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Skyward Houston signing ()
#1 Copy

Questioner

So when you were in Houston about a month ago, was it for research for future issues of Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

Yep. And I needed some help on certain things. It was super helpful, particularly going in and talking to the pilots. Like, astronaut, very cool. But talking to them about in-atmosphere flying and things like that was really handy.

Arched Doorway Interview ()
#2 Copy

Rebecca Lovatt

And do you have to do a lot of research for the magic systems or is most of it just imagination?

Brandon Sanderson

It really depends on the magic. For instance with some of them I need to work out the physics. For Mistborn, I often have to go my assistant and say, "Peter, go do the math." I used to have to look at the math myself and things like that. Mistborn magic is very science-derived, so looking at the math is essential.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

How much research do you have to do in sciences and technology and history to create a world that is more relate-able if not as believable as they are?

Brandon Sanderson

What it takes is a lot of general knowledge, meaning you read a lot of history books, a lot of science books, and this general knowledge that you then incorporate. It's not like I go and say "I need to know more about this thing". I'll do that for characters and some aspects of the worlds sometimes but mostly this is coming from spending 10 years learning all this stuff. Does that make sense?

Questioner

It makes total sense, and my 10 years of community college will help me write.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes it will.

Questioner

My 120 credit-hours.

Brandon Sanderson

120 credit-hours, that's what makes a good writer... That really turns-- You can pick out "Oh that's my linguistics class" and I'd be like "Oh that's my chemistry class. Oh that's the class I snuck into, the psychology class".

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#6 Copy

Michael M. Jones

What kind of research did you do?

Brandon Sanderson

Mainly, it was about fighter pilots and what they go through, what g-force feels like, stuff like that. I'm indebted to a couple of real-life fighter pilots for helping me to get it right. Also, I had to research what it's like to live in societies where the machine of war grinds people up out of necessity to keep the country alive, what it does to them. I took inspiration from real-world regimes to create an amalgamation, which still doesn't go as far as it could have. I just included subtle markers to the reader to suggest the sort of stress they live under.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#7 Copy

6th_account_so_far

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.

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

Joshua_Patrao

About research: What, if any, research for your novels have you done, and how did you do it?

Brandon Sanderson

The calling of a fiction writer, particularly a fantasy writer, is to know a little bit about a lot of things—just enough to be dangerous, so to speak. I tend to read survey books that talk about history—things that give overviews, such as the history of warfare, or the history of the sword, or navigation. That kind of thing. I would say I do a fair amount of research, but mostly it's an attempt to dump as much into my brain as possible for spawning stories and writing about things intelligently. For Mistborn, I researched canals, eunuchs, and London during the mid 1800's.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

When Jasnah takes Shallan on as a ward, she teaches her a strategy for research. Is that strategy you use when you are doing research?

Brandon Sanderson

No. It's a strategy like the one they tried to teach me in college, and I was never good at.

Questioner

So you used it as a-- You used it intentionally because of?

Brandon Sanderson

Not that I don't like it. My brain doesn't work the way that note-taking methodology worked. I know it worked for some people, and probably if I had spent more time on it, then I would have. But I work in a different way.

Steelheart San Francisco signing ()
#10 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

Someone asked a really good question about inspiration of Sazed's crisis of faith and religion.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Brandon really opened up nicely here saying that he does a lot of research so that he can tap into how people really feel about their religions, and therefore not just argue his characters' religions from a token perspective, but hold something that feels a little more real. He said he often hits up forums for different religious beliefs and surfs there, because people tend to be very honest and passionate on forums, which gives him a nice basis to write from.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#11 Copy

TheBlueShifting

I have heard you say you consult with doctors, physicist, and other professionals in order to keep your books as grounded in reality as you can. How did you meet these individuals and how early in your career did you have their help?

Brandon Sanderson

This is something that grew far easier once I had access to resources such as my editor at Tor. Moshe knows EVERYONE, and he's been able to get my writing into the hands of various experts for review. I didn't do this as much in my unpublished days; it's something I've come to learn and appreciate in the last ten years.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

What is the most interesting or awesome thing you found in your South American research for The Aztlanian?

Brandon Sanderson

What is the most awesome thing I've come up with in my research for The Aztlanian.  So the question, for those of you who read The Rithmatist, I'm working on a sequel doing a lot of research on South American and Central American cultures. The Aztecs all the way down to the Incas *audio obscured* city was just so cool reading about that. One of the big things that I discovered was that a lot of records indicate that Meso-American culture was way bigger than, way more populated than people are usually taught. It's just that they lost somewhere around 60%-- This enormous number to diseases that were brought over. Way more than I originally expected. And reading about some of this, like the early accounts of how many people there were, their civilizations. Later on when the explorers really started coming, talking about there being these ghost cities, of empty-- the people all left them because so many people died and things like this. That what happened was almost like a post-Apocalyptic-- Like when the invasion of the Aztecs, of Mexico, was happening they were basically invading a post-Apocalyptic society where everyone was already dead. They'd even lost their emperor, Montezuma the First had died from this stuff. It's very interesting, all these things reading about-- There is a ton to learn.

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

MarlonRand

Additionally, how much time would you say that you spend researching on any given work, and what are some of the things that you research?

Brandon Sanderson

That one's really too hard to judge.

Research for me is on-going for any given work, and I don't track how much time I spend on it. Generally, I dig into specific topics when the need arises, then do more 'cast out the net' general reading for ideas the rest of the time. Generally, I'll only dig in deeply if a topic is important to a specific story. (Such as—for Mistborn—researching canals or the effects of being made a eunuch at various ages.)