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DragonCon 2016 ()
#51 Copy

Questioner

I don't really read much, but-- *laughter* I listen to all of the audio books of all your books... And one thing I really respect that you do is you're very punk rock about how you approach things. Like "Three [prologues], yeah why not?" It actually reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy, like when that came onto the scene it was just "Dang, these guys are doing everything. The best, the newest, the freshest thing." And I was actually curious, have you ever actually played Final Fantasy, where you inspired by it? Especially because the swords are HUGE like in Final Fantasy.

Brandon Sanderson

I will admit, there's a bit of me saying "Man, what would it take to make giant swords realistic?" *laughter*  Like I actually-- No, this is real. Like fantasy art, and particularly Japanese fantasy art, has these oversized weapons that's completely unrealistic. But that's a challenge to me.

I actually played-- Like I have Final Fantasy cred. *laughter* I played One, on the original Nintendo, right? When it was released. And I have actually played them all. Ten is my favorite. As an aside, what I loved about Ten was-- The voice acting really helped, but I loved that-- Like Ten is what taught me that you don't have to have an angsty, depressed character. Angsty, depressed characters are awesome but sometimes you can have a hero who's not angsty and depressed and it works out alright. But I would call myself deeply influenced by that, certaintly.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#52 Copy

Questioner

I was wondering what made you so interested in the super rules-based magic system. Because you're probably one of the best at that, and in every different universe you manage to create a complete unique set of rules-based magic and they're all completely unique.

Brandon Sanderson

So there's a panel on magic tomorrow, so I hope I don't repeat myself too much. But the whole rule-based magic thing came about mostly because I was looking for holes in the market, right? Like, things people weren't doing that I wish they were doing. I often say to new writers, "Find the books that nobody's writing, that you want to read, and try to write those." That sounds-- I mean, that's just very vague. I don't know how useful that is, but that's kind of what I was doing.

But at the same time I like-- there are lots of soft magic systems I like. Uprooted which came out a couple years ago. It's a really great book with a very soft magic system. So it's not like I feel like magic has to be done this way. But I found something I was good at, that I didn't think people were doing enough of, that I felt like people would want to read, and so that kind of became my thing even before I published. Like when I was writing my books only for my fri-- I wrote thirteen before I sold one, if you guys know about that-- And so when I was writing those books it was, "What weird setting is Brandon going to do?" Because fantasy through the 80s and 90s-- I mean, there's lots of great writers. I love them. But I felt like they were really safe with their settings, and they didn't-- they explored other directions really well. But it-- we had a lot of these kind of faux-Medieval, elemental-base magic systems, and cultures that were very "England, but not England." And I'm like, "Well, fantasy should be the most imaginative genre. Where can we push it? Where-- what different things can we do?" And so I tried that during those years. The magic systems kind of grew out of that. Like, "What are people not doing?"

I will say there are some people who have done it even in the past. Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books. I've really liked those. Those kind of have-- it's not scientific, but it's rule-based, which is kind of-- are two different things. Being consistent is one thing, and then trying-- like I try to play off of physics and make it feel like it's playing off of physics when it's really not, because I'm a fantasy writer, right? Like.--

Questioner

In Mistborn it's pretty physics.

Brandon Sanderson

Pretty physics-- But even in Mistborn, right like if you-- the time bubbles-- speed bubbles. Like I have to fudge some things. Like I spoke with my assistants, like, "Alright, what would happen if we build these?" And we're like, "Well first thing would happen is that it would change the wavelengths of light and irradiate people." You know, like this sort of thing. We're like-- we just have to make a rule that it doesn't irradiate people. You can't just take a flashlight and melt people. Yes, you just have to come up with some-- And so for me, a lot of the big difference, I say, between a fantasy writer and a science fiction writer is, the science fiction writer is forward-- each step trying to be plausible-- and the fantasy writer a lot of times drafts it backward. "Here's a cool effect. Can I explain this in a way that makes it feel like it's real and logical?" But I'm working backward from the fact, not forward from what's happening here.

The Book Smugglers Rithmatist Interview ()
#53 Copy

The Book Smugglers

Do you read YA speculative fiction? Which books or authors are your favorites in the young readers category?

Brandon Sanderson

I've already mentioned a bunch of my favorites, but I could go on! I'm quite fond of Westerfeld's work. I think it's quite marvelous. I've read Terry Pratchett's teen books. If you've only read his adult work, you're really missing out. He is quite good. I've also enjoyed James Dashner's and Eva Ibbotson's books.

I got into a lot of the YA classics in the late 90s, well after everyone else had been into them. Things like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen. Jane Yolen has long been one of my favorite writers. There's just a lot of exciting things happening in YA, and I feel inspired by a lot of the works by those authors I've mentioned

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
#54 Copy

Arkm21ebr

Are there any MtG planes that have had an influence on you and share some characteristics with any of the planets in the cosmere?

Brandon Sanderson

It's hard to say how much influence MTG has had on me, since I started playing in high school--right around the time when I started writing. I don't ever remember seeing the connected shared worlds thing, and connecting it to the cosmere. (I see that as more directly influenced by Asimov and Stephen King connecting their books together) but it's totally possible that MTG was an unconscious influence.

Salt Lake City ComicCon 2017 ()
#55 Copy

Questioner

What inspired you to start writing?

Brandon Sanderson

It was the books I was reading. I wanted to learn to do what they had done. Anne McCaffrey was a big part of it. But I was reading it, I was like, these books have had such a profound effect on me, I want to learn to do that for other people.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#56 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I'll be reading to you from one of the interludes, which are interesting things to write.

So if you haven't read Stormlight-- Epic fantasy has this sort of problem, right? I love epic fantasy. I grew up reading epic fantasy. It's my first love of genres. And I have an advantage over some of the people writing epic fantasy in that, like you know, [George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan], in that I've read [George Martin and Robert Jordan], and they don't have that advantage... Robert Jordan couldn't read Robert Jordan and necessarily had to write the stories, and I feel like at-- when I sat down to approach Stormlight Archive, which I kind of want to be my big epic, right? Hopefully I don't do anything bigger than this... *laughter* 520,000 words long. The writers in the crowd-- Yeah, 520 is pretty long. It's a quarter longer than Words of Radiance was. I am trimming it in my fifth revision. That's where I normally trim. So maybe we'll get it down to like 470 or 450 or something. But at 540... *inaudible* wants to go up. So I looked at these epic fantasy books that had come out before it-- series-- and I said, "What can I learn from them? How can I prevent myself from following in some of the same problems?" And I noticed that a lot of these big epic fantasies have this issue, kind of mid-series, where the side characters kind of take over the story, and the story deviates from its focus on to a side character focus for a while. It seems to happen very commonly. And as a writer my instincts said what's happening is the writer is wanting to show the expansiveness of the world, which is one of the big things we try to do in epic fantasy, right? They're trying to show the breadth of it, and they do this by adding characters from lots of different walks of life and different parts of the world. Which is a good instinct, right? It's gonna give you that sense of size and scale to the epic fantasy. But what happens is you kind of promise them these side stories will have their resolutions, and as you're pushing kind of towards the ending of your series you realize, "I need to tie in all these side characters." And so you end up with these books that are really focused on side characters, wrapping up their stories, and it feels like it creates a speed bump in the series. And so I said, "Well what can I do with like the format of my books that will mitigate this? Is there something I can do?" So I was kind of-- I'm a big fan of...

My thought was, I would write the books and I would find natural breakpoints inside of each book where it wouldn't feel like as much of a speed bump to kind of go off to somewhere else. Like, one of the problems with like some of these side stories would be like you're really into one of the main characters' stories and then it's like, "And then here's viewpoint from random person that you don't care about," right? Which you do care about! Some of the side characters in Wheel of Time were some of my favorite. But it's just that momentum you've got on the main characters, and then it feels like it's a break, we don't see them forever. So I try to find natural break points, that I would then insert completely random things from around the world, but I would only give myself, like, two of those per break and then I have to be done. And you know-- this forcing myself in this format with the interludes I felt like allowed-- would allow the reader to be able to know what's coming, so that, you know, if you can anticipate-- if you're like, "Alright, we have our break now. We can go to the side characters. Really enjoy them. Get to see the breadth of the world," And then we can come back to the main story and know that it's coming back very quickly. And also know that these side characters aren't going to take over the story. That there's only going to be this space for them. And you also kind of know-- for those -- I do know some people who read an entire Stormlight Archive book and then go back and read the interludes, as if they-- They're basically a short story collection in the world of Roshar. Now, skipping them is dangerous because I usually use the interludes for one important character. And each interlude has one really relevant character for each book. So in the first one, Szeth has interludes, right? And he's a very relevant character. And in this one-- well you'll see who it is in this one.

But I also like doing readings from the interludes because reading the interludes don't spoil the book nearly as much for those who haven't read the first ones, or things like that.

General Reddit 2017 ()
#57 Copy

kakarotoks

I've searched this subreddit for someone mentioning Jane Elliot before, but nobody has, so I decided to share this.

I was explaining The Stormlight Archive to a friend yesterday when he told me that BS must have been influenced by Jane Elliot, so I researched her and found the wikipedia article about her.

This woman was a school teacher who decided to teach her class about racism the day after Martin Luther King's death by segregating the class between light eyed and dark eyed children. It's a very interesting exercise and I love how the darkeyed vs. lighteyed issue was actually experienced for real on this earth, not just in the SA books. You can read more about the experiment on the wikipedia page or in this article.

The coolest part of this is that the 3rd time Jane Elliot did that experiment, she filmed it and it was made into a documentary in 1970 with the title : The Eye of the Storm

I think it's a pretty cool coincidence (probably influence rather than coincidence) and I thought I'd share!

Brandon Sanderson

The study sounds familiar to me, so I'm sure I've read it before--but I can't remember if it was like this (in reference to the SA, which I'd already started working on) or if I read about it before, and it lodged in my brain as something to try some day.

Sasquan 2015 ()
#58 Copy

Questioner

The entire time I was reading through The Rithmatist I couldn't help but think it was inspired by Fullmetal Alchemist and Tor recently posted something on Facebook comparing a lot of your works to Final Fantasy, so I was just wondering how much video games and anime you *audio obscured*

Brandon Sanderson

Good question, I've played all of the Final Fantasies, I have never watched Fullmetal Alchemist *crowd goes woah* ...I know... *crowd laughs* Peter, he worked for TokyoPop, he was a manga editor and so he is very proficient in his anime and manga and he's told me Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is my must-watch sort of thing. I've never seen it, but it sounds like they are doing the sort of stuff I like, so I need to make sure I do that. But I have played all the Final Fantasies. I mean, I've been a gamer for forever. My fun story about this, and we might have to end here is, when I was 11 my dad sent me out on an airplane to visit my uncle for the first time I've been away from my family on my own, I was so excited. He handed me two hundred dollars, like "Pay for your food, don't let them pay for anything. This is so you can pay for your keep." And so then every time we went out for food or something my uncle insisted on paying for everything, he wouldn't take my money. I'm a little eleven-year-old I can't get him to take the money. So at the end I'm like "My dad is going to kill me. What do I do with this two hundred dollars?" He took me to the mall and said, "Alright! Find something to do with your two hundred dollars." *laughter* That's where I got my Nintendo. *more laughter* This was, what '86? Or something like that. I got my original Nintendo Entertainment System which when I-- No, I sold that and bought a Super Nintendo, my brother sold that and bought himself a Playstation. We sold each system to pay for the next one, so in my brother's PS4 there's a little bit of my original Nintendo.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#59 Copy

Anushia Kandasivam

Stories are one of the most powerful ways of bringing about change. In your opinion, how can authors strike a balance in their storytelling between raising awareness about things like violence against women, while telling an engaging story, without being pedantic or preachy?

Do you think it's important for influential authors such as yourself, who are read all over the world, to make a conscious effort to include characters in your stories that show reinforcements of respecting women as people and as human beings?

Brandon Sanderson

Definitely a big "yes" to your last one.

This is a big issue, and I'm glad you asked it, because it's something I've thought about quite a bit. At its core, it comes down to, "How do you write a story that explores difficult questions without preaching." Because, at the end of the day, we're picking up an epic fantasy book because we want to go to a new world, enjoy this new world, and have an interesting adventure. And we're not picking up it up because they want Brandon Sanderson to lecture them. And certainly, there are authors I do read to be lectured. So it's not a blanket statement, "This is how someone should do something."

But for me, there's a couple of core tenets. One is the one I've already mentioned. Which is, if I'm going to put a character in (which I think I should put a wide variety of characters in) approaching questions from different directions, make sure that I am researching that person's viewpoint, people who have that viewpoint in the real world, and make sure I'm doing the job that they would want me to do with their position, their subculture, their belief structure, and things like this.

But that kind of plays into another big... pillar of what I think my duty as a writer to do, which I've expressed it in the books, I've gotten it through things I've heard other authors write. Which is "Raise questions. Don't give answers." I believe that if you are raising questions, and having multiple people who are all sympathetic disagreeing on this question, or struggling with this question in different ways, it innately makes the reader start to say, "Well, what do I think about that? And is it something that I need to think about more?" And not dodging these topics, but also not coming down with long sermons about them, I think, is the way that I want to be able to approach them.

I often share this story, so I apologize if some of you heard it before. But the book that got me into science fiction and fantasy was Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. And Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly, is criminally under-read in the science fiction/fantasy community. I have read it again as an adult, it holds up, it is a fantastic novel. What made Dragonsbane work for me? I was a fourteen-year-old boy who was handed this novel by his English teacher, and she said, "I think you are reading below your level. I think you would like something a little more challenging. Why don't you try one of these books on my shelf." And that's the one that I ended up picking up. This book should not have worked for a fourteen-year-old boy, if you read the Cliffnotes on how to get a reluctant reader to read books.

Dragonsbane, if you haven't read it, is about a middle-aged woman who is having a crisis as she tries to balance having a family and learning her magic. Her teacher has told her she can be way better at the magic if she would dedicate more time to it, but her family takes a lot of her time. And this is her main character conflict through the story. Now, it also involves going and slaying a dragon, and things like this. And it's a wild adventure with some excellent worldbuilding, and a really interesting premise. The story is about having to kill a dragon, her partner has been asked to slay a dragon, he's the only person who's ever slayed a dragon, but he killed a dragon when he was in his 20's, and now he's middle-aged, and he's like, "I can't do that like I used to anymore." And together, they go down and try to figure out how to kill a dragon when you're an old person. But this story should, on paper, not have worked for me, but it was the most amazing thing I'd ever read in my life.

Meanwhile, my mother graduated first in her class in accounting in a year where she was the only woman in most of her accounting classes. She had been offered, as she graduated, a prestigious scholarship to go become a CPA. And she actually turned that down because of me. She was having me as a child, and she decided that she would put off her education and career for a few years. She is now the head accountant for the city of Idaho Falls power plant, so she did go back to her career, but she put that off for me. Now, as... a middle school kid, if you told me the story, I'd be like, "Of course she did. I'm awesome. I'm me. Of course she would do that. That's the right thing to do." I read this book, and I'm like, "Oh, ditch your kids, woman. You could be a wizard!" I got done with this book, and I realized: I just read a fantasy book about slaying a dragon. High fantasy, all the stuff that should have just been brain popcorn. And yet, I got done with this book, and I understood my mother better. And it hit me like a ton of bricks, that a story could teach me about my mom in some ways better than living with her for fourteen years, because I was a stupid kid who wouldn't listen, and assumed he had the answers. But when I saw through someone else's eyes, who was very different from myself, that changed the way I saw the world.

This is why stories are important. This is why it is important-- if you're writers out there, it's why your stories are important. When you ask, "Well, what can I write that's new?" You can write who you are. And that will be new. And that is valuable in and of itself. Those stories have value because you're telling them. And this is what stories do. And this is how, I think, I want to be approaching telling stories. I want people to read the stories, and I don't want them to feel lectured to. But I want them to see the world through the eyes of someone who sees it in a very different way. Maybe that'll make them, make you, make all of us think a little harder about some of the things in our lives.

Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing ()
#60 Copy

Questioner

Speaking of Dave Wolverton, did he inspire you to explore unusual avenues of magic?

Brandon Sanderson

The question is, speaking of Dave, Dave Wolverton/Farland, he uses several pen names, did he inspire me to seek out new avenues of magic, because The Runelords is one of the best magic systems in fantasy. I usually credit it as the best magic system in fantasy. The thing is, I hadn't read Dave, until I took his class. In his class I was writing Dragonsteel, so White Sand and Elantris were done. So yes, like reading his, I'm like, "Wow, I need to up my game." Garth Nix did the same thing to me. I read him during that era, I'm like, "Sabriel's great, I need to up my game." I would step back and credit Robert Jordan in part. You might say, "Oh, his magic system is a little bit soft, not as hard." But it was a lot harder than the things that were around the time. Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books were another big inspiration for that. And partially it was me saying, "I don't think fantasy's doing this sort of thing enough. It's something I'm interested in and good at. I want to try bringing it to fantasy." But yeah, Dave's books, the Runelords, that magic system is incredible.

DrogaKrolow.pl interview ()
#61 Copy

DrogaKrolow

When was the concept of cosmere, one big Universe that connects all your stories was born? Do you remember the very beginning, the first thought of it?

Brandon Sanderson

I can start to talk about this because there's a couple of things. I remember being a teenager and reading books, and I would always insert my own characters into other writers' books. This is the beginnings of Brandon the Writer. So I would read, like, a-- an Anne McCaffrey book and I would insert my own characters and eventually Hoid started jumping between all the books I was reading. And so when I started writing my own books, I started inserting him myself. I blame that. I also blame how Asimov connected Foundation and the Robots series. When I read that it kinda blew my mind, and I wanted to do something like that.

I knew when I started writing Elantris I was going to do something like this, I wanted to start connecting everything together. I put Hoid into it and stuff like that, but as I've gone back through my notes, it was really during the years following that I really designed the cosmere. Like when I first wrote Elantris, I had no idea how I was going connect it all, I just knew I was going to. But like-- You know Shardpools. I put the pool in and then I'm like "I don't know what it is". By the time I got to Mistborn I knew all this stuff and fortunately Mistborn was the first one-- Mistborn I was working on when Elantris sold, right? And so I was able to go back and revise Elantris to make sure it matched everything that was coming for the future.

Though I do have to admit, when I first wrote Elantris, a lot of things I'm like "Ah this'll connect somehow. I'll put this in. Sure”.

DrogaKrolow

And by now, can you say that you already know how Cosmere will end?

Brandon Sanderson

I do know how The Cosmere will end, yes. I'm an outliner. It could always change. But I have-- So you know the core series, Stormlight and Mistborn, and the last book of The Cosmere is the last Mistborn book, which I have an outline for. So, we shall see. At least chronologically it's the last. I don’t know, I write a lot and so who knows. Yeah, you know, keeping track of it all, I’m sorry.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#62 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Priests as Scapegoats

I do think that someone being a different religion from yourself makes them a good scapegoat. We tend to be put off by anyone who is too devout toward religion, even if their passion for it mimics our own passion for something we are dedicated to. It's easy to divide ourselves along religious lines.

Once again, I think I need to mention that I didn't write this comment (or the ones about not judging) into the book as an intentional message. It just seemed appropriate for the characters to say or consider, and I happen to agree with them. What I think is important influences the book. How can it help but do otherwise?

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#63 Copy

Questioner

One of my favorite aspects of your books is you always have this character that kind of has a submissive personality starting out and they evolve into a more dominant personality. Do you have an author for a series that kind of inspired this?

Brandon Sanderson

Inspires me? He says frequently I have a character who's in a submissive position that becomes dominant through the course of the series. Do I have an author that I'm relying on specifically. No more than the "Hero's Journey", the general idea of the person growing and becoming master of their domain where once they were not. I don't think I have a specific person I'm looking at for that. But it is a fun type of story to tell, just because of the way you can show progression with a character.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#64 Copy

Questioner

We know that 10 is an odd number in the cosmere. And I noticed that the Lord Ruler specifically released 10 Allomantic metals. Was there a reason behind that or is that just a coincidence?

Brandon Sanderson

No, that was a coincidence right there.  Ten is an odd cosmere number for Roshar, and there are reasons why this is. . .

Questioner

Well it wasn't just Roshar, it was also Nalthis in Warbreaker. 

Brandon Sanderson

Nope, that one is a coincidence. Sometimes they just pop up that way. Part of the original reason that Roshar was 10 was I was going for a 10 day like Robert Jordan did, which I thought was cool. But then I ended up writing the Wheel of Time so I'm like 'I have to do something different now'. So it turned into the two five-day weeks. Two five-days becoming a 50 day month.

Ben McSweeney AMA ()
#65 Copy

tritlo

What is your favourite drawing so far? What is your next project?

Ben McSweeney

I think Shardplate is my favorite page. My favorite drawing... I think I'll have to think on that.

My next Brandon project is, unless something breaks, Stormlight III. Of course, Shadows of Self just came out, and Bands of Mourning will hit the shelves early next year, so those are the next things to see print.

tritlo

Nice! Are there any other artists that inspire you in particular?

Ben McSweeney

Oh gosh, lots and far too many to list!

If I was hoping to emulate anyone in my Stormlight work, it'd be artists like Alan Lee and John Howe for Peter Jackson, or Ralph McQuarrie and Johnston for George Lucas, or Ron Cobb and Chris Foss or Syd Meade for Ridley Scott.

I think Brandon's got the legs. But we've got a long way to go. :)

General Reddit 2017 ()
#66 Copy

Chapmello22

Brandon Sanderson's city of Kharbranth from "The Way of Kings" looks jus tlike Positano, Italy.

Brandon Sanderson

I actually wrote the book without a specific place in mind--just trying to build off of the setting, and create cities that would work with the highstorms. Once I gave the book to Isaac (my mapmaker) he went and looked for real-world inspirations for drawing out cities. I'm pretty sure this is one of them, though I'd have to grab him and get the photo references to know for certain.

It was actually one of those gratifying moments, when something I've imagined and described turns out to not only be plausible--it turns out to have been done in our world.

Standard disclaimer, though: It's totally possible I saw a picture like this at some point in my life, and drew inspiration without remembering.

Tel Aviv Signing ()
#67 Copy

Questioner

First of all, did Mormonism play a role in building the Cosmere at all?

Brandon Sanderson

It certainly did... Not really a conscious one, but my faith really influences who I am. Like, one of the big tenets of my religion is this idea that we're all gods in embryo that are then growing up to be like our Father. And so you can see in the Cosmere, it's really about the power of God given to men and what they do with it and how it kinda messes things up if it's not done right. I think that's probably deeply influenced by my religion. 

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
#68 Copy

Questioner

Were you ever influenced by the Silmarillion?

Brandon Sanderson

Excellent question. I didn't read Tolkien until late. I tried Tolkien when I was young, and I bounced off of it because I was not a really good reader at the time. And I didn't read Tolkien 'til college. I didn't read the Silmarillion 'til grad school. So, while I would say "Yes," I am not as Tolkien-influenced as a lot of writers are. I'm more influenced by the writers who were influenced by Tolkien. Like Robert Jordan, and people like this, who were very Tolkien-influenced. And I read them growing up. And Tolkien, I was finally able to read and really get an appreciation for, but it was later in my life.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
#70 Copy

Questioner

Did serving your mission in Korea help you in, like, worldbuilding? Kind of give you-- get you out of your own mindset?

Brandon Sanderson

Getting out of an-- into another culture is the number one thing for helping me world build. And I still-- the linguistics of things I create are often influenced by Korea.

YouTube Livestream 14 ()
#71 Copy

Questioner

Did Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time have any influence on your coming up with Syl?

Brandon Sanderson

I get this a lot. Here's my dirty secret: I never played Ocarina of Time. I really am embarrassed by that, because I have played a lot of Zelda games, and they're all great. A lot of people are shocked by that, because they list that as their favorite, and I never played that.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#72 Copy

Questioner

What you do with religions in your world, in your stories more generally. *audio obscured* Tokien, he says his books are fundamentally Catholic works, but he never mentions religion explicitly. It kind of just breathes religious air, is the way I describe it. So like you address religion in your books with the characters, sometimes positively sometimes negatively. How do you deal with that in your world and in your books, like with the air that they breathe kind of, to steal the metaphor?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah I just-- The characters are everything to the books. What they are passionate about becomes what the book is about. For me my job in writing is to explore different sides of issues through the eyes of different people. That said, who I am shapes what I am interested in and what ends up in the books. I think at the end of the day I think you could call my books fundamentally Mormon books, in the way that Tolkien's were fundamentally Catholic, because I can't separate myself from my religion. I am trying to explore the world through the eyes of people who see the world differently from the way I see it.

Questioner

So you would say you're-- Through your characters-- It comes out through how different people would approach it.

Brandon Sanderson

That's my goal.

Questioner

So how then, does Mormonism affect, like you said-- In what way would you say your books are fundamentally Mormon?

Brandon Sanderson

Well if the philosopher in me steps aside, and the writer in me just wrote what the writer is passionate about. If the trained English major says-- One of the biggest fundamental tenets of Mormonism is deification of normal people, right? Mormonism believes that we are gods in embryo and we are here to learn and have experience so we will be better in the afterlife, and growing and we'll eventually-- Joseph Smith taught "What Man is God once Was, and what God is Man may Become" maybe not "will be" but "may become" That's what he said. And so if you look at my books there's a whole bunch of deification going on, right? That's like fundamental to the cosmere is "What do people do with the power of the gods when they're given it?" And I would say that's totally my upbringing that made me fascinated about that. Does that make sense?

Questioner

Yeah, I never thought about that. Fantasy really lends itself to that.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it does. But I mean deification of a normal person is a very Christian tenet also, it's just one person did it, and it was a person who was God before, but it is still part of that whole thing which is part of why I think Christianity and Fantasy ended up kind of hand in hand.

Shadows of Self Chicago signing ()
#73 Copy

Questioner

For this story, with Dalinar hiring the guy who shot at him with an arrow, was that at all based on Genghis Khan?

Brandon Sanderson

It was, that's where I got it. [...] I used to, when I first published <The Way of Kings?>, "You guys recognize this" and no one did, so I stopped talking about it. He was famous for not only that *incomprehensible*, but for recruiting people from every battlefield he went to. The better soldier you were, the more he wanted you in his army.

A Memory of Light Portland signing ()
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Questioner

How much of your own books were you consciously looking at books like Jordan and saying, "I like that kind of world," and trying to create that kind of world in your own stuff?

Brandon Sanderson

I spent most of my early career, as I kind of implied earlier, reacting against books that I had really liked. The main purpose for this being that I felt that Robert Jordan and various other authors really covered that type of story and that type of world really well. And so I said, "Well, what other room is there to explore?" And so you see me reacting against.

For instance, Mistborn is a direct reaction to the Wheel of Time. Mistborn began as the question, "What if Rand were to fail?" That's what spun me into creating that entire book series: what if the prophesied hero were not able to accomplish what they were supposed to accomplish? And that became the foundation of that book series. So you can see where I was going and things like that. A lot of times I will read something, and if it's done very well I'll react against it, and if it’s done very poorly then I’ll say, "Oh, I want to try and do this the right way". And both of those are kind of an interesting style of reaction to storytelling. So I would say I was deeply influenced, but it's more in the realm of, "Hey what have they done? What have they covered really well, and where can I go to explore new ground?"

Idaho Falls signing ()
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Questioner

What happened to Rand? He's not dead?

Brandon Sanderson

So Robert Jordan wrote everything from Rand stumbling out of Shayol Ghul until the ending, with the exception of the Perrin scenes, which I added to that epilogue. Harriet says--his wife--says he sat laughing to himself as he wrote the scene with the pipe, but he did not tell her what it means.

Questioner

Pipe?

Brandon Sanderson

The pipe where he-- he lit the pipe just by thinking about it. 

Questioner

That's also something-- he's using the Tel'aran'rhiod power to light it in the real world?

Brandon Sanderson

I do not know. Now, I have my theories. I think that because Rand touched the Pattern directly, when he was doing what he was doing, that he now has influence over the Pattern. 

Questioner

So he can change and manipulate things? But he's-

Brandon Sanderson

That's what I think, but Robert Jordan didn't say, and he did write those scenes himself before he passed away. So, I wrote the actual Last Battle-

Questioner

All of it? That was so epic.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. So he took over-- where he left was right when Rand stumbles out. The Last Battle chunk before that was me. He wrote Mat in the Tower of Ghenjei... He wrote most of Egwene in The Gathering Storm, and then little snippets of Egwene all the way through. Perrin was almost one hundred percent me; he didn't leave much on Perrin. With Rand, he wrote little chunks here and there...

So I do not know. Now, I can tell you that there in the notes that when the balefire streams, when they crossed, intertwined [Rand's] soul with Moridin's soul. And one thing that his assistant said is that the [soul] that wanted to live found the body that was going to live, and the [soul] that wanted to die found the body that was dying. And that's what happened.

Questioner

They swapped bodies because he had this thing-- Why didn't he go in and say "hey everybody?" ...He didn't want to be with his family and friends anymore?

Brandon Sanderson

I think he probably came back-- He just needed a break. I'm pretty sure that he eventually let them know, but he just needed a little time. So, but I don't know for sure.

Questioner

I thought it was super cool, going in, the chase between Slayer and Perrin.

Brandon Sanderson

I had a lot of fun with that scene.

Questioner

...Also, you told me last time I saw you, that Tel'aran'rhiod is basically-- Is that kind of where you got the idea of the parallel universe in the other books?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, Shadesmar. Shadesmar you can tie directly back to my love of Tel'aran'rhiod. It's kind of mixed with that in my love of some ancient Greek philosophy things that are not that important, but yeah.

Words of Radiance Washington, DC signing ()
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Questioner

What theologies and philosophies did you draw on to create Vorinism?

Brandon Sanderson

Vorinism is a hodge podge of a lot of different things. Part of is the Jewish Kabbalah--

Questioner

The mysticism of Jewish--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, the Jewish mysticism. Part of it is Jewish mysticism, part of is [Islam], but there are a lot of things that are just drawing from philosophies rather than theologies. I'm trying to remember what specifically we were doing... But the main concept was the idea of a church that had been subsumed by a monarchy to the point that the [the church] would be very servile. And that concept led me to a lot of the Vorinism discussions.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner

I've always thought in Steelheart, or in the Reckoners series, what influenced your characters like that, like was there comic books behind that? 

Brandon Sanderson

I've read a lot of comics, so you can find--

Questioner

Any specific ones that influenced you?

Brandon Sanderson

Watchman influenced everyone. Kingdom Come is one of first that made me really think about comics. My favorite was the old Eastman and Laird original Turtles. But I don't know if that's as much inspiration as me just enjoying it. I don't know. I like the graphic novels like the Killing Joke... that feel like a self-contained story.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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Clippership14

I'm really curious where the inspiration for Elantris came from. I really enjoyed that book. =)

Brandon Sanderson

As with all of my books, there wasn't one single inspiration, but a number of them. A few of them here were: Chinese and its writing system, and how it relates to Japanese and Korean. The difference between teaching others of your faith in order to help them, as opposed to teaching them in order to aggrandize yourself. What it would be like to live in a leper colony. A king made into a beggar. A woman who, like a friend of mine, felt she was too tall and too smart for men to find her attractive. Magical servants that didn't look like any I'd read about before. And the thought of telling a story about someone who was basically a good, normal person—without a deep, dark past or terrible hidden flaw—who got trust into the worst situation I could imagine.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
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Caderade24

I was wondering in which ways has the LDS religion/theology influenced your writing? I mean, aside from trying to keep your books relatively clean and accessible. For example, it seems like the oaths of the Knights Radiant have some similarity to LDS covenants.

Brandon Sanderson

I don't think being LDS can help but influence my writing, though I personally follow Tolkien's philosophy: I stay away from specific allegory. I just try to write the best story I can, staying true to what the characters believe (or don't believe.)

So while I don't doubt that people can find parallels, I leave that for readers to theorize about. Most are not intentional, but that doesn't mean they aren't real.

Jofwu

Are there any specific ways you feel like it has shaped your writing in a more general sense? An obvious example, I expect, is the general avoidance of explicit language and sexual content. (something I, for one, appreciate) Does anything else like that come to mind?

Of course I mean that in a roundabout way. It would be rather strong to say that Mormonism directly affects the writing you produce. I'm sure you don't write explicit sex scenes because you are not comfortable with it (or whatever) rather than because the church says not to. But certainly it has shaped who you are, and you shape the stories. So I assume it's possible to trace a few lines from one end to the other.

Brandon Sanderson

You're right; I think these things are possible to trace--and the example you give is a good one. I've described the lack of sex scenes in my books the same way you just did.

I'd say that certainly, the sense of hope in my books is shaped by my faith. I didn't do it intentionally, but if you look at Mistborn, you find lots of quotes about faith in the face of trials--which is a very religious way of looking at the world. Some of my more secular friends might point out a fallacy in this thinking; they'd say that while determination is an important human emotion, doubling down on something just because you want to believe is the opposite of being self-reflective.

My belief in what makes someone heroic, or a good leader, is probably also very directly influenced by my upbringing and belief.

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

You should notice the comments about unity popping up in religious scenes throughout the book. Omin spoke of it before, and Hrathen often thinks–or mentions–the concept. When designing the religions of this book, I really wanted them to feel authentic. If you look at our own world, one thing is obvious (I think) about the way major religions work. They always fragmented–different sects of the same teachings often rise up and squabble with each other. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity share obvious links. In a similar way, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other eastern religions share some common roots.

So, in designing the Korathi and Derethi churches, I decided to give them a common ancestor–Shu-Keseg. All three religions came from the teachings of a single Jindoeese man. (You might note that the word "Shu," as used in connection with Shu-Korath and Shu-Dereth, doesn't seem to fit the linguistic styles of Aonic or Fjordell. This is an intentional reference to the Jindoeese commonality of their origin.)

The central tenet of Keseg's teachings was unity, and his followers began to squabble about what he meant by "Unity." Hence we have the loving, inclusive Korathi; the aggressive, expansionist Derethi; and the contemplative, didactic Jindoeese.

Of course, Jesker and the Mysteries are a completely different religious line. We'll get more into them later. . . .

Arcanum Unbounded Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

A lot of the magical methods you create in your novels carry with it the birth of nobility.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

Questioner

And that reminds me a lot of the magic martial arts *audio unclear* Aside from the big influence of Dragonsbane and other novels on your fantasy novels have you drawn any other inspirations--

Brandon Sanderson

Oh yeah.

Questioner

--spiritually from Asian, Korean or Chinese *audio obscured*

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. The question is, have I drawn any inspirations from Eastern literature. Specifically he asked for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. *speaks Korean* I lived in Korea for two years and I speak Korean. Mormon missionary, right? So I speak Korean, I actually do have a Korean minor. And even before that, Hong Kong kung-fu movies. OH YEAH. *laughter* I love Hong Kong movies particularly-- You know the modern stuff is really beautiful, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero or House of Flying Daggers and stuff like that, but even the old stuff, it's a little bit silly. Yeah, I just ate that stuff up. Jackie Chan. You can't go wrong with Jackie Chan, right? But even the stuff that's just a little ridiculous I love. It's just-- It's cool. There's something about it. So there's that. You're also going to find echoes of RPGs I've played, obviously. I mean I've worked hard because I don't want my books to feel like a video game. But I grew up playing video games, right? That's one of my major influences. Steelheart's going to feel like a comic book, right? And some of my books are going to feel like that. It's a part of who I am, it's part of my geek upbringing, right? So yeah, definitely. There's a lot of-- now that I have become a writer through my twenties there's a lot of different influences. The Alethi are based slightly on the Mongolians specifically-- But there's no horses, which let's me divorce it a little bit. People always expect Mongolians to be a nomadic horse people but you just don't have enough horses. If you guys have studied Subutai, if you know him, a Mongolian general, I based Dalinar a little bit on Subutai. But then you are mixing in Hebrew influences and Arab influences. That's kind of my mash-up that's creating the Alethi. And so yeah,you are going to find all kinds of weird things. Art of War is of course a big influence on how I approach warfare and things. So yes, yes, it's there.

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Two

Raoden is an expert at manipulating his surroundings. This doesn't make him "manipulative," in my mind. (You can read about a real manipulator in my next book.) Raoden simply knows how to take what he is given and make the best from them. In a way, this is the soul of creativity. Raoden is like a master composer or an artist–except, where they take images or sounds and combine them to suit their needs, he takes the situation and adapts it to create something useful. Outside of Elantris, he took his father's edicts and turn them against the man. However, thrown into a terrible situation like the pit of Elantris, Raoden really has an opportunity to shine.

He's kind of like a magic unto himself. I've known people a little like him in this world–people who can defy convention and reality, and just make things work. Somehow, Raoden can make three out of two. He can take the pieces and combine them in new ways, creating something greater than most people thought possible.

In short, he's the perfect hero for this kind of book. When I was writing Elantris in the winter of 1999 and spring of 2000, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at BYU. The book I'd written before it was called The Sixth Incarnation of Pandora–undoubtedly the strangest, most-un-Brandon-like book I've ever constructed. Pandora was a SFstory about a man made immortal though careful–and expensive–application of nanotechnology. The process slowly drove him mad.

Pandora was a dark, grisly book. The man character could withstand alarming injuries without dying. One prime theme of the novel was dealing with the psyche of a man who could slaughter thousands of people while being shot to pieces, then find himself reconstructed a short time later. It was a rather violent book–probably the most disturbing I've ever written.

When I got done with that book, I reacted against it by wanting to devise a plot that didn't depend at all on violence. Elantris was the result. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who could succeed without having to beat up on the people who opposed him. I took away his physical abilities and his royal resources, leaving him with only his wits and his determination.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
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Questioner

Do you read non-fiction at all?  I'm a history grad student.  I'm reading some of your stuff.  I was kind of wondering if you ever did get inspiration from history or things like that?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes I do like them.  I really like pop history books.  So if you've got any good suggestions, just like you know, history of war, history of. . .  Honestly, I end up at the Barnes and Noble browsing their discount things for pop history and pop science books, and you find really interesting ones there a lot of the time.  

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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Jared_A

Brandon, how do you feel your identity and upbringing as a Mormon has affected your work?

Elantris, for instance, centers around a magic system that has essentially been broken because something in the world has changed—a "new revelation" if you will. And then Mistborn has at its core a set of holy writings that have been altered by an evil force.

These things seem decidely Mormon to me, or at least informed from a Mormon perspective. Do you feel that is the case?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't set out to put anything specifically Mormon into my books, but who I am definitely influences what I write and how I write it. I'm always curious at the things people dig out of my writing—neither of the two points you mention above are things that I was conscious of, though they certainly do make interesting points now that you look at them.

My goal in storytelling is first and foremost to be true to the characters—their passions, beliefs, and goals. No matter what those are. I'm not trying to make a point consciously ever in my writing—though I do think that good stories should raise questions and make readers think.

Who I am as a person heavily influences what I write, and I draw from everything I can find—whether it be LDS, Buddhist, Islamic, or Atheist. It's all jumbled up there in that head of mine, and comes out in different characters who are seeking different things.

In other words, I'm not setting out to be like C.S. Lewis and write parables of belief. I'm trying more what Tolkien did (not, of course, meaning to compare myself favorably with the master) in that I tell story and setting first, and let theme and meaning take care of itself.

Fiction doesn't really exist—certainly doesn't have power—until it is read. You create the story in your head when you read it, and so your interpretations (and your pronunciations on the names) are completely valid in your telling of the story. The things you come up with may be things I noticed and did intentionally, they may be subconscious additions on my part, or they may simply be a result of your interaction with the text. But all three are valid.

Jared_A

On a different but related note, I really love that you honestly look at religious convictions in your books and that you don't portray such convictions in a shallow way.

Brandon Sanderson

Regardless of a person's beliefs, I think they would have to admit that religion and spirituality has played a large part in our development as a people. It's a very important thing to so many of us—and I also think that for most of us, our beliefs are nowhere near as simple as they seem when viewed from the outside. I appreciate your praise here, though I think I still have a lot to learn. There's a real line to walk in expressing a character's religious views without letting them sound preachy—the goal is to make the character real, but not bore the reader.

Shire Post Mint Mistborn Coin AMA ()
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Jazzy-Kandra

I've noticed that the glyphs seemed to take inspiration from Arabic word art and calligraphy... Do you think you could talk a little more about how it inspired the making of glyphs and the art behind them? Did you draw from any other written languages (like Chinese calligraphy) when creating this system?

Isaac Stewart

Good question! The biggest influence was definitely Arabic word art and calligraphy. That's something Brandon and I wanted to do from the start with the glyphs, and I realized that in order to make both glyphs and word art work, I'd have to take things a step farther and figure out the building blocks of the glyphs. I can't think of any other systems off the top of my head that I drew direct inspiration from.

The second biggest influence was the need for the glyphs to be symmetrical to reflect the holiness of symmetry within Vorin culture. I had an old iPod touch (it was new back then) and a simple symmetry app. When I found myself with a few minutes, I'd spend time sketching interesting shapes. I saved the best of these for use in The Way of Kings. Using those as a base, I started coming up with calligraphic shapes that would allow me the look I wanted, and over a bit of time, I developed a lexicon of shapes to use in the creation of glyphs. This helped keep the style mostly consistent from one glyph to another. Though there are levels of complexity in glyphs, I believe--everything from creating a glyphward for religious purposes to scrawling the shorthand version of a glyph on a map to indicate whose army is where.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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Anushia Kandasivam

So, Brandon, you just introduced a really amazing female character [Spensa] to us. Your female characters throughout all your books are resourceful and independent. Some of them are leaders, some of them go through very interesting journeys of growth and self-discovery. Some of your female characters, like Vin and Sarene, they have mentors and teachers who are men, but their decisions about who to be and what to do are always their own. They always have agency. Was it a conscious choice to write these female characters and their journeys like this, and can you tell us if the process was easy or difficult?

Brandon Sanderson

So, there are a number of different responses to this. One is, I came into fantasy by way of some excellent female novelists that I highly recommend. Barbara Hambly was my first experience with fantasy, and then Anne McCaffery, Melanie Rawn, and Jane Yolen were kind of my introduction to fantasy. It's how I got pulled into it-- To the point that when I was first given a David Eddings book, I was hesitant, because I was like, "Is this a genre guys can write?" was my honest reaction to that. So, when I started writing my own books, I knew I wanted to do a good job with this, but I was really bad at it at the start. It was very embarrassing to me as a writer. And this happens to all new writers. There are things that you want do that, in your head, you imagine yourself doing very well, and then when you start out, you just do poorly. And the later in life that you start writing your stories, the more you're generally able to recognize how poorly you're doing things that you want to do well. And my very first book, that I didn't publish, particularly the female lead was very generic, and written very much to fill the role of the love interest rather than to be a character. And I recognized it, even as I was writing it, but I didn't know how to do it differently. And it took practice. It took a lot of work. It really shouldn't, on one hand, right? Write the characters as people. rather than as roles. That's what you have to learn is: everybody is the hero of their own story in their head. They're the protagonist, whoever they are. And writing the characters so that they view themselves that way, and so they have autonomy, and they aren't being shoved around by the plot or by the protagonist, or things like this, but it's just very hard to do. I had a lot of early readers who were very helpful. I often credit my friend Annie as being one of the big reasons why Sarene eventually ended up working in Elantris. And she gave me some early reads, and things like this.

But, you know, it is hard to abandon our own preconceptions that we don't even know are there without practice, effort, and somebody pointing them out to you. And it was just a matter of practice and trying to get better. And I still think that there are lots of times I get it wrong. And you mentioned Mistborn. And I was really determined that I was going to do a good female protagonist. I try to stay away from the kind of cliched term "strong female character." Because we don't talk about "strong male characters." We talk about characters who are distinctive, interesting, flawed, and real people. And I was determined to do this with Vin. And I feel like I did a pretty good job. But, of course, I had a completely different blind side in that I defaulted to making the rest of the crew that Vin interacts with all guys. This is because my story archetype for Mistborn was the heist novel, the heist story, and my favorite heist movies are Ocean's Eleven and Sneakers and The Sting, and these are great stories. I absolutely love them. But they all are almost exclusively male casts. And that's not to say that, you know, someone can't write an all-male cast if they want to. But it wasn't like I had sat down and said, "I'm intentionally going to write an all-male cast." I just defaulted to making the rest of the cast male because that was the archetype that was in my head, that I hadn't examined. And so, when I got done with those books, I looked back, and I'm like, "Wouldn't this have been a better and more interesting story if there had been more women in the cast?" And I absolutely think it would have been. But becoming a writer, becoming an artist, is a long process of learning what you do well, what you do poorly, what you've done well once and want to learn how to replicate, what you've done poorly and want to learn to get better at. It's a very long process, I think, becoming the writer that we want to be.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
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Jeanne

You write such wonderful, believable female heroines, who are your role models and influences?

Brandon Sanderson

Writing believable female heroines—I should probably back up and point out that I wasn't always good at this. In fact, in the first few books I wrote before ELANTRIS I was terrible at it. That disconcerted me because it was something I wanted to make a strength in my writing. This is partially due to the fact that so many of my favorite fantasy novels growing up, when I first discovered fantasy, were from female writers with really strong female protagonists. So there was a piece of my mind that said having strong female protagonists is a big part of fantasy. I don't know how common that viewpoint is, but because those were the people whose books I read—writers like Anne McCaffrey, Melanie Rawn, and Barbara Hambly—I wanted to be able to do that in my own fiction. Even beyond that you want every character you write to be believable, and it's been a habitual problem of men writing women and women writing men that we just can't quite get it right, so I knew it was going to be something I'd have to work hard at.

I took inspiration from women I know, starting with my mother, who graduated top of her class in accounting in an era where she was the only woman in her accounting program. She has always been a strong influence on me. I also have two younger sisters who were a lot of help, but there were several friends in particular who gave me direct assistance. Annie Gorringe (who was a good friend when I was an undergraduate—and still is) and Janci Patterson were people I sat down to interview and talk to in my quest to be able to write female characters who didn't suck. I would say specifically that Sarene from ELANTRIS has a lot of Annie in her, and Vin from MISTBORN has a lot of Janci in her. In WARBREAKER, Siri and Vivenna don't really have specific influences but are the result of so much time working at writing female characters that it's something I'm now comfortable with. (Their personalities arose out of what I wanted to do with their story, which was my take on the classic tale of sisters whose roles get reversed.) It's very gratifying to hear that readers like my female characters and that the time I spent learning to write them has paid off.

Orem signing ()
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Questioner

Is Kaladin's name influenced by Dune?

Brandon Sanderson

I've read Dune many times, so maybe? It's more looking at-- A lot of Dune names are Arabic inspired, and I went to that region for a lot of the names. But I think the word "Paladin" was probably more in the back of my head. I didn't even think of it until I started writing it, and I'm like, "Oh I bet that's where I got it." But it's often kind of based off of like, Khalid, or things like that? Like a lot of the Arabic names go Khalid.

Questioner

I was actually just thinking that the other day how the Knights are a lot like paladins.

Brandon Sanderson

It wasn't like, "I'll come up with the word." But after I started writing I'm like, "Oh I bet that's why the name felt right to me". But you can't separate an author from their influences, and I've read Dune like 5 times.

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
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Questioner

So I was reading the Wheel of Time and in the first one when they get to the saidin and saidar, the pools—they're very similar to Shardpools.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, and that is something that he kind of dropped. The Eye of the World is just like pure saidin, and I would be surprised if that weren't an unconscious influence on me. I didn't think of it when I was coming up with these but that's definitely way back in my brain when I was creating these.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

The Origins of Siri and Vivenna

Back around the year 2000 or 2001 I started writing a book called Mythwalker. It was an epic fantasy novel, an attempt to go back to basics in the genre. I'd tried several genre-busting epics (one of which was Elantris) that focused on heroes who weren't quite the standards of the genre. I avoided peasant boys, questing knights, or mysterious wizards. Instead I wrote books about a man thrown into a leper colony, or an evil missionary, or things like that.

I didn't sell any of those books. (At least, not at first.) I was feeling discouraged, so I decided to write a book about a more standard fantasy character. A peasant boy who couldn't do anything right, and who got caught up in something larger than himself and inherited an extremely powerful magic.

It was boring.

I just couldn't write it. I ended up stopping about halfway through—it's the only book of mine that I never finished writing. It sits on my hard drive, not even spellchecked, I think, half finished like a skyscraper whose builder ran out of funds.

One of the great things about Mythwalker, however, was one of the subplots—about a pair of cousins named Siri and Vivenna. They switched places because of a mix-up, and the wrong one ended up marrying the emperor.

My alpha readers really connected with this storyline. After I abandoned the project, I thought about what was successful about that aspect of the novel. In the end, I decided it was just the characters. They worked. This is odd because, in a way, they were archetypes themselves.

The story of the two princesses, along with the peasant/royalty swap, is an age-old fairy tale archetype. This is where I'd drawn the inspiration from for these two cousins. One wasn't trained in the way of the nobility; she was a distant cousin and poor by comparison. The other was heir to her house and very important. I guess the idea of forcing them to switch places struck some very distinct chords in my readers.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to tell their story, and they became the focus of a budding book in my mind. I made them sisters and got rid of the "accidental switch" plotline. (Originally, one had been sent by mistake, but they looked enough alike that nobody noticed. Siri kept quiet about it for reasons I can't quite remember.) I took a few steps away from the fairy tale origins, but tried to preserve the aspects of their characters and identities that had worked so well with readers.

I'm not sure why using one archetype worked and the other didn't. Maybe it was because the peasant boy story is so overtold in fantasy, and I just didn't feel I could bring anything new to it. (At least not in that novel.) The two princesses concept isn't used nearly as often. Or maybe it was just that with Siri and Vivenna I did what you're supposed to—no matter what your inspiration, if you make the characters live and breathe, they will come alive on the page for the reader. Harry Potter is a very basic fantasy archetype—even a cliché—but those books are wonderful.

You have to do new things. I think that fantasy needs a lot more originality. However, not every aspect of the story needs to be completely new. Blend the familiar and the strange—the new and the archetypal. Sometimes it's best to rely on the work that has come before. Sometimes you need to cast it aside.

I guess one of the big tricks to becoming a published author is learning when to do which.

Goodreads February 2016 YA Newsletter Interview ()
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Cade

Brandon, what has been the influence of your LDS religion on your writing? Have aspects of Mormon doctrine been incorporated into your worldbuilding?

Brandon Sanderson

I'm very interested in the concepts of religion and the ideas that surround it, and I often find myself writing books that deal with things I'm interested in myself. I allow the themes of books like these to grow naturally out of the world I've built and out of the stories that I want to tell. Specifically, I kind of let the characters decide what the themes of a book are going to be. I don't go into it saying, "I'm going to write about this," but the worlds that I create betray my own interests very strongly.

What is it about faith and deity? This is something that is unique about us as human beings, something very interesting to me, and it felt like this area was an open space to explore in fantasy in ways that hadn't been done before. I always find myself gravitating toward things that I feel haven't been explored as much as they could have been. That interests me and fascinates me.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

I was wondering in what books, particularly Mistborn, is the conscious decision when you put in little snippets of LDS lore in there, like plates, metal plates--

Brandon Sanderson

You know most of it is unconscious. Once in a while something intentional slips in that I’m like "Ooh that's a cool connection". A lot of it is unconscious.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
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Elise

I really loved the character Lightsong, he was my favorite and probably one of the most interesting characters I've ever read about. Did you have anyone in particular in mind when you came up with him? How did go about developing him as a character?

Brandon Sanderson

Rupert Everett was sitting in the back of my mind.

Actually, in order to develop Lightsong's character well, I didn't want to imitate any one voice. That's something we always stay away from. But I had been wanting to work on writing humor in a different way from what I'd previously used. I spent a lot of time watching and analyzing the movie THE THIN MAN, the old comedy/mystery/crime film with an emphasis on very witty characters making wisecracks as they investigate a murder. If you haven't seen it, it's delightful. Along with AN IDEAL HUSBAND and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, those were my three sources of inspiration. I was trying for a blend of those two styles—and then of course added my own sense of humor.

A Memory of Light Raleigh Signing ()
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Questioner (paraphrased)

Do you see Robert Jordan’s characters coming out in your writing?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

No. That may happen unconsciously, but my goal is not to have that happen, because I want to tell different stories. It would be like if Kelsier started coming out in Dalinar. It's just not something we want to have happen as a writer. We want everyone to be their own individual.

The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty-Five

Vin and Elend dine with Cett

And, we have our second "ball" scene in this book. Some people really enjoyed those in the previous book; at least one reviewer hated them. However, I like them–particularly for the visuals they let me use when going into the gorgeous noble keeps. As you may recall, these are based loosely on gothic cathedrals, which I just think would be an awesome place to have a ball.

Cett was, perhaps, too fun a character to write. I needed someone the opposite of Straff, and it was very fulfilling to write in an enemy to this series who was completely straightforward and belligerent. He still stands out to me, quite different from any of the other antagonists in the series.

He knows Elend well–that should be enough to hint that he kept an eye on things in Luthadel, despite his attitude which implies that he didn't care about the place. He's watched Elend's rule very carefully, debating whether to make an alliance or to make a play for Elend's throne. If the truth be told, he would have probably gone for the alliance if Straff hadn't moved against Luthadel.

He walks a careful line. He's not a good man, but he IS an effective leader in some respects. I wanted him to offer a third viewpoint on leadership in this book, one that is actually accurate. Being a leader isn't easy–not at all. There are a lot of ways to do it, and I don't want to imply that any one of these people–Elend, Cett, or Tindwyl–are wrong. That's what makes it so tough to be a leader.

Cett offers the perspective of open, honest tyranny. He doesn't lie to you. He tells you just what he's going to do, and he has a point that many of the things he does are safe.

But, what do you choose when you have to choose between safety and freedom? You can probably guess that I wrote a lot of this book during the heightening of security in America surrounding the September 11 attacks. The last couple of years, there has been a lot of talk on this topic, and it wormed its way into my writing. I didn't put it there intentionally, but I did monopolize on it when I found it there.

I don't have any answers. I just write what I see, and force my characters to make choices.

MisCon 2018 ()
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Questioner

Warbreaker. When it talks about the God King, the way he sees the world, and he talks about even a little blemish on someone's skin is so beautiful. To me, it sounds like, if you think about the love of God for Christ, that is how they would see us. Is that kind of what you were going for?

Brandon Sanderson

Sure, absolutely. I mean, I don't think I was thinking that when I was writing it, but certainly my Christian upbringing is going to make those things pop out in my fiction, so I would say "Yes, that's a valid interpretation." But you kind of have to look at that as reader response interpretation. Rather than "This is what the author intending," it's "This is what the author was unintentionally drawing upon." Reader response is the wrong term. Whatever the correct literary-- I would have known it in college... Because reader response is that author intent does not matter. If you respond to it a certain way, that's a valid interpretation. And there's a certain thing that's like, the author's upbringing informing how they write their text. Like, it's not deconstructionalism. Historicism.

Stormlight Three Update #4 ()
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Argent

Keeping it on Scadrial, the ranks within the Set are obviously inspired by either mathematics, or programming, or logic, or a related field. Can you talk about this motivation (either yours or the Set's) for this?

Brandon Sanderson

My motivation ties directly to the same reasons that we see mathematics playing out in behind-the-scenes ways on Roshar. This plays into the themes of the cosmere, the rule-based magic, and the fascination I have of the ties between art and mathematics. (See the Rithmatist, which was originally a cosmere novel.)

The Set's in-world reasonings are similar to this, though less self-aware.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

What five books do you think helped you understand leadership the best?

Brandon Sanderson

Well Art of War is definitely part of that. I would say that The Prince is important for understanding leadership, even though I don't agree with every point he's making. By the way he is not as-- Even though it is Machiavelli writing it, he is not as machiavellian as we think he is in that book… So The Prince--  Hmmm, a lot of Plato surprisingly, is where I pull some of my ideas. King Benjamin's speech from the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah, if you haven't read that, is definitely part of it. Ummm... What else--

Questioner

Like where do you get your-- because you obviously have experience because that's how leadership works.

Brandon Sanderson

It is interviews, it is personal experience, it is talking to my friends who are in the military and asking them "Does this sound right? Does this feel right? Tell me what it feels like to obey. Tell me what it feels like to be in command." And things like that. Just lots of practice and interviews and things is where most of it is coming from.

Questioner

So it’s less like personal experience and more you're really good at researching it.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, a writer has to be able to do that because for a book like this the amount of psychology and medicine, battlefield tactics, leadership, and all these other things you need to know, you can't know them all. You can't do them all personally. You've got to be able to experience it, you've got to be able to write it as best as you can, and then go to experts. Like the medicine in this I went to a field surgeon and I said "Will you read over my Kaladin scenes and tell me where I'm going wrong." Like I was able to get myself 80% of the way there with research and then the 20% is me going to an expert and saying "Tell me what I'm doing wrong."

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

I've been thinking about Idealism as a philosophy and how the concept of the... Cognitive Realm is sort of like a very realistic version of Idealism. Is there any influence there at all?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, definitely. I was a closet philosophy major in college. I didn't actually do that, but I attended a lot of philosophy classes. And I'll tell you this, philosophers don't know to write. That's the most annoying part. You read their essays, and they're full of brilliant ideas, with these enormous run-on sentences that make no sense. You have to like-- So I got really frustrated by that. But I really loved the classes and reading and things like that, and the touch of it is all over my books. If you look for it, you'll find a lot of the different philosophies, you'll find all those guys in different places on different philosophers and different religions and stuff like that.