Tor.com Q&A with Brandon Sanderson - 10 January 2011Edit
Your Questions for Brandon Sanderson—Answered!Edit
You asked and now Brandon Sanderson answers. Below the cut, you’ll find answers to the many, many questions you posted here on Tor.com back in December, touching subjects ranging from the Wheel of Time to The Stormlight Archives to Dragonsteel and more.
A few hundred questions ended up being sent, so a big thank you goes out to Brandon for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and answer as many as possible. (If you don’t see your question, most likely it’s still in the queue.) An equally big thanks goes out to Peter Ahlstrom for his organizational help!
Regarding the Wheel of TimeEdit
Carlinya Sedai died in ToM. So what did Min’s vision of her from TFoH mean?
Who is the First Selector of the Blue Ajah? (and if that gets RAFO’d) Have we seen her on screen or her name mentioned?
- The glossary in the back of Towers of Midnight says, “The First Selector is currently unknown, although it is suspected that Lelaine Akashi fills this position.” That suspicion is correct.
The second time Perrin needed to be there for Rand, did that occur on Dragonmount in T’A’R?
Can Moiraine’s loss of Power be Healed?
Can a person be reborn more than once in the same Age?
I know it’s premature to discuss this, but I am entertaining fond hopes that after you finish A Memory of Light, you will publish a WoT companion, which will include things like:
- All the notes and details and backstory which never got put into the novels.
- Deleted chapters, or longer draft versions of scenes which had to be edited down.
- An account of the writing process as you experienced it, with perhaps an outline of the books showing how much of each part was yours and how much RJs, and the difficult decisions you had to make at each point.
- Alternative chapters or scenes which were discarded.
- Answers to any issues which are still disputed by fandom after the last book.
I know this is premature, but I was hoping you could at least tell us if 1) Is this something you, personally, would be willing to do? 2) Is there any chance of it actually happening?
- Excellent question. I’ve spoken on this a little bit before. It is something I’d be willing to do; in fact, it’s something I want to do.
- I don’t want to say that the chances of it happening are poor, but one thing you have to understand is that Harriet is very careful and cautious with Robert Jordan’s legacy, and rightly so. You may have heard, for instance, that at the first JordanCon she allowed us to play the tape of him dictating a scene from the prologue of The Gathering Storm, but she asked for it not to be recorded, and she doesn’t really want it to be played again. It was just that one time for that special event. People asked her why, and her response was that she didn’t want people to remember Robert Jordan in his weakest hours. I think that is a very valid point.
- So the decision will be Harriet’s. I haven’t even approached her about this yet, because I don’t think it’s the appropriate time. But once the series is done and we’ve had some time away from it, I will ask her if it’s all right if I do something like this.
- It would include a lot of the things you mention. Specifically what I want to do is talk about the writing process and the difficult decisions that you mention, some of the scenes that didn’t end up in the books, some of the things that Robert Jordan had written as potential scenes. I’ve mentioned before that in his notes he would often have comments where he says, “I will either do this, or this,” and sometimes the options are very contradictory. He had not yet decided between them, and I ended up being the one who decided which one we were going to do. So I would include those and some of the actual notes.
- The reason Harriet may not want this to happen is that if his final publication is unfinished notes, that might make her uncomfortable. I certainly intend to make a plea for the importance of this from a scholarly standpoint, that people might be able to have access to this, and also so that the notes are there for people who don’t like my interpretation of things, so they can see exactly what Robert Jordan had to say. I’m really hoping we can do it, but let’s wait until the series is done and then I’ll approach Harriet about it.
About the swirling colors/ta’veren experience: Would Perrin be able to see what Mat is doing in the Tower of Ghenjei? If I was Perrin I’d be following every move Mat makes. And hypothetically if Rand thinks about Mat at some moment during and after his journey in the Finn World Rand should be able to see Mat and Moraine or if before they rescue her Mat and co. in the Finn World. Is that right? I find this connection between the ta’veren so fascinating.
- How about this. Swirling colors don’t work in Tel’aran’rhiod. Granted that within the Tower of Ghenjei is somewhat different from Tel’aran’rhiod, but there are some similarities.
And how much time has past since Mat met Verin and the trio left for the Tower of Ghenjei? 30 days?
- Mat set aside the letter and didn’t open it for the required number of days. The next day he left for the Tower of Ghenjei.
And how many days before Rand’s epiphany on Dragonmount did Mat and Verin met?
- I will send you to the fan-curated chronologies. I have a chronology on my computer, but let’s let the fans work it out.
In ToM’s glossary, it is noted that Mesaana is destroyed (as opposed to Asmodean and Aran’gar who are noted to have been killed). If the Aes Sedai were to execute Mesaana, would the Dark One be able to put Mesaana’s soul in another body? Or since her mind was destroyed, is Mesaana’s soul permanently damaged?
- Nobody’s soul gets permanently damaged in that way in the Wheel of Time. Whether the Dark One can recover her and transmigrate her soul or not is a RAFO.
More seriously, I have an older question that I’ve been meaning to ask for a while. When the books say that the Blue Ajah throw themselves into Causes, does this mean the Ajah as a whole picks a Cause, or the individual members pick their own causes?
- Individual members pick their own causes.
Are you aware of and are there any plans in the future to adapt WoT to film or television? Would you be involved in this process at all? And is this something you would be open to doing with your own work sometime in the future?
- Red Eagle Entertainment currently has the rights to produce a Wheel of Time film, and I have met with them from time to time. But I’m not directly involved in the process; I’ll leave movie making up to the experts.
- I talked a little about Wheel of Time movies here.
- I sold an Alcatraz movie option to DreamWorks Animation; they’ve finally passed on it, but a producer is shopping it around to other studios. I also sold a Mistborn movie option to Paloppa Pictures.
Any chance of a hint at the red veiled Aiel? Even the tiniest of reference anywhere else?
- Harriet has told me I have to RAFO all questions about this. Sorry.
Regarding The Stormlight ArchiveEdit
Is the fact that The Way of Kings and rest of the books in the series are going to focus each one on a different character connected in any way to the fact that both TGS and ToM focused each one on a pair of characters?
- No, not really. Most of my plans for the Stormlight Archive go back years and years to before I was working on the Wheel of Time. I would say that the The Gathering Storm/Towers of Midnight character split happened because of the book split, less than any real planning on my part. I had the character arcs and decided which ones would fit well together if I was only going to be releasing one batch of them at a time.
- So the answer is no, but with the caveat that with the way my mind works, it may have been working in the same way in both cases.
Was the symbol of the Ghostbloods the same symbol that you used to move between different scenes in TWoK’s chapters (the 3 diamonds in a triangle pattern)?
- The Ghostbloods’ symbol has interconnected diamonds. I didn’t ask Tor for a specific scene break character; that was a design decision on their part.
In The Way of Kings, the epigrams indicate that the year is 1174 (or thereabouts). In the Prelude, the date is indicated as 3000 years ago. What mechanism is used to delineate the epochs? Obviously in the Prelude they wouldn’t refer to their date as -2174. In other words, what are the B.C./A.D./BCE equivalents for that series?
- I'm going to have to RAFO that.
In plotting an epic like WoK, to what extent do you outline the whole story? How does that compare with the outline and notes provided by Robert Jordan for the remaining volumes of WoT?
- Robert Jordan and I plot differently. In the notes he tends to talk about scenes that he’s working on at the time, whereas I tend to plot out everything, kind of in reverse order. His outlines do end up looking like my outlines in some ways, in that he talks about important moments and I tend to plot backwards, starting from those important moments and moving backward from them. He seemed to be much more of a “I work on this scene because I’m passionate about it” writer, where I am a “I build a framework for the entire book and then start writing” writer.
Which of the 10 Knights was supposed to be in book 1? I couldn’t tell. Is this by design? or did I miss the point?
- I'm not sure what the question means. Do you mean the Heralds? Or the ten orders of the Knights Radiant? The symbol stamped into the front of the first hardcover represents the Windrunners because of Kaladin’s awakening as a Windrunner. Also because of Szeth, but mostly because of Kaladin.
What’s the general time line on Stormlight Archive releases? Do you plan any major gaps in the series, or will books 2-10 likely be your main projects for the next few years?
I wrote a blog post on this back in October.
After I finish A Memory of Light, my major novel publishing schedule will be Stormlight Archive books two years in a row, followed by something else the next year. This pattern should continue until the series is finished. That doesn’t count shorter exploratory side projects like Alcatraz or The Rithmatist (formerly called Scribbler), which comes out in 2012. I’ll do one or two of those every year when I take a break after finishing a major novel, and not all of them will get polished to publication standards. Those deviations are largely to keep me from burning out.
Are any secondary WoK characters likely to become more major in the next book?
- Jasnah, Navani, and Taln all have expanded parts in the series to come. I won’t say specifically in which books, but all three of those characters will have larger roles. Several of the members of Bridge Four have larger roles; they will basically remain secondary characters, but may have expanded viewpoints.
What does aluminum do in Feruchemy? What does malatium do in Hemalurgy?
- RAFO. We’ll be releasing a chart eventually that includes all of the powers. I don’t want to speak until I have everything nailed down exactly the way I want.
What would an atium-electrum alloy do in Allomancy?
- The alloys of atium have various temporal effects.
What happens when you burn a Hemalurgic spike?
- Burning a Hemalurgic spike would have the effect of splicing your spiritual DNA to that of the person’s that is in the spike, which would have some very strange consequences.
Can you both Feruchemically charge and Hemalurgically invest in the same piece of metal?
What would happen if you burned the Feruchemically charge and Hemalurgically invested metal?
What happens when you break a Hemalurgic spike or metalmind? What happens to that power?
- Hemalurgic power can be split among multiple spikes and reforged, but remember that the longer a spike is outside of a person, the more the power is going to decay. Things like splitting it will decay it even further. Metalminds can also be broken and still be accessed.
In the Alcatraz series, Alcatraz is very worried about letting down so many people. Is this semi-autobiographical and perhaps speak to your fears of letting down the WoT fans? (maybe it’s subconscious!)
- If it is, it’s subconscious. Remember, I wrote the first Alcatraz book in 2005, before even Mistborn was published. The only one that I wrote after the Wheel of Time decision was made was book four. The previous ones had been written already. So there probably is a subconscious fear of letting down my readers, but it wouldn’t be specifically related to the Wheel of Time in those books.
Why does Bastille say they’re speaking Melerandian in book 1 and Nalhallan from book 2 on?
- When I originally wrote Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, I put that in there partially as a throwaway joke. Melerand is one of the main kingdoms in Dragonsteel, and I thought it would be amusing for them to be speaking that language somehow filtered into this world. By the end of the book I decided that Alcatraz could not be anywhere in the same continuity as Dragonsteel and that I was probably wrong for including that. Though there are other jokes in there relating to my other books—it’s much like the scene where Quentin speaks in Spook’s dialect. Those were just jokes, inside references to my other books.
- Remember that Alcatraz was written as a writing experiment, not as something that I was intending to publish. As the series grew more serious to me, meaning that I developed what I actually wanted to happen—which with me usually happens as I write book two of a series, when I sit down and build an arc for the entire series—I “realified” Alcatraz’s world a little bit, if that makes sense, made it its own substantial thing. So at that point it wasn’t appropriate for them to be speaking Melerandian anymore.
Also, when is Book 5 coming out?? I want to know how Bastille comes back to life.
- Book 5, I’m going to wait and see what happens with the movie deal. By the way, DreamWorks did not renew their option, so it’s back on the market. We’ll see what happens. I also want to see what happens with Scholastic. They so far have not asked for a fifth book. If there is no activity by about this time next year, I will look into writing the fifth book and either just releasing an ebook or selling it to Tor or something like that. The fifth book will come.
- And by the way, this is from me, Brandon, and not from Alcatraz: The fifth book is the one that includes the altar scene. I’m more trustworthy than Alcatraz is. That scene is in the fifth book.
If we ever get it, will we see the dinosaurs (or at least the peteruhdacctil) again?
- Heh heh heh. RAFO.
Would it be effective/efficient to make Awakened machines? That is to say, could one make a crossbow or catapult that fires itself, or a wooden cog that perpetually turns?
- There is a country that does that.
We are all fans of all of Brandon’s stuff in our house, but we are particularly taken with Alcatraz. And I’m very alarmed by the publisher descripton that Shattered Lens is the “fourth and final book.” Because the story isn’t over yet! End of comas? Altar of encyclopedias? Attica?? Please, PLEASE reassure us that there is indeed another book coming out. Because otherwise we might have to picket Scholastic’s offices or something!
- I’d be happy if you would picket—though I say that mostly jokingly. I didn’t want them to put that on the book. It’s not the last book. But those who know what’s happened behind the scenes know that Scholastic and I have not seen eye to eye on how the Alcatraz books have been packaged and distributed.
Regarding Warbreaker and future books in that worldEdit
How unique are individual Breaths? Would collecting 100 Breaths from criminals and scumbags affect your personality in any way? Or collecting 100 Breaths from generous, charitable people?
- I intended them to not be terribly individual. Breaths do bring some things along with them, but for the most part I wanted them to be a step removed from that.
In Vahr’s case, did collecting Breath from other rebel-minded people strengthen his determination and resolve?
- It would have had an influence on him, but you would need the numbers of Breaths that he had for any effect to manifest. It’s basically a non-issue in the current book, but it could be an issue in some of the things that will happen in the next book.
In Warbreaker, is Clod the Lifeless body of Arsteel? I like this idea because Arsteel would have had some breaths within him when he died, as this is how Vashir defeated him and Denth, and this could help explain why he seems to be a little more self-aware than most Lifeless. Could you respond to this idea?
- I confirmed in the Warbreaker annotations that Clod is Arsteel.
- Clod is more self-aware than most Lifeless. There is something left of Arsteel within Clod. The Breaths that Vasher gave him when he killed him do have an effect on this.
Does the sand storytelling Hoid use in Warbreaker have anything to do with your future possible trilogy “Whitesand” written about in a recent blog?
- No, it does not. This is a storytelling method that Hoid developed on his own. It does have a relationship to The Liar of Partinel.
Can Returned have children? If so, who was the first Returned to do so?
- I’m going to have to RAFO that one because it’s a big RAFO question for the world. In-world, it is believed both that they cannot and that they can. Mythology speaks of it happening, yet many Returned by their own experiment have not been able to have children.
How long ago (before Elantris 1) was Elantris built?
- Hundreds of years if not over a thousand years.
When Dilaf is instructing the monks in how to kill the Elantrians, he mentions purification rites that need to be spoken. Do the rites have to do with the Dor? Or are they purely religious/ritualistic?
- They are mostly ritualistic, but a lot of what the Dakhor do is strongly influenced by the Skaze. Read into that what you will.
Was Wyrn’s drive to topple Elantris purely a typical, conquest-related motivation? Or did it arise after Fjordell gained access to the Dor?
- The Skaze have a large amount of influence on most politics and most working in Fjordell.
I know it’s a RAFO, but how the eff did Wyrn see into the future? That seems above even a Shardholder’s abilities! I bet that sucker’s tapping into the Shadesmar. But I digress...
- Ha, wow, that is indeed a RAFO. Note that we have seen temporal abilities in the Cosmere before. Most of the time these are related directly to the pure essence of a Shard or to a Splinter.
Regarding the Dragonsteel series/mythologyEdit
You’ve mentioned before that all your books so far are in chronological order (Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, Stormlight Archive). 1). Alloy of Law takes place about 200 years after The Hero of Ages. (Right?) Does this put it chronologically before or after Warbreaker?
- The Alloy of Law takes place around 300 years after The Hero of Ages and several hundred years before the events in The Way of Kings. That does put it around the same time as Warbreaker.
When did you develop your idea to have multiple series playing out on different planets? How many separate stories do you plan to tell in said universe, and will your Dragonsteel books be the last?
- I started doing this early in my career before I got published, when I felt that writing sequels was not a good use of my time. Just look at the hypothetical; if I’m trying to get published and I write three books in the same, if an editor rejects book one, he or she is not going to want to see book two. But if an editor rejects book one but is optimistic about my writing, I can send them a book from another series and they can look at that.
- During my unpublished days I wrote thirteen books, only one of which was a sequel. So I had twelve new worlds, or at least twelve new books—some of them were reexaminations of worlds. But I wanted to be writing big epics. This is what I always wanted to do; something like the Wheel of Time. So I began plotting a large, massive series where all these books were connected, so I could kind of “stealth” have a large series without the editors knowing I was sending them books from the same series. It was mostly just a thing for me, to help me do the writing I wanted to be doing. And then when publication came I continued to do that, and told the story behind the story.
- I originally plotted an arc of around 36 books. The total has varied between 32 and 36; 32 would work better for the nature of the universe, but the question is whether I can fit everything into 32 books. I won’t say whether Dragonsteel will be the last or not.
You’ve said you lifted the Shattered Plains from Dragonsteel, what would Kaladin have been doing if not running bridges and what will happen to Dragonsteel without the Plains?
- Both good questions. I’ve spoken before of the big changes that happened when I wrote The Way of Kings 2.0. One of them was bringing in the Shattered Plains. The problem was that there was a big hole in Kaladin’s storyline, because in the original manuscript of The Way of Kings (major spoiler), he accepted the Shardblade. That was the prologue of the book; Kaladin—then known as Merin—saved Elhokar’s life. They tried to take the Shardblade away from him, and Dalinar insisted that he be given it. So Merin was made a Shardbearer in the very first scenes of the book. And from that point, his character never worked. So in doing the second version of the book, I decided that no, we’ve got to build more into this, we’ve got to dig deeper, and he has to make the opposite decision, which is where the entire framework of him turning down the Shardblade and then being betrayed all came from. The problem was then what was he going to do? I knew I wanted him to have therefore ended up sold into slavery and have terrible things happen to him, but I couldn’t figure out what Kaladin was going to do and was unable to write the book until I mashed in the Shattered Plains and said, “Ah, that was what he needed to be doing all along.”
- I really don’t know what I’ll do in Dragonsteel without that now. The problem is that it was the part of Dragonsteel that worked, but it was the part that was most at odds with the story in Dragonsteel. The story that I wanted to tell was the first half of the book, which is the more boring part. Hopefully as a better writer now I can make that part more interesting, but that was the core of what Dragonsteel was. The Shattered Plains was always just going to be a small diversion, but when I wrote it it was fascinating, and I ended up pouring tons of effort and time into it. In many ways it was a distraction, a deviation, a beautiful darling. So for a long time I’ve been thinking, “I can’t kill my darling, because that’s the most exciting part of the book.” Yet it was at odds with what the story of the book was originally intended to be. I wasn’t as good at controlling my stories back then, making them come out to have the tone I wanted. Anyway, we’ll have to approach that when I actually write Dragonsteel.
Can anyone take a Shard’s power, or does it require a special makeup in a person?
Here’s a quote. “Why, the Astalsi were rather advanced—they mixed religion with science quite profoundly. They thought that different colors were indications of different kinds of fortune, and they were quite detailed in their descriptions of light and color. Why, it’s from them that we get some of our best ideas as to what things might have looked like before the Ascension. They had a scale of colors, and use it to describe the sky of the deepest blue and various plants in their shades of green.” Do the pre-Ascension religions correspond to religions from other Shardworlds, as this one seems somewhat like Nalthis?
- I mention this in one of the Well of Ascension annotations.
- After I came up with the idea and had Sazed mention it, my desire to explore it more was one of the initial motivations for Warbreaker’s setting.
- The answer to your question is yes and no. There are shadows.
Regarding writing, life, and everything elseEdit
On your Writing Excuses podcast you mentioned a love of maps, especially maps that thematically work with the world of the book (such as the maps in your Way of Kings.) Given that. what is your all-time favorite fantasy novel map?
- Wow, that’s putting me on the spot. There are many different aspects I like about a lot of different maps. I love how the map in The Hobbit is the map the characters carry around. That struck me when I read that book. I really liked how David Eddings’ books had a big map and then a zoom-in for every section when the characters would go there. But I wouldn’t call either of those my favorite fantasy map.
- The main Wheel of Time map is certainly one of the prettiest. But the best I’ve probably seen is the one from Leviathan. That one kind of blew me away.
With your penchant for developing very different types of world and types of magic as you go from series to series are you ever tempted to allow other writers to expand your universes in the way George R. R. Martin does with the Wild Cards series? Open but controlled?
- I have never been tempted by this, basically because I have so many things balanced in the Cosmere to not interfere with one another, to make the story come out the way I want. I would be worried about things breaking continuity. And if there are stories in these worlds worth telling, they’re stories I want to tell. That doesn’t mean I won’t eventually do something like that; I would consider it someday, but I haven’t considered it yet.
What is your process for pre-writing work? (Worldbuilding etc). When you write something and “get stuck” or it doesn’t turn out quite as you envisioned, how do you know whether to take it and add something different to make it better, or just move to another project and let the “stuck” project be? (I was thinking of how Mistborn was a combination of two projects that didn’t turn out quite as you thought, but combined they increased in awesomeness).
- Trial and error. Though for me, setting aside a project is almost always a bad thing for that project. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to do that sometimes, but if I set aside a project rather than continue to work on it until I’ve fixed the problem, I’ve found that my personal makeup means that restarting that project is very difficult. It happens, and I’ve made it work, and there are great books that I have released where I did it, but usually it can take weeks of effort to get back into that project. Because I’m a linear writer—I start at the beginning and write to the end—if I haven’t been writing from the beginning when I pick something up, it can be extremely difficult.
How do you feel about the lack of prominent gay characters within the epic fantasy as a genre and do you ever include (or will ever include) gay or lesbian characters in your own work?
- That’s an issue that I feel I should speak about delicately, because it’s one of those charged issues that can create a lot of division. But my basic feeling is that a character should not be any more or less sympathetic, or more or less evil, or anything like that, because of sexual orientation or because of basic beliefs or philosophy on things like religion. So there are gay characters in my books, though so far they have been side characters. I don’t make a big deal of it, because I tend not to make a big deal of the sexuality of side characters in general. For instance, in The Way of Kings, Drehy, a member of Bridge Four, is gay. He’s based on a good friend of mine who is gay. There is a lesbian character in The Allow of Law; again I don’t make a big deal of it though it’s a little more obvious.
- Basically, I just try to write characters and try to have different makeups of characters. I feel gay characters should be included, and I’m annoyed that sometimes there seems to be an association between including gay characters and using that as a means of making them seem like a reprehensible character. You may know what I’m talking about; I’ve seen it in books before and it bugs me. Just like it bugs me if an author makes a character religious and the tone of the book implies, “Well, obviously, religious people are all idiots, so I’m not going to make this character actively an idiot, I’m just going to represent them as being religious,” which by the tone of the book indicates that they’re an idiot. That’s not to say that there can’t be social structures like religions that will push people toward doing things that are questionable or morally reprehensible—there can, of course, and it will happen—but I’m talking about the individuals. I don’t know that I have strong feelings on the subject other than that I think people should be represented as people.
- I wrote a bit more about the subject in my essay on Dumbledore.
What’s the next non-sequel book you’re wanting to write or rewrite?
- I really would like to get Steelheart done. That would probably be the next one I’d want to do; that or Dark One. But I don’t know when I will have time for them.
URL for Tor.com Q&A: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/01/your-questions-for-brandon-sanderson-answered