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Calamity Philadelphia signing ()
#1 Copy


I want to know more about the character Steris, like what was the inspiration for her, because watching her evolve has been one of my favorite things in the Mistborn series.

Brandon Sanderson

A couple things. One was I’d never written anyone as directly on the autism spectrum as she was, or she is, and I wanted to see if I could get this right. She also, I wanted to have a contrast between her and her sister. And that’s part of what I wanted to have, these two things. And I want to kind of pull the reversal on the reader, where this assumption when you go into a book is these two main protagonists are meant to hook-up, and I wanted to kind of twist that on its head because I didn’t think they should *audio cut off*.

General Reddit 2020 ()
#2 Copy


I've been thinking for a while about the presentation of disability and chronic pain in Brandon's books and I reread a bunch of them recently and ended up with a lot of thoughts. I wrote a letter/email to Brandon trying to provide a little insight and I think it might be worth sharing here as well.

Brandon Sanderson

This is exactly the kind of feedback that is useful for writers to hear. I try to do the best I can, but I can always do better. I particularly like how you outlined some of the traps/tropes authors fall into, because those are exactly the things that are super helpful for me to read. (And similar lists have helped me a lot with my writing in other areas.)

I don't want to say much more than that, because I don't want to imply your perspective is invalid. (It most certainly is.) But I do want to mention that I pay a lot of attention this kind of issue, and there is a fine line to walk. Many things having to do with disability have a bit controversy surrounding them similar to the cochlear implant one--where the community itself can be very divided at what they want to happen, and what they want to see happen in fiction.

I consider it my job to listen, particularly to well-reasoned and passionate arguments like yours. But I do need to note that there are arguments on the other side that I do also listen to. And I personally--from all the many things I've read and the time I've spent pondering it--do not currently consider curing of physical aliments with magic to be inherently problematic. I DO consider it to be a difficult issue, and recognize your feelings, which are completely valid. If healing people of disability in the real world is difficult and full of touchy subjects, with a variety of opinions, then it certainly is valid to consider it so in fantasy!

My goal is always to try to depict the varieties of different human experience and opinions. And, indeed, one of my goals with Rysn is to specifically have a character to contrast someone like Lopen--who falls (as you have noted) on a different side of the argument.

But, to be honest, I don't even consider the healing of mental disabilities with magic to be inherently problematic. (Speed of Dark, an excellent science fiction novel, is about a cure for autism--and is done brilliantly.) I do run into a lot of people who really like that I don't let Stormlight heal most mental illness--but I'd say I've run into an equal number of people with depression who wish that I would let it do so, and have told me they'd take a cure for depression without hesitation if one gets invented. (Indeed, there are many who do a great deal to medically to try just this.)

What I would say is that I need to be careful not to present one idea as the only valid response to these sorts of things. You're absolutely right that there is a perspective I need to be careful not to invalidate, and tropes I can be harmful in perpetuating if I don't watch myself. (My sister in law has chronic fatigue, and yeah--the number of people who told her if she was just stronger-willed, she'd get past it, is huge.)

I will be very careful with the Rysn novella. (And we do these days try very hard to have specific readers who have disabilities like the ones I depict. It is my plan to do this here.) And I'll keep your post handy as I revise, as I think it will be helpful.


I would strongly urge you with Renarin in particular to not do some sort of "cure" storyline and to leave him as autistic. I feel that the story would be better off with that and would most probably do more good that way.

Brandon Sanderson

I have no intention of "curing" Renarin, as I agree with your points here--but I really appreciate you mentioning them. We are aligned on this idea. I used Speed of Dark as an example of how a theoretical cure could be used in a story in a non-problematic way. (In that story, a cure is invented, and the story is entirely about the ramifications of it--and the dangers. It is a highlight of why I think Science Fiction is important. Asking the question, "What if?" before something happens in real life gives us a lot of questions, ideas, and concerns to work on as a society in preparation for such events.)

That said, that is a book that specifically deals with this idea. My intention for the Stormlight Archive, and Renarin specifically, is to explore him as a character. Not to change him into someone else.


I was wondering if we'd see assistive devices using fabrials in future stormlight books? I think there might be a lot of in-world potential with fabrials in wheelchairs, prosthetics and other assistive devices as that technology progresses.

Brandon Sanderson

Dawnshard actually has Rysn looking at fabrials and wondering if those could be of use in the way you're indicating here. I think you'll be pleased with the result.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#3 Copy


Are you planning on using what you learned from writing Renarin and Steris to improve the characterization of Adien when you write Elantris 2?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. Adien is one of my-- regrets is probably the wrong term. But I talked earlier about coming to terms with the fact that as you grow as a writer, there are certain things that you will have done less well then you can do them now. I consider Steris and Renarin my-- Again, apology's the wrong term. I tried very hard when I wrote Elantris. I was not the writer I am today, and I did not have access to the helpful readers who could point me-- you know, by writing Adien a little pop culture-y, the pop culture version of someone with autism, I was able to be told by people, "you know, this is kind of a stereotype." What Adien is does exist, but very rarely, and if you wanna have a more complete picture of it, you should read this resource or talk to this person. That's one of those areas that, here I thought I was being all forward thinking. And I did something that perpetuated a stereotype at the same time. That's not something I think you need to be embarrassed of, as a writer, as long as you're willing to listen and do better.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
#4 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I appreciate the comment on Steris. I kind of feel that when I did Elantris, I was really interested in this, and i maybe didn't-- I kind of approached things in, like, a pop culture sort of way without really understanding it. And then I came to know some people with autism, and I'm like, "I need to do this better. I need to do this realistically and kind of help with the presentation rather than contributing to one narrow definition that is the pop culture definition." So I'm glad that that has worked for you.

Elantris Annotations ()
#5 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Adien's Secret

I almost cut this entire twist from the book. I've never been happy with how it worked out, and I think there are–as I've mentioned–still a few too many surprises and twists at the end of the book. (Though, I have fixed it somewhat. It used to be that virtually EVERYONE had a secret past or personality trait that came out in these last four chapters.) Anyway, I don't like the Adien twist–it lacks power since we don't really care about him, and his character–the autistic–isn't terribly original anyway.

I've left the Adien twist in for a single reason. However, it's a bit of a spoiler, so I'll put it invisible for those of you who haven't read the ending yet. You can come back and read this later.

Anyway, Adien is my planned hero for book two. I like the concept of a healed autistic being the hero of the next book. And, since he's so good with numbers, he would be incredibly powerful at AonDor. I think he'd be a compelling character to look at, so I left him in this book in case I wanted to use him in the next one.

Adien has been an Elantrian for some time. That's why Kiin's family knows so much about Elantrians. Read back to the earlier chapters, and you'll see a scene or two where Sarene wonders why they know so much about Elantris and its occupants. They hid Adien's transformation with makeup, and his autism kept him out of social circles anyway, so no one really paid much attention to the fact that he was never around.

FanX 2018 ()
#6 Copy


What inspired Steris?

Brandon Sanderson

Partially, me feeling that I didn't do a fair shake by an autistic character in Elantris, and wanted to do a better job of it later on after I had read more and more about it, and I'd known some people with autism, and things like that, and I wanted to try approaching someone on the spectrum from a more realistic viewpoint. Not that Elantris is completely wrong, but it's more Hollywood interpretation, rather than the real-life way that a lot of people who have autism live with it. That was part of it.

Part of it was also, I wanted to write a character based on a friend of mine, who when I first met them, was very kind of abrasive. And as I got to know them, became one of my best friends ever. And I'm like, "I want a character like that for fans." So if you read the book, you're like, "I hate this character." But at the end, you're like, "Oh, when I can see from their eyes, suddenly they're one of my favorites."

Skyward Chicago signing ()
#7 Copy


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.

YouTube Livestream 2 ()
#9 Copy

Stephen Kundy

If you were to write Elantris now, with all the writing experience that you've gained over your career, would you change anything?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, there are a lot of things I would change about Elantris. I have an autistic character in Elantris that I did not do a very good job with. It's more of a pop science version of autism than it is an actual in-depth look at what it is to live with autism. My prose is pretty rough, back then. Prose has never been my strongest suit, granted, but I do think I've gotten a lot better over the last twenty years. (Published fifteen, but twenty years ago, I wrote it.) I think my prose has improved dramatically over the years, and I think my ability to do dialogue has improved, and a lot of things like that.

Would I change any major plot features of Elantris? No. I'm actually fairly pleased with Elantris, plot-wise. There are aspects to it, right? I mean, Raoden's character arc is primarily externally driven. He is not a character who is going through a big change internally. But that was intentional. When I sat down to write it, the book I had written right before was about a deep and angsty character who had one of these very, very dramatic character arcs. And I was tired of angst, and I wanted somebody who dealt with external pressure in a fantastic way and was put into a very extreme situation externally and was someone who was kind of a little more like me in that that didn't really faze him, and he did his best with the situation. And I like that aspect of it. It does mean that some people who read it think Raoden isn't as deep as someone like Kaladin. Which you are perfectly fine in thinking that, but I think they are just different types of characters. I wasn't trying to write somebody angsty in Raoden, and I am pleased with how he turned out.

Sarene, as a character, was always kind of me trying to write someone who was a little more confident than they, perhaps, deserved to be. And that's a personality trait of Sarene. I actually, when I was plotting Stormlight, I once described Jasnah to someone in my writing group as "the person that Sarene thinks she is." And I like that about Sarene. She's young. She's got gumption and grit. And she's not quite as capable as she thinks she is, but you know what? Thinking you're capable can get you a long ways, as long as you have a minimum level of capability. And she does.

And I'm very proud of Hrathen as an antagonist. It has taken me until The Way of Kings and Taravangian to find someone that I feel is as strong an antagonist as Hrathen from my very first book. I'm still very pleased with how he turned out.

General Reddit 2021 ()
#11 Copy


Its interesting that his most popular female characters all seem to have mental health issues.

  • Steris: Autism Spectrum
  • Shallan: Dissociative Identity Disorder
  • Jasnah: Also Autism Spectrum but not as much as Steris, and was treated for some kind of disorder as a child.

Peter Ahlstrom

Hmm, I’m not aware of Jasnah being on the spectrum. Her trauma is something different, though we may not find out until we get her flashbacks.

All of the Knights Radiant (basically, all of the Cosmere’s Investiture users) have some kind of trauma.

Tel Aviv Signing ()
#12 Copy


Two questions. First of all the twist where Wax shifts from-

Brandon Sanderson

One person to-


Exactly. Was that preplanned? 

Brandon Sanderson

It was preplanned. That is based off of I have a good friend that when I first met them they were very very off putting because they are on the spectrum and I didn't understand people on the spectrum, and as I got to know them I understood how great they were, and I wanted to have the reader experience that same reversal in the books.

YouTube Spoiler Stream 3 ()
#13 Copy


Is Jasnah Kholin autistic?

Brandon Sanderson

Jasnah, I have not deliberately put on the spectrum in my approach to her, but at the same time... there are some traits she might share. But, you know, it's one of these things when we're dealing with, we're dealing with personalities and ways that people see the world. For instance, let's talk about this: my son Dallin, my middle son, he is not autistic—at least he was not diagnosed autistic, when we took him—severe ADHD, and some other things, however we have put him in a school that specializes in helping people with autism and has been wonderful for him, because some of this the things that he does and the ways that he thinks are helped by the same sorts of systems. So, the fact that I would not personally diagnose Jasnah with autism does not necessarily go as far as you might think.