Of course their constellations form Aons. What else would you expect?
Of course their constellations form Aons. What else would you expect?
By the way–Roial's observation that people who "'turn away from a religion" being its strongest opponents actually applies to a lot of things in life, I think. You'll find no opponent more bitter than the one who used to consider himself your friend.
Anyway, onto the chapter. Sarene is brought to task here a little bit at the beginning of it. I kind of like this scene–she might be a good leader, but she's more impulsive, and more emotional, than Raoden. This has its good effects, but it does mean she has a little bit more of a potential to brood.
Time for my second favorite chapter! (The first, if you recall, was the one where Raoden led Karata to the king's palace.)
There are so many things going on in this chapter that I don't quite know where to start. I guess I'll begin with the Mysteries. I drew part of this religion, including the name, from the mystery cults of ancient Greece. I added the ritual sacrifices to give them a bit of zing. You'll get a little bit more of an explanation of the Mysteries, and why someone might decide to join one, in a later Sarene chapter.
As I've noted before, religion–especially its dark side–is a theme in this book. I don't think I could have covered this subject well in the book without including a look at cult mentality. Now, I'll admit that "cult" is a word we bandy about too frequently in religious discussions. It has been noted that Christianity started out as a kind of cult, and it seems that many consider any unorthodox religion to be a "cult."
To me, however, a cult is something that twists who you are, changing you into a shadow of what you used to be. I firmly believe that you can judge a religion by the effects it produces in its practitioners. Does it make them better people? If so, then there's a good chance that the religion is worth something. Does it turn them into people who sacrifice their own servants in an effort to make evil spirits come and kill their daughters-in-law? If so, well. . .you might want to stay away from that one.
Anyway, the Mysteries were–in my mind–a natural outgrowth of the Mystical Jesker religion. Like Galladon is always saying, they're NOT the same religion. The Mysteries are a perversion and simplification of Jesker teachings. Jesker looks to the Dor–the power behind all things–and tries to understand it. The Mysteries treat the Dor like some kind of force to be manipulated. (Which actually, is what AonDor does. . . .)
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to ask this question, because, when I'm reading your books, I always find myself making the questions that you want me to make, right? And at the end, there's always a surprise, but I'm wondering how you manage to achieve that, to have me asking the exact questions that you want me to ask.
This is lots of practice as a writer, and paying attention to how the art of writing works, that's certainly part of it. I would say that being a writer is a little like being a stage magician. You often distract the audience with what you're doing with one hand, while you are slipping something else out of your pocket and getting ready to throw it in their face. The best twists in fiction are the ones that are right in front of you. Anyone can have something unexpected happen. Sometimes, it's appropriate, but sometimes, just having the unexpected happen without foreshadowing is very unfulfilling. So, if you can lead the reader to be asking certain questions, sometimes they will ignore the question right beneath the surface that is in front of their eyes, but hidden by a larger, more domineering question.
You are very famous for being a fast writer, we talked about that in the other conversation, and I'm not going to ask you the secret of your superpower, if you got bit by a spider or something, but I don't want to ask about the discipline of sitting and writing [unclear] straight, or the deadlines of the publishers, because if there's something that is strange about writing, it's that, in your worst moments, when you [unclear] pressure, [unclear] family conflict, you write better, you are more capable of understanding how others feel, how is the world that's around you. And when you're happy, when everything is okay, you have time to find inspiration or the strength to write, because, "The world is amazing, I have these great friends, this great girlfriend, this amazing family to be with. Why do I have to stay five hours closed in my room thinking about people having terrible problems to be happy?" So, how do you make this to keep writing, and having what a fantastic life, with fantastic friends and fantastic fans?
What a fascinating question, I've never been asked that before! I've been asked thousands, of questions, so that is very interesting. I would say, I am not a writer who writes from a place of pain. Every writer is different, and they find different inspiration. I am best at writing when I am in a place of comfort. And so, I think that most writers are very observant, and this is how we express things in fiction. We pay attention. We listen. For instance, I don't have depression, but Kaladin does. If I waited until I had depression to write Kaladin that would probably be bad, because people with depression, number one, don't want to do anything, and number two, it's just not going to work, right? You just can't sit around and wait to experience everything you want to write. So, for me, it's about research, and listening, and paying attention. I happen to have several people I love dearly who do have depression, and so I talk to them. I take notes. I listen to the things they have to say, and that becomes the foundation for a piece of a character's personality. I don't know, though, maybe I'm just a sadist and I like to do evil things.
A part of the evolution--I mean this evolution that has entailed few years, but many, many books--are, in my opinion, two elements, right? One is the female characters, and the other one is the relationship between parents and kids. Is your wife involved in both aspects?
I would say most definitely, most definitely. I would credit my female characters more with the authors I read growing up than anything else. If I can point to one person, it would be Anne McCaffrey, who was one of the early writers that I read a great deal. I have said, I talked about earlier, that the first book that I read in fantasy was by Barbara Hambley. I went from her to Anne McCaffrey, and from Anne to Melanie Rawn. These were chronological, by title, in the card catalog. For the young people in the audience, a card catalog was this thing chiseled out of stone in libraries that pterodactyls sat on. But I had read exclusively women writers of fantasy for many months when someone came to me with a David Eddings book, one of my friends, and said, "You should read this." And my response was, I kid you not, "I don't know if men can write fantasy." As I talked about in the last session, when I started writing, I was not good at writing anyone but the main protagonist. Women characters, side characters, the only characters that worked were the ones that were very like me. The reason I worked so hard to change this was because I knew it could be done better, because I had seen great writers before me do it so much better.
As for family relationships, as I was working on my books early in my career, I realized I was falling in a cliché. Not all clichés are bad--we can call them tropes instead, because the word "cliché" sounds so bad--but I was falling into the trope of making my protagonists all be orphans. This is very easy as a writer, because it cuts down on the number of characters, which makes it easier, but also, it has an inherent tragic backstory. I mean, it's also part of the Hero's Journey, the orphan with a hidden heritage of nobility. You see it in Luke Skywalker, you see it in Harry Potter. So, useful trope or not, I noticed I was using it, and I said, "I need to be aware of what I'm doing, not just accidentally doing things." So, when I worked on, specifically The Stormlight Archive, I said, "I want family relationships to be important to it," because most of us are not orphans. Most of us have family that have been very important to us, and it feels far more real to approach it that way.
I don't have much time to make many more questions to you, but one of my questions--I'll try to make them short, because then we'll open the floor for the audience--one of my questions is whether you could now, seeing the evolution of The Stormlight Archive, what would you say about this evolution, if you could explain it? Since there has been an evolution, imagine you could go backwards in time and explain it to yourself, or even explain it to Robert Jordan, how would you explain it, the evolution of this?
So, the evolution of what, of my book series, in my head?
The evolution of these ten books.
Okay. Well, the somewhat cheeky answer is that I would never go back in time. I have read this book, and it always ends with you almost getting erased, or coming back to your home being communist, or to some other disaster. Unless I know I'm in the right Connie Willis book, I'm not going back in time, and even then, I might end up in the time of the Black Plague, so I wouldn't risk it.
But to answer it more seriously, if I were to go back in time and explain about The Stormlight Archive to my young self... Boy, that is a hard question, for me to consider what I would say about it, because I tried to write The Way of Kings in 2002, and I failed at writing it. I completed the book, but the book was a failure. I did not have the skill as a writer yet to juggle the number of characters and the depth of worldbuilding that book requires. It is a book that required about twenty years of writing practice before I was able to write it. And so, I think I would tell my young self to keep going, that the work will be worth it, that I will get to the point that I will be able to do it, but I still would have had to write the 2002 version in order to learn how to write the later version that worked. Working on The Wheel of Time was certainly part of that. It was like going to the gym and knowing I was going to have to be lifting these heavier weights, and I couldn't afford to be doing the light weights anymore.
If I were to assign Raoden two defining traits, the first would be his ability to make the best of what he's given (as I've spoken of above.) The second, however, would be the personality trait he manifests in this chapter–his simple belief in the goodness of the human race.
I suppose this is a facet of his optimism. Raoden believes in people–he believes that, as a whole, they will do what is right. He believes that they are more rational than the nobility sometimes give them credit, and he believes that most men will do what is good if they are presented with all of the facts.
He really is a noble man. He's perhaps the only person I've written in a fantasy book who, from day one, actually deserved to be king.
Raoden failed in finding ways to defeat Shaor's gang on two separate occasions. First, there was the original infiltration with Galladon (in which Raoden hoped to convince Shaor to stop attacking.) This excursion was informative, but not successful. The second failure was in dealing with the wild men who were trying to get to the carts. Raoden's decision to simply cut them off from the courtyard was eventually a failure. I'm not sure what else he could have done, but he still failed. Saolin's death, among other things, was the cost.
I knew that Raoden had to have more difficulty dealing with Shaor's band than he did with the other two. "Defeating" Karata and Taan happened quickly, and with relative ease. If Shaor's band hadn't presented a problem, then I felt that the entire "three gangs" plot would have been unfulfilling.
So, in these chapters, I stepped up the danger from Shaor and the crew. In the early drafts of the book, this danger wasn't present enough. (In fact, this was one of the main comments that Tom Doherty, CEO of Tor, gave me when he read Elantris.) So, I increased Shaor's numbers–by giving them a larger percentage of Taan's men, not to mention a larger number of men to begin with–and made them more dangerous in the way they attacked.
Father Omin, by the way, "traces Aon Omi" on Hrathen's chest as part of the religious service. This should look familiar. It is a subtle little thing, but I wanted to show how the Korathi religion has been influenced by its proximity to Elantris. The priests probably wouldn't do something like this in Teod. In a way, Hrathen is right–Elantris has had a corrupting influence on those around it.
However, "corruption" is probably too strong a word. Religions adapt as their people adapt, and often times cultural elements are incorporated into belief structures. People have asked me, as a Christian, what I think about Christmas itself being set in place of a pagan holiday. Doesn't really bother me. The day we happen to celebrate the birth of Christ doesn't have any doctrinal importance to me. A religious person has to be willing, in my mind, to accept that while truth may be eternal, the way we interact with it–as changing human beings–must needs be influenced by the way we think and the way society works.
It doesn't matter if my religion "borrowed" things from other religions or cultures–especially if the things we filched added good things to the religion. That's what humans do. We adapt. We steal. This especially makes sense if you happen to be a writer. (We're really good at stealing. . .uh, I mean "adapting.")
Another interesting note in this chapter is that we finally get to see what Raoden went through in chapter one. The washing process isn't all that exciting, but I have had several people remark that they were sad to have missed it. I guess that's just human curiosity. Well, for those who wondered what the process was, they finally got to see it in this chapter.
And, we finally get to figure out what is going on. As I said, this is one of my favorite triads because of the way it manages to string a cliff-hanger across three separate chapters. I've spoken often of how difficult it was, at times, to maintain the triad structure. However, scenes like these are the reward. We get to see from Hrathen's viewpoint the things spoken off in Sarene's viewpoint, and often (especially later in the book) we can see the same scene from different sets of eyes, seeing different opinions and thoughts manifest.
And, as a note on the final exchange, did you forget about the cliffhanger at the end of Raoden's chapter? My hope was that knowing, from Raoden, that the gates to Elantris opened sometime after the attack, the reader would assume that Sarene actually failed to stop the soldiers. Now that she has, however, stopped them, you are reminded that SOMEONE is entering the city. One guess who it is.
And, in Kaise's "Why did YOU have to get sick," line, you can see a remnant of the cut scene I talked about in the last Sarene chapter. Kaise and Daorn were supposed to be able to go with Sarene into the city, and when I got to this scene, I thought I'd forgotten to add them. So, I came up with the sickness excuse. This was actually an error on my part, since this triad is actually happening several days after the last triad, and the twins got their permission to go with Sarene for the "next day." Therefore, their trip into Elantris would have happened during the intervening days.
Kaise's comment, however, seemed like a nice little nod to things happening in the world off-stage. Things like this give a nice feel to a book, so I left it in–despite the fact that the original scene it was tied to got cut early on.
Some other small notes. First, the proverb about the Lion. It's actually a Korean proverb, one which always stood out to me because it was almost identical to our proverb "Speak the name of the devil, and he will appear," referring to someone who arrives right when you were talking about them. The Korean version says "If you say the name of the tiger, he will appear." I embellished this a bit with use of my handy creative license, and you get what we have here.
Actually, from what I’ve seen, you'd be surprised at how many proverbs span cultures. They may sound a little different, but the meanings are often very similar.
So, here we get the payoff for several hundred pages worth of hinting at Iadon's insecuirty and paranoia. Plotting is all about payoffs, in my estimation. You have to earn your plot. You do that by putting the pieces together in the right places, so when you finally get to a climax (even a smaller one) your readers accept what is happening.
The build-up doesn't have to always be subtle–and it doesn't even have to be done through traditional foreshadowing. For instance, if you want a character to be able to defeat a small group of bandits, you have to have earned the payoff that says that he/she is competent with a weapon. It's like a chemical equation–you balance all of your pieces on the one side, and they should equal what comes out on the other end.
In order for Sarene's speech in this chapter to work, I needed to do several things. I needed to build up that she'd be both capable enough to make it and brash enough to go through with it. I also needed to build up that Iadon would crack beneath this kind of external pressure, which I hope I did.
I would not like to say commonplace, but there are some prejudices of people when they read you, when they read your work, because of the religious elements, right? This can be a challenge, but there are three things that are absolutely important in your work. One is faith, the other one is moral, what you organize around faith, and then you always, always have the critical spirit that really fights against all of this, and that tries to find value. And this is very peculiar, because you were discussing very transcendental, very important things with this touch of spirituality, but there's always reason and a critical spirit underneath. I would like to know whether you could explore this farther?
Yes. It is something I have thought about a lot as well. I am a man of faith. I am religious. I am Latter-day Saint for those who don't know. And I am a man of science. I was a chemistry major originally in college, and I am a very big believer, at the same time, in skepticism and logic, and I have a somewhat more rational approach to my faith than perhaps many others do. But I'm not sure if even that is true, I just think that many people are not as vocal as some of those who are faithful, but determinedly ignorant, also.
I feel that, as a writer, one of my mandates is to express multiple viewpoints on topics, and try to work through them by having rational people, sympathetic people, on multiple sides of an argument. Few things bother me in fiction more than a cast of characters who all agree on some topic, except for one idiot who exists to be proven wrong. I don't think that's who we find truth. I think we find truth through disagreement by people who all have good arguments. When two people who disagree discuss an issue, and both listen to each other, both learn, and their understanding of the world expands. And because of my own inherent biases, by being religious, one of the things I seek very strongly to do is to make sure that the opposing opinion to what I believe is strongly represented by someone making the arguments that that side would make if they were writing the book. A falsehood or a weak belief can survive dumb challenges to it, but truth can survive good arguments against it, is what I believe. So you can see, I'm very fascinated by this topic, and the things that fascinate me come out in my books, but it is very important to me that my stories be about questions and not about answers, because of all of this, that questions lead to truth, and thinking you have answers don't go anywhere.
We have a nice little cliff-hanger at the end of this section. However, you have to remember the format of the triad system–when we go back to Sarene, we'll be jumping back in time a bit. That means that you won't immediately discover what is going on with the gate of Elantris.
Dramatically, this is my favorite of the triad structures. We get to hold this cliffhanger for a long time, building it through the next chapter.
Anyway. . .I break triad here again. I'd forgotten about this one. Actually, you'll note that the closer I get to an action sequence or a climax, the more quickly I shift viewpoints. I do it half-intentionally, half-unconsciously. (If that's possible.) Logically, I know that quickly-shifting viewpoints give the scenes more tension and a sense of movement. Unconsciously, I just know that it's good storytelling to keep things quick–and it's more dramatic when you can end with a cliff-hanger line, then switch to a new viewpoint.
I'll admit that this scene borders on being too melodramatic. A couple of things justify it in my mind. First, the scene is more about Raoden confronting how he'd made a mistake with Shaor's men than it is about Sarene discovering that she'd been betrayed. Second, Sarene's "betrayal," as explained in the next chapter, is really about her own prejudice. Inside, she was just waiting for something like this to happen. That's why she didn't give Raoden the benefit of the doubt–she never wanted to like him. It was almost like she was eager to be hurt, expecting it, since things obviously couldn't work out for her. (Or so she unconsciously assumed.)
So, in a way, they were both kind of expecting something like this to happen. When it did happen, they allowed it to. In my mind, this takes it from a "silly misunderstanding" and changes it into a "character-driven conflict."
I'm going to start by asking about the strangest thing in the Cosmere, which is politics, because I think that your Cosmere universe is full of politics, and let me explain myself when I say this. I can identify a pattern across all your work, which is fighting power. There are oppressed people, oppressed characters, who fight against power, and this is clearly seen in Mistborn, in Warbreaker, across your work, really. So, I know that you say that your novels are not really related to the current times, but I'm wondering whether you have at least a political or a social perspective?
That's a very good and interesting question. As an artist, I am fascinated by certain things, and these inevitably end up in my work. I am not a writer who has a specific social agenda to my writing, but I am a person with interests and passions, and you can't separate that from your work. I also believe strongly in the right of readers to interpret from the books what they think might have been in the back of my brain, and they are often right, even if it was not intentional by me.
As a professor of storytelling, of creative writing, I would say my instinct is that this theme you're noticing is more because stories are best when they are about upending the status quo. Perfect societies at peace don't usually make good stories. However, I do like to try different types of stories, and so I would hope that you would also be able to find examples of good leaders, who are in power and trying to do a good job staying in power, not just stories about casting out the powerful. I do think there is a theme of revolutionary-ism in my books, and I'm sure that scholars could say a whole bunch about American and that relating to me, but I will leave that to them.
I've actually been called a "square peg" before. I believe the line was "You're one of those creative types–you're a square peg, trying to fit into a round hole." I was twenty-two, and was getting let go from one of my first jobs.
That's another story, though. Just note–apparently, fantasy writers and "creative types" don’t make good librarians. Go figure.
Fantasy is a slow-starting genre. Readers expect this, and hopefully they'll invest enough in the story to keep them reading this long. I love the first half of Elantris—it does what I want a book to do. It presents fun characters in interesting situations, then laces their actions with just enough of a thought-provoking air and an edge of excitement that the reader feels fulfilled. Writing is truth, and it should deal with important topics. However, before that truth must come enjoyment, I believe. If a book isn't, first and foremost, fun to read, then I think the storyteller has failed. After that, he or she hopefully manages to deal with some real issues and questions—this is, in my opinion, what makes characters real.
Anyway, on to section two!
As for the first section break, I just really like ending with having Hrathen poison himself. This makes our first section incredibly long—it takes up well over half of the book. I thought that was all right, however, since I figured increasingly short sections would enhance the pacing near the end of the book, speeding things up (hopefully.)
Part One Wrap-up
"The Shadow of Elantris." These section headings were added in the last real draft I did, while I was visiting my father in Massachusetts during the summer of '04. By then, the book's title had firmly been changed from The Spirit of Elantris to just Elantris. I knew I needed to divide the book into sections, and decided that I'd use "The Spirit of Elantris" as the final heading, as kind of a nod to the original title of the book.This presented me with several problems, however. First, I needed two more good sub-headings to go along with "The Spirit of Elantris." Second, I needed to find good places to divide the chapters. Because of the chapter triad system, I'd probably need to base my dramatic section cuts on Hrathen's chapters, since he came third in the rotation.
The Shadow of Elantris came easily as a title. It, of course, has reference to the first chapter, where Raoden looks out the window and feels like Elantris is looming over him. However, it's also a nice summary of the first section. Elantris looms over everything, dark and dirty, during the first section of the book. While we see the beginnings of light from Raoden's efforts in the city, they don't really come to much fruition.
If we throw out the nostalgia factor "Spirit" has going for itself, "Shadow" is my favorite of the three section titles.
Yes, his drinking of the poison is supposed to be a zing. Theoretically, this will push you on into the next section of the book. The slower portions of the novel are beginning to wind down–from now on, the events start to move a little more quickly. Even still, this is probably one of the more slow-moving of my novels, which is part of its charm–as I noted in a different annotation.
One of the shortest, but most powerful, chapters in the book.
I added the "head arteth" conflict (the idea of everyone rejecting the appointment) later in the revision process so that I could have one more thing to push Hrathen over the edge. My only worry about this scene is one of pacing–if I've done the novel right, then this will seem like a climax that has slowly been building for some time. If I'm off, then this chapter will seem out-of-nowhere, and lack power to the reader.
This is really where Hrathen's chapters have been pushing. The questioning and self-doubt, the problems with Dilaf and conversion. . . . He's pretty much been defeated at every turn. It was time for him to either crack, give up, or do something spectacular. In a way, he kind of does all three.
I suppose the most important scene in this chapter was the exchange between Sarene and Daora. It's hard, in writing, to avoid being heavy-handed with exposition and emotion. Show don't tell, as the proverb goes. Sometimes you get it right–like this particular scene. Sarene, obviously, is falling for Spirit–and Daora mistakes the emotion as being applied to Shuden. (Yes, I know, I shouldn't have to explain this. However, that's part of what these annotations are for–to explain things. I never can tell what people will get and what they'll miss. I've thrown in twists I thought were obvious, only to have everyone miss them–but instead they pick up on the foreshadowing that I never meant to be strong enough to give the ending away. )
Anyway, one of my challenges in this book was to make the romance between Sarene and Raoden realistic, considering the relatively small amount of time they had to spend together. I hoped to avoid any silly "love at first sight" type plottings, while at the same time making their relationship feel genuine and touching in as short a time as possible.
Oh, and I'm not exactly certain why the Three Virgins were surprised. However, this line from Kiin always cracks me up. I think of three virgins, think of them very surprised, and. . .yeah. Anyway, I'm sure they got more than they expected.
The main edit to this chapter came very early in the process. Very few people have seen this section–I don't think it made it past the first revision. I'll probably post in on the "deleted scenes" section, though. What good is a website if you can't embarrass yourself?
Anyway, the scene dealt with Daorn and Kaise approaching Kiin (during the fencing practice) and asking him if they could go with Sarene into Elantris. He responded by saying that they could as long as they did some silly homework-style projects for him. (Essays or multiplication tables or something like that.) In a re-read, I realized that this was WAY to modern, even for Kiin. I'd think that people who did this today were being progressive–and a bit odd. (What are these kids? Home-schoolers?)
Anyway, I cut the scene.
This book, as I've mentioned before, is a little less "tight" than others I've written. There are chapters like this one, where nothing extremely important happens–I simply show life from one viewpoint, a state necessitated by one of the other two doing something very important. Still, despite it having very little to do with the overplot, I really like how this chapter turned out. Maybe I should force myself to do a strict triad system like this more often, for it forced me to have some chapters where the characters could just live. Sarene's light chapters center around her friends and family, giving us an opportunity to spend time with them and enjoy ourselves. The Lukel sourmellon exchange probably couldn't have happened in a book like Mistborn, where the pacing is far more tense.
I'm very interested about the laws of magic. You wrote so many books, but I think that history will specially remember you because of 2.5 words, right? "Limitations are a bigger sign than powers," right? So, limitations must be bigger than powers, and I think it's a wonderful, amazing second law of magic, and it actually should be applied to the fantasy genre as a whole, because therefore we could avoid 90% of all the garbage that is out there if we really applied this second law of magic. However, you don't apply it to all your works. For example, your work for young adults, you don't apply that law that much, so I'm wondering why it is not a universal law, but rather a law that in some things, like for children or young adults, you don't apply so much?
That is interesting. I actually take exception to several things here. The first is, I don't believe that 90% of things are crap, or that there is a lot of terrible fiction. I take exception to when people say that about our genre or about any genre. Books that get published and are written are loved by somebody. Maybe that's just the author and the editor--once in a while--but usually there is a strong fanbase, and just because one person doesn't like it doesn't mean it lacks value.
I don't believe in Sturgeon's Law.
I think it's complete bunk.
In fact, Sturgeon did not believe in Sturgeon's Law, if you asked him. He did not believe in it, I do not believe in it. I think by perpetuating Sturgeon's Law, which is that 90% of everything is crap, what we are doing is we are buying into people outside of science fiction and fantasy pointing at us and trying to make us feel bad about our genre. This is not to say that you can't criticize, you definitely can, and there is a very important place for critics, looking at books and at the genre. But once, I thought about Sturgeon's Law, and I actually tried to decide if critics actually hated 90% of everything. And so I went to Rotten Tomatoes, and I picked the harshest critics I could find, and every one of them liked seven out of ten of these movies they saw.
So, while I think certain things can be pointed at, and say, "This is poorly done, because it is failing to achieve it's goals," we should not look at something that's achieving a different goal from what we think it should achieve, and call it crap because of that. If you can see, this is a point of a bit of interest to me. If someone points at, for instance, a lot of people in the genre disliked Eragon the book, I've referenced the movie earlier. But, is it bad for the millions of children who read that, and it brought them to fantasy and became the foundation for why they love our genre?
Compared with the movie, it's not bad, right?
*laughs* Yeah. So, going back to your original question, though, my primary YA work is The Rithmatist, which is a story about a boy with no magic at a magic school, and is inherently a story about having no power, and having limitations. If you are referencing, instead, Alcatraz, my other series, it's about a boy whose magic power is breaking things, and he has no control over it. So, this is a story about a child who is in foster care, who has no control over his life, and his lack of control of his magic is a metaphor for his lack of control over his life. But Sanderson's Second Law is about finding the conflict. Making characters powerful can be a problem, but it doesn't have to be. For instance, Superman is usually held up as a character who is considered too powerful. But if you look at the best stories involving Superman, the story is always about what he can't do. He can fly, he can shoot lasers from his eyes, he can lift giant boulders, but he can't make a woman love him. This is what I mean by limitations being more important than the powers. A Superman story can be very interesting, but his powers can often be irrelevant.
It has been said that there is a change of cycle, that in the last twenty years everything was focused around fantasy, but there were many decades of science fiction before that, and now science fiction is coming back. But in my opinion, that's very simple, and authors like you, like Sanderson, have proven that there is a third way, I'm sorry to call it that way, but this third way would be something like scientific fantasy. This scientific fantasy consists of a mixture, a hybrid genre, mixing both. I would like to know if you really believe that there is a change of cycle or that we are still in this mixing form?
No, I do think that genre moves through cycles, certainly, and some things are popular at some points, and other things are more popular at other points, and as a student of fantasy as a genre, I'm very interested in how the different cycles happen and the different kind of family trees of fantasy we look at, and I think that your observation is correct. I think the scientific fantasy is a natural outgrowth of the fantasy my generation spent our youths reading, because I'm not the only one who does it. Pat Rothfuss has a very rule based magic, though of course his magic, he has two in his books, and it is about the contrast between the one that's very scientific and the one that is not, about Naming things. But you see a lot of my generation of authors building upon what we read, and I think that the next generation will respond to us and go a different direction, perhaps in something less rule based. But the thing that has never gone out of style is a good story, well told. When people were saying, "Oh, people don't read science fiction, people read fantasy," Lois Bujold was still writing fantastic science fiction that was still selling very well. So, even though there are trends, a good story will always be well received.
So, of course we need to ask you to start about something which is important, which is the sale to DMG of the rights for the Cosmere. Now it's not just, I mean, it's the champion's lake that we're talking about, right? You're at the same level as many very important authors, and the rights will be sold to the cinema, TV, and so on, so forth, the Cosmere books, which can be about thirty. My question is, are you excited about that? Are you scared, or both? Because you know that when dreams come true, sometimes it's not as nice as it seems. So, the question is, now that you have made your dream come true, will you think that you were better when you were writing and having that dream, or is it okay now?
A writer I once read got asked what he thought of the bad movie that got made from his book. Actually, the phrasing of the question is, "What do you think of what they did to your book?" And I have always remembered his response, which was, "My book is the same. It's right there. They did nothing to my book; they made a bad movie." My dream is not to make movies, my dream is to write books, and I am living that dream right now. Now, the chance of having a good movie come out is exciting to me. I wouldn't have sold the rights if I didn't want to take that chance, and hopefully we'll get some great movies and great television shows, but if we don't, I still am writing books, and my books are what I started this to do. I am going into this with my eyes wide open. I have had some good friends who had some terrible movies made of their films and I have talked to them about their experience, and I am willing to risk that happening. You can't get a Game of Thrones if you don't risk an Eragon.
Can an Allomantic bronze burner hear the Rhythms on Roshar?
Yes, this is possible.
I would like to make two questions for you. The first one is, when were you really aware that that was the book, or that was the style that could find a public, an audience?
Yeah, let me answer this one first. My first five books were very experimental. I wrote two epic fantasies, one comedy, one cyberpunk, and one space opera. I did this so that I could be very sure that what I wanted to do was epic fantasy. I heard a metaphor when I was young for dating which said, "Don't always just date the same flavor of ice cream. Even if you're very sure you love strawberry, date some chocolate, some rocky road, some variety of different ice cream flavors so that you can be sure." I say the same thing about writing. One of my best friends, Dan, first tried only writing epic fantasy, and was having a very hard time being a writer, and then he wrote a horror novel that was super, super creepy, and now he is a famous horror writer because he found his love in that genre. After doing this for five novels, I was sure that epic fantasy was what I wanted to do, and it is no coincidence that book number six was Elantris, the first book of the Cosmere written, and the first book that eventually sold.
We have to wrap up, I think, so everyone here is going to kill me if I don't ask you about DMG which acquired the rights to your Cosmere. I wanted to ask how are you feeling about this, do you know at this stage how involved are you going to be? I heard you mentioned that the best adaptations are those that are done by people, just by leaving them do their thing, but I was also asking myself, in regards to this, if you're planning on any other cross-media stories? We have White Sand, we have whatever happened to Mistborn: Birthright. I wanted to ask about that too, because...
So, we'll start with Mistborn: Birthright. Unfortunately, it is dead, sorry. This was a video game we worked on for many years, and it just is not going to happen. As for other cross-media stories, I am very open to doing more. It will depend on how White Sand is received, and whether I can do other video game projects that look like they will work. As for the film, I spent a long time interviewing a lot of different people before we decided to go with DMG. I chose them primarily because I feel they understand the Cosmere, and are willing to approach it as a whole, as opposed to little pieces of something not connected. How much I'll be involved really remains to be seen. They've promised to let me be involved, they gave me a fancy title, we will see once the film's actually in production. I have every reason to believe that they will involve me, and so far they have done so, but I don't want to be the one directing or writing these films, because I am not a director or a screenwriter.
Also about The Reckoners, just out of curiosity, David's metaphors, so amazing, did you write them all? Was there a time when you had friends come over and say, "I have a crazy great metaphor, you have to use it for the book"?
For those who don't know, The Reckoners are told first person viewpoint from the viewpoint of a man named David, and though he tries hard, his metaphors and similes are awful. He says things like, "She was as perky as a sack full of caffeinated puppies." And the reason for this is, number one, the material itself is kind of dark. A world with no heroes could be a very, very dark place, so I knew I wanted a hero who was optimistic despite this, but David's main personality attribute is that he is a little too earnest. He tries a little too hard, and doesn't always think before he does something. So, I wanted a personality trait that quickly and easily reflected and indicated this to the reader, and the way that his metaphors don't quite work, but almost do, was the perfect method of conveying this. When he says things like, "You are a potato in a minefield," it doesn't make sense until he explains what it means. That, for instance, he was walking through a minefield, stepped on something he thought was going to kill him, and it turned out to be a potato instead. And then it's like, "Hey, free potato!" When we do this, it allows you to see that he is just speaking a little too fast, that his heart is right, and somewhere between his heart and his brain and his mouth, the wrong thing comes out. So, I guess what I'm saying is, the bad metaphors are actually a good metaphor for David's personality.
I think you're going to get asked a lot about the Cosmere today, so I wanted to make a question about the Reckoners saga, because, while I was reading it, there was one recurring thought in my mind, and it was, "Gosh, I wish I could have read this as a teenager," and it's equally enjoyable as a adult, but that kept running in my mind, and I was wondering if when you wrote it, you wrote it with these audiences in mind, or it's simply that David is so real and so like us when we were fifteen or fourteen that it came out that way?
I'm very curious that you noticed this, because in the United States, this is actually published as a young adult novel. In the UK and Spain, and France, it is published as an adult novel. And I very much left it up to my publishers to decide what was best for their market, because David is nineteen, which puts it on the border between is this a young adult or an adult novel. However, when I was writing it, my target reader in my head was me at age fourteen, because, when I was young, it wasn't that nobody gave me books--people did give me books, they tried to make me into a reader--but the books were all boring, and I think the great power of science fiction and fantasy is that we are able to mix deep thought and exciting narrative. Every morning, my wife makes a smoothie for my children with ice cream. They love ice cream, my three little boys, so they're very excited, and every morning she adds a handful of spinach to it, because they love the color green and they think it's cool to drink a green drink. Of course, she adds it because the spinach is very healthy, and I feel like science fiction and fantasy is very good at this blend for books. All of our books are green, because we deal with very important issues, but we mix them with wonder, exploration, adventure, and human experience.
The Reckoners is about power corrupting. I started the first book after driving on the road and nearly getting in a car wreck because someone pulled in front of me too quickly, and I was very annoyed with this person, and in that moment I imagined myself blowing the car up. I thought, "You are so lucky I don't have superpowers." It was a very cool explosion, too. Yeah, I have a good imagination. After this, I was immediately horrified, because I write books about people, generally, who get incredible powers, and then go on to protect others, but in that moment, I had the worry that I could not be trusted, myself, with those powers. So, The Reckoners is about what happens if people start gaining superpowers, but only evil people get them. It's Marvel's universe with no Avengers.
Something I really enjoyed, also, about, particularly the Mistborn saga, and I'm--very briefly, because I don't know if this is intentional or not, and that's the question--is that characters tend to talk a lot about events that have happened for the reader, things that the reader already knows, but even so, characters quite widely discuss these events, and this is something that I rarely find in TV and books. It's like most writers just know that "Okay, this is something the reader already knows, we don't have to bring it up," but I feel like it gives a really natural tone and voice to your novels, and I just simply, briefly wanted to know if it's intentional or if it's simply the way you write.
It's been said that there are very few plots for books, and that most books fit into a set number of plots, though nobody seems to be able to agree on what that number is. That said, a lot of stories' beats or story points follow very similar patterns. This will relate, I promise. What is interesting to us is how the characters we're reading about interact with those events. You could say, on the large scale, many of our lives probably follow the same patterns. Going to school, our first love, probably going to college or trade school, our first time abroad, these sorts of things happen to us in patterns most of the time. And yet, the details are what fascinates us and what makes us individual. So I don't perceive my books being as much about the events as the effect those events have on the people we're reading about. So I try to avoid skipping chances for my characters to offer a different perspective on what they have seen from what another character may think they saw. You have to be careful, because you don't want the book to feel repetitive, and so this is a balancing act that I think I've gotten better at the more that I've written.
Something I found really interesting and refreshing--it's sad it is that way, but it is--about your books are female characters, and I recently read that for a while you were kind of mortified because, talking about feedback, someone told you that you were writing really plain female characters. Now, seeing Vin or Megan, I barely can believe that, and I think as fans sometimes maybe get a bit too caught up in how amazing your worldbuilding is, and your magic systems, and we sort of disregard something that really works as well, and that's characters. I really like that your characters have, even if they are kind of secondary, they have purpose, they have motive, they have a backstory, they are not just there as background, really. So, could you describe how is character building for you and how has it changed since then?
Yeah, this is an interesting thing to think about, as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, because the thing that draws us all to sci-fi/fantasy, the reason we're here, is because of the setting. And yet, the setting is in some ways the least important part, because, if you have a bad setting, but great characters, you usually can still have a good book, but if you have terrible characters and and interesting setting, usually that book is still going to be boring.
This was a problem early in my writing, as you have brought up, particularly my female characters. I can still remember sharing one of my first books with someone, and being very excited for their feedback, and hearing how much they loved the magic system, and then getting to the criticism and saying, "It's unfortunate that the female lead is so wooden," and this was something that I needed to work on. No writer starts out good at everything. I was fortunate in finding early on some of these things that I needed to work on.
For me, one of the big breakthroughs came when I started to look at each character as the protagonist of their own story. In some of these early books, characters were fit into a definition by my brain. This is the love interest, this is the sidekick, this is the mentor. But that's not how we are in our lives. Every one of us is a romantic interest at times, a mentor at times, a sidekick at times, but throughout the course of all of it, the only perspective we have of it is our own, and we are always the protagonist in that story. So when I started asking myself for each character, no matter how insignificant to the plot, who are they, what are they passionate about, what would they be doing today if the world weren't ending, and how are they the hero of their story.
You've come a really long way since Elantris was first published. How has your process of writing changed ever since, in the sense that then you had the feedback from the publishing house maybe, now you have the feedback from the fans, from the critics, and also I can imagine, very much tighter deadlines. How can you reflect on Elantris from now?
Well, first let me say, I love you, but I had so much time back then! Now, it is a real challenge. Everybody left me alone. I wouldn't go back, because everyone left me alone at book signings, too. My books sat lonely on the shelves by themselves. But the great challenge of this phase of my career is finding enough time to do all the things I need to do. When I turned in Elantris to the publisher, they published it two years and three months later. When I turned in Words of Radiance, three months later. My books pay for the publisher to keep publishing, and they very much like to publish my books, and so it is difficult. I travel a lot, my signings are wonderful but long, and my deadlines are very tight, and everyone is stressed about me turning the books in. I'm just glad I spent all those years writing, with nobody knowing who I was, because that's when I built all of my habits. If you would've asked me, during that time, if it was nice that I hadn't published any books yet, I would've said, "No, I want to publish books," but that era was essential for turning me into the writer I am today. For those who don't know, I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one of them.
So you've mentioned, and you've said this many times before, that you don't have to feel overwhelmed by the Cosmere if you are just a casual reader that wants to read a trilogy and that's it, you don't have to get too much into it, but do you fear this might taint a bit for readers as you keep developing the Cosmere and making it more prominent and relevant to the story itself?
Maybe I should be more scared than I am, but currently I am not very frightened of this idea, for a couple of reasons. When I do stories that are very deeply involved in the Cosmere and the connections, I will be very upfront with it, and give warnings, so the readers will probably not end up in those books unless they are wanting to. The readers I'm most worried about are the ones who haven't started any of my books yet feeling overwhelmed, or feeling they have to read them in a specific order. As long as they don't start with books like Secret History, that says at the beginning, "Don't start with this book," they'll be fine.
I think one of the strengths of science fiction and fantasy is that the genre does not coddle its readers. Even books in this genre for younger readers are very challenging with their worldbuilding and a lot of the events that happen in them, and I think that the fans are ready and willing to accept this. And the reason our genres tend to have books that become long-term classics is because of this depth. If you go back to the era when Dune was written, you will find Dune and many other science fiction and fantasy books of that era, like Anne McCaffrey's work and Ursula LeGuin's work, that is still being read, and is still considered very important, but if you read in some genres that did not try that depth and complexity, those authors did not last as long, and so I feel that I would be remiss if I didn't add this depth where I can.
You sort of have to be productive to write the Cosmere, because it's really complex. Did you have it planned in advance when you first started, did you really have a very, very clear idea of what you wanted, or was it just the structure?
So, for those who don't know, it has been referenced, my epic fantasies are connected behind the scenes with a lot of secret characters who are moving between the different stories. If you haven't read my books, don't get intimidated by that. It is mostly to be found if you dig for it, but not intended to be distracting from the main story of each book.
And it did start from the beginning, at least from the beginning of Elantris, which was actually the sixth book that I wrote. It wasn't there in the first few books, but by the time I wrote Elantris it was there. I can trace the idea to a couple of places. From a very young age, when I would read books, I can remember doing this for Anne McCaffrey, it was always very fun to me to imagine a character that was hiding behind the scenes in the story that she wrote that I had inserted, that the other characters didn't know this character's secret motive, and they would appear in the various books that I read. I would say, "Oh, that's him. Ooh, that's him in this other book," written by different authors. That is the origin of the character Hoid, most likely.
I can also point toward Isaac Asimov as an inspiration. In the late 80's, early 90's, when I was first becoming a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, I read Foundation, and then read the robot books, and then read his connecting the two of them together, which was one of those moments that broke my brain, and as I've read other people's works, I've found other authors who did similar things. Michael Moorcock is one, even the Marvel and DC comics did a lot of this. Famously, Stephen King did it with the Dark Tower books.
One theme I've noticed is that many of them feel like they decided to add this as a feature after having finished several books, and thought, "What a cool idea, I will connect them," and having seen them do this, and like it, I ask the question, "What if someone started from the get-go, from the first book, setting up a hidden epic behind the scenes?" Like most writers, I owe a great deal to those who came before and provided inspiration for the things that I do.
In that regard, you've been called like a million times a prolific writer, and you are, but many people tend to believe that you have some sort of superpower. You don't, you just said many times that your secret is persistent and consistent writing, and I was wondering if this ever lets you disconnect from your worlds, or even put them on standby, if it's easier having that sort of structure and saying, "Okay, now I'm going to write, and now I'm going to not write"?
This is a very astute question, because one thing that is very hard for writers is to write when we're supposed to. And this goes both ways, meaning, sometimes, for writers, when it's time to sit down and write, writing doesn't happen, but sometimes when we are supposed to be spending out time with our family then our brain is not there and we are somewhere else, and I would say that's the main source of conflict, often, in writers' interpersonal lives.
Though if I do have a superpower, I owe it to my mother. My mother is an accountant, and she is very, very logical, one of the most logical people that I know, and she trained me from childhood to do the things that I'm supposed to do--to do my homework, to do my chores, all of these things. I had a paper route, as a kid, delivering newspapers from age twelve, and I always remember whenever my money came in, my mother would sit me down, and she would hold the money, and say, "Okay, now how much do you put in this savings account?" And I would have to guess numbers until I got to what she thought was right, and she would put that in, and then the next savings account, and then the next savings account, and then I would get handed a dollar. But I was the one of my friends who had a Super Nintendo because of those savings accounts. She trained me very well, and I often say my biggest advantage, as a writer, is that I am an artist with the training of an accountant. And so, when it's time to do my writing, I'm very good, practiced. It took time, many years, but I am practiced, and I am able to be very productive on most days. It's art, so some days, it still doesn't work, but most days I am productive, and equally important, when it is time to spend time with my family, I can turn that off, go be a dad and a husband, and then turn it back on after they go to bed.
As it happens with any great character I think background is really important, so briefly, because I know you've talked about this a million times, how did you first become interested in fantasy and when did you realized, okay I want to do this for a living?
So, unlike a lot of writers, I didn't enjoy books when I was young. I had a teacher, eighth grade, her name was Ms. Reader, this is true, and she knew that I was goofing off a little too much in my literature class. So, she took me to the back of her room, where there were a whole bunch of old books, paperbacks, that a hundred students had read, and she said, "You need to read one of these and report back to me, because I know you're not doing your readings for class." So I browsed through these reluctantly, and I eventually settled on one that looked pretty cool. It was Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly, with this gorgeous Michael Whelan cover. It had a dragon. It had a cool looking guy. It had a pretty girl; that was more important. I thought I'd give it a try. I was fourteen, so... I loved this book.
This book changed everything. I fell in love with the fantasy genre. From this, I discovered Anne McCaffrey, who was the other fantasy author my school library had, and over that summer after my eighth grade year, I read everything I could get my hands on--Terry Brooks, David Eddings, a lot of Melanie Rawn--and just absolutely fell in love. And these books meant something to me, there was a powerful emotion to them, and I thought, "I have to learn how to do this."
And about when you sort of decided you wanted to do this, it was around that age as well?
I would say it was maybe a year later that I started writing my own book, my first one. It was terribly, absolutely terrible. It was a bad combination of Dragonlance and Tad Williams, but I loved the process of writing it. And I was a teenager, so I didn't know it was bad, I just loved doing it.
I actually went to college my first year as a chemist, which you can see maybe coming out in my books a little bit if you've read some of them and seen the magic, but I did not like the busy work of chemistry, right? While I loved the thoughts and ideas, the actual sitting down and figuring how many atoms are in a table or whatever, I hated, and I always contrasted that with the writing where I loved the busy work. I could sit down and work on a story, and forget that four or five hours had passed. That was a really good sign to me for writing, and a really bad sign for chemistry.
So basically a Thunderclast is a rock giant. I thought it was a rock monster. Same difference I guess?
I got the sense in the prologue of Way of Kings that the dead Thunderclast there was quadrupedal. So maybe it's more the class of monster, with different shapes?
Seolin is an interesting character to me. Not because he really does anything distinctive–but because of how he developed. His name was "Saorn" in the original draft, by the way. I think I changed this because it was too close to "Daorn." People also confused it with Shaod. I'm not certain if the new one fixes that problem, but it does feel a little more distinctive to me.
Regardless, Seolin is one of those characters who grew out of nothing to have a strangely large part in the plot. Again, I realize that he's not all that original as a character. However, his dedication–and the way Raoden came to rely on him–wasn't something I intended when planning the book. While I don't believe in the whole "Books surprise their authors" concept, I do enjoy the discovery of writing. Seolin is one of the characters "discovered" in this way, and I am very pleased with him.
Those of you who've read the book before should recognize the case study Raoden mentions in this chapter. The woman who was miss-healed by the Elantrian is none other than Dilaf's wife–he speaks of her near the end of the book. This event–the madness and death of the woman he loved–is what drives his hatred of Elantris, and therefore Arelon and Teod.
This is a rather long chapter. Longer, actually, than I probably would have put in a regular story. However, the triad system kind of forced me to lump all of these events together. It was important that I show the danger of Shaor's gang, as well as the way New Elantris was progressing despite its problems. At the same time, we needed to find out more about Galladon eventually. So, when I did the "find the pool" chapter, I had to include these other items before it.
I kind of wish that I'd been able to include the "Once so very beautiful. . . ." in this chapter somewhere. If you've been watching, you'll know that I do mention the man several other places, often when Raoden is near the Hoed. This is one of the more clever little twists of foreshadowing in the book, if I do say so myself.