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Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

You'll notice in the "Sarene prays in the chapel" scene that I take care to describe how high-necked, long-sleeved, and generally enveloping Sarene's dress is. Hopefully, this doesn't look suspicious. However, those of you who are watching carefully probably realized what was going to happen at the wedding. This was just too good an opportunity to pass up–for the surprise factor, for the wrinkles it throws in to the plot, and because it lets me mix Sarene and Raoden again.

This prayer scene also offers our first, and only, real look into Sarene's religious mindset. Her faith is probably one of the only simple aspects of her personality–she believes, and it doesn't need to go much further than that for her. That's why I had this prayer be so simple. Sometimes, a simple thing can be far more powerful than a complex one.

Elantris Annotations ()
#2 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Three


If you want to read more on this topic, read the critical afterword to Elantris I wrote for inclusion with my Master's Thesis. The short of it, however, is that Sarene is a force of change and chaos. Raoden, as mentioned above, is a master at working with what he is given. He manipulates his confines to the point that they are no longer binding.

Sarene, however, just ignores what she is "supposed" to do. She is chaos. Not the "evil" chaos usually used in fantasy novels--Sarene is simply unpredictable, a force that can't be measured as easily as others. One manifestation of this comes in the nature of this chapter. If you read closely, you'll notice that--for the first time in the book--I offer two viewpoints in the same chapter. We jump from Sarene to Raoden, then back to Sarene again. It's a little thing, perhaps–a silly thing, even, for me to put in. However, it is representative of the fact that the first time Sarene enters Raoden's world, she brings with her an uncanny ability to mess up his plans.

Elantris Annotations ()
#3 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Sarene's half-breakdown in this chapter was intended as both a simple reminder of the stress she's under as well as further characterization of her. She's far more volatile than Raoden and Hrathen, and I think that is part of what makes her my favorite character in the book. She doesn't always keep it all in–nor is she perfect. Occasionally, she makes mistakes, and things well up inside her. In this way, she's very real to me.

Brandon's Blog 2007 ()
#4 Copy


Were any aspects of Elantrsi at all biographical? In my case, at least, my writing is often unintentionally reflective of my own experiences. Is this the case for you as well?

Brandon Sanderson

Every book is a little autobiographical. You can’t separate yourself from your work, though I try not to include intentional messages in my writing. (That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to my books having meaning; it just means that I don’t tent to approach them with the idea “I want to teach something in this book.”)

Each of the characters is a little autobiographical, something that is most noticeable to me in retrospect. Raoden represents my belief in the power of optimism. I’m an optimist. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I am. And so, a hero like Raoden often grows to represent my beliefs. His conflict–that of being cast into the most horrific place in the kingdom–is an outgrowth of me trying to devise the most hopeless situation I could, and then make the conflict for my character the attempt to retain hopeful in the face of that.

Sarene represents an amalgamation of several people I knew in my life, most notably Annie Gorringe, a friend of mine in college. Not that Sarene acts just like her, of course–but that some of the conflicts in Annie’s life, mixed with some of her personality quirks, inspired me to develop a character that ended up in my book.

Hrathen is as much a piece of me as Raoden. I served a mission for the LDS church, and while I did so, I thought often about the ‘right’ way to share one’s beliefs mixed with the ‘wrong’ way. It seemed to me that focusing on the beauty of your message, mixed with the needs of the individuals you met, was the way to go. When you start to preach just to be preaching–or to convert not because of your concern for those around you, but because you want to seem more powerful–you risk beating the life out of your own message. You also get in trouble when you focus on putting other religions down (or challenging others on their beliefs) instead of just talking about what makes you believe like you do.

So, in a way, Hrathen represents my fears of what I could have become–a warning to myself, if you will.

TWG Posts ()
#6 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Each of the characters is a little autobiographical, mostly noticeable in retrospect. Raoden represents my belief in the power of optimism. I'm an optimist. I can't help it; it's just the way I am. And so, a hero like Raoden often grows to represent my beliefs. His conflict--that of being cast into the most horrific place in the kingdom--is an outgrowth of me trying to devise the most hopeless situation I could, and then make the conflict for my character the attempt to retain hopeful in the face of that.

Sarene represents an amalgamation of several people I knew in my life, most notably Annie Gorringe, a friend of mine in college. Not that Sarene acts just like her, of course--but that some of the conflicts in Annie's life, mixed with some of her personality quirks, inspired me to develop a character that ended up in my book.

Hrathen is as much a piece of me as Raoden. I served a mission for the LDS church, and while I did so, I thought often about the 'right' way to share one's beliefs mixed with the 'wrong' way. It seemed to me that focusing on the beauty of your message, mixed with the needs of the individuals you met, was the way to go. When you start to preach just to be preaching--or to convert not because of your concern for those around you, but because you want to seem more powerful--you risk beating the life out of your own message.

So, in a way, Hrathen represents my fears of what I could have become--a warning to myself, if you will.

Elantris Annotations ()
#7 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Interestingly, I’ve never annotated about Sarene's nickname before. Only her father uses it, and when Moshe read the draft, he had trouble understanding how to get 'Ene from Sarene. That's probably because he, like most people, pronounced her name like the word serene. That's all right–I don't really mind how people pronounce the names in my books. When I read, I see a name, come up with a pronunciation in my head, then go with that from there on. Nothing can convince me that I'm pronouncing it wrong, not even the author him/herself. (Even still, the names of Anne McCaffery's dragons are jumbled, meaningless noises in my mind. That seemed right at the time.)

Anyway, if you're interested, there's a pronunciation guide for Elantris on the site. Sarene's nickname comes from the Aon in her name: Aon Ene. While in our world, we tend to choose nicknames based on the first syllable of a name, nicknames in Arelish come from from the Aon. Since Sarene's Aon comes late in her name, that's where the nickname comes from. "Ene," by the way, is pronounced "Ay-nay."

Elantris Annotations ()
#8 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Anyway. . .I break triad here again. I'd forgotten about this one. Actually, you'll note that the closer I get to an action sequence or a climax, the more quickly I shift viewpoints. I do it half-intentionally, half-unconsciously. (If that's possible.) Logically, I know that quickly-shifting viewpoints give the scenes more tension and a sense of movement. Unconsciously, I just know that it's good storytelling to keep things quick–and it's more dramatic when you can end with a cliff-hanger line, then switch to a new viewpoint.

I'll admit that this scene borders on being too melodramatic. A couple of things justify it in my mind. First, the scene is more about Raoden confronting how he'd made a mistake with Shaor's men than it is about Sarene discovering that she'd been betrayed. Second, Sarene's "betrayal," as explained in the next chapter, is really about her own prejudice. Inside, she was just waiting for something like this to happen. That's why she didn't give Raoden the benefit of the doubt–she never wanted to like him. It was almost like she was eager to be hurt, expecting it, since things obviously couldn't work out for her. (Or so she unconsciously assumed.)

So, in a way, they were both kind of expecting something like this to happen. When it did happen, they allowed it to. In my mind, this takes it from a "silly misunderstanding" and changes it into a "character-driven conflict."

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Another interesting moment in this scene is Sarene's idiocy act. There's actually a good story behind this plotting device. I've always enjoyed this style of plot–where a character intentionally makes people underestimate them. You can see a similar plotting structure (pulled off quite a bit better) in my book The Way of Kings. (It should be published around 2008 or so. . . .) Anyway, some of my favorite plots of this type are found in Hamlet and Dragon Prince (by Melanie Rawn.)

Sarene's own act, however, plays a much smaller role in the book than I'd originally intended. I soon discovered that I'd either have to go with it full-force–having her put on a very believable show for everyone around her–or I'd have to severely weaken it in the plot. I chose the second. There just wasn't a reason, in the political climate I created for the book, to have Sarene pretend to be less intelligent than she was. (The original concept–though this never made it to drafting–was to have her pretend to be less intelligent because of how many times she'd been burned in the past with people finding her overbearing and dominant.)

I decided I liked having her personality manifest the way it is. The only remnant of the original feigning comes in the form of this little trick she plays on Iadon to try and manipulate him. Even this, I think, is a stretch–and it has annoyed a couple of readers. Still, it doesn't play a large part in the plot, and I think it does lead to some interesting moments in the story, so I left it in.

/r/fantasy AMA WorldCon 2013 ()
#11 Copy


A lot of your works that are stand alone novels or seemingly completed stories, you have announced or started working on sequels for. Are there any stories that you feel complete and don't need to work on the same world or characters again? Or do feel there is always some new tale to tell about every world you make?

Brandon Sanderson

It's hard, because the way I plot I always have to know what happened before the book and what will happen after the book. Knowing that doesn't mean that I have to continue. It's also hard, though, to say no to fans who are so passionate about a specific project.

The Vin/Elend story is most certainly done. As is the Raoden/Sarene story, as is Siri's story from Warbreaker. So there are completed threads. There might be other stories to tell in those worlds, though, so I'll avoid closing the door on them for now. (That said, it did feel very good to finish The Wheel of Time for good, and look forward to putting some of my own works to rest in a similar way.)

Elantris Annotations ()
#12 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Boy, I have a lot to say on this chapter. Let's talk about Sarene's engagement to Roial.

Some moments, when you're writing, things just click together. The moment when I came up with this plotting element was one such moment. I hadn't actually planned this into my outline. Suddenly, as I was writing, I realized just how much sense it made, and how wonderful it would be to force the characters to have to go through this. Even still, this is one of my very favorite twists in the book.

The scene in the carriage has been there from the beginning, but I did change it slightly in the last draft, adding the section where Roial talks to Sarene about herself. His line "You're an excellent judge of character, except for your own" is something I think needed to be said to Sarene at some point in the book. The actual suggestion that it happen came from my Master's Thesis committee. They–correctly–saw Sarene as someone who had an unrealistic image of herself.

She really isn't as unmarriagble, or as unwantable, as she thinks she is. Even back in Teod, she wasn't regarded quite as harshly as she assumes. However, she's very hard on herself. Someone needed to sit her down and tell her–at the same time acknowledging to the reader–that she isn't half as bad as she seems to think.

Elantris Annotations ()
#13 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Eleven

I certainly didn't want this book to turn into a political statement about female-empowerment. I think that sort of thing has been overdone in fantasy–the woman in an oppressive masculine world seeking to prove that she can be just as cool as they are. However, I did have to deal with some cultural issues in Elantris. There's no getting around the fact that Sarene is a strong female character, and I think it would be unrealistic not to address some of this issues this creates with the men around her.

I actually used several women I know as a model for Sarene. I've often heard women say that they feel like men find an assertive, intelligent woman threatening. I suspect that there some strong foundations for feelings like this, though I would hope the men in question form a small percentage of the population. Still, I do think that it is an issue.

In my own culture, people tend to get married early. This is partially due to the LDS Church's focus on families and marriage, and partially because I've lived mostly in the west and mid-west–where I think that the general attitude is more traditional than it is in big cities. Because of this, I've seen a number of people–many of them women–complain about how they feel excluded from society because they're still single. Sarene's own insecurity is related to the real emotions I've seen in some of my friends.

However, I do have to point out that some of the reactions Sarene gets aren't because she's female–they're just because she's bull-headed. She tends to give too much stock to the fact that she's a woman, assuming that the resistance she receives is simply based on gender. I think a man with her personality, however, would encounter many of the same problems. The way she pushes Roial into a corner in this chapter is a good example. In my mind, she handled things in the kitchen quite well–but not perfectly. She still has some things to learn, some maturing to do.

TWG Posts ()
#14 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

ELANTRIS and WHITE SAND have what I would call 'flawless' heroes. DRAGONSTEEL and AETHER OF NIGHT have mostly flawless heroes, with their internal issues being only minor parts of the plot. These four have, from what people have told me, are generally their favorite books of mine.

WAY OF KINGS, MISTBORN (version 1), and FINAL EMPIRE all have heroes with serious emotional or psychological issues that they're dealing with. KINGS is the most daunting of these, with each of the major characters having their own personal 'thing' that they are working through in the book. MISTBORN (version 2) is similar to this (though none of you have read it yet.)

These three books have received mixed reactions. While many people claim to like them, I'm not sure that they enjoyed them as much as the previous set.

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
#15 Copy


Are any of the characters in your books strongly influenced by people you know in real life? Would you be able to share a few if so?

Brandon Sanderson

Sure! Most are cameos. Many people in Bridge Four are based on friends/family members. Skar, Peet, Drehy, Bisig, Yake, and a few others are friends or family.

Sarene was loosely based on a friend of mine from college.

Manchester signing ()
#16 Copy


Where do you get your people from? Do you take inspiration from people you know in real life?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, yes I do. Sometimes, sometimes not. As I said, usually the seed that starts a character for me as I grow them is a conflict. For Kaladin it's the conflict between being trained as a surgeon and finding out you are really good at killing people, and how do you deal with that. For some it can be very simple, for Sarene I had a friend who is a woman that is 6 foot 2, or whatever she is, *to the side* How tall is Annie? She's tall. Anway, Annie's tall, and she always complains about how tough it is to be a tall woman. Which is something I never thought of, I'm like "I'm going to use that. I'm going to make use of that in a story," Of course that isn't her whole personality, but that little seed, you drop down and I grow a personality around it as I try someone out... That person I knew, a piece of her turned into a character. For other things, it's just trying and trying and trying untill something works, as I explained before. It is "What has their life done to them", often times it's "What are the passionate about? What do they want? Why can't they have what they want?" Those sorts of things lead me into creating a character

Elantris Annotations ()
#17 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

By the way, I took the bit where Sarene judged Raoden's height from real-life experience. My friend, Annie Gorringe, always used to talk about how her near 6' height sometimes made it difficult for her to find men to date. Often, the first thing she'd do when she was interested in a man was judge his height compared to her own.

Watch out, folks. If you know an author, you have to watch your tongues. Anything you say is fair game to be used in a novel, as far as we're concerned.

#tweettheauthor 2009 ()
#18 Copy


where do you get your inspiration to create new worlds & characters?

Brandon Sanderson

Inspiriation comes from all over. Often things I see. Color magic in WRBRKR came from watching b/w movies.

The mist in mistborn came from driving through a foggy night at 70mph..

Sazed came from a Buddhist monk I met in Korea.

Sarene came from a friend, Annie, who complained that she was too tall and too smart for men to want to date.

If you want more, send me an email and ask for my “Ideas” essay. @PeterAhlstrom will send it to you.

Orem signing ()
#19 Copy


What was your inspiration for Jasnah?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I had done several times, when I was designing characters in the cosmere, someone who kind of thought they were an awesome scholar but really wasn't. That's the kind of thing with Sarene and a little bit of the thing with Shallan. They're young people who haven't quite made it there yet, whose opinion of themselves is kind of beyond their actual skill level. Who would be, like, the scholar? Like, the ideal Rosharan societal scholar? And I built Jasnah out of that, and then took her in a way that would allow her to also be in conflict with that at the same time. Always a good source of writing a character.

Elantris Annotations ()
#20 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So, in this chapter we get the first real Sarene-Raoden interaction. I worked very hard on this relationship, trying to find a way to make it work naturally, yet still have the drama necessary for good storytelling. I assume that readers–at least the more romantic lot of you–have been waiting for the time when Sarene and Raoden would meet. Not only are they the male and female leads, but they also happen to be married.

One of the things all writers struggle with is making their plots not seem contrived. Moshe and I tried very hard to make certain that everyone's motivations worked, and this is a good test chapter. Does it make sense to you that Raoden wouldn't show Sarene and the others his true self? I think that his desire to keep himself, and New Elantris, quiet makes sense. However, I could see how some readers might find it contrived. I hope my explanations make sense.

One of the biggest complexities in this book is the way Raoden keeps his true self secret. I hope that the way he does this doesn't seem unbelievable. To him, his old life is gone. Though he is curious about his old friends, and especially about Sarene, he can't afford to let himself grow too interested in or attached to the outside world. He knows that doing so would only bring pain, both for himself, and for others.

Elantris Annotations ()
#21 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Sarene used to tap her cheek a lot more than she does in this draft. It was a quirk I designed for her at the beginning–a nervous habit I thought indicative of her personality. However, a lot of people found it distracting. They seemed to think that tapping the cheek was an odd behavior. (Just as a note, when she taps her cheek, I'm thinking of her folding her arms, with one hand raised contemplative, index finger resting on her cheek. I've been known to sit that way some times.)

Anyway, I took out many of the references. As Moshe said, "There's just too much tapping going on!"

Elantris Annotations ()
#22 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I suppose the most important scene in this chapter was the exchange between Sarene and Daora. It's hard, in writing, to avoid being heavy-handed with exposition and emotion. Show don't tell, as the proverb goes. Sometimes you get it right–like this particular scene. Sarene, obviously, is falling for Spirit–and Daora mistakes the emotion as being applied to Shuden. (Yes, I know, I shouldn't have to explain this. However, that's part of what these annotations are for–to explain things. I never can tell what people will get and what they'll miss. I've thrown in twists I thought were obvious, only to have everyone miss them–but instead they pick up on the foreshadowing that I never meant to be strong enough to give the ending away. )

Anyway, one of my challenges in this book was to make the romance between Sarene and Raoden realistic, considering the relatively small amount of time they had to spend together. I hoped to avoid any silly "love at first sight" type plottings, while at the same time making their relationship feel genuine and touching in as short a time as possible.

Elantris Annotations ()
#23 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Five

I couldn't resist having Sarene intentionally mis-interpret the demands from Raoden's team. Not only did it make for a fun scene with them discovering how she twisted their requests, it also let me characterize Sarene in-abscentia. To her, politics is a game. Any time she can twist her opponent's words and do something unexpected, like send a pile of nails instead of sheets of steel, she feels a thrill of victory.

Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#24 Copy


Do you think any of your characters have ever been influenced by people you know in real life?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, it happens. It definitely does happen. Sarene, from Elantris is based on somebody. Most of Bridge Four is friends of mine, most of the lesser Bridge Four members. Not the main ones, but like Skar is a friend of mine, Drehy is a friend of mine, Peet is a friend of mine.


So I was going to say-- What about, what's his name?

Ben McSweeney



Yeah, Lopen.

Brandon Sanderson

No, not the core group. Not Lopen or--

Ben McSweeney

None of those guys.

Brandon Sanderson

But everyone else is like a cameo of my friends that I stuck in Bridge Four and, y'know,  then mutilate in horrible ways.

Elantris Annotations ()
#25 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Two

So, this chapter gets the grand prize for most edited and revised chapter in the book. There are other chapters that have more new material–but only because they were added in completely after the original draft. This chapter, good old chapter two, was the one that underwent the most tweaks, face-lifts, additions, and edits during the ten drafts I did of Elantris.

And, I think poor little Sarene is the cause of it.

You could say that she played havoc with the book in much the same way she did with Hrathen, Iadon, and Raoden in the story.

As I worked on the novel, Sarene as a character took on a much more dominant role in the plot than I had intended. Perhaps it's because she's the intermediary between the other two characters, or maybe it's because I liked her best of the three characters. Either way, in my mind, this book is about Sarene. She's the catalyst, the force of change.

In the end, she's the one that provides the solutions to both Raoden and Hrathen's problems. She gives Raoden the hint he needs to fix Elantris, and she gives Hrathen the moment of courage he needs in order to turn against Dilaf.

However, I've found that Sarene is many people's least-favorite of the three characters. I had a lot of trouble in the original drafts of this book, since many alpha readers didn't like her in this chapter. They thought she came off as too brusque and manipulative. It was always my intention to show a more sensitive side to her later in the novel, but I didn't intend to lead with it quite as quickly as I ended up doing.

The first edit to the chapter came with the addition of the Sarene-and-Ashe-travel-to-the-palace scene. This is the section were Sarene sits in the carriage, thinking about her anger at Raoden and her insecurity. This counteracts a bit of the strength we see from her in the first scene at the docks, rounding her out as a character.

The second big addition came in the form of the funeral tent scene. This was added as a tangent to one of Moshe's suggestions–he wanted us to have an opportunity to see Sarene investigating Raoden's death. In the original drafts of the book, we felt the narrative made it too obvious to outsiders that Raoden must have been thrown into Elantris. Moshe and I felt that it seemed silly that people wouldn't consider the possibility that Raoden wasn't dead. This wasn't what I wanted–I wanted most people to accept the event. Only someone as overly-curious as Sarene would have been suspicious.

So, I revised the story to downplay the suspicion around Raoden's death. Instead of having Iadon rush through the funeral (an element of the original draft) I added the funeral tent and had Sarene (off-stage) attend the funeral itself. These changes made it more reasonable that very few people would have suspicions regarding the prince's death, and therefore made it more plausible that people wouldn't think that he had been thrown into Elantris.

Other small tweaks to this chapter included the removal of a line that almost everyone seemed to hate but me. After Sarene meets Iadon for the first time, she is pulled away by Eshen to leave the throne room. At this time, I had Sarene mutter "Oh dear. This will never do." Everyone thought that was too forceful, and made her sound to callous, so I changed it to "Merciful Domi! What have I gotten myself into?" A piece of me, however, still misses Sarene's little quip there.