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Fantasy Faction Q&A ()
#1 Copy

Overlord

 I remember you saying originally that a lot of your work you wrote from your heart and based upon your own interests. I believe you struggled to get much attention from this early work and I believe you said Mistborn you wrote for the market as opposed to for yourself. Now that you are self-publishing certain titles, do you think we will be seeing more 'unique' and 'out-there' projects? I.e. Fantasy that is quite unlike things we have seen before?

Brandon Sanderson

You've got the story mostly right, though it was the original draft of Mistborn (that did not get published) which was a 'For the market' book. It was awful. The Way of Kings was the book I wrote after that, giving no care to the world, writing only from my heart--and so you can say I've already started doing that. I would like to point out, though, that the second version of Mistborn (the one that got published, in which I tossed aside everything but the magic system and some original character concept) as in my mind a 'return to form' of the books like Elantris that I'd been writing and feeling were not getting attention.

Manchester signing ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

I wanted to ask, at the beginning you mentioned that you had twelve books written before your first book was published, can you tell us, or are you allowed to tell us how many have actually been published?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I can actually go down the list for you. It is somewhat interesting, I think, for people. My very first book was a book called White Sand, and it was basically kind of a Dune rip-off. Your first book is always  a rip-off, right, of somebody, as a new writer? And that doesn't count the one in high school, which was a SUPER rip-off, like a major rip-off, it was basically a Tad Williams meets Dragonlance. Full blown with elves and things-- Yeah it was totally--

White Sand is the first one I finished, and I actually then went and wrote a science fiction book called Star's End.  And then I wrote the second half of White Sand, because I just stopped and said "This is long enough to be a novel" and then I wrote the rest of it and called that book two, that's actually the only sequel in there I wrote. And then I wrote a comedy, where a lot of the thesis of that comedy came out in Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians ten years later, so that one's kind of half been published. White Sand and Star's End are not any good, they have not been published. And then I wrote something called The Sixth Incarnation of Pandora, which was really weird and sci-fi-y and stuff, and that one hasn't been published because it's really bad too. And then book number six was Elantris which was pretty good. Book number 7 was Dragonsteel, which became my honor's thesis as an undergraduate and half of that book ended up in the contemporary Way of Kings, the Bridge Four sequence was all from Dragonsteel and I ripped that out when I re-did Way of Kings.

After that was a re-write of White Sand, with better writing nowadays, and that one we're turning into a graphic novel, that one's good enough to read-- The biggest problem it has is its a little too bloated.  The story-- It's like 300,000 words with 150,000 words of story. And so we are going to condense it-- into a graphic novel, so you will eventually see that one. The next one was called Aether of Night, that one didn't get published, it's really two decent books that don't work well together, like one half is a Shakespearean farce about a guy who takes his brother's place on the throne, they're twins, it's mistaken identify, yadda yadda; the other half is this dark brutal war book with an invasion going on, and the two halves never really translate well. People read this and they're like, that chapter is hilarious and fun, and OH MY GOODNESS, and yeah, so-- Maybe someday I'll do something with that.

After that I wrote a book named Mythwalker which became Warbreaker. I ripped out the good parts of that and wrote Warbreaker later on. Then I wrote a book called Final Empire, which is not Mistborn: The Final Empire, because then I wrote a book called Mistborn, and neither of those books were working very well. And then I wrote a book called Way of Kings and then I sold Elantris and I said "I want to take these two books that weren't working very well, and I think if I combine them--" because Mistborn had a cool magic system and the Final Empire had this whole thing about the Hero who failed and the Dark Lord took over and mixing these too ideas turned into a great book and that became Mistborn: The Final Empire.

And basically everything from then I've published, Warbreaker came next which was a re-write of Mythwalker. The Way of Kings, the one you hold, is a complete rebuild, I started from scratch, and added the Bridge Four sequence from Dragonsteel and some of these things... The only good one in there, that wasn't published, is White Sand I think, and I think it is going to make a really nice graphic novel because the story is really solid, the characters are really solid. I just wasn't a good enough writer to know how to condense where I needed to.

The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
#3 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

OreSeur's Origins as a Character

Vin and OreSeur are quite well-established by this point. Actually, OreSeur and his character–the OreSeur we deal with in this book, with the conflicts and personality he uses–are one of the items I brought over from Mistborn Prime. (If you'll remember, that's the first stab I made at writing a Mistborn book years back. It was unpublished.) The kandra sidekick was one of the very few things that actually worked in that book. (Too well, actually. People liked him much more than they liked the actual hero of the story, who wasn't a character that appears in any of the current Mistborn novels.) If you ever want to read Mistborn Prime, email me and ask. I'll send you an electronic copy.

(I've talked about that book in previous annotations. While the book débuted an early version of Allomancy and a couple of world elements–such as the mists coming at night–very little of the book made the jump to the new, professional version of Mistborn. I pretty much just stole the concept for the magic and a few select world items and used them as a starting point for this series. In that way, this trilogy is a kind of sequel to the other Mistborn book, though the plots, world, and characters are very different.)

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#4 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Title Page - Part Two

Okay, so here we see the words Final Empire for the first time. Continuing the discussion I had in the last annotation, one of the books that I wrote after Mistborn Prime was called The Final Empire. (I now call it The Final Empire Prime.) It was the story of a young boy (yes, boy) named Vin who lived in an oppressive imperial dictatorship that he was destined to overthrow. It was my attempt at writing a shorter book that still had epic scope.

This book turned out to be okay, but it had some fairly big problems problems. While people reacted rather well to the characters, the setting was a little weak for one of my books. Also, once again, I wasn't that enthusiastic about the way the plot turned out.

After that, I gave up on the short books. I proved no good at it. I decided to do The Way of Kings next, a massive war epic. It turned out to be 350,000+ words–I kind of see it as me reacting in frustration against the short books I'd forced myself to write. About this time, I sold Elantris, and Moshe (my editor) wanted to see what else I was working on. I sent him Kings. He liked it, and put it in the contract.

I, however, wasn't certain if Kings was the book I wanted to use as a follow up for Elantris. They were very different novels, and I was worried that those who liked Elantris would be confused by such a sharp turn in the direction of my career. So, I decided to write a different book to be my "second" novel.

I had always liked Allomancy as a magic system, and I liked several of the character concepts Final Empire. I also liked a lot of the ideas from both books, as well as some ideas I'd had for a great plot. I put three all of these things together, and conceived the book you are now reading.

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#5 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

In Mistborn Prime, there were no such thing as Mistings. Allomancy's practitioners were called Mistborn, and they could use all of the various abilities, depending on which metal they ingested.

When I started work on this incarnation of the book, however, I felt that I wanted to involve a specialized team of Allomancers. That meant including people who were really good at one specific thing, but who couldn't do other things. It's a staple of the heist genre–you want specialists. So, I split up Allomancy, allowing lesser Allomancers to exist. These people, who only could do one of the many Allomantic powers, would be very good at the one thing they do. And, since Mistborn were so rare, you couldn't really make an entire team of them. You'd be lucky to even get one. (Though Kelsier's team just got a second one.)

Soon, you'll get to meet the rest of the crew, and will be able to see how I split up Allomancy. One thing of interest, however, is that there was no emotional Allomancy in Mistborn Prime. I added Soothing and Rioting–the ability to make people less or more emotional–into this book because I felt I needed something that would be more. . .sneaky. These are skills that don't relate to fighting, and I think they'd be very helpful for the sort of political intrigue I want to do in this book.

The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
#7 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Vin Kills Zane despite his Atium

The other thing I had to foreshadow, then make work in this chapter, was the way to kill someone who was burning atium. This is also something I stole from Mistborn Prime, and I'm afraid that it worked better there.

The thing is, I just haven't spent enough of the plot with Vin working on this problem. Killing an atium-burner was a major plotting conflict in Mistborn Prime, which was a much shorter book, without so much going on. In this book, we have many, many different plotlines and secrets interweaving. And so there wasn't a whole lot of time for Vin to worry about how to survive without atium.

According to the laws of Allomancy, this is very in-line with how atium works. Only someone burning atium can change the future–but they can change it accidentally by showing someone else what to do.

Brandon's Blog 2008 ()
#8 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

MY HISTORY AS A WRITER

I’ve been thinking that I should give a little bit of an explanation of my history as a writer for those of you who don’t know. I think it might give you some context for some of the posts I’ve made, and things people are saying in the forums about my unpublished novels. Read on if you want a little context.

This all started in earnest when I was 21, about eleven years ago, back in 1997. That was the year when I decided for certain that I wanted to write novels for a living.

My first goal was to learn to write on a professional level. I had heard that a person’s first few books are usually pretty bad, and so I decided to just spend a few years writing and practicing. I wanted time to work on my prose without having to worry about publishing.

You might call this my “apprentice era.” Between 97 and 99 I wrote five novels, none of them very good. But being good wasn’t the point. I experimented a lot, writing a variety of genres. (All sf/f of course—but I did some epic, some humor, some sf.) As you can probably guess by me writing five books in two and a half years, none were very well edited and while I had a lot of fun writing them, they were done very quickly, and had a lot less planning than my later books. Not many people read any of these novels, and I only ever sent one out to publishers (the second one, STARS’ END.)

Around 1999 (I can’t remember the exact date) I started attending the science fiction magazine THE LEADING EDGE at BYU; I also took an important writing class, less because of what I learned about writing (though I did learn a lot) and more because of people I met. Through TLE and the class, I ended up as part of a community of writers, editors, and science fiction/fantasy readers who were serious about what they were doing. During this time, I founded a writing group with Dan Wells and Peter Ahlstrom (Fellfrosh and Ookla over on the TWG forums.) Other members included our friend Nate, who doesn’t hang out here any more, and Ben/Tage, who used to be one of the board’s mods and who is still often one of my alpha readers. Eric (St. Ehlers) was another of our good friends, as was Kristy (Brenna), among numerous others, many of whom don’t hang out here very much any more.

You might call this the “Golden Era” of my unpublished career. I was getting to one of the most creative points in my life, and was very energized and excited about the writing I’d learned to do. After practicing for five novels, I felt that I was finally in a position to do justice to an epic fantasy story. In 1999, I started a book I called THE SPIRIT OF ELANTRIS, which eventually just became ELANTRIS.

As I said, this was the golden era of my unpublished career—though I think the ‘unpublished’ part of that statement is important. I hope that I’ll grow and progress, and think that the books I’m writing now are better than the ones I wrote then—just as I hope that the books I’ll do in ten years will be better than the ones I do now.

However, the three novels from this era—ELANTRIS, DRAGONSTEEL, and WHITE SAND—represent some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever done. Of the three, ELANTRIS turned out the best by far. WHITE SAND was good, though it will feel dated now if you read it, since my writing skill has improved quite a bit since then and it never got the level of editing and revision that ELANTRIS did. DRAGONSTEEL has moments of brilliance surrounded by some really boring sections; it had trouble because of the scope of what I was attempting. I think any of the three could have become publishable if they’d gotten the right editing and revisions.

Anyway, I wrote these books in 1999–2000. By 2001, however, this era was lapsing. I finished at BYU, and since TLE was for students, a younger crowd was taking over and I no longer quite fit in there. I continued my writing groups in various forms, and we started the Timewaster’s Guide as a project and forum for those who had worked together during that era of the magazine.

I was collecting rejection letters for ELANTRIS, WHITE SAND, and DRAGONSTEEL. I felt these books were good—very good. But nobody was giving them much attention. At the conventions, editors kept saying that fantasy novel submissions were too long, and that new writers shouldn’t be trying such beastly first books. I sat down to write MYTHWALKER, by ninth book, and halfway through just couldn’t continue. (It remains the only book I’ve ever given up on.) I was trying another epic fantasy, but I was increasingly disappointed in how poorly the first three had been received. MYTHWALKER felt like an inferior knock-off of my own DRAGONSTEEL, and needed to be rethought. So I stopped working on it. (Though one side story in the book about two cousins named Siri and Vivenna really interested me; they would later get their own book as WARBREAKER.)

The next little time is kind of the “Dark Era” of my unpublished writing career. After giving up on MYTHWALKER, I decided that New York wasn’t looking for my brand of epic fantasy, and that I’d try to see if I could write something else. I wrote three books during this era. MISTBORN PRIME (I added the prime later to differentiate it), THE AETHER OF NIGHT, and FINAL EMPIRE PRIME.

In MISTBORN PRIME, I tried to write a dark anti-hero involved in a story that was NOT epic. I tried to write something much shorter than I’d done before, forcing myself to stay away from grand stories or epic style plotting. The result was a 100k work (which is half the length of my other fantasy novels) which just . . . well, wasn’t very good. The magic (a preliminary form of Allomancy) was awesome, and the setting had great points to it. But the plot was unexciting, the character uninteresting, the story uninvolving.

Depressed by this failure, I didn’t send the book to a single editor. (Though I did show it to Joshua, who is now my agent, as he was curious and following my career at that point. He agreed that this book wasn’t publishable. He never saw ELANTRIS, he’d given up halfway through DRAGONSTEEL—which means he never got past the boring part—and had really liked WHITE SAND, but had wanted to see more from me before picking me up. He felt I still had room to grow, and he was right.

After MISTBORN PRIME, I wrote a book called AETHER OF NIGHT, which was far more successful. I think it’s the best of the four “Brandon tries to write more toward the market” books. At 150k, it was only 50k shorter than what I’d been doing during the ELANTRIS era, and I let myself play with slightly more epic stories and scope. At this point, I was trying for something with a little more humor in it, something with lighthearted, fun characters in a situation that was at times ridiculous and at times adventuresome. (A more David Eddings like approach, if you will.) It’s not a bad book. I probably won’t ever rewrite it, but it’s not a bad book. Joshua liked it just fine, and thought it was a step forward from Mistborn Prime.

At this point, my epic fantasy books got another round of rejections, including ELANTRIS rejected by DAW and DRAGONSTEEL rejected by ACE. I’d just sent ELANTRIS to Tor, but figured I’d never hear back. (They’d had WHITE SAND for several years at that point and never gotten back to me.)

Feeling uncertain about my writing and my career again, particularly since I felt that AETHER hadn’t come together just as I’d wanted, I turned my attention to trying the most basic of fantasy stories. Prophesied hero, orphaned, goes on a travel-log across the world to fight a dark lord. This was THE FINAL EMPIRE PRIME. Of course I was putting my own spin on it. But my heart wasn’t in it—I just couldn’t convince myself that I was adding anything new to the genre, and I was again trying for a ‘half-length’ story. Though there were no dragons, elves, or mythical objects to rescue, I felt that I was just plain writing a bad book. (Note that I was probably too down on this book, as it had some very inventive concepts in it, including a precursor to Feruchemy.)

I got done with FINAL EMPIRE PRIME and was just plain disappointed. This was the worst book I’d ever written. (And it is, I think, the worst—though MISTBORN PRIME is close.) Here I was, having written twelve novels, and I seemed to be getting WORSE with each one. I wasn’t selling, I was out of school working a wage job graveyard shift, and my social life consisted pretty much of my friends taking pity on me and coming to hang out at the hotel once in a while.

I think this was one of the big focus points of my career. That year, 2002, I made three decisions. The first was that I was NOT going to give up on writing. I loved it too much, even when I was writing books that didn’t turn out right. (I think this is important for every author to decide.) The second was that I was NEVER AGAIN going to write toward the market. It was killing my books. If I never got published, so be it. At least I would stop writing terrible stories mangled by my attempts to write what I thought people wanted. The final decision was that I’d go to graduate school in creative writing to get myself into that groove of being around writers again, and to also ‘delay’ for a few more years having to get a real job.

Enter THE WAY OF KINGS era. The last book I wrote before I got published was actually pretty darn good. I tossed out everything I was being told about how to get published, and just wrote from the heart. Over 18 months between 2002 and 2003 I wrote a 300k word book with a 180k outline/backstory/worldbuilding document. (Yes, the setting guide itself was LONGER than the previous three books I’d written.) Beyond that, I plotted the book as the first of TEN in a series.

KINGS was good. It had problems, but they were fixable problems, and I was extremely proud of the novel. I felt I’d found my place in writing again. I honestly think it’s the best of my unpublished books; almost as some of the published ones.

In 2003, I got the call from an editor wanting to buy ELANTRIS.

I suppose the story of my unpublished career ends there, though there’s one more side note. Why did I not published THE WAY OF KINGS? Well, a couple of reasons. First, my agent (Joshua) felt it needed a lot of work. (It did.) Secondly, it was so long that I think it scared Tor to consider it. They have published books longer before, but the market has changed since then, and approaching a book that length as an author’s second book made my editor apprehensive. He’d have done it, but he was already talking about how we’d need to slice it into two novels. (And I really didn’t want to do that.)

But more than that, I felt that it wasn’t time for KINGS yet. I can’t explain why; just gut instinct, I guess. I wanted to follow ELANTRIS up with a fast-paced trilogy. Something that could prove to people that I could finish a series, and that I really could write. I felt that launching from ELANTRIS into KINGS would be asking too much of my readers. I wanted to give them time to grow accustomed to me and my writing, and I wanted to practice writing a series before getting myself into something enormous.

And so—perhaps brashly—I looked at the two greatest disappointments of my career and said “Let’s do these the way they SHOULD have been done in the first place.” I took the best ideas from both, I added in a greater majority of other new good ideas, and I planned out a 600 thousand word epic told in three parts. My goal: A kind of calling card to fantasy readers. A trilogy they could read through and get a feel for who I was and what my writing was like.

Of course, then the WHEEL OF TIME came along and changed everything. I’m even more glad I did what I did, as I didn’t have to stop a series in the middle to work on AMoL. Plus, working on the WHEEL OF TIME has given me an unparalleled insight into the mind of the greatest master of the long-form fantasy series of our time.

Anyway, that’s a bit of history for those who are curious. Thanks for reading.

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#9 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Title Page - Part One

All right, first annotation! About the title page.

I'm generally just going to call this book Mistborn, though the entire series is the "Mistborn Trilogy." Technically, this book is Mistborn: The Final Empire. The second book is Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, and the third book is Mistborn: The Hero of Ages.

There’s an interesting story behind this title. As some of you may know, I spent a number of years trying to get published, writing books all the while. My first five books are what I call the "throwaway books." Those were ones I did mostly as practice, figuring out how to do the whole novel-writing thing. Book six was Elantris, which was published in May of 2005; it was the first book I managed to sell.

However, while I was trying to get Elantris published, I wrote a number of other books. The three after Elantris were big epic fantasy books, much like it in style. After that, I decided that I was writing things that were too big–that no publisher was going to take a huge epic fantasy book from an unknown author. (Though that's eventually what happened. . . .)

Anyway, I decided to try writing some shorter (i.e. only about 125,000 words instead of 250,000 words) fantasy novels. The first of these was what I now call Mistborn Prime. It was the story of a man who was a "Mistborn" (a kind of super-powerful assassin) who gets trapped in a small village with people hunting him, and has to try and blend in with the population there.

Mistborn was a different book for me in many ways. It was shorter, for one thing, and it was also about a kind of anti-hero. It only had one viewpoint character, and the plot was much smaller in scope than my other books. It was successful in some ways, but a failure in others. The magic system I developed for it–Allomancy–was quite spectacular, as were the action sequences. The character, however, didn't appeal to many readers. And, the plot was just a little. . .uninspiring. I'm really better when I have more to deal with.

As you can probably tell, this book–which was unpublishable–became the inspiration for the book I eventually wrote named Mistborn: The Final Empire. We'll cover that second part in the next annotation.

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#10 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Okay, so I lied. I thought the fight scene came in chapter six, but it came in five. I'm better at pacing than I thought!

The truth is, this is one of my least favorite fights in the book. I put it in primarily because it gave a good, quick showing of the basic concepts in Allomancy. You got to see Kelsier enhance his strength with pewter, his senses with tin (including using it to help him focus), and then use both steel and iron in a variety of different Pushes and Pulls.

The thing is, it wasn't that exciting because it wasn't really a fair fight. As soon as Kelsier got ahold of that ingot, those soldiers were toast. I did spice up the fight a bit by giving them shields–something that was missing from the original draft of the fight. Even still, this seems like a kind of brutal combat, not the more poetic and flowing battles I generally envision for Allomancy.

(This is, by the way, the only fight I ported over from Mistborn Prime. There was a similar scene in that book where the protagonist took down a group of men with only an ingot. Again, I decided to grab it because of how well it introduced the concepts of Allomancy. It was quick and dirty.)

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#11 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Mistwraiths are a hold-over from Mistborn Prime. They did more in that book than they do in this novel, but I thought they were an interesting world element. In fact, in Mistborn Prime, the hero fights one. It was a kind of fun scene, as the Mistwraith tried to ingest him. However, I couldn't really see the things being dangerous enough to threaten a Mistborn, so I turned them into more scavengers in this novel.

Mistborn: The Final Empire Annotations ()
#12 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

This is the first chapter where we get to see atium work. The metal is one of the most interesting aspects of the magic system, in my opinion. In fact, one of the things that made me want to start writing Mistborn was this idea of an extremely rare metal that gets used up by the world's mages. It felt natural to me, then, that this metal would do something very powerful.

Allomancy is, basically, a physical/combat oriented magic system. So, the spectacular power of atium would have to be something physical, and useful on a one-on-one basis. The ability to see slightly into the future, with the atium shadows, felt like a very interesting image to me, so I went with it.

In Mistborn Prime, the main character lacked atium–and spent most of the book trying to get ahold of it. (He actually stumbled across an atium mine hidden in a small village, which was being oppressed by a tyrant.) It is a small nod to the original book that I developed the plot of this one to be characters trying, essentially, to get ahold of some atium.

Just a lot more of it.