Shallan's sketches in The Way of Kings are terrific additions that enhance the epic feel of the novel. What inspired you to push for these illustrations?
I wanted to use the form of this novel to try and enhance what epic fantasy can do, and downplay the things that are tough about it. One of the tough things about epic fantasy is the learning curve—how much you have to learn and pay attention to, how many things there are to just know. I felt that occasional illustrations could really help with that. For instance, how Shallan's sketchbook, or uses of multiple maps, could give us a visual component to the book. Pictures really are worth a thousand words. You can have on that page something that shows a creature much better than I can describe it. And so I felt that that would help deemphasize the problem of the learning curve, while at the same time helping to make this world real. Epic fantasy is about immersion, and I wanted to make this world real since that's one of the great things we can do with epic fantasy. We've got the space and the room to just build a completely real world, and I felt that the art would allow me to do that, which is why I decided to do "in world" art.
I didn't want to take this toward a graphic novel. I like graphic novels, but it wasn't appropriate here to do illustrations of the scenes and characters from the books because I don't want to tell you what they look like. I want that to be up to your own imagination. And so we wanted that in-world ephemera feel to it, as though it were some piece of art that you found in the world and included.
I think it goes back to Tolkien. There's a map in The Hobbit, and that map isn't just a random map, which has become almost a cliché of fantasy books and of epic fantasy. "Oh, of course there's a random map in the front!" Well, Tolkien wanted you to think this map was the actual map the characters carried around, and that's why he included it. He wrote his books as if he were the archivist putting them together and translating them and bringing them to you, this wonderful story from another world, and he included the map because the map was there with the notes. That's what I wanted the feel for this ephemera to be. As though whoever has put this book together—done the translation and included pieces of art and maps and things that they found in the world that had been collected during these events—that's what you're getting.