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Open The Fridge Interview ()
#1 Copy

Lyndsey Luther

Ok, last question. It was really difficult coming up with three questions that haven’t been asked already...

Brandon Sanderson

OK... you’re not going to ask me the “what would you ask me” question?

Lyndsey Luther

Not quite...

Brandon Sanderson

OK good, because I hate that one! (laughs)

Lyndsey Luther

My question is if there’s anything that you’ve never been asked that you would like to talk about?

Brandon Sanderson

Oooooh, ok. Hm. That one is so hard! Every time people ask me something like this... What have I never been asked that people should be asking, is basically what the question is? Something that the fans have just missed... They pick up on so much, that it’s hard... I do wonder if, you know… all the magic systems [in my books] are connected and work on some basic fundamental principles, and a lot of people haven’t been asking questions about this. One thing I did get a question on today, and I’ll just talk about this one... they didn’t ask the right question, but I nudged them the right way, is understanding that tie between Aondor [the magic system from Elantris] and allomancy [Mistborn’s magic system].

People ask about getting the power from metals and things, but that’s not actually how it works. The power’s not coming from metal. I talked a little about this before, but you are drawing power from some source, and the metal is actually just a gateway. It’s actually the molecular structure of the metal… what’s going on there, the pattern, the resonance of that metal works in the same way as an Aon does in Elantris. It filters the power. So it is just a sign of “this is what power this energy is going to be shaped into and give you.” When you understand that, compounding [in Alloy of Law] makes much more sense.

Compounding is where you are able to kind of draw in more power than you should with feruchemy. What’s going on there is you’re actually charging a piece of metal, and then you are burning that metal as a feruchemical charge. What is happening is that the feruchemical charge overwrites the allomantic charge, and so you actually fuel feruchemy with allomancy, is what you are doing. Then if you just get out another piece of metal and store it in, since you’re not drawing the power from yourself, you’re cheating the system, you’re short-circuiting the system a little bit. So you can actually use the power that usually fuels allomancy, to fuel feruchemy, which you can then store in a metalmind, and basically build up these huge reservoirs of it. So what’s going on there is… imagine there’s like, an imprint, a wavelength, so to speak. A beat for an allomantic thing, that when you burn a metal, it says “ok, this is what power we give.” When it’s got that charge, it changes that beat and says, “now we get this power.” And you access a set of feruchemical power. That’s why compounding is so powerful.

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

Laurel

You seem to purposefully invent a system of magic for each book/series you create. I think that Warbreaker was one of the most unique I've ever read. Do you have a reason or story behind this habit?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes—both. Back when I was trying to break in, I spent many years writing books and not getting published. I was under the impression (it's just one of my beliefs) that it would be easier for me to break in doing a lot of different standalone novels, or first books in a series, as opposed to writing all in one series and putting all my eggs in one basket. For that reason, I got a lot of practice finishing one book and starting a new one that was in a new setting in a new world.

For me, a new setting/world means a new magic system. Magic is part of what draws me to fantasy, being able to play with the ideas behind it. It's what engages me; it's what excites me. And so part of the real fun of starting a news series is developing a new magic system. In a way that's kind of like the little twinkie or whatever that I'd hang in front of myself in order to get me excited about a new series. I'd be just coming down off a writing high at the end of a book, and I'd still be excited about the old series, its characters and world. Creating a new world is a lot of work, but there's an excitement to it as well. I'd focus on that and say, "Look, I get to create a new magic system, let's see what I can play around with for this book." So because I got used to doing that, that became my modus operandi, my method of working. That still excites me. Oftentimes it's the opportunity to create a new magic system that gets me excited about writing a new book.

Calamity Chicago signing ()
#3 Copy

Argent

If a Shard wanted to affect another Shard’s magic system, would they need to Invest themselves in the world, or can they just kind of show up and do things?

Brandon Sanderson

“Affect their magic system”? What do you mean by that?

Argent

So for Roshar, let’s say additional Surges or modified Surges. For Scadrial different metals. For Nalthis--

Brandon Sanderson

That would require more than just showing up.

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

Collin

Can you explain the process that you go through to come up with your magic systems. So many fantasy books today have a "black box" type of magic system — in that you don't know how things happen but the caster just suddenly shoots a fireball out of his arse. Yours are in—depth and set out a very distinct give and take that the reader can understand.

All of your systems are unique, so again, how do you get to the point where you have a complete magic system that you feel is ready to put into a book. Since this is a discussion about Warbreaker, how specifically did you come up with biochroma?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't know if I can answer that question in the short space afforded by a discussion forum. But in general with my magic systems I'm looking for a variety of components. Most of them start with just an "Aha, there's something there!" moment in my head—either it's a plot hook or a conflict hook or a visual hook or something like that. I'm usually looking for something that does what I find exciting about magic, which is straddling the line between mysticism and science. And I'm looking for new ways to explore that. So when an interesting scientific concept occurs to me, and I can take it in the direction of "what if," that's something that I find fascinating.

For MISTBORN, for instance, telekinesis mixed with vector science was interesting to me. In WARBREAKER it was the concept of sympathetic magic—the idea that you can create something that's like something else and it will have power over that. I wanted to try and take it in a direction I hadn't seen before and blend that with the concept of animation, bringing inanimate objects to life. Those were interesting concepts because at one point people believed in both of these things as real forms of magic. They believed they could make it work. The myth of the golem goes way back, and the idea of sympathetic magic was around not too long ago—in fact there are still plenty who believe in it, in various forms of superstition.

So I look for a blend of concepts. I usually look for an interesting visual paradigm—something that will work in a way that helps the reader visualize the magic. I don't want it to all happen nebulously in the back of someone's head. (And speaking of rear-end fireballs, I do believe I read a webcomic where someone did that. It was Thog Infinitron...I guess it wasn't a fireball.) But anyway, I'm looking for something that you can see and follow the process of what the character's doing in a way that makes sense.

I find that if there's one thing to take away from this, limitations on magic are more interesting than the powers themselves. And so I'm always looking for interesting limitations, because that forces me to be creative and forces my characters to be creative with what they have.

Arcanum Unbounded Hoboken signing ()
#5 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So the reasons the fans...*inaudible* ...because I've found-- there's some authors I've read who allowed that to happen, and it seemed like it could compromise the integrity of the book. However, once in a while someone will ask a question, I'm like, "...yeah," right? Like someone asked about-- if Shallan might have some latent bi tendencies, right? And she'd been admiring women throughout the books. I'm like, "Yes, she probably does." Like that's something that was there that I hadn't vocalized, so that happens. And once in a while they ask me questions I'm just stumped on because I hadn't even considered it. In those cases I'll either say that or I'll just say, "RAFO, I need to think about it."

Questioner

*inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, yes. Well, you come up with the fundamentals of a magic... *brief interruption* ...then some questions can be easily answered. If you know, okay-- how-- Like with Elantris the fact that they could do it in any medium. They could chisel it. They could do all of these things to get the-- if they want to get it drawn in the air, says that, you know,... *inaudible*. And so if you have the fundamentals and they are consistent, you can extrapolate. And the fans should be able to extrapolate too.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#6 Copy

Dare2bu

How difficult was it to come up with new magic systems considering the wealth of fantasy out there with already established magic systems(that seems to just get re-used in different formats by various other authors)? Do you have more systems to be used in future novels? If so how do you go about envisioning them and creating the rules in the first place?

Brandon Sanderson

I've got a few very nifty ones reserved for the future. Don't worry; I'm not nearly out of ideas yet. And I'm constantly having new ones I don't have time to use.

There IS a lot of fantasy out there. And yet, I think there's a great deal of room left for exploration in magic. The frontiers of imagination are still rough-and-tumble, unexplored places, particularly in this genre. It seems that a lot of fantasy sticks very close to the same kinds of magic systems.

One of the things I've come to believe is that limitations are more important than powers in many cases. By not limiting themselves in what their characters can do, authors often don't have to really explore the extent of the powers they've created. If you are always handing your characters new powers, then they'll use the new and best—kind of like giving your teen a new car every year, rather than forcing them to test the limits of what that old junker will do. Often, those old cars will surprise you. Same thing for the magic. When you're constrained, as a writer, by the limits of the magic, it forces you to be more creative. And that can lead to better storytelling and a more fleshed out magic.

Now, don't take this as a condemnation of other books. As writers, we all choose different things to focus on in our stories, and we all try different things. Jordan's ability to use viewpoint, Martin's use of character, Pratchett's use of wit—these are things that far outshine anything I've been able to manage in my works so far.

But I do think that there is a great deal of unexplored ground still left to map out in some of these areas. (Specifically magic and setting.) A great magic system for me is one that has good limitations that force the characters to be creative, uses good visuals to make the scenes more engaging while written, and has ties to the culture of the world and the motivations of the viewpoint characters.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
#7 Copy

RandyD [PENDING REVIEW]

Can a Shard just--like, say someone is using their magic system--can they stop the power from them being able to use it?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

No, that's a bit like stopping the laws of physics. So, while they can circumvent laws of physics and things like that, but if you wanted to stop someone from using magic, smiting them would be the efficient way of making that happen, if you are capable of it in the system.

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

Questioner

Why, in your books, are your characters so often, per say - before they get the powers they become broken first.

Brandon Sanderson

There is a narrative reason and an in-world reason. The narrative reason is characters in pain are more interesting to write about. This is just a rule of thumb for writing. Find the person whose in the most trouble, things are going the worst for and that's generally your easiest character. In the stories, the actual Cosmere, the mechanics of the magic finds, this is only one way to describe it - its not the only way - might not be one hundred per cent accurate but it's an easy metaphor, cracks in the soul allow the magic to seep in and that's how you end up with a lot of the different magic systems.

Shadows of Self Chicago signing ()
#10 Copy

Questioner

On Sel, it seems like a lot of the magic is tied-in to the location on the planet. Could you take something like Soulforging and do it on another planet, or is it just tied into Sel?

Brandon Sanderson

It is tied into Sel, and there's this distinct reason for that, and it has to do with one of the big differences between the magic there and other places that people haven't picked out of me yet.

Questioner

So is that tied into how you can get Investiture there?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. It's all tied in. I’ve only made it vaguely - It's not obvious, but I think you could pick it out if you worked at it.

Footnote: We now know that the reason magic on Sel is tied to location is because the investiture there comes from the Cognitive Realm (where location is important), and not the Spiritual.
Goodreads Fantasy Book Discussion Warbreaker Q&A ()
#11 Copy

Chris

I've seen in reviews of Mistborn that a criticsm that pops up from time to time is that you tend to repeat the basic principles of the magic system. I've seen that some feel hit over the head with it. Personally, I liked that fact since the magic system was new and it helped me to remember and understand.

I'm also seeing criticsm now with Warbreaker that the magic system isn't explained enough to thoroughly understand it. I've pointed out in discussions that not even Vasher understands it all.

But here's my question: Did criticsm of the magic system's explanations in Mistborn have anything to do with Warbreaker having considerably less explanation in its magic system?"

Brandon Sanderson

Wow, that's a very detailed and interesting question. The answer is no.

...Okay, there's more to that answer. I accepted the criticisms of the Mistborn books with the knowledge that there was really no other way around it—the way I was writing those books and the complexity of the magic system made me feel like I needed to give those hints. It's not like I'm trying to write down to the lowest denominator, but at the same time I want to make sure that the complicated magic system is a force driving the book—and is something interesting rather than something confusing. Across a three-book epic like that I wanted to make sure that I was not leaving people behind. That's always a balance in a book series. And I don't know where to set that balance. In fact, I think the balance is going to be different for every person. Any given book that you read, some people are going to find it overexplained and some people are going to find it underexplained. I'm always trying to strike the right balance, particularly for the tone of a given book, to make that work for the novel.

With Warbreaker, as you've pointed out, the magic system is much less understood by the poeple taking part in it. In the Mistborn books the magic system is very well understood. Even though there are little pieces of it that people don't know yet, those peices are easy to grasp and understand and use once people figure out what they are. In the Mistborn books the world is in a state where people have spend 1000 years using this magic system and perfecting it and understanding it. In Warbreaker, they haven't. They still don't know much about what's going on. It's very mysticized. People haven't sat down and spent enough time pursuing scholarly research about it, figuring it out. Beyond that there's no immortal Lord Ruler figure explaining it all to them—or if there is, it's Vasher and he's not telling anyone. And so the magic in Warbreaker has a very different feel to it. I wanted it to be a little confusing, because it is confusing for the main characters.

I wouldn't say that the criticism of the Mistborn books is what drove me; the needs of the various plots is what drove me.

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

Questioner

I notice how in the different worlds you have different sets of powers. Elantris has two gods in it, two shards, and there is four powers that we've seen, and we've seen three powers on Scadrial. Do you have kind of a formula or general rule for how many magic systems there are in a place.

Brandon Sanderson

No. I was looking at this and decided that what people call a magic system is more a human construct of etymology and categorization than it is an actual true magic systems. You could claim that all the magics on Roshar are just one magic system: applying the powers of nature through the Knights Radiant and stuff like that. You could say that is just one magic. You could say that the magics on Sel, Elantris' world, are all the same magic. People divide them into systems saying "these are Aons and these are with the Skaze" but those are kind of the same thing, it's just different powers. So that's a human construct just like saying animal, vegetable, mineral, mammal, non-mammal. That's a human construct. Yes there are Laws in nature that we are using as our guidelines but those are our constructs.

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
#13 Copy

Rhandric

How many magic systems are there on Roshar?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on your definition. Is Windrunning its own magic system, or is it a division of a larger magic system? Are the ten different Surges each their own magic system, or...it's really how...

Rhandric

If you assume the surges are considered one.

Brandon Sanderson

Well then you would have Surgebinding, and the Old Magic, those are two at least, and there are things that are not explained in those at all, and how do you count creating fabrials? Is that a science and not a magic? Is that its own magic system?

Questioner 2

It's a science, because anyone can do it.

Brandon Sanderson

So Awakening is not a magic, then? Awakening's a science? Because anyone can Awaken if they just get the breath.

Rhandric

That's one thing that stood out to me in your magic systems, because in all your other magic systems that we've seen so far there has to be some form of snapping to occur, and that's unique...

Brandon Sanderson

Not all of them because, um, let's see...

Questioner 3

BioChroma doesn't.

Brandon Sanderson

BioChroma does not requires snapping.

Rhandric

Actually wait, is there an active magic system on Threnody?

Brandon Sanderson

Threnody has a non Shard-based...it depends on what you call magic. Do spirits coming back to life count as magic? It's science to them, but it's goofy science.

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

Questioner

I have a question about Nightblood. What are all the powers the sword has and how much is he going to be involved in the next few books.

Brandon Sanderson

Those are total RAFOes. I mean, I could tell you the powers you have seen him have on screen so far, I'm not going to tell you he has others. What you have seen on-screen that he can do is he absorbs Investiture completely and he will rip it out of any object he touches, and everything has investiture, leaving behind basically... how you see it is he turns everything he touches into black mist, it just disintegrates everything. He also has the power that people who see him, he has an emotional effect on them, one of several emotional effects depending on how they would want to use him. If you watch for when he is seeing people you will see how it is.

Questioner

All fighting over him.

Brandon Sanderson

That's not the only effect he has though, he has other effects.

Questioner

Does he bestow any effects on his wielder? Like Szeth's original Shardblade gave him the same powers as Kaladin.

Brandon Sanderson

Nightblood... that's a RAFO but Nightblood was created on a different planet, so.

Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#15 Copy

Questioner

You're also famous for your magic systems, do you start with the effect you want to achieve or the mechanic you want to use?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on each magic system, they're all different. Sometimes there's just a really interesting-- Mistborn's a good example of this. I built Mistborn because I wanted a different power for each thieving crew member and I had in the back of my mind a few cool powers to use, but others I just developed. I'd be like, alright, we need something for the fast-talker. So therefore you get the thieving-crew and the classic thieving-crew elements, and I wanted something to improve every one of them. So while I had the Pushing and Pulling already, because that was really interesting and I'd been working it out in my head, I didn't have all these powers set out for the team, so I developed those.

In other cases it's just, you know The Stormlight Archive started with the fundamental forces in physics and extrapolating outwards from them until I had ten fundamental forces because I wanted to do fantastical fundamental forces. So that one started in physics.

The magic for Warbreaker started because my editor called me, true story, and said "ah, after Mistborn and Elantris you've done some very dreary settings, very nice but very dreary, let's do something with more color in it". More color it is!

Words of Radiance Omaha signing ()
#16 Copy

Questioner

Are you going to release more Laws of Magic?

Brandon Sanderson

Maybe.  The three that I have are really solid.  I'll have to see if there's anything else I would want to write.  It partially is while I learn.  There's kind of two unofficial laws right: Law 0 which is err on the side of a process, and then there's a law about trying to make everything interconnected.  But that kind of blends into the three, right?  So I'm not sure if I need a new law for that one or not.