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YouTube Livestream 10 ()
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Ken

Can you talk about your influence for Steris?

Brandon Sanderson

I remember one of the things that really inspired me for Steris is actually Karen Ahlstrom, who is my continuity editor. Karen once was at a writing group talking about how she loves character who are like her, who always are ready. The person who saves that scrap. People call them hoarders, and in her head, she's like, "No no no. A hoarder is someone who doesn't know what they have or why they have it. I have this thing that I have saved. So I know I'm gonna need it someday." And someone's gonna say, "Man, I wish I had a cape for a seven-year-old that would go with this costume." And Karen is the person who says, "I've got one of those. Here, let me get it for you." Karen just loves being prepared to help people. And I thought, that is a brilliant and amazing character attribute to give to a character. The kind of Boy Scout "be prepared," but more in a "I'm ready to help. I do the research, I find out what people, and I am ready there with it. Maybe a little too much."

And that really melded together with seeing her personality. She is based partially on a friend of mine who, when I first met this friend, it was very off-putting at first, getting to know them. What we took for being stuck-up was really just them being a little socially awkward, like most of us in this community are. But the way a lot of us express it is through being kind of goofy. And this person expressed it through being a little bit aloof. Which, when we got to know this person, we're like, "Wow. This is one of the most amazing people we've ever know." But very hard to get to know them, because mostly of us, our own prejudices against people who are a little more quiet. So, I put that into Steris.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

So, your Legion series, where the guy has multiple hallucinations and everything like that-- Where did you come up with your idea? Was it just hanging out--

Brandon Sanderson

Where was the idea for Legion, which if you are not familiar with it Legion is this weird  thing where I have a guy who's a genius, he can study any topic and learn that topic and become an expert in it very quickly but the information appears as a hallucination who can coach him in that information. So it's like he's a schizophrenic but instead of the voices telling him to kill people they tell him how to hack computers or things like that.

The idea came because I was actually working in a writing group with my friend Dan who was working on a book called The Hollow City which is about a real schizophrenic, not a super-powered schizophrenic in a weird Brandon-world. And I'm like "Oooh this would be so cool, what if his hallucinations helped him? What if--" and he's like "That's not my book, I don't want to write that book" and I'm like "But it's so cool!" and he's like "Then you write it!" So I did. And that's where it came from. A lot of time being a writer is realizing "Oh I wish someone would do this, HEY! I know someone who can do that, ME!" and then I write the books.

Tel Aviv Signing ()
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Questioner

What was your inspiration for Syl?

Brandon Sanderson

Syl started as an incarnation of the wind. And I'd always wanted to tell a story about a warrior and the wind. That goes back into mythology the wind being a character. It's in Chinese mythology, it's in Greek mythology and that sort of thing. And that was years ago, before it eventually morphed into Kaladin and Syl. So it was really the idea of the wind being a person. She eventually ended up not being a windspren, but that's how things happen, you have original ideas and then you spend a lot of time refining them until they end up working.

YouTube Livestream 1 ()
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Sebtub

I've you say in other interviews that the Stormlight Archives was your go at a big epic everything's-on-the-table fantasy series. But was there any particular series or religion or myths that inspired the story?

Brandon Sanderson

There's a whole bunch going on. You will find a whole lot of Eastern shamanism, like shinto or things like that, built around the idea of everything having a spren. That is one obvious influence.

Another one is Plato's theory of the Forms (from the Phaedrus, I believe it is), and this idea of different realms of existence directly became Realmatic theory, which is the Physical, Spiritual, and Cognitive of the books. He just had two; I ended up with three. But you can directly trace that to Plato.

A lot of the Alethi culture came from me wanting to build something based off of my research into the Mongol people, particularly during the time of Genghis Khan. But I took away the horses; you don't have cavalries on Roshar to the extent that you would on Earth. And I thought that was really interesting, because most people who base anything on the Mongols go with the whole horse lords things to the point that it's become a cliche. So I'm like, "What if I strip that away, and I'm forced to look at other nuances of their culture?" Particularly, I love the moment (trying to remember what the name of the dynasty was) where the Mongols conquered China, and then basically became a dynasty in China and became basically another Chinese government. The Chinese were used to this idea, that different people take over, the bureaucrats start serving them instead, and the big machine that is China keeps going with a new Dynasty in charge; now they're Mongols. That's really cool to me. And this idea of the Alethi as this famous infantry, this conquering infantry, that (also kind of you see this in Dalinar) have to, in some ways, settle down and rule an empire now that they have one. That's really cool to me, that's really interesting. And that's probably one of the most direct things you can point to Mongol culture for, is this idea. But also kind of, I feel like when people do a warrior culture in fantasy, too often 1) they all feel alike in some ways, and I didn't like that. I wanted to do where you were reading through the eyes of people who were from what I thought was a nuanced, realistic warrior culture. And you didn't realize until you were partway through the book, you were like, "This is a warrior culture! This is, like Klingons. These are the bad guys to a lot of people's eyes!" But it's more nuanced, it's not one note, and so you've got a lot of variety in the culture and a lot of people to it, and a lot of different opinions and perspectives that you may not even notice.

I love doing stuff like this. Like, Elantris is a zombie story. The original premise for Elantris is a zombie story. And I hope that a lot of people don't even realize that. Because I'm trying to strip away some of the trappings and use some of the core concepts. I like it when people get done with Elantris, and they're like, "Wait, zombie story? Oh, yeah!" And I like it when people are reading the Alethi, and they get to the end and they're like, "Oh, those are the Mongols? This is a warrior culture? I didn't even get that! I was through their eyes, and I didn't understand that these are the scourge that everyone else is afraid of, because I was seeing through their eyes and just seeing them as people." That's a greater sort of worldbuilding and storytelling philosophy that I have.

The highstorms came from tidal pools. A lot of the ecology on Roshar was, "Can I create something that looks like a tidal pool or a reef that's, like, a break for the waves, where things are crashing into it a lot." Just kind of building this idea around that.

There's a few of them for you. There are tons more. Stormlight Archive, it's hard to point out one idea for. In fact, it's really hard to point out one idea for the plot premise at all, because telling people what The Way of Kings is about is really hard. Mistborn's easy, right? This is why I think it would probably be wise, if we're going to do any media, is to start with Mistborn. Because we can pitch Mistborn. "Hero failed. Gang of these rob the Dark Lord." Easy pitch. What is Way of Kings about? "Uh... it's about this guy who's trained as a surgeon and he finds out he's really good at killing people and he goes to war but he doesn't actually get to fight, he gets put in the bridge crews, but it really about him building a team of friends among these people in this terrible situation... But it's actually about restoring lost Orders of Knights from long ago... But it's actually about an impending war that they were set up to fight, these Knights, that they told everyone that they'd won, but they really didn't win, but they kind of did..." It just gets really convoluted. It is hard to explain what The Way of Kings is about. This is why The Way of Kings has three prologues. (Don't do that, by the way. One prologue is bad enough; you don't need three. Unless you're writing Way of Kings. Then it was totally necessary.)

Stuttgart signing ()
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Questioner (paraphrased)

What idea sparked Stormlight for you?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The very first seed for everything was a man who's brother to a king. The king gets assassinated and the nephew becomes a bad king. How he copes with that is what I started thinking about. We all have somebody in our family. That became Dalinar and Elhokar in The Stormlight Archive.

Firefight release party ()
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Questioner

How did you think of your powers with Alcatraz?

Brandon Sanderson

How did I think of the powers in Alcatraz. So if you aren't familiar with the Alcatraz books, they are books about a family who all have a magical talent and they are all based on stupid things that I do. *laughter* I am really good at breaking things. This is my phone. *shows phone, laughter ensues* This is my tablet, it only looks this nice because the last time I dropped it I have a nice assistant who took it to the store to fix it last month. So that'll last a few months. So Alcatraz's magical powers is that he is able to magically break things. I'm always late. I wasn't late today because we came up early to have dinner, but I was late to dinner. I'm late to everything So I have another character in that who has the superpower of magically arrive late to things, but he'll arrive late to things like bullets and tax day. They turn into superpowers. It started as me wanting the goofy things I do to become superpowers and extrapolated out from there.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

Do you think any of your characters have ever been influenced by people you know in real life?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, it happens. It definitely does happen. Sarene, from Elantris is based on somebody. Most of Bridge Four is friends of mine, most of the lesser Bridge Four members. Not the main ones, but like Skar is a friend of mine, Drehy is a friend of mine, Peet is a friend of mine.

Questioner

So I was going to say-- What about, what's his name?

Ben McSweeney

Lopen?

Questioner

Yeah, Lopen.

Brandon Sanderson

No, not the core group. Not Lopen or--

Ben McSweeney

None of those guys.

Brandon Sanderson

But everyone else is like a cameo of my friends that I stuck in Bridge Four and, y'know,  then mutilate in horrible ways.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Ten

Vivenna Meets the Mercenaries in the Restaurant

Denth was planned as an important figure in this book from the early going. I was looking for a type of character I'd never written, someone who could be interesting, but not steal the show too much from Vivenna. But I also wanted someone who would provide some good verbal sparring (a theme of this book) without simply replicating the way that Lightsong makes word plays.

Denth's and Tonk Fah's personalities grew out of this. I wanted them to offer a more lowbrow sort of humor, conversations that dealt with more base types of joking. They aren't supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny, but hopefully they're amusing and colorful as characters.

Oathbringer London signing ()
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Questioner

When you start planning your books, is there anything you start with? Is there always some sort of starting point, or do you start whenever an idea occurs and you run with it?

Brandon Sanderson

Every book is a combination of multiple ideas that are bouncing around in my head. And when they start sticking together, like when I've got an idea for a cool idea where "There's a storm all the time," mixing with "Hey, I want to tell this story about these ancient orders of knights." with "Ooh, this magic system might develop here." When these all start sticking together, that's what makes a book for me. And then I sit down and write out all the ideas I had, and then start I organize it into an outline.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

Do you ever take inspiration for some of your characters from people you know, in your life?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes and no, meaning generally I don't base characters exactly on people I know. There are a few exceptions. Skar from Bridge Four is Skar my friend, Ethan Skarstedt, who is a person in my writing group, he's in the military, and he's the only person I knew who actually would do a good job in that situation I put him in. But most of the time what I'm doing is I'm taking some interesting aspect about a character. When I was writing Elantris I knew a woman who was 6'1" and she complained about her height a lot. And had never heard that, I'm like, "Wow, that's really interesting." I'd never considered that being 6'1" in our society as a woman would have all these extra associated problems, and I took that and used it in a character and then had her read it and said, "Does this feel right?" But it's not as if that character represents Annie. It means that one aspect of Annie sent me into an interesting character conflict or interesting trait a character could have that I found fascinating. That happens a lot.

Shadows of Self San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

So, there's not a lot a lot of Western books coming out these days. Is there anything in particular that made you decide to set Alloy of Law and the other books in that time period; and any challenges moving into that time period?

Brandon Sanderson

...It's hard to say, you know, to reach back into my "cultural archive," so to speak, in my head. I did watch a lot of spaghetti westerns during that era. I think they're cool. But I really think it was more wanting to deal with something in the early 1900s. Because, I love that era. That era, in our world, was, like, this era of scientific discoveries-- there was this revolution that happened, right around that time, with the coming of electric lights and the coming of motorcars where, for the first time, science is a thing for everybody. Like, before, science was a thing that somebody rich got to do, and then it became something-- like, I remember reading an essay that was written in, like, 1910, about a scientist who had gone and studied ditch-digging, and gone in there with the ditch-diggers. And he taught them, he figured out the science of what makes ditch-digging easier on their bodies and on their health and faster, and basically he 'scienced' ditch-digging for the ditch-diggers. And they loved that. It made their jobs much easier. It was a time where science was like that, it was the first time that science was like that... That time period really fascinates me, because you've got this whole-- my career is based around taking cool things and superstition, and to have, like, one foot over there and one foot in science, and kind of bringing those two things together. And that fascinates me, and that was a time period where we were transitioning from superstition toward science. That's really cool to me. So, I wanted to do something in that time period, and the Western aspect was just a fun part of it. The whole pitch of "Clint Eastwood has to move to big-city New York and take over his house politics" was really interesting to me.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

What has been the craziest, most off-the-wall, unexpected kind of feedback you've ever gotten--

Brandon Sanderson

Ooh. *crowd laughs*

Questioner

...you know kind of how it sent you in the right direction.

Brandon Sanderson

Wow, craziest off-the-wall feedback I've ever gotten and what direction did it send me. I have so much trouble with these things. Some people ask me the line "what's the weirdest thing a fan has had you write in a book". And I know, if I took the time, I could think of it, but off the top of my head it's kind of hard. I'm not sure what the craziest, most off-the-wall sort of feedback I've gotten. I've given a lot of crazy, off-the-wall feedback. Legion... came about because I was trying to convince my friend Dan Wells to write this book. *crowd laughs* "Oh, you could do this thing, and it could be like schizophrenia but not really, it could be a superpower," and he's like, "Brandon, that's not a Dan Wells book. That is a Sanderson book". And so I ended up writing the book, but that has happened. I've given weird feedback. I'd have to think about that one a little more.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

Is the cosmere, the thread connecting several of your series, something that came from the beginning, or something that kind of grew?

Brandon Sanderson

What a great question! So the cosmere, which is the thread connects a lot of my books together. All of my epic fantasies are connected in this world called the cosmere. Was that from the beginning, or was it something that grew?

So I had, I often point to the fact that I had those years not getting published as a big advantage, because while I was working on those books, I didn't write the first ones as a connected shared universe. It was after I had done a number of them, that I'm like, "Hey, there's something here! There's a thread that I can weave together." But by the time I got published, I knew all of that right?

And so, like when I wrote Mistborn, which was my, the first book I wrote knowing it would get published. Elantris was my first published, it was number 6 in those years. I sat down specifically with Mistborn and built the cosmere, using some of these unpublished books as the history of what had happened. So from the get-go of reading it, it was all interconnected. Elantris got retrofitted a little bit, to fit in with this. From Mistborn is where it all kind of starts working together and things like that.

I was inspired to do this by authors I had read who did this really well, that I liked. Stephen King did it. Michael Moorcock did it. It really kind of blew my mind when Asimov connected the Robots and the Foundation books. Of course, you know, comics have been doing it forever. But when I saw authors doing it is what made me really excited. I would count those as inspiration.

Stuttgart signing ()
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Rhapsody (paraphrased)

How much freedom do you get from Brandon for the maps and symbols and so on?

Isaac (paraphrased)

I get a lot of freedom with the maps. There were actually times we've changed parts of the books to fit the maps.

Rhapsody (paraphrased)

May I have an example?

Isaac (paraphrased)

We changed around directions in the Kholinar chapters a lot.

Rhapsody (paraphrased)

And the glyphs and other symbols?

Isaac (paraphrased)

For the glyphs I have a symmetry tool which I play around a lot with. We developed the glyphs later in full from those images we liked.

For the Allomantic symbols I had a couple different ideas which didn't seem to work well. Then I had an idea about a bunch of nails lying around haphazardly and from that image the Allomantic symbols evolved.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Nightblood Origins

I've been wanting to do a book with a talking sword for some time. Sentient objects are a favorite theme of mine from fantasy books I've read, and I think you'll probably see more of them in future books from me.

The magic sword is its own archetype in fantasy, even if there haven't been any good magic sword books among the big fantasy novels of recent years. Perhaps that's because Saberhagen and Moorcock did such a good job with their books in the past. I'm not sure. (I don't count appearances of magic swords like Callandor in the Wheel of Time. I mean books with major parts played by swords.)

Anyway, that's a tangent, and I'm certain that half the people reading this can think of examples and exceptions to what I just said. Either way, this is a theme I wanted to tackle, and the magic system of this world lent me the opportunity.

Nightblood is another favorite character of the readers. I think his personality works the best out of any non-viewpoint character I've ever written. He doesn't get that much dialogue in the book, but it is so distinctive that it just works.

Starsight Release Party ()
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Questioner

I have a question about Shadesmar. What inspired the beads where everything in the actual reality is a bead in Shadesmar?

Brandon Sanderson

If I were being truthful, it probably goes all the way back to a Michael Whelan painting I saw when I was a teenager. But at the end of the day, I thought it was a really interesting image and a good reflection. I want things to reflect the real world—the Physical Realm—but in a different sort of way. So I like the kind of crystalline nature of it and things like that.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fifteen - Part One

Siri Sees the God King

I think this is my favorite plotline of the book. The Siri/God King one, I mean. It's hard to choose, but this is the one that I felt most interested in. (Though Lightsong's ending chapters are powerful too.)

I wanted the God King to be an enigma, much like Vasher is, at the beginning of the book. Well . . . that's not quite true. Right at the beginning, I wanted him to be scary and dangerous. I wanted the reader to perceive him as Siri did.

By now, however, you should be wondering more. Who is he? What are his motives? Is he angry with her or not?

The driving force behind this, actually, is the Lord Ruler. In Mistborn, a part of me always felt that he was just a little too stereotypical an evil emperor. True, I worked hard to round him out, particularly through the later books. But writing him made me want to take an evil emperor archetype in a very different direction.

I've spoken on the reversals in this book. Well, one thing I realized after the fact is that the novel is—in a lot of ways—about reversals of my own writing. Things I've done before, but taken the opposite direction. Almost like I need to react against myself and explore things in new ways, particularly in cases where (like the Lord Ruler) I did things that were more conventional to the genre.

I think that's why this book has so much resonance with my previous books. Or maybe it doesn't really, and I'm just seeing something that doesn't exist. A lot of my ideas in writing, however, come from seeing something done in a movie or a book (or even in one of my own books) and wondering if I could take it a new and different direction. I hope that doesn't make me feel like I'm repeating myself.

General Twitter 2018 ()
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Pelham TP

Sadly I am currently suffering with toothache. However as the waves of pain fluctuate through my jaw I am reminded of the two blind men discussion with Hoid and Shallan. I understand the beauty of pain receding. I wondered if you endured a similar experience when you were writing that passage.

Brandon Sanderson

Similar, yes, but scenes like that are always part my experience, part my extrapolation of what the character might have experienced.

Firefight Seattle UBooks signing ()
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Questioner

What was your inspiration for Sixth of the Dusk? It feels so, Polynesian or Hawaiian...

Brandon Sanderson

I love Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, and it was basically me reading some stories about Kamehameha, and his unification of the islands, and all this stuff, and I'm like, "Ah, I've got to use this someday." It was years later before I got to use it, but I did find a time to use it. And then we got Kekai [Kotaki] to do the illustration, and he's Polynesian, so...

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Sixteen - Part One

The epigrams in this section of the book should look familiar. Not because you've read them before, but because–assuming you have any familiarity with fantasy–you've read this kind of story before. The young peasant hero who rises up to fight the dark evil. I suspect that the jacket flap, if you've read it, gives away much of this storyline. This is one of the foundational concepts for the book, however. I've read too many stories about young peasant boys who save the world. I wanted to tell one about a world where the prophesied here came, then failed!

This concept, of course, evolved. The original idea was for the Dark Lord to defeat the peasant boy. Instead, however, I found the concept of the peasant boy becoming the dark lord more interesting.

Paris signing ()
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Question

When writing Stormlight, did you get any inspirations from the Chinese Confucian system? The Azish government really reminds me of that.

Brandon Sanderson

So... Yes. Um... Chinese. 新年快乐? This is my only Chinese. [It means] Happy new year. So yes. Living in Korea for several years, I became very interested in the Confucian system. When I returned back from Korea, I studied in college about Chinese history and I found it fascinating. So the Azish are partially inspired by the Chinese Confucian system.

Boskone 54 ()
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Questioner

Sazed is my absolute favorite character in any book now. I love the way he talks and his passion for religion. I think that’s really really cool. (interrupted)

Brandon Sanderson

How did I come up with Sazed? Is that where you’re going?

Questioner

Yeah, and the religion thing, because you have so many. Did you study religion?

Brandon Sanderson

I do study it. I do a lot of studying religion. It fascinates me. I’m religious, I want to know what people find sacred. The origin of the idea for Sazed was the idea of a missionary for all religions. I can actually point at the moment, though, but it comes from a goofy movie.

Questioner

What goofy movie?

Brandon Sanderson

The goofy movie is the original Mummy with Brendan Fraser. There’s a moment where the dumb guy tries holding up a religious symbol and talking and nothing happens, so he pulls up a different one and he pulls out a different one. That moment actually spawned the, “What if that were serious? What if there was somebody who tried to match a religion to the individual?”. That spun me into Sazed, the whole concept of Sazed. You can trace the origins of this deep and important character to the dopey, evil sidekick in a Brendan Fraser movie.

Footnote: I (Kurk) have lost and re-found this particular origin story for Sazed more times than I care to admit
Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Ten - Part Two

We've now seen Sazed preach a couple of religions to members of the crew. You may be interested in my process of coming up with his character.

It actually began when I was watching the movie The Mummy. Yes, I know. Sometimes it's embarrassing where we come up with ideas. However, my inspiration for Sazed was the moment when the oily little thief character gets confronted by the mummy, and pulls out a whole pile of holy symbols. He goes through each one, praying to each god, looking for one that would help him.

I began to wonder what it would be like to have a kind of missionary who preached a hundred different religions. A man who, instead of advancing his own beliefs, tried to match a set of beliefs to the person–kind of like a tailor looking to fit a man with the prefect and most comfortable hat.

That's where the inspiration for the entire sect of Keepers began. Soon, I had the idea that the Lord Ruler would have squished all the religions in the Final Empire, and I thought of a sect of mystics who tried to collect and preserve all of these religions. I put the two ideas together, and suddenly I had Sazed's power. (I then stole a magic system from Final Empire Prime, which I'll talk about later, and made it work in this world. Feruchemy was born.)

YouTube Livestream 26 ()
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Daniel

Did the uses of epigraphs in the Robotech novels influence your own usage of epigraphs?

Brandon Sanderson

I can't say; I wouldn't even have been able to remember that they did have them. I know I liked them. If I were gonna point toward one, I'd point toward Dune. Because, though I read all the Robotech books as a kid and really liked them, Dune I read during a more formative time in my writing, after I decided I wanted to be a writer and was really looking at the structure of stories, and things like that. So that's probably the one I would point to. And the epigraphs in Dune are ephemera, they're very similar. (Though they all tend to be from the same piece, I believe; I think they're all from the journal.) But it could have had an unconscious influence. There are a lot of great books that use epigraphs. But I would not have been able to tell you if they had.

Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing ()
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Question

One of my favorite moments in The Way of Kings is when Dalinar is having the vision of the Knights Radiant and they're descending from the sky and going into battle. I'd like to know the origin of that scene in your head.

Brandon Sanderson

I wanted to provide a contrast. This scene is one I came up with in outlining, it's not one of those scenes that I hang everything on. Most of what you do as a writer, you discover as you do, even if you're an outliner like me. And this was a scene where I'm like, I need something to show the contrast between the world that Dalinar is seeing and the world he is living. And that scene was kind of the metaphorical starfall, that felt like it would express the drama of the contrast, the dark night with the monsters and the bright Radiants from the sky.