Do any characters from Nalthis appear in The Way of Kings?
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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?
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.
Do you purposefully take ideas from the Book of Mormon and turn them inside out, on their head, so no one knows where you got the ideas from? Like when you have Kelsier saying, in this moment, and he defeats the Lord Ruler, just in Ruler's capital city, and like how in the Book of Mormon when the La-āmanites, besieged Zaraellmə-ī, because no one else can see it coming?
So, I don't intentionally take, usually, from the Book of Mormon. There's a lot of unconscious things coming out. The only thing you can say is that I based The Way of Kings a little bit on King Benjamin's speech.
Out of all the books you've written which do you think is the best?
Well, Emperor's Soul is the one that won a Hugo, which gives it some objective credibility for being the best. [A Memory of Light] was the hardest by a long shot, and in some ways the most satisfying, but I'm perhaps most proud of The Way of Kings. So one of those three, likely.
Was there ever a time when you had intended to kill off a character, but changed your mind because you liked them too much?
Hmm... I'm trying to think of whether or not this happened. I do believe that Adolin died in the original draft of The Way of Kings, which I wrote in 2002. he had a much smaller role in that book, and it played out very differently. When I did the newer version, which I rewrote from scratch, Adolin evolved much differently.
For those who don't know, he wasn't intended to have as large a role in the plot--but I ran into a problem during writing. Dalinar was feeling inconsistent as a character. I wanted to present him as strong and confident, but at the same time had him troubled by worries that he was insane from visions he was seeing.
This worked in outline form, but when I actually wrote, it seemed like he spent WAY too much time standing around worrying that he was crazy. So I expanded Adolin's character, providing a contrast. Dalinar, confident (to an extent) he was seeing something real--and his son, who worried his father was going insane.
Through this development, and giving Adolin more time on the page, he became a much more rounded character.
Another instance of this was Spook from the Mistborn series, who grew to have a much larger role than I'd originally intended.
There's another in this category--but it could include spoilers for an upcoming book. I'll talk about it eventually.
Obviously, there are a lot of things embedded in this scene for later books. I've noted frequently that with Mistborn, I got the luxury of writing the whole series before releasing it. I don't have that chance with Stormlight. I had to make sure all of my foreshadowing was placed and ready for later use.
I worry that so much of it is obvious, yet also confusingly so. The sphere that Gavilar give Szeth is barely mentioned in the book, for example.
No, I'm not going to tell you what it is.
[Way of Kings] is my best book, but it also is the one that requires you to trust me the most.
I knew I’d have to deal with it sometime, and it finally caught up with me today. My Master Cosmere Timeline spreadsheet has far too many relative dates, and not enough absolutes.Roshar’s date system
The biggest reason I have put it off is that the date system Brandon made up is both supremely logical and at the same time totally crazy. A year has five hundred days, but there’s also a thousand-day cycle with different highstorms around the new year. In each year there are ten months of fifty days each. The months are broken into ten five-day weeks. The date indicates what year, month, week of the month, and day of the week it is and looks like this: 1126.96.36.199. It is impossible for me to do the math in my head to decide what the date would be 37 days ago, so I don’t use the dates in my reckoning, and only calculate them as an afterthought. This dating system is also a hassle because two weeks in our world is almost three weeks there, and a month there is almost two of ours, and when writing Brandon doesn’t even pretend to pay attention to those differences.Day numbers in The Way of Kings
But then we have to talk about my relative date system. The timeline of The Way of Kings is a mess. The story for Shallan starts more than 100 days earlier than Dalinar’s storyline. And Kaladin is roughly 50 days different from that. So for that book I had to pick a day when I knew there was crossover between the viewpoints and work forward and back from there. So a date in The Way of Kings might be marked on my spreadsheet as D 23 or K -57.
For Words of Radiance I started over at day 1 for that book. Those numbers count up until the new year which is day 71. Oathbringer starts just after the new year, so I used the day of the year for my book-specific day number. Of course switching systems at the start of each book made it hard for me to calculate just how many days there were between events in WOR and OB. So I put in another column which indicated a relative number of days counting before and after the arbitrary date of the end of WOR.Flashback dates
The next problem I dealt with were the line items that say something like “five years ago” for their date. With more than a year of onscreen time from the first chapters of The Way of Kings to the end of Oathbringer, it’s really necessary to note that it’s five years before what event with a solid date. Once I have a date to assign to it, I also have to decide how exact the date is. When I come back three years from now I will need to know whether this date is firm, or if it would be okay to put it three or four months on either side.Putting it all together
When Peter found an error in the spreadsheet one day, I decided to match a serial number to each date after the year 1160 (which makes for easy calculating), and make that my absolute day number from here until forever (though I’ll probably still make a book relative date, since it’s a useful way to talk about things with the rest of the team). To find the Roshar dates from the serial numbers I made another spreadsheet with a vlookup table for the dates and serial numbers, then translated all the dates from the three books into that single new system (finding several more errors as I went).
Would you be willing to write a Ketek in High Imperial? It's just something that's been going around in my head for a while, I think it'd be pretty cool XD.
Ha. I...really would rather pass on this one. Getting the Ketek right in [The Way of Kings] took weeks of writing and rewriting. I'm not sure I'd like to try something, even for fun, in a quick forum write like this.
One of the problems with The Way of Kings Prime was it had too many characters competing for the limelight. It lacked focus. One could argue that the published The Way of Kings is kind of all over the place itself—indeed, a lot of the plot threads don't connect until the end. (And then only in some limited ways.)
In the published book, I feel it works. Yes, the book is expansive, but we really only have two locations for our plot: the Shattered Plains and Kharbranth. In Prime, Jasnah and Taln both had major sections of the plot, in addition to Kaladin, Dalinar, Szeth, and the character Shallan replaced. It was just too much, and the thing never pulled together.
Fixing this was one of my main goals for revising the book. I started The Way of Kings over from scratch during 2009, between writing The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. I knew I needed a tighter narrative.
At the end, I moved Jasnah and Taln out of the book for the most part. They will have stories later in the series, but for this book, Jasnah isn't a viewpoint character.
I'll dig into Soulcasting at another time.
Kal helps his father work on a young girl's hand
For years I had been wanting to do a full-blown flashback-sequence book. Flashbacks (or non-linear storytelling) can be a powerful narrative device, but they're also dangerous. They can make a book harder to get into (nothing new for this book) and can create frustration in readers who want to be progressing the story and not dwelling in the past.
The payoff, in my estimation, is a stronger piece of art. For example, as Kaladin is slowly being destroyed in the bridges we can show a flashback for contrast. The juxtaposition between the naive Kal wanting to go to war and the harsh realities of the Kaladin from years later suffering in war might be a little heavy-handed, but I feel that if the reader is on board with the character, this will be powerful instead of boring.
I often talk about how books grow out of separate ideas that buzz around in my head. One of those ideas was to create a character who was a surgeon in a fantasy world. A person who believed in science during an era where it was slowly seeping through the educated, but who had to fight against the ignorance around him.
Back when Kaladin was called Merin, he didn't work well as a character. He was too much the standard "farmboy who becomes a nobleman" from fantasy genre cliché. I struggled for years with different concepts for him, and it was when I combined him with the idea for this surgeon that things really started rolling. It's interesting, then, that he didn't actually become that surgeon character. In the final draft of the book, that character became his father—not a main character as I'd always intended—and Kaladin became the son of the character I'd developed in my head to take a lead role.
A few months ago, I discovered listening to classic jazz just really got me into the mindset for my current novel, and I think it might be because the story is set in a time similar to the America in the 1920's; do you ever try to match the music with the setting of a specific book or scene? Is there any one artist or style of music that works no matter what?
Yes, indeed I do. I actually listened to era-appropriate music when working on Alloy of Law. In general, a good soundtrack can work no matter what, but for some scenes I need something more powerful. (Szeth's scenes in [The Way of Kings] were usually to Daft Punk.)
Yalb the Sailor
This chapter is Yalb's time to shine. One of the things I love about The Wheel of Time is Robert Jordan's use of side characters who sometimes pop in, steal the show, then vanish. I love how they show up now and then in the text.
I'm not sure I can do the same thing here. Robert Jordan had worldbuilding reasons why small characters would get tied to the main characters and keep appearing in their lives again and again. I don't have those reasons.
Still, writing Yalb, I wanted him to really pop off the page even though he's only in the book for a few pages in these early scenes. I intend for him to return. In another type of story, he'd be one of the main characters.
Kaladin in Bridge Four
This chapter is probably the most depressing thing I've ever written.
Writing a depressed character, someone in this bad a situation, is risky. It goes against almost every writing rule out there. A character like this can't be active, and there is basically no progress to the story. (I talked a little about this in the chapter 4 annotations for both The Way of Kings and The Hero of Ages.)
Sometimes I'll read the writing of new authors in my class who will try to use depression as a character flaw. They've heard instructors—perhaps myself—talk about how internal conflicts can create a really strong character. They also know that depression is something real and difficult to deal with in life, so they figure it will make a good demon for the main character to overcome.
The trap is that if the author is truly good at writing depression, then nothing actually happens in the story. It can be wonderfully authentic and at the same time wonderfully boring to read.
This chapter is kind of the culmination of me breaking rules in the beginning of The Way of Kings. I think this chapter makes the story incredibly more powerful—but the chapter itself is like a kick to the face to read. Slow, depressing. I assume this is probably the biggest place where—if people are going to stop reading—they put down the book and never pick it back up.
As I've said before, The Way of Kings is the book where I decided to break many rules to create something I felt was awesome. Great risk, and hopefully great reward.
In classic Sanderson fashion, the beginning of this book was the part to see the biggest edits. I usually start a novel, write from beginning to end, then go back and play heavily with my beginning to better match the tone of the book.
Here, one of my big decisions was to choose between two prologues I had written out. One was with the Heralds, and set the stage for a much larger story—I liked the epic feel it gave, and the melancholy tone it set. The other was Szeth's attack on Kholinar. This was a great action sequence that set up some of the plots for the novel in a very good way, but had a steep learning curve.
I was very tempted to use both, which was what I eventually did. This wasn't an easy decision, however, as this book was already going to start with a very steep learning curve. Prelude→prologue→Cenn→Kaladin→Shallan would mean five thick chapters at the start of the book without any repeating settings or viewpoint characters.
This can sink a novel quickly. As it stands, this is the most difficult thing about The Way of Kingsas a novel. Many readers will feel at sea for a great deal of Part One because of the challenging worldbuilding, the narrative structure, and the fact that Kaladin's life just plain sucks.
It seems that my instincts were right. People who don't like the book often are losing interest in the middle of Part One. When I decided to use the prelude and the prologue together, I figured I was all in on the plan of a thick epic fantasy with a challenging learning curve. That decision doesn't seem to have destroyed my writing career yet.
In one of the Stormlight books, or Way of Kings, it says "3 of 16 ruled but now the Broken One reigns", so did they-- did the three of them have a pact?
That's a RAFO.
"--and then the Broken One reigns"?
That's a RAFO.
I started working on THE WAY OF KINGS fifteen years ago. I wrote the first version of the book in full back in 2003. It was always planned to be big. You don’t grow up reading Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, and Melanie Rawn without wanting to do your own big epic. When I showed it to my editor back in ’03, he thought it was too ambitious to be published, at least as my second novel.
There are thirty magic systems in this world, depending on how you count them, and around six thousand years of history I’ve mapped out. There are dozens of cultures, a continent of enormous scope, and a deep, rich mythology. However, when I say things like that, you have to realize that very little of it will end up in the first book. The best fantasy epics I’ve read begin with a personal look at the characters in the early books, then have a steady expansion into epic scope.
I’ve spent many years thinking about the epic fantasy genre, what makes it work, what I love about it, and how to deal with its inherent weaknesses. And so I’m trying to make use of the form of the novel (meaning how I place chapters and which viewpoints I put where) in order to convey the scope without distracting from the main stories I wish to tell.
Anyway, I don’t jump between dozens of characters in this novel. There are three central viewpoints, with two or so primary supporting viewpoints. I intend the first book to be its own story, focused and personal. I don’t want this to be the “Wow! Thirty Magic Systems!” series. I want it to be a series about a group of characters you care about, with a lush and real world that has solid and expansive depth.
In other words, I promise you a variety of magics, mythology, history, and cultures . . . but not all in the first book.
The Annotations is actually what got me started. And I was wondering do we have any Stormlight ones in the pipeline?
Yes I have finished Part I of The Way of Kings. That's not a ton, but I eventually intend to do the entire book. The problem I've run into is that I reference Way of Kings Prime a whole ton while writing them, because it's what is in my head.
And it's a lot a mixed content.
Yeah, and so it might be better when I can release Way of Kings Prime to accompany them, but I will be doing that.
I just finished the timeline for Oathbringer, and thought you might like to hear about the process. (Spoiler warning: There may be tidbits of information in this article about the plot of Oathbringer, but I have specifically made up many of the examples I use, so you can’t count on any of it as fact.)
I know that some of you think, “Brandon posted that he had finished writing Oathbringer months ago. Why do we have to wait until November before it’s on the shelf at the bookstore?” This is a natural question. I asked it myself years ago when I heard similar news about a Harry Potter book. The timeline is one small part of the reason, but it will give you a small glimpse of what is going on at a frantic pace here at Dragonsteel trying to get the book ready to go to press.
You may know that I’m Brandon’s continuity editor. I keep records of every character, place, spren, and piece of clothing to name just a few. The next time a person appears, I make sure they have the right eye color and eat the right kind of food. There’s so much more to it than that, but it gives you an idea of the level of detail I try to be on top of.
Another thing I track is the timeline of each book. I have a massive spreadsheet called the Master Cosmere Timeline (I can hear some of you salivating right now, and no, I won’t let you peek at certain corners of it).
In some of Brandon’s books, there are a few main characters who spend most of their time together in the same place. For those books, the timeline is simple. Take The Bands of Mourning for instance. It’s about four days long. Nobody goes off on a side quest. The timeline only takes up 32 lines in the spreadsheet because there are that many chapters. On the other hand, the current spreadsheet for the Stormlight books has over 1100 lines.
Here’s a sample of the timeline spreadsheet. The white columns are the dates, which I have an entirely separate post about. In column F we have an event that happens in the book. Column E tells how long it has been since the last event. Then I have the quote from the book that I used to justify the timing, the chapter the quote appears in, and whether the event happened on the day of the chapter, or sometime in the past or future.
The timeline for Oathbringer starts on day 4 of the new year, and ends on day 100. (Which, for those of you who keep track of such things, makes the date 1188.8.131.52). My day count could change by a day or two here and there, but I’m pretty happy with how I got the different groups of people to all end up in the same place at the same time.
Why bother? Well, sometimes Brandon writes a flashback and someone is looking at a cute baby. It’s important to tell Brandon that this particular kid wasn’t born for another four years. A character might think to themselves, “It’s been a month and a half since I was there,” and though it has been 45 days, a month on Roshar is 50 days long, so it hasn’t even been a single month. Brandon often glosses over those conversions in early drafts.
The most important purpose, though, comes when two groups of characters are apart for some length of time. Let’s take Kaladin and Dalinar in The Way of Kings. Kaladin was running bridges for battles where Dalinar and Sadeas cooperated. Were there the same number of days in Kaladin’s viewpoint between those battles as there were in Dalinar’s viewpoint? The answer is no. I was assigned this job after that book was finished, and as much as we squashed and fudged, there is still a day or two unaccounted for. An interesting tidbit from The Way of Kings‘ timeline is that Kaladin’s timeline has 50 days in it before Dalinar’s starts. Chapter 40, when Kaladin recovers from being strung up in the storm, is the same day as the chasmfiend hunt in Chapter 12.
Going back to Oathbringer, sometimes I’m amazed at the power I have. As I go through the manuscript, I can take a sentence like, “He spent four days recovering,” and simply replace the word four with two. Brandon gives me a general idea of how long he wants things to take, and I tell him what it needs to be to fit. It’s a big responsibility, and sometimes I worry that I’ll mess the whole thing up.
Oathbringer is the first book in the Stormlight series where I worked with a list of the storms from the start. Peter tried on Words of Radiance, but Brandon wrote what the story needed and expected us to fit the storms in around that (A perfectly reasonable process, even if it makes my job trickier). In Oathbringer though, the Everstorm and highstorm are each on a much stricter schedule. We need such exact timing in some scenes that Peter (with help from beta reader Ross Newberry) made me a calculator to track the hour and minute the storms would hit any given city.
Yet another thing we needed to calculate is travel time. How fast can a Windrunner fly? How many days does it take to march an army from here to there? Kaladin might be able to do a forced march for a week, but what about Shallan or Navani? How long could they manage 30 miles a day?
Hopefully now you can see why we’ve needed months of work to get this far, and will need months more to get it finished in time. At some point, we’re just going to have to call it good and turn the book over to the printer, but even though you think you want to get your hands on it now, it will be a much better read after we have the kinks worked out.
Do you know when we'll start seeing The Way of Kings? Sample chapters in particular. This series sounds freaking amazing and I can't wait to see more of it. So, yeah..now that the first draft is finished (congratulations, by the way), I'm quite curious...
My plan is to start releasing sample chapters of Kings next year sometime in the spring. Not too close to draw any attention away from the release of The Gathering Storm, but far enough ahead of the Kings launch to give a good preview. February, perhaps? If you don't see them by then, I officially give you permission to send my assistant a reminder email to 'poke' me into doing it.
Why didn't Dalinar get the powers of a Stoneward when he bonded Taln's [honorblade]?
Some readers have already figured this out, so I don't think I'm engaging in to large a spoiler to dig into this one here.
There are several oddities going on here. The most important one relevant to this question is the Blade in question. If you compare the descriptions of the sword described in the epilogue of The Way of Kings to the one that traveled with the madman (allegedly Taln, the Herald) to the Shattered Plains, you'll find they are different.
The one that the characters obtained in Words of Radiance is NOT an honorblade. It's an ordinary Shardblade (as ordinary as one of those can be called.) I'm niot going to say specifically what happened to the Blade Taln arrived with at Kholinar, but I will say that it IS a different weapon from the one in Words of Radiance.
The other issue here is the somewhat lesser question of whether this character is actually Taln, the Herald, or not. Some characters in-world don't believe that it is, though his viewpoint in Words of Radiance strongly implies otherwise. This isn't specifically relevant to the conversation for reasons I'll talk about below--but it is tangentially related. Because in the cosmere, Intent is imporant to many of the types of magic. It's theoretically possible to hold an honorblade and not realize what its powers anre, and there be unable to access them.
As an aside, this character was actually the primary protagonist of the version of The Way of Kings I wrote in 2002. A man who woke up, with lingering memories of madness, and claimed to be a Herald when nobody believed him--as he couldn't manifest any powers, seemed to have lost his sowrd, and lore said the Heralds weren't coming back anyway.
When I wrote the new version of The Way of Kings in 2009 or so, one goal was to focus the storyline. I'd included so many characters in the 2002 version that none of them progressed very far in their arcs, creating a strong setting and interesting characters--but a bad book. During the new version, i decided that this character would be moved to the later books, and I'd explore him there.
In the 2002 version, the text was very dodgy on whether or notTaln was a Herald. Confronting the fact that he might be crazy was a major arc and theme of the book--however, as I've worked on the new version, I've realized that it would be dangerous to be too vague on this. Stringing people along with the question for a book or two is one thing, waiting until book six or eight to do a character's arc, and leaving the question of whether they're a Herald or not all htat time, seemed unfair.
So the text is going to be making manifest fairly quickly who this person is. You'll have confirmations long before we dig into his viewpoint in the later books.
So, a recap:
1) The swords WERE swapped somehow.
2) Someone could hold an honorblade and not realize they had access to powers.
3) This character may or may not actually be a Herald--but the text is going to make the answer clear, and I'm not trying to trick you.
How did this [Wheel of Time] help prepare you to write Stormlight Archive?
There's actually a good story there because Way of Kings, the first Stormlight Archive, is the book I was writing when I first sold Elantris. Elantris was my first published but it wasn't my first written, it was my sixth novel. It was the first one that was actually somewhat decent, but I was writing number thirteen when I got the offer on it. You'll find that's very common among authors. It doesn't happen to all of us, but a lot of us, we write for a long time before we get it done. And I just finished Way of Kings and it was not right yet. In fact when I sold Elantris, Tor wanted to buy two books from me, and my editor asked, "send me what I was working on right now". And I sent him Way of Kings and he said, "wow this is awesome, but number one, it's enormous. I'm not sure if we can publish this, at least in one volume, from a new author." Later on I was able to convince them it should be one volume, but that's when I had a little more clout and they could print more copies, which drives prices down for printing them. But also it just wasn't right yet. The book was not right. And I said to my editor, "I'm okay not publishing it now, because I don't know what's wrong with it. As a writer, I think it was just too ambitious for me at the time. I just couldn't do it yet."
It wasn't until I had written Gathering Storm in its entirety that I started to figure out what I'd been doing wrong. It was actually managing viewpoints was one of the things. During the reread of Robert Jordan's entire series, I noticed how he gathered the viewpoints together. You start writing a big epic fantasy series, and you feel like, they have so many characters and I want to start with that. In the original draft of Way of Kings I started them all over the world. I had all these viewpoints and things like this and the book was kind of a trainwreck because of it. Where if you read Eye of the World, Robert Jordan starts with them all together and then slowly builds complexity. Even in the later books, he's grouping the characters together. Even though they have individual storylines going on, they are in the same place and they can interact with each other, and there's clusters of them in different places. That was one thing. Working on Gathering Storm, I've learnt how to make my characters, also how to use viewpoints the way he did, how to manage subtlety--he was so subtle with a lot of his writing. Just some of these things, it all started to click in my head.
And I actually called my agent and said, "I need to do Way of Kings right now." And he's like, "Are you sure? Because you kind of have a lot on your plate." "I need to do it, it's going be fast, because I know how to do it now." So I actually took time off between Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight and rewrote Way of Kings from scratch. It took me about six months, which is amazingly fast for a book that length. And then showed it to my editor and it was right this time. It's hard to explain many of the specifics. It's like, how do you know you can lift this weight after you've been lifting these other weights? It's when you've worked hard enough that you've gained the muscle mass to do it. And writing The Wheel of Time was heavy lifting. That's how it happened. I do apologize the sequel is taking so long. But after that deviation to do the first one which I could do very quickly, I couldn't stop to write the second one after Towers of Midnight because the second one would take too long and delay the last book too long. I am getting back to Stormlight now, and I am working on the second book, but I had other obligations first that were very important.
Where did the idea to split The Way of Kings and to make it take place in multiple places come from?
The Way of Kings taking place with the different timelines? So Way of Kings I wrote, the very first version of it--in its contemporary form, I wrote the first book about Dalinar when I was a teenager--but the very first book called The Way of Kings I wrote in 2002 and I tried to cram way too much into that book. The big failing of that book was I tried to do everyone's story at once. And so when I re-wrote it in 2009, or whenever it was, I decided I would take the characters and spread them out across the 10 book series and I would focus on a certain set of them early on and then transition into other ones. But in order to maintain some of the complexity I like in my books, particularly big epic fantasies, I added in the flashback sequence, one per character per book as a means to adding some depth and complexity but using it to build up a character you already knew, rather than doing someone completely different. And so this kind of allowed me to tell the story the way I wanted to, by doing-- That did mean I still had to have two separate timelines because I needed to do Shallan and I needed to do Kaladin, 'cause I knew they were going to be important, interacting together for the next few books. Which did put me in two different places but that was much better than the six different places the original had. And it's just because I like complexity, I like a book that everything comes together at once.
I almost forgot, now that The Way of Kings first book, first draft is finished, when can we expect that to hit the shelves?
August or September of next year. (Huzzah!)
Szeth uses magic
In Mistborn, by intention, I saved any big action sequences with the magic until the characters and setting had been established. This was intentional.
I did the opposite in The Way of Kings.
There are a couple of reasons for this. I spoke on the learning curve of this book; I felt it was best to just be straightforward with what I was doing. This book would be steep, and you'd see it in the first few scenes. Better to be straightforward with what you are.
At the same time, I felt that readers would put up with more from me. Fantasy readers can handle a steep learning curve, and tend to celebrate books that have a lot of meaty worldbuilding. I feel from my own experience as a reader, however, that I am wary of giving much effort to a book by a new author. Learning a new world takes work, and if an author is going to demand that kind of work from me, I want big payoff.
My hope is that I've earned my right to put out a book with this involved a setting. I've proven that I can tell a good story, and that it's worth the effort to get into one of my books and worlds. The Way of Kings is the most challenging book I've written; the payoff will be equal to that challenge. (I hope.)
Is the sword at the end of Words of Radiance, is it the actual Nightblood from Warbreaker?
It is, actually. It's fun because when I first wrote Way of Kings in 2002, Vasher was one of the main characters. And then when I wrote Warbreaker in 2006, I wrote a book about him to do his past. And then when I re-wrote Way of Kings it's like, "Well, time for Vasher to come back." So he's been in Roshar, in my head, since the beginning, for some 20 years. But he wasn't-- He didn't originate there, but... He was one of the worldhoppers that I hid in the very first version. Which was a lot of fun to then be able to go write a book about him and come back.
This was a controversial chapter for my writing group and my editor, and was wrapped up in the whole learning curve argument. It was suggested several times that if this chapter were from Kaladin's viewpoint, the book wouldn't feel quite so overwhelming at the start. After all, Chapters One and Two would then be from the same viewpoint and would give a stronger clue to readers.
I resisted. I had already accepted that this was going to be a challenging book for readers. That's not an excuse to ignore advice, but at the same time, I decided I was committed to the long-term with this book. That meant doing things at the start that might seem unusual for the purpose of later payoff.
This is an excellent example of that. If I'd done this scene through Kaladin's eyes, I don't think it would have been as powerful. Kaladin is on top of things here, in control. I didn't want the first chapter to feel that in control. I wanted the sense of chaos worry and uncertainty.
Beyond that, I wanted to introduce Kaladin as a contrast to all of that. A solid force for order, a natural leader, and an all-around awesome guy. Doing that from within someone's viewpoint is tough unless they're on the arrogant side, like Kelsier. It can work in that kind of viewpoint, but not in Kaladin's.
Finally, I am always looking to play with the tropes of fantasy where I can. I feel that if I'd been writing this as a youth, I'd have made someone like Cenn the hero. (Indeed, in the original draft of The Way of Kings from 2002, Kaladin was much more like Cenn is now.) Opening with a young man thrust into war, then having him get killed seemed like a good way to sweep the pieces off the table and say, "No, what you expect to happen isn't going to happen in this book."
This also let me set up for a future chapter, where I could flashback to Kaladin's view of these events. As narrative structure was something I wanted to play with in this book, that appealed to me.
Shallan Rejected Again
I do wonder at reader reaction to these Shallan sequences. Some in the writing group found these scenes too long. They figured it was inevitable that Shallan would end up as Jasnah's ward, and so spending several chapters with Shallan working overtime to secure the position wasn't interesting to them.
I admit this is a potential problem with the sequence. However, I felt it important to show both Shallan's determination and Jasnah's character with these sequences. I needed to show Shallan working very hard for what she wanted. It also gave me several opportunities to show the contrasting timidity/insolence that makes up how I view Shallan as a character.
I saw an interview of you talking about Way of Kings before it came out/before I read it. In the interview you mentioned the ten knights and each book will focus/be about one of the knights. After reading book one I can honestly say, I have no idea which Knight was supposed to be in book one. Is this by design? Or did I miss the point?
I'm not sure what the question means. Do you mean the Heralds? Or the ten orders of the Knights Radiant? The symbol stamped into the front of the first hardcover represents the Windrunners because of Kaladin's awakening as a Windrunner. Also because of Szeth, but mostly because of Kaladin.
And now comes the redemption chapter.
This is the sort of thing that I write books to do. It's the sort of chapter that I really hope to be able to pull off. That may seem strange to some of you, as it's not the climatic ending or the like—but it's the turning point of the story. Probably the most important one in the book.
I've said before that I feel Epic Fantasy is about return on investment. We often demand a lot of readers in terms of worldbuilding. There's a lot to catch up on and follow in a book like this. The goal, then, is to be able to deliver powerful scenes that make use of the investment.
The reward for the early chapters is this chapter. It lays a foundation for the entire book. I've brought Kaladin as low as I could bring him, and now we get to experience the scramble upward.
Perhaps I think about these things too much. However, this was exactly what was missing from Prime when I wrote it. I was baffled, at the time, as to why the book just didn't work. It had all of the elements of a good epicw, and yet the book felt hollow somehow. There were fun adventures to be had, but no real impact. What it needed was this sequence, which has a lot of motion (and hopefully heart) to it.
This chapter makes the book for me.
Is there eventually going to be a Way of Kings tenth anniversary edition?
Yes, if I have the ability to make it, if Tor doesn’t reverse and shut these down, then yes we’ll make it. My guess is, we will probably release it broken up in a slipcase, sold as one, because I worry about the binding on a nice leatherbound like that. So my guess is we’ll start doing those divided by parts or something like that. We’ll figure it out when we do it.
You've said you lifted the Shattered Plains from Dragonsteel, what would Kaladin have been doing if not running bridges and what will happen to Dragonsteel without the Plains?
Both good questions. I've spoken before of the big changes that happened when I wrote The Way of Kings 2.0. One of them was bringing in the Shattered Plains. The problem was that there was a big hole in Kaladin's storyline, because in the original manuscript of The Way of Kings (major spoiler), he accepted the Shardblade. That was the prologue of the book; Kaladin—then known as Merin—saved Elhokar's life. They tried to take the Shardblade away from him, and Dalinar insisted that he be given it. So Merin was made a Shardbearer in the very first scenes of the book. And from that point, his character never worked. So in doing the second version of the book, I decided that no, we've got to build more into this, we've got to dig deeper, and he has to make the opposite decision, which is where the entire framework of him turning down the Shardblade and then being betrayed all came from. The problem was then what was he going to do? I knew I wanted him to have therefore ended up sold into slavery and have terrible things happen to him, but I couldn't figure out what Kaladin was going to do and was unable to write the book until I mashed in the Shattered Plains and said, "Ah, that was what he needed to be doing all along."
I really don't know what I'll do in Dragonsteel without that now. The problem is that it was the part of Dragonsteel that worked, but it was the part that was most at odds with the story in Dragonsteel. The story that I wanted to tell was the first half of the book, which is the more boring part. Hopefully as a better writer now I can make that part more interesting, but that was the core of what Dragonsteel was. The Shattered Plains was always just going to be a small diversion, but when I wrote it it was fascinating, and I ended up pouring tons of effort and time into it. In many ways it was a distraction, a deviation, a beautiful darling. So for a long time I've been thinking, "I can't kill my darling, because that's the most exciting part of the book." Yet it was at odds with what the story of the book was originally intended to be. I wasn't as good at controlling my stories back then, making them come out to have the tone I wanted. Anyway, we'll have to approach that when I actually write Dragonsteel.