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Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#5 Copy

Michael M. Jones

Spensa comes across as overconfident and bombastic at times, while her AI sidekick, M-Bot, is both comic and tragic. What else can you tell us about developing characters?

Brandon Sanderson

They really play off one another. With M-Bot, I needed both a friend and a foil for Spensa, since there's a lot of conversation between them. I also needed an outside perspective. Spensa's culture has problems. Humankind crashed on this planet decades ago, and has been subject to these alien invasions and air raids for so long, that their entire society is built around the machine of war to protect themselves. The technology and temperament revolve around getting pilots into the air at all costs, and it’s skewed everything as a result. I needed an outside voice to ask questions and raise concerns, even if it's through humor.

Because Spensa is such an extreme character, one of the challenges was to depict that a person who's spent most of her life alone, hunting rats, while imagining herself to be a great warrior, is going to have a warped perspective on what it means to be a fighter pilot, weirder than the rest of the society might.

In a way, she's a stand-in for someone like me, who enjoys larger-than-life action movies but has never experienced real violence. She’s like the person in the seat with the popcorn, who’s confronted by the reality and discovers it’s not what she imagined.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#11 Copy

Yata

Spensa has this habit in citing "X is one of my ancestors". Is it possible that sometimes she has actually right ? Regardless if this lineage is relevant to the story.

Brandon Sanderson

She's right--but in the way that all of us have a (relatively recent) common ancestor, if you look at the actual genetics. I believe that by her point, centuries in the future, everyone on her colony could trace linage back to both European ancestors and Asian ones. So she's right--but everyone in her colony could say the same things she does.

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#14 Copy

Michael M. Jones

What was your inspiration for Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the quintessential "boy and his dragon story." My favorite is Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood. It was one of the very first fantasy books I ever read, and it left a lasting impression on me. But there was also Anne McCaffrey’s The White Dragon, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and the How to Train Your Dragon film series. I love this archetype of story, and I’ve always wanted to do one, but I held off until I could find a new direction in which to approach it. Eventually, it drifted away from "a boy and his dragon" towards "a girl and her spaceship."

About four years ago, I hit on this idea, but I only had the framework. I still needed setting, characters, things that would really make me excited about the entire story. As a writer, it’s always about digging down deep into what I love about certain stories—what are the essential elements, what are the concepts that thrill me, and can I build those back up into something new? The more I built this back up, the more excited I became.

For most things, like worldbuilding and plots, I do outlines. But characters develop by instinct, as their voices emerge. The character of Spensa came to me almost fully formed. I was intrigued and enthralled by the idea of this girl who had been raised on stories from our world, the myths and legends, even ones we know are fiction like Conan the Barbarian. She sees herself as the latest in a long line of warriors, except her actual job is hunting rats and selling them for meat on the street. She has this idea of who she should be, what her destiny is, but in real life she’s just barely getting by. Characters come out of conflict, and hers is the contrast between what her life is like and what she thinks it should be, the difference between perception and experience.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
#15 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I had a lot of fun writing Spensa. She's a character I've been working on for many, many years. This very imaginative and passionate woman who wants to be a fighter pilot. And it was actually very tough to get right, it took me years to get right. And that first chapter is my fourth version of the first chapter. I should be-- I'll probably post the other versions on my website once the book's out. But it is one of the hardest books to start that I've ever written. Just getting that tone down and getting it right and making her feel right was very, very difficult.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#16 Copy

Questioner

Why didn't Spensa just go home to get food, instead of just having to hunt?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, there's a couple of reasons. Number one, she's kind of independent and strong-headed, and doesn't want to admit that she can't do it. And number two, she needed that time to work on M-Bot. If she were going down and coming back up, she wouldn't have the time. But she would set snares for rats, which she could check in the off-time, which meant that it saved her a lot of time eating only rats.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#17 Copy

Questioner

Why are Spensa's eyes purple?

Brandon Sanderson

Because the artist drew it that way. Since Spensa's eyes, I don't imagine actually being purple, but it looked really cool on the cover, so there we go. Maybe they're canonically purple now. Maybe I'll write that in.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#18 Copy

meramipopper

What would be Spensa's favorite food?

Brandon Sanderson

Her diet doesn't have a ton of variety, but I'd say she would pick anything that isn't algae paste or rat meat.

meramipopper

Obviously Spensa would love anything that isn't what she normally eats. However, if Spensa could afford food, what would be her favorite?

Brandon Sanderson

I think she'd SAY she wanted "warrior's food." She'd imagine that as big hunks of meat. In reality, most of what we find delicious, she would find so overly-spiced that she'd never be able to stand it. I think you'd find her finding simple, but flavorful, foods as her favorite. Rice and beans. Mashed potatoes. Something that doesn't have a lot of spice, but still has flavor. Crepes might completely overwhelm her.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
#19 Copy

Oversleep

At first [Skyward] was supposed to be in the cosmere. Were there any reasons you pulled it out of it besides not wanting to deal with spacefaring era of Cosmere yet?

Where was the planet supposed to be in the cosmere? Would it have had a Shard or would it have been a minor Shardworld?

Brandon Sanderson

When Spensa started life in my brain, she was late cosmere pilot character, from around Era Four. When I started to work on this as my next YA project, I decided I wanted to use a certain technological aspect from a story I'd previously worked on--something I touched on in a novella, but which was still very interesting to me all these years later. But it was something that did not work with cosmere technology, so it was a natural fit to port Spensa over to this new story.

It wouldn't have been planetary-based if it had been in the cosmere. Mostly, it was Spensa as a character. Once the story started transforming into a girl and her spaceship, the cosmere ties got severed quickly.