[Asked for a] hint about the Cosmere.
Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)
Look at the map of Shadesmar, there are clues.
[Asked for a] hint about the Cosmere.
Look at the map of Shadesmar, there are clues.
Can someone gain magics of another world?
Anyone can gain Breaths on Nalthis, it's much harder to become an Allomancer.
Is there only 1 Shard on Silence Divine?
I’ve always wondered what Atium looks like when you’re burning it, do you have possible things coming out of you or do have one shadow just walking out or like an accordion of shadows?
I see one shadow that bursts out that leaves a trail, so like a really faint blur, and then the one shadow in the front, for each...and yeah, if you've got like two Atiums then it's a whole bunch of those, but I see one shadow with a blur of all the pieces and things behind it.
I really appreciate all the work you've done on the Wheel of Time, and everything else. Now that you're starting your own really epic fantasy series, you know, I've noticed an issue that Robert Jordan had and that George R.R. Martin has is that the series kind of bloats on them over time. So, how would you approach that with your series, and how are you dealing with the possibility of that happening?
That's a really good question, actually. A lot of the great series that we love did get a little bit...they feel like they may have gotten away from their authors a little bit, and I have a big advantage that Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin didn't have, which is that I got to read Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin. [laughter] And I say that—we laugh at it—but if you really think about it, a lot of these big epic fantasy series, these people are treading new ground, and they didn't have—you know, the best they have is Tolkien, three books. What do you do with that? I mean, maybe you have Zelazny with Amber, and a lot of books, but they're really thin, and I mean nobody had really done what Robert Jordan did, before he did it.
What I'm trying to do, is I kind of have a mantra for myself on these books, is that they must be...each one must be individual. Meaning, it's gotta have its own conflicts, its own feel, it's gotta have its own art. I can't let them just blend together, and I think that will help a lot. And so, for doing that, that's why I assign each book in the series a character, and I do the flashbacks in that book for that character in that book, and tell what I want to be a complete arc for that character in that book. Doesn't mean the other characters won't be in the books; Kaladin will be in all the books; Dalinar will be in all the books—assuming they survive. [laughter] But each book will have a character as being kind of the soul of that book, which I think will make them all feel self-contained, and be their own thing.
The other thing that I'm doing is I'm trying to avoid secondary character bloat. One of the reasons secondary characters show up is you want to show off this little piece of the world, and so you write this thing about this character, and then you're like, "Wow, that's an awesome character; I wanna write more!" And then...BOOM. And so, in The Way of Kings, I actually gave myself these Interludes, which are in-between parts of the book; I let myself do basically two short stories set in the world, or maybe three, and the purpose of that is to show the scope of the world, but to use characters that you don't really need to come back to, for most of them. And so it kind of gets it out of my system, but I have kind of written down as my mantra: "These characters cannot become main viewpoint characters." That's the purpose of doing them in that, and so by doing that and giving myself a sort of pressure valve in one way, and a kind of constraint in the other, that each book must be about a specific character, I'm hoping it will keep this series more focused.
I don’t know if this question will come out right...is there a difference between being an author that works for Tor and an author that Tor works for?
Yes. Most authors, you'll find, are actually independent businesspeople who license their books to a publisher for various languages, and so I don't actually work for Tor. Now, Tor and I get along really well, and they've done very well by me, but I've also done very well by them, and so we have a very good working relationship. But actually I, as a businessperson, license them the books, and that means that I control all the characters, they can't insert or change anything without my approval—they can't even change commas without my approval—and that's the way it goes for most people. Now, everything outside the cover I have is theirs, their packaging, so that's why authors don't get a lot of say in cover and things, because the marketing copy on the cover, the picture and stuff, that's the publisher's. They license the works. So, there is a difference. There are some authors who will do a work-for-hire sort of thing, like I did with the Wheel of Time. I work for Harriet on the Wheel of Time. I am employed by her. It's a very good contract—I mean, she was very awesome to me—but at the end of the day, I am an employee working for her, a contractor working for her, and in that case, it's a different sort of business relationship.
How much time do you spend per day writing and doing other writing-related activities, because you put out more than any other author that I ever…
I do this very compulsively. I basically spend—how many hours do I spend?—I basically spend all of them, and when I'm not doing something else. So basically, I usually take two or three hours off with my family, um...so I get up at around noon, I work until five—yes, I get up at noon. Don't knock it; it's the author's way; I'm an artist—and then, I hang out with my family from about five to eight, and then I go back to work and I work generally to about four. Um...and, if there are other things going on in the evening—you know, going out to dinner or things like that—I'll do them, but my default is to working on my books. And that's been pretty steady for the last few years because the Wheel of Time has been so dominating. I'll probably ease up a little once it's done and, you know, maybe play a few more video games and read a few more Pratchett novels. Yeah, it was really, that joker back there that I pointed out works at Blizzard, Blizzard brought me in today and gave me a whole bunch of games, “yeah here Diablo 3, you can go play that...”, “agh, don’t do this to me guys”.
You mentioned in your newsletter that you were thinking of doing a Mistborn film, and I'm wondering because it's an internal magic system, how you would differentiate which metal was being burned?
We've got a couple of tricks up our sleeve that we've been working on. One thing that we're changing in the screenplay is, when you burn iron and steel it makes metals glow blue rather than shooting out blue lines. Basically this will keep it less cluttered, and you can kind of dim the screen a little bit and show everything glowing blue. We're doing that, and when you start burning one of the, for instance, one of the metals that influences personality, we're gonna actually kind of like send a pulse out of the person, and have it kind of wash across people, and things like that, so we're coming up with visual clues to show them.
Is there any relation between the smoke that is emitted when a Shardblade cuts somebody and the smoke that Nightblood emits in Warbreaker?
Yes, there is.
Was the Almighty still alive when the Heralds packed it in, and did the Radiants pack it in in direct response to what the Heralds did?
The Radiants did NOT abandon their post as a response to the Heralds. The Radiants abandoned it for some other reason which will become evident eventually. The Almighty was still around when the Heralds did their thing.
What’s the status of the second book of the Stormlight Archive?
I will be going right into that as soon as I finish A Memory of Light. I have it outlined, I have decided whose book it will be, each of the Stormlight books will have a focal character who gets flashbacks. It’s going to be Shallan’s book. So the first major cycle of the Stormlight Archive is looking like it’s going to be Kaladin, Shallan, Szeth, Navani, and Dalinar as the five book arc. And if you haven’t heard, I’m doing it in two 5-book arcs, so the first 5 books should wrap a lot of things up and whatnot. And I might even stop then and do like an Elantris sequel and things like that, and then start the second 5-book arc. So I will do that immediately, I’m actually planning to do that and have it out, it probably won’t be next year, it’ll probably be the following spring, but it’s a little over a year away. I’ve got it all outlined, so it should be...I’ve done a lot of work on it, I just haven’t written it.
I think the self-publishing you can do nowadays is really helping the genre, just books along in general. But I would add the caveat: the most important thing you can do right now is write book two. Finish book one; choose whether to self-publish or not, either way is really valid. Get it edited. Once you finish the book, put it aside for at least six months and let other people read it. Come back and do a revision six months later, when you've had some distance, while you've been writing something else. Then release it, or send it off, whatever you decide. Both ways are valid. But write another book.
You don't mean book two in the series? You mean, "A different book"?
It can be book two if you want it to. I suggest skipping to something else, just to cleanse your palate and try something new. But whatever it is, you need to train yourself to become a writer. Not write one book; you need to train yourself to be someone who can write things.
Does time flow the same speed in all of your Shardworlds?
Yes, the cosmere, time flows unless it's being manipulated by an external force. It moves at the same speed.
How do you feel about being labelled "inferior" to vitriolic readers on Reddit? How do you feel about internet reactions to your books?
I would say that, when you encounter responses like that, you just gotta let it bounce off you. I usually go read one-star reviews of books I love. I'll go and see what the one-star reviews of Terry Prachett novels are (which I think are brilliant). I'm like, "If people are disliking Terry Prachett novels, there's no way I can please everybody, right?" But it's weird that we get so passionate about it, people on the internet do. It's like that xkcd, "Someone's wrong on the internet!" But the thing about it is, when it comes to a case like this, we get very passionate about it. Where in some ways, we aren't. And art is a taste. You are not gonna like a piece of art. No one likes every piece of art. And there are some things that just don't speak to you. A lot of poetry doesn't speak to me. It's a form that just doesn't work. Some does.
Was there a teacher who inspired any of you?
Yes. The teacher who handed me my first fantasy novel was a fantastic teacher. And she is part of why I'm writing right now. The thing is, teaching writing, it's hard to do. And I don't know... you can motivate people. But teaching people how to write? You've gotta get them writing yourself. And I think the best teachers motivate you to do it yourself. That was what I was trying to say, when I said "High school teachers can't teach writing." What I'm trying to say is, you need to be reading and writing yourself. The teacher can only do so much. They can inspire you, but they can't teach you to do it. You've gotta do it yourself.
Is there a different genre or style you'd like to try?
I like epic fantasy. I like fantasy and science fiction. You may see me doing more SF, but I don't think I see myself trying anything too far afield. I like the idea of speculative fiction.
Writing short books is actually a lot harder than you would think. When you look at length... Length is not a way to judge quality. The Emperor's Soul, which won a Hugo, that was one of the hardest... It was short, and it was hard to write that short. It was hard to be that compact. It's hard to write short books.
It always boggles my mind. The way of Kings, which is one book, is longer than my entire Maze Runner series.
I like what big epic fantasy can do. And I like to show off what the genre is capable of doing. And that is what I'm doing with Way of Kings, is me trying to say, "Look, this is what epic fantasy can possibly be."
Why series? Why not standalone? Why have it go over multiple books? What's appealing about that to you?
If you spend all the time building an imaginary world, it's a lot of work. To do that for only one book? I mean, you can do that, but it almost seems like a waste of effort to do it just for one novel.
I've done that twice. I like standalones. Things like Guy Gavriel's Kay work, in epic fantasy as a standalone is really a strength of the genre that you can do that sometimes. But, at the same time, I grew up reading Robert Jordan. I grew up reading Melanie Rawn's books, which I love. And things like this. I have this theory. (The academic coming out.) Talks about the idea of science fiction and fantasy having what we call a steep learning curve. When you as a reader go to these books and start reading them, there is a certain level of... you just have to work to understand it. You have to memorize all these names. It's a big effort. And by the time you get done with that book, you've become an expert in this. And you want to use your expertise. I feel like in fantasy and science fiction, this is one of the reasons why we see so many series. Is because the fans really like them, because when you work your way through one of these, and by the end you know all this stuff, the sequel then, you can use that expertise and enjoy reading the book without having to work quite so hard. I mean, we like working hard; it's why we read these genres. But we also like using what we know. If you've known any nerdier people, they like to talk about the things that they've become experts in. And we enjoy that. It's a natural human expression.
How do you craft protagonists? Do you start with them, or do you start with a plot first and then figure out the characters from there?
I wear one hat as an academic. I teach at the university, I have a master's degree in English. And then I wear another hat as the writer. And the academic and the writer don't interact as much as you would think they do. Because writing is an art, and part of it is so instinctive, that you have to... it's more like you train yourself with these "muscles" to use. And when you go into it, writing a book is almost like a performance art. In that I go and I perform for several hours. And then I get done, and then I can hand it over to the academic and say, "What do you think of this? What am I doing right, what am I doing wrong?" The academic has a lot more to do with editing. And the academic also observes my process and then learns to talk about it.
And I've learned that, for me, character is one of these things that I can't plan out too much ahead of time. Writers tend to fall into two camps. They tend to be, as George R.R. Martin calls them, architects or gardeners. Gardeners nurture a story. Stephen King is a gardener. Start with just some sort of idea, and see where it goes. And architects build an outline.
And I architect my plots. I build an outline, I build a world. My framework for my worlds, my worldbuilding... in something like Steelheart, I'll spend a lot of time saying, "What's the visual sense of this world? What's the underlying mechanics of what is making people become these Epics? Where does this all come from?" And build this all into a document, what the world feels like, what different cities feel like, and things like this.
But then, the person I place in this world, I found that if I put too much structure for that personality, the entire book feels wooden. It feels like this thing that I have created that the character just has to mechanically move through, and therefore can't be alive. And I found that, in order to add a sense of spontaneity and life to my fiction, I have to let the character develop naturally. I have to say, "All right, here is all of this stuff." And put the character into it. And then see if they follow the plot. And if they don't, I will rebuild my outline to fit what this character is doing.
So, yes and no. I often will have a conflict for a character that I'm putting them in, but I don't know who they are until I write the first scene. And that usually requires me to write three or four different scenes and throw each of them until I capture the right voice, like I'm casting different people in the role.
To use a very specific example, there was the annotated version of Steelheart, you talked about the main character, one of the main facets is that he has terrible metaphors. But I believe you didn't even discover that until you made a terrible metaphor in the first chapter.
Yeah, I don't even think it was the first chapter. Might have been the second, I might have re-added in them earlier on. But I'm writing along, I'm like, "Who is this guy? This feels bland. Who is he? What is he passionate about? What goofy things does he do?" And then I was trying to come up with a metaphor, and I wrote one, and it was bad. Like, it was just terrible. And I'm like, "Oh, I can't use that." And usually, I have to go through, like, six or seven. But I'm like, "This is a majestically bad metaphor." And for the rest of the book, I'm like, "This is him. He wants so hard to do things the right way that he goes too far and tries too hard, and they come out wrong." And I'll tell you guys, writing bad metaphors that are good bad metaphors is really hard. Because to make them work... it was a real challenge. It became the hardest aspect of the book, in some ways, coming up with his metaphors. Which are supposed to be bad.
Do you have anybody you constantly reread to remind yourself of the basics?
I read a lot (now this is gonna sound like the obvious answer) of Robert Jordan. When I was growing up, the Wheel of Time was kind of my idol. This was the thing I wanted to be. And when I decided I wanted to be a writer, no one could really tell me how to be a writer. Like, the writing classes, particularly in high school, are not very useful for being a writer. And even in college... I mean, they're great for teaching you the basics, but the problem is, if you want the master-level writing course, you have to go to people who are themselves master-level writers. And English teachers, who are fantastic, they're good at teaching, but if they don't know the writing, they can get you excited about it, but they can't teach you to write. In fact, even in college, it's really hard. I teach a college course. You can't really teach people to write. You just can't. You can teach people the tools that some writers use, but it's a little like handing them... you know, "Try this screwdriver. See if this works in the thing you're trying to build. Okay, that doesn't? Try this wrench." And if you really want to learn how to write, you've got to practice, and you've got to read great writers and try and learn from what they're doing. And I would go back time and time again to the Wheel of Time and say, "How is this guy doing viewpoint?" Because Robert Jordan's use of viewpoint is my favorite part of his books. I would say he was the biggest influence on me, growing up as a writer. Not even now, which is pretty obvious, but growing up as a writer.
In some cases, you pitch it one way, some cases you pitch it the other way. Like, I've written middle grade, YA, and adult. And the process for that is not much different from one another. Now, I do consider audience when I'm writing a book, but at the end of the day, I'm writing something that I think is awesome. And then I'll be to the editor and say, "You probably want to sell this YA."
When I was a teenager, I volunteered at a library. And I remember... We didn't have the YA section back then. At least it hadn't hit Nebraska yet. Maybe the fancy places like New York had one, but we didn't. And I remember working there, and when they got the Anne McCaffrey books, they had me go shelve them in the children's section. I'm like, "Anne McCaffrey is not a children's author. Anne McCaffrey is real science fiction! Not even fantasy, it's science fiction!" And I was all uppity about it. The reason the librarian said was, "This is what the teenagers want to read. And this is where they go."
And I love, despite kind of sounding maybe down on it a little bit earlier, I love the idea of the YA section. The whole idea for the YA section is to create a safe haven for the teen readers, or those who didn't want to go in the children's section, but at the same time might be intimidated by the big, thick books in the adult fantasy and epic section or some of the other adult sections. You've got this kind of nice safe haven where, I think if I would have had that as a teen reader, it would have been a bit easier for me to get into reading.
Someone handed me Tolkien when I was very young. And Tolkien... I was a reluctant reader. I didn't read a lot when I was a kid, unlike a lot of writers. And Tolkien just scared me. I started reading him, and I just couldn't do it. It was too above me. It's fantastic, I've since read it, but it just scared me off. And a lot of writing scared me off. And if I'd had this sort of thing, where people could have instead said, "Here is the Maze Runner. Here is Eragon. Here is something that is exciting and fun, but also a little bit challenging" to get me reading, I think it would have worked a lot better for me.
In the past, with Alendi, when the mist spirit stabbed Fedik, was that Hemalurgic theft?
*evil laughter* ...interesting question! RAFO!
Would you please draw Aon Aon with the chasm line, so we know where the calamity the chasm lines are?
I always imagined it right there. Um, and so if you finished it... but the strictures of the first book, I didn't quite know what I was doing yet, and I was trying to match a map that didn't quite match what I had in my head. I could do it so much better now. But, the problem is, it is kinda down here at the bottom of this, but where I described it....if you don't mind me putting in this... I described it right there in the book, and it needs to be up more.
If Adonalsium were to shatter in a parallel universe, would it divide into the same 16 intents?
Um...it...Adonalsium could have been shattered in other ways.
Was there a force determining which way it shattered?
Are you ever going to do a big story about Adonalsium and take it out of the shadows?
Yes, um, the series called Dragonsteel itself is that, and then at then end of all of this, there will be kind of a climactic one. So eventually yes, it is just a little ways off.
Are we going to see any other compounders like Miles Dagouter, but with other abilities?
Yes, I plan to do more, just to show off what different compounding can achieve, so you will see some more like that. you will some other really interesting interactions with the magic system.
Would a conventional science fiction society be able to travel between worlds via FTL?
Yes, they definitely could. In fact, built into the system is...you will see space travel. In fact I have several of them plotted, I just can't write them yet. It is going to be really fun. One of my very first ideas for the cosmere was this spaceship going between, and actually, Sixth of the Dusk, which is coming out, the Writing Excuses Anthology one, is cosmere and they mention space travel in it, so...
I have a personal question of my own. I'm LDS as well. After attending this meeting on worldbuilding, the primary problem is my faith that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, because he really had six years to work on it, and I think that he had the ability to put that book together himself...
You know, yeah, a lot of people talk about there's no way that he could have done it. Being a fantasy writer myself, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that he could have written it himself, and I think basing your testimony, in the church, based on a concept like that is the wrong way to go. It is the wrong way to go, basing your testimony on, "Well, it's obviously impossible that he wrote it, therefore it must be true..." That's actually a bad logical way to look at the church.
I look at the church through eyes of faith, and my testimony is based solely on the fact that I believe God has spoken to me. I ask him, I say, "Is this what you want me to do," and I felt that testimony; I felt that burning inside, and for me, you know what, honestly, it doesn't happen that often for me. It's not like, you know, some people, they go to church, and every time it's like...no. I can point to three distinct points in my life where I felt that testimony, and other times I felt a good comfort, but there are three things where I said it was, you know, knock me down, this is true, that....and it wasn't even necessarily focused on the church. One was that I should be a writer, and one that I should be marrying my wife. The other one is very personal, so I won't mention that one, but those two moments I felt a powerful, powerful presence, and it came down to one of two things for me: either this is confirmation bias, which I assume you know about—either it's confirmation bias or it's the truth, and because if there is a God, he's not going to let me have this moment thinking that there....that, you know, this isn't going to be a lie. Either God is real and I'm feeling these sorts of confirmation...it really became that dichotomy for me, feeling those two things.
And from there, I just try to do the best I can. This faith has worked very well for me; I have not received any necessarily, moments saying "don't do this." There are lots of things in any religion—LDS faith is not alone in this—there are lots of things in any religion that are going to raise some eyebrows. You say, look, there's some logical holes here, and it doesn't matter which religion you're talking about; there's gonna be those. And because I've had those moments, those are what I have based, fundamentally, my faith upon, and honestly, for me, it's a choice between atheistic humanism, which has some very valid points, and the faith that I have now, and I only...you know, it's very Cartesian. Descartes, you know, "I think, therefore I am." I have to rely on my senses and my emotions, and feeling what I felt, if I say, "That's just confirmation bias," for me that means that I can't really rely on my senses, and I don't really want to go that way. I want to rely on what I have felt, and you know, on a more lofty scale I think there's more to it than all of this, than just this world. I think there's gotta be.
And that's, you know...who knows? Maybe the secular humanistic approach is right, and I have no problem with the secular humanists; I don't think that there's this....you know, these are generally sincere people who are interested in finding truth, but you know what, I believe that I can follow the scientific method for my faith. I can say, "Is this true?" I can pray. I can feel a confirmation, and it's repeatable. It's, every time I've wanted it, I've felt it. That's enough for me to go forward in faith right now. So, that's my version of a comment to you. I don't mind if you post that—I really don't; it's okay—but you know, I think we just do the best we can, and we soldier forward.
Stephen King in his book On Writing says that there are some greats—and honestly when I started Alloy of Law, I thought, "This is great." You know, I was in the story immediately, it was there, I pictured it—and then he says there are some that are good, that by working hard you can get better, and then there are some that just will be able to write no matter what they do. You have a master's degree in Creative Writing which is, I think, outside the norm of science fiction...
Yeah, there are certainly others. Honestly, my master's degree was a stalling tactic. I wanted to become a writer; I was writing very vigorously, and I wanted to get the degree. It certainly helped me, but more it was a, I did not want to face having to say, "I'm not going to be doing this" if that makes sense. And I felt a few extra years of school to spend more time....you know, schooling was wonderful for me, because it was a time during which I could just be a writer, and I could focus on my writing, and the classes I would take really helped me with my writing. I would try to focus on ones that would give me things to write about, and I wanted to extend that experience.
I also wanted to, initially, approach the idea of getting teaching jobs. I soon learned once I got my master's degree there's actually the economy there. If you want teaching jobs, you really have to focus on the things that will lead to teaching jobs, and sometimes that actually is not the writing. You have to part of, you know, the Graduate Student Associations, you have to be publishing in the right journals, and writing science fiction and fantasy was not going to get me there, and I had to make that choice very very early on where I said, well, I'm going to let my master's teach me to be a better writer, but I am not going to pursue teaching any more, because I just don't have the drive to do that. There are people that have as much passion for that as I have passion for writing my stories, and those are the people that should be teaching.
Now, I'll teach this one class—I really do enjoy it—but I don't want to do it full time. By the time I'm done with this one class every year, I'm like exhausted of teaching and done reading student work, and want to be done, and it takes me a whole year to recharge to do it again. And that says to me, you know, I have an interest in it but not a passion, a super passion for it. So yeah, I made that call. The master's degree was useful, mostly to keep me around other writers, to be involved with them, and a lot of my writing classes were actually just workshops, and they were workshops with other people who were writing very good stuff.
I have to say that, in listening to you on panels, I believe that that master's experience shows through. When other people are talking, I don't believe they are nearly as articulate in the things that they're saying.
Right, a lot of writers write by instinct, like I said before, and actually talking about writing is different from knowing how to do it. You know, there are a lot of writers who are really great writers—better writers than I am—that can't really vocalize why they do what they do, and I think that the study of it required me to look at it through those eyes, so that I can, which is very nice. It does make it more helpful when I'm trying to explain to people what I do, and hopefully that will help them.
I think Zach designed Flagship around his beliefs. Our goal is to have stories that are uplifting, that are a positive nature. You know, there's a dark side to everything, but we want it coming out as a positive experience, or outlook on mankind. He mentions that Dave Farland says you need to make moral choices about what you write, and what you advocate in your books. Do you feel like you have that opinion as well? Do you feel like your religion flows over into your writing at all at any point?
Yes and no. I don't go into books with a message. At the same time, I like to read about heroism, and I like to read about moral choices. I like to read about all spectra of moral choice, honestly. I like to approach an issue and say, you know there's going to be five or six valid points on this same issue, and everyone is going to think that their side is the moral side, and I want, in my books, each one to have a legitimate ground to stand on. I don't want to be picking a side necessarily; I want to be offering the item up for discussion. I think that true morality is making you think and consider your actions as opposed to just doing them, and I think there's a real strong morality to forcing you to see other perspectives and other sides. So I would say that I like my fiction to be moral but from that definition of moral. I don't look at my fiction as necessarily teaching people which way to act, though I do think about it a lot. I think about what my role is as someone who is writing fiction that people are reading and experiencing, and what influence I have over them, and what responsibility that affects upon me. These are all very important things that I think about quite a bit. At the end of the day I want to tell a great story about characters you care about, who sometimes think differently than you do.
Do you plan on doing any more YA humor books like Alcatraz?
I actually have several that I want to do. My schedule's very packed; actually my next YA books are not humor; they're more adventurous. Well, I've got one that's more epic fantasy-ish, and one that's more adventurous. I do want to finish out the Alcatraz series; I actually bought it back from Scholastic, and bringing it to Tor, and then I'm going to finish it off. I also have a book I've wanted to write forever called "Zeek Harbinger, Destroyer of Worlds" which is about a young man who, whenever he visits a planet—it's a science fiction—for whatever reason the planet ends up blowing up. It's not really his fault, but there's like a nuclear catastrophe on one, or things like that—don't worry, people are getting evacuated—but whenever goes to a planet it blows up, and that's kind of his...the series is about, you know, each book you visit a planet, and for some reason it ends up exploding. So, you know, I have silly things like that that I want to do. "Mulholland Homebrew's Sinister Shop of Secret Pets", a little fantasy story about a girl who accidentally apprentices herself to a guy who runs a fantasy pet shop. You know, stuff like that. Weird things, it's what goes through my head. We'll see if I actually end up writing it.
The science fiction magazine at BYU: do you recommend your students participate in that?
I do. I actually offer extra credit for anyone who goes to the magazine and reads slush. I feel for a new writer, reading slush on a magazine can be really helpful because you see what some of the rookie mistakes are, being made by other people kind of in your same mode, your same skill set, and sometimes, when I did it as an aspiring writer, it taught me so much about what newer writers were doing, and things that I could avoid. It also helps to spend a little time around editors and see what's going through the minds of editors. Certainly a magazine is different from a book publication, but they share a lot of things, and it can be very helpful in teaching, so I suggest if there's a local fanzine—or a local semi-prozine, which is what the BYU magazine is, kind of, what the terminology is for it—go be a part; read some slush, and be part of the community, and see what other writers are doing.
You teach a class at BYU. What are some of the typical mistakes you find writers in that class make?
Oh, there's a whole host of things we can talk about in this realm. I teach the class because I actually took the class when I was an undergraduate, and they were looking for a teacher—the teacher who was teaching it moved on—and I took it on because I didn't want them to cancel it. It's how to write science fiction and fantasy. And I would say that one of the big early issues with fantasy and science fiction writers is the infodump. They don't know how to balance those early pages, those early chapters, in making it interesting and exciting without dumping a whole bunch of worldbuilding on us, which is a real challenge because...we just had a panel on this here at the con; worldbuilding is what we read science fiction and fantasy for; it's the cool stuff; it's the cream that drives us to read this; it's what we love, and yet, throwing too much on us at the beginning can really stifle a book, and I would say that's a big rookie mistake.
Another big rookie mistake is assuming that all it takes is writing one book. Most authors, you know, you learn to write by writing. I like to use the metaphor lately of learning to hit a baseball with a baseball bat. You only learn to do that by practicing; you can't read about hitting a baseball and then go out and know how to do it. Certainly reading about it is going to help you with some things, and as you're swinging that baseball bat, the pros are not thinking about which muscles they're moving. They're not thinking about necessarily even their stance at that point; they've just done it so much and done it so well that they get to the point that they can do it, second nature. And that's what a writer wants to learn to do. And you do that by, at the beginning, you do think about your stance. You do think about your grip. You do work on these...you target certain things and you learn to extend the metaphor. You work on your prose or you work on your characters, or you specifically hone in on this, but at the end of the day, writing a lot and practicing is what's going to teach you to fix problems in your writing by instinct. And I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I don't think everyone has to do that, but I certainly think that your first job to do is to finish one novel, and then you need to start writing a second one.
Waxillium? Why Waxillium?
Oh, that's a great question. The thing about Waxillium's name is, a lot of people don't like it. I actually love it, but that happens a lot in my books; I'll do something I love that I kind of know other people are going to be annoyed by. The Wax books came, actually....as I was designing the books, I was figuring the characters, and the pun Wax and Wayne struck me, and I thought, "I can't do that; that's too lame a pun." But the characters adopted those name before I could even do anything about it, and I actually tried changing the names, and it didn't work. You know how sometimes, organically, it just happens, and you're like, "I gotta go with this." And so I didn't want to actually just named them Wax and Wayne; I wanted Wax to be short for something, and it fits very well into the Mistborn universe, because all the characters tend to have nicknames that—you know, there was Clubs and Ham and Breeze in the last series—and I wanted a name that fit with that, and so Wax worked really well, but I wanted it to be short for something, and so I started looking at period names, things like William that worked and I actually ended up picking Waxillium because it also has a metallurgic sound and I figured names in this culture in the Mistborn world where metals are so important to the magic, you might have people named after metals; you might have names that sound like metals intentionally because of that resonance. At the end of the day I just really ended up liking it. It is a bizarre name.
The Mistborn books, especially the first one. I like the skaa, but I thought that they were very beaten down. The reason I think it was a big success is because, I'm from Venezuela, and it's very *inaudible* to the reason I'm not there right now. And the people there, they're in really crappy circumstances, but they find always a way to do something fun, something happy. If the electricity turns out, everyone gets out candles and we tell horror stories. If the water runs out, they all have a shower in the patio with buckets. So, why didn't you do any kind of thing like that in the Mistborn books with the skaa? Like, Vin mentioned that she had a birthday, but it's never a party or anything.
That's a good question. And with the Mistborn books, I was specifically trying to create a culture, what would happen if a culture had been beaten down and ruled by the dark enemy of all goodness for a thousand years. And I wanted to take it an order of magnitude worse than anything that could even exist in our world. And because of that, I really wanted the setting to enhance the fact that this isn't just an oppressed culture, this is something incredibly far beyond anything that we could imagine happening in our world. Because of an immortal emperor who just wants you all enslaved and really hates it when people are having a good time. And because of that, I tried to take it as extreme as I could justify to myself in the world. That's the answer; I don't know if that's a good answer for you, but it's the best answer I can give.
My five-year plan is: Last Wheel of Time book, January. Next Stormlight book, as soon as possible. Hopefully by next year. If I'm really on the ball, I can do that by next year. We'll see. I have it all plotted. It's very intricately plotted. I get to that point, it's actually about the halfway point for me. So, the actual writing could go as quickly as six months. And if that's the case, we could potentially have that next fall.
I have two books in the pipeline that are coming out next year, probably. These are books that I worked on before the Wheel of Time that I didn't have time... during the Wheel of Time, I said, "We can't release these, because I won't have time to support them." Like, I won't be able to work on sequels or anything like that. And so, now that the Wheel of Time is done, I've given the go-ahead for those. First one is called The Rithmatist. Tor is publishing it. It's a middle-grade book about a boy at a magic school, except he doesn't have any magic powers himself, because he's the son of the cleaning lady who gets free tuition. And so, it's a chalkboard-based magic. Basically, kids play magical Starcraft by drawing big circles around themselves in chalk on the floor, and then start creating little things out of chalk to go chew through their opponent's circle, and stuff like that. It's really cool, and he's... Joel, the main character (I named my son Joel, also; I wrote this before I had a son), he has his free tuition, and a murder happens at the school. And he's, like, a super fanboy of the magic systems, so he gets involved, even though he can't do it himself. So, there's that book coming out. It's targeted at thirteen-, fourteen-year-olds, and anyone who likes Brandon magic systems. It's gonna be much more similar to one of my style for epic fantasy than Alcatraz was. Alcatraz was really crazy, if you read them. They're really crazy. They're my humorous kids books.
The other thing I have coming out, Steelheart. Steelheart is a book, I actually sold an option this summer. It is a post-apocalyptic superhero book. It postulates a world where people start getting superpowers in our world, but only evil people get them. It came from the idea of... I was driving down the street, and someone cut me off, and I was like, "You know, he's lucky I'm not a supervillain, because I would just blow his car up right now." And I thought, "What would happen if that were the case? What would happen if there were just certain people who could, like, 'Boom!'" And, you can't throw them in prison, you can't enforce it. So the world just declares these people 'forces of nature.' Laws can't hold them. If you have these powers, you are completely free to do whatever you want. There's no stopping them. World basically crumbles into little fiefdoms ruled by the most powerful ones of these. And the story's about a group of people who secretly, in the underground, hunt down supervillains, research their weaknesses, and assassinate them. Protagonist is an eighteen-year-old boy whose father was killed by Steelheart, one of the most powerful supervillains around. And he hunts down the Reckoners because he thinks he knows what Steelheart's weakness is, and he wants them to assassinate Steelheart. That's coming out.
Those two things are next year. After I write the next Stormlight, I will probably go straight into Stormlight three, because we've waited so long. I might write the second Wax and Wayne book, because I have that one <partially written>. And after that, I would really like to do an Elantris sequel.
Over my life reading science fiction and fantasy, I've noticed the trend of books becoming larger and series becoming longer. As both an author and reader, what do you prefer? What do you think of this trend of large epic fantasy series versus things that are complete in one volume. And also, can we expect anything similar from you, like Elantris?
Good question. I (like I think most fantasy fans) have both a love/hate relationship with the big series. You don't grow up reading Wheel of Time without wanting to do your own big series, which is where Stormlight Archive came form. At the same time, big series have certain issues to deal with, such as the big plot sprawl. Which we love, but I think we all admit is kind of an issue related to that. Just like if you're gonna take up running marathons, you're going to do certain things to your legs and knees, there are certain costs to having the big epic fantasy. And so, I really do also love the self-contained works. One of my favorite novels of all time is Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Brilliant single-volume epic fantasy; he does in a book things that other authors aren't capable of doing in fifteen books. And I really think that there's... single-volume epic fantasy is our version of short story for overly verbose fantasy writers. I really like doing those.
I do have a few more I want to do. The main one that I want to write as a standalone is called The Silence Divine. I don't know if I'll keep that title, but it's about a world where the magic is based on bacteria and viruses. So they have evolved to try to keep their hosts alive while they're inhabiting them. So what they do is, though they make you sick, they also give you a magical power while you have the disease. So, if you catch the common cold, you can fly. And then you get over it, and you can't anymore. And the story's about a kind of SWAT-team-type city guard, and all the things they set in place. Like, they keep people in quarantine so they can catch a disease if they need it. And they try to keep their immune systems really weak, so they can immediately catch these things when they need them, and a day later be able to use the powers. And it's about someone who invents penicillin. An ecoterrorist who will invent penicillin. It's an epic fantasy single-volume, I think it will be really cool.
The Mistborn movie and game: how involved are you in the game, or are you getting to points in each of those that you’ll be able to contribute, or are they just gonna have you take a step back?
Good question, good question. So far, I have been very involved in both. Now, movies being what movies are, if we sell the movie to a studio, who knows at that point what’ll happen. All bets are off, right. The people I sold it to were big fans—like actually big fans, not the type of big fans in Hollywood that have heard of your name, so they’re a big fan. Like actual, serious legitimate Big Fans. They did six drafts of the screenplay—they were serious about this—and the screenplay is awesome. I have read it, I really like it. It does tweak a few things that make the screenplay really cool: like it focuses more on Vin and Reen, and kind of leads with that relationship a little bit more, stuff like that that works very well cinematically. It’s very faithful to the book and it’s an awesome time.
Who knows what’ll happen: we really want to be able to sell this to a studio. What happened was I sold it to independent producers, and what normally you’re gonna’-- they’re gonna’ have to find funding; that’s what happens with producers unless they’re, you know, George Lucas or something like that. So we’re still shopping it, the screenplay is awesome, so anyone, if you’re uncle is, ya’ know, happens to be Joss Whedon, come talk to me. I’ll find a notebook for you, I promise [reference to Taiwanese Way of Kings notebooks which Brandon brought to Comic-Con].
As for the video game, the video game guys—I’m actually having dinner with them tomorrow night. They’re cool, you know, they’re-- a bunch of guys from Interplay are involved in this, and the games they’ve made so far with their new company are all kind of like, how should we say, “safe money makers,” okay, and the reason they came to me is that they’d built their company, it’s solid, they’ve got the safe money makers—they’re doing like DDR games and things like that—and they said to me “we want to go and make a big-- just cool fantasy story because we’re kind of getting bored of all this stuff”—not that it’s bad, they’re great games, but you know what I mean. And I’m writing the script for it. The dialogue of the game will be mine.
They actually asked what type of game I wanted to make. I told them some games that I thought would work really well, and they have built an engine and everything to do that, and it’s looking really good. For those who are curious, it’s going to be cross-platform, should be fall 2013. It’s going to be an action RPG and kind of—I mean it probably won’t be as open world as this—but Infamous is one of the examples I gave them as something I thought that would really match Mistborn. I don’t think we have the budget to do the just huge open-endedness of something like that, but that’s okay because I can write a really solid story, and it should have gameplay that’s going to be really fun. Demon’s Souls was another one I gave them, kind of on the other side of how a combat system I really like works.
So that’s the story of the game, we’re shooting for RPGish, a little big like Demon’s Souls but more of the kind of freeform gameplay of Infamous.
Is the game going to be a standalone and the movie a trilogy?
The game is going to be a standalone: they’re may be sequels, but right now we’re going to just get one out there, it is set about 250 years after the start of the Final Empire, stars a new character, one who is part of the history of the world, so…
I’ve noticed in a lot of the books—Mistborn, Warbreaker, even Elantris—that the characters are working so hard towards a goal, and then once they did it or when they get close, all the sudden they realize that it’s doing the complete opposite of what they were expecting, or just was kind of a distraction for them or whatever, and so my question is: Is that just a good way to kind of throw in a plot twist that’s unexpected, or is that a reflection of kind of how you see our lives and what we’re doing, or something else?
I would say it’s both of those things, certainly. I was going to say as you were saying that “that’s just how life is,” but, plot wise, plot twists are tough, because—okay, how should I say it—bad plot twists are easy, right, you can just do anything, you can be like “alright, and then ninja’s attack.” (Aside: this is a regency romance, I don’t know where those ninjas came from…(That’s actually a story, if you’ve read that)).
Bad plot twists are easy. Good plot twists, I use a phrase that they use in Hollywood, which is “surprising, yet inevitable.” This is an age-old term in Hollywood where you want it, when it happens everyone to be surprised, and yet, as it happens, then they say “oooh, I should have seen that coming.” Those are the best plot twists. You can’t always pull those off—they’re really hard—but when you can they’re great, and that’s what I’m shooting for. I don’t necessarily twist my plot just to twist my plot; I try to find a story that is engaging and interesting and then the further we go along in it, the more you learn about the characters and the world and what’s actually going on and hopefully that reveals a hidden depth.
It’s like life. Everyone that you meet, you’re going to make a snap judgment on them. The longer you know them, the more depth you will see to this person. I want you to have that feeling about a book. You’ll make a snap judgment, “okay, this is an action-adventure story.” You’ll read it more and hopefully you’ll see those levels, of world-building, the hidden depth of the characters, the things you can’t get across in one page; that’s why I like writing big epic fantasies because it gives me a lot of time to explore all that depth. And I do the same thing with the plot. Everything is about more than one thing, and I think that that just makes for interesting stories that I like to read.
Talk about your process of writing; and also about how you creatively approach it.
Every writer has a different process. There’s as many ways to do this as there are writers in the world. For me, my creative process is that I’m always searching for the ideas that I can connect into a larger story. I feel that a book is more than just one idea. A good book is a collection of ideas; usually a good idea for each character—something that forms the core of their conflict—several good ideas for the setting: something that’s going to drive the economy, something that’s going to drive (for me the magic) the setting—that sort of thing—and then several good plot ideas. These all bounce around in my head—I’ll grab them randomly.
An example of one of these was for Mistborn: For Mistborn, one of the original seeds was, I was watching the Harry Potter movies that had come out, and I was thinking about Lord of the Rings, which I had just reread, and I was thinking, you know, I like the hero’s journey: young, plucky protagonist goes, collects a band of unlikely followers, face the Dark Lord… and I thought “yeah, but those Dark Lords always get, just like, a terrible, raw end of the deal. They’re always beat by some dufusy kid or thing like that,” and I thought “I want to write a book where the Dark Lord wins.”
But that was kind of a downer of a book, as I considered it, a little bit, you know, “you read this book, and then at the end the hero loses,” that’s kind of a downer. So I stuck that in the back of my mind saying “I want to do something with that idea, but it’s going to take me a little while to figure out exactly what I want to do with that idea.” And then I was watching one of my favorite movies from a long time ago—both of these ideas come from movies, many of them don’t but these two did—Sneakers, if any of you have seen it, just a, like an amazingly awesome heist story, and I thought “ya’ know, I haven’t seen a heist story done in fantasy in forever,” little did I know that Scott Lynch was going to release one, like, one year later [The Lies of Locke Lamora].
But nobody had done one, and so I said “I want to do a fantasy heist story.” The two ideas combined together in my head. Alright: world where the Dark Lord won, a hero failed; thousands of years later, a gang of thieves decided to rip the Dark Lord off and kind of try to over thrown him their way, you know, making themselves-- by making themselves rich.
And those ideas combined together. And so a story grows in my mind like little atoms bouncing together and forming a molecule: they’ll stick to each other and make something different. Those two ideas combine to make a better idea, in my opinion, together. And then character ideas I’d been working on stuck to that, and then magic systems I’d actually been working on separately. Allomancy and Feruchemy, two of the magic systems in Mistborn, were actually designed for different worlds, and then I combined them together and they worked really well together, with the metals being a common theme.
I did all of that, and when it comes down to write a book I sit down and I put this all on a page, and then I start filling in holes by brainstorming. “What would go well here, what would go well here, I need more here” [accompanying gestures indicate different “here’s”]. And I fill out my outline that way, and I fill out my “World Guide,” as I call it. I actually just got—the wonderful folks of Camtasia (it’s a software that records screens) sent me a copy of their software so that I can record a short story, and I’ll go—I’ll do the outline, and then I’ll do the story, and then I’ll post it on my website and you can see exactly, you know, step-by-step what happens. Just don’t make too much fun of me when I spell things wrong.
It’s really weird when you’ve got, like, that screen capture going on, you know people are gonna’ be watching this, and you can’t spell a word, and it’s like “I don’t want to go look it up, I can get this right,” it’s like, the writerly version of the guy who refuses to go get directions. So I like try a word like seventeen different ways, and like “Gehhhh okay,” and then Google tells me in like ten seconds. Anyway, that’s your answer and I hope that works for you. Thanks for asking.
What about Aon Rii? Talk about Aon Rii. What are the random dots? Are they valuable metals?
Honestly, I don't remember. [laughter] I'll be straight up honest with you, I designed the Aons—When I designed the Aons, they all had things like that. Like "Oh, that's what this will be," but I was not as good about taking notes of things then. I didn't have the wiki that I now have. I didn't have all of that stuff, so I can say "Yeah, that's going to be valuable metals", and canonize it that way, but I don't remember what I was actually thinking when I designed it. It was my first time doing anything like that, like [?] sort of thing. I hadn't ever done anything like that before, so I was just flying by the seat of my pants.
In fact, there's a fun story about that, a story I don't think I told during the annotations, I might have. Originally, I wrote it, and used all the Aons as like little things about characters' personalities. Like Rao is spirit, and Ene is wit. Well, all the other ones were things like that, to the point that the traitor character, his Aon's the one that meant Betrayal. Like this, all the characters have little things like that. And then my editor saw it and said "Ah. Do you really want to give away everyone's personality? And who's going to name their kid Betrayal? And I was like "That was really stupid Brandon, why did you do that?" But at the time, I didn't know if I was going to have a dictionary in the back or anything, and so I had to go back and rename almost all of them. I left Rao and Ene, but I renamed almost all the—renamed the wrong word. I shifted all the meanings and things like this so that everyone would have a name that would make sense that you would name a person. And none of them meant anything more than what they actually mean.
Are Parshendi like a hive mind sort of culture?
Parshendi are not a hive mind. I thought people might assume that.
But because of the pairing, it seems like...
There is a connection. It's more Union than Hivemind. You know about Jung? Jung's philosophy was that all people are connected through <collective unconscious>. I think collective unconscious wasactually one of his terms. So it's not hive mind, but there is—there's something the Parshendi can tap into that others.
With the singing?
Yeah, like with the singing, where one sings over here, and one sings over there, they are actually in beat with one another even if they start at different times. So there is something there, a connection.
There's this crazy off the wall theory that Parshendi are dead people brought back to life.
Interesting. There will be Parshendi viewpoints in the second book, and you will be able to see a lot more of that.
If Odium went to Scadrial, would he be blind to metal there? Because I think you mentioned more than once that focuses are actually determined by planet.
I'm going to RAFO that. But that's one of those excellent questions. I'm amused people have figured out enough to be asking questions like that.
So the number of Shards that have been on Roshar is three, correct?
People have been thrown by you saying that Odium is not native to Roshar.
Odium is not native... see that's the thing. Are any of them native? So if you dig the deeper question, are any of them native, ehhh, none of them are native to the planets that you've seen so far. What I probably should've said to be more precise is that Honor and Cultivation were there long before Odium showed up.
Marsh, as an Inquisitor, can see Ruin, and Vin sees Ruin, but they're not seeing the same thing. So how does that work?
In what way? How about this. I'll give you.... I know what you're getting at. And a lot of these things I know what you're getting at, I'm just trying to force you to... I'll just give you one on this. In some cases, Ruin would manifest directly, and you would see what he wanted you to see. In other cases, that might not be the case.
What effect does the world have on the magic system?
It always has an effect.
So you talk about the residue a Shard leaves on a Sliver. So what does that residue have? Like what does it do? If anything?
Well, one thing it can include is that people capable of noticing Investiture, would know there is trace Investiture from that event.