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Brandon Sanderson

Everyone Is the Hero in Their Own Story

Another of the big plot events I wanted for this book was to have a character work for the wrong team for a long period of time without realizing it. I'd rarely seen this plot twist in a book, and even more rarely seen anything like it pulled off with any skill. So I wanted to try my hand at it.

Vasher is right here. Denth was playing with her when he told her that line about heroes. He said it partially because he was trying to justify what he was doing, and partially because he was amused that she thought she was doing what was right—when she was a major motivating force driving her people toward destruction.

Vivenna thought she was the hero, but she was the villain—at least for a good chunk of the book.

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#2 Share

JoyBlue [PENDING REVIEW]

*written* What color eyes do Siri and Vivenna have?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

*written* It can vary

*spoken* So this, I'd have to go look in my notes, but it can vary...

JoyBlue [PENDING REVIEW]

In the book, there's the one time they talk about it being darkeyes, but I wasn't sure if it was makeup or *inaudible* or if it was makeup eyes.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I'll have to look in my notes. But it can vary.

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Brandon Sanderson

Anyway, that's a tangent. Meeting with these men was a mistake, something that Vivenna realizes partway through the meeting. There is little she can gain from them—and that which she could gain she's not prepared to ask for. She should have come with more of a plan. Instead, she did what she's done for most of the book—that is, pretend that she is in charge and in control, while in fact she's just floating along with whatever comes at her.

I think this is the big thing Vivenna has to realize in the book. She has never had a good plan of how to deal with things in T'Telir. Unfortunately, I don't think she can learn until she falls a bit.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Two - Part Two

Vivenna and Her Father Chat about Siri

King Dedelin does love Siri. He's a good man, but not quite as great a man as his daughters probably think. He does put Vivenna first. He loves her more. Perhaps because he relates to her; the two of them are very similar in many ways.

The girls' mother passed away over a decade ago, by the way, in a riding accident. Siri doesn't remember it, but Vivenna does, and that is one of the sources of tension between them. Siri's flagrant rides remind both Vivenna and her father of the way the queen died. Memory of their mother is also part of what makes Vivenna more controlled and "perfect." Siri grew up with very little supervision, while Vivenna had much more of it in the person of her mother.

Anyway, Dedelin loves Vivenna more. When he says that he sent Siri, “Not because of personal preference, whatever people say,” he's being truthful as he sees things—but he's deluding himself. He's convinced himself that he did it primarily because Vivenna's leadership is important to Idris and she can't be risked. That is important to him, true, but his love for Vivenna is the primary reason.

Now, he's not callous or hateful of Siri. He loves her. But . . . well, Vivenna reminds him of his wife. I guess you can't blame the guy too much for what he did.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty-Five

Vivenna Awakes, Bound by Vasher

This chapter—with what happens in the latter part of it—is the most dangerous in the book. Dangerous to me as an author, I mean. I love good plot twists, but I worry about leaving them without proper foreshadowing. I've never done something as drastic as I have in this book, having a group of sympathetic characters turn out to be working for the wrong side. I hope it succeeds, but I know that if it doesn't, readers will be very mad. Nothing is sloppier than a book with unearned changes in character motivation.

But we're not there quite yet. Before that we have the first real interaction between Vivenna and Vasher. He gives her what he likes to think of as the Nightblood test. One nice thing about having a sword that "cannot tempt the hearts of those who are pure" is that when someone like Vivenna touches it, she gets sick. I didn't want Nightblood to come across as a "one ring" knockoff. He doesn't turn people's hearts or corrupt them. However, in order to be able to do his job and fulfill his Command, he needs the ability to determine who is good and who is evil.

This, of course, isn't an easy thing to determine. In fact, I don't think it's a black or white issue for most people. When Nightblood was created, the Breaths infused in him did their best to interpret their Command. What they decided was evil was someone who would try to take the sword and use it for evil purposes, selling it, manipulating and extorting others, that sort of thing. Someone who wouldn't want the sword for those reasons was determined to be good. If they touch the weapon, they feel sick. If others touch the weapon, their desire to kill and destroy with it is enhanced greatly.

Nightblood himself, unfortunately, doesn't quite understand what good and evil are. (This is mentioned later in the text.) However, he knows that his master can determine who is good and who is evil—using the sword's power to make people sick, or through other means. So, he pretty much just lets whoever is holding him decide what is evil. And if the one holding the sword determines—deep within their heart—that they are evil themselves, then they will end up killing themselves with the sword.

Vivenna passes the test, which surprises Vasher. He thought that she'd be the type who would use Nightblood to kill and destroy. (He doesn't have a high opinion of her, obviously. Of course, that's partially because he's let his temper dictate what he thinks.)

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Reads Her Father's Letters to Lemex

So, is what Dedelin did wrong? I don't know. Again, I'm not here to give answers. He did what he felt he needed to do. Getting Lemex into the Court of Gods was an extremely important task. Without access to the assembly sessions, he had to rely upon paying people who could get in to take notes. Much better to get your spy in there himself. Unfortunately, the easiest, best, and least obtrusive way to do this was to get Lemex a pile of Breaths.

Now, I don't expect any readers to be shocked by what he did. The tone of the book presents Awakening as being far less inherently evil than Vivenna sees it. I'm afraid this is a bias I can't stamp out, since I myself see the power as being something other than evil. Neutral, as are most of my magic systems.

But I do think it's important to hold to your own personal code. Vivenna is rightly shocked about what her father did. But, then, perhaps this is a sign that she wouldn't have made as good a queen as she and her father assume she would have. While she's perfectly willing to sacrifice herself for Idris, she doesn't seem willing to live for Idris—meaning to stay behind and lead her people. She ran off. Beyond that, she would never have been able to make the decision her father did, buying Lemex Breaths.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna and Siri Reunite; Vasher Shows Off His Returned Breath

I believe that this is the first time in the book that Vivenna and Siri talk to each other. (Weird, eh?) I knew I couldn't make their reunion very effusive, since they're both Idrians, and Siri has learned to control herself. Plus, the situation is very tense. (And beyond that, despite Vivenna's coming to rescue her sister, the two were never terribly close. They were sisters, but separated by five years or so.)

This chapter focuses on other things, primarily the changes in the God King's personality and the revelations about Vasher. For the first, I hope they are plausible. Remember, the God King has grown a lot with Siri's help. Beyond that, he's been trained to look regal and act like a king, even if he's not had any practice talking like one. I think he works well here, projecting more confidence and nobility than he really feels, speaking in ways that don't make him sound too stupid, yet still betraying an innocence.

The bigger surprise is Vasher's revelation about his nature. I almost didn't put this in the book, instead intending to hint at it and save it for the second book. The reason for this is that I knew it would be confusing.

The big question is, if Vasher is Returned, why can he give away his Breaths and Awaken things without killing himself?

The answer is simple, in many ways, but I'm not sure if I have the groundwork for it properly laid in the book. (Which is why I hesitated in explaining it.) Remember when Denth said that Awakening was all or nothing? Well, he lied. (I think you've figured this out now.) A very skilled Awakener can give away only part of their Breath. It depends on their Command visualizations. So Vasher needs to always give away everything except for that one Returned Breath that keeps him alive. As long as he has that one Breath (which he's learned to suppress and hide), he can stay alive.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Admits the Real Reason She Came to Hallandren

I've been pushing toward this for a long time in the narrative. Vivenna didn't come to Hallandren to save her sister—that's a front. That's what she told herself. But the real reasons are more deep, more personal, and less noble. She had to come because of how much of her life had been focused on the city. Beyond that, she came because of her hatred of Hallandren. She wanted to find ways to hurt it for what it had done to her.

It was partially her pride. She was the one who was supposed to deal with Hallandren. Her pride wouldn't let her stay away, wouldn't let Siri do the job that Vivenna was certain she could do better.

She has kept her hatred in check quite well, but it's always been there, driving her. I hope my readers always thought that coming to save Siri was a flimsy reason for Vivenna to come to T'Telir. The term love/hate relationship has become a cliché, but I honestly think there is some real psychology to it, and I feel that I explained one aspect of it here, for Vivenna.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna's Thoughts on Being a Drab

A lot of what happened to Vivenna—how she saw the world and how she acted—was influenced by being a Drab. As I've said before, the Hallandren aren't right when they say losing your Breath does nothing to you. Most Drabs struggle with depression, and the fact that they're almost always sick doesn't help either.

And so, Vivenna's time on the streets was artificially made more dreary and terrible than it truly was. Being a Drab, being sick, the shock of being betrayed—these things combined to give you the person you saw in the previous two chapters. It's a way to cut a corner. I wanted Vivenna to feel like she'd been on the streets for months, but for it only to have been a few weeks.

She is able to make her hair change colors again. This is a representation of the fact that she has started to pull out of the nightmare. She's slightly in control of her world again, and the roughest time for her has passed. There's also a clue in that hair, one that Vasher mentions. Because of it, and her heritage, and something very mysterious in the past, every member of the royal line has a fraction of a divine Returned Breath in them. That makes it much easier for them to learn to Awaken than a normal person.

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Questioner

In the Stormlight Archive we saw the sword from Warbreaker and we also know that the royal line can change more than just their hair, will that come into play?

Brandon Sanderson

They can! What’s that?

Questioner

...will that come into play?

Brandon Sanderson

That will come into play, keep your eyes open.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Vivenna Drinks Juice at an Outdoor Restaurant and Plans the Meeting with the Idrian Leaders in the City

Here we have Vivenna showing off her end of the reversal quite well. This is one of the few places where I have a character point out the reversal taking place. Vivenna has learned to blend into Hallandren—she's learned not to judge quite so much. She's still not where she needs to be, but the transformation is happening.

The conversation she has with Denth, where he discusses every man seeing himself as a hero in his own story, is a kind of subtheme for this book. In this novel, everyone does think they're doing what's best. The only exception to that is, perhaps, Denth himself—which makes the conversation particularly poignant.

This is one of the very first conversations I imagined for this book, as I knew it would be very important to a later one, where Vivenna talks to Vasher. And that particular conversation might just have been the first I came up with.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna and Vasher Meet with the Idrian Workers

Now we get to see the other part of what Vasher has been doing all this time—the part that I couldn't show you earlier, since it would have made it too obvious that he had good intentions. (And that, in turn, might have spoiled the surprise that Denth was manipulating Vivenna.) He's been trying very hard to convince the Idrians not to get themselves into trouble. He's been only mildly successful.

Vivenna listening here has some things to work through. Some alpha readers had difficulty with how easily she started helping Vasher, so I've reworked that in the final draft. Hopefully you now see her struggle and her reasoning.

What she sees here is something real. She notices that most of Hallandren doesn't care about Idris or the Idrians. When I lived in Korea, I sensed a lot of resentment from the Koreans toward the Japanese. The Japanese had done some pretty terrible things to the Koreans during the various wars throughout the history of the two countries, and the anger the Koreans felt was quite well justified. The thing is, most Japanese I meet are surprised to hear how much resentment there is. It's kind of like Americans are sometimes surprised to hear how much dislike there is for them in Mexico.

When you're the bigger country, the one who historically won conflicts and wars, you often don't much notice the people you've stepped on along the way. While the smaller country may create a rivalry with you, you may not even realize that you have a rival. This is what happened with Hallandren and Idris. While some people push for war, the general populace doesn't even think about Idris—except as that poor group of people up in the highlands who sell them wool and do jobs they, the Hallandren, don't want to do.

This can be very frustrating for someone from the smaller country, like Vivenna, when confronted not with anger, but with indifference, about your feelings.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Suits Up and Leaves

Vivenna is in a similar position to Siri here in these last chapters. Things are getting so dangerous that both women (well, and Lightsong too) are rather out of their elements. However, I knew that I had to have them both involved. It would be incredibly frustrating to read an entire book focused on two characters, then have them get pushed around for the entire climax.

So during my outlining, I made certain to build the story in such a way that they could be useful, even if they're very much out of their elements. I feel this makes the story more tense in a lot of ways, since they're forced to deal with things for which they're completely unprepared.

Here, we have Vivenna sorting through her own emotions and finding enough determination left to go out and do something. This is an important moment for her, even though she doesn't realize it. This is the moment where she takes her first real step toward becoming her new self.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Watches the City

One of the reasons I knew that I had to make Vivenna a viewpoint character was that there was such a wonderful contrast between her and Siri. The way they look at the world is so different that it provides excellent opportunities for the story. The way they each respond to their first visit to T'Telir is an example of this.

Beyond that, with Siri and Lightsong locked in the court, and with Vasher doing whatever the heck Vasher is doing, we didn't have any characters who could experience the city itself consistently with a sympathetic viewpoint.

As I've stated, this book began as one about the two sisters who are forced into each other's roles, and how they deal with those changes in their lives. Vivenna is an integral part of this process.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vasher Explains Some Things, but Leaves Some Things Hidden

I'm worried about leaving Vivenna's two questions unanswered. One is pretty obvious—how Vasher can hide how he looks—but the other is unintuitive. I wish I could explain better in the book, as I said above, but I decided in the end to just leave it hanging. It's a bit of a violation of Sanderson's First Law, but not a big one. The reason I feel I can get away with it is because Vasher didn't use his nature as a Returned to solve any problems. It is more a flavoring for his character than it is important to him getting out of danger or fixing things. He could have done everything he needed to in this book without being Returned. So I feel it's okay not to explain why he can be Returned and not die when he gives away his Breaths.

Can Vivenna change her appearance more? She can indeed. She could actually stoke that fragment of a divine Breath inside of her and start glowing like a Returned. She can't change her physical features to look like someone else, but she can change her age, her height (within reason), and her body shape (to an extent). It takes practice.

And yes, the scraggly miscreant is how Vasher sees himself. Not noble and Returned, which is part of how he suppresses his divine Breath.

Events in the second book may change that.

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Brandon Sanderson

Denth Chats with Her about Breath

Vivenna and Siri are beginning their role reversals here. Siri is learning to be more reserved—though it's more that she's learning to act like a queen. Taking responsibility, being active rather than inactive.

Vivenna is being forced, just a little bit, into inactivity. She thinks she's doing things, but she's mostly just reacting. Beyond that, she's experiencing what it's like to lose control of her emotions repeatedly.

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Brandon Sanderson

The Origins of Siri and Vivenna

Back around the year 2000 or 2001 I started writing a book called Mythwalker. It was an epic fantasy novel, an attempt to go back to basics in the genre. I'd tried several genre-busting epics (one of which was Elantris) that focused on heroes who weren't quite the standards of the genre. I avoided peasant boys, questing knights, or mysterious wizards. Instead I wrote books about a man thrown into a leper colony, or an evil missionary, or things like that.

I didn't sell any of those books. (At least, not at first.) I was feeling discouraged, so I decided to write a book about a more standard fantasy character. A peasant boy who couldn't do anything right, and who got caught up in something larger than himself and inherited an extremely powerful magic.

It was boring.

I just couldn't write it. I ended up stopping about halfway through—it's the only book of mine that I never finished writing. It sits on my hard drive, not even spellchecked, I think, half finished like a skyscraper whose builder ran out of funds.

One of the great things about Mythwalker, however, was one of the subplots—about a pair of cousins named Siri and Vivenna. They switched places because of a mix-up, and the wrong one ended up marrying the emperor.

My alpha readers really connected with this storyline. After I abandoned the project, I thought about what was successful about that aspect of the novel. In the end, I decided it was just the characters. They worked. This is odd because, in a way, they were archetypes themselves.

The story of the two princesses, along with the peasant/royalty swap, is an age-old fairy tale archetype. This is where I'd drawn the inspiration from for these two cousins. One wasn't trained in the way of the nobility; she was a distant cousin and poor by comparison. The other was heir to her house and very important. I guess the idea of forcing them to switch places struck some very distinct chords in my readers.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to tell their story, and they became the focus of a budding book in my mind. I made them sisters and got rid of the "accidental switch" plotline. (Originally, one had been sent by mistake, but they looked enough alike that nobody noticed. Siri kept quiet about it for reasons I can't quite remember.) I took a few steps away from the fairy tale origins, but tried to preserve the aspects of their characters and identities that had worked so well with readers.

I'm not sure why using one archetype worked and the other didn't. Maybe it was because the peasant boy story is so overtold in fantasy, and I just didn't feel I could bring anything new to it. (At least not in that novel.) The two princesses concept isn't used nearly as often. Or maybe it was just that with Siri and Vivenna I did what you're supposed to—no matter what your inspiration, if you make the characters live and breathe, they will come alive on the page for the reader. Harry Potter is a very basic fantasy archetype—even a cliché—but those books are wonderful.

You have to do new things. I think that fantasy needs a lot more originality. However, not every aspect of the story needs to be completely new. Blend the familiar and the strange—the new and the archetypal. Sometimes it's best to rely on the work that has come before. Sometimes you need to cast it aside.

I guess one of the big tricks to becoming a published author is learning when to do which.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Forty-Six

Vivenna Sits Alone and Thinks about Her Place in the World Now

Vivenna needed a "Who am I?" moment. I struggled with this chapter because I worried it was simply about a character who sits around and thinks. I tend to put a lot of those into my books, and I don't want to overdo it. I realize that many readers don't enjoy those kinds of scenes as much as I do.

The thing is, Vivenna has had so much pulled out from underneath her, she needs time to establish for herself—and for the reader—who she really is. What about her has made the transition? Now we're getting the real and pure Vivenna, the true woman that she is inside. That determination and, more importantly, that desire to be skilled and competent form the core of her identity.

Now that she's cast off the trappings, the things she was pretending to be and the excuses she was making, she can take these elements of herself and do something with them.

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Kathy

I was talking with a couple of others in another chat room about Vivenna and Siri's personal journeys in the book, especially at the end when Vivenna decides that she isn't going to write to her father in Idris. There was much debate over whether Vivenna was being childish and running away from responsibility, or if she realized that she was so drastically different from who she was before that she knew she was going to disappoint her father and family. As the author, what is your take on this scene regarding Vivenna's growth as a person?

Brandon Sanderson

I would say yes to both. Vivenna ends the book having experienced a great deal of personal growth. However, unlike some of the other characters, she is only a few rungs up the ladder. She's got a long way to go. That's why as I was plotting the book, before I even started, I decided I'd probably want to do this as a two-book cycle. Overlapping and forcing upon Vivenna the level of personal growth that it would take to get her character to completely reach an end point just couldn't happen in the book. Particularly with me doing what I did with Lightsong and the personal arc he has, and with Siri. So Vivenna certainly had a lot of growth, but I planned a separate book where I could really delve into and dig into her psychoses and her psychology.

Vasher still has a long way to go too. His personal growth is more like a zigzag pattern—a line graph with lots of peaks and valleys. He's been around and still hasn't really found himself, though he's thought he's found himself a number of times. Anyway, those two characters led me to think that there was a lot more to explore there. I didn't want to ram them through the paces it would take in this one book. I thought it would ruin the book. So I let them grow at the rate they needed to grow at, or decline at the rate they needed to decline at, and saved a second book in the series to deal more with who they are and who they become.

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Brandon Sanderson

The Attack on the Salt Merchant Was a Cover

Denth did dozens of things like this, subtle methods of bringing the two kingdoms closer to war. This is the only one that Vivenna and Vasher figure out soon enough to be able to counter.

In this scene, Vivenna's chapter arc is her struggle with deciding when to make judgments and when not to. It seems that in our society, it's taboo to judge someone. If you judge, you're seen as intolerant. And most of us hate being labeled that way. I remember seeing an advertisement online just a few days ago that said something like "Please teach your children tolerance; teach them not to judge others."

Now, those who read my blog know that I'm big on trying to understand other people's viewpoints. I don't like how harsh our dialogues about charged issues tend to be. I've said I'm a peacemaker by temperament. However, I think telling someone, "Don't judge others" is just plain ridiculous. (Of course, maybe it's all just semantics.)

We have to judge. We do it every day. We decide who we want to be friends with. We judge which candidates we want to vote for. We judge which activities we want to be a part of. A lot of these judgments are influenced by our thoughts on the people involved in them.

It's not good to be racist. Skin color is a terrible reason to judge someone. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't sometimes make judgments about people for other reasons. I think maybe we've become hypersensitive to this sort of thing.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Escapes

One of my big worries about the Vivenna sections is that she'll come off as too weak as a character. That's a particular danger once we reach these late middle sections, where it's revealed how much she's been manipulated. Remember that when you're reading the Vivenna sections, if she comes off weak compared to Siri, consider their relative circumstances.

Vivenna is put through a lot more in this book than Siri is. Why? Well, I felt that as a character, she had a lot more room to grow. In order to do that, however, she needed to have everything knocked out from underneath her. That happens primarily in this chapter and the next few.

But she is not helpless. Even while she's numbed by the capture and betrayals, she manages to effect not one, but two escapes. She handles herself very well, finally overcoming her problems with Awakening and managing to get her Breath to work for her. (And remember that the more Breath one has, the easier it is to learn to get Commands to work right. That will be important later in the book. . . .)

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Brandon Sanderson

MY HISTORY AS A WRITER

I’ve been thinking that I should give a little bit of an explanation of my history as a writer for those of you who don’t know. I think it might give you some context for some of the posts I’ve made, and things people are saying in the forums about my unpublished novels. Read on if you want a little context.

This all started in earnest when I was 21, about eleven years ago, back in 1997. That was the year when I decided for certain that I wanted to write novels for a living.

My first goal was to learn to write on a professional level. I had heard that a person’s first few books are usually pretty bad, and so I decided to just spend a few years writing and practicing. I wanted time to work on my prose without having to worry about publishing.

You might call this my “apprentice era.” Between 97 and 99 I wrote five novels, none of them very good. But being good wasn’t the point. I experimented a lot, writing a variety of genres. (All sf/f of course—but I did some epic, some humor, some sf.) As you can probably guess by me writing five books in two and a half years, none were very well edited and while I had a lot of fun writing them, they were done very quickly, and had a lot less planning than my later books. Not many people read any of these novels, and I only ever sent one out to publishers (the second one, STARS’ END.)

Around 1999 (I can’t remember the exact date) I started attending the science fiction magazine THE LEADING EDGE at BYU; I also took an important writing class, less because of what I learned about writing (though I did learn a lot) and more because of people I met. Through TLE and the class, I ended up as part of a community of writers, editors, and science fiction/fantasy readers who were serious about what they were doing. During this time, I founded a writing group with Dan Wells and Peter Ahlstrom (Fellfrosh and Ookla over on the TWG forums.) Other members included our friend Nate, who doesn’t hang out here any more, and Ben/Tage, who used to be one of the board’s mods and who is still often one of my alpha readers. Eric (St. Ehlers) was another of our good friends, as was Kristy (Brenna), among numerous others, many of whom don’t hang out here very much any more.

You might call this the “Golden Era” of my unpublished career. I was getting to one of the most creative points in my life, and was very energized and excited about the writing I’d learned to do. After practicing for five novels, I felt that I was finally in a position to do justice to an epic fantasy story. In 1999, I started a book I called THE SPIRIT OF ELANTRIS, which eventually just became ELANTRIS.

As I said, this was the golden era of my unpublished career—though I think the ‘unpublished’ part of that statement is important. I hope that I’ll grow and progress, and think that the books I’m writing now are better than the ones I wrote then—just as I hope that the books I’ll do in ten years will be better than the ones I do now.

However, the three novels from this era—ELANTRIS, DRAGONSTEEL, and WHITE SAND—represent some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever done. Of the three, ELANTRIS turned out the best by far. WHITE SAND was good, though it will feel dated now if you read it, since my writing skill has improved quite a bit since then and it never got the level of editing and revision that ELANTRIS did. DRAGONSTEEL has moments of brilliance surrounded by some really boring sections; it had trouble because of the scope of what I was attempting. I think any of the three could have become publishable if they’d gotten the right editing and revisions.

Anyway, I wrote these books in 1999–2000. By 2001, however, this era was lapsing. I finished at BYU, and since TLE was for students, a younger crowd was taking over and I no longer quite fit in there. I continued my writing groups in various forms, and we started the Timewaster’s Guide as a project and forum for those who had worked together during that era of the magazine.

I was collecting rejection letters for ELANTRIS, WHITE SAND, and DRAGONSTEEL. I felt these books were good—very good. But nobody was giving them much attention. At the conventions, editors kept saying that fantasy novel submissions were too long, and that new writers shouldn’t be trying such beastly first books. I sat down to write MYTHWALKER, by ninth book, and halfway through just couldn’t continue. (It remains the only book I’ve ever given up on.) I was trying another epic fantasy, but I was increasingly disappointed in how poorly the first three had been received. MYTHWALKER felt like an inferior knock-off of my own DRAGONSTEEL, and needed to be rethought. So I stopped working on it. (Though one side story in the book about two cousins named Siri and Vivenna really interested me; they would later get their own book as WARBREAKER.)

The next little time is kind of the “Dark Era” of my unpublished writing career. After giving up on MYTHWALKER, I decided that New York wasn’t looking for my brand of epic fantasy, and that I’d try to see if I could write something else. I wrote three books during this era. MISTBORN PRIME (I added the prime later to differentiate it), THE AETHER OF NIGHT, and FINAL EMPIRE PRIME.

In MISTBORN PRIME, I tried to write a dark anti-hero involved in a story that was NOT epic. I tried to write something much shorter than I’d done before, forcing myself to stay away from grand stories or epic style plotting. The result was a 100k work (which is half the length of my other fantasy novels) which just . . . well, wasn’t very good. The magic (a preliminary form of Allomancy) was awesome, and the setting had great points to it. But the plot was unexciting, the character uninteresting, the story uninvolving.

Depressed by this failure, I didn’t send the book to a single editor. (Though I did show it to Joshua, who is now my agent, as he was curious and following my career at that point. He agreed that this book wasn’t publishable. He never saw ELANTRIS, he’d given up halfway through DRAGONSTEEL—which means he never got past the boring part—and had really liked WHITE SAND, but had wanted to see more from me before picking me up. He felt I still had room to grow, and he was right.

After MISTBORN PRIME, I wrote a book called AETHER OF NIGHT, which was far more successful. I think it’s the best of the four “Brandon tries to write more toward the market” books. At 150k, it was only 50k shorter than what I’d been doing during the ELANTRIS era, and I let myself play with slightly more epic stories and scope. At this point, I was trying for something with a little more humor in it, something with lighthearted, fun characters in a situation that was at times ridiculous and at times adventuresome. (A more David Eddings like approach, if you will.) It’s not a bad book. I probably won’t ever rewrite it, but it’s not a bad book. Joshua liked it just fine, and thought it was a step forward from Mistborn Prime.

At this point, my epic fantasy books got another round of rejections, including ELANTRIS rejected by DAW and DRAGONSTEEL rejected by ACE. I’d just sent ELANTRIS to Tor, but figured I’d never hear back. (They’d had WHITE SAND for several years at that point and never gotten back to me.)

Feeling uncertain about my writing and my career again, particularly since I felt that AETHER hadn’t come together just as I’d wanted, I turned my attention to trying the most basic of fantasy stories. Prophesied hero, orphaned, goes on a travel-log across the world to fight a dark lord. This was THE FINAL EMPIRE PRIME. Of course I was putting my own spin on it. But my heart wasn’t in it—I just couldn’t convince myself that I was adding anything new to the genre, and I was again trying for a ‘half-length’ story. Though there were no dragons, elves, or mythical objects to rescue, I felt that I was just plain writing a bad book. (Note that I was probably too down on this book, as it had some very inventive concepts in it, including a precursor to Feruchemy.)

I got done with FINAL EMPIRE PRIME and was just plain disappointed. This was the worst book I’d ever written. (And it is, I think, the worst—though MISTBORN PRIME is close.) Here I was, having written twelve novels, and I seemed to be getting WORSE with each one. I wasn’t selling, I was out of school working a wage job graveyard shift, and my social life consisted pretty much of my friends taking pity on me and coming to hang out at the hotel once in a while.

I think this was one of the big focus points of my career. That year, 2002, I made three decisions. The first was that I was NOT going to give up on writing. I loved it too much, even when I was writing books that didn’t turn out right. (I think this is important for every author to decide.) The second was that I was NEVER AGAIN going to write toward the market. It was killing my books. If I never got published, so be it. At least I would stop writing terrible stories mangled by my attempts to write what I thought people wanted. The final decision was that I’d go to graduate school in creative writing to get myself into that groove of being around writers again, and to also ‘delay’ for a few more years having to get a real job.

Enter THE WAY OF KINGS era. The last book I wrote before I got published was actually pretty darn good. I tossed out everything I was being told about how to get published, and just wrote from the heart. Over 18 months between 2002 and 2003 I wrote a 300k word book with a 180k outline/backstory/worldbuilding document. (Yes, the setting guide itself was LONGER than the previous three books I’d written.) Beyond that, I plotted the book as the first of TEN in a series.

KINGS was good. It had problems, but they were fixable problems, and I was extremely proud of the novel. I felt I’d found my place in writing again. I honestly think it’s the best of my unpublished books; almost as some of the published ones.

In 2003, I got the call from an editor wanting to buy ELANTRIS.

I suppose the story of my unpublished career ends there, though there’s one more side note. Why did I not published THE WAY OF KINGS? Well, a couple of reasons. First, my agent (Joshua) felt it needed a lot of work. (It did.) Secondly, it was so long that I think it scared Tor to consider it. They have published books longer before, but the market has changed since then, and approaching a book that length as an author’s second book made my editor apprehensive. He’d have done it, but he was already talking about how we’d need to slice it into two novels. (And I really didn’t want to do that.)

But more than that, I felt that it wasn’t time for KINGS yet. I can’t explain why; just gut instinct, I guess. I wanted to follow ELANTRIS up with a fast-paced trilogy. Something that could prove to people that I could finish a series, and that I really could write. I felt that launching from ELANTRIS into KINGS would be asking too much of my readers. I wanted to give them time to grow accustomed to me and my writing, and I wanted to practice writing a series before getting myself into something enormous.

And so—perhaps brashly—I looked at the two greatest disappointments of my career and said “Let’s do these the way they SHOULD have been done in the first place.” I took the best ideas from both, I added in a greater majority of other new good ideas, and I planned out a 600 thousand word epic told in three parts. My goal: A kind of calling card to fantasy readers. A trilogy they could read through and get a feel for who I was and what my writing was like.

Of course, then the WHEEL OF TIME came along and changed everything. I’m even more glad I did what I did, as I didn’t have to stop a series in the middle to work on AMoL. Plus, working on the WHEEL OF TIME has given me an unparalleled insight into the mind of the greatest master of the long-form fantasy series of our time.

Anyway, that’s a bit of history for those who are curious. Thanks for reading.

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#34 Share

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Just wondering if I could ask what the name of Azure's sword was?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I'll RAFO it now. That's mostly a RAFO because I have several names that I have not-- it's a TBA, sorry. I was gonna stick it in, and then I just didn't. I wasn't satisfied.

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#35 Share

onelowerlight

[Question unknown, most likely about sources of inspiration for Warbreaker.]

Brandon Sanderson

WRBRKR came from a lot of sourcres. Siri and Vivenna were side characters in a book I never finished.

Vasher came from the line that starts the book. No space to post it here, but give it a read.

Nightblood came because…well, I just wanted to have a talking sword.

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Brandon Sanderson

Siri Watches the Priests

I took a bit of a risk here, having a little scene where Siri admits that all of the troubles and problems in Hallandren excite her. I hope this doesn't seem out of character; I think I foreshadowed well that she'd react this way. Back in Idris, she was always making trouble, partially (even though she wouldn't admit it) because she found it exciting. I think that's common for those who end up in trouble a lot of the time.

Here, what she feels is that same sense—only a more mature version. She's excited by politics, by being in the middle of things, by having a chance to change the future of the city. I think this is a valuable attribute for one in her position, as long as it isn't taken too far. By having Vivenna constantly frustrated by her situation and Siri thrilled by hers, I wanted to show a contrast and have the reader come to the same conclusion Siri does in this scene: that Vivenna wouldn't have made a very good queen to the God King. She'd have made the expected queen, and would have done what everyone anticipated her doing. But she would have let herself be a martyr the entire time, which would have been a self-centered way of approaching her duty.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Realizes That the Mercenaries Are Traitors

And finally, here we are. The biggest gamble in the book. I went into the novel knowing I was going to do this, and I wrote all along with the intention that Denth and his crew were working against Vivenna's interests.

As I mentioned in a spoiler section earlier, Tonk Fah is a sociopath, and much of the time when he makes his jokes about hurting people, he's serious. (The vanishing pets are a subtle clue to this.) He finds the concept of hurting people funny. We laugh because of Denth, who's running interference and making it seem like they're just exaggerating to get a laugh.

The death of Lemex is another clue—he was, indeed, immune to disease. (Though not poison, if enough was used.) Anyone with that many Breaths is immune. Another clue is what the mercenaries are doing, riling up the Hallandren to war rather than working to prevent it. Not that Vivenna wanted them to, but through Denth's manipulations, Siri has all but been forgotten in the face of the work against Hallandren. Of course, Vivenna herself was willing to forget Siri. Not by intent, but because she has always been more focused on Hallandren, and Siri was partially just an excuse.

The fact that Vivenna's father's agents are never seen looking for her, the fact that the mercenaries don't seem to care about money, the way Jewels was frequently gone at the beginning (partially so she could tail Vivenna), and much of what they said and did were supposed to be reinforcement of this moment of betrayal.

All that said, however, I don't think it's at all obvious what they are really up to. And that's why this is a gamble. This twist isn't an "Ah, I should have seen it!" revelation like the one about the Lord Ruler at the end of Mistborn. Instead, it's a twist that—hopefully—has just enough groundwork underneath it not to seem out of nowhere. I fully expect it to blindside most readers.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Goes with Vasher

I was always planning this ending for her. She's still got a lot of growing she can do as a character, and I think she'll make for a very interesting heroine in a sequel. She could never return to Idris and face her father; doing so would be returning to a lot of people who expect her to be like she was. But she can't stay with Siri either. She still hates Hallandren and just wants to be free of it—free where she can calm her fury and really explore who she is now that her life is no longer dominated by the need to go marry the God King.

Life has been very unfair to Vivenna. It's time for her to live for herself. Here we finally have the last reversal of the book. Siri has become the queen; Vivenna is running away from responsibility, out into the wilds. And it (hopefully) feels very natural for them to be in these roles.

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Brandon Sanderson

Character Shifts

This is a fun chapter, formatwise. It looks simple—we've got two alternating sequences with Siri and Vivenna. But what's going on here is that I'm trying to pull the first of many reversals in this book.

A reversal is more than just a plot twist—it's a swap. (Or at least that's how I define it in my head.) Just like Elantris's substructure was that of the chapter triads, Warbreaker's substructure is that of reversals. People change places or do 180-degree turns. This presented a challenge to me, as I had to work hard to make such often-abrupt changes well foreshadowed and rational. That's rather difficult to pull off. Most twists take characters in a slightly new direction; spinning them around completely required a lot more groundwork.

If you've read other annotations of mine, you'll probably know that I love twists—but I love them only in that I love to make them work. A good twist has to be rational and unexpected at the same time. Pulling off that balance is one of the great pleasures in writing.

In this chapter, we have the beginnings of the first big reversal in this book. It's more gradual—not an abrupt one-eighty, but a slow and purposeful one-eighty. But the seeds are here, even in this early chapter. If you look at it, we have this:

Scene One: Siri acts just like we expect Siri to. Blustering and emotional.

Scene Two: Vivenna acts just like we expect Vivenna to. Calm, rational, in control, and willing to do as she is told.

Scene Three: Siri grows calm, considers her situation with more care, and acts a little bit like a queen should in deciding to send her soldiers back.

Scene Three: Vivenna is very bothered by what is happening and acts just a little bit like Siri would—she decides upon a plan that is impetuous.

I'm very excited by the underlying structure of the chapter, even though I'm aware that most people probably wouldn't be. I'm just a screwy author type. I like how the changes are very subtle, and yet already there are hints at the way the characters are heading in life.

I like reversals and tone changes, but I still think that readers deserve to have an understanding of what the major plots and arcs for a character will be. There will be twists, but I don't want to just twist needlessly or endlessly. The characters are the most important part of the story, and one thing I rarely twist (particularly late in a book) is a character's personal arc. I keep personal arcs steady, as they're the foundation of a reader's attachment to the book.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Nine

Vivenna as a Viewpoint Character

Generally, Vivenna is the readers' least favorite character in the book. I can see why that is. Siri gets to be the flamboyant younger sister, Lightsong the pithy courtier, and Vasher the mysterious unknown. Vivenna, then, is saddled with the responsibility of being the older sister trying to do what is right. She's not as dynamic as the others, particularly from the start.

Perhaps this should have made me want to put more into her viewpoints. Change her to be more dynamic, perhaps. However, I resisted that. Of the four, Vivenna is the most like me. The older sibling who gets into other people's business, ostensibly for their own good. I was a lot like that when I was younger.

For me, Vivenna is the most interesting character in the book. Yes, Lightsong was the most fun to write—but Vivenna is the one who has the most potential for growth and change. Particularly because she isn't instantly appealing like the other three. Much like Hrathen in Elantris, Vivenna begins very far from where she would need to go if she wanted to gain the rooting interest of readers. You'll have to read on and see if she actually gets there.

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Brandon Sanderson

Vivenna Talks to Jewels about Religion

I'm very conscious of the fact that all of my major viewpoint characters in this book—Lightsong included—don't believe in the Hallandren religion. That worries me because the book presents a very one-sided view of their beliefs.

Religion isn't a simple thing. In my books so far, I fear that I've presented the religions in a far too one-sided way. Hrathen with his Shu-Dereth, the Lord Ruler and his religion—these were not the types of religions that are very enticing to readers. The characters, even those viewpoint characters who followed the religions, didn't present them very well. (And, in truth, the Lord Ruler's religion—the Steel Ministry—was a pretty despicable religion.)

In this book, I wanted to present several different viable religions. There is something to be said for Austrism, with its goodly monks and teachings on humility through the Five Visions. But it's a very superstitious and xenophobic religion at the same time, and it is very biased against the magic of the world. The Hallandren religion has more going for it than the characters would like to accept.

So, even though most readers might consider this a throwaway scene between Vivenna and Jewels, is a very important one to me. It is the place where we get to see a follower of the Iridescent Tones really stand up for what she believes. Vivenna deserves to be smacked down here, I think.

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Brandon Sanderson

Jewels and Parlin Chat and Laugh

Vivenna isn't in love with Parlin. She has affection for him, but it's the affection one might have for a younger brother. That's all she's ever felt for someone so far, however, as she's never given herself a chance for romance in her life. She's always stamped it out. She was going to marry the God King. No room for childish things like love for her. (That will bite her eventually, of course. In a later book, I'm afraid.)

Her affection for Parlin, however, makes her possessive of him. He's her best tie back to the life she left, and she's always kind of seen him as hers. So you can probably see why she might be annoyed to see him spend time with Jewels.

Denth is right. Jewels might be amused by Parlin, but she's not interested in him romantically. She has other ties, which I believe I discussed in a previous annotation.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Vivenna Wanders, Then Is Confronted by a Thief Who Takes Her Dress

The next few Vivenna chapters are short. I wanted to convey that she's on the streets for a time, but didn't want us to have to wallow in her problems. I've seen books do that quite well, and I don't want this novel to focus on it. (If you're interested in one that does it well, Paula Volsky's Illusion has a nice section about what it's like to be a noblewoman who is forced to live on the streets.)

Instead, these chapters are the transition chapters for Vivenna's character. The representation of her going as low as she can go, so that later she can begin to rebuild. The dress was a problem—it was way too distinctive, and it could sell for enough that she wouldn't have to live on the streets. She could buy something cheap and modest, then put herself up in an inn. So, naturally, it had to get stolen.

I didn't want to strip her all the way, though. We've been through enough of that with Siri, and I really didn't want to go there in this situation. Vivenna can be brought down to the lows she needs to reach without having to be raped by a random man in an alley. (Personally, I think that rape is overused in a lot of fiction.)

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Brandon Sanderson

Oh, and since we're on to random notes, I want to mention that I'm not intending Siri to ever betray who she is through the reversals of this book. When I say that she and Vivenna are switching places, I don't mean that they'll start acting like each other. Siri will always be the type who likes to feel the rain on her face and walk barefoot in the grass. Vivenna will probably always be the type who restrains herself from those kinds of activities.

My intention was to have them remain who they are, but still progress and learn to fill one another's roles.

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Brandon Sanderson

Chapter Forty-Three

Vivenna Awakens in Vasher's Care

Vivenna, as a character, was divided into two parts in my head. There was the Vivenna of the first half of the book, who was haughty and misled, though determined and self-confident. Then there was the break in the middle, where everything was taken away from her. Now we're into Vivenna's second half, the confused and uncertain Vivenna who has to essentially start all over.

Her plot is a contrast to Siri's plot. Siri's growth is more gradual; she doesn't have an event like Vivenna's time on the streets to make a focus for her plotline. The depth of growth the changes afford Vivenna made her a very interesting character to write; I'm sorry that she's generally people's least favorite character. But that wasn't all that unanticipated. When presented with a large group of characters, many of whom were amusing or mysterious, then dropping one major character in who had a serious growth arc but started out less likable . . . well, you expect readers to latch on to other characters. By this point in the story, they're not used to caring about Vivenna as much as the others, so I think that her drama isn't as powerful for them—which means she doesn't have time to earn their affection, even when she starts changing and growing.

Of course, part of me still sees the Vivenna of the sequel, where she can continue her growth and learning. I think she'll be a great character for that book, if I ever write it. Though I worry about doing so and making people disappointed that I'm writing about her rather than Siri.