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Shadows of Self London UK signing ()
#101 Copy

Questioner

So I take it that a spren exists simultaneously in both the Physical and Cognitive Realms...

Brandon Sanderson

They do.

Questioner

But are they conscious simultaneously of what's happening in both.

Brandon Sanderson

No, they do have to transition.  

Questioner

They have to transition. And does a spren's intelligence affect its ability to transition? So like a more intelligent type of spren finds it more difficult to move over-- 

Brandon Sanderson

Yep-- But the moving over creates a lot of-- Yeah, like some of the ones you'll sometimes see, you'll think that they are--  Some of the spren that aren't intelligent are actually mostly in the Cognitive Realm and you're seeing a manifestation here, but they're not really conscious of what's going on here, they're responding to stuff in the Cognitive Realm.

Questioner

Ok so they could be pretty damn clever but there's no one to talk to?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah.

Shadows of Self London UK signing ()
#102 Copy

Questioner

Why are there so many Kholins that are Radiants? Is there a story reason or...

Brandon Sanderson

There is a story reason, kind of. So the Kholin family is in Alethkar, which was the hereditary-- one of the homes of the Knights Radiant. It's still kind of in the forefront of the-- how shall we say-- the collective unconscious and things like this. Plus there's--

Questioner

And then they are on the forefront of that.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. I mean-- Yeah. And so the spren, some of them are naturally looking for where a lot of Radiants used to be. So it's just a higher concentration of spren around the area, if that makes sense?

Chris King interview ()
#103 Copy

Chris King

Why can Rock see Syl?

Brandon Sanderson

Ooh, good question, why do you think Rock can see Syl?

Chris King

My personal theory here is because his people have such a strong belief and reverence in them it allows him to see them for that reason because his strong belief creates some sort of cognitive or spiritual pressure which allows them...

Brandon Sanderson

He would agree with that philosophy. I would say, usually when something like that happens there is also something physiological going on.

Words of Radiance San Diego signing ()
#105 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

It seems like a movie adaptation would have just constant spren everywhere?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

That's why I made it so that not every use of the emotion causes them-so it wouldn't get too crazy even when I'm writing them.  And what's happening is the spren exist on the Cognitive plane, on Shadesmar, so they have to be attracted, they have to be nearby enough to flock to you, so it depends on how common the spren is.

JordanCon 2016 ()
#106 Copy

Questioner

Speaking of the Stormfather, would the Nightwatcher and the giant water spren be on the same level of spren as the Stormfather?

Brandon Sanderson

...The Nightwatcher, yes. Um... There are, I would say, a level below the Stormfather and the Nightwatcher who are also much-- a much bigger deal than something like one of the sapient spren, and that's what Cusicesh is.

Questioner

So the Nightwatcher is a spren you'd say?

Brandon Sanderson

The Nightwatcher-- I mean, they call the Nightwatcher a spren. Everyone in the books thinks the Nightwatcher is a spren. That's what they would call-- that's what they would call, if they knew what Honor was, they would call Honor a spren. A spren is Investiture that is alive.

Bystander

Nightblood?

Brandon Sanderson

So they would call Nightblood a spren. They would call-- That's the word for what all of these things are. They would probably've called Adonalsium a spren…

Moderator

What would Hoid call one of those?

Brandon Sanderson

What would Hoid call the Nightwatcher? *laughter* What would Hoid call one of what?

Moderator

Yeah what would Hoid call the Nightwatcher?

Brandon Sanderson

Um… *long pause/laughter*

Moderator

If Hoid were to use a non-proper noun?

Brandon Sanderson

Unpleasant names. *laughter*

/r/books AMA 2015 ()
#110 Copy

Thadamin

Are spren able to manifest Surges like the humans they are bonded to? Syl is able to stick things together are other types able to do other things or is the sticking things together something else?

Brandon Sanderson

The Spren are living Surges, in a way. There are some "higher" spren which have more ability than others to touch certain Surges. Honor, for example, is not a force of nature--but a force of thought. What is attributed to it relates more to the abstract.

And that didn't really answer you, did it? Well, hopefully it's enough.

Phantine

Is them being living Surges the same as how seons are living Aons?

Brandon Sanderson

Similar.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
#112 Copy

Questioner

*inaudible* with the spren, like, with the *inaudible* would it have infinite ink?

Brandon Sanderson

The way it works in my head canon right now, which I haven't written it so if it changes, no. The other thing is getting complex systems is going to be harder for a lot of Spren. There are legends that reference that they were able to do bows in the past, which includes a string. Everyone is like "but they're not metal, how does that work." Complex structures, even the mechanics of a pen is not something that we have proof that they could even do. If they did do it, they wouldn't have infinite ink, you would fill them up with ink.

Arcanum Unbounded San Francisco signing ()
#113 Copy

Questioner

On the nature of shardblades, to an extent, can a live blade be split without harming it's source, so to speak?

Brandon Sanderson

Can a live blade split? What do you mean, split?

Questioner

Make itself into two weapons.

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, can a blade be forged into two weapons. A shardblade.

Questioner

Does it absolutely need a connection, or can it become two?

Brandon Sanderson

So, shardblades becoming two shardblades would require slicing in half a soul, which would not be very fun for the spren. Okay?

Questioner

So it's possible. *laughter*

Brandon Sanderson

So it's technically possible to take hydrogen and to turn it into plutonium with our current technology. It would cost more money than, like, the budget of NASA to do it for, y'know, one atom. So there are things that are possible, but-- Yes it is possible. This is not something that would be easy or very useful to do.

General Reddit 2017 ()
#114 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I don't even put spren in on the first draft, that's just too much to keep in my brain. Afterward, I do a draft where I just go in and add all that stuff. It's like adding the special effects to a movie.

Peter Ahlstrom

So, Brandon actually does put a number of spren in the first draft. But part of Karen's job as continuity editor is to find more places to add the spren and mark those in the document. Then on the next draft Brandon puts spren there if he judges them to be good places for spren.

JordanCon 2016 ()
#118 Copy

Questioner

When it comes to the epic-level spren on Roshar, like the Nightwatcher and the Stormfather-- Is the number of epic-level spren equal to the number of Bondsmiths that you can have on Roshar?

Brandon Sanderson

Hmm, is the number of epic-level spren related to the number of Bondsmiths you have? Well, I've said there's a maximum of three. And there are three Shards involved in Roshar. I'm not gonna tell you if that's a coincidence or not. Sorry.

Arcanum Unbounded release party ()
#120 Copy

Ward

At the beginning of Way of Kings, when Kaladin thinks he's being irritated by a windspren, he's like, "Oh, windspren are all like this." Are there other types of spren that have similar personality quirks, that elemental spren...?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, there are, like flamespren. A lot of the elemental ones have quirks, you'll see more quirk to them than the emotional ones. And the difference between them will come up a little more obvious as the series progresses. You're more likely, for instance, to find quirk to a riverspren or a flamespren than you are to a fearspren.

Shadows of Self San Francisco signing ()
#122 Copy

Questioner

Is it possible for spren to move from one planet to another?

Brandon Sanderson

It is possible for them to get to other planets. They are tied to certain realms… A lot of them reside in the cognitive realm and are pulled into the physical by their bonds--

Questioner

Would they bring the same magics?

Brandon Sanderson

That you will have to wait and see.

Salt Lake City signing ()
#123 Copy

Chaos

So, at the Forbidden Planet signing you said that when Adonalsium was Shattered, all Investiture in the cosmere was associated to one of the Shards... So, what happened with Adonalsium's spren on Roshar? Were those associated to Honor and Cultivation? What happened with them?

Brandon Sanderson

So they were very-- They were already associated to certain parts of Adonalsium and they went with those associations. There's a lot of Cultivation in all of the spren, particularly the natural spren.

Writing for Charity Conference ()
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Zas678 (paraphrased)

There is a debate on what to call Shallan's Symbols, so we don't have such an ambiguous term for it .

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The Symbolhead?

Zas678 (paraphrased)

Yeah, the Symbolhead, Shallanspren.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

*laughter*

Zas678 (paraphrased)

We don't really know what to call them.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Do I want to canonize this yet?

Zas678 (paraphrased)

You don't have to canonize it yet.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

I don't know if I want to canonize it yet. But I will say this. They are spren, that should be pretty obvious. They are the spren connected to what Shallan is capable of doing. But I don’t know if I want to canonize it yet. Truthspren is as good a name as any, and I would suggest you use that until further notice.

Shadows of Self London UK signing ()
#126 Copy

Questioner

How did you come up with the idea of windspren?  

Brandon Sanderson

Windspren in specific? I was thinking about the way the wind is often anthropomorphized, right? It's treated as if it's something alive. And that, for years, just stuck in my head. For a while there were only four windspren, one for each of the quadrants: the north spren, the south spren, the east spren, the west spren, or the west wind and things. But eventually I split them into many more, because I was working with the honorspren and things like that.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#127 Copy

Questioner

Where did the idea of spren come from?

Brandon Sanderson

Comes from two primary inspirations. One is my perhaps too-much fondness for things classical philosophy. Specifically some of the ideas that Plato talked about with certain Ideals, and the ideal picture of something, the theory of the Forms, and all this stuff. Mixed with the idea of, in the Eastern religions and mythology, you have the idea of the kami, or things like thsi, in which everything has a soul. A rock that you pass has a soul to it. And these two ideas kind of mashing together is where the spren were birthed out of.

I can also point a little bit at The Wheel of Time. One of the things I always liked about The Wheel of Time is, there's a character named Perrin who can smell people's emotions. And as a writer, when I was working on The Wheel of Time, I'm like, "This is so convenient!" Super convenient as a writer. Because it gets really cliched to use the same sort of phrases to indicate emotion. If you're always having somebody smirk as they talk, it starts to really stand out. But since, when I get to Perrin scenes, he can describe emotion in a completely different way, because he was using different senses, almost a synesthesia sort of thing where he would catch scents and know someone's emotion, it was a really cool writing tool. And I think the spren popped a little bit out of that, the ability to show emotion in a different way in my narrative, and that would change society in some (I thought) very interesting ways, made for a really interesting narrative tool for me as a writer.

Warsaw signing ()
#129 Copy

Questioner

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

Yes that is common.

 

Questioner

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

 Will there be a what spren?

Questioner

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, yeah yeah yeah. So most of the spren are involved in either-- are kind of involved in all three. And so it's mostly Honor and Cultivation. But some lean one direction or the other: you'll see that lifespren will pop up more commonly around Wyndle then they will around <Sylphrena>.

JordanCon 2016 ()
#132 Copy

Questioner

Can spren be put back together, through Bondsmiths rejoined, as Shards can be joined and combined?

Brandon Sanderson

That, um… so what do you mean by spren put back together?

Questioner

Could a Bondsmith combine spren in the way that Shards can be combined?

Brandon Sanderson

Ok, so the answer is they can be combined. Whether the Bondsmith is a method or not I won't say, but spren can be combined.

Orem signing ()
#133 Copy

Questioner

Why do spren appear on Roshar and nowhere else?

Brandon Sanderson

They do, but they're in different shapes. Seons are the same thing that spren are, for instance. So there are places where you will see them, it just is going to depend on how the worldbuilding is built and how the magic is channeled and things like that. 

FanX 2018 ()
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Questioner

So how big are spren, like when Kaladin sees a spren, how...

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the spren. lifespren are real tiny, little dots. windspren *presumably gestures*, like that. Some spren are as large as buildings. There is no strict size increment, but you can guess the size if I don't say otherwise. It really depends.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
#135 Copy

Questioner

Lift as an Edgedancer. Doesn't seem very coordinated, which seems to be the preeminent part of being an Edgedancer. Was Lift actually maybe better for another Order?

Brandon Sanderson

I would say that, in the eyes of some of the spren, taking somebody who maybe doesn't quite fit the mold for your Order but has the heart that fits it is a better choice. And I think Lift and Wyndle and some of the texts may be comparing what someone at the beginning of the journey to someone near the end of their journey. So let's just give her a little time.

Paris signing ()
#136 Copy

Narkac

KR seemed to have opposite gender spren. Why is Glys male then? Is there something hidden there?

Brandon Sanderson

More naturally, the spren is opposite gender but it doesn't have to be. It's not a indication necessarily of homosexuality, but sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. More often, you'll attract spren of the opposite gender, but spren genders are very fluid anyway. You're not supposed to read anything specific into that.

/r/fantasy AMA 2013 ()
#139 Copy

Satsuoni

You have mentioned that certain spren are an embodiment of concepts. How does that work for the concepts like honour, that can mean opposite things to different culture groups?

Brandon Sanderson

Human perception has a lot to do with why spren act like they do...

Paris signing ()
#140 Copy

Demiandre (paraphrased)

I wondered about Shallan's eidetic memory, and about the possibility of trapping a spren. Could a bonded spren be trapped inside a gemstone and trapped in a safe? If so, would something else - not Investiture related - fill the "crack in the soul"? Could that be linked to her memory or her need to draw before Lightweaving?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

In and about, he answered that what Shallan does isn't out of the ordinary, and it is possible to trap a bonded spren inside a gemstone.

Starsight Release Party ()
#142 Copy

Questioner

Why are there no spren in the prelude chapters for Way of Kings?

Brandon Sanderson

No specific reason. There's nothing happening there. Mostly, what happens is I write the initial write-through without very many spren and then they have Karen go through and say, "this would be a good place." Just kind of like special effects for a movie. It might just be that I've already released those and read those so much she doesn't want to add as many.

Calamity Seattle signing ()
#143 Copy

Questioner

What can you tell me about where spren come from?

Brandon Sanderson

Spren come from where everything in the world of Roshar comes from.  The are a natural part of life there.  They come from the same place rocks and the wind and all of that...

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#145 Copy

ASIC_SP

Was it intentional to introduce Musicspren as the first spren in TWoK?

Brandon Sanderson

It was intentional in that I knew I needed some spren very early in the book, to establish the world--and that was the scene I was working with to do that. It isn't supposed to be hugely meaningful that those spren are first, though they are more relevant to later parts of the story than some of the earlier ones.

Ben McSweeney AMA ()
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russki516

Hey, thanks for doing this!

My question is how developed are your ideas of what Spren look like and how they behave? I would love to see some illustrations of them in the future.

Ben McSweeney

There's some early illustrations of them in the original pitch package, where they look very Miyazaki if I say so myself, but my understanding of them has widened considerably in the time since then.

I usually envision (and illustrate) them as ghostly, glowing shapes of infinite variety, a lot like the classical interpretation of a hologram. To the best of my understanding, spren appear to be made of stormlight when they're made apparent at all. Some have more detailed features than others, but I don't think any appear solid unless they actually manifest in the Physical Realm, and the only manifestations we know of are Shardblades (living blades have freedom to reshape though, so who knows what that could mean).

As to their details, if you take the few descriptors that Brandon gives and let your imagination run, you probably can't go wrong... even among the spren, two of the same type might look very different in detail. And an awakened spren has a lot of mutability, Syl is changing shape all the time.

As with all concepts, the text rules. So angerspren is gonna look like blood-red pools boiling up from the ground, and gloryspren will look like tiny translucent globes of golden light. Brandon wrote it, so that's what it is.

But you can translate "blood-red pools [of light] boiling up from the ground" in a few creative ways, and any of them might be equally valid. As the Interlude suggests, the appearance of spren is kinda quantum... fluid until/unless observed. I have a lot of fun seeing how creative I can get with the description while making sure I'm staying true to the text.