A StompingMad YetiHatter Collaboration Interview

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Name A StompingMad YetiHatter Collaboration Interview
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Date Sept. 16, 2010
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#1 Copy

Mad Hatter

The Way of Kings looks to be your largest book to date, but it also might be the longest in gestation with even having an old Amazon page from when it was first contracted where people have written all kinds of lovely things. Can you tell us a little bit about its history?

Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings, like any of my books, is an amalgamation of ideas that work together and fascinate me, hopefully creating something larger than the pieces; the whole is greater than the parts. Ideas for it began back when I was in high school and starting my very first book. The Shattered Plains first appeared in a novel I wrote back in 2000. The Way of Kings as a novel was first written in 2003; I now call that book The Way of Kings Prime. I wrote that book because I was frustrated with my own writing process. That was during my unpublished days, and I had been writing books that I wasn't pleased with—I've got an entire essay on that on my website. Eventually I decided, "I'm tired of trying to write what other people tell me will sell. I'm going to write the coolest, biggest, baddest, nastiest, most awesome fantasy epic I can conceive, and pull out all the stops and grab all the cool ideas that I've been putting off for a while."

So I wrote this massive book. And then, unexpectedly, I sold a different book—one that had been sitting on an editor's desk for eighteen months. That was Elantris—then Moshe Feder called me up and wanted to buy it, and that threw chaos into my whole worldview.

Here I thought I would never get published, and I was just writing for myself, but now someone wants one of my old books that I thought would never sell. Then Moshe asked me what I was working on at the time, and I sent him The Way of Kings. Which he was very surprised to get, because it was twice as long as Elantris, and it was extremely big and sprawling and epic. It scared the daylights out of him. He wasn't sure what to do with it. He called me up and said, "I don't know what we can do with this. Can we split this into multiple books? I don't know if I can convince the publisher to publish this massive novel."

At the same time—and I've said this numerous times before--I wasn't a hundred percent pleased with The Way of Kings because I didn't have the skill yet to write it. So we shelved it, and I wrote the Mistborn trilogy, which I pitched to him very soon afterward—it may have even been on the same phone call—which I was very excited about at the time. I'm very pleased with how that turned out, but it was a little bit smaller in scope. In some ways it was me practicing and learning how to write a series.

And then the Wheel of Time dropped on me like a truckload of bricks out of nowhere, and I was forced to swim in the deep water and learn how to become a much better writer so I could finish such a wonderful series. During that process I learned a lot about writing.

Tor started asking me what my next book was going to be and if there was any way I could get them something to put out between Wheel of Time books, so I pitched them The Way of Kings. Then I sat down and wrote it. I wrote it from scratch again; I didn't take anything from the 2003 version of the book other than my memories of what had worked and what hadn't. I reached back and grabbed the Shattered Plains out of that other book that I had written; I reached back and grabbed another few cool ideas that had been bounding around in my head since I'd been a kid. I poured everything into this book, everything that I had, all of my best ideas, to try to make the fantasy opus that I had always wanted to write. That's where it came from. That's the history. I don't know yet if I've been successful, and I won't know for many years, until we see whether it stands the test of time.

#2 Copy

Yeti Stomper

Structurally, The Way of Kings is fairly unique. There are three main POV characters in Kaladin, Dallinar, and Shallan, a handful of minor POV characters Szeth, Adolin, and then The Asides in which we only get a few pages of material largely unrelated to the overall plot. How will the cast grow and change in future volumes? Are you thinking of keeping each volume to a similar number of POVs or expanding it?

Brandon Sanderson

 

There will be a similar number, with a small expansion. At this point I believe you have met every one of the major viewpoint characters for the series. I don't want it to spiral out of control. I think too many viewpoint characters is a danger to epic fantasy, putting a writer in difficult predicaments for subsequent books—whether to leave some characters out, or whether to show a little bit of each of them without getting any major plot arcs for any of them.

So you've seen pretty much everybody. Now, at this point there are several who are major viewpoint characters for the series who we have not had many or any viewpoints from yet—Jasnah is one, a character who shows up in the epilogue is another, and there are a few others—but there are in my mind essentially eight or ten major characters in this series, and it will stick to that.

The interludes will continue to be what they are, which is that those characters may show up again, but it's unlikely that there will be many more viewpoints from them. The interludes are there because I wanted to have my cake and eat it too—I wanted to have the big sprawling epic with a lot of major viewpoints that we spend a lot of time on like Robert Jordan did, but I also wanted to have the quick jumps around that George R. R. Martin does, and they're two masters of the genre. And so I decided on the interludes as a way to jump around and show the world, to give depth and to give rounding to what's happening—give you little glimpses into important aspects of the world—but those characters are not people you have to remember and follow. Each of the interludes will have one character that you need to pay attention to, but you can take the interludes and read them and without having to focus too much on remembering and keeping track of what their plot is. Then you can jump back into the main characters. And that's always going to be the case in the books to come.

Each book will also have one character who has flashbacks throughout that book—we'll stick to one per book, and you will find out how they ended up where they are as we dig back into their past.

#3 Copy

Yeti Stomper

How are you applying lessons learned from your work closing Robert Jordan's epic series in beginning your own?

Brandon Sanderson

I've already talked about it a little bit—one of the things is learning how to approach the middle books, specifically how to use the form to enhance the novel as a whole. One of the big things I've learned from Robert Jordan recently is foreshadowing.

I used to think I was good at it until I really sat down and studied what he was doing. Another thing I think I've learned a ton about from him is viewpoint; excellent use of viewpoint is one of the ways to keep all your characters distinct. In addition, juggling so many plots, etc., all of these things have forced me to grow as a writer and have helped me quite a bit with writing The Way of Kings.

#4 Copy

Mad Hatter

Did you move a lot of sections around during the development? It certainly seemed as though Kal's parts could go in a different order or start his story from the bottom and work out how he got there.

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, I did move things around a lot, particularly between the first draft of this book in 2003 and this draft. Things have jumped around all over the place, and even at the last minute I was moving different things between parts. Dalinar moved around more than Kaladin did because I was trying to decide where I wanted his ending in part two to happen. I wanted each of the parts to have its own climactic sense, to have a good ending particularly for the characters who didn't continue in the next part, when Dalinar and Shallan were alternating. So there was a lot of juggling and trying to decide—for instance, the prelude was added very late in the process. I'd had the prologue and decided I needed a second prologue as the prologue to the series, which is where the prelude came from.

Kaladin's entire sequence, with the flashbacks and things, was decided on early on, but remember I'd written this book once before. At the end of his flashback sequences, he makes a decision. Where this book deviates from the original I wrote in 2003 is that in the old version he actually made the opposite decision, and it happened in chapter one.

Now we get to see flashbacks of him making the other decision, which works so much better. It's one of those things where I was beating my head against the wall for years trying to figure out how to make his character work. His character was the part of the original The Way of Kings Prime that had not worked, and it took me years to figure out how to make his character work right. That one decision of his was the turning point.

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Yeti Stomper

How do you set out to write a 1,000 page book? How do you set out to write a 10 volume series? How did you make a decision what to include in The Way of Kings and what to leave out?

Brandon Sanderson

Lots of trial and error, mixed with a very, very detailed outline. I spent a lot of time on my outline, and it's very expansive. But really, this is a question to ask after I've finished the series. Right now I'm very optimistic about being able to do it all.

Let's see if I can actually pull it off.

#7 Copy

Yeti Stomper

Will The Stormlight Archives have prolonged mystery to rival that of Asmodean's murder?

Brandon Sanderson

You know, that's really going to depend on the fans and what they latch on to. I think the first book has plenty of mysteries. But what makes Asmodean different is that everyone latched on to it and fell in love with it. As I've said, Robert Jordan was a genius at foreshadowing and subtlety. I'm not going to sit down and say, "I'm going to put in something like Asmodean." I don't think that's something I could set out to put in. I just have to set out to write the best story I can, with plenty of mysteries and what's going on behind the scenes. The whole Hoid thing is something that hopefully people will be curious about, because it's supposed to be interesting. But I don't think you can set out to write something to parallel Asmodean.

#8 Copy

Yeti Stomper

The Way of Kings serves mostly as an introduction to the world of The Stormlight Archives but only hints at the larger story arc. With the long wait before Book 2, can you provide hungry fans with any teasers?

Brandon Sanderson

What Jasnah is trying to do in this book becomes very important to the next two books. That's a very big teaser. The second book will delve much more deeply into the magic; particularly, Shadesmar will be much more of an important aspect. I don't want to give spoilers.

A lot more magic. I'm telling the story about the awakening of an Age of Legends-style world of mechanical magic, and you can look forward to seeing a lot more of that. We only hint at it here. A very important discovery was made by some characters in a random interlude that will have long-lasting ramifications.

#9 Copy

Mad Hatter

Weather is a major force in The Way of Kings since that is where they derive their magic powers from. Also, the mythology of the series most people believe they are descended from others who lived in another world similar to heaven, but were thrown out of because of the Voidbringers. Reincarnation seems to be a theme as well. All these ideas follow along with Norse mythology to a degree. Was that intentional or just a byproduct of the evolution to this world?

Brandon Sanderson

Half and half. I am steeped in mythology, and I enjoy reading about it. I’m absolutely in love with the idea of Valhalla and Ragnarok. But this was not me saying I’m going to copy Norse mythology. Whatever I’ve read can pop into my head. You’ll probably see a bunch of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism too if you look for it. But it was me drawing on various sources, and also just trying to make my own thing. Yes, there’s certainly a Norse aspect to a lot of the weather magic and things like that, but it’s more that I wanted to tell a story about a world that got hit by these magical hurricanes every few days. Weather being such a force is going to therefore be an aspect of the religion, the belief systems, and the day-to-day workings of the people who live in that world. So it was partially natural outgrowth and partially my love and fondness for things that I’ve read.

#10 Copy

Mad Hatter

If you can tell us, what's the tentative title for Book 2? And estimated release date? I know you've plenty left to tackle with WoT 14 so we'll take anything you say with that in mind.

Brandon Sanderson

Good. The tentative title was originally Highprince of War. I’m not decided on that yet, because it might be Shallan’s book, not Dalinar’s book. It depends on whose flashbacks I decide to tell, and which ones will complement the events of the next book. Though I have an expansive outline for the series, I really have to sit down and get a more detailed outline for the second book before I decide which title I want. If it’s Dalinar’s book, it will be Highprince of War. If it’s Shallan’s book it will not be. Tentative release date? I’m going to start on A Memory of Light January first, and it will be published probably about three months after I finish it. (Knowing how Tor’s publishing my books these days.) It will just depend on how long that takes to write. Then I will start on The Stormlight Archive 2 after that. I don’t anticipate that book being as hard to write as A Memory of Light, which is going to take a lot of time and a lot of work. Best case is that I finish A Memory of Light in August of next year, it gets published in November, and I write the sequel to The Way of Kings starting immediately after that and finish it in the middle of the next year so it can be published November 2012. That’s the best-case scenario. But it’s what I hope to be able to do; we’ll see.

#11 Copy

Mad Hatter

Will we ever get to visit The Origin of Storms? And has the ending for the series already come to you?

Brandon Sanderson

I know exactly what the ending of the series is. I’ve been tempted to write it down a few times. Things Robert Jordan has said make me not want to write it down yet because he felt that writing the ending down before he got there was the wrong move, and I think he might be right. But I do have it worked out. In fact, I’m going to have a big powwow with Peter, Isaac, and Emily where I sit down and explain all these things so that they can point out holes before I start the second book, which is going to be a very interesting thing—we’ll probably record that and then twenty years from now post it on the internet. But yes, I do know the ending. I will not say whether we’ll go to the Origin of Storms.

#12 Copy

Yeti Stomper

All of your fantasy worlds exist in the same universe and share linked magic systems and at least one character. Can you speak to the overall vision of this shared Hoidverse? Why not create separate worlds?

Brandon Sanderson

I started doing this early in my career before I got published, when I felt that writing sequels was not a good use of my time. Just look at the hypothetical; if I’m trying to get published and I write three books in the same, if an editor rejects book one, he or she is not going to want to see book two. But if an editor rejects book one but is optimistic about my writing, I can send them a book from another series and they can look at that.

During my unpublished days I wrote thirteen books, only one of which was a sequel. So I had twelve new worlds, or at least twelve new books—some of them were reexaminations of worlds. But I wanted to be writing big epics. This is what I always wanted to do; something like the Wheel of Time. So I began plotting a large, massive series where all these books were connected, so I could kind of “stealth” have a large series without the editors knowing I was sending them books from the same series. It was mostly just a thing for me, to help me do the writing I wanted to be doing. And then when publication came I continued to do that, and told the story behind the story.

Why not do separate worlds? Because it was more interesting for me this way. This is the story I want to tell. The big, overarching story that I’ve planned out. I’ve been talking recently about how my inspiration for this is the idea that in science people have for a long time been looking for a unified theory of physics, some theory that will explain all interactions of physics in a concise way. I wanted to tell about a universe where there was a unified theory of magic, where magic worked according to a unifying principle. Despite the magic systems looking very different and doing lots of different and interesting things, hopefully original for each book, there is an underlying rationale that is keeping them all together. I write what I find interesting, and that was interesting to me.

#13 Copy

Mad Hatter

Besides "Firstborn" have you tried your hand at Sci-Fi any other time? By the same token will you ever dive back into short fiction?

Brandon Sanderson

I did write two science fiction novels during the era that I was unpublished. Neither are particularly good, but they were experiments, with me trying to figure out where my talents and interests lie. I was just experimenting a lot during those days, so I did write two science fiction novels—I believe they were my second and fifth novels. I will go back to short fiction. I’ve said before that I don’t feel I’m as good at it as I am at the longer form, but I like doing new things and trying new things. You will see more short fiction from me, but we’ll have to see when it happens. I’m thinking of writing a short story to post on my website, during my break between Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light. And there’s also “Defending Elysium,” another science fiction story, which appeared in Asimov’s and is already on my website.

#14 Copy

Mad Hatter

Glad to hear you'll be back in the short game. Can you take us through a normal writing day? Do you have a word count goal?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. It depends on the day and the book, but generally 2,000 words is my goal. 3,000 to 4,000, probably around 3,500 is a really solid day for me. A basic writing day: I get up at noon or 1:00, depending on when I went to bed. I play with my son for about an hour, giving my wife a break. Then I go downstairs for four or five hours, check my email, write for a while, go up and have dinner, play with my son some more, then go back down and go back to work until I’m done for the night. The last couple of years have been pretty much a lot of me with my laptop on my couch or in my beanbag chair writing books.

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Mad Hatter

Terry Brooks recently said he'll be doing more Shannara books and that he wishes he didn't use the title The Elfstones of Shannara already since his new arc is basically all about the Elfstones. Did your reticence to titling The Gathering Storm as such have anything to do with The Stormlight Archive? The Gathering Storm certainly seems like a perfect title for a book in the series.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah. I didn’t choose The Gathering Storm. If you know the story, it all happened while I was asleep, and they said this was the title they were going to use. There were a couple of reasons. Number one, I knew I was releasing a book soon afterward that was in a series called The Stormlight Archive. Perhaps I pay a little too much attention to making sure that I don’t feel like I’m repeating myself. Kaladin in The Way of Kings was originally named Merin, and one reason I changed his name was because it sounded too much like Perrin. He had been Merin for eight years or so, but when I was just a Wheel of Time fan, it was okay to have a name that sounded a little like a Wheel of Time character’s. But now I may be a little hypersensitive to that.

Honestly, the greatest reason I might have preferred The Gathering Storm to have a different title is that I felt it was just a little bit generic, more so than recent titles in the series have been. Recent Wheel of Time titles have been beautiful; I love Crossroads of Twilight as a title, for example. But The Gathering Storm is a good title for a lot of other reasons, and it works very well for the first of that sequence. So I was satisfied with it even though it wasn’t the title I would have chosen.

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Mad Hatter

Was there any physical inspiration behind the Shattered Plains, which features so prominently in The Way of Kings? Too many visits to the Grand Canyon?

Brandon Sanderson

I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon once, but I do live in Utah, which has beautiful red rock formations and this wonderful, windblown stone formations scattered all across southern Utah. I’ve hiked there and spent a decent amount of time there. I would say that Roshar is partially inspired by that.

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Mad Hatter

You're an avowed Magic: The Gathering lover. What is your color combo deck of choice? Also, preferred edition? I've always leaned towards Revised/Fourth as later editions focused on counters too much for my liking

Brandon Sanderson

I would say Black/Blue/White is what you find me playing most often, and usually Blue/White. Favorite editions? I’m going to disagree about the focus on counters. They’ve actually taken counterspells down a notch or two in recent years, which is nice. Besides, I play casual games, where I don’t run into a lot of counterspell decks, land destruction decks, or card discard decks—you know, the “un-fun” decks. My favorites recently—I really like Eldrazi, the set they released this year, which I’ve had a blast with. Other than that, probably Ravnica and Time Spiral were my favorite of the recent sets.

#18 Copy

Mad Hatter

You’ve obviously been indisposed the last few months with Towers of Midnight so I’m curious about what is on your nightstand to be read next?

Brandon Sanderson

There’s a big stack. Peter Orullian’s book, which Tor is releasing next year is one I’ve wanted to read for a while. Spellwright, which a lot of people really loved and I got to read. There are a couple of Pratchetts I still haven’t read. I’ve been slowly working my way through Jim Butcher’s books, which I think are fantastic. I’ve also started reading through Brent Weeks’ works. So there are a lot of things to read. I still want to finish The Hunger Games. There’s so much to read, but fortunately during my two-week tour there will be a plane ride every day. Hooray.

#19 Copy

Mad Hatter

To go along with my other obsession what is your favorite type of hat?

Brandon Sanderson

I do have a fedora that I’m somewhat attached to, but I haven’t worn it in years. When I was a high school kid, I would wear my fedora around until I discovered that wearing a fedora was already cliché for a nerdy kid like myself, which I found annoying since I’d been doing it because I thought it was original. I still have that fedora, which sits in my closet, and someday perhaps I will wear it. But the problem is that Dan Wells, my friend who writes in my writing group and in my basement, already wears a hat around. So I would feel like I was just copying Dan. Maybe I need to get a fez or something.

Event details
Name
Name A StompingMad YetiHatter Collaboration Interview
Date
Date Sept. 16, 2010
Entries
Entries 19
Upload sources