In the Way of Kings, you have all of these different characters, how do you keep your characters’ personalities straight?
Good question. Keeping characters straight—the thing I do that deviates from most of the way I normally write. I normally plan quite a bit. I normally—my worlds are very intricately planned out, with their histories, and usually the plot of what’s going to happen are pretty intricately planned out before I start the book. The characters are not. And this is why a book fails, like the original Way of Kings did in 2002, it’s because one of the characters is not who they need to be, and they are failing.
This is something I do by instinct more than by planning. I grow my characters, so I often describe it as I “cast” my characters, I’ll put different people in the role, I’ll sit down and say “okay, here is a character to play this role.” I’ll start writing them, and seeing their personality, and seeing the world through their eyes, and I’ll see if that works. If it doesn't, I’ll actually drop that and rewrite that scene with a different personality, a different character, have someone else walk in and try the role. I’ll do that a couple of times till they click. When they click, I basically know who they are. From that point on, I don’t have any problems keeping them right. When I write a book when a character doesn’t click, then that book often fails. Sometimes they click halfway through, and I have to go back and fix them. Sometimes they’re just 90% there, and I just need to keep writing and figure it out as I go. But sometimes, that never quite works, and this is the reason sometimes—there is this book named Liar of Partinel, which I never released, because the character never clicked. And people will say “Let me read it, let me read it!” but it will predispose you to that character, and that character, that personality is the wrong person. So I don’t know how I keep them all straight. It just works with characters.
But that’s just with characters. With plot and things I’ve got to write it down, for setting I've got to write it down. I actually have a big wiki that I build that I reference to keep everything straight. Characters I never have to be that way. They just work.
So I can’t give you good advice on that, because it’s simply how I do it. And they just grow into their own person.