Is Adolin a French fries or onion ring kind of guy?
Boy! Onion rings, I think, probably, maybe. I don't know. It's a hard question, very hard. Lift is "Yes, please!".
Is Adolin a French fries or onion ring kind of guy?
Boy! Onion rings, I think, probably, maybe. I don't know. It's a hard question, very hard. Lift is "Yes, please!".
How do you decide which stories need to be told when as you work your way through the cosmere?
Mostly which stories need to tell when in the cosmere is affected by what I'm most excited to write right now. The cosmere so far has been separated enough that I can look at what I'm really passionate about and write it, and there's been no reason so far to put those very out of order chronologically. The further we go, the more that'll have to be. Like, the Wax and Wayne books happen chronologically after Stormlight 1 through 5. So it's already begun a little bit, but for the most part it was "What am I passionate about writing? What do I feel like is the best book for me to write?" And then I make sure it fits into the chronology rather than otherwise. Again, the further we go, the more these things lock into place. Like White Sand is jumping backward in time, and when I do Dragonsteel, it's going to jump even further, so this will happen more and more as we go, but right now? I write what I'm passionate about.
How can you control the ramping of power levels from human to godlike?
Knowing how long your series is gonna be, or at least how long you would like it to be at the start, is definitely going to be a help here. Also, understanding how to make character conflicts that both fall into the character's skill wheelhouse and those that don't, meaning finding a challenge for a character... I often talk to my boss about the idea that stories happen around the things that the character or the magic can't do, generally. This is just kind of storytelling basics. If you've got a character that is an excellent, excellent boxer, then you tell a story about either someone who is a stronger boxer than them that they have to face, or you tell a story about boxing being a side story to the rest of the character's story. And this is just so that there's tension and conflict. And getting good at balancing those is going to be very helpful for you. Because you don't want to just have things happen that the character's skill means nothing to. If your character's a boxer, you need boxing matches to be happening in your story in almost all varieties of stories you're going to be writing. And if your boxer's the best boxer in the world, you still are going to be expected to have boxing matches, you're going to have to find a way to make it still tense. But you can do this in a lot of different ways. It can be someone is better than them. It can be that they get injured. It can be they get older, and their skill isn't what it once was. Or they can be at the height of their skill, but there's some sort of marathon they have to go through, where they're going to have to defeat a bunch of opponents in a row. Just understanding how you can ramp up those kinds of conflicts and then how you can balance them with character conflicts, internal conflicts, and conflicts about what the character cannot do, and you will find that it works. Superman still works as a character -- I know that there are a lot of stories that don't work with him, but there are a lot of stories that still do, and he's near deific in power. Rand al'Thor in the Wheel of Time is basically a demigod by the time I took over the books, and he was a blast to write. I never felt worried about power level concerns in the three books I was writing, because I was able to balance these sorts of things because Robert Jordan had left me the seeds or the half-done story threads to be able to do this. So, practice those things.
I still have some left over resentment about Dalinar. It's not that I don't see redemptive arcs as very powerful, it's not that I don't recognize that there is some notion of redemption there for him. But it's not like he's out there like, "I am this redeemed person, and I am so much better." I like that there's still kind of an honesty and an awareness on his part. But I still do struggle with him, and I know he's kind of a favorite of others. How often do you kind of run into this reaction to him among fandom? Is this something that a lot of people are expressing to you? Or do you just kind of generally get, like, "Dalinar is the best"?
No, everybody has characters they connect with better than others. And I would say that it's a fairly even split between Shallan, Dalinar, and Kaladin. Depends on the forum you visit. If you go to a predominantly, like... Reddit has a certain demographic. They do tend to like Dalinar more. But from fan mail I get, and things like this, I'd say it's about an even split who they like. And almost always, someone's gonna have one they just don't connect with. But they're fine reading about. But it doesn't click for them. It's just not their thing.
And it's totally legit, by the way. Dalinar burned the city down! You can have a redemption arc, right. But that's always bothered me. I love Star Wars, but Darth Vader blew up a planet. There's redemption arcs, and then there's "You blew up a planet!" And Dalinar's experience is even a little more personal, even though less catastrophic, because you see him do it in the books. And that's not the sort of thing that I want you to feel like you have to forgive him for. This guy was a warlord. And part of it is me kind of dealing with the fact that a lot of our famous people from history that we laud, a lot of our greatest moments in history, have these dark sides to them, right? We talk about America in World War II, and it's like, the Greatest Generation. And I don't want to downplay the contributions of those people. My wife's grandfather served on a ship in World War II and almost sank, his ship got torpedoed the day after he got off for sick leave. But at the same time, we did nuke two cities full of civilians. And that's the most dramatic, but not the worst atrocity that we committed. And that's something that you can't just ignore.
Dalinar has several distinct flaws, even still. He's bad at delegating. He is set in his ways and he is a monarchist. He believes in the kind of "Great Man Theory" is what they would call it. This is what the guy who does Hardcore History, Dan Carlin, talks about, this idea that "Great Men change the world." And a lot of historians say this is kind of a fallacy. Dalinar believes in that. He believes that a strong king is required for a government to work. Which is very at odds with our modern philosophy, and I agree with our modern philosophy. I do not agree with Dalinar. I do not agree that a king is better than a ruler with more limits. I'm glad we have a president, and not a king. But Dalinar, he's all on board with this idea of "Great Men have to change the world." And he would say "men," when we would be like, "Are you sure it has to be men, Dalinar?" He is a person, is what I want to write him as being. And some of those things are gonna rub you the wrong way. And I hope that my characters learn and grow in lots of ways, but there are some things that are aspects of their personality that are just who they are.
When it comes to trying to do an adaptation. How would you perceive that with the Stormlight Archive? Have you thought through adapting them? And if you have, how would you proceed with it?
We've got three main options. The most obvious and easiest is an animated program. The level of special effects you need to have to show the spren and the strange world is so high that an animated show makes a lot of sense. And I'm monitoring very closely the fact that adult animation is becoming more and more a thing as the years progress.
Option number two is straight-up television show, streaming service high-budget television show like Witcher or something like that. Which is totally in the cards. Totally viable, not outside reason at all. Getting back a 300-page-plus screenplay that someone tried to do of The Way of Kings, it is pretty obvious that it's gonna be a tough adaptation.
If you're gonna do a movie, you do a film, I feel like the Cosmere would already have to have been established with other films that are successful, so that we could get away with a longer, higher-budget (even than the others) film. And I think there's probably a film adaptation that could work. One that focuses mostly on Kaladin, and one that probably moves Shallan's plotline to the Shattered Plains right from the get-go, in order to have her be a viewpoint of Dalinar, that you can get to know Dalinar through her being Jasnah's ward, and things like that. Which doesn't require as much time spent on Dalinar. The big problem with The Way of Kings is that it's really hard to cut any of the three major plot sequences and have it still work. Because Dalinar needs to exist in order for the ending of the book to work. And Shallan needs to exist so that you're not always at war. So that there's something else to this story to give a B story that you can cut away from to occasionally show other things happening. I think it's vital to what makes The Way of Kings work as a book, is that you get to have these cutaways.
So, yeah, I think something like that could theoretically work. But the high-budget television show is probably the best option. And that's one reason why I'm pushing so hard for a Mistborn adaptation right now. I do think Mistborn working really well lets us do a lot more with Stormlight, either with a television show or with a film, whichever direction we go. And Mistborn is the book of mine that could be a film the easiest. Right now, what we're actually looking at for Mistborn would be: Book One as a film. Book Two and a few things we cut from Book One becoming a television show that bridges to Book Three being a film.
Have you had any offers along those lines?
Yes, but I'm being very cagey about who they're from and whether I'm accepting them or not. Basically, I don't want to sell the rights to Mistborn or the Cosmere again. I would be interested in partnering with people, where I'm a producer and very much involved. And I don't know how reasonable that is for me to expect that it can happen, because I've not done a ton with Hollywood. But I've read all these scripts that people have set in, and I legitimately think that my outline for a script is stronger than any of the Mistborn scripts I've seen. I don't know if my screenwriting will be as good. But if I can get down the script, the outline I've written, and then have someone else polish it up so it actually works, then I think we'll be in good shape.
If the Eye of the World were in the cosmere, which Shard's perpendicularity would it be?
Oh, that's a cool question. I wonder if that, in the back of my head, is where I even got Shardpools? I never thought about that before. It's totally possible, right? I read the book enough times.
Who would it be? I can see it being a Shard that doesn't exist, a Shard of kind of Prophecy, sort of thing. Like, Fortune, or something like that. Which, in the cosmere, there's not a Shard called Fortune; Fortune is kind of a property. But I could totally see that being the case. This idea of this representing Rand's destiny, and the coming destiny and being bound to the Wheel. Those are such themes in The Wheel of Time and in some of the other '80s fantasy that I read that I kind of intentionally pulled away from that in the cosmere in dealing with destiny and prophecy, except to subvert them in various cases. But, yeah, I can see it being something like that.
You've said many times [Dalinar] is the first character you ever wrote for the first book you tried to write when you were a teenager. Can you tell me more about that original version of Dalinar, how he evolved through all these years, and what is the difference between past and current version?
This is really hard to remember. This is a book I wrote when I was seventeen. And the basic premise was that the king got assassinated, and no one knew what to do, and his brother kind of took over as regent for the king's son, who was too young to become king. And this character was the genesis of Dalinar. The book wasn't really about him. The book was about somebody else. It was about a kid named Jerick, who was half dragon and half elf. (This was the book you write when you're seventeen, right?) And it was about the court wizard, who was a proto-Hoid. And it was kind of their story. And the Dalinar character had a completely different name. The only thing that stayed through the years is this idea of, what is your responsibility to your brother versus your kingdom. So I came back to it and in 2002 wrote Way of Kings Prime. (Which is what we call the proto-Way of Kings, which I will be releasing for people this summer for people to read. And you'll be able to see Dalinar from that book, and by then you can start to see who Dalinar has become.) My remembrance of that book is that he's just a good and upright king who's never done anything wrong, and the nuance of a lot of the characters for the Stormlight Archive came over years of working with them and trying different things and trying to find characters who were more nuanced. But I haven't read The Way of Kings Prime in seventeen years, now, so who knows what you'll find when you read that one!
Can Dalinar create a perpendicularity on another Shardworld that isn't Roshar?
What one character from The Wheel of Time series would you choose to be a worldhopper, who could then make an appearance in The Stormlight Archive, if you could?
Thom. Thom Merrilin is my type of character. You find a Thom Merrilin type in all of my books, and I just love him. He could appreciate it. He could appreciate going to different worlds and collecting different stories, and stuff like that.
At the end of the day, when I've been looking for my own adaptations (this is just kind of a personal philosophy), I'm not looking for someone who's gonna film my book scene-by-scene. Working on my own adaptation now for Mistborn, the treatment, I basically had to throw out the whole book and start over with the same premise, and build up the story again in a way that works for the movie medium. And that's when we finally got a treatment that works.
We will find a time to eventually release this book [Apocalypse Guard]. It's interesting; when you add us together, oftentimes things just get weirder. They get better, but they get weirder. You can actually go listen to my version of that chapter read at some point in the past, and you will find it's actually much worse. Adding us together really does enhance. But the problem is: we go off the rails real fast in books, the same way we go off the rails in panels. So now, Dan's pitched it back to me to fix the structure, is what we need. The magic system is part of that, but it's really the structure, because the climax doesn't work anymore. It never worked; it still doesn't work. The character was broken in the original draft, and Dan fixed that. Because character is Dan's thing. Now, I've gotta figure out how to make the structure actually work. Which will be a project of mine coming up eventually.
What I love about it, though (and if you go and find his original thing, then obviously you'll be able to compare and contrast them and do your whole English essay on it), reading that, I can't really tell what is me and what is Brandon, because I think we managed to combine our two styles pretty well.
My voice for this book was already... Emma was a little goofy. And Dan just picked right up on that, and it was instant. The voice was a little off, in the first one. It was trying a little too hard to both be dynamic and funny. And it turns out just nudging it a little more self-effacing funny made the whole thing worked. And the character just snapped together. So the kind of just slightly off sense of the characterization ended up really working. But I had known that the magic was broken when I gave it to Dan, and I'm like, "Will you fix this?" And then Dan came back and said, "This isn't the sort of thing I fix. This is the sort of thing you fix." So we will find a time for that, eventually.
The Apocalypse Guard
Part One: The Plural of Apocalypse
Emma's Instructions for Starting a Book:
1) Start with something exciting, to get the reader's attention.
2) Don't start with a blog post. Like this one.
3) Crap. Let me start over.
Smoke in the air, a red sky, huddling alone in the ruins of a dying world. (See, that's better already.) My name is Emma, by the way. Yes, that Emma, from Emma's Instructions. But unless you're one of the six people who follows me on Snapgram, that probably doesn't mean anything to you. So, let me introduce myself. I'm eighteen years old. I'm from <Idaho>, sort of. And I just realized that I got totally off track again. What happened to the red sky and the dying world? Well, let me tell you.
Remember how I'm only sort of from <Idaho>? I've lived there since I was two, but I was born in a place called <Ard>, which is basically like a different version of <Idaho>, but in an alternate reality? And if you're reading this, you need to know about alternate realities. There's Earth. And then there's an infinite number of different worlds that are kind of like Earth, but also different. Sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. Like there's one called <Hona> that's mostly the same as the world you know, except instead of continents it's all islands. Even <Idaho> is an island in a giant North American archipelago. Crazy, huh? So there's <Hona>, and there's Terra, and there's <Erodan> and <Pangaea>, and a bunch of others. And there used to be an <Ard>, but it's gone now. Because I called it a dying world before, but that was sixteen years ago. Today, it is all the way dead. Burned to a crisp. And I almost burned with it, except that the Apocalypse Guard swooped in and saved me.
Holy crap, the Apocalypse Guard! Why didn't I start with them?
Emma's Instructions for Starting a Book Correctly:
1) Start with something exciting to get the reader's attention.
2) Like, for example, if your story includes a group of amazing heroes who travel the multiverse saving entire worlds from destruction, maybe lead with that.
3) I mean, come on.
The Apocalypse Guard are based on Earth, but they hop around from world to world stopping Apocalypses. Apocalypsi? Apocaleeps? That word doesn't even have a plural, because why would you ever need to talk about more than one Apocalypse? Most people just get one, and then boom, you're done. That's what an Apocalypse is. But the Apocalypse Guard can actually stop Apocalypses, and they've already stopped a bunch of them and now we're in <Erodan> to stop a giant asteroid and it's AMAZING.
Important Note: did you see how I casually dropped that "we" in there? Now "we're" in <Erodan>? That's because I'M TOTALLY A MEMBER OF THE APOCALYPSE GUARD AND I CAME HERE TO STOP AN ASTEROID! (I know it's kind of lame to type in caps lock like that, but seriously, if you were in the Apocalypse Guard traveling to a different dimension to stop a giant asteroid, you'd totally put it in your Snapgram, too, and I would not say anything about your excited over-use of caps lock because I am a good friend.
Which is also why I am going to stop talking about myself and start telling you the story about how we saved <Erodan>.
Starting right now.
I was standing in the Apocalypse Guard command center, looking up at the screens that showed the giant asteroid hurtling down toward the planet when Commander Visco signalled that it was time for me to do my part.
"Emma," she said, and waved her coffee mug toward me. "I'm empty again."
Okay, so my part is very small.
"Yes, sir!" I seized the Commander's mug and hurried over to the small kitchen beside the command center. I mean, I was only eighteen, and fresh out of high school; it's not like I was gonna be out there flying around in a power rig, draining kinetic energy from an extinction-level space rock. I was a cadet! And this was still very early in my training, so coffee was all they let me do.
One pot of coffee was already brewing on the counter, but we had about forty people in the command center, each with their own station and responsibility. So I got a second pot going, just in case. To tell you the truth, I was a coffee-making genius. Which is weird, because I don't drink coffee. I'm not just from <Idaho>; I'm from <Iona, Idaho>. Population 1,803, approximately 1,802 of whom are in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including me. So I don't drink coffee, but you know what I can do? I can follow instructions. It's practically a superpower. Though, I guess if you followed me on Snapgram, you already knew that.
Emma's Instructions for Perfect Coffee:
1) Follow the freaking recipe.
2) Serve it way hotter than you think it should be.
3) Never talk about how bad it smells.
I know a lot of people love the smell of coffee, but they're wrong. You call it an acquired taste; I call it Stockholm Syndrome.
"You don't have to read the recipe every single time you brew a pot," said Sophie, jogging up with a few empty mugs of her own. She was a cadet, like me, and was mostly just a coffee girl, like me. "Trust me," she said, "I've been drinking coffee for years and I..."
She caught a whiff of the pot I had just filled, and her eyes closed in aromatic pleasure. "Wow, that smells amazing!"
"Thank you," I said and smiled. What did I tell you? Coffee. Making. Genius. When you read the manual and follow the rules and measure things exactly, it will always turn out better than if you just do something by instinct. Always.
I gave Sophie a fist-bump of cadet solidarity, filled Commander Visco's mug, and rushed back into the command center. I said before that we were on <Erodan>, but that's "we" in the communal sense. We, the Apocalypse Guard, had a presence in <Erodan>. When most think of the Apocalypse Guard, they think of the Power Riggers, and their fantastical abilities. And yes, a bunch of those people were on <Erodan> and up in orbit around it, fighting the asteroid. The rest of us, the operators, scientists, engineers, medics, Commanders, janitors, accountants, and cadets were back on Earth using something called a dimensional tunneler to communicate with the Riggers.
We were doing it from an orbital space station, though, which is still pretty friggin' rad, huh? I love this job.
I gave Commander Visco her steaming mug of coffee and took the opportunity to look over her shoulder at the room's main screen, currently showing a view of the asteroid. One of our technicians had named the asteroid "Droppy." Which was why we didn't usually let our technicians name things.
Who here is a big Brandon Sanderson fan? We've talked about doing weird collaborations forever. We actually did one. And if you are a big Brandon fan, you have probably heard about a book called The Apocalypse Guard. Which is one that he's been working on for a while, and he eventually came to me and is like, "This is broken! Help me fix it!" So I came in, and I fixed some of it. And we went back and forth and we did a few revisions, and we got to the point where everything's working except the magic system. And I'm not the a-hole that's gonna change a Brandon Sanderson magic system. So it's on the back shelf until we get a chance to go through and have him do another pass. But I'm gonna read a little bit of the first chapter to you right now.
When is the next Alcatraz book coming?
Very close. Very close. Last draft. I wrote half, Janci is writing half. And she just did her last revision. So now I just have to read through and do my last revision, and we'll be ready.
As far as the Lord Ruler goes, how did he use the Twinborn thing? Feruchemy and Allomancy?
What he had to figure out how to do is: Allomancy is powered by Spiritual power directly from the Shard of Adonalsium. Whereas Feruchemy is powered by your own Investiture and effort being transferred into the thing. What he needed to do was figure out a way to power Feruchemy with Allomantic power, right? You could have done the same thing by fueling it with the Dor, or with Stormlight, or another external. But he only had access to three magics. So what he had to do was figure out that.
So what he's doing is, he's basically taking metals, (since he's a Feruchemist and an allomancers), and he is burning metals that he has Invested himself, but then using... basically, switching it so he gets a burst of Allomantic power that is charged with a Feruchemical attribute. So it's powering Feruchemy with Allomancy by burning the metal that he himself has Invested.
So he was essentially putting stuff into the metal?
Basically, priming the pump. He puts it in with Feruchemy. Then he burns it with Allomancy. But that fuels Feruchemy with Allomancy, which allows him to draw on the powers of the Shards, rather than himself. So it's not really a perpetual motion machine, because he's drawing the power from someone else. But it's external, which allows him to break the rules of Feruchemy.
The big question I have is: that works in the book, because you can dig into the technicalities of the book. But that's not gonna work in the movie, right? That explanation right there, that's so many levels over the heads of the audience. So I have to figure out a way to not break the cosmere magic, but make it simpler to understand in the movie. Which is the big headache in writing the screenplay. That's probably the biggest challenge in the screenplay is to figure out how to make that all work.
Quick question on aluminum. Why does it affect other forms of Investiture?
When I was building the cosmere, I just had to build certain themes into it, and metal was one of those. And the metals have kind of a Spiritual integrity, and Spiritual component, that if I can get into Dragonsteel explaining why, you'll get your kind of origins.
And that's why, in Warbreaker, metals are different with Awakening, and stuff.
And even in Roshar, the cages that you're building for fabrials, once you start to figure out how those metals affect it, you'll be like, "Oh wait, that makes sense!" And these are just across the cosmere.
And if you want an in-world answer, it has to do with stuff in Dragonsteel. But really, the answer is, I was building this and I'm like, "I just want this to be a theme. So I'm just going to give this Spiritual component to metals." So it works in Mistborn, and it works all across everything.
When you write too much, how do you know what to keep?
It depends on the given scene. When I'm trimming down description, I'm using looking for: am I repetitious? Am I breaking the flow? If I'm not being repetitious and breaking the flow, I leave it. If I'm breaking the pacing and the flow of this chapter, or if I'm just saying the same thing too much, that's where I take an axe to it. It's when I'm trying to make it more specific and shorter by condensing it, usually.
Elves and goblins and orcs have all gone out of style. But why is it that dragons haven't? Why do you think?
I think that orcs and elves and things were so directly associated with Tolkien (even though Tolkien had dragons, too), while dragons were a much broader association. So, I think because elves and halflings were associated with Tolkien, got really associated with roleplaying, then got associated with a certain sub-brand of sci-fi/fantasy... Dragons somehow escaped that because they were larger than Tolkien. Elves technically were, too, but the ones we use in fantasy are very directly related to Tolkien elves. And these things are cyclical with those. But dragons haven't; that's just because, like I said, they were part of the collective unconsciousness. There were dragon books before Tolkien. But there weren't hobbit books before Tolkien.
What's the process of making a map? How much info does Brandon give, and how much do you adapt it to yourself?
I think there's a lot of give-and-take on our maps, really. You give me a lot of freedom. And really, I just come up with something nowadays that fits once I've read the book, and then we just adjust from there until it matches, it works for you and it works for me.
Knowing that I don't have to do all of that, there's one thing that I can basically outsource, right? There's somebody I trust who is able to do a really good job with this. Frees my brain to think about other things. These days, I just let Isaac work his magic, and know that, at times, I'm going to have to revise the text to actually make it fit.
We do that sometimes. If we get a piece of art that somebody did something cool in it, but it wasn't necessarily in the book, but we like it, he'll oftentimes go and change the description a little bit to match, if we think it works a little better.
I did that for the Elantris cover, way back when Stephan Mantiniere gave me the cover. I was like, "Ooh, readers would ask 'Where is this cover scene?'" So I actually put the cover scene into the book.
Will we be getting Shallan's sketches in color [in the tenth anniversary Stormlight leatherbounds].
The answer is "kind of." We will be doing those in two color.
There was never any talk of doing the sketchbook pages in color, because Shallan didn't do them in color. It would look really odd for those to be in color. And the thing that drew me to Ben McSweeney doing them, when I originally hired him before Isaac even worked for me, was his line art. I like his sketchy line art. And I would not want to do those...
We are going to have a bunch of full-color pieces.
There's also limitations with how many colored pieces you can put in a volume. One of them is however many signatures are in the book (how many packets of these [pages], you can only put color pieces in between those. So if you have nine signatures in a book, you're limited to nine pieces, for example. So we were limited to that. And there are, like Brandon said, like 30 pieces of art in the book. If we did all full color on that, we wouldn't be able to print the book. They wouldn't be able to do that for us.
I just finished the Legion series and it was amazing. Do you ever think you'll go back to it?
So what my pitch for Legion has always been is me wanting to do a television show. When I conceived the very first Legion story, I wrote a series Bible to go along with it and this never has materialized. Now, it is still optioned by someone. It's our third or fourth option on it, which means that there is a company out there called Cineflix who has the option to make a television show, and as far as I know they are still developing that and hoping they can make that happen. But after a decade of trying to get a television show made, and realizing that I just don't have the resources to do this on my own, I have instead decided let's try doing an audio drama series using Stephen Leeds and his aspects. So we actually got together a little writers' room. Myself and a friend of mine that I started an audiobook company with. Max Epstein is my friend, and together we have an audiobook company called Mainframe, and we have been developing various projects with various people, mostly with me kind of trying to kick off things that'll feel more like television shows but audio dramas, and Legion is one of those. So if you really liked Legion, when we release that audiobook version, which theoretically we're going to do an audio original Legion thing that would be like a pilot for a series that we would do other audio dramas for, with a writers' room, just like a television show. If that comes out, give it a listen, and if you like it, let us know and let whoever we end up putting it with know so that we can continue doing them. So there's a decent chance that there will be a Legion one manifesting.
Do you prefer one of your books to be adapted into a live-action series or an animated series?
I would take either, fairly equally balanced depending on how much of a push I thought it was going to get and how comfortable I was with the creative team that would be joining me and making it. So there is a big push toward animation right now that I think there'll be some opportunities for, but we have also some very nice things happening in the film department, like I am most of the way through my own take on a Mistborn film treatment and I'm going to be looking for partners on that. And over the last couple of years I've made some really nice friends in Hollywood that I'm hoping will be interested in helping me make that happen. Of course, the hardest part of making a film, which is why despite fifteen years of selling options and things, never getting one made is, is somebody's gotta put up $200 million to make the thing, and that's a lot of money. So if you feel like paying $200 million for my film, go ahead and let me know.
What areas in your writing are you still focusing on improving, if any?
I would say that there's a continual struggle for all authors I know to be more active and less passive in their writing. To be showing more and telling less, and this is like a lifetime quest for authors to just be thinking of better ways, more active ways to get information across on the pages. So I'm still working on that, most certainly. Specifically, I feel that the weakest area of my stories is generally the prose. I don't think I'm terrible at it, but I also think that I repeat the same phrases too often, and these sorts of things. So prose has been a major focus for me over recent years, and it's something that I hope to continue to keep focusing on. Those are my main areas.
Obviously, whenever I write a book, one of the things I do is I pick something I want to do a little better. Like, in Oathbringer one of my focuses was "let's do a more wide variety of viewpoints," which is why I did an entire section that saw a bunch of different viewpoints from the different members of Bridge Four and me trying very hard to make those viewpoints distinctive and interesting. Each book has a little mini-focus.
Can one person speak the oaths of more than one order of the Knights Radiant?
That is a RAFO. It is theoretically possible, but we'll RAFO anything else about that.
Wondering if we're ever gonna see a Cosmere coloring book?
We've talked about this. I think that it's within the realm of possibility, but I don't want to promise anything at this. Because, again, it comes down to this whole opportunity cost thing, where do we want to spend our time. But I can see it happening. I just don't know.
We want to eventually do some worldbooks for some of the series, like a nice world guide for Roshar. But those take a lot of effort, and we have seen some of those turn out very poorly for other worlds and book series, so we're not sure when and if we will do that.
We've learned, especially on Cosmere things, that we need to be heavily involved on those sorts of things, or things can move away from where we want it. So we would have to be involved with this, so it would need to be during a time when we're not preparing for, like, a Stormlight book. Because that's highest priority.
I would imagine, that if we release a Cosmere art book, that it will be after Book 5.
What is a piece of art that you've made for the Cosmere that you like, but that was never used and likely never will?
I have tons of little sketches and things of symbols that I would count. And I don't know if I have a favorite in there, but I can tell a story about when we were doing the Cosmere symbol. Because we did a ton of different ideas with that. And for a while there... when we do symbols, I do books full of symbols; I want to find something iconic. I'll immerse myself in symbology for a while. And I was kind of thinking we haven't used something with a hand, so I was coming up with these stylized hands for a while that had different things on them. But the logo, it was just getting too complex, and it wasn't falling all together all that well. But I have these cool drawings of symbolic hands, like the hands idea which is one of the things in our world which is very similar to that. Kind of drawing on that sort of iconography the way that Robert Jordan drew on the wheel and the worm Ouroboros and things like that.
I just got sketches for Herald Pailiah. I don't know what we've said about her in the past, but she is the Herald who is over the Order of the Truthwatchers. Her symbol is the one on the chart of The Way of Kings that is green, it's emerald, it looks like furling grass. So the Herald, there's some beautiful things going on with nature in the background with this one.
If you're like, "Who are all these people, Brandon?" They are mostly going to be in the back five Stormlight books.
The Heralds, like I said, we want these Sistine Chapel type paintings of the ten Heralds in-world to make as our endpages. And you got four of them in Oathbringer. But there's ten Heralds. So we've been working, slowly over time, collecting pictures from people we really want to work with, who we think would do really good jobs. And we started on these pretty early, because we wanted to find when people had openings in their schedule, of just artists we wanted to work with.
And it was earlier last year, almost a year now, that we got Taln in. And it is gorgeous. And we've got the actual, physical painting. With these, we're buying them all, the physical painting. If they'll sell them; Dan Dos Santos won't sell us his yet. He likes them too much, which we will not push him on that. But we have Jezrien and we have Vev upstairs.
So, yeah, we've got the Taln painting that Isaac is going to grab from you. And he'll do the reveal of who did that, and things like that. But it is one of the best fantasy/science fiction artists of all time.
This will be for Rhythm of War. (If indeed that is the title. Because we haven't officially announced it, yet.)
This is Taln. This will be one of our endpapers at some point for one of the books. Probably this one, but it might not be. I've hired out for the rest of them, so it just depends on what fits the tone of the book.
This is by Donato [Giancola]. And Donato has been amazing to work with. You've probably seen his stuff for The Lord of the Rings. He's done stuff for George Martin. He's done space stuff.
I have always wanted to own a Donato. He actually did an art piece for us very early in my career for a short story, but it was digital-only, so I couldn't buy it.
The process on this was, we have these briefs that I write up about each of the heralds. I go into our wiki, I pull out the lore, things that haven't been revealed. I put it all together, and I send out what I'm allowed to to the artist. Which is usually most of it. And then I say the whole thing about, "These are kind of like the Sistine Chapel paintings, and all of the apostles. These are something from the Renaissance of this world, where they have done Vorin representations of the ten Heralds."
So, on this one, I sent him Taln. We know that Taln (especially we know this from Oathbringer) is the one who held the Darkness back, he held the Desolations at bay for thousands of years, something like that. So what we have here, Donato interpreted that as Taln stepping forth out of Damnation with this representation of Damnation in the background.
What else can I say about this? He used our symbols for the Stonewards. We've got some of those in this. We've got our numbers; the Stonewards are number nine, so we've got the Vorin numeral nine in there. The sword, he took that from descriptions of the sword where it's kind of this large, molten nail. Anyway, we're just happy with how this turned out. He only did one revision on it for us, because we didn't need more.
The publisher who's doing Isaac [Stewart]'s Monsters Don't Wear Underpants book came to use and said, "Hey, we really like this story in Oathbringer of The Girl Who Looked Up." And they said, "We think this would make a nice children's book." And Isaac knows way more about children's books than I do. And he suggested it needs some revisions to actually work as a children's book. And I suggested some revisions. And he's like, "These probably aren't actually going to work for the children's book." And he suggested some revisions which did work. And so I just said, "Isaac, you just take it over." So it's going to be co-authored by us. The first thing that's, like, officially co-authored. (Except we did get the Nicki Savage story.)
Theoretically, we will sometime... still years away. But we'll have a picture book of The Girl Who Looked Up that takes my writing from the book, Isaac adapts it so it works as a children's book, and then art directs hiring out to get the artwork done. So that will be the first thing you can actually buy from the both of us.
Probably, yeah. I think we're looking (and it may have been in the State of the Sanderson) some time in 2021. It really depends on when the art and when the writing comes together. But we're in the middle of that process right now.
I've warned Isaac that Book Four has a really good one that'll work pretty well, as well.
If we ever see the Nicki Savage stories, one of the actors who played Vin shows up. On stage.
If you want to read some of Isaac's writing, he wrote the Nicki Savage story in the broadsheets.
The broadsheets in Shadows of Self and the broadsheets for Bands of Mourning were probably 95% me.
I wrote the Allomancer Jak one in the first one. And the second one is Allomancer Jak also, but you wrote it. And then you wrote Nicki Savage, which is Allomancer Jak's protege. And we still kind of want to do a Nicki Savage novel, at some point. Isaac wants to do it. Isaac is one of the only people on the planet... like, I'm happy doing collaborations on non-Cosmere stuff with my other writer friends, but the Cosmere is so intricate that most people cannot write in it, we don't think. We even had trouble with the White Sand graphic novel. We had a fantastic novel on that, but they just weren't steeped in the cosmere in the way they needed to be. If there's ever writing to be done in the Cosmere that I can't do, it's probably going to Isaac, if he wants to.
It'll go through all the same process to make sure that it's canonical.
What is the process for you to create a symbol or map for a book?
Both of those have kind of a different process. If you look at the overview, the process is the same, and it's the same process that a lot of time is used for plotting the book, where you start macro and then go down to the micro level. So, I'll talk about each of those separately.
For a symbol, it's usually Brandon coming to me and saying, "We need a symbol for this series." Or I realize we need a symbol for this series. Let's say the Nalthis one. We just came up with that, we put it on the spine of the Warbreaker leatherbound.
So we said, "We don't have a symbol for Nalthis. What do we want that to be?" And I talked to Brandon, and we said, "Maybe a symbol of the Tears of Edgli." And so, we talk about, "What are the Tears of Edgli? What do we know that's canonical? What do you have in your head?" And we kind of came up with a story about them. And then I just start drawing.
So, if you don't know what these, the Tears of Edgli are flowers that they get a specific dye for that are briefly mentioned in the books. But they are where the Shardpool is in Warbreaker. So it's actually pretty relevant, although in the first book, it doesn't actually pop up all that much. But they are Invested flowers, basically.
So we thought that would be a good symbol for the world of Nalthis, you take one of its Investitures and make that into a symbol. So I draw a bunch of flowers at this point, and we say, "What looks cool? What is going to be symbolic?" So you can see there's five lobes sticking up, five lobes sticking down. There are references to the number five in this book that have different meanings. Like the Five Scholars, and there was five something else. Anyway. So you'll see that one is sticking up, and one is sticking down. And there's more symbolism in that, as well.
But I do a bunch of symbols, I show them to Brandon, and I say, "Okay, which ones of these do you like? What don't you like?" And then we narrow it down. And then I iterate on that, and I do another version where we get a little bit closer. And once we get it close in the sketch realm, I take it into Illustrator, make some nice vectors so it can print out really well on the foil or as we're doing decals or different things like that.
Another thing that I have in the back of my mind when I'm making is symbols is that I want them to be cool. Because we've noticed (and this was not something I noticed early on), but I noticed people will want to get stickers and put them on their laptops. Or they'll want to get them tattooed. And if somebody's gonna do something permanent like that, I want them to be cool. So that's something that's always in the back of my head, is: "This has got to look cool, in case somebody wants to tattoo it on themselves. I don't want to responsible for something dumb."
A lot of you may know I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Korea, in Seoul. And missionaries have one day off a week, basically they call it P-Day. It's not a full day off, but it's basically a day off. Preparation Day. It's very common that missionaries will go play basketball or something. I'm not a sports fan; I appreciate sports. So I bought this sketchbook, because I wanted something that I could write in while watching my companions play basketball. And this is White Sand, my first novel. Handwritten. In '95 on these sheets of paper. And you can see me crossing things out, doing revisions, making my own kind of little dotted line here to do a scene separation, and stuff like this. And I just filled these things. With these tiny things. I can still read it.
"He wants you to visit him today?" Kenton repeated. "Who?"
"Regent. The Tower Seat."
I wanted you guys to see this. If there's ever a Brandon Sanderson museum, that needs to go in it. And that's how I wrote my entire first novel that I ever finished. Though, I didn't have a lot of time. One day a week. I didn't finish it those two years on my mission.
I came back and got a job. And the job was selling ties in a kiosk in the mall in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Because, while i was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, my parents moved to Idaho while I was away on my mission. So I came back to a job selling ties. And it was actually a pretty good job, but you could only talk to people if they came up and started looking at your kiosk. Which was great; I'm not going to have to bother people; if they are interested, I can help them. But that also left me a lot of downtime to work on the stories. I had that. I also had a second job, which was selling corn out of a truck by the side of the road. (These are the great things my parents had lined up for me, when I got back.) And both of those left me time to keep working on the book. And then I eventually got it all done and typed it out and had my first novel finished. I think I finished typing that out after I'd gone back to BYU, and I finished the book. So, really, it took me from about '95 until '98 to write my first book. But part of that time was only one day a week.
How do you and Ben McSweeney collaborate on making illustrations for the Stormlight books? Does Brandon give you the ideas first, or do you both come up with your own concepts for your art?
We're starting to settle into a way that this works with Ben, me, and Brandon. And it's usually that Brandon will say, "Hey, Isaac, this is what I'm thinking about for the book. I want to have this many pieces of plants, this many pieces of animals," whatever it may be. And he'll oftentimes tell me what those things are. I will give descriptions to Ben McSweeney. If they are hard descriptions, then we'll say, "Ben, we're kind of thinking we need something like this," and then he has a lot more leeway on those particular items. So, right now, we're working on some spren pieces. Ben has been drawing different kinds of spren.
Basically how all the Radiant spren look in Shadesmar, and in the Physical Realm. That's what Shallan's gonna be sketching for us in the next book.
And then there's been some things where Brandon has told us, "This is what it's like," but he doesn't say what the clothing is like. So Ben will go on his experience on what he's read in the books, and he'll come up with something, and then we say yea or nay. And most of the times, we will go with some variation of what Ben has done. On these latest ones, there's only been one that we've really had to go back on and say "give us another concept," but that just speaks to how good Ben is.
He's really in tune with these books. I usually have an idea of what I want Ben to do. And you usually have some leeway to do the things you want to do. Like, if we go to Oathbringer, I would have said, "Here's the couple things I'm planning for Ben." He does the bulk of the art. He does the Shallan sketchbook pages. But then Isaac came back and said, "I think I want to do this thing with the wines," or "I want to do this thing with how you write glyphs."
Mythica, I don't remember if you or I came up with that idea. But I read the book, and then I just make notes, and then I come to Brandon and I say, "These are the ones you want. Here are some other ideas; what do you think is good for fleshing things out for this book?"
We have never found a place for the Ten Fools, have we? We've bumped that one from Words of Radiance, to Oathbringer, and still haven't done it yet.
Yeah, we don't know if it will even be in [Stormlight Four], either. But eventually, we'll get there.
I'm at the beginning of that process for Stormlight Four. I can tell you that we will have a second page of glyphs from Nazh, from his time in the ardentia.
Have you ever written something you regret because it misrepresented your personal values in books?
An example of violence being over the line actually got cut. This comes from Oathbringer, and it's during one of Dalinar's flashback sequences. And there is a sequence where, to not give too many spoilers, he ends up trapped beneath an avalanche of stone. And I wrote a scene where he comes out, he is consumed by the Thrill, and he goes to town on the people who are trying to kill him in some really graphic ways. (For me. Like, nothing maybe compared to what George [Martin] will write. But for me.) Man, there were heads being crushed, and stuff like this. I wrote this, and it was the mindset I was getting into, being Dalinar. And I got done, and I actually didn't come back to it until I was in the writing group, and the writing group was like, "Woah. We know Dalinar was brutal, but Woah! Do we have to see all this?" And I thought, "Wow, no. We don't have to see all this. I'm gonna trim that down." I can still release it online, if people want to see it. We'll try to get Adam to get a deleted scene of that put up, if you really want to see Dalinar go to town on a bunch of people. But, in this case, I'm like, "This just felt wrong" when I was going back to it. I went over a line I didn't want to cross in the level of brutality in the book. And this is not to be a commentary on anyone else's lines. You may hear this and be like, "Oh man, I wish that were in the book." But the books are a representation of what I want them to be. So, that's an example of when I went over the line.
I do think the initial painting of Ash, in the front of Oathbringer, ended up... her clothing ended up being more transparent than I had realized when we were looking at the artwork. We asked a bunch of artists to paint, for the Heralds, basically the version of Sistine Chapel that might exist on Roshar, the ten Heralds represented instead of the prophets at the sides of the Sistine Chapel. And Dan Dos Santos is an amazing artist, and he painted an amazing picture of Ash, and I saw it, and Isaac's like, "Do you think this is a little too risque to put in the front of our book?" And I thought, "No, I don't think it is," because I was looking at the slit on her dress, and I'm like "Ah, it's fine." I wasn't realizing that he was saying, "Hey, this is transparent, and you can see kind of more than perhaps you might want to be seeing." And the book came out, and people were like, "Hey, why is there a naked woman in the front cover of your book?" Now, again, some of you may be saying, "Really? Brandon, that is super tame." And this all kind of depends on your own worldview, and things like that. I remember hearing a cool story once about speeding, where a comedian said, "Isn't it funny that anyone going slower than you is someone you're like, 'That's such a slow person! How come they can't just go the right speed? That person is terrible!' But anyone who passes you? You're like, 'That person's a maniac. Look at how fast they're going!' It doesn't really matter how fast you're going. You're still going to have this inclination that anyone going slower than you is obstructing the flow of traffic, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac that is going to cause bodily harm to everyone around them." Obviously, not 100% true. But it rang true with me. And I feel like that's how this sort of thing goes. And for me, Ash's outfit was too transparent. And we talked to Dan and said, "Can you just make the dress a little less transparent." And he's like, "Oh yeah, sure, absolutely." Had no problem with it. And in the second printing, the dress was where we would like it. Which still, to some people, is probably too transparent. And to other people, you're like, "You silly Mormon. Why do you even care about this?" But it is part of my moral compass, and so I want to release the books where I feel comfortable.
What was the hardest decision you've had to make as an art director?
A hard decision that we had to make was with the Warbreaker endpapers. Dan Dos Santos gave us, like, six different sketches, and they were all gorgeous. And we had to make a decision based on that. Some of them were better pieces of art, if you were to just hang them in an art gallery. And some of them worked better for the book. And we chose what worked better for the book, which were still gorgeous. But there were some there that I think would have made really great pieces of art on their own. That was a hard decision.
That's always hard. When we get the sketches from the artists saying, "Here are the five cool things I can do." And we're like, "I want you to do all of these!" But we don't have space for all of them.
Most of the time, everything they send is great, and it makes it really difficult to decide on that.
I'd have to think about if if it was, like, a heavy difficult decision. But usually, it's the everyday "good, good, or better" pieces of art.
Inquiring about the sequel to The Rithmatist.
There's a couple things going on with The Rithmatist that make it difficult. The first one is that The Rithmatist was the book series I was working on when The Wheel of Time came along, and it is the biggest casualty of The Wheel of Time, in that when The Wheel of Time came along I dropped everything else. And a lot of authors have this issue. If you do a book, and then your career changes dramatically, it can be sometimes very hard to go back to that book and kind of recapture who you were back in that time. It's sometimes really hard to go back and capture who you were. When I tried to go back to the Ritmatist sequel, I had that problem. It was this sense of, "I have to make sure this sequel fits with the first one."
Now, I'm going to be doing this with Elantris sequels pretty soon. (Pretty soon in Cosmere writing terms, which means in five years or something, probably. After Stormlight Five.) So I will have to kind of learn how to do it. But when I went back, and I had a shot to do Rithmatist 2, years later. Like, Rithmatist was written in 2007, and then we sat on it for years, because I knew getting to a sequel was gonna be hard for me. And finally, Tor's just like, "We need to release this book." And I said, "Okay, we need to release this book." And I wish I had had the foresight to go back and change the ending a little bit so it didn't promise quite so much in a sequel. I do still intend to do one, but it was just really hard to get back into it.
And then there's some other things. Any time you're dealing with real world history, it requires a level of sensitivity that, particularly in the first book, I was not as aware of when I was writing during that part of my career. And I wrote some things that I now consider insensitive towards some Native American cultures. They aren't a big part of The Rithmatist, but they are there. So that puts The Rithmatist in this place where, if I go back to it, I need to be a little more aware of what I'm doing. It's rough, because it's alternate history, so there are things that I am changing about our history. But there are also things that I can change about our history that are insensitive to do. And, like I said, I don't think it is a thing that really ruins Rithmatist, but it's there when I see it now, and I'm like "Uh." I can do a better job, and I should. But that also means that I can't just rush into a sequel. So I want to be careful when I write that sequel, and be aware of what I'm doing.
So, this will happen. But I don't know when. And I can't promise when. Because both of those issues make it difficult for me to get back to it, and have repeatedly made it difficult for me to get back to it.
Is there any specific instance where you hid something in one of your books that only other Mormons would recognize?
No, I don't really do this that much. Because my heritage and my faith are both LDS, there are certain things that other people have come to me and said, "Hey, was this influenced by your religion?" I'm like, "Ha, yeah, probably was." But I didn't sit down and hide things in there. Most of those are, people notice it and come to me and I'm like "Yeah, that probably did come from that." I'm sure there are some things.
Like, you asked specifically for members of the church, but there is a point in the Wheel of Time where Rand basically quotes a line in the Bible where God basically says, "Before all these other people, I AM. I existed then; I still exist." And one of the things that Jim liked to do was put references to Rand kind of echoing or fulfilling or starting mythological things that you can find in many different religions. And I put this thing where he says, "Before Lews Therin was, I am," into the Wheel of Time. That was less to be an Easter egg, and more because it's the sort of the thing that Robert Jordan did, and I wanted a few of those. Of course, I also have Rand perform one of the Buddha's famous miracles, which is being able to release both fire and ice from his body at the same time, which is one of the famous things of Siddhartha, the Buddha. So I was just kind of looking for things like that to put into the Wheel of Time for Rand.
But I'm drawing a blank on this. I'm sure there are some things that I've written that come from my heritage, that as I wrote them I'm like "Oh yeah, that's kind of like this," and that other people would notice. But I don't hide things like that, generally.
Would you let Magic: The Gathering do a Stormlight Archive series expansion?
Yes, absolutely. It is one of my dreams. In fact, I've been really excited to see them doing now... they're only Hasbro properties, which Magic is owned by parent company Hasbro, but they're doing some of this. They did some Transformers card; they even have their own kind of new Transformers game that is tied in with Magic, like it's compatible with Magic but has its own rules and things, which I think is really cool. And they did some My Little Pony cards. Which we made sure to get, because we have some Ponies fans in house at Dragonsteel here, and they were for charity. And so, if they were ever interested, at all, then I would jump at the chance.
Now, I don't know how likely that is, because in these days, the philosophy for a lot of companies (which is a pretty wise philosophy, and Magic is one of them) is: build your own IP, rather than relying on someone else's IP. And Wizards of the Coast has experience with this. They have made in the past (and lost) the rights to various different IPs, including the Pokemon card game, and I think they did the Star Wars one for a while. And I can see how it would smart to have access to this, to do all this work on something, and then just have the license lapse and get pulled from you. And you would say, "You know what? I would rather just make my own." And they are pretty good at making their own.
So, if there were a chance to do this, I would absolutely jump at it. It would be one of my dreams, to have it happen, because it is my favorite game. But I'm also not holding my breath, and I'm not going to be offended if this is not something that they ever want to do.
How was Perfect State born? Will you come back to develop the idea?
Perfect State grew out of me wanting to... a lot of the classic sort of cyberpunk idea, Matrix sort of idea, is: we live in a simulation, and this is just a terrible thing. And that's a pretty cool story, right? I don't know that I would want to discover I'm in a simulation. But, as often is the origin of some of my stories, I am thinking about, "Well, can I reverse that trope? What if living in a simulation, there was a really good reason for us to do it, and it actually turned out pretty well?" The idea of being: we solve overpopulation by giving everybody their own perfect place to live, in which they get to be some sort of cool hero and/or political figure. That felt like it was a cool thing to explore, where the story was not talking about how terrible this was, but was instead talking about the natural problems that arise. And I consider those two different things. Like, if I espouse a specific political philosophy (not to make this political), it is not me saying that political philosophy is without problems. (Because it probably is.) It is just I feel like the problems that philosophy has are ones that I would rather deal with, and are easier to deal with, than the problems another political philosophy might have. So, with Perfect State, the point of the story was not, "Hey, this would be perfect!" (Even though it's called Perfect State. That's kind of the irony of the title, right?) It's that "This is gonna have some problems. Let's explore what those problems would be and how the people who live in the system deal with it."
I could see myself coming back. Like, the two main characters of the story definitely have different goals and philosophies, and that is not resolved at the end of the story, even though the story itself is resolved. So I can see coming back even to those same characters. But there's a lot on my plate, so I can't promise when or if. I do know where the story would go. But that's very common for me.
You say that fantasy can be any genre, with dragons. However, you've never had dragons in your book. Can you see yourself putting some classical fantasy monsters into your fiction?
Yeah. There are dragons in the cosmere. The very second Cosmere book I wrote was called Dragonsteel. Dragons are the one classical fantasy thing that will make an appearance in the cosmere. You haven't seen any dragons that actually look like dragons in any of the books yet. Because dragons in the cosmere are shapeshifters in kind of the classic D&D trope style of thing.
Inquiring about the possibility of new things coming to the Reckoners world?
Actually, yes, I am working on something new with the Reckoners right now, that I can't quite announce yet, but it is likely to be audio original. I think I talked a little bit about that in State of the Sanderson.
If you bonded a spren, what do you think its personality would be like?
Boy, I have no idea. I like it when spren contrast. So it would probably be hyper-emotional, would be my guess. 'Cause it would make for better storytelling that way.
How did you decide the forms that spren will take when they appear? For example, rainspren looking like melted candles?
Part of this is just, I wanted interesting visuals. Part of this is kind of playing a little with mythology. So, the spren started as personifications of weather, and things like that. The earliest version of Syl, she was just the personification of the East Wind, and there were four Winds, which is a very classic idea. And that evolved over time into all of these spren taking a little more of a shinto approach to it than a classical Greek mythology approach to it, where it started. But a lot of these were then me looking for things that would be bizarre, interesting visuals, and somehow reinforce what I was trying to do.
For example, rainspren are a great example. The way they stare up and look like a candle are both reinforcements. During the Weeping, when they are most common, spheres stop working, and you've gotta start using candles. The way they stare at the sky unblinking, it's unnatural. You're staring at the sky, and the rain hits your eyeball, you're going to blink. And they just look up at it, and I like that kind of contrast, that dissonance.
How did you decide which human personality aspects to assign to Shards? I feel like there's a real-life story here.
It's a little less real-life story, and a little more like how I divided up the metals in Mistborn. More along the lines of, "I need each of these emotions or attributes to be distinctive, and I need each of the characters, the Vessels, to be distinctive who hold them." And so, because I am building sixteen of these things, it means that I have to do a lot of work to make them all individual, and things like this. And my worldbuilding in that area was less along the lines of "story I had in my life causing me to do this" and more "man, I have to do sixteen of these, let's try to make them all distinctive. No, those two seem too similar; let's do a different one there." And lots of trial and error along those lines.
How much of the cosmere did you plan ahead when you started? What advice would you give for writing an extended universe, aside from making each book stand on its own?
You've got the most important one there already, so good for you.
I did not have most of the cosmere (in fact, any of the cosmere) really ready when I wrote Elantris. I have a big advantage in that my early books were terrible and didn't get published, and so when I did get published, I knew what I was doing, I had already written a bunch of these books, I had already started putting them in the same universe, and I was able to do a reboot, basically, from the beginning by releasing Elantris and Mistborn. If those early books had been published, then the cosmere would be a lot less cohesive than it is, because I was able to say, "Wow, someone bought Elantris (which was the first book I wrote back in the Cosmere sequence, back before I really knew it was going to be the Cosmere sequence)." When I put the pool in, I had no idea what the pool was. I just put it in. I'm like, "This is a cool thing. I'll figure out what to do with it." But, by the time I was writing Mistborn, I had put pools into things like Aether of Night, and I had the whole of Adonalsium (I came up with that while writing Dragonsteel, which was the book I wrote after Elantris). So, it was really fortunate that I was able to basically do a reboot and restart continuity by publishing Elantris and then writing the Mistborn trilogy, knowing by then about the whole cosmere and things like that.
Where did the inspiration for Kaladin's fighting style came from?
Classic spearman fighting is based off of rank and file spear formations. Nothing too spectacular. I did mix it with a little bit of Eastern spear-fighting, specifically some Chinese spear-fighting, but really your classic spear-fighting technique is pretty multicultural, what you're gonna want to do with a spear. I add flourishes, which come more from katas now and than than they do from actual real-world fighting.
Though a good resource for this is Matt Easton's channel on YouTube, Schola Gladiatoria, because what he will do is he will have people doing historical martial arts, and they will do ten bouts of a person with a spear versus a person with a spear. Most of these are European, but spear-fighting tends to be pretty similar across cultures. And just watching some short spear fights, or spear versus sword... I specifically watched a bunch of those bouts for Adolin's spear-versus-knife fight that we had in Oathbringer. Just really handy, the fact that he films large bouts like that and puts them on the internet.
If you were to write Elantris now, with all the writing experience that you've gained over your career, would you change anything?
Yeah, there are a lot of things I would change about Elantris. I have an autistic character in Elantris that I did not do a very good job with. It's more of a pop science version of autism than it is an actual in-depth look at what it is to live with autism. My prose is pretty rough, back then. Prose has never been my strongest suit, granted, but I do think I've gotten a lot better over the last twenty years. (Published fifteen, but twenty years ago, I wrote it.) I think my prose has improved dramatically over the years, and I think my ability to do dialogue has improved, and a lot of things like that.
Would I change any major plot features of Elantris? No. I'm actually fairly pleased with Elantris, plot-wise. There are aspects to it, right? I mean, Raoden's character arc is primarily externally driven. He is not a character who is going through a big change internally. But that was intentional. When I sat down to write it, the book I had written right before was about a deep and angsty character who had one of these very, very dramatic character arcs. And I was tired of angst, and I wanted somebody who dealt with external pressure in a fantastic way and was put into a very extreme situation externally and was someone who was kind of a little more like me in that that didn't really faze him, and he did his best with the situation. And I like that aspect of it. It does mean that some people who read it think Raoden isn't as deep as someone like Kaladin. Which you are perfectly fine in thinking that, but I think they are just different types of characters. I wasn't trying to write somebody angsty in Raoden, and I am pleased with how he turned out.
Sarene, as a character, was always kind of me trying to write someone who was a little more confident than they, perhaps, deserved to be. And that's a personality trait of Sarene. I actually, when I was plotting Stormlight, I once described Jasnah to someone in my writing group as "the person that Sarene thinks she is." And I like that about Sarene. She's young. She's got gumption and grit. And she's not quite as capable as she thinks she is, but you know what? Thinking you're capable can get you a long ways, as long as you have a minimum level of capability. And she does.
And I'm very proud of Hrathen as an antagonist. It has taken me until The Way of Kings and Taravangian to find someone that I feel is as strong an antagonist as Hrathen from my very first book. I'm still very pleased with how he turned out.
If you were basing a magic system in part on real-world physics or chemistry, how far down the rabbit hole of science would you go at making it?
Most of mine are based on real-world science and physics, but with a hefty dose of fantasy.
The Rosharan magic systems are based on the fundamental forces, right? That's where they started. That's not where they ended, right? You can really only recognize gravitation from the fundamental forces as actually still being a thing in the Rosharan magic system. But the idea of fundamental forces. I'm like, "Well, what would the weak force look like as a magic system?" And I just kind of went crazy off from that.
So, I tend to use the real-world physics as a very squishy springboard from which I go some direction off on some weird tangent and come up with a magic system. Allomancy was based, in part, off of vector physics. But, I mean, I write fantasy. I do not write hard science fiction.
And so, if I were gonna take one and really try to stay close, then I could see myself going pretty deeply down the rabbit hole. But then, I just kind of ask myself, "What am I breaking? What am I changing? What am I trying to achieve? What's the affect I'm going for in doing this?"
I'm very curious about who writes the Ars Arcanum?
Ars Arcanum are all written by Khriss. She is a character from White Sand, which was my first novel. Never got published, but we did the graphic novel versions of it. She appears on-screen at a party with Wax in the third Wax and Wayne book. She dances with him.
If you could have one of your characters made as an android and unleashed upon the world, who would it be?
That's an interesting phrasing.
Lift. Unleash Lift upon the world, and see what she does.