I've you say in other interviews that the Stormlight Archives was your go at a big epic everything's-on-the-table fantasy series. But was there any particular series or religion or myths that inspired the story?
There's a whole bunch going on. You will find a whole lot of Eastern shamanism, like shinto or things like that, built around the idea of everything having a spren. That is one obvious influence.
Another one is Plato's theory of the Forms (from the Phaedrus, I believe it is), and this idea of different realms of existence directly became Realmatic theory, which is the Physical, Spiritual, and Cognitive of the books. He just had two; I ended up with three. But you can directly trace that to Plato.
A lot of the Alethi culture came from me wanting to build something based off of my research into the Mongol people, particularly during the time of Genghis Khan. But I took away the horses; you don't have cavalries on Roshar to the extent that you would on Earth. And I thought that was really interesting, because most people who base anything on the Mongols go with the whole horse lords things to the point that it's become a cliche. So I'm like, "What if I strip that away, and I'm forced to look at other nuances of their culture?" Particularly, I love the moment (trying to remember what the name of the dynasty was) where the Mongols conquered China, and then basically became a dynasty in China and became basically another Chinese government. The Chinese were used to this idea, that different people take over, the bureaucrats start serving them instead, and the big machine that is China keeps going with a new Dynasty in charge; now they're Mongols. That's really cool to me. And this idea of the Alethi as this famous infantry, this conquering infantry, that (also kind of you see this in Dalinar) have to, in some ways, settle down and rule an empire now that they have one. That's really cool to me, that's really interesting. And that's probably one of the most direct things you can point to Mongol culture for, is this idea. But also kind of, I feel like when people do a warrior culture in fantasy, too often 1) they all feel alike in some ways, and I didn't like that. I wanted to do where you were reading through the eyes of people who were from what I thought was a nuanced, realistic warrior culture. And you didn't realize until you were partway through the book, you were like, "This is a warrior culture! This is, like Klingons. These are the bad guys to a lot of people's eyes!" But it's more nuanced, it's not one note, and so you've got a lot of variety in the culture and a lot of people to it, and a lot of different opinions and perspectives that you may not even notice.
I love doing stuff like this. Like, Elantris is a zombie story. The original premise for Elantris is a zombie story. And I hope that a lot of people don't even realize that. Because I'm trying to strip away some of the trappings and use some of the core concepts. I like it when people get done with Elantris, and they're like, "Wait, zombie story? Oh, yeah!" And I like it when people are reading the Alethi, and they get to the end and they're like, "Oh, those are the Mongols? This is a warrior culture? I didn't even get that! I was through their eyes, and I didn't understand that these are the scourge that everyone else is afraid of, because I was seeing through their eyes and just seeing them as people." That's a greater sort of worldbuilding and storytelling philosophy that I have.
The highstorms came from tidal pools. A lot of the ecology on Roshar was, "Can I create something that looks like a tidal pool or a reef that's, like, a break for the waves, where things are crashing into it a lot." Just kind of building this idea around that.
There's a few of them for you. There are tons more. Stormlight Archive, it's hard to point out one idea for. In fact, it's really hard to point out one idea for the plot premise at all, because telling people what The Way of Kings is about is really hard. Mistborn's easy, right? This is why I think it would probably be wise, if we're going to do any media, is to start with Mistborn. Because we can pitch Mistborn. "Hero failed. Gang of these rob the Dark Lord." Easy pitch. What is Way of Kings about? "Uh... it's about this guy who's trained as a surgeon and he finds out he's really good at killing people and he goes to war but he doesn't actually get to fight, he gets put in the bridge crews, but it really about him building a team of friends among these people in this terrible situation... But it's actually about restoring lost Orders of Knights from long ago... But it's actually about an impending war that they were set up to fight, these Knights, that they told everyone that they'd won, but they really didn't win, but they kind of did..." It just gets really convoluted. It is hard to explain what The Way of Kings is about. This is why The Way of Kings has three prologues. (Don't do that, by the way. One prologue is bad enough; you don't need three. Unless you're writing Way of Kings. Then it was totally necessary.)