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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The reason Robert Jordan chose to write fantasy was its opportunities to build cultures and experiment with them, in a way and with a freedom to comment that is unachievable with a "realistic", domestically based world.
Are there particular historical eras that influence your stories?
Well, to give you an example of the way these things work... the Aiel. They have some bits of Japanese in them. Also some bits of the Zulu, the Berbers, the Bedouin, the Northern Cheyenne, the Apache, and some things that I added in myself. They are in no way a copy of any of these cultures, because what I do is say, "If A is true, what else has to be true about this culture? If B is true, what else has to be true?" And so forth.
In this way I begin to construct a logic tree, and I begin to get out of this first set of maybe 10, maybe 30 things that I want to be true about this culture. I begin to get around an image of this culture, out of just this set of things, because these other things have to be true. Then you reach the interesting part, because this thing right here has to be true, because of these things up here. But, this thing right here has to be false, because of those things up there. Now, which way does it go, and why? You've just gotten one of the interesting things about the culture, one of the really interesting little quirks.
To me, that in itself is a fascinating thing—the design of a culture. So that's how the Aiel came about. There are no cultures that are a simple lift of Renaissance Italy or 9th-century Persia or anything else. All of them are constructs.
My advice to aspiring writers is: (1) Write, send what you've written to publisher, then immediately begin writing something else. And (2) Read. Read as much good stuff as you can find time for, and try to learn from it. Also (3) Write what you like to read. If you don't like reading it, you won't be able to write it very well.
As for world-building, I don't believe that you should spend the time to build your world entirely before you begin writing. I began with sketching in the greater part of the world, with a much greater emphasis put on what was important in the first book, namely the Two Rivers, Andor in general, Shienar, an overview of the Borderlands, and especially Aes Sedai and the White Tower. Now I had those initial sketches of cultures like the Aiel or Cairhien or Illian, and as something occurred to me, I added it in. Every so often I checked on what I had compiled for various countries, and used a logic tree analysis which gave me more items. If A is true and B is true, what else must be true and what cannot be true, or at least is unlikely. I did the same for C and D, E and F, G and H, then for A and C, A and D, and so forth. At some point you come to a place where one line says that, say, Item 47 must be true, while another line says that Item 47 is at best very unlikely. Resolving those conflicts are where some of the more interesting quirks in a society come from. And of course, you need to ask yourself why those initial choices are true for that culture, especially when one seems counter-intuitive, or some combination seems counter-intuitive.
This process isn't as mechanical as it sounds, because the initial items were things that I thought would be interesting to combine in one culture, rather than simply copying an existing culture. The result is, I believe, cultures that either seem somewhat familiar but not entirely (Andor) or else almost utterly strange with only a few somewhat familiar elements (the Aiel, the Seanchan), but either way, they seem real because the internal logic of them holds together.
Well, I don't know, it is a combination of things. I gave this recently, so it is probably already on the net. How did I come up with the division of the One Power, the male and female half? I had seen a novel, there are a lot now, but this was the first I had seen like this. Young woman wants to be whatever it was, a magician, whatever, but she can't because she is a woman, and women aren't allowed to do that so she is going to struggle through it.
I thought it was interesting, one of the earlier novels of the feminist struggle, and all that. I put it back, because it didn't seem something I cared to read, but I thought about it because the thought that occurred to me is okay, that's real easy, women aren't allowed to do this, it is historically based or grounded at least, what if it was men who couldn't, now how would that be, as my wife points out to me, we have the upper body strength, and she is convinced all of the inequities in the world vis a vis gender, are subject to the fact that we have all the upper body strength, and I am sorry about that baby, I ain't giving it up. So, how could there be a situation where men were not allowed to do this, and it does not somehow get itself reversed over time, add into this I wanted a near gender equal world as I could, and how could I have a situation where women could maintain gender equality?
Okay, now I split men and women, have different sources of power and the male source of power is tainted. Okay, you've gotta stop men and at the same time, out of this beginning came the division of the One Power, the White Tower existing as the political center of power for three thousand years, false dragon, the destruction of the world by men, false dragons arising periodically to remind humanity exactly why men can't be allowed to channel and why the White Tower must remain the center of political power. A lot of stuff came out of that one notion.
For Child of Lir, until I recently learned that there is a fern called leatherleaf, I thought that I had made the name up out of thin air. In any case, mine is a tree. Several of the trees I have named have been, I thought, my inventions. I am surprised that that they actually exist.
For Child of Lir, peaches being poisonous in the world of tWoT is one of the things I did to make the world different. Though peach pits do contain small amounts of cyanide, which was once manufactured through processing peach pits. Several other fruits with pits, such as apricots, also have trace amounts of cyanide in the pits. And almonds may be the first genetically engineered plant since humans bred the deadly, to humans, cyanide levels out them to make them edible for people.
One was evidence of discovery of steel, the first manufacturer of steel, which was discovered—we found countless places where the first smith discovered how to make steel, or at least a smith discovered how to make steel, and by all the evidence, no one else in that area had known how to make steel before him—but of course when he could make steel, his weapons were much better than anybody else's. He had provided steel swords to use against bronze, or iron, and...wow, he had sort of a magic sword here, didn't he? And he sure as hell didn't teach anybody else how to do it, so from the time that men began discovering steel, and the secret began dying with them, to the time when steel began to be manufactured semi-widely, was about a thousand years.
The first time that gunpowder—that we can find evidence of gunpowder being used as a weapon—was in China, when the inhabitants of a besieged city made huge fireworks and dropped them over the wall onto soldiers trying to climb ladders, siege ladders up over the walls of the Chinese city. It's not a very efficient way to use gunpowder, but what's interesting is that it was something over a thousand years after gunpowder, by the evidence, had been discovered in China, and for all of that time, it had been used for nothing more than making fireworks, firecrackers, just...that was it. That was the whole use. So, we have a world where there are no guns because nobody knows how to make gunpowder, except for this guild, and they're not going to put the secret around.
For Anonymous-George, long ago I saw one of the first, I believe, novels about a young woman who wasn't allowed to use magic or whatever because she was a woman, and the thought occurred to me as to how it might go if men were the ones who were denied the right to do magic. Or whatever. I hate using the word magic. From that long ago thought grew the One Power divided into saidin and saidar with the male half tainted and the reasons for and results of it being tainted. Now in most of these societies—Far Madding is the obvious exception—I did not and do not view them as matriarchal. I attempted to design societies that were as near gender balanced as to rights, responsibilities and power as I could manage. It doesn't all work perfectly. People have bellybuttons. If you want to see someone who always behaves logically, never tells small lies or conceals the truth in order to put the best face for themselves on events, and never, ever tries to take advantage of any situation whatsoever, then look for somebody without a bellybutton. The real surprise to me was that while I was designing these gender balanced societies, people were seeing matriarchies.
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.
I've got a good story for you. One time, I was trying to keep track of everyone who was with the character Perrin. You guys know Perrin. So Perrin's off doing this thing, and one of the biggest challenges of writing the Wheel of Time books was the sheer number of characters. Not the main characters—I know the main characters, they're my friends, I grew up with these people, I know them just like hanging out with my high school buddies—but keeping track of all the Aes Sedai, and the Wise Ones, and you know, the Asha'man, and all these various people that are all over the place and saying, "OK. Who is with Perrin and who is with Rand, and who is..."
Anyway. I sent an email off to Team Jordan. You know, Harriet and Maria and Alan who are the... They were two editorial assistants that worked directly with Robert Jordan. Maria and Alan. I think it was Alan I sent an email to, and I said, "Do you have just like a list of everybody? I can go compile one of my own, I'm planning to do it, but if you have one already that says, 'These are the people who are with Perrin.' If you've got something like that." And he said, "I found this thing in the notes buried several files in." And things like this. "Here. I found this. Maybe this is what you want." And he sent me this, and it was called "with Perrin." I thought, "OK. Perfect." I open up this file and it's actually not what I wanted. Instead it is dozens of names of people who haven't appeared in the books yet. These are all the names of all the Two Rivers folk who are with Perrin. Like there are two hundred or so. Just names. Listed off. That have never appeared in the books. Sometimes with their profession, and a little about them, and things like that. And it just blew my mind that there was all of this detail that Robert Jordan had put into this world that nobody sees—and he wasn't planning for them to see. He's not going to have a big list of names in the final book; he wasn't planning that. He just needed to know their names so that he knew that he had them. And this is the level of detail and world-building that Robert Jordan did. I got a big chuckle out of that. Just, list of names. Then I started stealing them like a thief so I had good names that he had come up with, that I could use in the books.
Are you using them for other characters or using them for people...
I'm mostly using them where he intended them to be. Because he had other lists of names for... As the book has progressed and I've discovered these little notes files... Because the notes, there are huge, massive amounts of notes. We say there are about two hundred manuscript pages of stuff done for Gathering...for A Memory of Light. The three books. But beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of words worth of just background notes, of world-building notes, of things like that. When we say the notes for the book, we're talking about actual specifics to A Memory of Light. But there are hundreds of thousands of other notes; there's just too much for one person to even deal with. So I let the two assistants dig through that. And so once I found out that there were lists of names, I started getting those files so I could use his names in places where we had them. So that I would have to name fewer and fewer people. Because his naming conventions are very distinctive. And, you know, I don't think... I think if you were to read, you could probably tell which names are mine and which are his, because we name things differently. And I'm trying to use his wherever I can, just to give that right feel to the book.
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.
Will The Way of Kings series be based on one of the worlds and magic systems you have already created or are you inventing a totally new one for this series?
It will be new. There are going to be a lot of different types of magic in the world (I see there's a question below asking about that, so I'll answer more there.) But there will be two main magic systems for the first book. The first will deal with the manipulation of fundamental forces. (Gravity, Strong/weak atomic forces, Electromagnetic force, that sort of thing.) The second will be a transformation based magic system, whereby people can transform objects into one of the world's ten elements.
You have stated in your blog that Mistborn had three magic systems (Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemurology) and also that The Way of Kings will have upwards of 20. For comparison, how many magic systems would you say the Wheel of Time series has? Two (One Power and the True Power)? How do you classify other abilities (not necessarily related to the One Power or True Power) such as Dreamwalking, viewing the Pattern, Wolfbrother-hoodness, and changing 'luck' or chance? Would you classify these abilities as a magic system in and of themselves? Has your chance to see the background material Robert Jordan left changed how you view these abilities?
This kind of gets sticky, as it's all up to semantics. Really, you could say that Mistborn had a different magic system for each type of Misting. But at the same time, you could argue that something like X-Men—with huge numbers of powers—all falls under the same blanked 'magic system.' And take Hemalurgy in Mistborn 3—is it a new magic system, or just a reinterpretation of Allomancy and Feruchemy?
So what do I mean by twenty or thirty magic systems in Kings? Hard to say, as I don't want to give spoilers. I have groupings of abilities that have to deal with a certain theme. Transformation, Travel, Pressure and Gravity, that sort of thing. By one way of counting, there are thirty of these—though by another way of grouping them together, there are closer to ten.
Anyway, I'd say that the Wheel of Time has a fair number of Magic systems. The biggest one would be the One Power/True Power, which is more of a blanket "Large" magic system kind of like Allomancy being a blanket for sixteen powers—only the WoT magic system is far larger. I'd count what Perrin/Egwene do in Tel'aran'rhiod as a different magic system. What Mat does as something else, the Talents one can have with the Power something else. Though I'd group all of the Foretelling/Viewing powers into one.
Sounds like a topic for a paper, actually. Any of you academics out there feel like writing one?
Let's just say that The Wheel of Time has a smaller number of larger magic systems, and I tend to use a larger number of smaller magic systems. Confusing enough? ;)
One common theme in magic systems across fantasy is the use of artifacts to focus, increase or do something specific with the magic. Inclusion of artifacts is something you have avoided in your magic systems (although I will say I haven't missed them). Is there a reason for this? How has your writing changed with the 'forced' introduction of artifacts (i.e. finishing the Wheel of Time)? Do you plan on using artifacts in your own works after you finish the Wheel of Time?
I've not done artifacts for the same reason I've not yet done a lot of things—not because I don't want to, but because I like to keep the focus in a given book or books. There wasn't room for yet another extrapolation in that direction when writing the Mistborn books, and the magic system didn't really allow for it.
However, I think there is a lot of room to explore magic artifacts. I've long been wanting to do something that refines magic and uses technology based on it, in kind of a magic-punk sort of way. Kings, for instance, does use artifacts and magical items—very specific kinds, mind you, that are built into the framework of the magic system. But they're there. One of the big elements of this world will be the existence of Shardplate (magically enhanced, powered plate armor) and Shardblades (large, summonable swords designed to cut through steel and stone.)
This isn't really because of the WoT—I wrote the original draft of this book long before I was published, let alone working on the WoT—but I have always lilked the use of artifacts in the WoT world, and it has been fun to use some of them in that setting.
How difficult was it to come up with new magic systems considering the wealth of fantasy out there with already established magic systems(that seems to just get re-used in different formats by various other authors)? Do you have more systems to be used in future novels? If so how do you go about envisioning them and creating the rules in the first place?
I've got a few very nifty ones reserved for the future. Don't worry; I'm not nearly out of ideas yet. And I'm constantly having new ones I don't have time to use.
There IS a lot of fantasy out there. And yet, I think there's a great deal of room left for exploration in magic. The frontiers of imagination are still rough-and-tumble, unexplored places, particularly in this genre. It seems that a lot of fantasy sticks very close to the same kinds of magic systems.
One of the things I've come to believe is that limitations are more important than powers in many cases. By not limiting themselves in what their characters can do, authors often don't have to really explore the extent of the powers they've created. If you are always handing your characters new powers, then they'll use the new and best—kind of like giving your teen a new car every year, rather than forcing them to test the limits of what that old junker will do. Often, those old cars will surprise you. Same thing for the magic. When you're constrained, as a writer, by the limits of the magic, it forces you to be more creative. And that can lead to better storytelling and a more fleshed out magic.
Now, don't take this as a condemnation of other books. As writers, we all choose different things to focus on in our stories, and we all try different things. Jordan's ability to use viewpoint, Martin's use of character, Pratchett's use of wit—these are things that far outshine anything I've been able to manage in my works so far.
But I do think that there is a great deal of unexplored ground still left to map out in some of these areas. (Specifically magic and setting.) A great magic system for me is one that has good limitations that force the characters to be creative, uses good visuals to make the scenes more engaging while written, and has ties to the culture of the world and the motivations of the viewpoint characters.
About research: What, if any, research for your novels have you done, and how did you do it?
The calling of a fiction writer, particularly a fantasy writer, is to know a little bit about a lot of things—just enough to be dangerous, so to speak. I tend to read survey books that talk about history—things that give overviews, such as the history of warfare, or the history of the sword, or navigation. That kind of thing. I would say I do a fair amount of research, but mostly it's an attempt to dump as much into my brain as possible for spawning stories and writing about things intelligently. For Mistborn, I researched canals, eunuchs, and London during the mid 1800's.
Yes to both questions. This is not going to be immediately obvious, but the big difficulty was in designing bridges that were mobile but also strong enough to support a cavalry charge. It took a lot of research and talk with my editor, looking at the engineering of it and the physics of the world to actually be able to create these things. I'm sure fans are going to try to diagram them out. That was one aspect of it: how were the bridges going to be set?
I approached this first from a "how would you actually fight on these plains?" direction. But also I wanted to evoke the concept of a terrible siege, with a man running with a ladder toward a wall. And yet that's been done so much. The Shattered Plains came from me wanting to do something new. I liked the idea of battles taking place in a situation that could never exist on our planet, what it would require, what it would take out of the people, and how it would naturally grow. And so I did a lot of reading about siege equipment. I did a lot of reading about weights of various woods, did a lot playing with the length, the span between the chasms, etc. One thing that people should know if they are trying to figure all this out is that Roshar has less gravity than Earth does. This is a natural outgrowth of my requirements both for the bridges and for the size of the creatures that appear in the book—of course they couldn't get that large even with the point-seven gravity that Roshar has, but we also have magical reasons they can grow the size they do. That's one factor to take into account.
A couple of reasons. Those are really two questions. Why did I avoid the standard tropes? Because I felt they had become a crutch in some cases, and in other cases they had just been overplayed and overdone by people who were very good writers and knew what they were doing. I certainly don't want to point any fingers at people like Stephen Donaldson who wrote brilliant books making use of some of the familiar tropes from Tolkien, but one of the things to remember is that when he did that they weren't familiar tropes. They were still fresh and new. The same can be said for Terry Brooks. I feel that some of these authors who came before did a fantastic job of approaching those races, and I also feel that we as a fantasy community have allowed Tolkien's worldbuilding to become too much of a crutch—in particular, Tolkien's storytelling in epic fantasy. And really, if we want to approach the heights of great storytelling and take it a few more steps so that we don't just copy what Tolkien did, we do what Tolkien did, which is look to the lore ourselves and build our own extrapolations.
But personally, why do I include the races that I include? I'm just looking for interesting things that complement the story that I'm telling. The races in The Way of Kings come directly into the story and the mystery of what's happened before. If you pay close attention to what the races are, it tells you something about what's going to happen in the future and what's happened in the past. It's very conscious. This is just me trying to explore. I feel that epic fantasy as a genre has not yet hit its golden age yet. If you look at science fiction as a genre, science fiction very quickly got into extrapolating very interesting and different sorts of things. Fantasy, particularly in the late '90s, feels like it hit a bit of a rut where the same old things were happening again and again. We saw the same stories being told, we saw the same races show up, we saw variations only in the names for those races. For me as a reader, it was a little bit frustrating because I read this and felt that fantasy should be the genre that should be able to do anything. It should be the most imaginative genre. It should not be the genre where you expect the same stories and the same creatures. This is playing into what I like as a reader and my own personal philosophies and hobby horses, but it really just comes down to what I think makes the best story.
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'm going to reverse-engineer your question. When I wrote Elantris and Mistborn, I intentionally kept the world more sparse. The goal particularly of Mistborn was, "I'm going to take an epic fantasy story and condense it into three novels." The focus for me in those novels was plot. Of course I wanted to have great characters and great magic, but there was more of a plot focus, and I didn't want the world to distract. It was a conscious decision in Mistborn.
When I sat down and wrote The Way of Kings, the plan from the start to do ten books influenced how I approached the world. But really, the world of Roshar is such a big part of the story, and of the history and the mysteries of the series, that I wanted it to be full and immersive. Immersion was one of my main driving forces. With Mistborn, one of my main driving forces was to keep it moving. I hope The Way of Kings still feels fast-paced, but it's a thousand pages long, twice as long as Mistborn. A lot of that extra space is dedicated to fleshing out the world and making it feel like a real place, because that's very important for the series. When I write a book, I look at what the book needs and what is required by the story I'm trying to achieve. Another valid element is that when I wrote Mistborn, I was a newer writer. Writing The Way of Kings, I'm more experienced. I think I'm better at making this sort of decision now, and I felt I could tackle in this book the sorts of things that I couldn't achieve in Mistborn.
It depends on the book, honestly. For a thick, multi-volume epic fantasy, I take years working on the world. Such was the case with The Way of Kings, and a few of the other massive Epics I'm planning. Mistborn had about a year of planning ahead of time.
Some books, however, I write more freely. I almost always spend a few months working on the world before writing; it's the thing I feel I need best fleshed out. However, it is dangerous as well. Some writers spend all of their time worldbuilding and none of their time writing.
I try to focus my energies on areas of worldbuilding important to the conflict and the characters. In Mistborn, the languages weren't important—I was going to have everyone speaking one language. In Kings, language was more important, so I developed the linguistics. (Though that won't be manifest for a few more books.)
Before I ask my questions I just wanted to say I loved Mistborn and found The Gathering Storm to be my favorite WoT book after The Great Hunt.
For my question I was wondering, how do you go about worldbuilding? Do you come up with a premise for a book before creating a world for it or do you like to create a world first and then come up with a story to take place in it? Got a favorite part of worldbuilding?
Also, where do you feel you've improved most as a writer since your beginning? And if you'd like to go one further, what do you think are some common flaws which tend to be found an author's earlier works?
Thanks for taking the time to do this!
I jump around a lot when outlining, and so things kind of grow in one place (maybe character backgrounds) and that sparks me thinking about something in the culture, so I jump over there and work on it for a while. Then over to plot, then back to world.
However, Kings is a little different in that I specifically spent months and months doing dedicated worldbuilding for the novel. In this case, I started with the most important setting elements and explored them in a kind of encyclopedia form, then moved on from there.
Robert Jordan's magic system is both hard and soft. It's similar to, for instance, the Harry Potter magic system, which I personally think is quite well done. Of course, I do think Jordan's system is overall more consistent and a much better magic system. This is partially because of the strength of its limitations; for instance, that male channelers go mad, and the chance of burning yourself out with channeling, make it for a much more interesting magic system narratively. The "going mad" thing is basically the best limitation that I've ever heard of in a book series.
People like Tolkien, for instance, didn't explain a lot of the magic, and so what the magic could and couldn't do leaves you with a lot of that sense of wonder, so there's something to be gained on that side from not explaining. Jordan, I would say, is about on the seventy-five percent mark toward a more hard, rigid magic system, and it actually tends to work really well, but you'll notice that he liked to introduce new elements to the magic quite haphazardly—you know, suddenly someone is able to do this. It happens actually pretty frequently in the series as new things are being rediscovered.
Balefire, for example, is manifested quite spontaneously by the characters to solve little problems, and then it becomes a tool to solve bigger problems later on. Just like in a lot of storytelling, in the first third of the story, you will often have a dynamic rescue by a character the reader or audience didn't know existed, and this is not a terribly satisfying resolution, but that's okay because in the first third of a story, you're not looking for satisfying resolutions, you're looking for satisfying introductions. That's kind of what the nature of storytelling is. So when the new character rides on screen and saves the heroes in the beginning of a story, and it's the old friend of the hero who they didn't know was in town, it becomes a very nice introduction for that character; we like that character, we're interested in him, and it can work very well.
In the same way, a character manifesting a power in the beginning of the story that kind of comes out of nowhere to solve a minor problem, is a satisfying introduction, but not a satisfying resolution. And then later on when a major character gets brought back to life by balefire, because it's used in a way that the audience could anticipate, suddenly we have a very satisfying resolution of a conflict, using a magic that we're familiar with.
It's the difference between Han Solo saving Luke by getting him off Tattooine by just kind of haphazardly being there in the right place at the right time, and then Solo coming back at the end of the movie to save him. In the first case, he just kind of drops into [Luke's and Obi Wan's] laps, but that's okay because we're introducing him. And then he comes back at the end to save them after great foreshadowing of all the changing he's done as a character, and we love it.
Yeah. One of the big complaints about fantasy as a genre is that "oh, that's the genre where just anything can happen, and so there's no tension." People complain that it doesn't matter what the characters do because they can always be saved by some magical whatnot. And that's actually a very poor way of looking at it, because if you think about it, regardless of what kind of fiction you're writing, you can always save your characters with a handwave.
Even if you're writing in "the real world," a character can win the lottery, and suddenly all their poverty problems are taken care of, or someone can suddenly dramatically change their mind and fall in love with the heroine when they weren't expecting to. Whatever it is, you can always just handwave to fix a problem. It's not a thing that can be relegated only to fantasy. The challenge in fiction is to make all of these things feel satisfying, even though in some ways they are a wave of the hand. And that's how I look at magic systems.
Exactly. And all of the laws I've come up with, which really aren't laws—they're quite arrogantly named, I realize—have more to do with just good storytelling than they have to do with magic, but I framed them in terms of magic because people always ask me how I invent these magic systems. Well, I do that by trying to make them good storytelling devices.
Sanderson's Second Law is that limitations are more interesting than powers. And this extends more deeply than in just magic, but if you look at magic, what magic can't do is going to be more interesting to your readers, and more useful to you as a writer, than what the magic can do. This is why channeling [in the Wheel of Time] tends to be such a great magic system, because the limitations are very well-executed; it's the part of the magic that shines the most.
But this is ultimately all a plot issue, because what a character can't achieve, whatever is holding them back, is generally more interesting than what they can achieve. This is just kind of a general storytelling principle across the board.
This may be new information to some readers, but I've mentioned several places before that the Mistborn series was pitched to my editor as a sequence of three trilogies. Past, present, and future—epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction; all with the running thread of the magic system.
Since I just started coming out with the Stormlight Archive, I want to commit myself to that and don't want to dig into the second Mistborn trilogy for quite a while. Yet I want to prep people for the idea that Mistborn is going to be around for a while, and they are going to be seeing more books. I didn't want it to just come out of nowhere at them in ten years or whenever I get to it. So I decided to do some interim stories.
One of the things I'd been playing with was the idea of what happened between the epic fantasy and the urban fantasy trilogies. We have some very interesting things happening in the world, where you've got a cradle of mankind created (by design) to be very lush, very easy to live in, so a great big city could grow up there relatively quickly; civilization could build itself back up over the course of just a couple of generations. Yet there would be very little motivation to leave that area at first, which I felt would mean that you'd end up with this really great frontier boundary. The dichotomy between the two—the frontier and the quite advanced (all things considered) city in the cradle of humanity—was very interesting to me. So I started playing around with where things would lead.
To worldbuild the urban fantasy trilogy coming up, I need to know everything that happened in the intervening centuries. Some stories popped up in there that I knew would happen, that would be referenced in the second trilogy. So I thought, why don't I tell some of these stories, to cement them in my mind and to keep the series going.
I started writing The Alloy of Law not really knowing how long it would be—knowing the history and everything that happened, but not knowing how much of it I wanted to do in prose form. Things just clicked as they sometimes do, and I ended up turning it into a novel.
It's actually a mix of both. I generally flesh everything out at the beginning—then, as I write (particularly the first book) knock huge holes in the worldbuilding and replace them with new and better things.
I work everything out, then leave notes to myself as to what is cannon so I can throw out bad ideas and replace them with better ideas as I write.
So, all ten orders are finished and worldbuilt. (I feel pretty good about them.) However, I could decide to move some things around as I write.
I have tried to boil it down to three 'rules' or 'laws' I follow when writing magic systems.
1) The author's ability to resolve conflicts in a satisfying way with magic is directly proportional to how the reader understands said magic. 2) Weaknesses are more interesting than powers. 3) If you change one thing, you change the world.
Basically, the first one says "Don't pull things out of the air. If you want the magic to work, make it REAL and reliable. If you would rather have an air of mystery, which is fine, don't explain the magic—but don't make it do heavy lifting in the plot, either."
The second one says that what the magic CAN'T do is where your story and your character conflict comes from. Allomancy is interesting in part because it relies on metals that can run out. Steelpushing is interesting because you can only Push directly away from yourself.This forces the characters to work harder, and makes the story more interesting. The most interesting things about Superman or Batman are their flaws—the things they can't do, the things that weaken them, their limitations.
3) Magic in a world should be interconnected with the politics, economy, science, religion, and everything else. The author must think through the ramifications of changing small things.
Next two magic systems you might see: 1) Disease magic. Bacteria have evolved to the point that they try to keep their hosts alive by granting them magical powers while you have the disease. So, you catch a cold, and can fly until you get over it.
2) I've got a a very cool 'throwing spheres of light' magic that I'm working on...which, when you break it down, was inspired by seeing how accurate baseball pitchers were and thinking about how that could be weaponized in a fantasy world.
3) That guy with his ice soap has me thinking about "freezing stuff in water" magic. Like, potions that do things only after they thaw...
I've done it all of these ways.
Most commonly, I develop the magic, plot, characters, and some setting ideas separately. I combine them in my head, looking for good synergy. (Allomancy and Feruchemy were designed separately, then put into the same book.) Sometimes, I design to fit a story. (Hemalurgy was designed to fit a hole in the three-fold magic system I wanted to tell.) Other times, the magic comes first, then I build everything out of that. (This happened for my YA book Scribbler—also known as The Rithmatist—which isn't out yet.)
Hello Mr. Sanderson, thank you so much for visiting our group!
You seem to purposefully invent a system of magic for each book/series you create. I think that Warbreaker was one of the most unique I've ever read. Do you have a reason or story behind this habit?
Yes—both. Back when I was trying to break in, I spent many years writing books and not getting published. I was under the impression (it's just one of my beliefs) that it would be easier for me to break in doing a lot of different standalone novels, or first books in a series, as opposed to writing all in one series and putting all my eggs in one basket. For that reason, I got a lot of practice finishing one book and starting a new one that was in a new setting in a new world.
For me, a new setting/world means a new magic system. Magic is part of what draws me to fantasy, being able to play with the ideas behind it. It's what engages me; it's what excites me. And so part of the real fun of starting a news series is developing a new magic system. In a way that's kind of like the little twinkie or whatever that I'd hang in front of myself in order to get me excited about a new series. I'd be just coming down off a writing high at the end of a book, and I'd still be excited about the old series, its characters and world. Creating a new world is a lot of work, but there's an excitement to it as well. I'd focus on that and say, "Look, I get to create a new magic system, let's see what I can play around with for this book." So because I got used to doing that, that became my modus operandi, my method of working. That still excites me. Oftentimes it's the opportunity to create a new magic system that gets me excited about writing a new book.
Laurel, thank YOU for reading my books and giving me a reason to stop by!
Do you spend the most time on your magic systems, or do you find yourself spending equal amounts of time on other aspects of worldbuilding/plot such as religion/culture/language/geography/etc?
It really depends on the novel. With some I spend a lot of time on areas that in others I don't spend much time on at all. With every book I spend a serious amount of time on the magic system. That's consistent—it's just something I like to do.
For a given book or series I may spend more time on a given aspect. I'd say the other big aspect that takes a lot of time is characterizing the characters the right way. That takes a lot of work, but I tend to do that during my actual writing period, whereas I spend the planning period focusing on worldbuilding and plot. It's when I actually sit down to write a chapter that I explore who a character is, and so it's really hard to pin down timewise which one I spend more time on. And that varies based on the book.
I've seen in reviews of Mistborn that a criticsm that pops up from time to time is that you tend to repeat the basic principles of the magic system. I've seen that some feel hit over the head with it. Personally, I liked that fact since the magic system was new and it helped me to remember and understand.
I'm also seeing criticsm now with Warbreaker that the magic system isn't explained enough to thoroughly understand it. I've pointed out in discussions that not even Vasher understands it all.
But here's my question: Did criticsm of the magic system's explanations in Mistborn have anything to do with Warbreaker having considerably less explanation in its magic system?"
Wow, that's a very detailed and interesting question. The answer is no.
...Okay, there's more to that answer. I accepted the criticisms of the Mistborn books with the knowledge that there was really no other way around it—the way I was writing those books and the complexity of the magic system made me feel like I needed to give those hints. It's not like I'm trying to write down to the lowest denominator, but at the same time I want to make sure that the complicated magic system is a force driving the book—and is something interesting rather than something confusing. Across a three-book epic like that I wanted to make sure that I was not leaving people behind. That's always a balance in a book series. And I don't know where to set that balance. In fact, I think the balance is going to be different for every person. Any given book that you read, some people are going to find it overexplained and some people are going to find it underexplained. I'm always trying to strike the right balance, particularly for the tone of a given book, to make that work for the novel.
With Warbreaker, as you've pointed out, the magic system is much less understood by the poeple taking part in it. In the Mistborn books the magic system is very well understood. Even though there are little pieces of it that people don't know yet, those peices are easy to grasp and understand and use once people figure out what they are. In the Mistborn books the world is in a state where people have spend 1000 years using this magic system and perfecting it and understanding it. In Warbreaker, they haven't. They still don't know much about what's going on. It's very mysticized. People haven't sat down and spent enough time pursuing scholarly research about it, figuring it out. Beyond that there's no immortal Lord Ruler figure explaining it all to them—or if there is, it's Vasher and he's not telling anyone. And so the magic in Warbreaker has a very different feel to it. I wanted it to be a little confusing, because it is confusing for the main characters.
I wouldn't say that the criticism of the Mistborn books is what drove me; the needs of the various plots is what drove me.
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.
A related question. When you add to the wiki, do you soften the writing to add more information to the wiki?
Occasionally I do. Usually it’s at the end of a scene; I’ll go and add things. Or now that I have a Peter, I will say “Peter, go put this chapter ino the wiki, and fix whatever problems that don’t fit. That’s what he’s doing right now with his time is he’s going through the whole Way of Kings and making sure that the wiki matches, because the wiki actually contains like 5 or 6 iterations as I was building the world of “No, let’s rewrite the creation myth”, “No, let’s rewrite where this came from”, “No let’s rewrite this.” And it has all the old versions there as well as the newest version, and as I’m writing, I’ll change things because I’ll say “You know, this doesn’t work. I’m going to alter this.” Then I’ve got to stop and make sure that the continuity gets kept.
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.
How does your approach differ in writing science fiction and then fantasy? Both stylistically and conceptually.
For SF I take many more things for granted, meaning I focus more on story and less on worldbuilding.
In SF, I will also generally focus on a handful of ideas instead of a whole ton of them.
This usually makes my sf shorter than my fantasy.
Not really a question, but the one thing that disappointed me was that you didn't come up with new slang names for Allomancers! After three hundred years, do you really think they would still be calling steel mistings "coinshots"?
Anyway, thanks for doing this and keep up the good work.
I toyed with this one, but decided that I would keep them the same for a few reasons. First off, I felt that certain things in-world would hamper some linquistic diversity. (Having the books Sazed left behind as a guide to Allomancy and history, everyone living in a small geographic area, the semi-religious nature of Allomancy making people look at it in traditional ways.) So, while I advanced the slang of the world, some of the terms I decided to leave the same.
Another reason for this came when I was writing the book. At first, I experimented with greater linguistic diversity—I even tried a vowel shift, as I figured three hundred years might be enough for that. In the end, I pulled back. I was already worried that this book not feel "Mistborn" enough, and so I wanted some direct ties back to the original series. Fiddling too much with the language while changing the setting and characters so drastically felt like a mistake to me.
Boy, this is a hard one to ask because it's been such a LONG process. There were bits of all of this popping around in my head almost twenty years ago, so it's going to be hard to define where what fit into place when.
Allomancy and Feruchemy were originally planned separately. I linked them together into this book when I realized that the 'focus' items that could store attributes could be metal, and therefore work wonderfully with the Mistborn book I was planning.
Hemalurgy came from the image of Inquisitors first, then developed as a need to integrate it in with the other two in a way that evoked the power of "Ruin" rather than the power of Preservation. I figured that Ruin would steal, and it was a great way to add a third magic without having to overload people with a whole new set of powers. The process of writing this series, since I did all three books together, was an interesting one, and I made a lot of connections as I went. Some of the latest things on the timeline were figuring out how to fit atium and the Preservation nuggets into the already built framework. But I don't know if I can give you an exact list. Partially because there would just be too many spoilers in it.
I'd first like to say that this series was fantastic. I was exceptionally pleased with how you tied everything together in this final book of the trilogy.
(1) This series has the best world-building, magic system, and over-arching plot of any epic fantasy I have ever read. I think George R.R. Martin is still the master of creating memorable characters, developing them, and having them interact with each other. Other authors, like Hobb and Rothfuss, are better at evincing emotion. You are an amazing writer yourself.
That being said, I have a couple suggestions for you.
(2) The first contradicts itself, so take it for what it is. I would suggest that you write how you feel the story should be written. Getting inspiration from someone is one thing, but changing your work because some people want a happy ending or dark ending takes away from the purity of writing. The part you added in at the end where Sazed let Spook know Vin and Elend were happy in the afterlife really stuck me like a thorn. I think it was apparent how happy they were together in life and how necessary their sacrifices were. That would have been enough for me.
(3) My other suggestion is more of a plea really. Please don't extend this series just to capitalize on it. If you really feel there is more story to be told, then tell it. I, for one, thought the ending would have been perfect if allomancy, hemalurgy, and feruchemy would have faded from existence as their corresponding gods did. It would have been rather romantic to have people start over with a new "normal" world.
Congratulations again on completing a masterful work!
1. You humble me. I don't think I've NEARLY the skill for characters that Mr. Martin does, and that's not just an attempt at modesty. I hope to be there some day, however.
2. This is a tricky one. I didn't change the worldbuilding or the cosmology of the story in order to fit what people wanted, but I feel strongly about using writing groups and test readers to see if my intention in a book has been achieved. I show things to alpha readers to see what is confusing or bothersome to them, then decide if that's really something I want to be confusing or bothersome.
In my mind, the presence of a powerful being such as Sazed, mixed with some direct reaching from beyond the grave by a certain crew leader, indicated that there WAS an afterlife. However, test readers didn't get it, so I tweaked the story to make it more obvious. Perhaps I should have left it as is, but I liked both ways, and decided upon the one I liked the most in the context of reader responses.
I do plan to always tell the stories from my heart, and not change them because of how I think the reactions will be. But I do think it's important to know what those reactions are ahead of time and decide if they are what I want or not.
3. We are on the same page on this one. You can read other posts on the thread to see what kind of thoughts I might have for more Mistborn books, but I don't know if/when I will write them. It depends on the story and how excited I am to tell it.
Ok, fair enough. Do you have a scene you enjoyed more than the rest, and on the flip side, was their something that you did not enjoy?
I will say that I really loved doing all the interludes because they gave me a sense, when I was writing this book, of jumping to something new, which is part of what kept me going in all of this. Are they my favorite scenes in the book? No, but they were probably my favorite to write because it's like I get to take a break and write something whacky and looney, so to speak.
Hmm…is there anything that was harder? You know, revisions are always hard. In the next to last draft I changed Dalinar's arc very substantially, and that was a hard write. And, you know, Adolin was not originally a viewpoint character, so there was a lot of hard writing there. So, poor Adolin probably gets the badge for hardest to write. Not because he as a character was hard to write but because I was having to repurpose scenes and toss out scenes and rewrite them with Adolin as the viewpoint character and so on to add just a little more dimension to Dalinar's plot arc.
How many magic systems did you go through before deciding on the one in the book?
Building the magic for a world is not something I’ve simply been able to drop in, usually. I generally am working on lots of different themes and ideas in my head *laughter* When I’m planning a novel and the magic will fit a certain story and influence how it goes and I will do a lot of building and practice to see if that’s working and do a lot of, I’ll do a lot of pre-writing and see how the magic influences the plot, influences the setting. If these things are also intertwined then it’s not a drag and drop so to speak and usually even if I pull out a magic, I’ll really be pulling out parts of it and replacing it with other parts.
For instance with the Mistborn books Allomancy was in one form there from the beginning and yet what the powers that Allomancy could do often I was ripping out and adding new ones in, in order to better fit the novel and the narrative I’m shooting for. So for Way of Kings I’ve kind of taken a—the series I’ve been working on for quite a while, people have read the online interviews and things like that. I generally took a ‘more is awesome' approach to the magic systems and yet because of that I didn’t want the first book to be overrun by them, it would be very easy for my books to simply become interesting gimmicks about a magic rather than a story about characters and the story that happens to them, and so I was actually very careful to not overwhelm with the magic in this book. Which is actually somewhat ironic because this book, I built into it somewhere around thirty magic systems and yet I didn’t want to overwhelm and so the first book, there are only hints of any of them but generally when I was world building this I came up with a great idea, I worked it into the magic system rather than saying "Oh, let’s do this instead."
I'm a very sequential writer. When I write a book, I usually start with the prologue and write straight through until I hit the epilogue. Though I can't remember for certain, I'm pretty sure that this prologue was the first thing I ever wrote for Elantris.
Back in those days, I didn't outline as much as I do now. When I first put fingers to keyboard, I really didn't know where this book was going to go. I had some vague idea of what I wanted it to be, but I didn't know how I was going to get there. However, this prologue really helped solidify things for me.
I love how it works in the story. It's quick, descriptive, and gives a marvelous outline of the magical setting of the book. It's also one of the most heavily-edited sections of the book. Moshe didn't like my original draft of it because he thought it was over-written. The original first line of the book was 'Whispered are the days when Elantris was beautiful.' I kind of still like this line better, but it may just be nostalgia. The line kind of has a faint. . .flowing quality to it. An etherealness.
Regardless, 'Elantris was beautiful, once' made for a nice compromise. I'll probably post the entire, first-draft version of the prologue in the 'deleted scenes' section of the website, if you want to compare.
Despite my preference for the old first line, I like the other changes we made to the prologue. Over all, it became more descriptive and easier to understand. It's a nice springboard to the story, and we've used it several places as a kind of quick teaser to get people to read the book.
Moshe and I agreed on just about every edit or change made to ELANTRIS. There is one small thing, however, that we kind of went the rounds about. The word Kolo.
Galladon's 'Kolo's are, in my mind, an integral part of his personality. I characterize him a great deal through his dialogue—he doesn't really get viewpoints of his own, so everything I do for him at least until the ending
I either have to do through Raoden's thoughts or through Galladon's own words. When I was coming up with Galladon's character, I realized I would need a set of linguistic features that would reinforce his culture's relaxed nature. So, I went with smooth-sounds, and gave their dialect a very 'chatty' feel. The Dula habit of calling everyone 'friend' came from this—as did their habit of softening everything they say with a question tag. Linguistically, questions are less antagonistic than statements, and I figured a culture like the Dula one would be all about not antagonizing people.
A number of languages in our own world make frequent use of similar tags. Korean, the foreign language I'm most familiar with, has a language construction like this. Closer to home, people often make fun of the Canadian propensity for adding a similar tag to their own statements. I hear that Spanish often uses these tags. In many of these languages, a large percentage of statements made will actually end in a softening interrogative tag.
Anyway, enough linguistics. I'm probably using the standard 'literary' posture of falling back on facts and explanations to make myself sound more authoritative. Either way, I liked having Galladon say 'Kolo' a lot. In the original draft, the tags were added onto the ends of sentences, much like we might ask 'eh?' or 'understand?' in English. "It's hot today, kolo?"
Moshe, however, found the excessive use of Kolo confusing—especially in connection with Sule. He thought that people might get the two words confused, since they're used similarly in the sentences. Simply put, he found the kolos distracting, and started to cut them right and left. I, in turn, fought to keep in as many as I could. It actually grew rather amusing—in each successive draft, he'd try to cut more and more, and I'd try to keep ahold of as many as possible. (I was half tempted to throw a 'kolo' into the draft of MISTBORN, just to amuse him.)
Regardless, we ended up moving kolo to its own sentence to try and make it more understandable. "It's hot today. Kolo?" We also ended up cutting between a third and a half of the uses of the word, and losing each one was a great pain for me. (Well, not really. But I'm paid to be melodramatic.) So, if you feel like it, you can add them back in your mind as your read Galladon's lines.
Other than that massive tangent, I don't know that I have much to say about this chapter. I thought that it was necessary to set Raoden up with a firm set of goals to accomplish—hence the three distinct gangs he has to overcome. Since Sarene and Hrathen's storylines were going to be a little more ambiguous plot-wise, I wanted a conflict for Raoden that could show distinct and consistent progress.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted him to set up a new society for Elantris, and the gangs represented a way for him to approach this goal in an incremental manner.
The cliffhanger at the end of this chapter, by the way, is one of my favorites. The chapter-triad system gave me some amazing opportunities for cliffhangers—as we'll see later.
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.
I worry, just a bit, that people will read this book and think that I'm anti-religion. Those of you who know me will realize how opposite this is of the truth—I'm actually rather devout in my own beliefs. However, because of this devotion, that I understand religion and the power it can have over people. I think that something so potentially good also provides great potential for evil. And, as a firm believer in religion—and religious freedom—I can think of few things quite as frightening or as evil as a religion gone bad.
I am not anti-religion. In fact, I'm not even really anti Shu-Dereth. I tried to construct a religion in Shu-Dereth that had some very interesting, and valid, teachings. However, like some very good religions in our own world, an evil—or even misguided—leadership can transform good teachings into a force for destruction and evil.
My own religion teaches that contrast is a good thing. Because of pain, we can appreciate joy. Because we understand evil (though we don't necessarily have to partake in it) we can understand and appreciate good. Because we have choices, we have the opportunity to take responsibility for our actions. In this way, I believe that a religion should have no qualms about teaching that it has the truth—and like the fact that we have many options in religions in our own world. When we get into trouble, however, is when we begin to enforce our religious opinions with sword or legislation.
I guess this belief is the main basis for my painting of Hrathen as an antagonist in this book. Yes, his logic is good—Arelon probably IS going to fall. However, that doesn't give him the right to speed that collapse, or even manipulate it to his own good. It doesn't give him the right to overthrow or suppress the beliefs of others. Resisting him as he tries to destroy the belief system of an entire people is a good far greater, in my mind, than the good of self-preservation.
(Man. That last bit seems a little melodramatic, now that I look back at it. Forgive me a bit of that on occasion, if you please. Occupational hazard.)
The economy of Arelon is one of the interesting features of this book. Even still, I'm not certain if I made things a little too odd here. The idea of nobility being tied directly to money is described so often by the characters that I worry that readers will think the system too foolish to have arisen. However, I think that by establishing the king as a former merchant—and by pointing out how the system was created quickly, to fill the void after the fall of Elantris—I manage to keep the economic and social situation in Arelon within the realm of possibility.
I think that too often fantasy writers are content with simply throwing in a slightly-original spin on magic—ignoring the fact that their cultures, governments, and religions are derivative. There is this idea of the 'general' fantasy world, and writers draw upon it. However, I think an interesting cultural element can be just as fascinating—and as useful to the plot—as an interesting magic system. In the best cases, the two are inter-woven, like what one can find in brilliant genre books like DUNE.
Of course, the strange economic/governmental system of the book is only a descendant of another strange economic/governmental system. Sarene and Lukel discuss a few of the problems presented by having a race of people who can create whatever they want through use of magic. I don't get to deal with that aspect of AonDor very much in this particular book, since the novel is set during a time when the magic of Elantris doesn't work. However, there are a lot of interesting ramifications AonDor would present for a book set during Elantris' heyday. What good is gold if someone can create it from nothing? In fact, what good is a monetary system at all when everyone can have as much food as they want? What need is there for invention or ingenuity in the face of a group of people who can re-create any good, no matter how complex, with a mere flick of the magical wrist?
The truth behind the Elantrian magical abilities is far more limited than Sarene or Lukel acknowledge in this chapter. If one were to go back fifteen years, one would find that the Elantrians who had the skill to fabricate complex materials 'out of nothing' were actually quite rare.
As we learn later in the book, AonDor is a very complicated, difficult skill to master. As I was writing this book, I imagined the complicated Aons that Raoden eventually learns how to draw being only springboards to massive equations that could take weeks to plan out and write. Fabricating something very complex would require a great deal of detail in the AonDor recipe.
Even still, I think the tension between the Elantrians and the merchants is a natural out-growth of this situation.
Of all the books I've written, I think this one hearkens most closely to our own world. Usually, when I develop cultures and languages, I try to stay away form basing them too closely on any one Earth society or race. I'm not certain what made me do things differently in ELANTRIS. It's not just fencing—JinDo, with its obvious links to Asian cultures, is a good example too. And Fjorden's language has some obvious references to Scandinavia. (Dilaf's name comes from Beowulf, actually. I named him after Beowulf's heir, Wilaf.)Anyway, in this chapter we find two very obvious 'borrows' from our world. I've always been fascinated by fencing, though I've never participated myself. The idea of turning swordfighting into a sport intrigues me. In addition, I found the light, formalized dueling appropriate to the tone of this book, so I took the opportunity to write it in. (I do realize, by the way, that Hollywood has done some interesting things to fencing. Most real fencing bouts are much shorter, and far less showy, than what we see depicted. This is pretty much true for any kind of fighting, however. Think what you will, but combat is usually brutal, quick, and really not that exciting to watch.
This kind of fighting is very appropriate in some books. However, I allowed myself the indulgence of doing my fencing scenes a bit more flourish than one would find in real life. It felt right in the context to have the participants spar, parry, and jump about for far longer a time than is realistic. If you need justification, you can assume that in Teod, the rules for fencing are very strict—and so it's very hard to actually score a point on your opponent, forcing the battles to be prolonged.)
The other item of interest in that scene is, of course, Shuden's ChayShan dance. As mentioned above, his culture is pretty obviously borrowed from Asia. In fact, the link is so strong that some readers have trouble imagining his features as anything but Asian. (Note, once again, that this is not the case. The JinDo have dark brown skin. Though, I guess you'll imagine Shuden however you wish.) The ChayShan is a martial art I devised to feel just a bit like Tai Chi—though ChayShan focuses on speeding up the motions and gaining power from them. I've always kind of thought that Tai Chi would look more interesting if it slowly sped up.
Ahan's line here is one of my favorite openers in the book. Partially because it is amusing, and partially because it so perfectly represents what is going on in the story. Good political maneuvering, in my opinion, leads to shifts in power. Two or more sides vie, the upper-hand bouncing back and forth between them.
If you read over this scene in the garden, you might notice something odd. I didn't see it until I was doing the copy edit, and by then it was too late to change. Lukel and Kiin aren't there for the meeting. They're never mentioned, and I never explain why they aren't there. I think that I just forgot to put them in, since the scene isn't set in the customary location of Kiin's kitchen.
I don't know if readers notice it or not—or even if they care—but I get tired of writing scenes in the same locations. I know it's common in storytelling to do this. Most sitcoms, for instance, always take place in the same locations over and over again. However, I enjoy describing new settings, even if the change is as simple as putting the meeting outside instead of in the kitchen. Maybe it's an unnecessary complication, but it makes the writing more interesting for me.
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.
The Jindoeese food section is another one of those potentially out-of-place sections of the book, but I certainly had a lot of fun writing it. I'm interested in the fact that some more 'primitive' cultures often understand the same things that modern medicine and science do, they just can't quite explain themselves to our satisfaction. It makes sense to me that a culture like the Jindoeese might figure out that a diet lower in fats is good for you, but they might not completely understand why. Anyway, poor Eventeo doesn't get to eat butter any more.
3) Some of the cultures in ELANTRIS were based, obviously, on ones from our world. (JinDo, Duladel.) Others were developed specifically for the book. (The Elantris society, most of Fjordell society.) Which culture felt the most real to you, and why?
I intentionally hit the setting very hard in this chapter. People bring a lot of preconceived notions to fantasy, and sometimes it's difficult to shake them free. With this book, I don't want people to assume an immediate time period or culture for this world. In realty, I've stolen from all over the place. My hope is that I'll be able to destroy people's conceptions quickly, then instead build my own world in their mind.
So, here we have a land where the sun is red, ash falls from the sky, mists come upon the land at night, and plants are brown rather than green. In addition, we have a slave population who live like very rural peasants—but, at the same time, Lord Tresting checks his pocket watch in the first scene. Later on, you'll see gothic cathedrals mixing with people in near-modern clothing. It's all just part of the image I'm trying to create—a place that isn't set in any particular time. In fact, it's a little bit frozen in time, as you'll find in later books.
Moshe mentioned to me that we're going to have to do a book after the MISTBORN series that doesn't have such a gloomy setting. First, I had ELANTRIS, with the city full of dark sludge. Now I've got MISTBORN, with the entire world full of black ash.
The coincidence wasn't intentional. Remember, for me, there were seven books in-between ELANTRIS and MISTBORN. Most of those had far more cheerful settings. However, this story—which is based around a world where the Dark Lord won—kind of required a depressing atmosphere.
n this chapter, for the first time, I straight out mention that plants aren't green. I hoped that this concept would come across in the first few chapters. However, this sort of thing is difficult to enforce in people's minds. The fact that there are NO green plants in the world is something that most people will probably just skip over in their heads. So, I had to make Kelsier aware of the way that things should be, so that he can explain it to Vin, and therefore point out to the reader—in no uncertain terms—how the landscape works.
The other thing to notice is, of course, that there are no flowers in this world. But, we'll get to that later.
I do; I teach a class.
...and, what are some of the typical mistakes you find writers in that class make?
Oh, there's a whole host of things we can talk about in this realm. I teach the class because I actually took the class when I was an undergraduate, and they were looking for a teacher—the teacher who was teaching it moved on—and I took it on because I didn't want them to cancel it. It's how to write science fiction and fantasy. And I would say that one of the big early issues with fantasy and science fiction writers is the infodump. They don't know how to balance those early pages, those early chapters, in making it interesting and exciting without dumping a whole bunch of worldbuilding on us, which is a real challenge because...we just had a panel on this here at the con; worldbuilding is what we read science fiction and fantasy for; it's the cool stuff; it's the cream that drives us to read this; it's what we love, and yet, throwing too much on us at the beginning can really stifle a book, and I would say that's a big rookie mistake.
Another big rookie mistake is assuming that all it takes is writing one book. Most authors, you know, you learn to write by writing. I like to use the metaphor lately of learning to hit a baseball with a baseball bat. You only learn to do that by practicing; you can't read about hitting a baseball and then go out and know how to do it. Certainly reading about it is going to help you with some things, and as you're swinging that baseball bat, the pros are not thinking about which muscles they're moving. They're not thinking about necessarily even their stance at that point; they've just done it so much and done it so well that they get to the point that they can do it, second nature. And that's what a writer wants to learn to do. And you do that by, at the beginning, you do think about your stance. You do think about your grip. You do work on these...you target certain things and you learn to extend the metaphor. You work on your prose or you work on your characters, or you specifically hone in on this, but at the end of the day, writing a lot and practicing is what's going to teach you to fix problems in your writing by instinct. And I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I don't think everyone has to do that, but I certainly think that your first job to do is to finish one novel, and then you need to start writing a second one.
Alright, thank you. The science fiction magazine at BYU: do you recommend your students participate in that?
I do. I actually offer extra credit for anyone who goes to the magazine and reads slush. I feel for a new writer, reading slush on a magazine can be really helpful because you see what some of the rookie mistakes are, being made by other people kind of in your same mode, your same skill set, and sometimes, when I did it as an aspiring writer, it taught me so much about what newer writers were doing, and things that I could avoid. It also helps to spend a little time around editors and see what's going through the minds of editors. Certainly a magazine is different from a book publication, but they share a lot of things, and it can be very helpful in teaching, so I suggest if there's a local fanzine—or a local semi-prozine, which is what the BYU magazine is, kind of, what the terminology is for it—go be a part; read some slush, and be part of the community, and see what other writers are doing.
Thank you. I think that's what Zach pictured in mind when he started Flying Island Press and Flagship was that very same...I think he was actually on that staff at BYU.
Oh, good! Good.
And I understand what you mean by reading a lot of slush, because we read a lot of slush.
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.
There are connections in the things you mentioned above, though I don't want to speak of specifics yet for risk of spoiling future revelations.
As for blurring the line between what makes sense and what is fun...I err on the side of the fun. However, part of my meticulous planning is about how to make the fun make sense. I feel that is part of what makes this genre interesting. I decided I wanted to do a story about the Knights Radiant, with the Plate and Blades. From there, I spent a long time thinking about what would make those kinds of weapons reasonable and important to a society.
You can do anything, but do try to focus on laying your groundwork and being consistent.
What can your fans expect from The Rithmatist, as compared to your other adult novels? Was it easier or harder to write for a YA audience (or was there anything different about the writing process for this particular book)?
That's an excellent question! I wouldn't say it's either easier or harder. For me, a story grows in my mind till I just can't ignore it anymore, and I have to write it. That certainly happened with The Rithmatist.
As for what I did differently, there are a couple things. When I work on a teen book, I usually try to focus the viewpoints. That's one of the big distinctions for me between an epic fantasy that has teen characters—like the Mistborn books—and a book that I've specifically written for a teen audience. I usually focus on a single character—maybe two—so the narrative is a bit more streamlined.
The other big difference here is that I really wanted to write something with a sense of fantasy whimsy to it. I say whimsical, and it might be the right term, and yet it's not. For example, the magic system is one of the most rigorous and specific that I've written. I hope readers will find it as interesting as I do—with the defensive circles and the different types of lines.
With my epic fantasy books like The Way of Kings, for example, I looked at the size of the planet, its gravitation, its oxygen content—all the sorts of things that allow me to worldbuild with some scientific rigor. I consciously didn't want to do that with The Rithmatist. I replaced the United States with the United Isles, turning the country into an archipelago. I shrank the planet, and I did really weird things to the history of the world because I thought it would be fun. For example, I let Korea conquer the world, because I'm a fan of Korean history.
It's not like I'm sitting down and saying, "What is plausible?" I'm sitting down and saying, "What is awesome?" Then I write a story in which that awesomeness can shine. I let myself do that in my YA works more than in my adult works to give them a different feel. Writing this way allows me to exercise different muscles.
I believe that children and teens are better able to mode shift. When they pick up a book, they don't necessarily feel that it has to fit in one of the genre boxes. As an author, that allows you to do some interesting things in teen that are harder to do within an adult genre.
Thank you for doing this AMA, Mr. Sanderson! You're a huge inspiration to me and, though you may not remember me, I met you in Portland on your AMOL tour a few months ago. I had mentioned that I had been working on my book and you told me to listen to your podcast and that there was no excuse not to write! I've taken that to heart and have been writing my fingers off ever since.
But what I've found is that I've been written pages and pages of history about the world that I'm creating as a sort of encyclopedia for myself. My question is thus:
When preparing to write a book, how do go about world building? Do you have everything in mind from the start and just work from there, or do you write everything out to use as a reference later?
I feel like I'm doing too much work on building the history, and not enough time writing the actual story. Therefore my question. Thank you for any response you give!
I am the type that likes to do a lot of worldbuilding ahead of time, before writing. However, I feel it is easy to go too far in this regard. I usually give myself a set amount of time to spend planning a story, then I need to start writing. (At least a few chapters.) By writing some of the book, I can get a better idea of how much worldbuilding I'll need, and which areas need the most work.
One thing to keep in mind is that great worldbuilding is usually that which intersects with character interests and conflicts. Having your history in line can help the world feel rich—but it can also distract if you spend too much time in the book giving dumps of information about historical events that don't have any bearing on the current characters or conflicts.
You don't need to have everything in place before you start. You can always add more as you go. Focus your attention on those aspects of worldbuilding that will help the story be better. Worldbuild religions if those are important to the story; otherwise, spend a shorter amount of time planning them. Same for languages, history, governments, and all the other things you can do.
At some point, you need to start writing. Err on the side of not enough worldbuilding. You can fill more in later.
Way of Kings: Is set on a strangely awesome world. Apparently, a super large storm (like hurricane size) passes across the Earth every few days. This happens in a very predictable cycle. Because of this, there is no soil anywhere, everything is stone. The plants and animals have adapted to this environment, so they are also pretty strange. The plants, for instance will be much like a coral reef. They have shells, or can withdraw into the ground, and do so when the storm comes. They also will do the same thing if you try to step on them and such. So like, as you're walking, the grass around you shrinks into the ground, and pokes back out again when you pass.
I also found out that the Way of Kings is largely about the birth of magic, since Brandon was tired of fantasy books talking about the death of it. As such, most of the magic systems are largely unknown, and will be explored. There was at one previous time, several hundred years past, magic on the earth. However, it's been gone for a while, and is being rediscovered. There are a total of 30 planned magic systems, and the books will jump around chronologically between the present and character's pasts. The technology level is a typical fantasy, Renaissance minus gunpowder. At least I think that's what he said.
To what extent has the economy of the world been planned out? Obviously, there's a refreshingly fair amount of economic activity happening in the novels, often times helping to move along the story. But to what extent do you have it planned out already vs. "I'll come up with it when I need it."
That is to say do you know that place A sells to place B, but place B has nothing to sell to place A and so sells to place C, which sells to place A, influencing the trade patterns of ships. And what the price of a horse is in A vs. B vs. C., or the price of an inn for the night, or the price of a pair of well made boots. Have you worked out how people are taxed and tithed, how the trade routes flow, how comparatively wealthy people are around the world, etc?
Hope I'm still in time! In London, I forgot to ask: why do you so often include some sort of religious government in so many of your worlds? Is it something that comes from looking at how history developed on Earth, or do you think your religious faith influences the way you write/worldbuild? Thank you very much!
There are a lot of reasons. One is because it happened that way so often in our world. Another is my fascination with religion, and wanting to explore what people do with it. The biggest one, however, is related to how I worldbuild. I like things to be very interconnected, as I think that's how real life is. So, when I build a religion, I ask myself what its political ties are, as well as its relationship with things like the magic, economics, and gender roles of the culture.
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.
Hi Brandon! When you're writing/planning a new series, how much time would you say you spend on world building? Do you like to have a good sense of the world before you starting writing or do you adapt and evolve the world as you write?
I do a moderate amount ahead of time, but it depends on the series—most importantly, the length of the book. If I'm writing a shorter work, I can develop more on-the-fly, knowing I can make it all consistent after the fact. If I'm writing in a series, I need much more ahead of time. Developing the world for The Way of Kings took years.
You very clearly make rules for the wine in this world, like the different colors and different alcohol content. I was wondering what the inspiration for that is, and also what some of them are actually made from, because it doesn't seem like grapes?
It's not grapes, it's a local fruit. So we would not probably call it wine, we would probably call it something else. And it's based on my desire to do funky things with world building in every way I can. [The color is a cultural thing.]