Brandon's Blog 2017

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Name Brandon's Blog 2017
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Date Jan. 1, 2017
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#1

Karen Ahlstrom

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 1174.2.10.5). 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.

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#2

Karen Ahlstrom

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: 1173.8.4.3. 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.

Day numbers in Words of Radiance and Oathbringer

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).

 

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#3

Brandon Sanderson

On tour, I did a reading from what up until now was listed as "Mystery Project" on my website. If you missed the newsletter explanation, I've pulled the book I was going to release next year (The Apocalypse Guard) because it needs more work. Instead, I've turned my attention to something else—and after a furious bout of writing, I'm confident in where it's going. So it's time to announce Skyward.

Like Steelheart and its sequels, this is a kind of borderline YA/Adult project. In the US, it will be published by Delacorte Press (publisher of Steelheart) in the Young Adult section of bookstores, while in the UK it will be published by Gollancz (publisher of almost all my books) in my main line, shelved in the science fiction/fantasy section of bookstores.

I've mentioned Skyward before in summaries of stories I'm working on, but haven't said much about it. I started noodling with the ideas in 2012, I believe. (The year that the Write About Dragons recordings of my lectures happened, where I mentioned it briefly—but not by name.) The first outline thoughts are dated summer 2013. It's a book I've been wanting to write for a long time, and it finally came together this year.

It has its roots in some of the very first books I ever read as a young man getting into fantasy. Like many young readers, I was captured by books about dragons, specifically books about boys who find dragons and learn to fly them. These have been staples of the fantasy genre for some fifty years. For me, it was The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey and Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen. For others, the "boy and his dragon" story that captured them was Eragon, or How to Train Your Dragon.

I've always loved this story archetype, but I've never written anything using it. This is in part because…well, it's a familiar story. Too familiar. I wasn't certain I could add anything new to it. So I left it alone, letting ideas simmer, until in 2012 something struck me. Could I mash this together with a flight school story like Top Gun or Ender's Game, and do something that wasn't "a boy and his dragon," but was instead "a girl and her starfighter"?

Skyward was born, much like Mistborn, with me taking two ideas and mashing them together to see where they went. And they went someplace incredible—I grew increasingly excited about the project, as I saw in it a chance to both play in a space I loved, and do some very interesting things with story and theme. It wasn't until this year that I got the personalities of the characters right, but I really got excited when I found a place for this in the lore of stories I'd been creating.

The official pitch is this: Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

As I've played with Skyward over the years, I tried to pull it into the Cosmere, then found it didn't work there. However, it is in the continuity of something I've written before. Something that isn't the Cosmere, and isn't the Reckoners. And no, I won't say anything more for now.

The goal right now is to have Skyward done in time for a publication date of November 6, 2018. We'll see if I can meet that deadline! I'm optimistic. As always, you can follow along on the progress bar on my website. Look for a cover reveal and chance to pre-order soon!

Event details
Name
Name Brandon's Blog 2017
Date
Date Jan. 1, 2017
Entries
Entries 3
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