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The Well of Ascension Annotations ()
#1 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I've already talked about how much I love the maps in this book. Isaac is amazing. He also did the chapter symbols, which are interesting in that they are based off of the symbols in the first book. If you compare, you can see that they're the same symbols, only changed. The idea is that these symbols in this book are earlier versions of the same alphabet in the previous book, used here since this book will be partially about the characters looking into what happened in the world a thousand years back. You can imagine the epigraphs (the italicized things at the beginnings of the chapters) written in this alphabet. Modern people in the book, then, write in the version of the alphabet that is used in book one.

We had planned some pretty dramatic artwork to use in the book along with these–some large-scale symbol glyphs using the alphabet–but eventually decided not to go with them. Not only was Isaac swamped, but Tor was giving us grief about the length of the book (I'll talk about that later.) In the end, I'm glad we went with only these–they are elegant, and I like how they work with the previous symbols.

Isaac Stewart r/Stormlight_Archive AMA ()
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ArtemosHyre

The Steel Alphabet is interesting in that each symbol represents a letter, a number, and a metal. When a Scadrian is reading a sentence with words, numbers, and metals, how do they know which of the three each symbol refers to?

Isaac Stewart

It's all related to context, similar to how we usually know which "they're, their, or there" is being used, even if we sometimes don't know how to spell each.

Berlin signing ()
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Questioner

I don't know if you knew all the Mistborn metals at the beginning when you designed them or if you really have to think about a new one if Brandon says, "Yeah, well there's going to be another metal."

Isaac Stewart

Right now we have twenty-four symbols because we added the symbol for lerasium, which is also the symbol for-- No, that's not the symbol for lerasium, that's the symbol for Scadrial. So we have twenty-four symbols. Twenty-three of them correspond to the Scadrian alphabet--or at least in the Elendel region. Right now we have sixteen metals and then we had two more that got shifted off the chart. So we have four or five symbols that when Brandon comes up with a new metal we'll just assign that. Assign one of those symbols probably. But when we run out of that we'll find other ways to make the symbols look right.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

I just started Part 3 [of The Final Empire?] and I actually went over to your booth to ask them because I was confused. There are different symbols for the Allomantic metals but I only recognize one of them here. Why are there different symbols you don't know about at the beginning of different parts?

Brandon Sanderson

Part of it is they don't know all the metals yet, in the books, and so that's a hint. Part of it is because that their writing system is more than 16 letters and so there are symbols that do not represent a metal, necessarily, or an Allomantic metal so they can-- They write with them as well. It is both a writing system and each symbol is a metal.

Stuttgart signing ()
#5 Copy

Sorana (paraphrased)

Do you have any tips regarding drawing the symbols/glyphs?

Isaac (paraphrased)

I always have to copy them myself. I did design a handscript of the Allomantic symbols. You might get to see them later.

Paleo (paraphrased)

Will the Steel Alphabet change further with the later eras of Mistborn?

Isaac (paraphrased)

Yes, it will. I've already got some designs that look very sci-fi-y.

Interview with Isaac Stewart ()
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Trevor Green

I know some of us have heard the story of how you came up with the symbols for Mistborn, but tell those of us who haven't how they came about.

Isaac Stewart

I'd drawn about a half dozen pages of symbols inspired by my first reading of the book. Pages with dozens and dozens of tiny, intricate symbols—maybe someday I'll write a post about the process: Failed Allomantic Symbol Designs. But nothing was really working for me or Brandon.

I'd collected a lot of reference material for the steel inquisitors—nails, railroad spikes, those sorts of things—and one day when I was looking at a picture of a rusty pile of bent up nails, I saw the symbol for iron. It was a Beautiful Mind experience. The symbol just jumped out at me. Glowing and everything.

After that initial experience with the symbol for iron, it was easy to come up with the others. The bent nail part eventually became the crescent shapes used in the final book.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

The symbols before the chapters [in The Well of Ascension], are those alloys for the god metals?

Brandon Sanderson

No, the symbols before the chapters are the same symbols as in the first book from a different era. Same thing for the third book, they are the exact same symbols from a different era.

General Twitter 2018 ()
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Pagerunner

Any in-world significance to the new symbols for E and U [on the Badali Mistborn rings]? (Tin/Pewter with dots moved) Or is that just creative liberty to give each English letter a unique symbol for the jewelry?

Isaac Stewart

From the beginning, I built the symbols to also be an alphabet. Moving the dot to create a different vowels sound is something I borrowed from baybayin: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/1b/9c/6f/1b9c6f22fce5589c1d3dfc62bfc1d4b2.jpg … Also planned from the beginning over ten years ago. The rings are the first chance to use it. :)

Miscellaneous 2012 ()
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FireOx

Do we know the exact purpose for creating 3 different symbols for each book's metals (chapter symbols)? Is it for the 3 metallic arts? If so, which belong to which?

Isaac Stewart

Hi FireOx! The three sets of symbols show the progression of the Allomantic text through the ages. The earliest script is from Hero of Ages. It was changed and modified into the Terris script symbols we see in Well of Ascension. After more time, the Terris script morphed into what is now known as the Allomantic Alphabet or the Steel Alphabet, which are the symbols used in Mistborn: The Final Empire. We've extrapolated the Steel Alphabet into a script that's more-standardized and refined for the chapter headings in Alloy of Law, which takes place 300 years after Hero of Ages.

Words of Radiance Philadelphia signing ()
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EHyde

I was also wondering, with the Steel Alphabet in the Mistborn books, each of the letters aesthetically looks like it's built from a cuff, a spike, and a bead, and was that intentional to reflect the magic systems?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. Do remember that that writing system was developed by the Final Empire. They actually took the ancient Terris symbols and they made them more to their own aesthetic over time.

Shadows of Self Boston signing ()
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AndrewStirlingMacDonald (paraphrased)

I have a question about the way that the brass symbol changed. It looks like brass no longer has a dot. Can you talk about that?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

That is just Issac deciding how he wants the symbols to look. It is nothing of Cosmereological import.

AndrewStirlingMacDonald (paraphrased)

Is there anything of cosmereological import about the way that the symbols have changed over time?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Yes, slight import. I mean, it's just the idea that as things have evolved, and we are moving toward typesetting; we've moved into typesetting in the modern era, you're going to see the symbols change to kind of match different eras.

Isaac Stewart r/Stormlight_Archive AMA ()
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ArtemosHyre

There was a really neat recent post that showed how they use a rotated Copper symbol like we use the "cent" symbol ¢. Are there any other examples in your mind?

Isaac Stewart

I'm glad someone noticed that we took copper and rotated it to mean "clip." Since Scadrial is the closest planet to being like Earth in the Cosmere so far, it's fun to do little things like that. I could see us doing something similar with one of the other symbols to use it to mean a boxing, maybe the symbol for Gold.

Salt Lake City Comic-Con 2014 ()
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Questioner

I actually have a weird question. From the Mistborn series it says there are 16 Allomantic metals but then you go into Alloy of Law and the 16 are listed there, minus the atium and another one, so are there really 18 metals?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, you see those two were not really metals. Those were pieces, fragments, of a god.

Questioner

I thought that might be it but the symbols are the same above them from-- the atium symbol is the same as--

Brandon Sanderson

No, it's a different symbol, it might be reversed though.

Stuttgart signing ()
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Rhapsody (paraphrased)

How much freedom do you get from Brandon for the maps and symbols and so on?

Isaac (paraphrased)

I get a lot of freedom with the maps. There were actually times we've changed parts of the books to fit the maps.

Rhapsody (paraphrased)

May I have an example?

Isaac (paraphrased)

We changed around directions in the Kholinar chapters a lot.

Rhapsody (paraphrased)

And the glyphs and other symbols?

Isaac (paraphrased)

For the glyphs I have a symmetry tool which I play around a lot with. We developed the glyphs later in full from those images we liked.

For the Allomantic symbols I had a couple different ideas which didn't seem to work well. Then I had an idea about a bunch of nails lying around haphazardly and from that image the Allomantic symbols evolved.