so great. Believe me, I mild it down so as not to scare any males into mental breakdowns.
As I read, I also found myself having a very odd reaction. You see, when I first read these books, I was a teenage boy. It's not odd, then, that I would empathize with Rand, Mat, and Perrin. Each previous time I read through the series, my major sympathies focused on them. I remember being frustrated by how much Nynaeve and Moiraine kept them out of the loop, ordering them around and not telling them anything.
Now I'm older. It has been years since I've read through these early books. Strangely—almost traitorously—I find myself looking on Rand, Mat, and Perrin as . . . well, reckless teenagers. I'm still very affectionate toward them and interested in their stories. Yet, every time they do something dumb (like run off in Shadar Logoth without telling anyone) I find myself wanting to scream at them "You wool-headed fools!"
Instead I find that . . . brace yourselves . . . Nynaeve is my favorite character in this book. I always found her annoying in a bossy-older-sister kind of way before. Now, she's the character closest to me in age, and I can see her motivations and feel for her plight. In my opinion, she's one of the most heroic people in this book, as she left the Two Rivers on her own (despite the recent attack) and tracked the others out further than she'd ever been before. Rand and the other boys have no choice but to do as told, buy Nynaeve could have gone home at any time. Instead, she stayed—all because of her determination to help protect those from the Two Rivers. She's trapped between the boys thinking she's bossy, but Moiraine treating her practically like a child. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.) She's got it rough, but she keeps on going.
I have to say, I'm impressed again with Mr. Jordan. It's hard to write these posts without sounding like a base sycophant. Yet, if you're an aspiring author, might I suggest that what he did here is something to study? He's managed to craft a book which not only appeals to the teenage readers who see themselves in Egwene or one of the boys, he's inserted characters who think and feel in a way that appeals to other audiences as well. I suspect this is part of why the books work so well. Perhaps after aging a little more and raising children of my own, I will find myself thinking more like Moiraine. (Though, to be honest, she's always been one of my favorite characters. Still is.)
So, there you have it. Brandon's favorite character of this book: Nynaeve. And I still think that's really strange. Next week, I'll give my reactions to The Great Hunt.
I mentioned before that I see things differently as I read these books through for the sixth or seventh time. I'm a writer myself now, and I look at the books from that standpoint. I can still enjoy them as a reader, but I think I enjoy different things as well. For instance, I love the sheer weight of conflict Mr. Jordan gave to his characters. I often say that stories are about conflict—characters are made interesting by conflict and a setting comes alive via the pressure points where different aspects of culture grind against each other. If you're an aspiring author, take note of the excellent variety of conflicts Rand has shown during the first book and a half:
1) Servants of the Dark One chasing him.
2) The Dark One himself (kind of) appearing in Rand's dreams.
3) Rand's worry about his identity and whether or not Tam is really his father.
4) Rand's worry about his relationship and love for Egwene
5) His tension between Mat and Perrin in Book Two.
6) His worry about everyone calling him a lord.
7) His frustration that the White Tower is trying to control him.
8) The danger of channeling and his place as the Dragon Reborn
And that's just a few of them. There's a reason why this story has been so successful and has been able to carry so many books. Conflict. There's no shortage of it here. Anyway, I'm still enjoying Nynaeve's character, though I wish she'd get over her anger at Moiraine. In most things, Nynaeve is clever, but she's got a hole in her vision when it comes to Moiraine.
I said Perrin last year. This year, I'm not sure I can claim that any more. Not that my affection for Perrin has waned. I've simply spent too much time writing through the characters' eyes.
One of the spectacular things about the Wheel of Time was the depth of characterization. No matter who's eyes you were seeing through, they felt real and lively. To each character, they are the most important person in their own story.
As a writer, you can't play favorites. At least not when you're actually writing. When I sit down to write Egwene, she's my favorite. When I sit down to write Rand, he's my favorite. And when I sit down to write Perrin, he's my favorite.
Through different points in the books, different characters are my 'favorite' to read about. Rand dominates my interest in books one and two, but I find myself leaning toward Perrin and then Aviendha in the next few books. Nynaeve's story in the middle end, with the rescue by Lan, is a personal favorite. Mat takes center stage after that, and Egwene is my favorite to read in Knife of Dreams.
Last year I mentioned the depth of the worldbuilding, and this really has been a challenge. I know there are some of you out there who can name every single Aes Sedai, their Ajah and relative strength in the Power. But I've never been that kind of reader. I've loved these books, and I've been through them a number of times (currently, I've read The Eye of the World nine times.) I know these characters—I know how to write them and how to think as them. But the side characters are a challenge to keep track of. I don't have a trivia mind. I forget the names of my OWN side characters sometimes. I know who they are, but I can't name them.
(Fortunately, I now know that Mr. Jordan himself had trouble sometimes keeping track of them all, which is why he had assistants to help him.)
Other than that, there have been a few characters that have been more difficult to get 'right' than other characters. The Aiel, for instance, are a challenge to make sound right. They're such an interesting people, and they see the way in such a peculiar way. I've had to spend a lot of time working on making them sound right.
To further the above question by Nadine: How did you ever keep the unique power systems all straight and use them so well for your readers to understand?
The powers, to me, were just so fascinating, well developed, and unique on so many levels! I think with a lesser artist than yourself the powers might have been too much to take in, but I found them quite easy to follow and understand. Just amazing! You seriously are one of my favorite authors. I'll be in line for all of your books!
Thanks! It took a lot of practice. Keeping them straight for myself isn't so difficult—it's like keeping characters straight. The more I've written, the easier it's become.
What is more difficult is keeping it all straight for the readers. This can be tough. One of the challenges with fantasy is what we call the Learning Curve. It can be very daunting to pick up a book and find not only new characters, but an entirely new world, new physics, and a lot of new words and names.
I generally try to introduce this all at a gentle curve. In some books, like Warbreaker, starting with the magic system worked. But in Mistborn, I felt that it was complex enough—and the setting complex enough—that I needed to ease into the magic, and so I did it bit by bit, with Vin.
In all things, practice makes perfect. I have a whole pile of unpublished novels where I didn't do nearly as good a job of this. Even still, I think I have much to learn. In the end of Mistborn One and Warbreaker both I think I leave a little too much confusion about the capabilities of the magic.
When it comes to crazy plot twists, fascinating characters, magic systems, humor, religion, etc., what do you feel, for you, is the hardest part to get on paper or come up with?
I would say that the most difficult parts have to do with getting a character's internal conflicts (if they have them) right. Sometimes, this can take a lot of exploration. Sazed in Mistborn 3 took a LOT of work before I was satisfied.
Second hardest is getting the humor right, particularly witty style humor like in the Lightsong sections of Warbreaker. There are frequently times when I spend hours on a single line in sections like that.
Are you going to write more about the Mistborn? There's still those mysterious metals, and it's a brand new world out there now so many possibilities you could do with that!
I will, someday, write a follow-up trilogy to Mistborn. It will be set several hundred years after the events of the first trilogy, after technology has caught up to where it should be. Essentially, these will be urban fantasy stories set in the same world. Guns, cars, skyscrapers—and Allomancers.
That's still pretty far off, though. The other metals are being revealed on the poster I'm releasing of the Allomantic table. Should be for sale on my website sometime soon, though someone here can probably link to the image I posted of it, which has the other metals explained. (I can't remember where exactly that link is right now.)
Hero of the new trilogy would be a nicrosil Misting.
Vin has been hard for me to pin down, inspiration wise. I tried so many different variations on her character (even writing her character as a boy) that it's hard to pinpoint when I got it right. There was no one single inspiration for her. (Unlike Sarene, who was based on a friend of mine.) She's a mix of my sisters, a good writer friend of mine, and a dozen different other little bits of people.
The time when I got her character RIGHT was when I wrote the scene that became her first in Mistborn, where she's watching the ash blow in the street, and envies it for its freedom. That, mixed with Kelsier's observation that she isn't a bad person—she just thinks everyone else is—were the big points where her character took form.
About your characters, Brandon: Which ones are the most like yourself?
Other information that we gleaned from dinner included learning that Aviendha is the favorite out of the three in Rand’s “harem.” Hopefully we’ll get to see more of Pevara being awesome, but that could possibly appear in a novella on Brandon’s web page that will fill in some missing holes. But no promises! And one last interesting fact, in order to get the Illianer and Taraboner accents right, he wrote the book then went back and did a search for all the characters of those nations and then worked on their crazy accents.
Some other info that we learned during the Q&A included finding out that the most rewarding part of writing The Gathering Storm for Brandon was working with Harriet. It took 18 months of 14 hour days (although that includes a chunk of Towers of Midnight) to finish the book. The Two Rivers and Andoran characters were the easiest for him to write, while the Aiel and Seanchan were the hardest.
In my early years writing, it was hard. I finally got it right in Elantris. It was harder to write from other cultures, especially Aviendha and Tuon. It took three tries to get Aviendha right..."Aiel are weird."
Brandon describes Mat dealing with Tuon leaving as Mat having his feet knocked out from under him and says that in Robert Jordan's notes it says specifically that "Mat refuses to become husbandly".
I really like it. There's a tendency in [genre] fiction to ignore the boundaries of family. Telling a story, often, especially young-adult stories, want to take everyone away from their families, and to pretend they don't have families, so they can go on this adventure and not be constrained by family ties. It's this idea of escapism. Part of the realism for me in The Wheel of Time is that that doesn't happen to the characters. You follow different characters' parents and siblings, and it stretches across so many different types of lives and different social statuses, different cultures and countries that it feels very real, and it also feels very personal. Rand has a father. Granted, he's an adopted father, but Rand has a father and his relationship with his father is extremely important to him throughout the entire series. Even though we haven't seen Tam for a while, he doesn't just vanish as a character. Robert Jordan is very good about weaving people back in, and Tam goes and hangs out with Perrin and is working with him. There's a sense that they are real people because of their family relationships.
Having a son now myself, it makes me want to tell stories where you deal with family, because that's such a big part of all of our lives. It feels now awkward and strange to me that so many stories ignore this. It's become a cliché: the parents are either killed off at the end or at the beginning, or you go away and we don't bother about them or talk about them because they're boring, and the adventure is cool. That's not life.
The change in Mat's personality that many of us noticed in The Gathering Storm was deliberate. He's reacting to being married, which was the last thing he thought would happen to him. RJ's notes said specifically that "Mat refuses to become husbandly", and he's doing that by trying to go back to how he was in The Dragon Reborn. This is part of where the silliness with the backstories comes from—he knows that he was less serious and more of a joker at the time, but can't really get back to how he was then.
When he was writing Talmanes, Maria mentioned that Talmanes doesn't usually mock Mat in the earlier books. Brandon said that he has always read Talmanes that way, and that's what he finds so funny about it—Mat doesn't realize he's being teased.
Sanderson felt honored and overwhelmed at the same time. Although he was a respected and prolific fantasy writer with a growing career, his name on a Wheel of Time book would introduce him to hordes of new readers and send him to the top of the best-seller lists for weeks. But he would have to take time off from his own ambitious epics, and he faced a huge challenge: To be true to Jordan's work while retaining his own distinctive style.
Sanderson wrestled with the question for a long time before deciding that he would concentrate on keeping the character voices authentic and consistent. "We don't want these stories to become about Brandon," he says, "but in the same way, the original Wheel of Time books ... weren't about Jim. They were about the story and the characters. As long as I can make the characters feel right and do the story the right way, I think it will turn out all right."
Sanderson made it his "prime directive" to make sure the characters sounded like their old selves. "My second rule was that if Jim said it, the default is to do it as he said, to put it in as he said. And then rule No. 3 is that I can contradict rule No. 2 if it's necessary for the storytelling."
By considering these three rules, Sanderson ensured that Rigney's story was told consistently. "I'm continually going back and reading Jim's original notes and his previous books," says the author, "balancing that with looking at what I think he was trying to do, what he said he was trying to do, and what would make the best story. In some cases I trust my instincts as a writer, and in other cases I just say, 'This is what Jim said. We're doing it.' I can't really tell you where I draw the line, when I do one or the other. Oftentimes when the situation comes up, I'll write to Harriet and her assistants and say, 'What do you think?'"
McDougal's association had its own complications. As the book progressed, she would send her reactions to Sanderson. These didn't always equate with his own ideas or those of Simons and Romanczuk. "I've learned not to do that horrible thing to Brandon," she says. "Three different people were giving him different reactions. We weren't all on the same page."
Robert Jordan once said, "My books raise questions, but I don't want my books to answer them. I want them to make you think, and wonder, and question, and come to your own conclusion." I have always thought that was one of the wisest things that I have ever heard anyone say. I have actually had characters quote it in books before, although I cannot remember if it was in one that has been published or not. But, I have always liked that, and I have used that as my guiding light. I want to deal with things, and I want to have characters struggle with things, and all of this important stuff.
I don't want to give you answers, so I deal with this by having characters that approach things from different directions. And most of these themes grow out of the characters' desires. I don't go into a book saying, "I'm going to write a book about this." I go into a book saying, "Here are characters who care about this and this." So, themes develop as you write the book because the characters influence them and design them. And that is what becomes the heart of the book, what the characters care about.
Well, for this entire interview, I've tiptoed around one issue: the fan reaction to Mat in The Gathering Storm.
You kindly didn't ask directly, though I did sense that you were trying to get at it. And your own comments about The Gathering Storm are among those I did read. I know what you've said about Mat.
It's curious. I've gotten around 1500 emails about The Gathering Storm so far. (Of those, by the way, only one person didn't like the book. I'm not arrogant enough to assume that person is the only one—I'm guessing that most who didn't like the book didn't feel the need to email me and chew me out for it.)
Of those 1500, only a handful mention Mat. However, he IS the one brought up the most often. Oddly, it's almost exactly divided between people saying, "I love how you did Mat, he's my favorite part of the book," and people saying, "I loved everything about the book, except Mat didn't feel right."
That has been very interesting to me. One thing this does for me is that it actually relieves a big burden off my back, because it means that I did everybody else right. It also means that Mat is noticeably different to a small number of people. Was this done intentionally? No, it was not. I worked on Mat like I worked on all the rest of the characters, and I feel as close to Mat as I feel to the rest of the characters. I asked Harriet, and she said, "You did Mat perfectly. Don't change him."
So...where does that leave us? I'm not sure. I do realize that my sense of humor is slightly different from Robert Jordan's sense of humor. And perhaps if I had to do it again, I wouldn't lead with the monologue from Mat that I used, because that's where the difference is most obvious. A person's sense of humor is like their thumbprint. And I'm not sure that I could ever replicate Robert Jordan's thumbprint when it comes to that, and it never has been my goal to replicate him exactly.
I think that in the narrative, though—the places aside from the monologues—Mat is still Mat. Of course, Mat had some really big things happen to him in Knife of Dreams, things that have shaken him and the way he sees the world. But at his core, he's still the same person.
However, if you were worried about him, it should help you to know that the large bulk of the Mat sequences Robert Jordan wrote are in Towers of Midnight. There is a lot more Robert Jordan Mat to come. So maybe it's not really an issue at all.
But that's how I was reading him, and perhaps other people read him differently. And my particular biases on the character were manifest. Does that make sense? That's how I've always seen him.
But, one thing that I have to warn Wheel of Time readers... In me you get some interesting things writing the Wheel of Time book. What you get, which I hope is an advantage is someone who has read the books through multiple times, who's read The Eye of the World nine times, who is a very deep, big fan of the series. But what you're also getting hand-in-hand with that is someone who starting reading the Wheel of Time when he was fourteen...and on occasion has used his line edit privileges not for good.
Like, there are certain things that are embedded in my imagination that I have not realized until working on these books that I was wrong all along, one of which you may notice in The Gathering Storm was the length of the bridges into Tar Valon. Which, I had a conception of them, and I didn't look it up because I'm like, 'oh, I know what that looks like,' and so I started describing it and nobody called me on it, and then it comes out and fans are like, 'these are like a mile long, you can't really see the other side, you know, in the way you described it.' And I looked at it and then I read the Big White Book, I'm like, "Holy crap, these bridges are a mile long!" That's enormous! That's not how I imagined it at all. But that's how it is if you look at the maps.
These are some of these things where if I even had an inkling that it would be wrong, I would have questioned it. And in other cases, you'll get things like Talmanes, where I have always been reading him a certain way. And in my head, I'm like, this guy is way...you know, Mat's just not noticing the smirk that this man has in his eyes. That's how I've always read him, and so when I write him that comes out. Is that how Robert Jordan intended it? Well, I'll leave you to decide whether he had the line, 'he actually has a smirk inside,' or if it's just all along me reading him this way that makes me write him that way.
But does that give you some examples of understanding? This is one of the things, the issues we kind of slightly have to deal with me writing the Wheel of Time books is, you know, you can get some advantages. Mat, and Rand, and Perrin, and Egwene...these are my high school friends. I feel like I know these better than I know most of the friends I know in my life right now because I've known these people longer. Really, I mean, you know. You get that, and so hopefully their voices are very close to what Robert Jordan was writing them as, but you also get the preconceptions.
Several things. There's a real challenge in this book because I did not want to go the path of The Wheel of Time in which there had been an Age of Legends that had fallen and that the characters were recapturing. Partially because Robert Jordan did it so well, and partially because a lot of fantasy seems to approach that concept. But I did want the idea of a past golden age, and balancing those two concepts was somewhat difficult. I eventually decided I wanted a golden age like existed in our world, such as the golden of Greece and Rome, where we look back at some of the cultural developments etc. and say, "Wow, those were really cool." And yet technologically, if you look at the world back then, it was much less advanced than it is now, though it was a time of very interesting scientific and philosophical growth in some areas. What we have in Roshar is that the Knights Radiant did exist, and were in a way a high point of honor among mankind, but then for various reasons they fell. The mystery of why they did and what happened is part of what makes the book work.
Why is this world appealing to write in? Well, I like writing my worlds like I write my characters, where at the beginning of the book you're not starting at the beginning or the end of the characters' lives; you're starting in the middle. Because when we meet people, their lives don't just start that day. Interesting things have happened before, and interesting things are to come. I want the world to be the same way. Interesting things have happened in the past, and interesting things are to come again. I want there to be a depth and a realism to the history. It's fascinating for me to write at this point because on the one hand, there are things to recapture in the past, but at the same time there are things that the people in the past never understood and could never do. The former heights of scientific reasoning didn't go at all as far as they could have gone. So there are new places to explore and there are things to recapture. In a lot of ways, this plays into my philosophy for storytelling. The greatest stories that I've loved are those that walk the balance between what we call the familiar and the strange. When a reader sits down and there are things that resonate with stories they've read before that they've loved, there's an experience of joy to that. At the same time, you want there to be things that are new to the story, that you're experiencing for the first time. In this world, that's what I'm looking for. There is that resonance from the past, but there's also a long way to go, a lot of interesting things to discover.
There will be a similar number, with a small expansion. At this point I believe you have met every one of the major viewpoint characters for the series. I don't want it to spiral out of control. I think too many viewpoint characters is a danger to epic fantasy, putting a writer in difficult predicaments for subsequent books—whether to leave some characters out, or whether to show a little bit of each of them without getting any major plot arcs for any of them.
So you've seen pretty much everybody. Now, at this point there are several who are major viewpoint characters for the series who we have not had many or any viewpoints from yet—Jasnah is one, a character who shows up in the epilogue is another, and there are a few others—but there are in my mind essentially eight or ten major characters in this series, and it will stick to that.
The interludes will continue to be what they are, which is that those characters may show up again, but it's unlikely that there will be many more viewpoints from them. The interludes are there because I wanted to have my cake and eat it too—I wanted to have the big sprawling epic with a lot of major viewpoints that we spend a lot of time on like Robert Jordan did, but I also wanted to have the quick jumps around that George R. R. Martin does, and they're two masters of the genre. And so I decided on the interludes as a way to jump around and show the world, to give depth and to give rounding to what's happening—give you little glimpses into important aspects of the world—but those characters are not people you have to remember and follow. Each of the interludes will have one character that you need to pay attention to, but you can take the interludes and read them and without having to focus too much on remembering and keeping track of what their plot is. Then you can jump back into the main characters. And that's always going to be the case in the books to come.
Each book will also have one character who has flashbacks throughout that book—we'll stick to one per book, and you will find out how they ended up where they are as we dig back into their past.
I've already talked about it a little bit—one of the things is learning how to approach the middle books, specifically how to use the form to enhance the novel as a whole. One of the big things I've learned from Robert Jordan recently is foreshadowing.
I used to think I was good at it until I really sat down and studied what he was doing. Another thing I think I've learned a ton about from him is viewpoint; excellent use of viewpoint is one of the ways to keep all your characters distinct. In addition, juggling so many plots, etc., all of these things have forced me to grow as a writer and have helped me quite a bit with writing The Way of Kings.
I thought it would be much harder to get the characters' voices down. That was the part I worried about, and if you read my early interviews, I talk a lot about that. And surprisingly, it was not nearly as difficult as I thought. There are certainly a few characters I struggled with more than others. But in this book, Towers of Midnight, I think our character voices are spot-on. That actually comes from Jason from Dragonmount's interpretation of it—he said that he believes it's really just on. And that makes me feel good.
What has been harder has been keeping track of everyone. I thought I was steeped in Wheel of Time lore before I started these books. No, I wasn't. When people on tour asked me questions I realized how ignorant I am, despite having written and studied as much as I have. I know a lot—it's like I've got a Master's degree in the Wheel of Time, but there are people out there with postdoc experience who are completely showing me up at every step of the way. Keeping track of everything is a real challenge. I've described before the way I approach this. Essentially, when I get ready to write a scene from a character's viewpoint, I dump everything into my head that I need, and I try to write all of those scenes in the book for that character while maintaining all of that knowledge. Then I dump it out and get everything ready for another character. That's the only way I can do it, because there's just so much to hold on to.
I have gotten very good at this over the years. For instance, during many years I would be working on something like one of the Mistborn books alongside one of the Alcatraz books. If you read those two, the tones are extremely different. One of the ways I keep things separate is that I generally only write new material for one project at a time. I can edit and revise one project, by taking what it needs to be and making it better, at the same time as I write new material for another project. One of the things you should keep in mind is that when I'm writing Wheel of Time books, the struggle is always—even if I'm not working on something else at the same time—to make sure that I'm remaining true to Robert Jordan's vision of the characters rather than interpreting them myself. Which means that when it comes time to write a scene from a character's viewpoint, before I write anything that day I generally read a chapter of Robert Jordan's work from that character's viewpoint, and I try to ingrain that in my head and get a resonance going, so that when I sit down to write I can keep the character's voice straight.
Your question is a little bit like asking an artist, "How can you paint an impressionist painting one day, and then switch to realism the next day?" Well, they're slightly different arts. Each expresses a painting in its own unique way, and it's just what you do as an artist. It's the same difficulty a writer has jumping between characters in a single book. How do I write Shallan in The Way of Kings and then jump and write Kaladin, and keep them from sounding like one another? It's something you have to learn to do as a writer. Otherwise, your character voices will all blend together.
I thought Rand’s arc in The Gathering Storm was brilliant—starting to get better then—bang! Cuendillar Rand, and finally "Veins of Gold". Was it difficult to write? Can you give us some insight into how you stayed in the mind of a madman?
It was difficult to write. I’ve said before that I view a lot of these characters as my high school friends, people I grew up with. Facilitating Rand going through these extremely painful and sometimes revelatory moments was not easy emotionally, and yet there’s an excitement and a power to writing emotional scenes where things are coming together. So I would say it’s actually more difficult to write a character like Gawyn, who’s frustrated and struggling with not knowing what he’s doing, than someone like Rand who always has a direction—even if that direction is straight down, as it was in places. He’s always moving. So because of that, Rand was in many ways easier to write than other characters were. Yet at the same time it was painful to write. That doesn’t really answer your question, but maybe it does give some insight, as you asked.
Cadsuane seems more than any other to be a character people either love or hate to great degrees, and I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on her as a character, and her role in the story?
The fact that people are so passionate about her means that Robert Jordan wrote her the right way.
That's an issue that I feel I should speak about delicately, because it's one of those charged issues that can create a lot of division. But my basic feeling is that a character should not be any more or less sympathetic, or more or less evil, or anything like that, because of sexual orientation or because of basic beliefs or philosophy on things like religion. So there are gay characters in my books, though so far they have been side characters. I don't make a big deal of it, because I tend not to make a big deal of the sexuality of side characters in general. For instance, in The Way of Kings, Drehy, a member of Bridge Four, is gay. He's based on a good friend of mine who is gay. There is a lesbian character in Alloy of Law; again I don't make a big deal of it though it's a little more obvious.
Basically, I just try to write characters and try to have different makeups of characters. I feel gay characters should be included, and I'm annoyed that sometimes there seems to be an association between including gay characters and using that as a means of making them seem like a reprehensible character. You may know what I'm talking about; I've seen it in books before and it bugs me. Just like it bugs me if an author makes a character religious and the tone of the book implies, "Well, obviously, religious people are all idiots, so I'm not going to make this character actively an idiot, I'm just going to represent them as being religious," which by the tone of the book indicates that they're an idiot. That's not to say that there can't be social structures like religions that will push people toward doing things that are questionable or morally reprehensible—there can, of course, and it will happen—but I'm talking about the individuals. I don't know that I have strong feelings on the subject other than that I think people should be represented as people.
I wrote a bit more about the subject in my essay on Dumbledore.
That's a very writerly question. This is from a writer himself. [Brandon asks if question needs repeating.] Jason's just wondering, since the characters have now changed through Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, when I'm now writing them, how much do I rely on who they were in the previous books and how much do I rely on who they are now? This is actually a very good question, probably a better question than most of you know. It comes at it from a writer's perspective, because this is something I consciously have had to think about. Because as I was writing Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, characters need a character progression. And I actually had to make the decision early on, if I'm actually going to progress these characters, they're going to have to evolve from being what they were. And that was scary to me, because who they were are who Robert Jordan meant them to be, and yet he would have evolved them. And if we didn't evolve them and they remained static, then it would've felt wrong. It would have been safer, but it would have felt wrong. The books would not have been slam dunks because Robert Jordan had them on arcs and they would have suddenly flatlined. And as a writer when I was working, I realized that this was going to have to happen.
And I'm not even sure if I can answer how I'm approaching it because it's such a complex swirl of things in my head. Part of it is, a person will change but their voice doesn't change dramatically. Their voice remains the same but their maturity and their experiences change, and so maybe how they react to something may change, but who they are at their core doesn't. I can still read the previous Wheel of Times and get their voice in mind, but I now have to incorporate for some of them major changes and moments that have happened in their lives. Fortunately, I have a large base of material to work from, and these characters have been in different emotional states at different times. It's like you can build . . . they're on a gradual swing of an arc, but everybody's more like this because that's how characters are. You're up one moment, down the next, up, down, and hopefully you're going on this nice character arc where you've got basic overarching growth. But, at the same time, you're going to be dipping sometimes, and regressing sometimes, and sometimes you're going to be on highs. And so I can look at the characters at their highs to see what has now become the baseline, so to speak, and I can look at them as sometimes who they were for the troughs. Everybody is in a lot of different places a lot of different times. That's part of it. But part of it is I really feel that I know the soul of these characters now. Growing up reading them, then working on them as a writer. . . I've said this before, I am much more of a gardener when it comes to character. I don't plan my characters nearly as much because I don't know who a character is till I write through their eyes, till I write through their viewpoint and see through their eyes and see who they are, and at that point I can't describe to people, I just know them. It's an instinctive thing. For me with a plot, I can construct a plot and tell you exactly how I'm constructing a plot, and how I'm building in climaxes, and how I'm building in foreshadowing, and all of this stuff. I can talk about worldbuilding. But when it comes to characters, it's that glimmer, that glowing piece that is their soul, that I can't describe but I just know when I see it. And that's what I rely upon.
Perrin was the easiest, for the same reasons as I called him my favorite above. Mat was the hardest for me to write, because his humor is so different from my own.
The ending has already been written by Robert Jordan, and as a reader I found it extremely satisfying when I reached it. And so I feel very confident that the ending of the next book is going to be what everyone has been hoping for and wanting—without being exactly what they expect. I think the ending that Robert Jordan wrote is just wonderful. But in another respect I'm a bit sad, because I won't get to experience the ending for the first time when a new Wheel of Time book comes out in the bookstores like everyone else will.
If you do a search online you can find a few words that Robert Jordan said about the closing sentence of the Wheel of Time before he passed away. It's out there in an interview. I won't say whether it's going to stay that way or not, because essentially what he says is "This is what it would be if I wrote it right now, but it often changes" and things like that. He wrote it, not me, so I don't feel right giving a spoiler on that. But if you look around, the interview is out there where he said some words on it.
I'm not just filling in holes. At the same time, I'm trying hard to keep anything RJ said in mind, and trying to make the book fit his vision.
It's a tough balance. There is a lot of work to be done, depending on the character in question. For example, for The Gathering Storm, he left a lot on Egwene, but less on Rand. In Towers of Midnight, a lot on Mat, less on Perrin. He left a lot of notes on how everyone should end up after the Last Battle, but often didn't say how they'd get there.
One of the things I've been impressed by is this: Harriet and Tor could have hired a ghost writer and pretended that RJ finished the book before he died. People would have believed them. However, while a ghost writer could have imitated RJ's voice, Harriet felt she wanted a fantasy novelist to do it. First, to be honest to the fans. Second, because there was enough work to be done that the person couldn't just connect dots, but would actually have to build parts of the story.
She gave me complete creative freedom to do what needed to be done, with the understanding that she would edit. (If you don't know, Harriet is one of the 'greats' in sf/f editing. She edited Ender's Game, for example, and may of the big fantasy and sf authors during the 70s and 80s. She discovered RJ, edited him, then married him.)
So, when I go wrong, she is there to push me the right direction. It's hard to answer a question of how much is me, and how much is RJ. His fingers are on every scene, as I'm trying to match the character voices (but not his writing style exactly) and get them right. Most scenes come from at least a comment in the notes here or there, and for some, he left a paragraph or two explanation. For others, he wrote the entire thing.
For some, I'm building it from the ground up, taking where the character was at the end of Knife of Dreams and giving them a story that earns them the ending RJ mentioned for them.
I'd say it's split between a couple of things. First: Keeping track of all of the characters. (Like remembering which Aes Sedai are with which main character, and which members of the Black Tower are which rank.) Got one of those wrong in the book, by the way. Second: Making sure everyone's voice (the characters) is correct. That's the most important thing, and I spent a lot of time on it.
Brandon, is the hardest part of writing the WoT keeping up with the 12,000 and some odd major and minor characters?
You got it exactly. That is TOUGH. Obviously, I can keep track of the mains. But those minor characters...It takes a LOT of work to make sure I'm getting them all.
It shows, I guess the best compliment I can give is that half way through The Gathering Storm I forgot that Jordan hadn't written it.
I take it as a great compliment when people say that, while reading The Gathering Storm, they forgot Mr. Jordan hadn't written it.
I find it EXTREMELY humorous that there are at LEAST two separate charaters (maybe three I think) that have my given name or a variant thereof. :P
What is it?
I don't generally sit down and say I'm going to write someone who's this archetype or that archetype. What I wanted for this book, honestly, was just to have fun. I love writing epic, awesome stories; I love stories that are full of deep character conflict and broad world-spanning conflict—but sometimes I just want to back away from that and have fun.
The Wax archetype with the sidekick—the two of them were built from the ground up to be characters who played off one another well to facilitate good banter. Because I like to write good banter. I like to read it, I like to enjoy it. Whether it's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Holmes and Watson or whatever—I get a kick out of these types of stories. So when I was writing this book, I was really just saying let's step back for a little while from the kind of stories I was writing with The Way of Kings and the Wheel of Time—which are both (I hope) very awesome, and deep, and complex—and let's do something that's just fun.
It does. My English publisher commissioned a survey, and the managing director took us to dinner and said to me at the table, "We've discovered that your readership is perfectly spherical." I said, "What are you telling me? They're fat? What are you saying?"
He said that apparently in England, my readership is evenly distributed according to age level. Evenly distributed according to income level. Evenly distributed according to educational level, according to political party, according to area of the country they live in. Every single category it was even distribution. He said we could not find a significant statistical bump anywhere.
Now, there's no such survey for the United States. All I have is the fan mail and the people who show up at the signings. But I have 12 year old kids and I have people in their 80s. I have gangbangers and cops. I get letters from convicts. I have college students and doctors and housewives. I had teenage girls telling me things like, "You are sooo cool." I mean, good Lord, I felt like a rock star. I found that Sir Edmond Hillary is a fan of my books. I found that a high official in the Russian government hands my books out, telling people that they are not a manual of politics but a manual of the poetry of politics. There is no typical Robert Jordan reader.
Can you explain that? I don't think I've ever talked to another author who's told me that.
No. No, I can't. I try to write about people who seem like real people. When I need to make somebody do something in the stories, they do it for reasons that that person would do it, not simply because it's part of the story. I work very hard, when I am writing from a woman's point of view, to make that character seem like a woman, not like a woman written by a man.
I was very pleased, years ago, when I was on tour for The Dragon Reborn, and Robert Jordan was not Robert Jordan, so to speak. He was just another fantasy writer out there, not somebody who made the New York Times (best seller lists) or anything like that. I had women come up to me then and say, "Until they saw me, they had thought Robert Jordan was the pen name of a woman, because said they didn't believe any man could write women that well." So I thought, "All right! Damn. I did it, I did it right."
I try to make the people distinct in who they are, and as I said, "I work very hard on the women in particular, and I think that makes all of the characters real, or seem real." Now, that may turn out to be not at all the reason that people like the books, but it's the only reason I can think of. Except I think do think I tell a pretty good story.
It depends on how that particular story works. I don't have a set of rules that I follow for any particular story. I look at the story that I want to tell and decide how best to tell it.
In this particular instance, especially since it's in part about the reader knowing more than the individual characters do in the story, I like to show things from different people's points of view so that we're not seeing someone with the same opinions always looking at what's happening. There are people with different opinions about everything under the sun who witness the events, take part in the event, and thus report them according to their own beliefs and prejudices.
I go into books trying to present characters who are real. That said, some things in the real world that have influenced me are these questions of, what are you willing to sacrifice in the way of freedom in order to have security? I think that's a big theme recently in the Wheel of Time that Robert Jordan was dealing with, and that The Gathering Storm deals with a lot.
I was most fascinated with Egwene's progress as a leader through the entire series. And the things I was allowed to do because of what Jordan had done in Knife of Dreams and the set up in previous books, and then what was in the notes, was really exciting to me because she was able to come to encapsulate what a leader really is, I think. There are some great scenes in Gathering Storm that I got to be part of, where, you know, we've had Aes Sedai acting kind of as bullies, some of them. And we've had various people through various factions acting as bullies. And there has been this sense in the Wheel of Time that people believe that might makes right. And yet it doesn't, and the books imply that it doesn't. And Egwene is the first chance we've really got to see of someone with no might making an even better right.
Writing Rand and Mat and Perrin and Egwene in particular was very natural to me. Aviendha was hard. I tried her early on in the process, which might have been a mistake because she thinks so differently. But I actually had to throw away two chapters of Aviendha that no one will ever see because she thinks like a Two Rivers folk, which is not the way Aviendha should think. I was disappointed in them, the first one I wrote. And anyway, I kept working on it till I got it right.
Oh, it can be excruciating. There are some excruciating Rand scenes in this book. Though, you know, the harder scenes to write are the ones where characters, not necessarily terrible things are happening to, but where they're depressed or muddled, or you know. In a lot of ways, the Rand scenes were painful to write, Gawyn's scenes were harder to write, because Gawyn is lost. And he doesn't know. . . he's struggling through things, and at least Rand is pointed in a direction. Maybe it's the wrong direction, but he's pointed in a direction and he's doing things. Gawyn doesn't know what he's doing, and that can be really tough.
Perrin is, of all the main characters, the furthest back in his arc, if that makes sense. Like, through the most recent books, he was growing and he was getting there, he was almost there. And then, he let himself be diverted from achieving these things that he needed to achieve. And I won't say whether he achieves them or not. Sometimes the arc is. . . at the end of the arc, they make the wrong decisions.
Guess I will get things started. Thanks for visiting Brandon! You write such wonderful, believable female heroines, who are your role models and influences?
Apologies for my late arrival, folks. I'll try to answer a couple questions per day, and I'll answer everything that gets asked up through the end of the month, though it may take me a while!
Writing believable female heroines — I should probably back up and point out that I wasn't always good at this. In fact, in the first few books I wrote before Elantris I was terrible at it. That disconcerted me because it was something I wanted to make a strength in my writing. This is partially due to the fact that so many of my favorite fantasy novels growing up, when I first discovered fantasy, were from female writers with really strong female protagonists. So there was a piece of my mind that said having strong female protagonists is a big part of fantasy. I don't know how common that viewpoint is, but because those were the people whose books I read—writers like Anne McCaffrey, Melanie Rawn, and Barbara Hambly—I wanted to be able to do that in my own fiction. Even beyond that you want every character you write to be believable, and it's been a habitual problem of men writing women and women writing men that we just can't quite get it right, so I knew it was going to be something I'd have to work hard at.
I took inspiration from women I know, starting with my mother, who graduated top of her class in accounting in an era where she was the only woman in her accounting program. She has always been a strong influence on me. I also have two younger sisters who were a lot of help, but there were several friends in particular who gave me direct assistance. Annie Gorringe (who was a good friend when I was an undergraduate — and still is) and Janci Patterson were people I sat down to interview and talk to in my quest to be able to write female characters who didn't suck. I would say specifically that Sarene from Elantris has a lot of Annie in her, and Vin from Mistborn has a lot of Janci in her. In Warbreaker, Siri and Vivenna don't really have specific influences but are the result of so much time working at writing female characters that it's something I'm now comfortable with. (Their personalities arose out of what I wanted to do with their story, which was my take on the classic tale of sisters whose roles get reversed.) It's very gratifying to hear that readers like my female characters and that the time I spent learning to write them has paid off.
I really loved the character Lightsong, he was my favorite and probably one of the most interesting characters I've ever read about. Did you have anyone in particular in mind when you came up with him? How did go about developing him as a character?
Rupert Everett was sitting in the back of my mind.
Actually, in order to develop Lightsong's character well, I didn't want to imitate any one voice. That's something we always stay away from. But I had been wanting to work on writing humor in a different way from what I'd previously used. I spent a lot of time watching and analyzing the movie The Thin Man, the old comedy/mystery/crime film with an emphasis on very witty characters making wisecracks as they investigate a murder. If you haven't seen it, it's delightful. Along with An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, those were my three sources of inspiration. I was trying for a blend of those two styles—and then of course added my own sense of humor.
I would say yes to both. Vivenna ends the book having experienced a great deal of personal growth. However, unlike some of the other characters, she is only a few rungs up the ladder. She's got a long way to go. That's why as I was plotting the book, before I even started, I decided I'd probably want to do this as a two-book cycle. Overlapping and forcing upon Vivenna the level of personal growth that it would take to get her character to completely reach an end point just couldn't happen in the book. Particularly with me doing what I did with Lightsong and the personal arc he has, and with Siri. So Vivenna certainly had a lot of growth, but I planned a separate book where I could really delve into and dig into her psychoses and her psychology.
Vasher still has a long way to go too. His personal growth is more like a zigzag pattern—a line graph with lots of peaks and valleys. He's been around and still hasn't really found himself, though he's thought he's found himself a number of times. Anyway, those two characters led me to think that there was a lot more to explore there. I didn't want to ram them through the paces it would take in this one book. I thought it would ruin the book. So I let them grow at the rate they needed to grow at, or decline at the rate they needed to decline at, and saved a second book in the series to deal more with who they are and who they become.
In the Way of Kings, you have all of these different characters, how do you keep your characters’ personalities straight?
Good question. Keeping characters straight—the thing I do that deviates from most of the way I normally write. I normally plan quite a bit. I normally—my worlds are very intricately planned out, with their histories, and usually the plot of what’s going to happen are pretty intricately planned out before I start the book. The characters are not. And this is why a book fails, like the original Way of Kings did in 2002, it’s because one of the characters is not who they need to be, and they are failing.
This is something I do by instinct more than by planning. I grow my characters, so I often describe it as I “cast” my characters, I’ll put different people in the role, I’ll sit down and say “okay, here is a character to play this role.” I’ll start writing them, and seeing their personality, and seeing the world through their eyes, and I’ll see if that works. If it doesn't, I’ll actually drop that and rewrite that scene with a different personality, a different character, have someone else walk in and try the role. I’ll do that a couple of times till they click. When they click, I basically know who they are. From that point on, I don’t have any problems keeping then right. When I write a book when a character doesn’t click, then that book often fails. Sometimes they click halfway through, and I have to go back and fix them. Sometimes they’re just 90% there, and I just need to keep writing and figure it out as I go. But sometimes, that never quite works, and this is the reason sometimes—there is this book named Liar of Partinel, which I never released, because the character never clicked. And people will say “Let me read it, let me read it!” but it will predispose you to that character, and that character, that personality is the wrong person. So I don’t know how I keep them all straight. It just works with characters.
But that’s just with characters. With plot and things, I’ve got to write it down, for setting I've got to write it down, I actually have a big wiki that I build that I reference to keep everything straight. Characters I never have to be that way. They just work.
So I can’t give you good advice on that, because it’s simply how I do it. And they just grow into their own person.
How do you get the different personalities for all your characters?
With the characterization for me is a very organic thing. I acutally plot my plot in detail, do my worldbuilding in detail, before I start on my characters though, if I plan them out too much, they don’t have enough life to them. It’s a very weird thing to explain, but for me, what I have to do is I have to try writing through this character’s eyes, and if it doesn’t work, than I actually have to toss that chapter and try again, and often times you’ll see me start a book try a character a couple of times to get them right. And then they just grow into what they are as the plot goes along. And in fact, the characters have veto power over the plot, and so if I get to a point that I feel like a character would not do this, I have to either go back and cast a different person in this role, or —interruption—
If you are very interested in how I write, I do a podcast called Writing Excuses. And what it is is it’s through your browser, so you don’t do anything special, you just go there and press play, and it’s me and Mary Robinette Kowal who writes these books, they’re like Jane Austen with magic. (laughter) Yeah, she’s good. And it’s Dan Wells, who writes these really scary creepy books, but they’re really good, and it’s Howard Tayler. So anyways, Writing Excuses, all you aspiring writers, it’s Hugo-nominated, it's very well received, I think you’ll really enjoy it. You can look by topic, and find where I talk about writing characters, and we’ll give you a ton of advice. There’s two hours of advice on characters you can listen to.
I receive fan mail from every possible age: kids who aren't in junior high school yet, and people who are seventy or eighty years old. But I made the characters young, frankly, because I wanted them to be innocents. I wanted the characters themselves to look at the world around them with as much amazement as I could muster—the Candide "gimmick," in a sense. But it was also to emphasize their change.
My editor was commenting on how much, in the fourth book, the characters have grown, and how much the readers' view of things in this world has changed from the first book. It's not because the things themselves have changed, but because the characters whose eyes we're seeing these things through have changed. So while there are still things they look at and say, "Golly!" on the other hand, there are things I had them doing in the first book that they're quite used to now, and don't at all see the way they saw them then.
On the question on the "alignment" of the characters, he said that there are no completely good character in the books, as he thought such a character would be completely boring (right—Galad is boring!—my comment), and would probably be killed rather quickly, like other fully good persons in the world. He took Jesus as example of this. Instead, every person struggles with the good and bad sides of his/her personality.
Another point he pressed was that "no one's going to rescue you", there are not going to happen any miracles. The Creator shaped the world and set the rules, but does not interfere. Humankind messed things up, and have to fix it too, as well as finding the truth themselves.
The Way of Kings has a very interesting format. Why did you decide to go with that format and what prompted you to include the interludes?
That's another excellent question. You guys are really on the ball. Uh...so, what went through my head is one worry that we have in epic fantasy. The longer the series goes, and the more characters you add, the less time you can spend with each character. This gets really frustrating. You either have the George R. R. Martin problem where he writes a book and doesn't include half of them, or you get the middle Wheel of Time problem where he will jump to each character for a brief short time and no one's plot seems to get advanced.
If you look back at Elantris, I did a lot of interesting things with form in that novel, and I wanted to try something interesting with form for this series that would in some way enhance what epic fantasy does well and de-emphasize the problems. And I thought that I could do some new things with the form of the novel that would allow me to approach that, and so I started to view the book as one main character's novel and then short novellas from other characters' viewpoints. Then I started adding these interludes because I really like when, for instance, George Martin or Tad Williams or some other authors do this. You'd jump some place and see a little character for a brief time in a cool little location, but the thing is, when most epic fantasy writers do that, that character becomes a main character and you're just adding to your list. I wanted to actually do something where I indicated to the reader that most of these are not main characters. We're showing the scope of the world without being forced to add a new plot line. And I did that is because I wanted to keep the focus on the main characters and yet I also wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to show off the interesting aspects of the world.
When you read Way of Kings Prime someday you'll see that there are six major viewpoint characters, all in different places, with all different plots, because I wanted to show off what was happening in different parts of the world. That spiraled out of control even in that one book. Keeping track of who they were because there were such large gaps between their plot lines was really problematic. Instead I condensed and made, for instance, Kaladin's and Dalinar's plots take place in the same area as Adolin's. And so, even though you have three viewpoints there the plot lines are very similar. Or, at least they're interacting with one another.
And so the interludes were a means to jump around the world. They're essentially short stories set in the world, during the book, so when you get this book, maybe you can think of it this way: Kaladin's novel with Shallan and Dalinar each having shorter novels or novelettes or novellas, with occasional, periodic jumps to short stories around the world. And then of course Kaladin's flashbacks. As we've mentioned, every book will have flashbacks from its main character to enhance the main plotline.
I'm hoping that form will do a couple things. It'll show the scope of the world without us getting too overwhelmed by characters we have to keep track of. You know when you hit interludes that you aren't going to have to pay attention to most of them. You can read and enjoy them, but you aren't going to have to remember them. How about that? You can want to pay attention but you don't have to remember them. By the end of the book, the main characters' arcs and flashbacks should have been resolved and you should have a feel of a completer story from that main character. And then we have other characters that are doing things that are essentially just starting plotlines.
In the next book, you'll get another character with a big arc and flashbacks. The major characters from previous books will still have parts and viewpoints; Kaladin will still be important in the next book but it won't be "his book". He'll get a novella-length part instead.
(Of course, they're not really novella-length because it's a 400,000 word book. Those "novellas" are actually like 70,000- or 80,000-word novels)
Will the next Stormlight Archive books have interludes as well?
Yes, all of them will have interludes.
And you will, very occasionally, revisit people in the interludes. I'll let myself have one interlude that's same between each part like we did with Szeth in this book.
Ah...Szeth's a little bit more of a main, major character, so you'll get, like, one four-parter and then you'll get what, eight just random [characters/viewpoints] around the world. And you may occasionally see those characters again, but you don't have to remember them; they're not integral to understanding the plot. They should add depth and they should be showing you some interesting things that are happening in the world while we're focused [on a few important plot lines]. I don't to travelogs in my books; my characters are not going to be sweeping across the countryside and showing you all the interesting parts of the world. I tend to set my books in a certain place and if we travel someplace, we skip the travel.
But that means the chances of us ever visiting Gavland, um...or Bavland I think I ended up naming it...
Was that the place with the grass?
Shinovar is where Szeth's from. Bavland is where Szeth is owned by the miner and things like that. I can't remember what I renamed that. Originally I called it Gavland, and then we had a Gavilar and so my editor insisted that it be changed. I think it's Bavland now.
And so the chances of us ever visiting there with a major character and a long plot are very low. But, you know, being able to show just a glimpse of Szeth there allows me to give some scope and feel to the world.
Makes it epic.
I really like the dialogs between Jasnah and Shallon, convering sometimes atheism, god, blind faith, etc.
Are you going to expand on these philosophical topics? Will it play a larger part in the plot?
I really enjoyed these moments and hope to see more of them
I'm glad you liked them. These questions are very important to Shallan and Jasnah and to an extent other characters such as Dalinar, so you will indeed see much more of this. I wouldn't include it if it weren't very important to the characters. And what's important to the characters has a strong influence on what's important to the plot.
If what happens at the end of Part Five with Dalinar is to be believed, then there is a very interesting theological conundrum to this world. Something claiming to be God claims also that it has been killed. Which then in some ways leaves someone who is atheist right, and yet at the same time wrong. When Jasnah and Dalinar meet, you can expect some discussion of what it means to be atheist if there was a God and God is now dead. Or will she say that obviously wasn't God? Those circles of thought are very fascinating to me and to the characters.
Your sidekick characters (Nightblood, TenSoon in WoA and Syl) are always interesting, sometimes more so than side characters. Is this planned out or does it just happen? Do you control their lines more than other characters? (I really liked Syl's personality if that wasn't clear.)
Thank you. That is partially intentional. One of the aspects of writing characters like them is that if we're not going to get viewpoints from them, their personality has to be strong enough to manifest externally. Which tends to have an effect, if it's not done well--or sometimes even if it is done well--of making them feel one-sided. In some ways I play this up; for instance Nightblood really is one-sided because of the way his personality works, the way he was crafted. He's a construct, and he has a main focus.
So with someone like Syl, I really wanted to bring out a lot of personality in her dialogue so that we could characterize her without having any of the internal thoughts and monologue and emotions that I sometimes instill in other characters. But Syl also was meant to be a vibrant splash of color in Kaladin's sometimes dreary viewpoints. Because of that, I really needed her to just pop off the page. So it was done intentionally.
A little safer question- Why did you not have Waxillium fall for Marasi? Why stick with the contract with Steris?
Marasi, as she was in Alloy of Law, was just plain wrong for Wax. As I write books, I allow my characters to grow more free-form (while my setting and plot are outlined in detail.) In writing the book, I felt that a Marasi hook-up at the end would not only be wrong for the character, but wrong for the story. If I do direct sequels (which I probably will) perhaps things will change.
Three things make a fantasy epic work for me. 1) A complex plot with plenty of twists and turns that comes to an explosive climax. 2) An imaginative magic system and setting that feels both real and wondrous at the same time. 3) Deeply personal characters dealing with issues that transcend genre. (This is the most important one.)
I approach my writing from that above philosophy. I am probably best known for my magic and my settings, where I try very hard to give the reader a unique and different experience, one they haven't gotten from other fantasy books. I am also known for my endings, where I try very hard for well-foreshadowed—yet still surprising—twists and climaxes.
However, magic is only as interesting as the characters who use it. A plot is only gripping for me if I care about the characters. Danger and action sequences mean nothing if we don't CARE about the people who might be hurt or killed.
Robert Jordan, through his writing, taught me that. Characters first, everything else second.
The relationship between artist and critic/fan is a curious one in this regard. On one hand, I do think feedback is important, particularly on a project like this (where, as I've stated, I feel that the project rightly belongs more to the fans than it does to me.) However, a writer must keep their artistic integrity. Allowing yourself to get pulled in too many directions by fan requests can be a disaster for an artist. Basically, you can't try to please everyone—if you do, you risk ending up with either a completely schizophrenic project, or one that is so bland it lacks emotional depth or power.
So, like I said, fine line. I looked at fan responses on The Gathering Storm very cautiously and carefully, trying to keep in the same mindset that I use when getting feedback from my critique group. Basically, that mindset is this: "I will do what I feel is best for the story, regardless of what other people think. Even if I'm the only one who feels that way. But if someone raises a complaint that either strikes a cord within me, or which gains a lot of support from others, I WILL look into it and try to approach it objectively."
That's a mouthful. Basically, what it means is keeping an open mind for ideas that will make the story a better version of what I want it to be. On The Gathering Storm, there were two basic areas I felt fans were right about that I could and should fix. The first had to do with some voice issues in Mat's narrative. (I've spoken of that elsewhere.) The second had to do with continuity errors. I am not nearly as good at dealing with those as Robert Jordan was—I know he made mistakes, but I felt I made more. So for this project, I enlisted the help of some very detail-oriented members of the fan community as beta readers in an attempt to keep myself honest and catch mistakes before they went to press.
There are things in this book, like in any book I've written, that I fully suspect will draw complaints. In some cases, I know exactly what they are—and I did them that way because I felt it was best for the story and the best way to remain true to Robert Jordan's vision. It's the ones that I DON'T expect, but which ring true, that I want to find and correct.
Two things: First, how to juggle a large number of plotlines and viewpoints. (Something I'd failed at in drafts of unpublished books during my earlier years as a writer.) I couldn't afford not to do this well.
Second, I believe I learned a lot about character viewpoint and narrative. (Most of this came from reading Mr. Jordan's books with a much more detailed eye than I'd done in recent years.)
Brandon again spoke of Aviendha and the Aiel, due to the way they think, mentioning how he went through several drafts and back and forths with Harriet, whilst doing multiple re-reads of Aviendha’s POVs.
Then he spoke of Mat, saying that Mat is such a complicated character, though you might not think he is at first glance. He is an unreliable narrator, with vast differences between how he thinks and how he acts, and that Jim’s Mat POV’s are some of the best in the series. He then spoke of his own writing and that because of these elements it’s easy to miss things with Mat, and that that is why his early scenes in The Gathering Storm are not as good as his scenes in Towers of Midnight, where Brandon began to ‘get him’. Brandon finished by saying he’s best in A Memory of Light.
(This is not verbatim.) Yes, I did, and I know there is a flow issue there. They were amongst the first chapters I wrote and at that stage I had not realized that most of Mat's humor is in how he reacts to his surroundings.
There was a bit more to this; I wish I could recall more, but a lot of cues I need are missing from these notes, although what I have has been brilliant so far. Many thanks to my faithful Gaidin.
In a lot of your books the internal struggle is just as important as the external conflict. How do you keep that internal struggle from devolving into just, into whining essentially.
Right, no that's a real danger. We call it "navel gazing" a lot in writing where if you delve too much into that, you can have just characters sitting and pondering and nothing happens. I have to walk that line, and in fact some of mine probably turns into navel-gazing because I err on that side a little too much. I would say that the way I try to work on this is to mirror internal conflict with external conflict, meaning what the character is working on inside is, is enhanced, is conflicted, is in some ways changed by what's happening externally which then allows some very powerful ways of showing them working through their problems in the real world, not just sitting and thinking about them.
That has worked with me so far, it is certainly a danger that I'm aware of and something that I think writers need to be aware of. At the same time, you know, what fiction can do is show internal conflict, emotions, thoughts, feelings in a way that other mediums can't. It's one of our specialties and I think that avoiding it completely is the wrong move because, Yes, any time you delve into that you risk just getting boring, but when you don't delve into that you're basically just imitating what a film can do, do everything external and a film can do that much better. I like taking what we can do as writers and just playing to our strengths and explore what the medium is capable of and that's why I do it.
There are a couple of interesting things about this chapter. First off, it didn't originally start with Raoden waking up. When I first wrote the book, I threw Raoden directly into the city, line one. That original line was: "It wasn't until Raoden heard the gate swing closed behind him, booming with a shocking sound of finality, that he realized he had been damned."
While this line worked pretty well, I found I had to do an extended flashback showing him waking up and frightening the maid, etc. In the end, I realized that this was a bulky construction that didn't really speed the novel up—but rather slowed it down. So, I rewrote the first scene to have Raoden waking up, seeing Elantris, and then realizing he'd been taken by the Shaod.
My books tend to have what are called 'steep learning curves.' In other words, they take a little getting used to. Fantasy in general has a steep learning curve, and I don't tend to write very standard fantasies—I like to push the genre a little bit, introducing strange settings and irregular magic systems. Because of this, I have to be very careful at the beginnings of my books not to overwhelm the reader. This book was a good example—taking it a little easier, giving the reader a more cautious ease into Elantris, proved the better route.
Happily, I eventually managed to preserve the original line with its catchy feel. I don't usually do things like this—I don't believe in the standard 'hook' idea. However, when I was thinking about this book, the first lines of the first three chapters were some of the first things that occurred to me. These three lines became the foundation for how I characterized the separate viewpoints, and they were part of what drew me to writing the book in the first place. If you go through and read them, I think they each have a little bit of zip, and hopefully invoke a sense of curiosity. These three lines introduce each character and one of their primary conflicts, and do it in a simple, clear way.
Maintaining this feel with the new first scene was important to me, even though it could be argued that the first line of chapter one is a bit of POV error. I'm revealing information that the viewpoint character doesn't yet know. I avoid these, but in this case, I felt that cohesion was more important than strict POV, right here.
I also did a second massive cut just after Raoden was thrown into the city. If you read the earlier draft, you'll see that he struggles with what has happened to him a bit more. There's even a brief section where he thinks about Ien and some of the Seon's words of wisdom. I cut these sections because they just slowed the book too much. I figured Raoden's shorter soul-searching at the beginning, where he quickly comes to the decision to 'look damnation in the face,' helped the story move along. Again, I worry about my beginnings—perhaps too much—because they have a history of dragging just a bit. By pushing Raoden into walking through the city, I kept the pacing up.
Everything else in this chapter pretty much stayed the same. In the original draft, Galladon was actually named Galerion. I made the change because the name 'Galerion' just didn't fit the eventual linguistic style I devised for Duladel. Again, I didn't do as much planning for this book as I now for books I write now, and I just kind of let the names and cultures develop as I wrote. In the end, Galerion's culture out-developed his name. I figured that the main Dula in the book needed to have a Dula-sounding name. Interestingly, Moshe—my editor—independently decided that he really didn't like Galerion's name. When I made the suggested change, he was very pleased. Originally, he didn't like Raoden's name either—but this came, mostly, because he had trouble pronouncing it. I actually really like the name, but understand that it can be difficult if you don't understand the Aonic language. Remember—two hard vowel sounds formed by the Aon, every other vowel is soft. RAY-OH-den. (Read the pronunciation guide for more.)
Galladon/Galerion originally spoke with a much stronger dialect in this chapter. However, these dribbled off after the first few chapters, and I decided I didn't want him to be quite as difficult to understand. So, I went back and cut them. You'll notice, however, that Galladon still hits the dialect pretty hard in this first chapter.
However, I've found that Sarene is many people's least-favorite of the three characters. I had a lot of trouble in the original drafts of this book, since many alpha readers didn't like her in this chapter. They thought she came off as too brusque and manipulative. It was always my intention to show a more sensitive side to her later in the novel, but I didn't intend to lead with it quite as quickly as I ended up doing.
The first edit to the chapter came with the addition of the Sarene-and-Ashe-travel-to-the-palace scene. This is the section were Sarene sits in the carriage, thinking about her anger at Raoden and her insecurity. This counteracts a bit of the strength we see from her in the first scene at the docks, rounding her out as a character.
The second big addition came in the form of the funeral tent scene. This was added as a tangent to one of Moshe's suggestions—he wanted us to have an opportunity to see Sarene investigating Raoden's death. In the original drafts of the book, we felt the narrative made it too obvious to outsiders that Raoden must have been thrown into Elantris. Moshe and I felt that it seemed silly that people wouldn't consider the possibility that Raoden wasn't dead. This wasn't what I wanted—I wanted most people to accept the event. Only someone as overly-curious as Sarene would have been suspicious.
So, I revised the story to downplay the suspicion around Raoden's death. Instead of having Iadon rush through the funeral (an element of the original draft) I added the funeral tent and had Sarene (off-stage) attend the funeral itself. These changes made it more reasonable that very few people would have suspicions regarding the prince's death, and therefore made it more plausible that people wouldn't think that he had been thrown into Elantris.
Other small tweaks to this chapter included the removal of a line that almost everyone seemed to hate but me. After Sarene meets Iadon for the first time, she is pulled away by Eshen to leave the throne room. At this time, I had Sarene mutter "Oh dear. THIS will never do." Everyone thought that was too forceful, and made her sound to callous, so I changed it to "Merciful Domi! What have I gotten myself into?" A piece of me, however, still misses Sarene's little quip there.
This chapter includes two very important events. The first is the establishment of Hrathen and Sarene's relationship. The 'dramatic eye-lock' is, admittedly, over-used in fiction. However, I found it appropriate here, since I later have Hrathen remark on Sarene. I wanted to establish that the two had an understanding, and I needed to introduce an overplot for Sarene. Hrathen got his thirty-day timebomb in chapter three, and Raoden not only has his exile, but the problems with the gangs established in the last chapter. So far, Sarene only had her suspicion regarding Raoden's death, which really isn't enough to carry her sections of the novel.
One of the plotting elements I had to establish in this book was the fact that a single man—in this case, Hrathen—can have a serious and profound effect on the future of an entire people. If I didn't establish this, then Sarene's sections would lack a sense of drama, since Hrathen himself wouldn't seem like much of a threat. You'll have to judge for yourself if I actually manage to do this or not.
The second important part of this chapter, obviously, is the introduction of Kiin's family. Sarene's personality makes her less independent than Raoden or Hrathen. It isn't that she lacks determination, or even stubbornness. However, her plots, plans, and personality all require other people—she needs politics, allies, and enemies. Ashe provides a wonderful way for her to talk through her problems. However, I felt that she needed someone within the court of Arelon with which to work and plan. As the book progresses, you'll notice that Sarene's chapters include far more side characters than Hrathen or Raoden's chapters. In fact, I'll bet she has more than the other two combined. This is just another manifestation of her communal personality—she excels in situations where she can coordinate groups, and she needs a lot of different people to interact with to make her personality really come out.
I have gotten a little grief from readers regarding Kiin's family. Some think that the family as a whole feels too 'modern.' It is an anachronism that, to an extent, I'll admit. One of the quirks about the fantasy genre is how it generally prefers to deal with ancient governments, technologies, and societies without actually making its characters conform to more ancient personality patterns. In other words, most fantasy main characters are people who, if dusted off a bit and given a short history lesson, could fit-in quite well in the modern world.
I'll be honest. I prefer the genre this way. I don't read fantasy because I want a history lesson, though learning things is always nice. I read for characters—and I want to like the characters I get to know. I like putting characters in situations and exploring how they would deal with extreme circumstances. I just don't think this kind of plotting would be as strong, or as interesting, if the characters weren't innately identifiable to a modern readership.
My in-world explanation for this is simple. Just because our world placed a certain kind of cultural development alongside a certain level of technological development doesn't mean that it always has to be that way. In many of my worlds, culture has out-stripped technology. This does have some rational basis; I write worlds that involve very distinct—and often very prevalent—magic systems. Because of the benefit of these magics, many of my societies haven't been forced to rely as much on technology. There is more leisure time, more time for scholarship, and—as a result—the societies are more developed.
That said, Kiin's family is a bit extreme, even for me. However, the honest truth is that I wrote them the way I like them. They work, for some reason, to me. They stand out just a little bit, but I'd like to think that it's their brilliance and forward-thinking—rather than a mistake in narrative—that makes them seem so much like a modern family.
This is easily one of my favorite chapters in the book. This chapter really shows off the core of Raoden's character—lets him be the hero that he is. I've never written another character like Raoden. In a way, he's not as rounded as some other characters (characters like Hrathen.) He doesn't have the flaws or internal battles of some of the more complex characters I've designed.
That doesn't, however, make him any worse a character in this particular book. Raoden is something of a superman—he does the right thing at almost every turn, and his internal struggles only serve to make him more noble. You can't often get away with this in fiction. However, I do think that there are really people like him in the world—I've known a few of them. By including him in a book with Hrathen and Sarene, each of whom have their foibles and internal problems, I think I avoid making the characters of the book feel too shallow.
And, there is a certain. . .beauty to a character who is simply noble. Often times, we as authors think that making a character 'rounded' or 'realistic' means corrupting them somehow. I think Raoden defies this concept. He probably wouldn't be a very compelling character outside of an extreme situation like Elantris. However, confronted by the almost overwhelming problems and tasks associated with the city, his strength only serves to make him feel more realistic to me. A weaker character would have broken beneath Elantris. Raoden can struggle on.
In this chapter, I do begin to introduce what will become Raoden's main character struggle—that of his burden of leadership. He's taking a lot upon himself, and I think a man of his sincerity couldn't help but pause and wonder if he's worth all of the loyalty he is receiving.
Also, in this chapter we begin to get a few pay-offs from the building I've done in previous chapters. The foreshadowing with the well, the foreshadowing with Karata's escapes into the city, and the foreshadowing with the child Elantrians all come to head in this chapter. At the same time, I give foreshadowing for Iadon's paranoia, and foreshadowing regarding the passage out of his palace.
These are the sorts of little plotting events that make writing exciting for me. When they pay off—when the reader has that moment of 'oh, I get it'—is when I'm the happiest as a novelist.
My favorite moment in this chapter? Probably a tie. One moment is when Raoden draws the Aon to stop the guard. A truly clever character doesn't need a fireball or a blast of power to defeat his enemies—he simply needs a wit quick enough to manipulate the resources he has. The other moment is when Raoden arrives back at the chapel and gives the sword to Seolin. This is the story's first big victory moment, and after this many chapters dealing with the pains and dirtiness of Elantris, I think Raoden and co. deserved it.
Another interesting moment in this scene is Sarene's idiocy act. There's actually a good story behind this plotting device. I've always enjoyed this style of plot—where a character intentionally makes people underestimate them. You can see a similar plotting structure (pulled off quite a bit better) in my book THE WAY OF KINGS. (It should be published around 2008 or so. . . .) Anyway, some of my favorite plots of this type are found in HAMLET and DRAGON PRINCE (by Melanie Rawn.)
Sarene's own act, however, plays a much smaller role in the book than I'd originally intended. I soon discovered that I'd either have to go with it full-force—having her put on a very believable show for everyone around her—or I'd have to severely weaken it in the plot. I chose the second. There just wasn't a reason, in the political climate I created for the book, to have Sarene pretend to be less intelligent than she was. (The original concept—though this never made it to drafting—was to have her pretend to be less intelligent because of how many times she'd been burned in the past with people finding her overbearing and dominant.)
I decided I liked having her personality manifest the way it is. The only remnant of the original feigning comes in the form of this little trick she plays on Iadon to try and manipulate him. Even this, I think, is a stretch—and it has annoyed a couple of readers. Still, it doesn't play a large part in the plot, and I think it does lead to some interesting moments in the story, so I left it in.
One of the major post-sale revisions I did to ELANTRIS came at the suggestion of my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He noted that I had several chapters where Hrathen just walked about, thinking to himself. He worried that these sections made the middle of the book drag a bit, and also feared that they would weaken Hrathen's character. So, instead, he suggested that I add Telrii to the book some more, and therefore give Hrathen opportunities to be clever in the way he achieved his goals.
This is the first chapter that shows any major revision in this direction. In the original, Hrathen simply walked along, thinking to himself. I added Telrii to the second half of the chapter, putting some of Hrathen's internal musings into their discussion. I cut some of the more repetitive sections, and then left the others interspersed between lines of dialogue.
The result is, I think, a very strong new section.
Raoden finally confronts Taan here in this chapter. In a way, the three gangs that Raoden has to defeat represent three things that the Elantrians themselves need to overcome. The first is their solitude, represented by Karata's exclusionary attitude. The second is self-pity, represented by Taan's indulgent madness. The final is their pain, represented by the wildmen of Shaor.
The way, therefore, to defeat Taan was to turn his attention outside of himself. Self-pity melts when confronted with larger issues, such as the beauty and wonder of Elantris itself. I worry that this scene itself was a bit too melodramatic—however, I've always said that the difference between drama and melodrama is how engaged the reader is by the story. If everything is working like it should, this section should seem powerful, rather than over-the-top.
I do think, however, that Raoden's arguments are a bit too philosophical for his audience. I did that intentionally. Raoden is a child of privilege, and he is something of a thinker. His philosophical arguments are probably the first things he himself would consider, because of how curious and interesting they are. However, he doesn't achieve success with this crowd until he turns to more practical observations. In reality, his strongest ally in this scene was the way he broke the tension and the passion of the moment. Once Dashe's momentum was gone, he couldn't convince himself to continue.
You'll note in later chapters that Raoden's victory here wasn't as complete as it was with Karata's band. This is mostly due to the fact that Taan's followers weren't as committed to him as Karata's were to her. Though I still see this as a victory for Raoden, the fact that many of Taan's followers find their way in to Shaor's camp implies that his efforts had some serious side-effects.
This chapter went through some heavy edits. First off, I originally had Hrathen interrogate the Elantrian off-stage. At a suggestion from my editor, I put this in-scene, showing Hrathen talk to the Elantrian. The intention here was to give a little characterization to Hrathen by showing his logical approach to studying and interrogating his prisoner.
The other big change to this chapter came in the middle. As I was working on the later revisions, I realized—at Joshua's suggestion—that I really wanted something here in the early middle of the book that showed Hrathen sparring against Dilaf and winning. In certain sections of the book, Hrathen's character came off too weakly—and this was one of the chapters. Originally, I had Dilaf extinguish the torches of his own accord, then burn the Elantrian later, despite Hrathen's protests.
In the new version, I get to have Hrathen prove his competence by having him wrestle control of the crowd. He is the one who burns the Elantrian, which enhances the scene by letting Hrathen feel guilt for it. He comes off much stronger in this chapter than he did before.
Those of you who have read on realize how important this is to the plot, because from here out, Dilaf starts to get the better of Hrathen. I needed to reinforce Hrathen's strength at the beginning of the story, otherwise I feared that the scenes of Dilaf winning would make Hrathen seem too weak. Hopefully, things now feel like they are balanced—one gaining dominance for a time, then the other wrestling it away, and so on and so forth.
Sarene used to tap her cheek a lot more than she does in this draft. It was a quirk I designed for her at the beginning—a nervous habit I thought indicative of her personality. However, a lot of people found it distracting. They seemed to think that tapping the cheek was an odd behavior. (Just as a note, when she taps her cheek, I'm thinking of her folding her arms, with one hand raised contemplative, index finger resting on her cheek. I've been known to sit that way some times.)
Anyway, I took out many of the references. As Moshe said, "There's just too much tapping going on!"
I really like Sarene's explanation for why the country is in so much trouble now. You could wonder, perhaps, how Arelon lasted as long as it did beneath Iadon's rule. Her answer here—that the people were anticipating Raoden's rule—is a good one, I think. People can endure a lot, as long as they know that there is a defined end to their suffering.
Sarene's half-breakdown in this chapter was intended as both a simple reminder of the stress she's under as well as further characterization of her. She's far more volatile than Raoden and Hrathen, and I think that is part of what makes her my favorite character in the book. She doesn't always keep it all in—nor is she perfect. Occasionally, she makes mistakes, and things well up inside her. In this way, she's very real to me.
I'm very fond of this last scene for two reasons. First is the fact that I get to show Hrathen being charitable. He really does care. When characterizing him in my mind, this scene always jumps out as showing something very important about him.
Contrasted with that moment, however, is Omin's lucid presentation of Hrathen a hypocrite. All this time, Hrathen has worked against Shu-Korath, trying to stamp it out. Yet, in one brief moment, Omin scores a personal hit that is more painful than anything Hrathen could do in return.
Notice how Hrathen keeps trying to pull the discussion away from discussing truth in this scene. He knows that he can dominate if he can get the conversation to center around logic. However, truth is something that is hard to define, and something even harder to argue against. Despite his priestly mantle, he finds truth outside of his authority and experience.
Raoden is an expert at manipulating his surroundings. This doesn't make him 'manipulative,' in my mind. (You can read about a REAL manipulator in my next book.) Raoden simply knows how to take what he is given and make the best from them. In a way, this is the soul of creativity. Raoden is like a master composer or an artist—except, where they take images or sounds and combine them to suit their needs, he takes the situation and adapts it to create something useful. Outside of Elantris, he took his father's edicts and turn them against the man. However, thrown into a terrible situation like the pit of Elantris, Raoden really has an opportunity to shine.
He's kind of like a magic unto himself. I've known people a little like him in this world—people who can defy convention and reality, and just make things work. Somehow, Raoden can make three out of two. He can take the pieces and combine them in new ways, creating something greater than most people thought possible.
In short, he's the perfect hero for this kind of book. When I was writing ELANTRIS in the winter of 1999 and spring of 2000, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at BYU. The book I'd written before it was called THE SIXTH INCARNATION OF PANDORA—undoubtedly the strangest, most-un-Brandon-like book I've ever constructed. PANDORA was a SFstory about a man made immortal though careful—and expensive—application of nanotechnology. The process slowly drove him mad.
PANDORA was a dark, grisly book. The man character could withstand alarming injuries without dying. One prime theme of the novel was dealing with the psyche of a man who could slaughter thousands of people while being shot to pieces, then find himself reconstructed a short time later. It was a rather violent book—probably the most disturbing I've ever written.
When I got done with that book, I reacted against it by wanting to devise a plot that didn't depend at all on violence. ELANTRIS was the result. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who could succeed without having to beat up on the people who opposed him. I took away his physical abilities and his royal resources, leaving him with only his wits and his determination.
If you want to read more on this topic, read the critical afterword to ELANTRIS I wrote for inclusion with my Master's Thesis. (September's goodie—find it on the goodie page for Elantris) The short of it, however, is that Sarene is a force of change and chaos. Raoden, as mentioned above, is a master at working with what he is given. He manipulates his confines to the point that they are no longer binding.
Sarene, however, just ignores what she is 'supposed' to do. She is chaos. Not the 'evil' chaos usually used in fantasy novels—Sarene is simply unpredictable, a force that can't be measured as easily as others. One manifestation of this comes in the nature of this chapter. If you read closely, you'll notice that—for the first time in the book—I offer two viewpoints in the same chapter. We jump from Sarene to Raoden, then back to Sarene again. It's a little thing, perhaps—a silly thing, even, for me to put in. However, it is representative of the fact that the first time Sarene enters Raoden's world, she brings with her an uncanny ability to mess up his plans.
So, in this chapter we get the first real Sarene-Raoden interaction. I worked very hard on this relationship, trying to find a way to make it work naturally, yet still have the drama necessary for good storytelling. I assume that readers—at least the more romantic lot of you—have been waiting for the time when Sarene and Raoden would meet. Not only are they the male and female leads, but they also happen to be married.
One of the things all writers struggle with is making their plots not seem contrived. Moshe and I tried very hard to make certain that everyone's motivations worked, and this is a good test chapter. Does it make sense to you that Raoden wouldn't show Sarene and the others his true self? I think that his desire to keep himself, and New Elantris, quiet makes sense. However, I could see how some readers might find it contrived. I hope my explanations make sense.
One of the biggest complexities in this book is the way Raoden keeps his true self secret. I hope that the way he does this doesn't seem unbelievable. To him, his old life is gone. Though he is curious about his old friends, and especially about Sarene, he can't afford to let himself grow too interested in or attached to the outside world. He knows that doing so would only bring pain, both for himself, and for others.
As I've mentioned before, the Hrathen chapters tend to be shorter than the other two. As Raoden and Sarene's chapters pick up, I was left struggling just a bit to find things to do in the complimentary Hrathen chapters. I probably could have sped up his plot through these middle chapters just a bit. However, the triad system means that I had to give him a viewpoint every third chapter. That is probably why he got so many contemplative sections—and, possibly, is what in turn made him into such an interesting character personality wise. It's kind of hard to dissect these kinds of things now that the book has been done for five years.
Anyway, I did need this chapter to give Hrathen a chance to do some more foreshadowing on Dilaf. The emergence of Dilaf in these chapters is, I think, one of the more interesting and surprising elements from the middle Hrathen chapters. When Dilaf is originally presented in the book, I expected people to see him as a simple sidekick to Hrathen, much in the same way that I established Galladon and Ashe to be counterparts to Raoden and Sarene. With this parallelism in servant characters, I hoped to pull of a subtle surprise with Dilaf when he started to make trouble for Hrathen, as he is doing in these chapters.
This book, as I've mentioned before, is a little less 'tight' than others I've written. There are chapters like this one, where nothing extremely important happens—I simply show life from one viewpoint, a state necessitated by one of the other two doing something very important. Still, despite it having very little to do with the overplot, I really like how this chapter turned out. Maybe I should force myself to do a strict triad system like this more often, for it forced me to have some chapters where the characters could just live. Sarene's light chapters center around her friends and family, giving us an opportunity to spend time with them and enjoy ourselves. The Lukel sourmellon exchange probably couldn't have happened in a book like MISTBORN, where the pacing is far more tense.
I suppose the most important scene in this chapter was the exchange between Sarene and Daora. It's hard, in writing, to avoid being heavy-handed with exposition and emotion. Show don't tell, as the proverb goes. Sometimes you get it right—like this particular scene. Sarene, obviously, is falling for Spirit—and Daora mistakes the emotion as being applied to Shuden. (Yes, I know, I shouldn't have to explain this. However, that's part of what these annotations are for—to explain things. I never can tell what people will get and what they'll miss. I've thrown in twists I thought were obvious, only to have everyone miss them—but instead they pick up on the foreshadowing that I never meant to be strong enough to give the ending away. )
Anyway, one of my challenges in this book was to make the romance between Sarene and Raoden realistic, considering the relatively small amount of time they had to spend together. I hoped to avoid any silly 'love at first sight' type plottings, while at the same time making their relationship feel genuine and touching in as short a time as possible.
One of the shortest, but most powerful, chapters in the book.
I added the 'head arteth' conflict (the idea of everyone rejecting the appointment) later in the revision process so that I could have one more thing to push Hrathen over the edge. My only worry about this scene is one of pacing—if I've done the novel right, then this will seem like a climax that has slowly been building for some time. If I'm off, then this chapter will seem out-of-nowhere, and lack power to the reader.
This is really where Hrathen's chapters have been pushing. The questioning and self-doubt, the problems with Dilaf and conversion. . . . He's pretty much been defeated at every turn. It was time for him to either crack, give up, or do something spectacular. In a way, he kind of does all three.
Yes, his drinking of the poison is supposed to be a zing. Theoretically, this will push you on into the next section of the book. The slower portions of the novel are beginning to wind down—from now on, the events start to move a little more quickly. Even still, this is probably one of the more slow-moving of my novels, which is part of its charm—as I noted in a different annotation.
Anyway. . .I break triad here again. I'd forgotten about this one. Actually, you'll note that the closer I get to an action sequence or a climax, the more quickly I shift viewpoints. I do it half-intentionally, half-unconsciously. (If that's possible.) Logically, I know that quickly-shifting viewpoints give the scenes more tension and a sense of movement. Unconscious, I just know that it's good storytelling to keep things quick—and it's more dramatic when you can end with a cliff-hanger line, then switch to a new viewpoint.
I'll admit that this scene borders on being too melodramatic. A couple of things justify it in my mind. First, the scene is more about Raoden confronting how he'd made a mistake with Shaor's men than it is about Sarene discovering that she'd been betrayed. Second, Sarene's 'betrayal,' as explained in the next chapter, is really about her own prejudice. Inside, she was just waiting for something like this to happen. That's why she didn't give Raoden the benefit of the doubt—she never wanted to like him. It was almost like she was eager to be hurt, expecting it, since things obviously couldn't work out for her. (Or so she unconsciously assumed.)
So, in a way, they were both kind of expecting something like this to happen. When it did happen, they allowed it to. In my mind, this takes it from a 'silly misunderstanding' and changes it into a 'character-driven conflict.'
If I were to assign Raoden two defining traits, the first would be his ability to make the best of what he's given (as I've spoken of above.) The second, however, would be the personality trait he manifests in this chapter—his simple belief in the goodness of the human race.
I suppose this is a facet of his optimism. Raoden believes in people—he believes that, as a whole, they will do what is right. He believes that they are more rational than the nobility sometimes give them credit, and he believes that most men will do what is good if they are presented with all of the facts.
He really is a noble man. He's perhaps the only person I've written in a fantasy book who, from day one, actually deserved to be king.
Now that the three gangs have been dealt with, Raoden's storyline has had some major resolutions. The increasing pain of his wounds, however, is something I introduced into the book for fear that he wouldn't have enough pressing conflicts. As stated in previous annotations, his personality is uniquely strong and stable amongst characters I've created, and I figured that giving him a small problem in the area of self-confidence wouldn't be remiss. He feels that he's worse at deal with the pain than everyone else, and that makes him worry that he isn't the leader he should. We'll have more on this later.
My explanation for the slime, admittedly, relies a bit heavily on 'fantasy writer's license.' Usually, I resist overdoing things like this. (I.e., simply explaining away events in the world with magical answers.) Though there is a slight logic to Raoden's explanation, it isn't something that would have been intuitive to a reader, given the facts of the novel. That makes it a weak plotting element. However, the slime explanation isn't part of any real plot resolution, so I decided to throw it in. Its place as an interesting world element, rather than a climax, gives me a few more liberties, I think.
Boy, I have a lot to say on this chapter. Let's talk about Sarene's engagement to Roial.
Some moments, when you're writing, things just click together. The moment when I came up with this plotting element was one such moment. I hadn't actually planned this into my outline. Suddenly, as I was writing, I realized just how much sense it made, and how wonderful it would be to force the characters to have to go through this. Even still, this is one of my very favorite twists in the book.
The scene in the carriage has been there from the beginning, but I did change it slightly in the last draft, adding the section where Roial talks to Sarene about herself. His line "You're an excellent judge of character, except for your own" is something I think needed to be said to Sarene at some point in the book. The actual suggestion that it happen came from my Master's Thesis committee. They—correctly—saw Sarene as someone who had an unrealistic image of herself.
She really isn't as unmarriagble, or as unwantable, as she thinks she is. Even back in Teod, she wasn't regarded quite as harshly as she assumes. However, she's very hard on herself. Someone needed to sit her down and tell her—at the same time acknowledging to the reader—that she isn't half as bad as she seems to think.
We've entered the section of the plot where Raoden has a few short chapters (this one and the one before.) As I mentioned, his major plot cycle—the three gangs—for the first part of the book is over. Right now, the most important things are happening on the outside of Elantris, so Raoden gets a slight breather to study.
That said, the realization that happens here—that Raoden isn't bad at dealing with the pain, he's simply facing something that the others don't have to—is an important one. There needed to be some progression here, even if it does take away Raoden's main character conflict. (Now he doesn't have to worry that he's inferior.) However, this conflict is replaced by another little timebomb—now Raoden has to worry about being destroyed by the Dor before he can finish his studies. It gives him a sense of urgency, makes things a little more difficult—which is why I introduced this plotting structure in the first place. As I've mentioned, I was worried that there wouldn't be enough tension in his chapters once the gangs were defeated. Hence the Dor attacks.
Ah, we needed some more Lukel. He hasn't been around enough lately. I'm glad I had the presence of mind to throw in a character to balance out Shuden and Eondel's solemnity. Lukel doesn't really have much part in the plot, but he's always there to throw in a nice quip or two. His annoyance at being told his face is too pink here is probably one of his best moments.
I brought in the Patriarch for a couple of reasons. Though Joshua wanted to cut him (my agent is quite the headsman) and suggested that I have Omin reveal the proclamation, I felt that I needed someone with a little more authority to fill that role. Plus, ELANTRIS is a book about religion, and I wanted to look at the idea of having a religious leader who isn't necessarily as. . .wise as his people would like. By giving the Korathi religion a man like the Patriarch at its head, I could show a different aspect of faith in the book—the idea that a religion is more than its leader, and faith is more powerful than one man. I think that for any religion to last, it needs to be able to survive IN SPITE of the people who run it, rather than just because of them.
By the way, in the original draft, when Sarene gives her "All of Arelon is blessed by your presence" line when the Patriarch is on the docks, the Patriarch originally said "I know." Moshe thought this was a little overdone, so I cut it. In my mind, however, the Patriarch IS overdone and cliché—that's part of his character. But, anyway, one other item about this scene is the storm. I threw it in so that I could fudge the time of the Patriarch's arrival—the triad structure requiring me to have had him on the boat longer than the trip should take. This might actually not be necessary any more—in the original, I had him leave before he found out about the king's death. (I'm. . .not exactly sure why. Something to do with pacing and the triad structure. However, it was always my intention to have him read the proclamation at the funeral, so I had to have the ASSUME that Iadon would be executed, then take off with the proclamation. Either way, I eventually fixed this, smoothing things out considerably.)
In this chapter, we really get to see the effects Raoden's leadership. We see how he makes use of what he is given—the bright cloth, the nails, the sheets of metal. On one side, we saw Sarene twisting his demands. Now we get to see Raoden twisting those items back into usefulness. He changes the bright clothing into an advantage, using it to brighten his people against the sludge. He finds uses for all of Sarene's 'useless' payments. The more bleak a situation is, the more Raoden shines.
In these chapters, I had to be very careful during the Sarene viewpoints. As I was writing, I had a habit of accidentally refering to Raoden by his real name, rather than calling him Spirit. Sarene, of course, doesn't know who he really is. I found one place where I called him 'Raoden' that somehow lasted all the way to the final edit—hopefully, that was the last one.
I figured the rats metaphor in this chapter was appropriate. It seemed like the kind of connection that Hrathen would make—and it says something about him that he would think this way. He might be a sympathetic villain, and he might have some measure of nobility, but he isn't by any means unprejudiced. He is, in that way, a product of his culture. You can be a good man and still be prejudiced—I know a lot of people, good people, who simply don't seem to have the ability to see beyond their own assumptions.
So, I contrast this bit of prejudice from Hrathen with a sincere measure of humanity on his part. He's worried about Sarene. Not worried simply because of his desire to use her, not even worried simply because of his latent affection for her—though both are motivations for his actions. He's worried because he feels guilty for using her like he is. It's that pesky conscience of his, messing things up again.
And yes, Hrathen does have some feelings for Sarene hiding inside that armored chest of his. I'm always very subtle in the way I have him show them—for instance, his coming up to the wall to try and see if she's all right.
Speaking of that, I haven't really talked much about viewpoint in these annotations. You may or may not have noticed that I'm a big fan of strictly-limited third-person viewpoints. Third person past tense has pretty much become the industry standard during the last fifteen years (before that time, you saw a lot more omniscient—look at DUNE, and to a lesser extent, ENDER'S GAME.) You almost never see it these days, though, and I personally think that's a good thing. Omniscient is a little better for plotting in some places, but limited is far better for characterization.
Any time you read one of my books, you should remember that I'm almost always in strict limited. Whatever you read in the text, it is something that a character feels or has observed.
I hereby dub this chapter the official start of the Brandon Avalanche! Let the rejoicing begin.
On a more serious note, I'll get to some of the major events in the chapter in a moment. First, let's talk over some smaller annotations. I like the fact that Lukel doesn't like Kaloo—it seems like a perfect characterization for both of them. I will note, however, that Lukel has much better lines in this chapter than Kaloo does. His crack about Ahan getting sick by sheer laws of probability makes me chuckle every time I read them. Kaloo, on the other hand, spends all of his time trying to be honorable and true. Raoden is a good hero, but he can be dreadfully boring sometimes. Maybe that's why he threw himself into the Kaloo persona so eagerly.
Basically, it is to do mainly with her environment whilst with Mat. For the first time she was with someone close to her who she can trust. We know how they do things in the Imperial family. After Thanksgiving gatherings they have to do a roll call for the survivors.
Back amongst the Seanchan she is home to chaos and a totally different situation. She will have much different mindset. Also, in Towers of Midnight she is dealing with the White Tower—an issue which makes the most placid Seanchan go rabid.
When I pushed Brandon regarding possible involvement of Greandal, he refuted it. Or at least said that if I am "digging" for something—there is nothing I can find. Something to that effect.
This chapter begins with an interesting scene. There's already a bit of tension between Sarene and Raoden. Nothing big, of course—but I think it's realistic. People don't always agree. Loving someone doesn't change the fact that you sometimes think what they're doing is flat-out dumb. It does, however, tend to change your reactions. And so, Sarene acknowledges that Raoden is acting like a king, not a friend, and lets the matter drop.
This highlights a difference between the two of them that I have pointed out earlier. Sarene was not raised to rule—Raoden was. That lifetime of preparation has changed the way Raoden sees things; it has made him look at everything in the light of how it effects his people. Actually, there is no 'Raoden the man' separate from 'Raoden the ruler.' They're tightly integrated.
Kiin doesn't take orders, here. Another interesting little character trait, but it shouldn't be too surprising. Kiin's personality all along has indicated how little he regards the titles and authority of other men.
As I've mentioned before, I didn't want Hrathen's affection for Sarene to ever be overt in the book. He's not a man of passions, and I think he would be very good at keeping his interest unacknowledged, even in his own thoughts. He has 'learned to ignore' the passions of the flesh. We only get a few small clues as to his attraction to Sarene, and this chapter is probably has the most of those.
Still, hidden though they are, I wanted it to be obvious that Hrathen is a man, and does have masculine desires. He's found a woman whom he considers his equal—the fact that she is of a heretic religion would only make her more appealing, I think. Hrathen is attracted to challenges, and Sarene is nothing if not challenging.
I like finally having a chance to characterize Galladon internally. My sense is that you can never really get to know a character until you can see their thoughts. So, I gave a nice little series of viewpoints to Galladon, partially to show what was happening to Raoden's body, partially so that I could have some last-minute introspection and philosophizing regarding what is happening in the chapters.
Galladon's hope monologue in this chapter is probably the most powerful, and most interesting, section he gets in the book. This piece is supposed to mimic what the reader is feeling—things are going terribly, but Raoden has always managed to pull out a miracle. He may look bad now, but he can still save them. Can't he?
I think Galladon is more pessimistic—naturally—than the reader will be. However, he raises good questions, and his talk about hope—how Raoden's gift to him is the inability to give up completely—is one final showing of the power Raoden's personality has in this book. Perhaps the most amazing thing Raoden does in this book—more difficult a task to overcome than the gangs, more rewarding than taking the throne of Arelon—is make a believer out of a man like Galladon. A man who had given up on hope, but who now continues to believe, even though all is lost.
I actually didn't plan to use the 'teleportation' aspect of the Dakhor magic. However, I wrote myself into this chapter, then suddenly realized that I needed to get the group Teod in a real hurry. I couldn't let days pass while Sarene, Hrathen, and Dilaf sailed to the peninsula as I'd originally intended. (I have no idea what I was thinking.) So, I added in teleportation. It ended up working out very well in the book, as it let me add another dimension to the Dakhor magic—that of having it cost a life to create some of its effects.
This, more than anything, should instill in the reader a sense of disgust regarding the Dakhor. I particularly like Hrathen's story about Dilaf making someone die so he could travel to a place fifteen minutes away. It characterizes Dilaf perfectly while at the same time giving a clue to how strict and obedient his order is. This isn't a group of people you want to mess with. It's the ultimate exaggeration of Derethi beliefs on loyalty and structure.
I really wanted to bring these Dilaf scenes in and make them personal. That was my prime reasoning behind sending Sarene with him. I wanted the reader to care, and I wanted Hrathen to care—which, hopefully, would make the reader care even more.
Dilaf was very interesting to write as an antagonist. By the time he finally came to his own, I didn't have to worry about developing him as a viable threat. His personality through the entire novel had prepared the reader for the awful moment when he finally got the other characters into his power. And, because Hrathen was so sympathetic a villain through the entire novel, I think I can make Dilaf more raw and unapproachable. It's nice to have sympathetic villains, but with Hrathen in the book, I didn't feel that I needed much sympathy for Dilaf. Also, with one such well-drawn villain, I felt that if I tried to do the same with Dilaf, the comparison would make him come off very poorly. So, I went the other direction, and the contrast gives the readers someone that they can just hate.
If they didn't hate him already, then this last scene with Sarene was meant to push them over the edge. Here is a man who kills for pleasure. No matter how wronged he was in the past, he has no justification for the cruelty and enjoyment he displays in anticipating Sarene's death. This is an evil man.
As I've mentioned, Hrathen has the most progression of any of the characters in this book. It's fitting, therefore, that he should get the best character climax.
Essentially, ELANTRIS—at least Hrathen's third of it—is a redemption story. It is the story of Hrathen trying to make up for the massacre he caused in Duladel. Beyond that, it's the story of a man struggling to understand what faith is, and what that faith requires of him. In the end, his decision to save Sarene comes as a rejection of the sins of his past. And, in a slight way, it is a rejection of the heartless, logical man he assumed himself to be.
There is some good, if terse, exposition here with Hrathen sorting through his feelings. I don't think he really wants to come to any answers right now. Logic has lead him astray before, and now that he's doing what he feels is right, he doesn't want to pause to give himself a chance to consider the ramifications of what he's done.
Again, Sarene has fulfilled her purpose in the book. She's thrown chaos into Hrathen's otherwise-orderly life. However, her chaos here—just like the chaos she caused in Elantris with her food—eventually proves to be a good thing. It inspires change for the better, even though that change is painful.
And, of course, I remind the reader here that there is something odd about Hrathen's arm. I've only mentioned it in a couple of places, so I don't expect people to remember what is going on here. I actually forgot to have the sleeve in the original rewrite. I didn't even think to notice that his Dakhor arm would be exposed to Sarene in this scene. . . .
I keep promising that I'll tell you about some of the other silly character revelations I had pop up in the book. This one is particularly embarrassing. To be honest, I have NO idea what I was thinking.
In the original draft of the book, Hrathen turns out to have been from Duladel the entire time. It's revealed in this scene, when he and Sarene are running from the Dakhor. He was of Dula blood, having grown up there, then moved to Fjorden as a teenager.
Yes, I know. I must have been tired when I wrote that chapter. Anyway, at one point it must have seemed like a good idea. It didn't make even the first cut, however—my first readers rose up in open rebellion, and I joined them.
I figure I must have decided that it was more dramatic to discover that Hrathen had betrayed his own people by destroying Duladel. (Note, in the early draft of the book, I made more of a habit of pointing out that the Duladen republicans weren't generally dark-skinned.) In the first draft, I always had Hrathen wear black die in his hair and pretended to be from Fjorden.
Yes, again, I know. It was stupid. We writers do stupid things sometimes. I didn't even pause to think that the drama of Hrathen betraying his own people and religion in the present is far more powerful than a betrayal that happened before the book even started. I denied his entire character by trying to rely on some whim that seemed like a clever, unexpected twist. Don't let yourselves do things like this, writers. Let the twists help develop the character, not exist simply to surprise.
Anyway, I'll post this scene in the deleted scenes section. It'll keep me humble to know people can read it.
I debated writing this because you seem like a genuinely nice guy who cares about his fans, and I don't want to hurt your feelings. If you find it difficult to read criticism, please don't read any further.
To be honest, I am hoping that you won't write the outriggers/prequels because it seems to me like your heart's just not in it anymore. In 2011 you announced that you needed time off to reread the entire series before starting work on A Memory of Light since you'd forgotten too much and this had led to continuity issues in Towers of Midnight. But according to your own website, you only reread a third of the series, then went on to work on Alloy of Law, Legion, The Emperor's Soul, The Rithmatist... As someone who enjoyed Way of Kings a great deal, I'm glad that you've continued to work on your own books, but the fact that you abandoned the reread does make me worry about the quality of A Memory of Light. If you cannot give WoT as much time and attention as it needs, it's better to let it go.
Another big issue for me is the characterization. You're great at writing Perrin and also did a good job with Rand and the girls for the most part. Others felt off, and that unfortunately includes the main characters the outriggers and prequels would focus on. I'll leave out Mat since that's been discussed to death already, but Lan and Moiraine's scenes in Towers of Midnight were a huge disappointment for me. Lan has always been a favorite of mine, but here he came off as a whiny combination of Gawyn and Perrin. He's a grown man in his late 40s, not a sulky teenager.
Then there's Moiraine, now ready to give up all her power if only Thom tells her to. Yes, her captivity undoubtedly changed her, but at her core, she is someone who was ready to sacrifice everyone and everything to win the Last Battle, including herself. So it didn't seem right for Moiraine to offer to give up an important tool like the angreal.
""Egwene, I know what you feel for Rand, but you must realize by now that nothing can come of it. He belongs to the Pattern, and to history."—Moiraine, The Shadow Rising
For an instant she regretted sending Thom away. She did not like having to waste her time with these petty affairs. But he had too much influence with Rand; the boy had to depend on her counsel. Hers, and hers alone.—Moiraine, The Shadow Rising
That had been one of Moiraine's more succinct bits of advice. Never let them see you weaken.—Rand, Lord of Chaos
I happen to like Moiraine a lot, but there's no denying she was partly responsible for Rand thinking he needed to be hard. Yet in Towers of Midnight you have Rand speak of how caring she was; even Mat and Nynaeve sing her praises. You seem to be trying to retcon Moiraine into a saintly figure she never was. All WoT characters have major flaws; Moiraine's was that she treated people as chess pieces that sometimes needed to be sacrificed for the greater good. In The Shadow Rising she intentionally tried to separate Rand from his friends so she could be the only person influencing him. It wasn't until Rhuidean that she discovered firsthand what it felt like to be the person forced to make the ultimate sacrifice, and she finally became the advisor Rand needed. But even then she was still manipulating him and encouraging him to be hard, so obviously she hadn't changed completely. To ignore her flaws and mistakes is to do the character a disservice and hides her growth in The Fires of Heaven.
This is getting long, so I'll wrap it up here. I hope this made sense and that I didn't hurt your feelings. I still think you're a very talented writer and look forward to reading both A Memory of Light and the next Stormlight book.
Well, thanks for the thoughts. I will take the comments for what they are worth, and appreciate your sincerity.
By way of correction, I do want to point out that Alloy of Law, Legion, and The Rithmatist were all written BEFORE I started work on A Memory of Light. The only thing I've written during A Memory of Light was The Emperor's Soul, which is a short work I wrote on the flight home from Taiwan earlier in the year. I have always stopped my main projects for side ones. It is part of what keeps me fresh. Alcatraz was in the middle of Mistborn, Rithmatist in the middle of Liar of Partinel (which I decided not to publish; it was the last book I wrote before the WoT came my way.) Legion was during Towers of Midnight. Emperor's Soul during A Memory of Light.
My heart is completely in it—that I can assure you. I stopped the re-read because I was just too eager to be working on the book, and I'd already re-read (the last year) books 9-11 in working to get Perrin and Mat down for Towers of Midnight. But your complaint is valid. I did not re-read 6-8, except for spot reading. I kept telling myself I needed to get to them, but I was too deeply into the writing by that point.
As for where I misfired on characterization, I apologize. In some cases, I don't see them the same way as you do. In other cases, I am doing a worse job than RJ would have, and the failings are mine. I don't want to diminish your opinion, as it is valid. I certainly have struggled with some characters more than others.
Though, for the scene with Moiraine and Thom you quote above...I, uh, didn't write that scene, my friend. That one was RJ in its entirety, and was one of the most complete scenes he left behind.
Brandon, thank you for the thoughtful response. I understand that it's very difficult for most authors to read criticism (let alone reply to it), so I appreciate that you took the time to read and reply.
I'd like to stress that I wholeheartedly agree with Neil Gaiman's "GRRM is not your bitch" post and hope it didn't come across like I thought you shouldn't be working on anything besides WoT. Side projects are very much a good thing (happy and creative authors→better books), and I am personally excited about your upcoming books. It was mainly the fact that you seemed to have given up on the reread that felt like a reason for concern since you had previously said you needed to refresh your memory to avoid a repeat of Towers of Midnight's continuity errors. It also made me worry that you had gotten weary of working on A Memory of Light, which would have been understandable given that it's a very time-consuming and demanding project that you've already spent 4-5 years on. I'm glad to hear this is not the case.
"In some cases, I don't see them the same way as you do."
That's not something I object to since we all have different perceptions of the characters. In most cases I understand where you are coming from even if your interpretation differs somewhat from mine. Unlike me, you also have access to all sorts of character notes and spoilers about their futures.
However, in some cases it felt like your personal love or dislike of certain characters also played a strong role. To put it bluntly, it's easy to tell that Perrin, Egwene and Moiraine are your favorites since they've received a disproportionate amount of PoVs or praise from other characters, Egwene in particular (how many scenes do we need where people talk about how brilliant, clever and talented Egwene is?). I don't know how much you follow other WoT boards, but there's been a lot of debate in fandom as to whether Egwene has become too much of a Mary Sue-type character who easily defeats supposedly shrewd political opponents and is constantly praised by other characters, often at the expense of people like Siuan. It's impossible for a writer to remain completely objective, and your background as a fan is on the whole one of your biggest strengths, but sometimes things like that can feel jarring. I would not want to see the same happen to a complex, flawed and interesting character like Moiraine.
"Though, for the scene with Moiraine and Thom you quote above...I, uh, didn't write that scene, my friend. That one was RJ in its entirety, and was one of the most complete scenes he left behind."
I have to admit, this comes as a surprise to me, partly because of Moiraine's seemingly uncharacteristic offer to surrender almost all her power for Thom's sake and partly because she used contractions in this scene (in the New Spring graphic novel, there's a note from Jordan informing the comic writers that Moiraine never uses contractions). She and Thom seemed to have a mutual respect and attraction in the early books, but spent very little time together, so I would not have expected any full-blown love or a marriage proposal at this point. It just seemed very strange for Moiraine to be willing to sacrifice her only chance at regaining her strength when she's barely even thought about Thom in her PoVs before. But since Jordan wrote that scene, there's nothing to do but accept that it's where he wanted to take the characters.
Re: Contractions Interesting story here. Harriet and Team Jordan worried about my use of contractions in places that RJ did not. It seemed very striking to them. Their first instinct was to go through and change it, after the fact, in order to match RJ's style.
Harriet didn't like how that looked. She felt that my style needed to be blended with RJ's, rather than taking my style and forcing it to fit into something else. So it was decided that one of her tasks, as editor, would be to blend the writing after it was put together. She'd go through and make scenes feel right together, and would blend the two styles like a painter blending paint.
So, she takes away contractions from me where she feels they need to go and she actually adds them to RJ's writing where she thinks it needs to be blended. I was curious if that was the case here, so I went back to the original notes.
And it turns out RJ wrote the scene with contractions. Most likely, he was planning to trim them out with editing. Remember, even the most complete scenes we have from him are first drafts. In fact, in some of them, the tense is wrong. (Much of this Moiraine/Thom/Mat scene is in present tense. )
An example from the notes is:
He puts the angreal on her wrist, and says 'I'll marry you now.'
In revision, this line turned into:
He put the bracelet back on her wrist. "I'll marry you now, if you wish it."
Anyway, I don't want to spend too much time defending myself, because that's not the point of your post. Really, the most important thing for me to say is that I understand. I'll do my best, and criticism like this is important to me. (Particularly on the Wheel of Time books, where I feel that listening to fan direction is important for gauging how well I'm doing on the characters.) It was fan criticism that brought me around to finally seeing what I was doing wrong with Mat, and (hopefully) making some strides toward writing him more accurate to himself.
What was the hardest to write?
The most challenging part of that book was to keep a strong enough focus on the characters while writing a faster, shorter plot. That’s a balance I haven’t practiced nearly as much as I have with the epic fantasies, where I have basically as much time as I want with any given character. So that was a challenge.
In one of your essays, you write that you like "mystery more than...mysticism" in your novels. Elaborate on that.
I, as a reader, like the tension that comes from "Can I figure it out?" That's one of the things that keeps me reading, "What's going on here? Can I figure it out?" The difference is that mysticism is something you can't figure out. That's alright for the stories that do it that way, but I prefer to be able to look at it and go, "OK, something is going wrong."
It goes back to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Many of his early stories about robots are about, "OK, these three laws are interacting in an interesting way." It's really a mystery—"Can you figure out what's going on here?" There's this wonderful pay off in reading where you go, "Wow, that just works so beautifully." That's one of the aspects of writing that I enjoy.
We're talking a lot about magic systems, but any time this topic comes up, I like to point out that any good story is about characters. Magic is what fantasy does uniquely. Certainly it's a hallmark of our genre, and we need to approach the setting in a cool way for our stories, but if you don't have cool characters, the story is going to fail, no matter how great the magic is.
My goal is to create a story that is an enjoyable read because the characters are enjoyable. Then, after that, I like to go with my magic system and try and make something you've never seen before. But no amount of world building is going to succeed if the characters are bland.
What, in your mind, makes the Wheel of Time series so popular? Why has it retained an audience that is willing to wait so long for it to conclude?
I think it's depth of characterization. That's something that Robert Jordan was phenomenal at. His use of third-person viewpoint gets you really close and intense with these characters, and you fall in love with them.
He was also very subtle with foreshadowing, which I appreciate. He did a great job with that. And his world building is quite spectacular. He has a magic system that straddles that line between hard and soft, and I really love a lot of the things he did with it.
Those things all came together, but first and foremost, it was characters people love. He did that viewpoint so well. When you're in someone's head, you feel like you know them. These characters became my friends growing up; they're like my high school buddies. I can only assume that that happened with a lot of readers.
Harriet wins. Harriet always wins. Usually what happens is that there'll be...if Harriet says something, we just do it. The only time when there's questioning is when I disagree with Maria or Alan, and we both kind of make our arguments. We do these in-line edits with track changes in Microsoft Word; we'll have whole conversations there, where I'll say "This is why I think this character would do what they're doing," and Maria would come in and say, "This is why I think you're wrong and they wouldn't do this," and we'll have big discussions, and Harriet'll make the call, and then I'll do it as Harriet says, 'cause Harriet knows the characters better than anyone.
And so there are times when I've been overruled—it happens on every book—and there are times where Harriet said, "No, I think Brandon's right," and Maria and Alan—her superfans—disagree, but the way that fandom works, we all disagree on things. You'll find this, and I disagree with some people on how character interpretations will happen, and things like that. Some people, for instance, don't think my Talmanes is true to Jim's Talmanes. Things like that. That's the sort of thing we're arguing over. It's very rarely over main characters, but it's like, "Is Talmanes acting like Talmanes would?" And I read the character one way, and some people read the character another way, and I just have to go with my interpretation, and if Harriet says, "No, this isn't right," I revise it. If Harriet says, "No, this feels right to me," then we just go with it.
Was there ever a case where you and Maria and Alan had a difference of opinion and Harriet had a completely different take?
That all four of us had a different take? Yeah, that's happened; that's very rare but it has happened. We're trying to piece together something that's...there's always this consideration of "What would Jim do?" But there's also a consideration of Brandon as author, not knowing what Jim would do, what does Brandon think needs to happen narratively? And there are some things where I, reading the books as an author, say "This is where he was going." "No, he didn't say it in the notes." "No, it's nowhere in there; he doesn't make mention of it." "This is where he was going; my understanding of story structure, plotting and things, and I can say, you know, as sure as I can say anything, that this is what he was going to do." And, you know, sometimes Maria and Alan, they look at the notes and say, "No, that's not at all what he was going to do; look what the notes say." And I say, "No, that's not what they're saying," and we have arguments about that too.
There's lots of discussing going on. We're all very passionate about the Wheel of Time. It'd be like getting Jenn and Jason from Dragonmount and Matt from Theoryland together and hashing out what they think about where Demandred is, or something like that. There are gonna be lots of passionate discussions. I think, at the end of the day, that makes the book better, and the fact that we have kind of...Harriet tends to just...if she has a feeling, she lets us argue about it, and then she says, like...you know, 'cause she's the one that would sit at dinner and discuss the characters with Jim. None of us did that, and she did that for twenty years, so...yeah.
I really like the scene where Kelsier first displays his scars in this chapter. In fact, I really like how this chapter sets up Kelsier in general. It gives him a chance to be a light-hearted (perhaps even a little flippant) while also showing that he's had a hard pas. He has some scars—both visible and hidden. At the end, his attack on the manor house should be something of an indication of what he's capable of doing.In addition, we establish very quickly why Kelsier smiles so much. I've been accused of being a chronic optimist. I guess that's probably true. And, because of it, I tend to write optimistic characters. Kelsier, however, is a little different. He's not like Raoden, who was a true, undefeatable optimist. Kelsier is simply stubborn. He's decided that he's not going to let the Lord Ruler take his laughter from him. And so, he forces himself to smile even when he doesn't feel like it. This is a more brutal world than I presented in ELANTRIS—which is somewhat amusing, since ELANTRIS was essentially about a bunch of zombies. Either way, my goal in this chapter was to show the Final Empire as a place of contrast. Despair contrasted with Kelsier's attitude. The wealth of the nobility contrasted with the terrible conditions of the skaa.
Okay, some spoiler stuff here. Mennis does make a return later in the book, as you probably know. I actually wasn't intending to ever use him again, and was surprised when people read this chapter and expected him to be a main character. I guess I characterized him a little too well in the scene where he gets up. So, when the time came for Kelsier to have a quiet conversation with one of the rebels, I dusted off Mennis and used him again. I'm very pleased with how that scene turned out, though it's another one I had to rewrite a couple times to get correct. We'll talk more about that later.
This second scene with Camon is important for several reasons. The first thing I'll note is that Vin doesn't say anything out-loud in the book until she tells Camon that his servants are too fine. I thought it would be interesting to introduce Vin as a character who doesn't say a whole lot—who thinks her responses. This establishes, I think, that she's something of an introvert, and that she's smarter than she lets people know. When she does speak, she's blunt and straightforward.The other thing established in this scene is Vin's use of Luck. Hopefully, you connect her abilities with Kelsier's line in the prologue about the Lord Ruler fearing skaa who have 'powers they shouldn't even know exist.' Vin fits quite well into this category. She can obviously do something extraordinary, yet she doesn't know why—or really even how. It was difficult, narratively, to work out how Vin was able to use Allomancy without knowing it, but it works, and you'll get the explanation later.
Camon was originally far less competent than he ended up in the final draft. Originally, Vin was constantly (in this chapter and the next) thinking about how he was making mistakes when talking to the obligator and the crew. I thought this would establish Vin as an intelligent, insightful character—one who is even better than the guy in charge of her crew.However, I eventually realized that this didn't work. Camon was too incompetent—the version of him in the first draft would never have been able to keep control of his crew. In addition, by making him so weak, it weakened the threat to Vin. It's always better to have antagonists be strong, if only to make the heroes look stronger by comparison. Though Camon is only a minor villain in this book, strengthening him made the story seem much more logical, and I really don't think I lost anything.
So, Kelsier is very interesting to me as a character. Mostly because of what we see in this chapter. He is a man of dichotomy, which is one of the themes of this novel. On one hand, he's the joking, lighthearted man you see in the second half of the chapter. On the other hand, however, he's a very dangerous, even ruthless, man. He laughs at himself in this chapter, but he wasn't faking when he acted the way he did. There is an edge to Kelsier I've never built into a hero before. Sometimes, he makes me uncomfortable.
Ah, the introductions. I worry that this scene is a little too long, and perhaps a little too obvious, as we bring in the separate members of the crew. However, it seemed like the best way, and it adheres a little bit to the heist genre framework I'm using.
My favorites of the group are, of course, Ham and Breeze. I knew I wanted to use a smaller crew than you see in some heist stories—I wanted to get to know them better, and deal with them more, than one has opportunity for in a movie like Ocean's Eleven. Ham and Breeze, then, formed the basis for my group. Simply put, they're both guys who are fun to talk to. I can put them in a room with each other, or with Vin, and an interesting conversation will blossom.
I was a little worried about Ham when I first started writing him. The warrior philosopher is, perhaps, a character that you've seen before. In this case, I knew I wanted a character who could be a foil for Breeze. Since Breeze tends to be arrogant, long-winded, and manipulative, I came up with someone humble, long-winded, and kindly. Mix in a desire to understand the world, and a mind that thinks about things a little differently from others, and I had Ham. I think he turned out all right.
This chapter also has some of my favorite early-book characterizations of Vin. The Vin we get in the first few chapters is a beaten down, sorrowful thing. The Vin in this chapter, however, is more true to who she really is. Careful and discerning, quick to scout out her surroundings and wary of anything new. Yet, at the same time, not hateful or even really brutal. She kind of lives in the moment, taking things as they come.
The Kelsier-Marsh-Mare relationship was something that just kind of grew naturally as I was writing. When I started designing the characters for this book, I knew that I wanted Kelsier to have gone through something very traumatic. I settled on a time spent in the Lord Ruler's slave camps, then built his having a wife out of that.
Marsh's unspoken love for Mare wasn't something I originally intended. It actually worked into the story as I was writing this very chapter. I needed tension between Marsh and Kelsier for their relationship to work the way I wanted it to. However, Marsh' disapproval of Kelsier just wasn't enough—especially since Marsh himself had given up leadership of the skaa rebellion, proving that he himself wasn't as much of a hero as he wishes he was.
Mare provided the perfect explanation for their tension. It was something I could imply in just a few sentences, then gain a lot of weight of back-story.
The scene with Vin standing in the darkness and looking in at the people having fun inside was one of the first and fundamental scenes I got for her character. Those who have read other annotations and essays by me know that I build my books by important focal scenes. This image of Vin keeping herself aloof from the fun and good humor, yet desiring to be part of it so badly, seemed to me to be the perfect character for Kelsier's apprentice.
Of course, this scene was actually only half of the image I conjured in my mind. The other half comes, of course, the scene later in the book where Vin has become fully a part of the crew, enjoying their friendship, and looks out of the kitchen at the dark hallway beyond, where she once stood. Nice little brackets of a character arc, and the main focus in my mind of Vin's growth in this book.
Oh, and by the way. People often ask me how far ahead I plan my novels. Well, I've noted already in this annotation that some things—such as the Kelsier-Marsh-Mare relationship—come to me as I write. They appear when I need something to fill a particular hole in the story. Other things, however, are quite well planned. Want an example?
Kelsier's warning about not flaring metals too much is a foreshadowing for book three of the trilogy. You'll see what I mean in a couple of years. Also, there's something very important about Vin's brother that will be hard to pick out, but has been foreshadowed since the first book...
There are a few points in this chapter that really and truly sum up Vin's character for me. The first point comes in her asking Kelsier if Marsh beat him often. The fact that Vin wouldn't even consider the fact that two siblings could get along without some form of beating or dominerance speaks a lot about the life she's led.
She's not a bad person, however. Kelsier gets it right—she isn't herself bad, she just assumes that everyone else is. In my opinion, the amount of good left in her despite what she's gone through is a powerful testament to her character. And, finally, some of that starts to come out in this chapter. It might be a little early for her to begin changing—it's only been a few days—but I wanted to leave a few hints in this chapter, since we're going to have a big time jump here pretty soon.
The first hint is that she really is starting to want to become part of the team. She feels sad when she thinks she won't get to act the part of Renoux's heir. In addition—and, for Vin, I meant this to be something very telling—she left food behind. That's a great moment in the chapter for me.
In this chapter, we get to meet Sazed—who ranks as one of my favorite characters in the entire series. (Alongside Vin and someone we haven't met yet.) I like Sazed because he's inherantly conflicted, yet acts so peaceful. He's a member of a servant race, bred to be humble and submissive. Yet, he knows the one who directed all of that breeding is the Lord Ruler. Add in that he seeks to work with the rebellion, yet feels out of place unless he's acting as a servant, and you get a really good character, in my opinion.
Needless to say, you'll be seeing a lot of him.
All of that considered, I know the beginning is kind of slow. That's how my books are—while I can often start with a bang in the first few chapters, I then need to go into building mode so that I can earn my climaxes in the later third. We need to have some scenes explaining Allomancy in detail, for instance, before we can have scenes like happen in the next chapter.
Still, I like a lot about the introduction to this book. Vin's character comes off very strongly, and the plot is established quickly—something I sometimes have trouble doing.
We've now seen Sazed preach a couple of religions to members of the crew. You may be interested in my process of coming up with his character.
It actually began when I was watching the movie THE MUMMY. Yes, I know. Sometimes it's embarrassing where we come up with ideas. However, my inspiration for Sazed was the moment when the oily little thief character gets confronted by the mummy, and pulls out a whole pile of holy symbols. He goes through each one, praying to each god, looking for one that would help him.
I began to wonder what it would be like to have a kind of missionary who preached a hundred different religions. A man who, instead of advancing his own beliefs, tried to match a set of beliefs to the person—kind of like a tailor looking to fit a man with the prefect and most comfortable hat.
That's where the inspiration for the entire sect of Keepers began. Soon, I had the idea that the Lord Ruler would have squished all the religions in the Final Empire, and I thought of a sect of mystics who tried to collect and preserve all of these religions. I put the two ideas together, and suddenly I had Sazed's power. (I then stole a magic system from FINAL EMPIRE PRIME, which I'll talk about later, and made it work in this world. Feruchemy was born.)
Originally, I had Vin far less emotionally affected by the scene of slaughter. I wanted to imply that she's seen a lot of death and hardship in her life, and so something like this wasn't all that shocking to her. Alpha readers, however, found her too callous here. I did a rewrite, and realized that I liked it much better with Vin reacting emotionally to the scene of death. She still puts up a strong front, which is very like her. However, she no longer just walks through it without reacting.
And, Elend. He's one of my other favorite characters in the series. You'll see more of him—don't worry. I really wanted him to walk the line between being clever and just plain dense (in the way that men can sometimes be.) Some people accuse me of writing Elend too much like myself. In truth, I could see myself sitting at a party reading a book, rather than paying attention to the pretty girl trying to talk to me. Or, at least, that's the way I would have been when I was growing up.
I'll talk more about Elend later. Though, I do want to note something important. It's a law of storytelling that the girl is going to end up talking to the one boy at the party that she's not supposed to. So, don't pretend you didn't see it coming.
Let's see here. Harriet killed a character in the book that I did not intend to kill. So I wrote the entire book with a character living and she killed this character.
Did she tell you right before you finished, or what?
She sent back the draft and said "This person dies."
So did you have to change a lot?
So they succumb to their wounds. I intended them to live, so there is a character who died unexpectedly. So that's a slight spoiler. There is like a chapter that's over a hundred pages. It's a Super Chapter.
Did you have to invent any of it yourself, or did Jordan leave a lot of it for you?
He left some of it for me, and then I had to make the rest. As you're reading through the books, probably about half and half. Half will be stuff that he wrote notes on, half will be stuff that I wrote.
Do you feel like it comes pretty easy?
Some of it does. I mean I've been reading since I was a kid. So some of the characters like Perrin is very natural for me. And Rand's super natural for me. Others are a little less natural for me.
Yes, like Mat. Mat's harder for me to write.
Why is that?
Because Mat is very complex. Not to say that Perrin's not, but Perrin's straightforward. You know what I mean? Perrin says what he means, and does what he means. Mat says the opposite of what he means, and does the opposite of what he says. Making that tone correct for that is very hard. He's one part rapscallion, the other part Awesomeness. And balancing when he's playing the fool, and when he's just being awesome is very hard to get that balance down, because you don't want it to be silly, you know he can play the fool a bit but he shouldn't be silly. Otherwise it won't match from when he's being Awesome as well, if that makes sense.
“Aviendha and Tuon are the ones I worked the hardest on, but I expected them to be hard. I wasn’t expecting Mat to be hard. That blindsided me.” Brandon explained that in general the Andoran characters are the easiest for him to write as, “They feel like friends from high school.” So it surprised Brandon when he sat down to write Mat and discovered that he didn’t have an immediate grasp on him. Brandon eventually realized it was because, unlike the other characters, “Mat is an untrustworthy narrator. He doesn’t always believe what he says and he doesn’t even always believe the thoughts in his own head. He’s a character I’ve struggled to write but I think I’ve gotten as close to him as it’s possible for me to get.” (The positive reaction to the Mat chapter he read certainly put weight to this statement.)
He also, tongue-in-cheek, admitted that before he wrote Cadsuane she was his least favorite character. “She was just too mean!”
I know what it's like to be in the middle of a battle and I know what it's like to have somebody try and kill you... I can put that in. There's a balance between the moments when you can look back and say that was a magnificent thing and when you say, 'What the hell is going on here?' In the aftermath you're so relieved you're still alive that you can walk among the dead laughing, and people who haven't been there will say that's insanity. It's not; it's the sort of thing that happens...
Which presumably makes it easier to understand characters' motivations in combat?
I try to get into their heads. Sometimes it's difficult—it's hard for me to imagine being a five-foot three female, but I work at it and think I've done a fairly effective job. When I was touring for The Dragon Reborn a group of women told me I'd settled an argument they'd been having about whether Robert Jordan was a pen name for a woman!
But I can get into anyone's head—I'll walk out of my study and my wife will say, 'Been into someone nasty today, haven't you?'
It's an excellent question, and it's one that I wrestled with for a long time. I worried. . . Eventually, I did actually try a few things, that I was just trying to imitate him, and I worried I would just come off as parody, honestly. And that was a big worry for me. At the end of the day I decided that what I needed to do was to get the voices right for the characters. Robert Jordan writes a very intense third person limited, where each line is colored by the vision of the character he's writing for at the moment.
And I felt that if I could get the souls of the characters right, even if I were coming in and doing it stylistically a little bit differently, the books would still feel right, if that makes any sense. And that became my goal and my quest: get the characters' souls to feel right. I often use the metaphor, I say it's like you're watching a television series, and the director changes—the actors are still the same, but the director changes—and that's what I was going for.
It's a hard core, though, isn't it? I mean, Wheel of Time fans are very, very hard-core...
...and (laughs) I wondered whether any of them had misgivings about you stepping in this way.
Oh, I got a great deal of email. My inbox flooded as soon as I was announced. And there was really no justification I could give. All I could say is, "Well, wait until the book comes out. Let's see what I can do. If it stands up on its own, then that's the best proof I can give, and nothing I can say earlier will do a better job of that. If it falls down, then no justification I give now will mean anything anyway." And so I just focused on the writing and trying to get the book out and, you know, trying to....a real challenge was making sure that it fulfilled his vision for the series, and not mine, because I was a fan, and sometimes you can let that inner fan take over, and that can be a bad thing for a story. You want the story to have power and emotion; you don't want it to be a big list of inside jokes.
My goal in the Wheel of Time was not to put my own fingerprint on it. I wanted to finish Robert Jordan's series as close to the soul of the series as he would do, and yet I realized as part of the process quickly that I couldn't imitate him, and that I would have to make it a little bit my own—it would have to be a collaboration—and that's a necessary evil. I really do wish that Robert Jordan were here to finish the books the way that they should have been finished, but there are certain things that he does that I can't do. For instance, he was in Vietnam. He was a soldier. He understood battle in a way that I never will. I instead have watched a whole lot of Hong Kong action films, you know, things like that, and so the way I approach an action sequence is very different from him, and the way I look at magic is a little bit different from the way he looked at magic. That's one thing that is different [between] us. So, the action sequences, things like that. My goal has been to make the characters still feel like themselves, but you will see my fingerprint on things: the way I treat some of the worldbuilding and the action sequences are the two big ones.
Right. You're asking the hardest question that I think I had to ask myself when I took on this project. How do I make sure....I didn't want the Wheel of Time to become about Brandon. At the same time I had to trust my storyteller instincts, which is the only way I knew how to tell the story, and it was a really difficult process to work out, and I kind of turned it into a give and take. There are certain things that I learned from Robert Jordan that I do very similar to him that I could then do in his style very well. There are other things that were unique to him that I just couldn't in any way mimic.
For instance, his action sequences come from a life spent partially as a soldier, and serving in Vietnam, actually being in firefights; that lends a certain type of narrative to a fight sequence. I haven't done any of that. I've just watched a bunch of kung fu films. If you read my action sequences, you're not going to feel like Robert Jordan's because there was no way to imitate him, and I felt that if I tried, I would just be parodying him, and so it was really a give and take. In some places I really tried hard to emulate what he would have done in his style, and in other places I have to say, there's just no way for me to do that; I have to approach it my way, and I took that on a case-by-case basis.
All in all, my main goal, which I've succeeded at in some places, and failed at in others, but my main goal was to make the characters feel like themselves, and that was my focus. Can I do this? I've said it before: no one can replace Robert Jordan. No one can get it a hundred percent right but him. I think I've been doing a fairly good job, but there are certainly mistakes I've made in trying to get those characters' souls to be the right souls, and that was my main goal, is to try and get that right.
Mat's voice really changed from The Gathering Storm to Towers of Midnight. In The Gathering Storm he seemed almost a parody of himself, while in Towers of Midnight he eased back on his roguish nature and felt much more real. Why do you think Mat came across that way in The Gathering Storm, and were you specifically motivated to correct it in Towers of Midnight or did that happen naturally?
One of the big dangers in doing what I'm doing is turning the characters into parodies of themselves, exactly as you stated. This is kind of the 'uncanny valley' of working in someone else's world. If you get them close, but still wrong, it can feel worse than if you'd been more off.
Jason from Dragonmount, in the early reads, was the first one to warn me that Mat was "off." I was surprised, as I felt I'd gotten him down. However, in going back to Mr. Jordan's writing and delving into it, I realized I'd missed large parts of what made Mat into Mat—the tension between what he says and does, the constant little quips in narrative (which tend to be more clever than the actual things he says out loud), the complaining that isn't really complaining. I didn't understand Mat. I tried so hard to make him funny, I wrote the HIM out of him. (I feel Peter Jackson did some of this with Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films.)
So I'd say I was specifically motivated rather than it happening naturally. I should mention, however, that the sequences RJ worked on for Mat all ended up in Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light, not in The Gathering Storm. Some of what you are noticing isn't me, but the master himself.
Thanks for the reply!
I can appreciate the difficulty of trying to write someone else's characters! For what its worth, Mat was the only one who gave off the uncanny valley feeling. Given the number of characters Mr. Jordan created I'd think that was quite a bit of an accomplishment.
I'll try to sum up a few other things I remember:
We talked about if he laughed when fans were guessing who wrote what and getting it way wrong. He said the story he could tell about that was someone looking at the chapter titles to tGS and saying they could tell that Brandon wrote those when of course Harriet has named all the chapters since the start.
He was disappointed that DKS couldn't finished the last cover even though he really thinks Whelan is the best fantasy artist around. He likened it to the same as it being too bad that he had to finish the series instead of RJ.
He talked some more about how he felt Mat was the hardest character to get write because he's pretty complicated. His thoughts don't always match up with his actions and it was hard to strike the right tone.
He knows that his action sequences don't sound like RJ's. He said he just doesn't have the real world experience that RJ did as a combat soldier so he just writes them as the best action scenes that he can.
He said Perrin was his favorite character so one of his goals was to redeem the character a bit and make him awesome again.
I asked about his Alcatraz books and he said there will be one more but it's not high on the priority list and will be several years. He also said the Scholastic distribution wasn't great and he's working on buying back the rights and bringing the series to TOR for wider distribution and ebook release.
Stuff like that. Nothing that hasn't been covered before.
Will we see more of the serious, dark Mat that we left in Knife of Dreams? That is, the one Tuon refers to as...
... "a lion on the high plains" and who leaves wounded enemy combatants to suffer and die (Knife of Dreams ch. 27)? Thanks for your time.
I've tried. I do worry that sometimes I'm too lighthearted with Mat, and need to remember his dangerous side too.
I have attempted to walk this balance in A Memory of Light.
Brandon Sanderson on writing Robert Jordan's characters:
"I'm going to bring my own interpretation as a longtime fan of the characters, and in most cases they're spot-on with what most people think—there haven't been many complaints about my Perrin, for instance. In some cases there are complaints and they're right. My early Mat was off, and I acknowledged this, I looked at what the people were saying. In other cases, such as Lan, they're wrong. [Laughs] What can I say? I'm a fan too, and we will have these arguments about whether this character would do this or that character would do that, and you'll find that in any community. On the other hand I do get complaints and the complaints are legit. I'm not Robert Jordan, and I can't do some of the things he could simply because I don't have his life experience and in many ways I'm not as good a writer as he was. . . And if that really bothers you, then hopefully we can get the original notes released . . . so that those for whom my interpretation was not good, or my failings ruined the experience for them, they can at least look at what Robert Jordan had and imagine their own story."
RJ always said that he included a piece of you in each of his female characters. Other than being likened to Semirhage when you asked RJ to take out the garbage, can you identify the specific parts of the main characters (like Egwene or Nynaeve or Moiraine) that are from you? Did you and RJ discuss it at all?
He didn't consult with me on this. (laughter) As for characters, I tend to be like the one who offers up tea with lemon and honey.
[Side note: One person almost got himself lynched by asking a somewhat spoilery question, regardless of what people had been instructed...] Some characters die in A Memory of Light. How do you choose which characters to kill and which to keep alive?
[My note: Brandon tried to keep this out of spoilers and make it more general about writing and dealing with killing characters off in general.] In this book, Robert Jordan had left very specific instructions regarding the fates of some characters. He left a lot of notes, and some of those determined their fate. In general, characters have to be allowed to take risks in order to create a compelling story. There has to be a real danger for them, or the characters fall flat. Sometimes, that means characters are going to die. (Brandon added a nice bit that made the crowd laugh: "Which character can I kill off that will really piss everyone off and which no one expects?")
Hi, I'm Heather; I am from Lehi, Utah. The last time we came to the booksigning two years ago, I was also very pregnant, and I gave birth 24 hours later. [laughter] So cross your fingers!
But my question is...I have not been a Wheel of Time fan as long as my husband—he introduced me to them after we were married—and I know that the female characters get a lot of hate from the fans sometimes, cause...well, I've always loved them; I thought they were really well-developed, and I really love the woman's world that's been developed in the series, too; you at least see Elayne's midwife appointments, and we see a lot of other things, and the women's magic is almost exclusively through the books until Rand comes along and kinds of makes things for the guys better again.
So, how...I don't know how to phrase this, but how did Robert Jordan write about women so well, because a lot of times I feel like he hits the nail right on the head. Did you really influence that, Harriet, or...was he just a sensitive guy? [laughter]
I did not consciously influence it. At a very early signing in California, a group of women came in, in long skirts, and they had on kind of shawls, and long hair, and they went up to him at the signing table—there were three or four of them—and they said, "Well, this settles an argument." And he was looking up at them, and he said, "About what?" And they said, "We felt that Robert Jordan must be the nom de plume of a woman writer, because who could write women that well?" And he said, "Well, I'm not." [laughter] Looking up through his beard. [laughter]
But he, with the first book I think it was, Tor sent down a fan letter, and very sillily, had taken it out of the envelope, and it was a hand-written letter from a woman in Florida, who said, "You have answered the question that Freud was afraid of: 'What do women want?' They want power, just like men." [laughter, applause] And I think maybe that's what made his women so good.
Good luck, and I hope you get home safely this time! [laughter]
My least favorite part of the entire writing process is the extensive revisions that are necessary to make a book become better, and it's something I have disliked from the beginning, but I've accepted as a very necessary part of the process. If you don't revise, your book remains good and doesn't become excellent. And one day I realized that all my favorite writer friends—people I knew; all the best writers I knew among them—were people who are actually better revisers than actual writers. They could do an okay first draft, but they could really knock it out of the park with a few revisions.
And so revising has never been my favorite part of the writing process at all; I like to be discovering new things and writing new things. And part of what took me so long to get published—for those who don't know, I wrote thirteen books before I sold one; Elantris was my sixth novel—and the reason Elantris sold was because that's when I finally sat down and said, "I really do need to revise; I can't just keep telling myself, 'I'll do better on the next book.' " And I did six or seven really solid drafts of Elantris, and then it sold.
Specifically Wheel of Time: I don't know if there was a least favorite part. The most challenging part was keeping track of all the side characters; that was really tough. There were so many of them, and Robert Jordan was so good at giving them distinct voices. You know, I've got Rand and Perrin and Egwene down—I know them like I know my family—but all the Wise Ones and Aes Sedai...this can be a little bit rocky. I'd say that was definitely the most difficult part of the process.
So here comes the silly portion of the interview. Well, it's not so silly—I mean, I guess you talked about sort of feeling like the characters were your friends. So who's your particular friend? I know I love Egwene. I always think I'd be Green Ajah, but secretly probably I'm really a Brown.
(laughs) I'm a Blue. Robert Jordan looked a lot like Perrin, so I have a particular soft spot for Perrin.
Perrin is also the one whose marriage you hear the most detail about.
Yeah, I hope not our marriage. He said all the women in the series had a little bit of me in them. The evil women—that was taken from me saying, "You forgot to take the garbage out again." (laughs)
(laughs) Wow, I can't see Lanfear hassling somebody about the garbage, but I'll take your word for it.
Yes, but that's how he felt—I was acting like Lanfear.
The Wheel turns, and the Wheel of Time series has come to an end with your completed final draft of A Memory of Light, due out from Tor Books on January 8, 2013. It must have been exciting yet daunting to be chosen to finish such an acclaimed series. How has the experience affected you as an author and as a fan?
It's been a very interesting experience, both as a writer and as a fan. Picking up something that you've loved for many, many years as a fan and then becoming the writer on it really changes your perspective on the entire process. Suddenly I had to dig into it in a way I didn't as a fan. I'm not one of those fans who always have all their favorite lines memorized or anything like that. I never had to keep track of all the subplots and minor characters, and suddenly I not only have to keep track of them, I have to know them intrinsically, which is quite the challenge.
It's been five years that I've been working on these books, and it has forced me to do a lot of heavy lifting as a writer. Things that I wasn't as good at doing, I needed to become better at doing. It's kind of like suddenly being thrown into a swimming pool and told, "All right, now start swimming. You know how to tread water, but now we need you to swim ten miles." It's forced me to grow a lot as a writer. It's really given me a deeper respect for Robert Jordan and his works, seeing the process and how much goes on in creating these novels.
What are the top three characters in which her personality dominated that character's personality?
(joking) Graendal, Moghedian, ... (lots of laughter) Probably Nynaeve. Harriet remarks that she has several home remedies for any ailment. She states that Robert Jordan said all of the women characters stem from her and makes a comment about nagging Robert Jordan to take out the trash.
Who was his favorite character to write and who does he see himself the most in?
Perrin was his favorite. Even though Perrin went through "a slump" in the series in order to build tension, Brandon always stayed "Team Perrin." Perrin was the most natural. Mat was tough and thus a cooler character to write. Brandon enjoyed writing Mat, especially in A Memory of Light. Mat challenged his skills more than anyone else. The saddest part for him with finishing the series is that he can't write Mat anymore.
Harriet added that there will not be any more WoT books (other than the encyclopedia). She said that Robert Jordan hated the idea of someone taking his material, although he did want the series finished. He stated he would run over his hard drive before allowing others to "sharecrop." Harriet stated that the two sentences about the outriggers that Robert Jordan left behind will be released in April or May. She said that with the encyclopedia there is "the work of at least a year."
Did Robert Jordan have a favorite character?
Yes—the one that he was writing that day. She said that some days after writing he would come into the kitchen slouching and sidling up against the wall, and she would say, "Have you been writing Padan Fain today?" She went on to say that he always wrote from "a position of love" for every character.
Brandon tells about one of the editing notes that he received from Harriet which read "Padan Fain needs more crazy."
Who was the most challenging WoT character to write?
Mat was the most challenging, the second most was Aviendha. He explains that it is hard to write about someone so different than yourself and the Aiel culture seemed the most unique in the series. Of Rand's three women, Aviendha is Brandon's favorite. He recalls that after writing his first Aviendha scene, Harriet read it and then told him that it was a "picture perfect Elayne." Brandon went on to discuss how he has to write his way into his characters. Vin, in Mistborn, was originally a boy. Lots of his early work on The Gathering Storm was scrapped by Harriet because Brandon wasn't "there yet" with the characters.
He then goes on to discuss the volume of notes left by Robert Jordan. There are about 200 pages for A Memory of Light and then there is roughly 32,000 pages of other notes for the series, three times as large as the entire series put together. Brandon tells of how he tried to open it once and it crashed his computer because the file was so large. He also wants to commend the enormous efforts of Alan and Maria for their help in managing all of the details of the series.
HM was asked how, as an editor, it was to work with BWS? Also how was working with BWS different from other authors and RJ?
She stated that by the middle of the series, she would give RJ "curb-side edits" (her phrase) or if there was a "big problem." With BWS, it was a new author, but these were old characters. One of them told the story that she made the same edit for both RJ and BWS (
he noticed that she is wearing...). Also, either BWS or HM told the story of the Aviendha/Elayne edit comment (that the Aviendha that BWS wrote was a great Elayne).
You said in The Gathering Storm, the Rand was very dark. Was his darkness in the book hard to write?
Rand's darkness was certainly hard to write. But there's a piece of the writer that says when this is tough, that's good. One, you're pushing yourself. Two, if it's emotionally hard for you, and you're doing this the right way, it's going to be emotionally hard on the reader, and that's a sign that they will be emotionally invested. So yes, it was hard. How did I get into the mindset? The same way I do everything. There's actually a lot of method acting to writing, where you sit down and become that character for a time. Harriet has a story about Robert Jordan and how he did it. She could always tell.
I could generally tell when he came in for the evening news and supper whether he had been writing a good person or a bad person. In particular there was an evening when he came in and slammed the door, and was skulking around the wall like this [hunches up against the bookshelf behind her], and I said, "You've been writing Padan Fain, haven't you?" And he said, "How did you know?" Usually he came in and said "Hello, honey!"
So you get in the mindset and go, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and if it doesn't, you throw it away and start again the next day.
Do you see Robert Jordan’s characters coming out in your writing?
No. That may happen unconsciously, but my goal is not to have that happen, because I want to tell different stories. It would be like if Kelsier started coming out in Dalinar. It's just not something we want to have happen as a writer. We want everyone to be their own individual.
Did you have a method for keeping the voice of the characters the same as the previous book?
I did, and that method was to read the last scene of that character before I wrote the new one. That became tougher as I wrote more and more on the last three books as I went along and the characters changed. Reading Rand from Book 11 didn't help a lot with Book 14, but it did help with Book 12.
Who is Harriet's favorite character?
The one I'm reading at the moment. There's one guy who's a peddler in the Waste, and we sort of think he's a good guy, but he's not, he's perfectly awful, and he's thinking at one point about his sister, and how tragic it was when he had to kill her, and I thought about how he's just so beautifully drawn. My husband always made a point. Everybody thinks they're wonderful human beings, including him. Wasn't his fault—he had to do it. I just love that about each and every character, even that son-of-a-gun. I couldn't help loving him a little bit. Very human, but I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley.
What's your favorite female character in the series?
I've always had a sneaker for Siuan Sanche. And when she's on the lam, in a straw hat, wanted for barn burning, I thought, "Yeah, that's my kind of dame."
I do wish I'd managed to either get it all into one book, or managed the split between The Gathering Storm/Towers of Midnight better. Also, I might have tried to work Fain in more if I'd had more time. Also, there are some little continuity errors here and there that I wish I would have caught.
It's hard to say. For example, would I have written Mat differently in The Gathering Storm if I'd had the time? Perhaps. But it was writing Mat the way I did that helped me understand him, so perhaps not. There are mistakes in the books I did, as there are in all the books I've done, but I'm not sure if the right thing to do is change them. Otherwise, we get into a Lucas-style revision-fest.
I found some really good atheist forums. Not the 'hate on religion' type atheist forums, but the kind with some serious depth. People asking one another about morality, talking about how they felt when people reacted to them being an atheist, and expressing their philosophy. I gained a great deal of respect for them during these readings.
From there, I went and chatted with some atheists I know to gauge if I had a good handle on things. It was important that I get this right, as it's different enough from my own worldview that if it went wrong, it would have gone VERY wrong and I'd have ended up with something insulting.
Well, I do have my lectures on this topic. Go to writeaboutdragons.com and listen to the characterization lecture. I think you'll find it helpful.
Do remember that your characters should have passions, goals, and flaws that are distinct from the plot of the story. They can sometimes align, but a character should have a life and passions outside of what happens TO them.
I've got a non-Brandon-specific question. I just happened to think about one thing about authors: When do you decide if the character is male or female?
1. Did it happen to one of your characters that you changed the gender pretty late?
2. What is important when choosing the gender?
3. So why did you make Vin female and not male, for example? Is it much easier to write a male character as a male?
Personally, I don't like books where a woman is very physically strong. I don't know, I'm strange. gotta admit I stopped reading Mistborn after the first book due to it. As I said, I'm strange...Still love your books and I never was looking forward to a book as much as I am looking for followup of Way of Kings. (Not even Harry Potter LOL!)
1. Vin, in Mistborn, started as a boy. I wrote about one chapter of Mistborn with her as a guy, then changed. However, another character by that name had existed in one of my unpublished books as a boy.
2. This is hard to answer, as characters are very organic things for me. I don't plan them nearly as much as I do plots or settings. I go with my gut when writing them. I can't say why some "feel" right as male and other "feel" right as female. I write it and see if it works. If their voice is right, I go with it.
3. As mentioned, Vin swapped genders. It had to do with my writing instincts, her dynamic with the other characters, her backstory, and just WHO she is. I'm sorry that I'm not being very specific. Characters are hard to explain.
I'm probably 80% architect and 20% gardener; I tend to make a lot of plans and know what my plots are leading up to, but I leave room to adjust along the way if my characters decide to take different paths to the end. When laying out your stories' structures, how much of each character's arc is planned, and how much arises organically?
I will often have the arc in mind from the start, after doing a few chapters to figure out the character. However, this is where I go gardener myself—and so I will just keep an eye on the character and see if they're becoming someone who would fulfill that arc, or if I need to revise my outline to fit the person they have become.
Hi, I'm a male writer writing fantasy at the moment with a female perspective character. I'm having trouble with the tone whenever my character bumps up against barriers women have to deal with in my universe. I don't want to beat my audience over the head with gender issues or come off as preachy, especially as I'm still new to writing a female character.
My question is, when you were writing your female characters, especially Vin who jumped out at me as a natural but strong female protagonist in a male character dominated genre, did you find her voice came from your previous writing experience, or did you consult much with other authors and/or women you knew? I keep feeling like I should consult some female friends on how I'm writing her, but I don't want to lose my own voice in doing so.
Also, I love your novels. I find fantasy is a genre filled with characters who feel like tropes or someone's DnD character, while your characters jump off the page and walk around. If you have any general tips for writing a realistic person, that would be great. If not, just thanks for writing such great people.
I do consult with others. I think it's vital, particularly when writing 'the other' so to speak. Someone who is different from yourself in some fundamental way.
At the same time, every character should be different from yourself in some fundamental way. And, beyond that, there's a trap in thinking "My character has to think like a woman." No, your character has to think like herself. That's an important distinction to make. For every generalization, grouping, or stereotype out there, you can find many, many people who break that mold.
I actually focus on personality, wants, and needs first. Gender is a part of the character as a concept, and it informs how I write the person—but it is secondary to their passions, goals, and temperament.
I'd say write the character first, then consult with your female friends. Let them read the character in the context of her story, and get a read on it. So long as the character is strong and individual, you should be fine. Some pointers will undoubtedly help, of course.
The best way I've found to make someone realistic is to separate them from the plot and ask yourself who they are, and what they'd be doing, if the plot had never come along and swallowed them up.
As an abuse survivor I just wanted to thank you for creating a character like Vin. The emotion you brought about through her story, was so authentic. How do you create your characters and how much research do you do?
Most of my character research comes from talking to people, reading interviews, and taking notes. For Vin, it was particularly important to me that I get it right, so I did go speak in person with some special individuals that helped me out. In most cases, however, I look on-line.
Hey Brandon, love all of you work and so does everyone I give them to. Keep up the good work.
Which of your protagonist characters do you dislike the most as a person? Taking into account that you know all of their inner secrets and motivations.
On the flip side. Which of your antagonists do you connect with the most? The Lord Ruler seems an obvious choice as he was misunderstood by everybody for so long. But still, I'm curious.
This is a tough one, as while I'm writing, I HAVE to like everyone. However, the most disturbing of them is probably Kelsier. He's a psychopath—meaning the actual, technical term. Lack of empathy, egotism, lack of fear. If his life had gone differently, he could have been a very, very evil dude.
Elend. I see myself as an idealist like him.
The Encyclopedia's already been published [BWB], but we have the raw notes. To keep track of what I've written, I have all sorts of "Remember" files. Every nation has a file listing culture, customs, everything about that country I might need to know plus every character who has been mentioned as a native of that country, all the information that's been given about him or her in the books, even some things that haven't been used yet. There's a file for everyone: named and unnamed, living, dead, historical, whatever! "Who Is Where" is a file that lists, country by country, the last place every character in the book was seen. "ABC" (which used to be called "The Glossary") has every word or term or name I've created including every word in the Old Tongue. If I printed out all the "Remember" files, they'd be somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 pages—but there are limits! They would probably be insanely boring for most people, but I want to make sure I remember what I created on the fly.
Tor has set up a website with a Question and Answer of the week. And Jason Denzel at Dragonmount.com set up a blog for me. When I'm not touring I'll post maybe once every week or two. I haven't been flamed yet on my site and trolls haven't shown up, but I don't know that I expect them to. My fans are generally pretty nice, polite people. In their discussion groups they say who they hate and what they hate about what I've written—that's OK; if I can create somebody powerful enough that people really hate them, I'm doing my job even if I didn't mean for them to be hated. The characters don't have lives of their own, though. Whatever my readers may think, I'm an Old Testament God with my fist in the middle of my characters' lives: I created them and they do what I want, when I want them to! I do figure out why they're behaving that way, as if they werereal people, and that helps the reader believe in them.
The Gathering Storm: Writing Process
I attacked the project in earnest in the summer and fall of 2008. I realized early on that there was too much to keep in mind for me to write in a strict chronological fashion, as I had normally done in the past. For this project, I needed to take groups of characters, dump all of the information about them into my mind (like loading a program into RAM), and write for weeks on just that group. This way, I could keep track of the voices of the many characters and maintain the numerous subplots.
The hardest part of this project, I feel, was keeping track of the subplots and the voices of the side characters. This is not surprising; though I'd read the Wheel of Time many times, I was not a superfan. I loved the books, but I was not among the people who made websites, wikis, and the like for the books. I read the books to study the writing and enjoy the story; I did not spend too much time keeping track of which minor Aes Sedai was which.
I could no longer be lax in this area; I had to know every one of them. Part of Robert Jordan's genius was in the individual personalities of all of these side characters. So I began dividing the last book (which was at that time still one novel in my mind) into sections. There were five of them. Four of these—one for Rand, one for Egwene, one for Mat, and one for Perrin—would push these four main plots toward the ending. They would happen roughly simultaneously. The other plotlines leading up to the Last Battle, and then the battle itself, were the fifth section.
The Gathering Storm: What did I learn?
The obvious thing I learned has to do with juggling so many side plots. I'd attempted this level of complexity one time before in my life, the first draft of The Way of Kings. (Written in 2002–2003, this was very different from the version I published in 2010, which was rebuilt from the ground up and written from page one a second time.) The book had major problems, and I felt at the time they came from inexpert juggling of its multitude of viewpoints. I've since advised new writers that this is a potential trap—adding complexity by way of many viewpoints, when the book may not need it. Many great epics we love in the genre (The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire included) start with a small group of characters, many in the same location, before splitting into much larger experiences with expansive numbers of viewpoints.
I couldn't afford to be bad at this any longer. Fortunately, finishing the Mistborn trilogy had taught me a lot about juggling viewpoints. Approaching The Wheel of Time, I was better able to divide viewpoints, arrange them in a novel, and keep them in narrative rhythm with one another—so they complemented one another, rather than distracting or confusing the reader.
The other primary thing I feel I gained working on this book is a better understanding of my outlining process. Robert Jordan, as I said in previous installments, seems to have been more of a discovery writer than an outline writer—I'm the opposite. Working with The Gathering Storm forced me to take all of these notes and fragments of scenes and build a cohesive story from them. It worked surprisingly well. Somehow, my own process melded perfectly with the challenge of building a book from all of these parts. (That's not to say that the book itself was perfect—just that my process adapted very naturally to the challenge of outlining these novels.)
There are a lot of little things. Harriet's careful line edits taught me to be more specific in my word choice. The invaluable contributions of Alan and Maria taught me the importance of having assistants to help with projects this large, and showed me how to make the best use of that help. (It was something I started out bad at doing—my first few requests of Alan and Maria were to collect things I never ended up needing, for example.) I gained a new awe for the passion of Wheel of Time fandom, and feel I grew to understand them—particularly the very enthusiastic fans—a little better. This, in turn, has informed my interactions with my own readers.
I also learned that the way I do characters (which is the one part of the process I do more like a discovery writer) can betray me. As evidenced below.
The Gathering Storm: What did I do wrong?
My take on Mat is very divisive among Wheel of Time fans. A great number feel I did him poorly in The Gathering Storm. I've had a similar number approach me and tell me they like my Mat better than they did in previous books. Unfortunately, in doing so, these latter readers prove that the first readers are right. People don't come to me and say "I like your Perrin" or "I dislike your Perrin." They don't do it for Rand, Egwene, or any of the other major characters. While undoubtedly there are some who feel this way about those characters, there isn't a consensus opinion among a large number of fans as there is that Mat was DIFFERENT in The Gathering Storm. Those who like him better are likely ones who just naturally prefer the way I do a roguish character as opposed to the way Robert Jordan did one. It doesn't mean Mat is better—just that I wrote him differently, and anytime there's a difference, some will prefer the changed version. (There are even people who prefer New Coke!)
I don't mean to demean the opinions of those who feel Mat was great in The Gathering Storm. I'm glad you enjoyed him, and I think there is some excellent writing involved in his viewpoints. However, I feel that I was wrong and the critics are right. Looking at Robert Jordan's Mat and what I wrote, there are some subtle differences that made Mat read wrong to a sizable portion of the audience. (Jason Denzel, who is a good friend, was the first to point it out to me—not maliciously, but truthfully. His comment was along the lines of, "I think your take on Mat feels like very early books Mat." This was a nice way of saying that my Mat lacked some of the depth of characterization he'd gained over the course of the latter books of the series.)
My Mat wasn't an attempt to fix or change Mat—the sense that Mat is "off" was created by me trusting my instincts and in this case being wrong. You see, as I say above, I discovery-write characters. I write a viewpoint, and then judge if it has the right feel. I try again, changing the way the character reacts and thinks, until I arrive at the right feel. It's like casting different actors in a role, and I do this quite deliberately—I feel that there is a danger in outlining as much as I do. It risks leaving your characters feeling wooden, that they are simply filling roles in a plot. (I find that many thrillers, which as a genre focus on tight plotting, have this problem.)
To combat this, I let my characters grow more organically. I allow them to violate the plot outline, and then revise the outline to fit the people they are becoming. They often do this, but mostly in very small ways—usually, my casting process finds the right person for the plot, and this doesn't require major revisions as they grow.
However, I've read The Wheel of Time over and over—and I had never noticed that my picture of Mat was still deeply influenced by his book one/two appearance. The sidekick rogue. While some of my favorite parts of the series are his latter appearances where he gains a great deal of characterization (although this starts in book three), I cast the wrong Mat in these books, and I simply wrote him poorly. It was a version of Mat, and I don't think it's a disaster—but he's much farther from his correct characterization than the other characters are.
The interesting thing about this is, though it is the biggest mistake I made in my writing of The Gathering Storm, it also is one of the things that taught me the most. My digging into viewpoint for the next book became one of the greatest learning experiences of my career so far.
To be continued.
Towers of Midnight: Writing Process
Part of the reason I'd decided upon doing Rand/Egwene first was because I knew that this book—Perrin's sequence in particular—was going to be the trickiest of the four major viewpoint sequences. Of the four leads, I felt Perrin was one of those who needed the most growth. In fact, he had as much to grow as Rand did—but in more subtle ways. Rand's descent was a result of the multitude of forces pushing against him, bearing him down, threating to crush him. He was brought to the point where he was because his personality issues were magnified a hundred times over by the extreme circumstances of his life. He cracked while trying desperately to find the right thing to do.
Perrin was different. He had major hangups that he consistently refused to confront, and in many ways was the farthest of the main characters from where he needed to be. Rand's transformation was more dramatic, but Perrin's was just as necessary.
It should be noted that I felt, both from the notes and my own readings of the series, that Mat was basically where Robert Jordan wanted him to be. This remains true even after I re-looked at Mat and tried to fix my interpretation of him. That doesn't mean that Mat is finished as a character, just that he was where Mr. Jordan wanted him for the Last Battle. Mat was going to have another series all his own after the main group of books, and some of his character progress was saved for those. (Note that those books are not going to be written.)
Egwene had a small amount of development left to do, but was mostly there. In The Gathering Storm, she faced the most critical challenges of her career, but Robert Jordan had brought her to the point where she needed to be in Knife of Dreams, and in the notes for A Memory of Light he had indicated specifically how she was to progress. It was mostly a matter of using the confrontations in the White Tower to manifest things she had already learned, and to show once and for all the person she had become.
As for the other characters, Elayne was where she needed to be, but Avi was not. (She had a great deal of growth left to her.) Nynaeve had reached the peak of her development, in my opinion, as had Min. At least this is my read on it, which is reflected in my interpretations of the various arcs of the characters.
Robert Jordan had written much of Mat's plot, and left instructions on much of the rest. My challenge with Mat in this book, then, wasn't to complete his arc—which was quite good. It was to do a better job with Mat than I had in the previous book.
In order to do Mat right, I went back to Robert Jordan's writing. This time, I dissected Mat, looking at him as a craftsman. I saw a depth of internal narrative that was unlike anything I'd analyzed before. Of all the Wheel of Time characters, Mat is the least trustworthy narrator. What he thinks, feels, and does are sometimes three very different things. His narrative itself is filled with snark and beautifully clever lines, but a relative few of those actually leave his lips. The harder he tries to do something, often the worse it turns out for him. Mat's at his best when he lets instinct lead, regardless of what his internal monologue says.
This makes him very tricky to write, and is why my initial gut instinct on how to do him was wrong. I think for a lot of Wheel of Time readers, Mat is the big surprise in the series. The sometimes snarky, but often grumpy sidekick from the first two books transforms into a unique blend of awesomeness I haven't found in any other story.
I feel that my stab at writing Mat in Towers of Midnight is far better than it was in The Gathering Storm, though I'm not sure I got him right until A Memory of Light. I know some fans will disagree that I ever did get him right, but I am pleased with—and comfortable with—the Mat of these latter two books. Though, of course, having Robert Jordan's more detailed instructions for Mat in these books does help.
To be continued.
Depth of Viewpoint
Working on Mat sent me down a proverbial rabbit hole, as I studied—really studied—how a master approached the use of the third-person limited viewpoint. I have always respected Robert Jordan's ability to characterize through viewpoint. (By this, I mean his ability to show how a person thinks and feels by the way they describe the world while you're seeing through their eyes.) Mat changed my perspective on how to write narrative, and how to make characters live beyond the words stated about them.
When asked what I think Robert Jordan's greatest skill was, I don't say worldbuilding or juggling a complex narrative, though these are certainly two areas in which he excelled. No, I talk about his viewpoints. If there's one thing I wish to learn from Robert Jordan, it's how to accomplish this—how to make you feel a character's culture, history, temperament, and current emotional state by the way they describe the simple things in the world around them.
I think I have improved at this. But it's one of the things I believe I'll be working on for my entire career.
I like novels where a multitude of different threads, some hidden, twist together to a surprising conclusion. This is one area where I think I've, for the most part, done a good job in the past. Working on The Wheel of Time, however, I was able to see Robert Jordan's hand in new ways—and see how delicate he could be with some of his plotting and characterization. I worry that sometimes, I beat people over the head with a character's goals, theme, and motivations. It's because I feel a character with well-defined motivations is one of the hallmarks of a strongly written story.
However, I do think I need to learn to be more subtle—and The Wheel of Time taught me a great deal about this. Robert Jordan's light hand in dealing with the Thom/Moiraine relationship is a good example. Other characters, however, stand out as well—Pevara is an example. The subtle clues about how some of the Sitters who had been chosen were too young is another example of his very delicate hand. It's not an important thread, in the grand scheme of things. Little touches like this, however, are what makes a world live beyond the page. It is something I think I learned from this project—not necessarily how to accomplish this (we'll see if I can), but how to recognize and appreciate it.
"I cheated a little bit in Legion and based each personality off an actor." He pointed out that his favorite personality was JC, who was based on [Adam] Baldwin from Firefly. He also related that Ivy was based on Gwyneth Paltrow. The fan commented that he envisioned Brandon having a folder on each personality, which Brandon confirmed.
When asked how he approaches writing a novella as opposed to an epic, Brandon reiterated that he was an "architect" style writer, and viewed novella writing as an opportunity to practice his pre-writing skills and his "discovery writing."
They don't surprise me very often, I'm usually aware of it long before it would actually become an issue and I've rebuilt the outline by then.
So you're not ever in the process of writing and they—
They don't do that. I cast people in my role, like not real people but I try a character out, and if they fit the role I keep going with them and if they don't then I throw that chapter away and I cast someone else. I rarely have someone go complete crazy off what I was expecting, if they do, it means they were probably the wrong character for that role.
Angrier, and my question is, why did you write him that way?
He has always been angry. In the first book, he is focused on saving his men and now that his men are safe, all of those emotions—if you go look at him from the first nine chapters of Way of Kings, he's that way there, it's when he becomes focused on saving his men he has something to drive him and it kind of subsumes these things, but once they're safe all these things he hasn't dealt with came back out.
Sanderson was signing and numbering about 500 copies of Words of Radiance for fans who preordered the books from Weller. There were no crowds as he signed each book secretly in the store's back room. The sounds were of a black Sharpie marker on the pages and the thump of the books as helpers plopped them down in piles next to him and then squirreled them away on shelves to be sorted for shipment around the world.
Sanderson is known for well-thought-out worlds that have elaborate magic systems. When somebody uses magic in a Sanderson book, there are laws. Some things can't be done—and using magic has a price. The world created in The Stormlight Archive is as in-depth as any ever created for a fantasy book and rivals that of The Lord of the Rings in its intricacy and joy.
But what Sanderson would like to be known for is his characters—the people he writes into his imaginary worlds. Such as Kaladin, the soldier-turned-slave in The Stormlight Archive who is as compelling as Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables." Or Szeth, the assassin who weeps as he is forced to kill. Or Shallan Davar, a woman with secrets that threaten everyone and everything she loves. Or Dalinar Kholin, the reluctant prophet who must unite a world gone mad.
"Action is only as interesting as it is putting people you care about in danger," Sanderson said while signing another book. "A great world is only as interesting as the people who live in it and have to live with this really interesting world. And so if you don't have a compelling character, you don't have a story—at least not of the type I would like to read."
Dedication to his craft, intricate world building—none of this would matter if there wasn't a relatable, human element to Sanderson's characters. Three-dimensional personalities permeate his novels, from Vin, a street urchin yearning for friendship yet terrified of ever needing to rely on others, to Dalinar, an aging Highprince who seeks to replace the fury of his youth with peace and scholarship.
"Brandon's characterization has gotten stronger with each book," Feder says. "A number of times, he's surprised me. For such a young person, he's shown genuine wisdom in understanding people, and I'm really impressed by that."
Through talking with Sanderson, it's evident that his wisdom extends from a unique interpretation of the relationship between authors, their books and readers.
"For me, the beauty of a book is that it is the entertainment medium where we don't give you everything," Sanderson says. "When I write a book, I give you 75% and then you take that script, you are the director in your mind and you add to what I've done. You change the characters, or you imagine what they look like. Your version of my books is completely different in some ways than another person's version, and that's what I love about fiction... I don't believe a book lives until it's been read."
Following Kelsier this night is probably one of the dumbest things Vin does in this book. Letting her follow is undoubtedly the dumbest thing Kelsier does in the book. Yet, these two characters are alike in more ways than they may seem at first. Both have a sense of brashness that borders on the foolhardy.
Vin is beginning to understand that there are crews where people truly care about each other. The problem is, she's feeling a very natural (especially for a girl of her age) desire to fit in and be needed. She has a deep-seated fear that she'll be proven useless, then be abandoned by the people that she's only just beginning to understand that she needs.
So, she wants to learn to be useful as quickly as she can. For Kelsier's part, he just feels that he's invincible. It's always been a problem of his. He's the type of man who can make things go his way. It's easy for him to ignore the failures and focus on the successes—like the fact that the Lord Ruler trying to kill him only ended up turning him into a Mistborn.
And so, they infiltrate together. And, this was the natural result.
This room in the palace is another reason why I had to make this book about much more than just stealing atium. Kelsier is half-convinced that the Lord Ruler keeps his atium stash in this room, rather than in the treasury. Either way, it wouldn't be TOO difficult for a Mistborn like Kelsier to break into a room like this—or even the treasury—and be off with the atium. (At least, that's what he thinks. Right up until he gets stopped in this chapter, anyway.)
Either way, Kelsier wouldn't feel that he needs a crew in order to break into a room and steal some metal. He does that just fine to Keep Venture earlier in the book. By making Mistborn so relatively powerful, I needed a task for Kelsier's group that went far beyond a simple heist. Only something like raising an army and overthrowing an empire would present them with a challenge.
The new Kelsier is something that this book needed. If he hadn't been forced to go through the guilt of nearly-losing Vin (a reminder to him of how one of his jobs lost him Mare) I don't think he would have had the solemnity and dedication to accomplish the things he does in the rest of the story.
He'll return more to his old, joking self as the next few chapters pass. However, he'll always remember what he nearly let happen to Vin, and it will become an important aspect of his character.
By the way, Vin's line about "We aren't invincible" is a very important one. In part two, I spent a lot of time showing off just how amazing Mistborn can be. I felt I needed to end the section with a colossal failure—and a near death—to show that while Mistborn are powerful, they aren't by any means indestructible. Nothing's more boring than heroes who can't be defeated.
Sazed's nature as a Eunuch was stabilized in my mind almost from the beginning of the formation of his character. With the Lord Ruler trying so hard to breed a perfect race of Terrisman servants, I felt that it would be important for him to castrate most of the Terrismen. In addition, I've never written a eunuch character before, and really wanted to see if I could deal with one in a good way.
I read up on what castration does to a man when it's preformed before puberty. Often, apparently, the result is obesity. Another result is that the person grows taller than normal (for some reason) and their arms grow longer in proportion to their bodies than regular people. I didn't make Sazed fat—I think that had been done too much for eunuchs—but I did give him the other physical characteristic.
He continues to grow more complex as a character as the book progresses. That's one of the things I absolutely love doing—giving readers a side character that they think will only be secondary, then building his motivation and complexity until he becomes one of the most important figures in the story.
I almost took out the section where Vin thinks "Oh, that's why Sazed saved me. He has to because he promised Kelsier. That makes sense—after all, why would he want to save me?"
This section fits with the earlier Vin, but I think it's just a bit out of character for her now. She's getting over her feelings of worthlessness and solitude. She knows Sazed well enough now to understand that he WOULD save someone because he's a kind person, not just because he promised that he would.
So, I shortened Vin's thoughts in that section, de-emphasizing them by adding them into another paragraph, rather than giving them their own. I maybe should have cut them, but I wanted to hint that she's not over her hang-ups yet. She still has some of those old feelings. The progress is that she doesn't dwell on them as long.
Whew! I've got a lot to say here. First off, Vin's earring. It's a little morbid the way she wears it around, since it was her mother's. The same mother that killed Vin's sister and tried to kill Vin, before Reen rescued her. But, we'll get to more of that later.
My feeling is that the earring is Vin's last connection to her real family or the life she knew with Reen. True, it wasn't a great life—but it was part of her, just like the Pits became part of Kelsier. He'll always carry those scars. The earring is the same for Vin.
Sazed calls Breeze by his real name—Ladrian—for the first time in this chapter, I believe. Breeze doesn't like going by this name. You'll see later that he tries to get people (or, rather, Sazed, who is the only one who uses Breeze's real name) to avoid calling him Ladrian.
The reason is simple. Ladrian is the name that Breeze went by when he was growing up. He's actually the only one on the crew who is a full-blooded nobleman. (More on this in book two.) None of the others know this, of course. He's come to the underground from the opposite direction of everyone else—down from the top. He has let some few people know that his real name is Ladrian (mostly on accident, when he was younger) and the name has stuck.
It's a common enough name in the Final Empire, but someone COULD theoretically connect him to one Lord Ladrian who disappeared from noble society some number of years back. He doesn't, of course, want anyone in the underground to know he's actually a full-blooded nobleman, otherwise he would loose credibility—and maybe even gain the anger of people like Kelsier, who hate the nobility unilaterally.
So, he pretends that he finds the name unsuitable for other reasons, and asks people to just call him Breeze. None of this, of course, gets to come out in the book. Otherwise, I wouldn't have just told it to you. I just don't have the chance to develop Breeze as I would like here. So, those of you reading this can feel vindicated in the fact that you've gotten some true insider information! Breeze will, for those of you who are his fans, get some viewpoints in the next book, which will expand his character somewhat.
Also, I think it was about time to establish firmly the relationship between Kelsier and Vin. She—if you haven't guessed—has a bit of a hero-worship crush going on with him. It will never be stated explicitly, but it's there, and kind of has to be there.
Kelsier, however, regards her like a protégé, and perhaps even a daughter. That's it. I apologize to those who were looking for a romance between the two. I realize that I'm breaking some laws of storytelling by introducing a female viewpoint in chapter one, then a male viewpoint in chapter two, and not having them get into any sort of romantic way. However, that's not what this book is about. Kelsier is not only much older than Vin, he really doesn't look for relationships any more. Not his focus in life right now.
I never intended there to be any romantic tension between the two of them. However, some of my alpha readers were hoping to find it—and found more than I anticipated. So, I added the lines here from Kelsier about wishing he had a daughter, just so I could make things clear.
Shan was a later addition to the book. In the original draft of the novel, I did mention her in this chapter, but we didn't see her—and Lord Liese didn't mention her. As I wrote the first draft, however, I began to realize that I needed more tension and political wrangling in the Vin ball scenes. So, I expanded Shan and made her a larger character. Then, during the first rewrite, I added her in to this scene, along with some others.
The purpose of Shan, therefore, is to show that some of the nobility ARE the way Kelsier says. The thing is, most of what we get about the nobility come from him, and he has a very skewed perspective. Our only real opportunity to interact with them is at the balls, and so I knew I needed to cram a variety of personalities into this scene, so that people could have a chance to experience the range of the nobility.
Why would Elend bring a dangerous book like this one to the ball? We'll talk a little bit about that in the next chapter. However, I can offer some further insight.
The thing is, Elend goes and meets with his friends after balls, and they discuss political theory and the like. Elend is the leader of those meetings, and guides the discussions, and so he feels that he needs to be ready to present interesting ideas and arguments to keep the conversation going. That's why he's always reading at balls and taking notes—he's getting ready for the night's meeting. He's the type who is always preparing, right up to the last minute (I'm the same way.)
So, it makes sense for him to bring the books he wants to talk about with him to the ball. He's been sheltered, and doesn't really believe that he'll ever get in trouble for what he reads, and so he has a habit of being careless with his reading material. Hence, we end up with him in a room full of obligators and nobility, reading a banned book.
Hello Brandon ! The fantasy universe is very fond of antiheroes lately, so I was surprised when I read your books with charismatic and inspiring lead characters, who, almost single-handedly, give faith to people and make them claim back their dignity. What is so compelling about creating characters such as Kaladin or Kelsier?
I find that the antihero angle is very well covered by other authors. I am fascinated by people who are trying to do what is right because most everyone I know is actually a good person—and a good person needing being forced to make unpleasant decisions is more interesting to me. The great books I read as a youth inspired me; I'd rather dwell on that kind of story than the opposite. (That said, it's great that the genre is big enough for both types of stories.)
It IS interesting to me that over the last twenty years, what I do has become the distinctive one.
I'm blown away by all the different types of people you portray in The Stormlight Archive (different cultures, social classes, genders, varying levels of...morality). What kinds of things help you create such diverse casts of characters? I'm imagining that you have a secret encyclopedia somewhere that helps you keep all your cultures and customs straight!
I do, actually, have a secret encyclopedia. It's a wiki on my computer, filled with information. That helps me keep things straight. However, specific inspirations are often in the people I meet. I do spend a fair amount of time looking through the internet for blogs/forums populated by people who think very differently from myself. This helps me create realistic portrayals.
Were there any characters you found difficult to connect with when writing the remaining books of The Wheel of Time series?
I've never really been able to get into Cadsuane as a character, and so she was the most difficult for me to do. I love Aviendha and Tuon, but both of them think so differently from the rest of the characters that they gave me a challenge.
The scene where Vin looks at the gate and sees the people being mistreated is another example of a scene I added in during the rewrite to reinforce how difficult life is for the skaa. Moshe wanted a few of these sprinkled thorough the book so that we don't forget.
After that, the scene with Ham and Vin discussing pewter is nice, but not one of my favorite of the Allomantic explanation scenes. The thing is, I had to stretch to find things that Ham could tell Vin about this one. She's really good with the physical metals&mdashshe uses them instinctively—and may even understand them better than Ham does.
I do like how Ham comes across in this scene. His personality, as the one who doesn't fake or play games in the crew, makes him really work for me as a character.
Then, of course, everything goes wrong. It always does, doesn't it?
As Vin herself points out, this is the second time she has forced Kelsier to take her with him when he was planning on going alone. This time, however, is different—or, at least, I wanted to be metaphorically different.
If Vin hadn't been along, Kelsier would have charged the army. He'd probably have died, and that really WOULD have been the end. He's got an impulsive streak. Vin, however, learned from her near-death at the palace. Mistborn are not invincible—something that's harder for Kelsier, even still, to grasp.
From my journal, written the day I finished this chapter (I sometimes keep a chapter journal for purposes of doing annotations later on.)
MBFE Twenty-Six: pewter dragging
The first half of this chapter came quickly, especially after I switched it to Vin's viewpoint. She's come to dominate the story far more than Kelsier, which is good—that's what I'd hoped would happen. Now, it's much easier to write in her viewpoint than Kelsier's, since she has more internal struggles and, I think, more depth.
Things got tough once I got back to the caves. I knew I wanted Kelsier to have a kind of soul-searching period of thought, followed by the return of Mennis. The problem is, I wasn't exactly sure how much I wanted him to self-doubt. He isn't really the type to second-guess himself, so I didn't want him to brood for too long. Also, I didn't want his discussion of Mennis to go into the things I need to discuss in the next chapter—namely, the reasons the plan hasn't failed just because the army is dead.
The second half didn't start to work until I made Mennis more of a conversation-antagonist, having him advise that Kelsier just give up. This was kind of his function in chapter one as well, so I'm not certain why I didn't figure out his place in this chapter more quickly. In a rewrite, I think I'll strengthen this idea little more. It's good to pile on the 'you can't succeed' sections of the book, so that when the rebellion finally does happen, it's all the more sweet because of the overwhelming sense of the odds.
The Venture-atium connection is something I wish I could have foreshadowed a little bit better. However, without Elend being a viewpoint until this chapter (the reasons for which I'll explain in a bit) there really wasn't much I could do to connect Venture and the Pits.
By the way, the 'something a few years ago' that Elend mentions happening to disturb the atium production was Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, Snapping and coming to an awakening of his powers—then bursting out of his hut and slaughtering every soldier or nobleman within ten miles of the Pits.
Vin's "Everything is going to change" discussion strikes me as one of the most sincere, and honest things discussed in the book. I like this chapter for the way that it exposes the main characters. I know I've felt like Vin sometimes, and I know lots of people who fear change because of that phantom feeling that the future can't possibly be as good as the present.
It's no coincidence that I spend a lot of time on Sazed's religions in this chapter. I liked the interplay of the religions of the past with the pensiveness for the future both Vin and Kelsier are feeling.
It was extremely important that Elend reject Vin in this chapter. I worry that I got a little bit into convenient motivations in this chapter—I always hate it when men and women have relationship problems in book simply because it's the place in the story for things to go wrong. Weak conflict—something a friend of mine calls "Deus Ex Wrench"—is a problem with most romantic comedies.
Better to have realistic, rather than feigned, tension. I hope that I was able to manage that in this chapter. Elend is being almost completely honest with his emotions here—he has just discovered that Vin was lying to him all along. Rather than feeling bitter, however, he feels like a fool. He's realized that the game was playing him all along, and he's disappointed to find that Vin is part of it. That, in turn, persuades him that he should just give in and do his duty to his house.
And so, he turns her away. The vital part of this all, of course, is that it gives Vin the chance to love him—and protect him—even though he's rejected her. This is perhaps the most important step for Vin in the entire book. She's learning the things that Kelsier talked about, the truth that she needed. With this in hand, she can trust people, even knowing that they might betray her.
Here's my original journal entry for this chapter, written right after I finished the chapter itself:
Chapter Thirty: Vin saves Elend at the party.
It's wonderful when a chapter turns out just the way you envisioned it.
I worked on this chapter for a long time—from the beginning of the planning process, I imagined this as one of the major action sequences in the book. I began with the image of Vin shooting up through the air as the rose window twisted and fell beneath her in the mists, then I expanded that to her protecting Elend, giving Vin a real scene of heroism. Originally, I wasn't intending her to fight the Allomancers, just to lead them away, but I decided that I needed a pure Mistborn-on-Mistborn fight in the book. Every other Allomantic battle involves Inquisitors.The scenes in this chapter are some of my favorite so far. Though, oddly, it took me a long time to get into them—I hedged over what the first part of the chapter should entail. Eventually, I decided that this would be a perfect place to give Vin some abandonment issues. This is a hold-over from the original Vin from the first FINAL EMPIRE write–the fear of abandonment was a large part of that Vin's personality. It worked well in this setting, and I think I'll emphasize it just a bit more in the rewrite. The next chapter really plays off of this idea.
It feels a little bit weird to be writing about a young girl running around killing people in her skivvies, but I don't really see any reasonable way for her to fight in one of those bulky ball gowns I'm using in this book. So, underwear it is!
Kliss and Shan have both come to have much larger parts in the book than I'd intended. Kliss was intended to be a throw-away character used in one chapter, but now she's become an informant and a conspirator. In a rewrite, I think I'll have to introduce her sooner and try and give her a more distinctive personality. As for Shan... well, I only added her a couple of chapters ago. Obviously, she'll need more time in the rewrite as well. Vin's battle will be much better if I can have her fight a named character that's been an antagonist in a few chapters. The Vin ball scenes have become a larger part of the book than I had thought, and adding Kliss and Shan as recurring characters will help flesh out that plot-line, I think.
Like how I ditch Sazed in this chapter so that I can have Vin's 'grand' entrance in the next chapter? Pretty smooth, eh? I was worried about how I was going to deal with him... As for the actual fight and the scenes, I think everything flowed quite well. We'll see what readers think!
(Note, when I wrote this, ELANTRIS wasn-t even out yet—it was still over a year away from publication—so I really had no idea if people would be responding well to my writing or not.
This is another of my favorite chapters. (How many of those am I allowed to have, by the way?)
Anyway, it was about time for someone to say the things that Vin did in this chapter. Kelsier and his group really ARE a bit disconnected from regular skaa. In a way, they're like Elend and his little band of philosophers—they feel bad for those beneath them, and talk about helping, but it's really hard for them to really understand the skaa.
I love Vin's entrance. Perhaps I have a flare for melodrama, but I think it worked very well here to have her burst in, bloodied, carrying her dress. (Which, of course, she went back and fetched so that it wouldn't give her away.)
I did change the last line of this scene. Up until the copy edit, the last line from Kelsier's viewpoint (before we switch to Vin atop the roof) was him thinking "Well, she certainly has changed!"
This seemed like too much of a quip, and it undermined the tension and emotions of the last chapter. Sometimes, a good one-liner is good to release tension. However, in this case, I found that it really did feel out of place. This just wasn't the time for some half-snarky comment from Kelsier.
Another big step for Vin is admitting that she loved Reen. She's finally letting herself feel, and admit, the things that she's been repressing all this time. It's good for her to get them out, even if they hurt.
Of course, we also get to see Vin's abandonment complex. It's something that I haven't enforced too much in the book, but it was always there. Often, I think a sense of forced independence and solitude—like the one attitude Vin displayed in the early parts of the book—comes from believing that everyone will leave you eventually.
You know you're getting to the end of the book when I start to tie up the small plot arcs, leaving room for the big ones to climax. In this chapter, we have two nice little resolutions. First, the Spook/Vin relationship arc. This one wasn't extremely important, but I think it added a nice human touch to Spook, which is useful since he will get more screen time in later books.
Secondly, we get the final 'train with a Misting' scene for Vin. Again, this is a small arc, but it was nice to get it finished, for the sake of cohesion. She's now gotten tips on all of the basic metals except copper, which is the simple on/off metal.
This is the most overt and obvious of my savior-imagery scenes for Kelsier. I hope you didn't feel like I was hitting you over the head with it. (I didn't actually realize the similarity between Survivor and Savior until I was part of the way through the book.) Either way, yes, the Christian imagery is intentional. I didn't put it in simply because I'm religious (after all, if you look at it, Kelsier isn't really all that Christian in the way he deals with people.) I put it in because I think that the images and metaphors of Christianity are deeply-seated in our culture, and drawing upon them provides for a more powerful story.
Part of this is to intentionally make people uncomfortable—for discomfort (when used right) leads to tension. The Christians who read this might be made uncomfortable by how strikingly un-divine Kelsier is. He's acting in some of the same roles as Christ did, but he's not the man that Christ was. He's kind of a pale imitation. The non-Christians, in turn, might be made uncomfortable by the fact that Kelsier is manipulating the people in the way that religions often do, giving hope in something that could very well prove to be false.
Either way, he is what he is. The truest Kelsier is the one we see near the end, where he's standing in the kitchen, smoldering in his black clothing. He is a dangerous man with powerful beliefs.
To be honest, I'm not sure if Vin's right—if Kelsier should have stayed back from the trying to save the people—or not. It's certainly the more heroic thing to try and save them. This scene is to show that Vin still has a little bit of her Reen-crafted selfishness (or, maybe self-preservation-ness) left in her. Kelsier is ready to risk everything for his friends. You can debate whether this impulse is foolish, but I think it's noble.
Vin's sin here isn't deciding that going after them would be too dangerous. It's how quickly she jumps to this decision, and how powerless she decides that she is. She's not a coward, nor is she ungrateful. She's just lived on the street too long. In a situation like this, her first instinct is not to fight, but to flee. (Just like it was when the army got attacked by the garrison a few chapters back.)
We're gearing up for some pretty spectacular fight scenes, if I do say so myself. The short one in this chapter is a good one. However, there's much more to come.
I'd been waiting to pit Kelsier against an Inquisitor since the early chapters, where he led that one on a chase. Part of the reason I didn't show that chase is because I wanted the reader to anticipate this moment themselves. I also didn't show Kelsier fighting the Inquisitors in the palace the night that Vin was wounded. In short, I wanted to save the scene of a fight between them until Kelsier could really give it his all, actually fighting.
It took a lot to get him into a direct fight. However, push Kelsier far enough, and he'll snap. When he does... well, you'll have to read on.
If you couldn't tell, this is one of the climactic scenes I was writing toward.
I'll admit, I didn't have this exact twist down when I started the book. As I worked through the novel, I quickly began to realize that Kelsier had to have some master plan—something greater than he was letting on. That's just the way his personality is. Plus, I needed something that lent more weight to the book. Made it more than just the simple heist story that I'd originally conceived. (After all, a heist story could be told in far less than 200,000 words.)
Kelsier's real plan wasn't firm for me until I wrote the scenes with him in the caves, influencing the soldiers. By then, of course, over half the book was written. So, I had to begin building Kelsier's true plan from there—and then do a rewrite to put it in from the beginning.
I had known from the beginning that Kelsier was going to die, and that he was going to gain such renown with the skaa (before his death) that the crew began to worry that he would turn into another Lord Ruler. Putting these two things together so that his growing reputation was part of his plan all along was the realization I needed to connect. Then, I could have the bang I wanted in the ending chapters, when the crew realized what Kelsier had been planning all along.
As surprises go, I think this is one of my better—but definitely not one of my best. It required keeping too much back from the reader when in Kelsier's viewpoint, and it required to much explanation after-the-fact to make it work. There's a much better surprise later on. Still, I'm pleased with the bang on this one—especially since I got to have such a beautiful scene with the crew standing atop the building, the mists coming alight around them, as if representing their own growing understanding of the job they'd always been part of.
Backing up a bit, Vin's remembered conversation here is a real one. She had it with Kelsier during the scenes when she was first training with him. He promised that he'd catch her if she fell off the wall, not using Allomancy correctly. It might seem like a little scene to you, but to Vin, it was very important. It was one of the first candid conversations she had just between her and Kelsier, and it was one of the foundational turning-points in her life. (She decided that night to stay with Kelsier's crew instead of running away with the three thousand boxings he gave her.)
That's why it's important enough for her to remember here. Her entire foundation for the last year's time—Kelsier—has just been pulled away from her. Her abandonment issues are growing more and more powerful. Fortunately, something distracts her before she can sink more deeply.
I was forced to cut one of my favorite lines from the book, and it was in this chapter. I'll write it now. Near the beginning, the narrative says regarding Vin:
"She was, as if, nowhere."
Moshe convinced me that this sentence just didn't make enough sense. Yet, to me, it somehow expressed how Vin felt. She had been cut free by Kelsier's death. Yet, she was still there. She wished she could just meld with the mists—she felt as if her soul were already cast away. Yet, she couldn't vanish, as she wished.
Ah, cursed grammar, ruining a perfectly good sentence!
Kelsier gets to have some last words in this chapter. He earned them, I think. I'm sorry to keep the truth of kandra from you so long, as I've said before. However, I needed to leave the explanation off so that the reader could experience the revelation with Vin here. Even if you'd already figured out what Renoux was, then I think this scene is more powerful by having the revelations happen like they did.
Anyway, Kelsier is among my personal favorite characters, if only for his depth. He is a complicated, multi-faceted man who managed to scam not only the entire empire, but his own crew at the same time. I felt I had to give him some last words, if only through a letter, so that the reader could bid him a proper farewell. In addition, I wanted him to pass that flower on to Vin—symbolically charging her with Mare's dream, now that Kelsier himself is dead.
I hope you noticed the difference between the way Kelsier got into the room and the way Vin did it. She walked up to the guards at the front and talked them away, rather than killing them. She just strolled through the guard chamber—the place where she killed her first time—instead of attacking. Why attack? She's powerful enough that she can just slip through and escape.
For Kelsier, the killing was always part of the victory. Vin's more goal-oriented, perhaps. In addition, she doesn't like to kill. So, her way is to just slip by the men. Then, in the room, she doesn't get close to the Inquisitors—she takes them down with tricks. On the streets, she would have had to use very little to gain much. She needed to be extremely clever with the small advantages she had. She used Allomancy in small ways to great advantage. Now that she's more powerful, I think her cleverness and resourcefulness will lead her to be far more amazing an Allomancer than Kelsier was.
If I had a chance to rewrite the book again, one of the things I'd change is the scene where Vin gets caught here. If you want to imagine it this way instead, pretend that she dropped both Inquisitors completely, and therefore thought she was safe to inspect the room beyond. The Inquisitors can actually heal far more quickly than I've had them do in this book.
My problem with this scene is how easily Vin lets herself be cornered and captured. I think that breaking into the room is exactly the sort of thing she'd do. However, I just don't think the writing works here (around the section where she gets surprised and grabbed by the Inquisitor.) She's more careful than that. The way it's written makes it seem like she gets grabbed simply because that's what needed to happen. There isn't enough drama, or enough realization, to the scene.
I do like what happens afterword, however—Vin using the Eleventh Metal. In this book we get our first hints regarding just how much Allomancy has been hidden and obfuscated by the Lord Ruler. Vin realizes that the Eleventh Metal must be part of the structure of Allomantic theory, as is the metal that she's given that makes her lose all of her other metals. (It's aluminum, by the way.)
The scene with Vin and the Inquisitor is the place where, finally, I got to bring some closure to the Reen plotline. What the Inquisitor says is true. When it came down to the end, Reen didn't betray Vin. He died before he let that happen.
Reen was not a good person. He beat Vin, he was selfish, and he was conniving. However, he did love his sister. Most of his beatings happened because he was worried that she would expose them somehow and get herself killed. He knew that the Inquisitors were chasing her because of her half-breed nature, and so he uprooted them constantly, moving from city to city. He kept her alive, teaching her to be harsh, but teaching her to survive.
And, in the end—after the Inquisitors got him—he didn't betray her. That says a lot about him.
The Inquisitor does a little bit of standard villain fair in this chapter, I'm afraid. He monologues for just a bit, then leaves Vin alone with Sazed. There was no getting around this, I'm afraid. At least I think I have a good explanation for why he does what he does. He's the one who is going to get named head of the Steel Ministry in just a few minutes—so he can't exactly hang around. In fact, the Inquisitors all really need to be there. The Lord Ruler wouldn't excuse them to go stand watch on a single half-breed girl.
There were two important events for Vin in this last scene. First, she decides to stay and try to save Sazed. As I note below, this is a character climax for her. She's not only grown to trust, but grown—somewhat—to sacrifice. Most of Reen's harm to her soul has been reversed by the care and love of a group of idealistic thieves.
The second thing Vin does of importance in this section is fight without her Allomancy. I think it's a nice moment for her, and lets her show some true bravery. One problem with making heroes as powerful as mine is that it's sometimes hard to find a challenge for them. Also, it's hard to present them as the underdog. In this scene, Vin gets to fight as just a regular person, and show that she's still better than most people, even without Allomancy.
The following is a journal entry I wrote regarding this chapter three years ago. It's kind of fun that I finished it almost three years to the day from when I'm posting the annotation.
Okay, so Vin's running around in her skivvies again. There are a couple of legitimate reasons for this. First off, I figured that if I had an Allomancer captured, the first thing I would do would be to strip them completely. A little bit of metal can go a long way, and you don't want to miss any. Now, this isn't as big a deal for the Inquisitors, who can use Allomancy themselves to see sources of metal a person might be hiding on their body. However, I still think it would be standard procedure to take away the prisoner's clothing. I toyed—briefly—with having Vin be naked in this chapter. I decided I just didn't want to deal with that. Having an adult man get stripped and thrown in a cell is a bit different from doing the same thing to a young girl, I think.
So, this chapter is Vin's character climax. Here's where she finally realizes that part of trusting people is being trustworthy yourself—or, more importantly, part of not being abandoned is not abandoning your friends. Her choosing to stay with Sazed, followed by Elend's appearance, are very important events for Vin. Her decision is a fulfillment of her story-long character arc, which has transformed her form a jumpy, frightened, untrusting person into one that would stay behind with a friend she loves, even though she knows that she might be killed. Her reward, then, for this bravery is Elend's return—and the realization that there are people out there who love her enough to risk their lives for her. Her statement 'You came back' to Elend is perhaps the most important line Vin gets to say in the book.
Her decision to go and fight the Lord Ruler is secondary to these things, I think—which is probably why this decision doesn't seem quite as well-founded as her decision to stay with Sazed. Still, the story has been pushing for a face-off between her and the Lord Ruler ever since Kelsier died, so I think that it works narratively.
I really want to get that final chapter written, but I have writing group in an hour, and I still haven't read one of the submissions. It looks like Vin & co. are going to have to wait until Monday to have their final climax. I don't expect it to be a long chapter—which is good, since I REALLY need to get to work on the ELANTRIS rewrite...
Sazed was many people's favorite character in the first book. I knew pretty early on in the writing process of that book that Sazed would become a major force in the novel. In fact, he was one of the very first characters I outlined and built in my head. Who he is, and what he stands for, is quite integral to the plot arc of the entire series.
So, knowing that, you probably aren't surprised to see him become a major viewpoint character in this book. I loved writing his chapters. The way he sees the world—always trying to look from other people's viewpoints, always trying to understand others and give them the benefit of the doubt—makes him very dear to me. He is pleasant to write about, and his inner turmoil (we'll talk more about that later) is so much more painful because of how basically a nice person he is.
One of my writing groups had an intense reaction against Vin killing the dog in this scene. I'm not sure, still, WHY they got so upset—but they really didn't like it that she killed a dog "in cold blood" as they put it.
So, her little "I'm sorry about this" in her head is there for them. At least now they know she kind of wishes she didn't have to do it.
That dog had it coming, though.
Elend comparing himself to Kelsier is a kind of theme for him in this book. I wanted Kelsier to leave a long, long shadow over these next two books.
A lot of people couldn't believe that I killed Kelsier, since he was such a ball of charisma, and the driving force for the first book. (A lot of others CAN believe it, but are rather annoyed at me for doing it.) However, I happen to like this book specifically because of Kelsier's absence.
He overshadowed everything when he was alive. Elend could never have developed as a character—and even Sazed and Vin would have had trouble—as long as Kelsier was there dominating everything. He was a character at the end of his arc—while the others are still only just beginning. It's so much more interesting if they have to do things without him.
Just part of Kelsier's arrogance, I guess. Both as a character in the book, and externally to it. He dominated so much that he had to go.
Kandra are a race that will also get a lot of development as the series progresses. During the development of this book, I tried to resist using the 'there's a spy among us' plot, but in the end, I just couldn't do it. The pieces were all there, and I wanted to play with the concepts of trust and reliability.
In the first book, Vin learned to trust. She learned that it was better to trust and be betrayed than to suspect everyone. The nice twist on that in book one was that there WAS no traitor in the book. Everyone stayed true to Kelsier and his vision.
So, in this book, I had to sew seeds of distrust. I wanted Vin to have to deal with those problems again, and really have to confront her suspicions and paranoia. The only way to do that was to have her begin suspecting members of the crew.
Besides, you don't just put in a race of shapeshifters then ignore the tension of people wondering if someone they know has been replaced. That would just be irresponsible.
By the way, you probably remember form book one the way that Inquisitors see. They have such a subtle touch with Steel and Iron, and their lines, that they can see via the trace metals in everyone's bodies and in the objects around them.
The thing is, any Allomancer with access to iron or steel could learn to do this. Some have figured it out, in the past, but in current times, nobody—at least, nobody the heroes know—is aware of this. Except, of course, for Marsh.
And he chose not to share it.
My goal with Vin, here, is to take the mists from her. Kelsier gave them to her in book one, and now it's time to take them away.
They are the haven of the Mistborn. But, if you watch as the story progresses, you will see that I slowly take them away and leave her without.
This Elend scene here is almost a direct parallel of the scene in book one where Kelsier first introduces the plan to his people. Elend has a much harder time of it. In fact, this scene—in conjunction with the scene with the Assembly—is supposed to establish Elend as what he is: a man with great ideas, but poor leadership techniques. He's brilliant and scholarly, but he doesn't know how to get people to do what he wants.
This is reflected in his speech patterns, and has been since book one. He likes to use the phrase "Now, see," followed by an observation. He doesn't command, and when he argues, he uses very passive sentences. All of this is—hopefully—makes your subconscious see him in a certain way.
The only reason he convinces the crew to go along with them is 1) he's right, they like to gamble, and this is the type of plan they like and 2) they already know him, and his ideas have earned a measure of trust from them.
When necessary, Elend CAN give a brilliant speech. He can make people dream and hope. He just isn't good at arguing, and is rather poor at being a dictator.
This scene, by the way, is another substantially rewritten one. I focused a lot more on the idea that the crew was going to have to deal with a long siege in the rewrites.
This is the first twinge of distrust between Vin and Elend. She doesn't tell him about seeing the Mist Spirit again.
It's a small thing, I admit, but for me—as a writer—it was intended as a dangerous first step. Vin's ability to trust is still fragile. And, if she thinks that Elend will mock her or disregard her, she'd rather keep it in.
This is the first twinge of distrust between Vin and Elend. She doesn't tell him about seeing the Mist Spirit again.
It's a small thing, I admit, but for me—as a writer—it was intended as a dangerous first step. Vin's ability to trust is still fragile. And, if she thinks that Elend will mock her or disregard her, she'd rather keep it in.
Vin in her room
This first scene is a classical Brandon scene—a character studying, thinking, and exploring who they are in their own head. Some people find my narrative style—with the thoughts, the conclusions, and the debates in the head—to be a little slow. I can understand that, even if I don't agree.
I like knowing my characters. A chapter like this really works for that, in my opinion. It seems to me that in too many books, you never really know a character's thoughts, feelings, and logic enough to understand why they do what they do. So, I spend time on those things.
This scene is important for the decisions Vin makes about herself. She is not the type of person to second-guess herself. In a way, she shows some of the very things Tindwyl tries to get across to Elend later in the chapter. Vin encounters a problem, mulls over it, then comes to a firm decision to trust herself.
Oh, and the line "he was the type of person who could defy reality" in reference to Kelsier is one I stole from my friend Annie. She said it about me, actually. It was in reference to how I belligerently believed that I could do something like become an author—a job that very few people can have, and even fewer people can make a living at. She said it long before I got published.
Always stuck with me.
As I said before, the Zane chapters originally started earlier in the book. I pushed them back in order to keep the mystery a little longer and to streamline the beginning.
Now I can finally get into his story. Zane is important for several reasons, many of which I can't really explain without spoiling not only this book, but the next one. One of his most basic functions is to provide a foil for Elend. An opposite. Elend is safety, and Zane is danger. They share many similar features, but in Zane, most of those features are twisted.
He also represents a throwback to Kelsier. He is more like the Survivor than he'll probably ever understand.
Making him insane like this was a gamble on my part. I worry that, at first, it seems cliche. There's a whole lot more going on with Zane than you might assume, but your introduction to him is that of a schizophrenic villain who likes to cut himself. This might just seem like a grab-bag of psychosis, but I ask you to stick with me on this one. Zane has been many of my alpha-readers favorite character.
Straff is generally everyone's least favorite character—though that's kind of what I expected. He's not insane; he's just a terrible person. Those do, unfortunately, exist—given his power and upbringing, he's not all that surprising in his bullyness.
I wanted to provide a range of villains for this series. The Lord Ruler was one type of villain—the untouchable god, distant and mysterious. Straff is another: the downright, simple bully with too much power and not enough wisdom. Zane is our third villain—sympathetic, edgy, and possibly more dangerous than either of the two.
Also, we get to see here that Zane already has his fingers on Vin's emotions. She's beginning to question and doubt. This, however, isn't a quick change—you should realize that all of these questions were already there inside of her. Not only is she a teenage girl, and living during an emotionally volatile part of her life, but she grew up learning to distrust and fear betrayal. Though she's getting better, the old worries are all still there, and even a little bit of scratching at them reveals them again.
She never really had to confront these things. Falling in with the crew, learning to trust, was actually easy in the last book. Kelsier was there to make everything work out all right, and Vin was always underneath the watchful care of Sazed.
This book is about making her face these things directly.
We get to see a bit of depth from both Breeze and Tindwyl in this chapter. As I said earlier, I can't really spend the time to round out everyone on the crew, so I have to pick carefully. Breeze is one of my favorites, so I decided to work a bit with him in this book. As you'll find out later in the book (when we get a few Breeze viewpoints) he's actually a full-blooded nobleman. It's not really that important to the story; it's just part of who he is.
Breeze has made a life and a reputation out of hiding his feelings behind his attitude. He likes looking like a scoundrel—not only does it let him get away with a lot of random things, but it also keeps people from poking too far into his past. There are a lot of skaa thieves who would react very poorly if they discovered that Breeze wasn't really one of them, but a nobleman who was forced to seek refuge in the underground.
I think Tindwyl has a lot of good points in her training. Some people rebel against the things she says, but I think that she has a good idea of what makes a leader. Or, at least, one kind of leader.
The problem is, that isn't the only kind of leader that works. Still, in my mind, she knows that she HAS to be like that in order to react against Elend's frivolousness.