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Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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WritesGeekyStuff

I'd love to hear what some of your inspirations were for Skyward. I know you've listed How To Train Your Dragon and The Last Starfighter, but I'm curious if there are any books or movies that inspired you for the sci-fi worldbuilding and starfighter combat? As someone who loves pretty much anything starfighter, from Wing Commander to Stackpole's Rogue Squadron books, I'd love to hear how you approached it or if you have any reccos I'm not aware of!

Brandon Sanderson

I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching interviews and videos about what it's actually like to fly or take G-forces. Tom Scott did a nice one on centrifuges. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMKcO-T5Y4o

As for starfighter books, there really aren't a ton are there? Most everything in books focuses on the Lost Fleet/Honor Harrington/Vorkosigan style large ship combat. Stackpole is great, but you've already read him. A Fire Upon the Deep is great, but again, not a lot of starfighter battles. I'll have to think about it more--I don't have any that were specific inspirations for this series.

Dawnshard Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Huio is based, partially, on someone I met while touring. I had a driver who was from Pakistan, originally. (It's not uncommon for the publisher or convention to assign me a driver to get me to all the places I needed to get.) We had a good time chatting, and I discovered he had a Ph.d. in mechanical engineering. However, for various reasons, his life in his home country was really difficult--so he took the chance to start over in a new country with a new life. (More, he wanted to get his children out of a bad situation. I believe he was Sikh--though he might have been Jain--and his family was suffering some persecution for it.)

He couldn't get work as an academic, despite being a professor, as his mastery of languages was really bad--and couldn't teach in his new country. He couldn't get a job in his field either, since both the language barrier was a problem, and also he had trouble getting businesses to accept his credentials since they didn't think highly of the programs in his country. (At least, not the ones he'd attended.)

So here was this man who was obviously WAY smarter than I was, doing an entry-level job. And he considered it an upgrade for certain personal reasons, but I could tell he was really frustrated by the language holding him back. I've always remembered the experience, and the lesson it taught me about assumptions I sometimes make.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

How do you come up with the ideas for the powers and the names of the Epics?

Brandon Sanderson

The names are actually really hard because comic book heroes, there are so many names they've already used. And so I have to a lot of searching and thinking and it's usually my fifth choice. Lots of looking in the thesaurus for "Alright was a word that is like this one that has been used way too often". The powers I'm look for usually something cool that somebody has done in a movie or a book or a comic book that I don't think they extrapolated far enough. I'm like "No that's not how it would really work. This is how I think it would really work." and kind of taking my own spin on it.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Lieutenant Conrad

Lieutenant Conrad is Tom Conrad, another roommate. Tom was my first roommate ever—a computer stuck us together in Helaman Halls at BYU, and wacky high jinks ensued. We roomed together for two years, after which Tom decided he wanted to pay less for rent than we were paying. He then moved into the crawl space beneath a trailer home off campus. (Well, not really, but it sure felt like that when I visited.)

General Reddit 2018 ()
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Jeimaxx

I do have a question, while listening to New Spring today, I realized that a channeler using the One Power sees and hears much more vividly, similar to people invested with breaths from Nalthis. Was the magic of Nalthis partially inspired by the One Power?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, that was an inspiration from the WoT. I always wanted to take that concept RJ had used and see if I could make it a fundamental and quantifiable part of a magic system.

TWG Posts ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Each of the characters is a little autobiographical, mostly noticeable in retrospect. Raoden represents my belief in the power of optimism. I'm an optimist. I can't help it; it's just the way I am. And so, a hero like Raoden often grows to represent my beliefs. His conflict--that of being cast into the most horrific place in the kingdom--is an outgrowth of me trying to devise the most hopeless situation I could, and then make the conflict for my character the attempt to retain hopeful in the face of that.

Sarene represents an amalgamation of several people I knew in my life, most notably Annie Gorringe, a friend of mine in college. Not that Sarene acts just like her, of course--but that some of the conflicts in Annie's life, mixed with some of her personality quirks, inspired me to develop a character that ended up in my book.

Hrathen is as much a piece of me as Raoden. I served a mission for the LDS church, and while I did so, I thought often about the 'right' way to share one's beliefs mixed with the 'wrong' way. It seemed to me that focusing on the beauty of your message, mixed with the needs of the individuals you met, was the way to go. When you start to preach just to be preaching--or to convert not because of your concern for those around you, but because you want to seem more powerful--you risk beating the life out of your own message.

So, in a way, Hrathen represents my fears of what I could have become--a warning to myself, if you will.

Starsight Release Party ()
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Questioner

What philosophies do you feel like inspired you the most? Philosophies, or mysticisms, religions?

Brandon Sanderson

I like a lot of different things. You'll see a lot of things in Way of Kings of Pantheism. You see all the old Greek dudes. You'll see some Cartesian stuff. It's kind of everything. You'll see a lot of Shinto. Yeah, probably the most has been Shinto or actually more of the kind of Buddhist and Jainism sort of idea. 

Questioner

You know, Taravangian I feel like is embodiment of compassion versus seeing the world for what it really is. 

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. Right. And then there's the whole Utilitarianism versus altruism and I just find all of that stuff fascinating. I don't know if there's any one. Shinto, that idea of animism, the idea of everything having a soul, is probably... Yeah.

EuroCon 2016 ()
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Questioner

I think you're going to get asked a lot about the Cosmere today, so I wanted to make a question about the Reckoners saga, because, while I was reading it, there was one recurring thought in my mind, and it was, "Gosh, I wish I could have read this as a teenager," and it's equally enjoyable as a adult, but that kept running in my mind, and I was wondering if when you wrote it, you wrote it with these audiences in mind, or it's simply that David is so real and so like us when we were fifteen or fourteen that it came out that way?

Brandon Sanderson

I'm very curious that you noticed this, because in the United States, this is actually published as a young adult novel. In the UK and Spain, and France, it is published as an adult novel. And I very much left it up to my publishers to decide what was best for their market, because David is nineteen, which puts it on the border between is this a young adult or an adult novel. However, when I was writing it, my target reader in my head was me at age fourteen, because, when I was young, it wasn't that nobody gave me books--people did give me books, they tried to make me into a reader--but the books were all boring, and I think the great power of science fiction and fantasy is that we are able to mix deep thought and exciting narrative. Every morning, my wife makes a smoothie for my children with ice cream. They love ice cream, my three little boys, so they're very excited, and every morning she adds a handful of spinach to it, because they love the color green and they think it's cool to drink a green drink. Of course, she adds it because the spinach is very healthy, and I feel like science fiction and fantasy is very good at this blend for books. All of our books are green, because we deal with very important issues, but we mix them with wonder, exploration, adventure, and human experience.

The Reckoners is about power corrupting. I started the first book after driving on the road and nearly getting in a car wreck because someone pulled in front of me too quickly, and I was very annoyed with this person, and in that moment I imagined myself blowing the car up. I thought, "You are so lucky I don't have superpowers." It was a very cool explosion, too. Yeah, I have a good imagination. After this, I was immediately horrified, because I write books about people, generally, who get incredible powers, and then go on to protect others, but in that moment, I had the worry that I could not be trusted, myself, with those powers. So, The Reckoners is about what happens if people start gaining superpowers, but only evil people get them. It's Marvel's universe with no Avengers.

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.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

What was your inspiration for Wayne?

Brandon Sanderson

Wayne had a lot of inspirations... Obviously, there's some Mat Cauthon going on for me when I do Wayne, particularly the way that Mat would see the world differently from the that way he would act. The original inspiration for Wayne was a character who changed personalities based on which hat he wore. He was actually the lead in a Mistborn story I was writing, and he didn't work well without someone to play off of... Some characters work way better when they are surrounded by more normal people. Not gonna say anything about things like the Minion movie (which my children loved), but it's very hard to tell a story about everyone being crazy instead of having a framework of someone to keep it going in the right direction. So that was a big inspiration for Wayne.

The other big inspiration for Wayne was something I noticed about human nature, where I wanted to tell a story about a character who had some really deep-- Wayne should bother you. Like the way he treats Steris. And the way he treats Ranette. And the way he treats some of the people in his life should really bother you. And one of my goals with Wayne was to tell a story that mimics what I see in real life, where there are people I know and I love who also have this way about them that you realize they aren't quite-- grown-up's the wrong term... Like, all of us are the heroes in our own group of friends. We're all the hero of our story. We each have different things we're working on. And some of them are classic good storytelling things, like "I'm gonna learn to be more bold." Which is totally me. Totally something I need to work on. But some of them are "I treat people who aren't in my inner circle really poorly, especially if they're trying to get into my inner circle. And then when you're in my inner circle, I have a dysfunctional relationship with you a lot of time." And I thought I could only really do that with a character that you loved while you were really annoyed by them, because otherwise I feel like the character wouldn't work. Maybe I could do it a different way, but I really wanted to dig into that in these new Mistborn books, and Wayne was my vehicle for doing this.

Some kind of nebulous sort of writerly things going on there.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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DiamondLightfoot13

I love Mistborn! (also Elantris). I can hardly wait to begin on Warbreaker. I know many have questions on the metal based ideas. In Elantris, where did the idea for the disease come from?

Brandon Sanderson

Three things. First, some reading I was doing about leper colonies. I wanted to tell a story about someone locked into a similar situation, only tie it to the magic of the world and the history of the city itself.

Secondly, I had this crazy desire to do a book starring zombies that nobody would realize were zombies. It was one of those things that stuck in my head. Undead corpses, with weak bodies that slowly stop working? As heroes? Could I make it work?

Finally, the idea of pain that didn't go away. What would happen if every little wound you took continued to hurt just as badly as it had in the first moment of pain? And what if that pain never, never went away?

Boskone 54 ()
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Questioner

Why’d you pick Nebraska?

Brandon Sanderson

I’m from Nebraska. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and I thought, if I’m going to put in a place that’s a weird, crazy dangerous place, why not make it Nebraska? A lot of the defenses are named for people I knew in Nebraska. There’s an Osbourne defense. Anyone from Nebraska will be able to pick out where I got that. A lot of my friends, my parent’s friends growing up, I just named defenses after them. That’s where that came from, it’s got all this Nebraska stuff.

Footnote: Here referring to "Nebrask" in the Rithmatist series
The Way of Kings Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter 10

Kal helps his father work on a young girl's hand

For years I had been wanting to do a full-blown flashback-sequence book. Flashbacks (or non-linear storytelling) can be a powerful narrative device, but they're also dangerous. They can make a book harder to get into (nothing new for this book) and can create frustration in readers who want to be progressing the story and not dwelling in the past.

The payoff, in my estimation, is a stronger piece of art. For example, as Kaladin is slowly being destroyed in the bridges we can show a flashback for contrast. The juxtaposition between the naive Kal wanting to go to war and the harsh realities of the Kaladin from years later suffering in war might be a little heavy-handed, but I feel that if the reader is on board with the character, this will be powerful instead of boring.

I often talk about how books grow out of separate ideas that buzz around in my head. One of those ideas was to create a character who was a surgeon in a fantasy world. A person who believed in science during an era where it was slowly seeping through the educated, but who had to fight against the ignorance around him.

Back when Kaladin was called Merin, he didn't work well as a character. He was too much the standard "farmboy who becomes a nobleman" from fantasy genre cliché. I struggled for years with different concepts for him, and it was when I combined him with the idea for this surgeon that things really started rolling. It's interesting, then, that he didn't actually become that surgeon character. In the final draft of the book, that character became his father—not a main character as I'd always intended—and Kaladin became the son of the character I'd developed in my head to take a lead role.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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[unknown]

Rereading Words of Radiance... Are the Herdazians a caricature of Mexicans? Is that ok?

Brandon Sanderson

Parts of their culture are inspired by Mexican culture in the same way the Alethi are inspired by Mongolians, Lift's origins are indigenous Bolivians, and the Final Empire (Central Dominance) was 1800's France. Human beings need a launching-off point for creativity to work.

I don't consider them a caricature. Lopen is extreme to say the least, but I made sure to include Palona, Huio, and others as a balancing factor. That said, I don't get to decide if what I did works--I get to try, and explain my motivations, but the decision on whether or not I succeed is not in my hands. Many a writer has had the best intentions, but has failed anyway.

I think it's important to diversify my inspirations, and push myself. If I were going to say the true inspirations for Herdazians, it would be a Mexico mashup with Korea (where I lived for several years.) The smaller country that has long been overshadowed by a dominant neighbor is a very common thing in our world, and it really felt like Alethkar would have a similar effect on kingdoms around it.

I will take a moment to note that chouta wasn't inspired by burritos, really, but more the "street food" explosion that accompanied the industrial revolution. I took what they had in the society (flatbread and Soulcast meat) and tried to build something that would replicate the things I've seen and read about in our world during that era, because it fascinates me.

Children of the Nameless Reddit AMA ()
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EndlessKng

As someone who has studied Asian cultures and history and mythology, would you consider writing a story in the Kamigawa plane? It's one of my favorites but it seems to be a bit underloved, and I'd love to see some more development of it in a story.

Brandon Sanderson

I'm a big fan of Kamigawa, and would call Toshiro Umezawa an inspiration for doing a black-aligned hero in this story. So it is something I'd consider.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Three - Part One

Similarities Between Warbreaker and Elantris

And finally, we arrive at my personal favorite character in the book. Lightsong the Bold, the god who doesn't believe in his own religion.

I had the idea for Lightsong a number of years ago. My first book, Elantris, dealt with the concept of men who were made gods. However, in that book, we never actually get to see men living as gods. The gods have lost their powers and have been locked away.

This time I wanted to tell a different story, a story about what it is like to live as a member of a pantheon of deities. Yet I didn't want them to be too powerful. Or even powerful at all.

I realize that there is some resonance here with Elantris. I hope that the concepts don't seem too much alike. What I wanted to do with this story was look at some of the same ideas in Elantris, but turn them about completely. Instead of dealing with gods who had fallen, I wanted to look at gods at the height of their political power. Instead of dealing with people who were ridiculously powerful, I wanted gods who were more about prophecy and wisdom.

I made it so that the Returned couldn't remember their old lives as a way to distinguish them from the Elantrians. However, I can't help the fact that the ideas had the same (yet opposite) seed. But I'm confident that there's plenty of room in the idea to explore it in a different direction, and I think this book comes out feeling very much its own novel.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner

Szeth-son-son-Vallano is one of my favorite characters and I was wondering how-- He's so complex, right, which is why I love him. What was your inspiration for him, and how did you get all those amazing layers of--

Brandon Sanderson

What was my inspiration for Szeth? Boy. Talking about my inspiration for characters is one of the hardest things that I do because, while I plan my settings a lot and I plan my outlines a lot, I do not plan my characters in the same way. I actually discovery-write my characters and this is something I do very intentionally because I feel like if I plan the character too much, I plan the life out of them basically. So when I have a plot I basically cast a bunch of people in it. I'll write a chapter with someone in it and I'll throw it away, and I'll a chapter with a different personality, and I'll do that until somebody clicks with that plot. Once I know who they are I'll usually rebuild the outline to fit them, kind of the character has veto power over the plot that I've designed for them. But I just keep casting people in the roles, and with Szeth I think it was the whole idea of when I was building Roshar and I'm like, alright, I know there's going to be a place where there aren't any rocks, the rest of the world is all about this kind of stone sensibility to it so what if it's reversed, what if these people worship stone. What if stone were holy. And so I kind of built out of that, it was his religious ideals that came first. 

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Wellen

Wellen/Wells is a cameo on two levels. First off, you may remember him from book two as a random viewpoint we got during Vin and Zane's assault on Cett when he was staying in Keep Hasting. Wellen was the guy on the wall who distrusted the mists—and was the only survivor of his squad after Vin and Zane blasted through them to attack the keep itself.

Well, Cett's army—and therefore Wellen—joined with Elend's army. He ended up remaining in Luthadel as part of Penrod's force. He also happens to be based on my pal and fellow writer Dan Wells, whose first novel I Am Not a Serial Killer comes out from Tor in March 2010.

WorldCon 76 ()
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Thousandarms97

I know Allomancy is, like, "alloy" and "mancy." Were you inspired by "alomancy", which is the divination of salt?

Brandon Sanderson

I wanted to use "mancy" because in part I was working in a seeing-the-future with atium. And I thought: number one, it's resonant; and number two, it works because we are looking at the future. So that's where the name came from.

Thousandarms97

No future salt-based magic system, though?

Brandon Sanderson

No. I've toyed with it for a while, but I just have never come up with anything that I'm satisfied with.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
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Michael M. Jones

What was your inspiration for Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the quintessential "boy and his dragon story." My favorite is Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood. It was one of the very first fantasy books I ever read, and it left a lasting impression on me. But there was also Anne McCaffrey’s The White Dragon, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and the How to Train Your Dragon film series. I love this archetype of story, and I’ve always wanted to do one, but I held off until I could find a new direction in which to approach it. Eventually, it drifted away from "a boy and his dragon" towards "a girl and her spaceship."

About four years ago, I hit on this idea, but I only had the framework. I still needed setting, characters, things that would really make me excited about the entire story. As a writer, it’s always about digging down deep into what I love about certain stories—what are the essential elements, what are the concepts that thrill me, and can I build those back up into something new? The more I built this back up, the more excited I became.

For most things, like worldbuilding and plots, I do outlines. But characters develop by instinct, as their voices emerge. The character of Spensa came to me almost fully formed. I was intrigued and enthralled by the idea of this girl who had been raised on stories from our world, the myths and legends, even ones we know are fiction like Conan the Barbarian. She sees herself as the latest in a long line of warriors, except her actual job is hunting rats and selling them for meat on the street. She has this idea of who she should be, what her destiny is, but in real life she’s just barely getting by. Characters come out of conflict, and hers is the contrast between what her life is like and what she thinks it should be, the difference between perception and experience.

JordanCon 2014 ()
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Brandon Sanderson

With Lift part of the inspiration was-- Boy, what was the inspiration for Lift? When I was building The Stormlight Archive I said, "I want the Knights Radiant to run the gamut of different character styles, ages, and types of story." And when you say "knight"--when I say knight you imagine one thing. What you don't imagine is a thirteen-year-old Hispanic girl, right? And I said "I want to have the people that are in the Knights Radiant to not be the standard what you think of." They are the entire world's cultures having different people. And so I said "Well, what is somebody who does not fit that mold?" That you would say is not a knight. Lift was partially developed out of me wanting to build a character who was awesome but was so different from what everyone would think of. 'Cause you say knight and they think of white dude in armor, and I wanted something very different from that. And that's where she came from. It also came partially from my wife reading a lot of fantasy and complaining that she's like, "you know the Asians show up in fantasy a lot, Asian culture inspires a lot. European culture of course does. You see a lot of these things but where are the Hispanics?"

*audience laughs*

...Yeah there's one. So she challenged me to put a Hispanic culture in my books because I had never done it before, and so Lift is an outgrowth of that, so are the Herdazians. They are meant to be sort of in the same way that the Alethi are inspired by Korean culture, mashed up with this sort of concept of medieval knights. The same way Shallan is based a little off of Western American/Europe culture. The Herdazians are launching off some of the original Hispanic concepts. So the thing is, you want every culture to be new and original but you are working from somewhere. And the problem is we all work from the same stories for so long that is part of the reason why fantasy is starting to feel so stale.

WorldCon 76 ()
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Brandon Sanderson

One of the things I read when I was researching for Stormlight that was really interesting, I kind of dug into, was this idea that practical medicine, particularly through the Middle Ages up approaching the Renaissance, was actually the one that was regarded with fear, superstition, and dislike. Which is why it fell to the barbers. And what we would call the "superstitious physician" was a well-respected position, depending on where you were looking. And it was this weird area where people who were approaching things practically and actually doing what you needed to do, were being ostracized and vilified. It wasn't as bad as being an executioner; that was the worst deal. But there was this sort of thing, that those people stayed-- You did not want your son or daughter marrying into that family, and these sorts of things. It was really interesting.

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Seventeen

Of all the books I've written, I think this one hearkens most closely to our own world. Usually, when I develop cultures and languages, I try to stay away form basing them too closely on any one Earth society or race. I'm not certain what made me do things differently in Elantris. It's not just fencing–JinDo, with its obvious links to Asian cultures, is a good example too. And Fjorden's language has some obvious references to Scandinavia. (Dilaf's name comes from Beowulf, actually. I named him after Beowulf's heir, Wilaf.)

Anyway, in this chapter we find two very obvious "borrows" from our world. I've always been fascinated by fencing, though I've never participated myself. The idea of turning swordfighting into a sport intrigues me. In addition, I found the light, formalized dueling appropriate to the tone of this book, so I took the opportunity to write it in. (I do realize, by the way, that Hollywood has done some interesting things to fencing. Most real fencing bouts are much shorter, and far less showy, than what we see depicted. This is pretty much true for any kind of fighting, however. Think what you will, but combat is usually brutal, quick, and really not that exciting to watch.

This kind of fighting is very appropriate in some books. However, I allowed myself the indulgence of doing my fencing scenes a bit more flourish than one would find in real life. It felt right in the context to have the participants spar, parry, and jump about for far longer a time than is realistic. If you need justification, you can assume that in Teod, the rules for fencing are very strict–and so it's very hard to actually score a point on your opponent, forcing the battles to be prolonged.)

The other item of interest in that scene is, of course, Shuden's ChayShan dance. As mentioned above, his culture is pretty obviously borrowed from Asia. In fact, the link is so strong that some readers have trouble imagining his features as anything but Asian. (Note, once again, that this is not the case. The JinDo have dark brown skin. Though, I guess you'll imagine Shuden however you wish.) The ChayShan is a martial art I devised to feel just a bit like Tai Chi–though ChayShan focuses on speeding up the motions and gaining power from them. I've always kind of thought that Tai Chi would look more interesting if it slowly sped up.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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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.

Skyward Denver signing ()
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Kogiopsis

I really loved both Ender's Game and Anne McCaffrey when I was in early high school, and I felt like this book was in conversation with both of them.

Brandon Sanderson

I would say that that is a really, really accurate way of looking at it. Little Last Starfighter mixed in as well, a little Top Gun.

Kogiopsis

I just want to know how much were you thinking about Ender's Game in particular?

Brandon Sanderson

Ender's Game, I was not thinking about a ton. More How to Train Your Dragon. Because it really parallels How to Train Your Dragon. I was trying to make sure it didn't hit those beats too closely. I wasn't thinking about Ender's Game specifically, but the underdog sports story part of Ender's Game worms its way into a lot of my different writing. I was thinking more about Ender's Game when  I was writing Bridge Four sequences.

Kogiopsis

I felt like Skyward was a really interesting philosophical refutation to Ender's Game. Because Skyward is fundamentally a book where nobody is actually wrong, Ender's Game everybody is wrong.

Brandon Sanderson

That's a pretty interesting thing, yeah.

Kogiopsis

I really appreciate that. Also, the part at the end where Spensa did the navigation thing was so like Between, I almost threw my book at the wall in excitement.

Brandon Sanderson

I wanted for years to do a "Monsters live in the Between" story, which is what this is going toward. 'Cause I always thought-- Like, there's this one episode of Star Trek where someone sees monsters as they are being beamed. And it's one of my favorite Next Generation episodes, there are monsters when you are teleporting. That one stuck with me forever, so you can blame that as part of the inspiration.

Stuttgart signing ()
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Questioner (paraphrased)

Was Shallan's ability to draw intentional, just so you could have her draw all the maps?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Yes, basically that was the seed for her. I was inspired by people from history like Darwin who was a scientist and did drawings. That was part of the concept that made me put Shallan into the books. All those drawings are intended to give you a sense of immersion.

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty - Part One

Keep Venture is actually based on real cathedrals. Actually, visiting a few cathedrals was what that sparked the entire structural theme for the buildings in this book. The main inspiration for Keep Venture was the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I loved the way it incorporated the huge windows at the sides, inset with pillars, with interesting balconies above for viewing. I took that concept and changed it around a bit, turning the worship hall into a ballroom.

After that, the other keeps were easy. Keep Lekal came from the Luxor in Vegas. Hasting and Elariel I came up with on my own–one because I wanted a tower keep, and the other because I imagined a room with stained glass windows in the ceiling.

Manchester signing ()
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Questioner

Basically Bridge Four, the starting sequence was one of the most intense things I have ever read in my life. I was in tears, I couldn't stop it, to the point I kept flipping through to the next Bridge Four part. I was just wondering where you got the inspiration to go so dark with Kaladin and what he went through.

Brandon Sanderson

That's an excellent question. Bridge Four in the original Dragonsteel was a happy accident, back then I wasn't as good at outlining as I am now. I kind of got to this place and went "Huh, I want to do something interesting here" and I kind of discovery wrote myself into it. It didn't work nearly as well as it did in Way of Kings, but that's because I was still figuring it out. I think the original inspiration was-- Something that I like to do with Fantasy is take the geography and see how the unique geography of the area influences the culture of the people who are living there, in this case the warfare, a subset of the culture interaction. This happens with the weather on Roshar as well. I think this is something Fantasy allows us to do, to explore what is fantastical, yet keep it very grounded in the human experience because I find books interesting when I'm interested in the characters. Having this cool place, the Shattered Plains, is not nearly as awesome as having this cool place and "oh no the people I like are dying here". This idea was one of the ideas, I think the inspiration was medieval siege warfare and just how awful that sounds to me. Having to be one of these people running a ladder to climb up the wall. Just "Okay, here's your ladder, good luck". This idea of just having to run into the face of something terrible, to know you are probably going to lose your own life or your friends are going to lose theirs was just so awful to consider. And when that happens, as a writer you are like "Oh I got something. That sounds awful, I'm going to write about it" That's just what we do. Anything that inspires powerful and profound emotion in myself is something I look to use in my books because I figure if it inspires profound emotion in myself it will work on the page to do the same thing with my characters.

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Questioner

Do you have a special way of coming up with your bad analogies?

Brandon Sanderson

Do I special way of coming up with bad analogies. Which are actually similes. So here's the thing-- So Steelheart, I wrote Steelheart in like 2008 or 2009, it was pretty early on, I had the idea-- I was touring for some book, I think-- I feel like it was Warbreaker or Mistborn 3, any way I was touring for one of these books and I get cut off in traffic, I get really mad at the person, and I imagine blowing up their car. I get horrified, like "If I had superpowers is this what I would do? Would I blow up cars of people who cut me off in traffic?" and I was like "OOh that's a story". So I went and wrote the prologue, like almost immediately, I think on that tour I wrote the prologue. I remember reading it at DragonCon that year, whenever year that was.

Then I put the whole book aside and had to wait for like 5 years because I'm like "I'm working on The Wheel of Time I have no time to write this other side project." I was much better at that and not going crazy on side projects when I was doing that. When I finally got back to it I had this prologue-- The prologue was ten years before in-world time, like the character grew ten years between the prologue and chapter 1, so I was "Alright I need a voice for this character" and I started writing, doing my standard thing. I was having so much trouble coming up with a distinctive voice for David, the main character, and I accidentally wrote a bad metaphor. That happens a lot when you're writing-- you just come across something and it's a terrible analogy and you delete it, but here I said "Well what if I ran with that?" The fun thing is by coincidence that became a metaphor for his entire personality. He tries so hard, is very earnest, but sometimes he tries a little too hard, and looks beyond the mark, and stumbles a bit. And that is who he became as a character, and the bad metaphors are a great metaphor for that.

Coming up with them now is really hard. Doing it on purpose is way harder than coming up with good metaphors. They are rough. Sometimes I'll sit-- Like the most time I spend staring at the screen when working on these books is coming up with one of David's metaphors.

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Questioner

I was just wondering what your inspiration was for the setting, for the United Isles.

Brandon Sanderson

The United Isles. We call this historical fantasy, this is where you take a historical period and you fantasize it. I knew I was so divergent from our world that I wanted people immediately to know, complete alternate dimension. I wanted an easy early sign that when you read this, you weren’t going to be asking, “What happened in the War of 1812 in this?” I didn’t want you to be asking that, I wanted you to say, this is so different from our history that I can’t take anything for granted anymore. Which allows me to sweep away expectations and rebuild them in the way I want. You run into this all the time in fantasy, like, you ever want to write a book about vampires, everyone’s immediately going to bring to that world a lot of expectations. It’s much more important early on to sweep away expectations if you’re not going to fulfill them. So with Rithmatist, I was looking for a way to do this, and the idea of America as an [planet?] archipelago was really cool to me, and I also wanted to indicate that things were really bizarre. It’s a much smaller planet version of Earth, so I could put in time distances and say, you can take the train to London and it doesn’t take that long. In their terms it takes forever, for us it’s not that long. Smaller planet, denser core, everything’s islands. This is to say, I’m throwing out everything about our Earth and rebuilding a fantastical version of it.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Yomen's History

Yomen was a fun character to write. Named for Aaron Yeoman, who won a charity auction that I did for character naming rights, I wanted him to present a type of villain different from Zane in book two. Somewhat sympathetic, but a thinker rather than a fighter.

He felt from a very young age that he was destined to be an obligator. The son of a minor nobleman back in Luthadel, he entered the priesthood early and distinguished himself through scholarship and theology. This isn't an aspect of the Steel Ministry that we often get to see in the books, as our focus lies elsewhere. However, there are a lot of philosophers and thinkers in the Ministry—and most of them ended up in the Canton of Resource, the best place for men with an analytical mind.

When a position opened in Fadrex, Yomen jumped at it, as he knew it was a place where most obligators didn't like to serve. It was too out of the way, too removed from important events. Of all the obligators in Luthadel, he was the only one of any distinguished record who wanted to go. (He did beat out more qualified obligators from other cities, as he had connections with the Ministry elite in Luthadel.)

Within five years at Fadrex, he'd risen to being the prelan (i.e. the high priest) of the local Ministry building, despite his youth. Many were saying they saw him heading back to Luthadel to enter the ministry's upper ranks, though it's debatable if this would have happened or not. By going to Fadrex, he put himself in a position to rise quickly as there was little local competition among the obligators. (Many of whom had been stationed there because they lacked the influence to get put elsewhere.) However, it also removed him from the political scene back in Luthadel—and from the minds of many of the more important people there.

It's possible he would have been able to maintain connections and pull enough strings to get himself back into an influential position in the capital. However, it's also possible that by seizing the opportunity in Fadrex, he gave himself a quick path to prelan—but locked himself out of any higher ranks.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

Did you know Hurl's fate before you started writing it all?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, I built that all out in the outline... I needed somebody who was the image of Spensa who went the wrong way, as kind of like a model for what she would see herself in. And part of the inspiration for Skyward is Top Gun, which has that as a major theme. So it was a very natural sort of thing to weave into the story as I was going.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

How did you come up with Shardblades?

Brandon Sanderson

Here's the thing, I've seen a lot of fantasy art-- I love fantasy books, right-- and people often depict these enormous swords, which are completely impractical. So one of my pitches for Stormlight was "I want a world where they had to have weapons like they depict in this fantasy art" and I retrofitted it, what would they need these to actually fight? So that was the pitch for myself on Shardblades. And I was also annoyed that the coolest magic swords were in a science fiction story, Star Wars, I want cool magic swords that are not in a science fiction story.

DragonCon 2016 ()
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Questioner

I wanted to ask-- So you--I think more than almost any other fantasy author--you create universes and then you leave them behind. Entire uni-- I almost feel like you could sit down-- you could have like pages of a physics lecture in each of your universes and you would have equations for how it works. Do you have-- Have you always had these ideas for these various universes with gods and magic systems and things like that, or are you always creating them, sort of as you go? 

Brandon Sanderson

It's yes and no. A lot of the ones you're seeing in the cosmere are things I created at the beginning to be kind of what the cosmere was. But I left some holes intentionally cause I knew I would come up with cool things that I wanted to add, and so I built in that wiggle room, and I'm always coming up with new ones. And there are way more that I want to do than I can write, like the one I keep wanting to find a chance for is--

Do you guys know how Nikola Tesla tried to create wireless energy? I think I've talked about this one. Like, he tried to create wireless energy, and I'm like "What if there were a world where that happened naturally?" Where you had a natural current going, and you could like set your lantern on the ground and it would create a current from the sky to the ground and your light bulb would just turn on. You don't need electricity. And how would-- What if we have giant toads that could shoot out their tongues that would create a current,  and they're like taser tongues? *makes zapping noises* Stuff like this. And so, I started jumping in to looking at electricity and things like this, and current and whatnot, and that's just all back there and I'm like "Aww, someday I need to be able to write this." But there are so many things that I want to write that I just don't have the time for, so it's a yes and no.

Questioner

So do you have, like, "what if" questions and then you build a universe from there?

Brandon Sanderson

Usually they're "what if" questions, but Sanderson's Zeroth Law--I've got these laws on magic you can look up,  they're named humbly after myself--so Sanderson's Zeroth Law is "Always err on the side of what's awesome". And usually it's less even a "what if?" and it's a "That's so cool, taser toads!" Like if you really want to know the truth of where The Stormlight Archive started, there's all this cool stuff, like part of it was like "What if there was a storm like the storm on Jupiter". And then I eventually changed it to a storm that goes around the planet, something like that, but the real truth was "Magical power armor. YEAH! Magical power armor is cool! Plate mail power armor! Why would you need plate mail power armor?" Y'know, and it starts with the really cool idea. Mistborn started by me drifting in a fog bank at eighty miles per hour in my car and loving how it looked as it drove past and saying "Is there a world where I can imitate this feel, where you look out and it streams by." It's those early visuals or concepts that make me say "Oh yeah, I wanna do that!". That is where my books really come from, and then I layer on top of them the "what ifs?" and trying to build a realistic ecology based around these ideas.

Manchester signing ()
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Questioner

Where do you get your people from? Do you take inspiration from people you know in real life?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, yes I do. Sometimes, sometimes not. As I said, usually the seed that starts a character for me as I grow them is a conflict. For Kaladin it's the conflict between being trained as a surgeon and finding out you are really good at killing people, and how do you deal with that. For some it can be very simple, for Sarene I had a friend who is a woman that is 6 foot 2, or whatever she is, *to the side* How tall is Annie? She's tall. Anway, Annie's tall, and she always complains about how tough it is to be a tall woman. Which is something I never thought of, I'm like "I'm going to use that. I'm going to make use of that in a story," Of course that isn't her whole personality, but that little seed, you drop down and I grow a personality around it as I try someone out... That person I knew, a piece of her turned into a character. For other things, it's just trying and trying and trying untill something works, as I explained before. It is "What has their life done to them", often times it's "What are the passionate about? What do they want? Why can't they have what they want?" Those sorts of things lead me into creating a character

Shadows of Self London UK signing ()
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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.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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Sensitivemuse

Also, was there an inspiration for Vin and if so who/what was it?

Brandon Sanderson

Vin has been hard for me to pin down, inspiration wise. I tried so many different variations on her character (even writing her character as a boy) that it's hard to pinpoint when I got it right. There was no one single inspiration for her. (Unlike Sarene, who was based on a friend of mine.) She's a mix of my sisters, a good writer friend of mine, and a dozen different other little bits of people.

The time when I got her character RIGHT was when I wrote the scene that became her first in Mistborn, where she's watching the ash blow in the street, and envies it for its freedom. That, mixed with Kelsier's observation that she isn't a bad person—she just thinks everyone else is—were the big points where her character took form.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fourteen - Part Two

Vivenna Enters the Court

Color harmonics are one of the things in this book that, I think, have some very interesting philosophical implications. I've always been fascinated by the concept of perfect pitch. Pitches and tones are an absolute; music isn't just something we humans devise and construct out of nothing. It's not arbitrary. Like mathematics, music is based on principles greater than human intervention in the world. Someone with perfect pitch can recognize pure tones, and they exist outside of our perception and division of them. (Unlike something like our appreciation of other kinds of art, which is dealing with things that are far more subjective.)

However, I wondered if—perhaps—there are perfect steps of colors just like there are perfect tones, with color fifths, sevenths, and chords and the like. In our world, nobody has the ability to distinguish these things—but what if there were someone who could? Someone who could tell something innate about color that isn't at all subjective?

I'm not sure if I explained that right, but it intrigued me enough to become part of this book.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Seven

Marasi finds Waxillium experimenting with metals

I was very amused to find that the cover of this book had been steampunkified a little bit, with Waxillium having a pair of extraneous goggles on his head. But, to be fair, I did put some goggles in the book, so I guess I can't complain too much.

One thing I was aware of when writing this book was that I didn't want it to feel too much like Sherlock Holmes. There are a lot of parallels, as I mentioned in an earlier annotation. It was important to me to acknowledge the obvious influence to myself, but try to keep myself from falling too much into the same mold.

That's kind of hard when the story is set up, basically, to be a mystery with an investigator set in a similar time period to the Holmes stories. In my head, however, I decided this book would be more police procedural and less quirky-genius-does-deduction. I wanted Waxillium to be a cop, through and through, not an eccentric who solves cases out of curiosity. In that regard, Sam Vimes—from Terry Pratchett's books—was almost as much of an inspiration as Holmes was.

Anyway, that's all a side note to what is happening in this chapter. Waxillium is being methodical in the way he tracks down what is happening. He's very much a step-by-step kind of guy in these matters. And now that he's let himself loose and decided to be involved, he's gone a little overboard.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
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Questioner

You have a good amount of accountants in your books.

Brandon Sanderson

My mother is an accountant. So accounting is one of my go-to references to my Mom. She's an accountant for the city of Idaho Falls. So that is why so many accountants pop up in my books.

Questioner

Is that where [Lightsong], is that a direct, for her?

Brandon Sanderson

Yep. [Lightsong] is also based on a friend of mine who is a computer programmer, and you don't have computer programmers in fantasy worlds. So I'm like, "Well, what's the closest thing to that?"

Footnote: The questioner and Brandon both refer to Llarimar, but it was Stennimar who was the accountant.
Skyward Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

For Jerkface... Was he supposed to stay a jerk, or did you want him to...

Brandon Sanderson

I planned out his arc. I tried very hard to evoke Malfoy, Crabbe, and... Goyle. I tried very hard to evoke that, and then try to pull the rug out from underneath that. Whether I was successful or not, depends on your interpretation, but he was always supposed to be.

And the real fun and twist to this book is, Spensa's kind of the bully, but she presents him as the bully. And hopefully, as you read, you're like, "Wait a minute..."

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Three - Part Two

Llarimar

Llarimar is based on a friend of mine, Scott Franson. Back when I was working on Hero of Ages, my local church group had a service auction for the local food bank. The idea was that church members would offer up services—like a car wash, or some baked cookies, or something like that—and then we'd all get together and bid cans of food for them.

Well, I offered up for auction naming rights in one of my books. The idea being that if you won the auction, you'd get a character named after you and based on you. It was a big hit, as you might imagine, and ended up going for several hundred cans of food. The guy who won was Aaron Yeoman. (And you can see him in The Hero of Ages as Lord Yomen.)

Well, the other major bidder on that was Scott. He's a fantasy buff, a big fan of classic works like Tolkien and Donaldson. (Though he reads pretty much everything that gets published.) He really wanted the naming rights, but I think he let Aaron have it, as Aaron was very excited and vocal about wanting to win.

About a year later, I discovered that Scott, being the kind soul he was, paid for Aaron's cans himself and donated them on the younger man's behalf. I was touched by this, so I decided to put Scott into Warbreaker. It happened there was a very good spot for him, as I'd already planned Llarimar to have a very similar personality to Scott.

I decided that Franson wouldn't work for the name. (Though you do see that one pop up in The Hero of Ages as a nod to Scott as well.) Instead, I used Scott's nickname, Scoot. I thought it worked pretty well, as it's only one letter off from his first name, and his brother claims that they always used to call him that.

So, there you are, Scott. Thanks for being awesome.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

Where did Wayne come from? ...Who is he modeled after?

Brandon Sanderson

He is not modeled after anyone specific. He came from me wanting to write a character who changed his personality based on the hat he wore. Like, literal, a person who wears lots of hats... I started a short story with him as the main character, and I found he needed someone to play off of, and that's where Alloy of Law came from.

ICon 2019 ()
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Questioner

When I read Wax and Wayne, I have in my head, "That's how Batman would look like if Brandon wrote it." When I read The Rithmatist, I think "That's how Harry Potter would look like if you wrote it." My question is: Do you have this in mind when you write such stories and is it intentional?

Brandon Sanderson

It wasn't intentional for Wax and Wayne, but my pitch for Rithmatist to my publisher was, "The Muggle at Hogwarts." The Rithmatist is the person with no magic, who's a superfan of the magic, who gets to go to the magic school. So for The Rithmatist, it was actually part of my original pitch and concept, so yeah.

Orem signing ()
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Questioner

What was your inspiration for Jasnah?

Brandon Sanderson

I had done several times, when I was designing characters in the cosmere, someone who kind of thought they were an awesome scholar but really wasn't. That's the kind of thing with Sarene and a little bit of the thing with Shallan. They're young people who haven't quite made it there yet, whose opinion of themselves is kind of beyond their actual skill level. Who would be, like, the scholar? Like, the ideal Rosharan societal scholar? And I built Jasnah out of that, and then took her in a way that would allow her to also be in conflict with that at the same time. Always a good source of writing a character.

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LewsTherinTelescope

Is Investiture with its deep, inherent connection to sounds/tones/rhythms inspired by a sort of magical version of string theory and its idea of vibrating strings making up everything?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. I would say yes. A direct inspiration. (In my own goofy way, as I tend to do.)