How did you go about making all of your magic systems together in the context of the wider Cosmere in a way that feels natural?
I (like a lot of things related to the cosmere) had a leg up because I had written so many books before I got published. I had written thirteen novels before I got published, and among those novels were six or seven pretty decent magic systems. And I started to notice fundamental things that I did when building a magic system that were very common to my writing. And for a while, I'm like, "I want to make sure I'm doing lots of variety, so I'll push this further."
But I also kept noticing these connecting tissues, such as Intent being important behind the scenes to how the magic works, to the idea of the Three Realms. Realmatic theory showed up in Dragonsteel, which is the second Cosmere novel that I wrote and is based a little bit on Plato's theory of the Forms and things like that, but kind of taken my own way. And I always kind of start thinking of magic in that context.
And because I had designed all of these things and was noticing themes, I always asked myself, "Where does the power for the magic come from?" I'm going to bend the laws of thermodynamics, but I'm not going to break them; I'm going to have a different sort of power source. That's just fundamental to how I like to do magic. Where does the energy come from? So building a common energy source to all of these was the first thing that I started to do, just very naturally. And it's part of what made me want to link the Cosmere together. I kept having these stories where I wanted to tell stories about these kind of divine forces, the powers of gods put in the hands of mortals: what does that do? That's a common theme that started showing up in the stories that I was writing before I got published. And I said, "Well, if it's a theme, it's something you're really interested in, why not build it into the entire continuity?" And that's where the idea of the Shards came from, and creating Shadesmar and all of that. It grew out of things I did naturally and saw as themes in my writing.
And the linking then was very natural because they all were coming from the same essential power source, and they all had a few fundamental rules they were following. Mostly because that's how I build magic systems, right? If I have a problem, it's that when I try to build something that ends up not in the Cosmere, like Rithmatist, it still just basically works with Cosmere magic because that's a way that I build magic systems.
Good question, but like a lot of things, a lot of my career's success can be traced back to the fact that I was really bad at this when I started, and I got a long time to practice before I went pro.