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The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#301 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Forty-Seven

The Death of Bilg

You may not recognize a cameo appearance by Bilg in this chapter. He was the soldier who punched Demoux. Who is Bilg? Well, if you go read book one, you'll find a scene where Kelsier visits the caves where his army is training. He picks a soldier out of the crowd to champion him and has the man fight a duel with one of the army's dissident members. Kelsier helped his champion by using Allomancy to interfere with the fight.

The champion? Captain Demoux. The dissident troublemaker he fought? A guy named Bilg. (Perhaps you can see why Bilg would bear a grudge against Demoux.) In the original draft of book one, Bilg died in that fight. However, readers reacted harshly against Kelsier killing a man to make a point. So, I backed off and had Bilg live and become a follower of Kelsier.

I've always felt that he should have died, though. So, in this book, he makes trouble again, fights Demoux again, and this time finally gets what he deserves. The only problem is that Elend gets his name wrong here and calls him Brill instead. Oops. Since that makes it pretty much impossible to spot the cameo, I may get that changed in a reprint.

Firefight San Francisco signing ()
#302 Copy


I'm a poet myself and I totally related to your thoughts on writing and how to keep it fresh and on fire, and yet disciplined.

Brandon Sanderson

I have a lot of respects for poets, it is hard work. When I had to do poetry in one of my books, I actually went to a poet and hired them to write the poems, to put the-- I don't know if you've read Words of Radiance, but the songs were kind of hired out, because I don't trust my own poetry chops, they're just not good enough.

Supanova 2017 - Sydney ()
#303 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

I just got a job as an editor. What advice can you give me about my job from the perspective of an author?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The editor's job is to figure out what the author is trying to do, and how to help them make a better book than the author has written. Get them to try out options even when they don't want to listen or change the parts that don't work.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#304 Copy


How much did the alpha, beta, and gamma readers in your opinion influence the end product [of Oathbringer] here today?

Brandon Sanderson

...I find them invaluable. Let me define them for you first.

Alpha readers are a very select group. My editor, my agent, my wife, and, like, my assistant-- like Peter. These are alpha readers, people who are reading it in a very raw form.

Beta readers are more like a test audience. The difference between alpha reader and beta reader is that the alpha is somebody who's an industry professional, for me, who can say-- can look at the structure and say "here's some advice on structure" and things like this. A beta reader is just a person who likes books, whose job is just to say "I like this, I don't like this, this is why." Right?

Gamma readers are proofreaders. So, usually, Peter handles all the gamma readers. I don't even see what they say, because that's all to fix proofreading.

I am a very big believer in test audience. I know some writers don't use them at all, but I find it really, really helpful to see how people are responding to the text and the fiction, and then looking and saying, "What is it that is making them feel this way? Do I want that? Do I not want that?" It is just a huge piece of the toolbox for me, a huge tool in the toolbox. (That metaphor doesn't work, because a larger tool in your toolbox is not necessarily more useful, but go with me on it.) I would say, they had all kinds of effects. And we might have Peter do some blog posts on things that I changed because of the beta readers while I'm online. And once you've read the book, you can ask me, we'll try to post about some of this stuff. Usually, they're not making suggestions, they're just giving their feelings, and I'm looking for the places where I've misfired. Where I'm like, "I thought this scene would be super dramatic," but everyone is confused. That's the sort of scene you want to find, and then ask yourself, "How can I make it work instead."


You had 70, right?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I had 70 beta readers on this. They wrote around 600,000 or 700,000 words. So, more than was in the book, about the book. Yeah. It's crazy.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
#305 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Forty-Eight

The Lord Ruler's Final Message

This plaque from the Lord Ruler was very difficult to write. Originally it was much shorter, but I expanded it during the last draft because I felt it was just too useless. Even still, it doesn't say much. And that's the problem.

I was always intending the Lord Ruler's final plate to contain no answers. It works into my themes for this series—this was the "quest" book playing off the epic fantasy ideal of the powerful object that must be discovered and used to fight the evil. Except that this time, I wanted them to get to the place they'd been questing toward and find it empty, with no answers from the Lord Ruler. I felt this would only heighten the sense of hopelessness the characters are feeling in trying to fight Ruin.

The problem is, rereading this plate I realize that I've done exactly what I wanted—but that it's also a really, really big letdown. I hate letting down readers. It feels like breaking promises. After consideration I think this is still the best thing to do, but I wish I'd found another way to deal with this.

Note that the circle with a dot here is completely lost on Vin. The size of the circle in relation to the text around it, and some numerical clues scribbled around the perimeter of the circle, are indications of the size of a scale map it should be placed upon. If placed the right way, the dot will point directly at the Pits of Hathsin.

Vin's awesome, but she's barely got a basic education. A complex mathematical puzzle like that one is completely lost on her. If Elend had had the time to study the plate, he might have figured out where it was pointing. There wasn't time, however.

The Lord Ruler did leave a very important clue on this plate. However, I feel that obscure clues like this are deciphered far too often in books like this one. I think realistically if you're going to leave a clue like that, chances are good that it will end up getting missed or misunderstood. Which is exactly what happened here.

YouTube Livestream 9 ()
#306 Copy


Is there a particular subgenre of fantasy or sci-fi that you would like to tackle in the future?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, I do know what I am going to be tackling in the future, and it's this sort of... I don't know if there's a good name for it. A lot of people call it magepunk. I don't know that I like that as much. It's this fusion of fantasy elements and science fiction elements. As I move the cosmere more towards science fiction, it's moving more toward space opera science fiction. I love The Fifth Element. One of the things I love about The Fifth Element is this idea of this space religion. That kind of throwback fantasy religion mashed up with far future science fiction is so much fun to me. This is what we love about Star Wars, right? It's the everything-but-right-now. All the past stuff that's cool, all the future stuff that's cool. Now, do this poorly and it can feel like it's a story that's just throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you. What I'm hoping I'll be able to do is have realistic extrapolations, where things that aren't present in our world are natural to be present in the future of the cosmere. But I do like that idea, I do like when magic becomes the foundation for science fiction. Other than that, subgenres of fantasy that I would like to tackle, what haven't I tackled that I would like to try some time... I don't know. I haven't really done a true Weird West. Wax and Wayne kind of touches on that, but I haven't done what I would consider a real authentic Weird West story. That I could totally see as being something that I do in the future. Maybe if anyone thinks of cool ones, they can put them in the chat and we can throw those out.

Oathbringer San Diego signing ()
#307 Copy


...There are sometimes that you'll have a line of dialogue or a description, and I'm just in awe of how either hilarious or amazing it is. Have you ever written a line of dialogue or a description where you're like, "Wow, I am hilarious"? *laughter*

Brandon Sanderson

...All the time! No, I mean, this gets to a larger question of, when the creative process is working... you get surprised by how well the connections start working, and how things start coming together. Sometimes they don't, and you bash your head against the wall. But I think in every writing situation, at some point, you're gonna say "Wow, did that come out of my brain?" Because I got into it so much, I didn't realize all these connections were coming together in the back of my brain, and boom, it happens. And, again, sometimes it doesn't. In fact, I'll get into that in a moment, as we go to the reading. Because I... pulled a book from the publisher and decided not to publish it just recently, like last month.

Footnote: The book Brandon is referring to is The Apocalypse Guard.
Supanova 2017 - Sydney ()
#308 Copy

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Teaching has really helped me be more defined as a writer. Writing is done very often by instinct, and I've discovered a lot about my writing style and process by putting it into lectures and words. That especially helps when the writing is hard. When it's easy you just go with it, but when it's hard I can really pinpoint what's going on.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#309 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Different Viewpoints in the Same Chapter

In the Mistborn books, most of the characters were either involved in the same plotline or separated from one another by distance. I missed being able to do what I did in Elantris, where I would show an event from the perspectives of characters who were involved in very different storylines.

The characters in Warbreaker are a little more focused on the same things, and are tied together by plots, but they're also very separate. (At least at the beginning.) It's fun for me as a writer to be able to show Lightsong, Vivenna, and Siri all attending the same event, but drawing very different experiences from it.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#310 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Fifteen - Part Two

Vivenna Sees Vasher

I'm sorry that we don't get to see Vasher as much as you all want. I considered adding more chapters in. I considered it several times during several rewrites. In the end, I just decided that his viewpoints had to remain as they were in the early part of the book. If you see too much of what he's doing, it will give away things I don't want to give away.

I don't like having viewpoints that fail to reveal things about the characters and their emotions and plans. It feels like I'm lying to the reader when I hide things the viewpoint character knows. I avoid it when I can (though I can't always—reference Kelsier in Mistborn).

Either way, I just decided to keep Vasher as he was, with only occasional appearances.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
#311 Copy


Steris and Marasi. Did you plan the love interest to be [Steris] from the very beginning?

Brandon Sanderson

I did... Very beginning is a weird thing as an author to explain. Because the very beginning of that story, Wax didn't exist, it was only Wayne. Then I built Wax in, then I started building Wax's back history. Then I started building Marasi. Then I started building -- right? By the time that the outline for the four books was done, but even before that, when I was only writing the first one, I knew what I was doing, there.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#312 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Siri Does Her Show for the First Time

This little sequence is far more discomforting to me than the actual nudity, to be honest. Being somewhat of a prude as I am, I hesitated to put this into the book. I realize that to most readers, it's not even very risqué. But I'm the one writing the book, and I'm the one who decides what I include. I have to be willing to take responsibility for what's in my stories.

Why did I put this in if it discomforts me? Well, to be honest, there was no other way. It was what the story demanded. I couldn't see the priests not at least listening. (And, as I think will be mentioned later in the story, they did have some people watching the first nights—no matter what Bluefingers says in this chapter. He's not lying, he's just wrong. The priests would never let a potential assassin near their God King without taking precautions. There was even a soldier hiding under the bed that first night, and another watching from a secret chamber beside the hearth. It was still a risk to let Siri into the room, of course, but they were fairly certain—after taking her clothing and instructing the serving girls to watch carefully during the bathing—that Siri had no weapons on her.)

Regardless, it was ridiculous to think the priests wouldn't listen in, knowing what they do of the God King. That meant Siri had to either sleep with him for real, or find a way to distract them. This was a clever move on her part, and I like it when my characters can be appropriately clever. And so the scene stays. If I hadn't allowed her to do this, then I would have—as an author—been holding her back artificially.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#313 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Nineteen

Clod Arrives with Jewels

Early on in the development process, I knew that I wanted to have a Lifeless as a side character. They're such an interesting part of the world—in fact, they're a big part of the foundation of the setting, or at least what made me want to write it.

That meant having a Lifeless on Denth's team, and Clod as a character fit into place quite easily. I had worried about how to make Jewels distinctive in the team, after having Denth and Tonk Fah establish themselves for some twenty chapters before Jewels even makes an appearance. Working with that, I realized that by making her the Lifeless handler, I could add something unique to her—and to the team.

Denth knew that Vivenna wouldn't react well to there being a Lifeless on the team. That's part of why he kept Jewels away for so long. (In fact, when Jewels says, "Who's that woman?" in regards to Vivenna, it should have been slightly suspicious to you. She knew they had a new employer, and she should have made the connection. Indeed, she did. Denth had specifically ordered her to stay away until this moment, as he didn't want to scare Vivenna off.)

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#314 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty

Bluefingers Warns Siri Outside the God King's Chamber

I'll admit that many of Siri's thoughts here are complaints I myself have. She wonders why Bluefingers had to be so cryptic. It's a weak literary device, in my opinion, always having people with knowledge tease with it but never give the full truth. I hate it when I read stories where characters withhold information just because it needs to be withheld in the book.

At the same time, the only way to have a mystery is for there to be things the characters don't know. There can be legitimate reasons why someone doesn't want to speak or share what they know. In my books, I want those reasons to be good ones—which is why in the Alcatraz books, I never have the adults refrain from giving Alcatraz information just because of his age.

In this case, Bluefingers has very, very good reasons for what he does. I hope that it doesn't feel contrived for him not to speak further here.

Stormlight Three Update #2 ()
#315 Copy


You've written about a huge amount of cultures where women are expected to conform to what we think of as "traditional gender roles". In Stormlight, Mistborn, Elantris and Warbreaker all, the strong women are largely defined through how they buck these rigid gender roles. I never got the sense that you think of those as "natural" gender roles for women but more that you were using the Fantasy setting with its stereotypical Elizabethan ideas of gender to critique sexism. That's a great and well established way to address sexism in novels, but the other way is to actively challenge stereotypes in the setting, by showing that our idea of gender roles isn't inevitable (by showing a society with a very different idea of gender roles).

Brandon Sanderson

I'm aware of the things you say regarding sexism, and they are things I think about a lot. On one hand, you want to make stories relateable, which often requires leaning on people who struggle against the boundaries set for them. At the same time, it becomes a cliche if every young woman is forced to become a fighter for gender equality--and it lets her gender define her struggles in a way that is not heaped upon the male characters.

With Stormlight, I'm trying to take a different look at this idea in many ways. Some of which would be spoilers to talk about here.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#316 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The God King Has No Tongue

Okay, so here we have the first major reversal in the book. There are several reasons I wanted to write this story. The first was that I loved the concept of the woman being sent to the terrible emperor, only to discover that he was a puppet of someone else. This was a big part of the original Mythwalker plot for Siri, and was a big part of what intrigued me about that story. (As a side note, Mythwalker was also the first place where I tried out the words koloss and skaa for races. They were completely different then, however.)

After writing Mistborn, I became increasingly intrigued with the idea of a complete reversal book—a book that did things very differently from the way I'd done them before. I'd dealt with an all-powerful emperor, and so people would (unconsciously) expect the God King here to be like the Lord Ruler. That gave me more opportunity to use their expectations against them and pull off a reversal of roles like the one in this chapter.

I hope it worked. By now, you were probably suspecting that something odd was up with the God King. However, I hope you weren't expecting something as redefining as the lack of a tongue. In this society, with this magic system, that is an even greater symbol of powerlessness than it would be in our society.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#317 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The contact Vasher mentions in this scene is Bluefingers. The little scribe is working very hard to push the court toward war, and he thinks that if Vasher sneaks into the hidden tunnels, he might do something dangerous like kill a few guards. More than that, Bluefingers is hoping that by giving away that tidbit of information, he might be able to get Vasher to trust him, and therefore get the chance to manipulate him toward fomenting the war.

At this point, Vasher has contacted Bluefingers pretending that he's interested in the politics of the court and the war. Bluefingers inaccurately assumes—from intelligence he's gathered, from what Denth has said, and from some faint awareness of who Vasher might be—that Vasher wants to drive Hallandren back to war with Idris. At the very least, Bluefingers assumes that Vasher will want to kill and destroy, since death and destruction have often been his wake.

And so, Bluefingers sells to Vasher a little tidbit that he assumes is innocent (the presence of the tunnels). This gives Vasher an unexpected edge. He now knows that it's possible to get to the Lifeless garrison, and into the court itself, through ways nobody knows about. That makes him suspect that something greater might be going on, perhaps a coup of some sort.

I apologize for only showing little pieces of this in the book. But, to be honest, I don't think it's that interesting—mostly because everybody is so wrong about what they're assuming. And the assumptions are rational enough that I think it would be confusing in the book. Vasher is wrong about the coup, and Bluefingers is wrong about Vasher's motives. Denth only cares about getting a chance to punish Vasher for the death of his sister.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#318 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty-Five

Vivenna Awakes, Bound by Vasher

This chapter—with what happens in the latter part of it—is the most dangerous in the book. Dangerous to me as an author, I mean. I love good plot twists, but I worry about leaving them without proper foreshadowing. I've never done something as drastic as I have in this book, having a group of sympathetic characters turn out to be working for the wrong side. I hope it succeeds, but I know that if it doesn't, readers will be very mad. Nothing is sloppier than a book with unearned changes in character motivation.

But we're not there quite yet. Before that we have the first real interaction between Vivenna and Vasher. He gives her what he likes to think of as the Nightblood test. One nice thing about having a sword that "cannot tempt the hearts of those who are pure" is that when someone like Vivenna touches it, she gets sick. I didn't want Nightblood to come across as a "one ring" knockoff. He doesn't turn people's hearts or corrupt them. However, in order to be able to do his job and fulfill his Command, he needs the ability to determine who is good and who is evil.

This, of course, isn't an easy thing to determine. In fact, I don't think it's a black or white issue for most people. When Nightblood was created, the Breaths infused in him did their best to interpret their Command. What they decided was evil was someone who would try to take the sword and use it for evil purposes, selling it, manipulating and extorting others, that sort of thing. Someone who wouldn't want the sword for those reasons was determined to be good. If they touch the weapon, they feel sick. If others touch the weapon, their desire to kill and destroy with it is enhanced greatly.

Nightblood himself, unfortunately, doesn't quite understand what good and evil are. (This is mentioned later in the text.) However, he knows that his master can determine who is good and who is evil—using the sword's power to make people sick, or through other means. So, he pretty much just lets whoever is holding him decide what is evil. And if the one holding the sword determines—deep within their heart—that they are evil themselves, then they will end up killing themselves with the sword.

Vivenna passes the test, which surprises Vasher. He thought that she'd be the type who would use Nightblood to kill and destroy. (He doesn't have a high opinion of her, obviously. Of course, that's partially because he's let his temper dictate what he thinks.)

Boskone 54 ()
#319 Copy


Writing question: At what point in the process do you decide whether or not you are going to include epigraphs in the book?

Brandon Sanderson

I generally, during the writing of a book, make the call. I don’t usually write them until the end. Then I write them all out together and divide them into the places they belong.


I feel that we know a lot less about Nalthis than the other planets because of the lack of epigraphs.

Brandon Sanderson


Yeah I want each book to have a little bit of a feel of its own. I don’t want to do epigraphs just to do epigraphs. I want to do them on books that it matches.

Brandon's Blog 2017 ()
#320 Copy

Karen Ahlstrom

I knew I'd have to deal with it sometime, and it finally caught up with me today. My Master Cosmere Timeline spreadsheet has far too many relative dates, and not enough absolutes.

Roshar's date system

The biggest reason I have put it off is that the date system Brandon made up is both supremely logical and at the same time totally crazy. A year has five hundred days, but there's also a thousand-day cycle with different highstorms around the new year. In each year there are ten months of fifty days each. The months are broken into ten five-day weeks. The date indicates what year, month, week of the month, and day of the week it is and looks like this: 1173.8.4.3. It is impossible for me to do the math in my head to decide what the date would be 37 days ago, so I don't use the dates in my reckoning, and only calculate them as an afterthought. This dating system is also a hassle because two weeks in our world is almost three weeks there, and a month there is almost two of ours, and when writing Brandon doesn't even pretend to pay attention to those differences.

Day numbers in The Way of Kings

But then we have to talk about my relative date system. The timeline of The Way of Kings is a mess. The story for Shallan starts more than 100 days earlier than Dalinar's storyline. And Kaladin is roughly 50 days different from that. So for that book I had to pick a day when I knew there was crossover between the viewpoints and work forward and back from there. So a date in The Way of Kings might be marked on my spreadsheet as D 23 or K-57.

Day numbers in Words of Radiance and Oathbringer

For Words of Radiance I started over at day 1 for that book. Those numbers count up until the new year which is day 71. Oathbringer starts just after the new year, so I used the day of the year for my book-specific day number. Of course switching systems at the start of each book made it hard for me to calculate just how many days there were between events in WOR and OB. So I put in another column which indicated a relative number of days counting before and after the arbitrary date of the end of WOR.

Flashback dates

The next problem I dealt with were the line items that say something like "five years ago" for their date. With more than a year of onscreen time from the first chapters of The Way of Kings to the end of Oathbringer, it's really necessary to note that it's five years before what event with a solid date. Once I have a date to assign to it, I also have to decide how exact the date is. When I come back three years from now I will need to know whether this date is firm, or if it would be okay to put it three or four months on either side.

Putting it all together

When Peter found an error in the spreadsheet one day, I decided to match a serial number to each date after the year 1160 (which makes for easy calculating), and make that my absolute day number from here until forever (though I'll probably still make a book relative date, since it's a useful way to talk about things with the rest of the team). To find the Roshar dates from the serial numbers I made another spreadsheet with a vlookup table for the dates and serial numbers, then translated all the dates from the three books into that single new system (finding several more errors as I went).


Skyward Denver signing ()
#321 Copy


[What is your favorite] disorder to write about?"

Brandon Sanderson

I don't know if I have a favorite. I have revisited dissociative disorders in multiple different ways because they make for interesting narrative... but it's not the disorder that's interesting to me, it's the person interfacing with the world and the challenges they deal with. And writing about that sort of thing is really interesting to me. I try not to let the disorder define the person, though it is sometimes a little harder, particularly with something like Legion.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
#322 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Blushweaver and Lightsong Visit Mercystar

Just like the last scene showed off what a lot of the standard gods are like, Mercystar is supposed to hint at what a lot of the goddesses are like. I think that there would be a good number of them who would turn out just like this—given anything they want, told how important they are, and blessed with a beautiful and perfect body no matter what they eat or how they act. Imagine what that must do to a person.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
#323 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Nine

Wax and Marasi talk philosophy and his past

This sort of thing is another hallmark of the Mistborn books. (And, well, perhaps my writing in general.) I intended this book to be faster paced than what I term an "epic" like any of the books in the original trilogy. I wanted to move at a fair clip and not get slowed too often by conversations like this one. However, conversations like these are what add depth to characters for me, so I didn't feel it right to cut them completely.

Here, we get to see Waxillium's and Marasi's different views on life, the ways that who they are ground what they do. Waxillium is a realist. He sees things as they are. (Or how he thinks they are, at least.) He has a touch of a philosopher inside of him, as he wonders about what the truth is—but he wants to find that truth, prove it. He's not unaccommodating or harsh, but he does believe in absolutes and wants to find them.

Marasi is more interested in extremes because they're interesting, not because she is seeking for truth or reality. She's like a moth drawn to flame, fascinated by outliers. She's good with numbers and statistics, and can find those outliers; then she reads as much as she can about them. She could name for you every serial killer in Elendel's history, and talk about their lives and what led them to do what they did. She wouldn't consider it morbid, just fascinating. Wax, reading the same thing, would find his eye twitching. He'd get through a part of the reading, then find himself out on patrol, trying to run across someone doing something wrong that he could stop.

State of the Sanderson 2017 ()
#324 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Updates on Secondary Projects

The Rithmatist

This continues to be the single most-requested sequel among people who email me or contact me on social media. It is something I want to do, and still intend to, but it has a couple of weird aspects to it—completely unrelated to its popularity—that continue to work as roadblocks.

The first problem is that it's an odd relic in my writing career. I wrote it as a diversion from a book that wasn't working (Liar of Partinel, my second attempt at doing a novel on Yolen, after the unpublished novel Dragonsteel). It went really well—but it also was something I had to set aside when the Wheel of Time came along.

I eventually published it years later, but my life and my writing has moved in a very different direction from the point when I wrote this. These days, I try very hard to make stories like this work as novellas or standalone stories, rather than promising sequels. I feel I did promise a sequel for this one, and I have grand plans for it, but the time just never seems to be right.

The other issue is that writing about that era in America—even in an alternate universe—involves touching on some very sensitive topics. Ones that, despite my best efforts, I feel that I didn't handle as sensitively as I could have. I do want to come back to the world and do a good job of it, but doing an Aztec viewpoint character—as I'd like to do as one of the viewpoints in book two—in an alternate Earth…well, it's a challenge that takes a lot of investment in research time.

And for one reason or another, I keep ending up in crisis mode—first with Stormlight 3 taking longer than I wanted, and now with The Apocalypse Guard not turning out like I wanted. So someday I will get to this, but it's going to require some alignment of several factors.

Status: Not yet. We'll see.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#325 Copy


You've mentioned before that your conclusions, you like to have people figure it out, like, a paragraph right before it happens. Which one do you think you executed best?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, man. I am not sure. It's tricky, because it's getting harder and harder to fool the readers as they get wiser and wiser to my things, so at some point, I just have to be okay with that. So I think that the early books, I was able to pull off more. Like, the Mistborn 1 ending is probably the one that gets people the best. I think I'm getting better at my climaxes, but now... that people are getting wise to me, I have to convolute them a little bit more. Like, the Oathbringer one, people were probably expecting from Book One. They have multiple books to...

Skyward Denver signing ()
#326 Copy


You were talking before about how, when a book's not working out, you moved on to something else, and then it started to come together in your mind. Was that something that you-- you were moving on to something else and all these other ideas started popping up? Or were you revisiting your other book every now and then?

Brandon Sanderson

Every now and then I'm revisiting it, and I spend a few days on the outline saying, "How is this going? Are things working?" With [Skyward], it was starting to click, so I went specifically back to this one as things were clicking. I keep a folder of these half-finished outlines that aren't working for some reason or the time isn't right yet. And every time it's time to start a new book, those are all in the consideration.

Skyward Denver signing ()
#327 Copy


Callsigns. Did you come up with those yourself?

Brandon Sanderson

I did. The callsigns in the back of all the beta readers, they came up with their own. But I came up with all the callsigns. One of the things I was trying to do, I tried to make the callsigns start with the same sound as their real names. And that was what be guidance was so that it would be easier to keep everyone straight.

Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
#328 Copy


Do you spend the most time on your magic systems, or do you find yourself spending equal amounts of time on other aspects of worldbuilding/plot such as religion/culture/language/geography? 

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on the novel. With some I spend a lot of time on areas that in others I don't spend much time on at all. With every book I spend a serious amount of time on the magic system. That's consistent—it's just something I like to do.

For a given book or series I may spend more time on a given aspect. I'd say the other big aspect that takes a lot of time is characterizing the characters the right way. That takes a lot of work, but I tend to do that during my actual writing period, whereas I spend the planning period focusing on worldbuilding and plot. It's when I actually sit down to write a chapter that I explore who a character is, and so it's really hard to pin down timewise which one I spend more time on. And that varies based on the book.

Firefight Seattle UBooks signing ()
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Questioner (Paraphrased)

Why do you have so many series going on at once instead of finishing one of them?

Brandon Sanderson

A couple of reasons. The main one is that it's the way I stay fresh as a writer, I find that I get burned out on things. Another main one is that I feel if I'm not practicing different styles, I'll get into a rut, and my writing will repeat itself. It's kind of like a philosophical reason and an instinctual one. I tell people who are annoyed that I'm not writing Stormlight that you wouldn't get Stormlight any faster if I weren't writing these other books in between - you might get it more slowly, because it's working on other things that really rejuvenates me as a writer. So I would be writing at a [Patrick] Rothfuss speed if I weren't jumping between things.

The Hero of Ages Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Seventy-Two - Part Two

Marsh and the Earring

Also, here we get a Marsh viewpoint. It's almost our last one. (I think there is one more in the next chapter.)

He didn't get much screen time, but I hope that what he did get led you to this climax for him. Spook's letter wasn't in vain, though I take delight in knowing that some of my alpha readers were convinced it had been.

I've been told my endings are a little too neat sometimes. Well, that might be valid criticism. However, I prefer it for this particular book. After three novels of building and foreshadowing, I can finally make good on promises and threads I began way back in book one. There's a reason I included that scene with Marsh and Vin on the balcony of Mansion Renoux. Marsh had to know how she'd gotten her earring.

You can probably see it now. Vin's mother, who was schizophrenic, was corrupted by Ruin, who spoke in her mind. He got her to love her first daughter, but hate her second—to see the second as a repulsive monster. In her insanity, she killed the second daughter by cutting open her chest and ramming a pin through her heart. Then, she stuck that same pin into Vin's ear, turning it into an earring.

Reen, the older brother—not even a teenager at that point—stumbled in upon this scene, and it nearly snapped his mind. That night he took Vin and ran.

Vin's mother was tracked down by the Inquisitors a short time after that. Fortunately for Vin, her father had realized he was in trouble and ordered his own lover executed. His assassins got to her just before the Inquisitors, and all they found was a corpse.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Waxillium gets pushed to the brink, watching the robbery

I realize it's amusing for people to think of the process of this book, which began as a "short" story. Perhaps I'll post my original attempts at writing the book. As a matter of note, Wayne was the first person I imagined for this series. In very early notes I scribbled down, he was actually going to be a hatmaker. (If you can believe that.) He developed a long way from there.

Many of you may know that I wrote this book during my "time off" between finishing Towers of Midnight and starting A Memory of Light. However, the ideas for this story had been around for some time longer, perhaps a year or two. I decided I wanted to do some shorter stories between the first two larger-scale Mistborn trilogies, and . . . well, this is what "short" means to me, I guess.

Anyway, the first scene with Wayne I dabbled in (this was before the break) was him out in the Roughs riding into town on a kandra that had the body of a horse. It was a nice spin on a typical Western motif—instead of being the quiet gunman of Western cliché, he was a screwball hatmaker. And his horse was sentient and grumbling about having to carry him around; she wanted to get back into a human body as soon as possible.

The scene didn't work, though. I didn't get far into it. Wayne wasn't working for me as a main viewpoint character at that time, and I hadn't gotten around to filling out his character with the things he eventually became. (His "borrowing," his love of accents, his good nature despite a dark past. Things like this grew as his character became more deep.)

The other thing that didn't work in those original scenes was the fact that there was no Wax. Wayne needed someone to play off, someone to be dry and more solemn—but still make for good banter. And Wayne just wasn't a leading man. The story was wrong when it was just about him. I needed to tell a story about someone else and fit him into it.

That brings us to this sequence. When I planned the original short story, this sequence at the party was going to be the end of it. The Vanishers weren't in the book—it was just a simple gang of thieves taking a hostage. The prologue didn't exist, as I've spoken of earlier. It was a more simple story of a man coming into his own and deciding to fight again after losing someone dear to him.

For that reason, this sequence here—this chapter with the next—may feel like a climactic sequence to you, of the sort you often find at the end of my books. Originally, this was going to be the ending. (Though by the time I reached this chapter in the writing, I'd already decided I was going to make the story much longer, and had greatly expanded my outline. Hints of the story's origins can still be found, however. Note that we don't get a Wayne or a Marasi viewpoint until after this sequence when we hit the expanded outline material.)

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Have you ever thought of doing a magical school series a la Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind, or The Magisterium series? Or did Skyward kinda fill that spot for you?

Brandon Sanderson

We'll see. I've never had a really good idea for one. I need to feel like I'm bringing something new to a sub genre like that.

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
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What do you make of, like you were talking about earlier, you're hoping to be nicer, whereas someone like George R. R. Martin or, what's his name?

Brandon Sanderson



Yeah.  They tend to be very graphic.  

Brandon Sanderson

I'm glad there is diversity in the genre.  And I am glad that there is a lot for different people to find and enjoy.  I personally feel that I want my books. . . I find that writing as I said to someone else  *inaudible* and for John?  I find writing about good people put in bad situations is important for me.  And I want to read books about people that have admirable qualities that I want to--People that I want to hang out with.  

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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How much of an impact did interviewing professional fighter pilots have on the story? Did anything learned from them actually change parts of the book in significant ways? Did you learn anything weird or unusual that you found fascinating?

Brandon Sanderson

The pilots were a HUGE help. The biggest issue I had, which was really hard to get through my skull, was the different ways that G-forces interacted with the human body.

I knew the basics, and had flight suits operating correctly and was watching for people pulling too many Gs. But the fighter pilots kept explaining things like "eyes out" and how it wasn't just number of Gs, it was the direction they were pulling. It wasn't until I called one of them and had a lengthy conversation that it started to click with me.

From there, some of the direct feelings of pulling Gs--feeling like your skin is sliding off your body, or that you've aged a hundred years--I got from them.

As always with a sf/f book, one of my goals is to walk the line between realism and fiction. I tried to make the battles feel real enough to not kick an actual pilot out of the story, but at the same time, I specifically gave the fighters technology that we don't have, in order to spice up how the combat would work.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Butler's betrayal

Yes, the butler is a traitor. It's a cliche, but it fit the narrative very well, so I went ahead and used it. I don't think a lot of people will see it coming, though there are several clues. One of them is the fact that he makes only one cup of tea here and brings it for Wax; Tillaume is not accustomed to killing people, and he's extremely nervous in this scene. That's why he made the mistake of not making three cups and bringing them all over. (My writing group caught this, which amused me. They thought it was a mistake in the writing, though.)

One of the things that made me want to write this story, and keep going on it after I'd started, was the chance for good banter between Wax and Wayne. They play off one another well, and I haven't had a chance to do a book in a while (ever since the first Mistborn book, really) that had a good, long-established relationship between main characters who I could play off each other in this way. There is something deeply satisfying for me about this kind of writing, even though it's really just silly banter. I feel as proud of moments like Wayne toppling over because of the tea, then the conversation in the speed bubble, as I do of a deep character complexly coming to a character climax at the height of a story. That's because, at least as I see it, this is as technically difficult to pull off—the right feel of two characters with a very long relationship, talking in a way that conveys their years of experience with one another. And, at the same time, hopefully being amusing and interesting.

It's very dense writing, for all the fact that it doesn't read that way. (Unlike, for example, a really good section of dense description, laden with meaning.) Part of the reason it works is because it feels so easy to the reader.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Wayne's Backstory

This was the final piece of figuring out who Wayne was. When I'd toyed with him as a character in the original short story, I'd intended for there to be something like this in his past. In the case of this book, however, I didn't decide upon it until I was quite a ways into the story.

I've mentioned that when it comes to characters, I often "discovery write" who they are. Meaning, I work my way into them as I write. With plots and settings, I tend to do a lot of planning and know pretty much where I'm going from the beginning. But with characters, I do a lot of exploring. If a book isn't going well for me, it's often because I can't get the characters down the right way.

That stated, one might wonder why I don't just plan them out like I do my plots and settings. It's because it doesn't really work for me to do it that way—the characters don't stick to the plan in the same way that plots do. I've found that I need this element of improvisation in my writing to give it authenticity. The characters have to breathe in a way that the plots don't need to, for me. I have to let them be more real, in a way, though I'm not certain if it's possible to explain this process.

Anyway, my instincts said there had to be something in Wayne's past like this, and I had felt for a few chapters it had to do with why he didn't use guns. But until I wrote this chapter, I hadn't settled on how it was actually going to have played out.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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I'm really hooked by the "girl and her dragon" idea. Were there any fun or interesting things you were able to explore by virtue of replacing the dragon with a spaceship? That is, it's easy to imagine the fun similarities, but I'm curious if there were any notable differences introduced by that swap.

Brandon Sanderson

Hm... Well, normally in the dragon egg story, a trope is that the dragon needs to learn how to fly/fight and the trainer needs to learn with them.

Here, the ship knows how to fly--but is busted up. So there's a lot of fun in the story relating to how exactly to get parts for the ship--which leads to a completely different style of storytelling.

General Reddit 2018 ()
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So once upon a time Brandon was going to write Szeth as the flashback character for book three, but then Brandon changed his mind, decided to write Dalinar's flashback chapters to see how that would go, and then after writing them made book 3 Dalinar's book instead. Here is a quote from the first Stormlight Book 3 Update post Brandon made in this subreddit

As someone else has posted, I have finished the rough draft of Dalinar's flashbacks for Stormlight Three. I consider the experiment of writing his flashbacks for this book, instead of waiting for book five, to be a success. Therefore, I'm proceeding with the Dalinar/Szeth flip.

The reasoning for this is something I can't discuss in detail until the book is released. I'd be happy to revisit this topic once you all have a chance to read the novel.

Now that the book has been out for 6 months or so, I'd love to hear Brandon discuss the reasoning behind this. Personally, I have a very tough time imagining how this book would have played out if Szeth had been the flashback character. Clearly we wouldn't have had to Dalinar/Odium confrontation if we didn't have Dalinar's flashbacks, as those were integral to the overall storyline. I'd love to hear what the plot of this book was originally supposed to be when Szeth was going to have the flashbacks. Does anyone know the answers to this, or am I going to have to hope Brandon sees this post and decides to answer more than a RAFO? :)

Brandon Sanderson

Hmm. This is going to be difficult to answer without straying into spoilers for books four and five. It's also hard to say how the books would have played out if I'd swapped these back.

The Dalinar/Odium confrontation would still have happened, as that was something I'd been planning for a while. But how would things have played out? Hard to say, as an outline is only a rough guide--even for someone like me. It's when you get to the nitty gritty of the story that things come together.

Having finished the book, it's hard for me to imagine going another direction--as I made the decisions I did because I felt they were the ones that were right for the story. And a lot has changed over the years as I've worked on the details. (Kaladin's arc from book two, for example, was originally plotted for book three--parallel to Szeth and his flashbacks, which share some similarities.)

Dalinar's flashbacks would work very well for book five for reasons I can't explain yet--but it became clear to me that I needed them for this book, despite the outline looking at the Szeth/Kaladin dynamic. (Which was upended anyway when I moved Kaladin's second character arc to book two.)

So...that's a whole lot of not saying much, I'm afraid. I can answer a lot more once book five is out.


Does it mean that we shouldn't expect any explanations or clues about what happened with Dalinar at the end of Oathbringer before book 5?

Ask just to know if we'll know more in book 4 or we'll have to wait a bit longer.To avoid false expectations:)

Brandon Sanderson

There will be explanations and clues, but I would anticipate more Dalinar in book 5 than in book 4.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Character Shifts

This is a fun chapter, formatwise. It looks simple—we've got two alternating sequences with Siri and Vivenna. But what's going on here is that I'm trying to pull the first of many reversals in this book.

A reversal is more than just a plot twist—it's a swap. (Or at least that's how I define it in my head.) Just like Elantris's substructure was that of the chapter triads, Warbreaker's substructure is that of reversals. People change places or do 180-degree turns. This presented a challenge to me, as I had to work hard to make such often-abrupt changes well foreshadowed and rational. That's rather difficult to pull off. Most twists take characters in a slightly new direction; spinning them around completely required a lot more groundwork.

If you've read other annotations of mine, you'll probably know that I love twists—but I love them only in that I love to make them work. A good twist has to be rational and unexpected at the same time. Pulling off that balance is one of the great pleasures in writing.

In this chapter, we have the beginnings of the first big reversal in this book. It's more gradual—not an abrupt one-eighty, but a slow and purposeful one-eighty. But the seeds are here, even in this early chapter. If you look at it, we have this:

Scene One: Siri acts just like we expect Siri to. Blustering and emotional.

Scene Two: Vivenna acts just like we expect Vivenna to. Calm, rational, in control, and willing to do as she is told.

Scene Three: Siri grows calm, considers her situation with more care, and acts a little bit like a queen should in deciding to send her soldiers back.

Scene Three: Vivenna is very bothered by what is happening and acts just a little bit like Siri would—she decides upon a plan that is impetuous.

I'm very excited by the underlying structure of the chapter, even though I'm aware that most people probably wouldn't be. I'm just a screwy author type. I like how the changes are very subtle, and yet already there are hints at the way the characters are heading in life.

I like reversals and tone changes, but I still think that readers deserve to have an understanding of what the major plots and arcs for a character will be. There will be twists, but I don't want to just twist needlessly or endlessly. The characters are the most important part of the story, and one thing I rarely twist (particularly late in a book) is a character's personal arc. I keep personal arcs steady, as they're the foundation of a reader's attachment to the book.

The Alloy of Law Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Sixteen

Wayne pretends to be an old woman

These Wayne scenes really did turn out well. It was very fun to write him putting on new personalities and mindsets as he put on new hats.

In a lot of ways, this is a much more standard book than I've released before. My biggest worry is that people go into it expecting it to be something other than what it is.

And what is it? A fun adventure story, told as a detective narrative. I've said that I consider this book more pulp than others I've done. What does that mean? Well, I just wanted to write a fun page-turner that is a quick read from start to finish, and is enjoyable along the way. It makes me wonder if people will call this unambitious. Perhaps that's just the nervous side of me, the artist that worries about what people will say about him, no matter what.

Still, I think it's a legitimate complaint—on the surface. I don't expect readers to understand what's going on in the writer's mind. It's not their job. I've delivered one type of writing in the past, so they expect I will continue to do so.

The thing is, there are lots of different forms of storytelling, and I want to learn how to do many of them. A pulp adventure story doesn't seem less ambitious to me than a deep epic like The Way of Kings. It's not about ambition. Yes, The Alloy of Law is far less deep than Kings—but then Alloy is trying to do different things. Sometimes, an artist wants to paint a deep, realistic painting on a canvas. And sometimes he wants to do a political cartoon sketch. They achieve different functions, but they're both forms of art. I want to be able to do both.

In a way, The Alloy of Law is a reaction to what I'd been doing before. I realize not everyone is going to like the more plodding pace of something like Kings, with lots of characters doing lots of different things. I suspect people will complain that working on The Wheel of Time has influenced me. (I don't think that's a bad thing, but some will.)

Certainly I have been influenced. At least in one style of my writing. However, The Alloy of Law is—in part—for those who liked the pacing and action of Mistborn and were less interested in the epic scope.

I simply hope people read the book, accept it for what it is, and enjoy it.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
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My question is about writing, kind of.

As an author, you have achieved moderate success. People like you and have heard of you within the genre and you have established a relationship with your publishing company that lets you get a lot of books published.

This is the level of success I want as a writer and I am just wondering how financially viable this is. Like, can you write only or do you need a so-called day job? Are you able to support your family with your writing alone? That kind of thing.

Sorry if that is kind of a personal question. I've just always wondered how much money a writer makes once they've "made it".

Brandon Sanderson

I had a lot of questions like this myself during my days trying to break in. Everyone told me it wasn't possible to make a living as a writer—that, like an actor or a musician, I'd spend my life poor and obscure.

One of the big turning points came when I met and talked to a professional writer who had had modest success. Not a huge name, but a person who had done what you hope to do. Publish a book every year, never be a household name, but well-known enough in-genre that a large portion of the readers had seen his books on the shelves, though many still had no idea who he was. (The author was David Farland, by the way.)

I wish I could give you that same experience, though it's going to be harder while not face to face. The main tone of the meeting and his encouragement was this: IT IS POSSIBLE and YOU CAN DO IT!

Not everyone can make a living at writing. But it's very within reach, and for the dedicated author willing to practice and learn, it's not as difficult to make a living as many make it out to be.

I do make a living full time at this, and have for several years now. In the early years, it wasn't what many would call a 'good' income, but it was enough for me. Now, it is an excellent income. Not "Fly to Europe every week" income, but certainly "Take your friends out to eat once in a while" income.

A standard royalty for an author would be to 10-15% on a hardcover, and around 8% on a paperback. Usually, the percentage gets better the more copies you sell.

Now, books don't sell the huge numbers that people usually think they do. If you sell 2k hardcover copies in your first week, you can get on the NYT list. (Though it's not certain—it depends on what week it is and what other books came out. 3k is a pretty sure bet, though.)

Elantris—an obscure, but successful, book—sold about 10k copies in hardcover and around 14k copies its first year in paperback. I've actually sold increasing numbers each year in paperback, as I've become more well-known. But even if you pretend that I didn't, and this is what I'd earn on every book, you can see that for the dedicated writer, this could be viable as an income. About $3 per book hardcover and about $.60 paperback gets us around 39k income off the book. Minus agent fees and self-employment tax, that starts to look rather small. (Just under 30k). But you could live on that, if you had to. (Remember you can live anywhere you want as a writer, so you can pick someplace cheap.)

I'd consider 30k a year to do what I love an extremely good trade-off. Yes, your friends in computers will be making far more. But you get to be a writer.

The only caveat here is that I did indeed get very lucky with my placement at Tor. It's the successful hardcover release that makes the above scenario work. If you only had the paperback, and everyone who bought the hardcover bought that instead, you'd have to be selling around 60k copies to make it work. That's very possible, and I know a lot of midlist writers who do it.

Anyway, numbers shouldn't be what gets you into this business. If you have to tell stories, tell them. To be a writer, I feel you need to have such a love of the process that you'd write those books even if you never sold one. It's not about the money, and really shouldn't be. (And sorry to go on so long. I just feel it important to give aspiring writers the same kinds of help that I got.)

General Reddit 2018 ()
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I just finished a reread of WOR (actually my first audiobook listen of the series, which was great), and when I reached your last three, I definitely noticed you really had a skill with shaping chapters to speed things up or slow things down. Initially it felt like you introduced more frequent shifts in main character POV instead of some of the lengthy sections with one POV that we'd seen in RJ's last few books. This made it feel like the story was coming together and things were starting to really happen at the same time. Then later it felt almost like a kind of dilation effect where a massive amount was happening at the same time - but with the added complication of the actual timeline manipulations, which was extremely well done in this regard... I was so caught up in the story I wasn't able to keep my attention on it at the time but later, after finishing AMOL, I was pondering that it felt like a Christopher Nolan movie, where the structure itself was part of the narration.

Brandon Sanderson

I've always preferred a frequent POV jump style to the large chunk style Mr. Jordan used later in his books--but there are merits to both. In the Stormlight Archive, I've been pleased with a kind of hybrid of the long chunk from the later WoT books with a quick jump method. (I pick a group of characters and quickly alternate POVs.) But I have the WoT to thank for helping me, as a younger writer, study and learn the different ways POV jumps can influence the storytelling.

Words of Radiance San Francisco signing ()
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The question I was a little more interested in was not so much the interludes, but like Gaz *inaudible*?

Brandon Sanderson

So Gaz was always planned to come back. Which is why there's kind of a mystery to him in the first book, like "where did he go?" It's something Robert Jordan did that I like. I don't know if you read-- oh you did, you read-- So like when Bayle Domon shows up again; and some of the characters getting woven in, I like that. And so you will see that sort of thing happening, it's just something I'm fond of that he did.


I'm so surprised that Gaz showed up.

Brandon Sanderson

And the other thing about Gaz is: one of the things I like to do in my fiction is show that the light through which someone is seen and perceived changes a lot of who they are. We all do that, we go to different situations and we're different people. And Gaz you saw all through Kaladin's eyes as one person and I want to show you through someone else's eyes without the initial problem they had together would see him very differently.

General Reddit 2018 ()
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Not sure about my favorite scene in OB, but one I'd like to see drawn is Shallan when she's in the midst of her "experiment" to find out what Shamespren look like after occupied Kholinar.

P.S Brandon was that scene inspired by an "fan-service comedic" moments in anime?

Brandon Sanderson

Not specifically, but perhaps unconsciously. I was simply looking for a way to make the conversation more interesting, and to remind readers that Shallan's way of seeing the world is not always...healthy.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Skyward: With Apocalypse Guard sharing a universe with Reckoners, and Snapshot (originally) being in there too, it looks like you are playing around with the idea of developing a sci-fi shared universe similar to the cosmere, if smaller in scope. Are these non-cosmere shared universes random one-offs that just happen to work together, or do we have something bigger to look forward to in the (distant) future?

Brandon Sanderson

I'm not actively trying to create anything else like the cosmere. More, there are ideas I really like that I've tested out in novellas that I want to expand upon.

Salt Lake City signing ()
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Do you have-- Or have you determined an equivalency between how much Breath it takes to make a certain gem's worth of Stormlight?

Brandon Sanderson

I have recently assigned Peter to this task, and he is feeling overwhelmed by it. It was actually during the writing of Oathbringer where I finally said, "Yeah we need to standardize this, so start working on it." So it was like, "Oh great". Which means he has to read through all the books for references and start figuring it all out. And we're going to need like an equivalent of a jewel or something like this, right? *gestures to a sphere that a fan made* And we've been putting it off because it sounds like an awful lot of work. 

So the answer is no, we don't have it yet. It's something I've known for years we're going to need. And on this book, I just started saying, "All right.  I'm going to have them do all the stuff they need to do. And then you're going to tell me how many spheres they need to start with." Right? Like, I write the book, and then we retrofit how many spheres they needed to have how much Stormlight, so that we could be consistent with that.

But we haven't done across magic systems calculations, yet.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
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At this point, so far out from Oathbringer, what are the best and hardest things about having spent a lot of time writing about mental illnesses?

Brandon Sanderson

One of the reasons why I approached Stormlight the way I did is, during the intervening years, during those seven years, I got to know very deeply some people who we would call non-psychonormative, I think is a good way to say it. And I began to see that the various different ways we perceive ourselves and the various different ways we perceive our own mental processes influence a lot of how we act and who we are. And I also noticed, speaking to them, that a lot of my friends were a little--and there's no problem if you like these--but they're a little tired of every book that represented their mental illness in a story was all about the mental illness. That the book was only just how to cope with mental illness, which are great stories. But they're like, if you look at the statistics, psychonormative is not the norm. In fact, it seems to be this mythical person that doesn't exist, in that the way that all of us think is different, and in some of us it can be really impairing for our lives. And in some of us, the same thing that's impairing to our lives defines who we are. You guys want a really good book about this, Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon is a fantastic look at this.

But this all became really interesting to me. When I was looking at my characters, one of the things I noticed, for instance, I kind of used the pop science version of autism in Elantris. The more I actually got to know people with autism, the more I saw that the Rain Man version was a very extreme representation of something that is something a lot of people deal with, the way they see the world, and I started thinking, "You know, if I'm gonna create real characters in my books, this is something I need to be looking at." And it wasn't that I set out to say, "I'm going to write a book about lots of people with mental illnesses. I said, "I'm going to write a book about a lot of people who are like the people I know. And some of them think in different ways than others." And again, in some of them, that's a thing that they don't want to think that way. And it can be really impairing. But it's not that the story-- The Stormlight Archive is not about mental illness. The Stormlight Archive is about a lot of people that I wanted to try to make as real as I could, and that I also wanted to approach some things that haven't been approached, I thought, in fantasy fiction.

What are some of the advantages? Well, I think the story has been very eye-opening to me. It's hard to talk about advantages and disadvantages in light of this. What are the "disadvantages"? I am walking through a minefield, and I have blown my foot off multiple times. And I think this is part of that whole failure thing as a writer. If I hadn't perhaps done it poorly in some of my books, I wouldn't have had the chance to talk to people who are like, "I really appreciate the book and what you're trying. Here's how, if you ever did this again, you might approach making it feel more realistic." And that made me a better person, not just a better writer, and so in some ways that disadvantage is the advantage. But that is the thing. I have blown my foot off on several landmines. And I will probably continue to do so.

The AudioBookaneers interview ()
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Samuel Montgomery-Blinn

Last time we spoke, we were talking about the 45-hour audiobook for The Way of Kings. Each of the Mistborn books came in at 25-30 hours, but The Alloy of Law comes in at a tidy 9 discs. Did you set out to write a shorter book?

Brandon Sanderson

I knew I wanted to do more in the Mistborn world, and for a long time I played with writing a short story. The short story that I tried to write didn't work; I tossed it aside after maybe a thousand words, and began working on a different story. I can usually judge what the length of a story will be, and I knew this one would be longer, but I wasn't sure how long I would want it to be, or whether I should make it a full-blown novel. So I wrote what turned out to be three or four chapters' worth, and at that point I decided, it was a big enough story to can make a novel of it. I knew it wasn't going to be the same length as the original Mistborn books, but I felt okay with that, because for a long time I've been wanting to start writing some—I don't want to say shorter, but quicker, faster-paced stories; thrilleresque, maybe a little more pulpish. I just think of it as a fun book, that doesn't require quite as much of an investment of time and energy for the reader as something like The Way of Kings—which I love, but I want to be doing a variety of things. So writing a shorter book was intentional, but I kind of slipped into it.