Were any aspects of Elantris at all biographical? In my case, at least, my writing is often unintentionally reflective of my own experiences. Is this the case for you as well?
Every book is a little autobiographical. You can’t separate yourself from your work, though I try not to include intentional messages in my writing. (That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to my books having meaning; it just means that I don’t tend to approach them with the idea “I want to teach something in this book.”)
Each of the characters is a little autobiographical, something that is most noticeable to me in retrospect. Raoden represents my belief in the power of optimism. I’m an optimist. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I am. And so, a hero like Raoden often grows to represent my beliefs. His conflict–that of being cast into the most horrific place in the kingdom–is an outgrowth of me trying to devise the most hopeless situation I could, and then make the conflict for my character the attempt to retain hopeful in the face of that.
Sarene represents an amalgamation of several people I knew in my life, most notably Annie Gorringe, a friend of mine in college. Not that Sarene acts just like her, of course–but that some of the conflicts in Annie’s life, mixed with some of her personality quirks, inspired me to develop a character that ended up in my book.
Hrathen is as much a piece of me as Raoden. I served a mission for the LDS church, and while I did so, I thought often about the ‘right’ way to share one’s beliefs mixed with the ‘wrong’ way. It seemed to me that focusing on the beauty of your message, mixed with the needs of the individuals you met, was the way to go. When you start to preach just to be preaching–or to convert not because of your concern for those around you, but because you want to seem more powerful–you risk beating the life out of your own message. You also get in trouble when you focus on putting other religions down (or challenging others on their beliefs) instead of just talking about what makes you believe like you do.
So, in a way, Hrathen represents my fears of what I could have become–a warning to myself, if you will.