You asked, and Brandon Sanderson has answered! In conjunction with the end of our reread of The Way of Kings, we gave Tor.com commenters the opportunity to ask Brandon Sanderson questions about The Way of Kings. He sat down and took the time to answer some of them!
The following answers are transcribed from audio he recorded specifically for this Q&A. Click through to find out whether people get dairy to eat all these lobster-dogs with, how a certain pair of royal siblings gets along, and possibly everything you could ever want to know about social climbing.
1) From Michael Pye:
One thing I’ve noticed around the release of Words of Radiance was you pointing out that The Stormlight Archive is really two series of 5 books each. Was that something you wanted to make clear so as not to be daunting to perspective readers or just more about how the story has developed since you began?
It’s a mixture of both, honestly. I do want to be wary of not being too daunting to readers who are jumping into this thing and have been reading The Wheel of Time. They might think, “The Wheel of Time was ‘promised’ to be six books and it ended up at fourteen. If you promise six, how long is this one going to be?”
But it’s also because I want to start preparing readers for the break that’s going to happen at book five. I’m going to stop writing the series for a few years, and then the “back five” (as I’m calling it) will focus on some different characters than the front five. So I have a lot of good reasons to be preparing people for what’s going to happen there. Our expectations are a very big part of our enjoyment of all different kinds of entertainment mediums.
2) From JeremyG:
How is Kaladin able to consistently recognize Syl, even when she’s in different forms?
This has to do with their bond.
3) From Underbelly:
As a man of many projects, you seem very good about compartmentalizing your workload to be able to complete or advance a project independently while midway through even larger commitments. That being said, even authors such as Stephen King have viewed a certain project as their ‘life work’. Would you consider The Stormlight Archive to be this to you (or at least your early life’s work—being as young as you are) or rather does your ability to compartmentalize extend to your accomplishments as well as your workload in that you can view your achievements independently?
I consider the Cosmere sequence to be my life work—of which the Stormlight Archive is a major part, but it’s not the only part. Compartmentalizing projects is the nature of how I work, to keep myself fresh, but the interconnection of the Cosmere means it’s not entirely compartmentalized.
4) From cyddenid:
How well do Elhokar and Jasnah get on?
Fine, I would say. This is a bit of a spoiler for the end of Words of Radiance, but you will eventually see that they’re the sort of siblings who are both used to doing their own thing and getting their own way. They’ve both learned to stay out of one another’s business. That said, Elhokar is also used to being surrounded by domineering people of various sorts. So having a domineering sister is really nothing different to him.
5) From thanners:
Dalinar can’t hear his wife’s name (or at least it seems to be magically censored to him, anyway), nor can he recall anything about her. But what happens if another woman with the same name is mentioned. Can he not hear her name? Or will he instead be unable to retain the fact that that name is the same as his wife’s name?
It would be more the second.
6) From shdwfeather:
One of my favourite parts about Roshar is the diverse set of cultures that exist in the world. Could you talk about some of the inspirations for the complicated cultures such as the Alethi?
Building Roshar, I wanted to make sure that I was doing a little extra worldbuilding work. I don’t want to say that for something like Mistborn I’m not doing worldbuilding work, but my focus was in other areas. I wanted Mistborn to be accessible, so I made it an Earth analogue.
I consider Roshar my showpiece for worldbuilding, and as such I wanted everything about it to display some of the best of what science fiction and fantasy is capable of: new ecologies, new cultures, cultures that feel real but that at the same time are not just earth analogues. Because of that, I’ve done a lot of work to individualize and distinctify a lot of the various cultures on Roshar.
Now, that said, creativity is really the recombination of things you’ve seen before. We as human beings, by our very nature, can’t imagine something we’ve never seen. What we can do is take different things we’ve seen and combine them in new ways. That’s the soul of creativity. It’s the unicorn idea—we’ve seen things with horns, and we’ve seen horses. We put the two together and create something new, a unicorn.
Because of that, I don’t know if it’s possible to create a culture in a fantasy book that isn’t inspired in some way by various earth cultures. I’m trying not to be as overt about it as The Wheel of Time was, because one of the cool things about The Wheel of Time was its twisting and turning of Earth cultures into Randland cultures.
That’s a big preface. What are my inspirations for the Alethi, for all of the different cultures? There’s definitely some Korean in there. There’s some Semitic cultures in there. The magic system table, the double eye, is based on the idea of the Sefer and the Tree of Life from the Jewish Kabbalah. That’s where I can trace the original inspiration of that. I can trace the original inspiration of the safehand to Koreans not showing people the bottom of their feet because they felt that that is an insult—that’s not something you do. I can trace the Alethi apparel to various different clothing influences. I’m hoping that a lot of where I get the cultures is based off the interplay between the setting, the histories, the idea of the highstorms, and the metaphor of the desolations. My influences come from all over the place.
7) From MRC Halifax:
To what extent has the economy of the world been planned out? Obviously, there’s a refreshingly fair amount of economic activity happening in the novels, often times helping to move along the story. But to what extent do you have it planned out already vs. “I’ll come up with it when I need it.”
That is to say do you know that place A sells to place B, but place B has nothing to sell to place A and so sells to place C, which sells to place A, influencing the trade patterns of ships. And what the price of a horse is in A vs. B vs. C., or the price of an inn for the night, or the price of a pair of well made boots. Have you worked out how people are taxed and tithed, how the trade routes flow, how comparatively wealthy people are around the world, etc?
For a lot of these things I’ve done some of it, and for others I decide what to do when I need it. One trick in worldbuilding is to focus your attention on the things that are going to be a source of conflict or passion to the characters. It would be very easy to spend twenty years worldbuilding and never writing. So there is a fair bit of both, but most of what I focus my attention on is where is the conflict. Trade deals are a source of conflict, and so where it’s a source of conflict to the cultures I have spent more time dealing with it.
8) From Neuralnet:
The characters eat all of these crustaceans… do they have some sort of butter to dip into—even without cows, although maybe they have cows in shinovar? (I can’t be the only one who envisions himself on Roshar eating dinner every time I eat crab or lobster)
Their milk products are much lesser used, but they do get cream and whatnot from sow’s milk. The pigs on Roshar produce more milk from years of natural genetic modification—breeding and whatnot—in the same way that humans have bred cows over the centuries. So they do have milk products. Some of their curries will have different types of cream. Whether they’re dipping the crustaceans depends on the culture. For instance, Horneaters have teeth that break claws. Their back molars are different from standard human molars. To a lesser extent, the Herdazians have the same thing going for them. For those two cultures, they’ll chew the shells and eat them. For the Alethi, they’re probably dipping the meat in a curry, or just preparing the curry with the crustacean meat in it. There are other cultures where they’ll sauté it or have a sow’s milk dipping sauce or things like that.
9) From Jasuni:
When Szeth walked through an area he had lashed in Interlude-9, could he have decided to let himself be affected by his own full lashing? How does this extend to other surgebinders?
Using a full lashing to stick yourself to something is inherently inferior to changing the gravitational pull and being able to move on that plane instead. So I see very rare instances where you would want to. But it is within the scope of the powers to be affected by it if he wanted to be. It will still affect other Surgebinders, and they will not be able to not be affected, unless there is a specific ability or item that is preventing it.
10) From Phantrosity:
In The Way of Kings, we see a lot of worldhoppers on Roshar. Have you already seeded worldhoppers FROM Roshar in your other works?
Yes. You’ve met several.
11) From EMTrevor:
Would an Awakener be able to awaken a corpse that was soulcast into stone more easily because it used to be living, thereby being able to create lifeless similar to Kalad’s Phantoms without having bones in the framework?
Yes. That would definitely work.
12) ESSH and Isilel both wanted to know:
What are the mechanics of rising or falling in dahn/nahn rank? Isilel provided these examples:
Let’s say somebody from a very low nahn, who is basically a serf, right? I mean, they don’t have the freedom of movement. So, what if a man like that rises to a sergeant and serves 25 years with distinction, does he go back to being a serf when/if he retires from the military? Would he be required to return to his village/town of origin? Can something like this be properly controlled, even? I mean, do they check travelling people’s papers?
There’s a lot of parts to this. Rising within nahns and dahns happens more easily in Roshar than rising in social status did in most societies that had similar things in our world—for instance India, or even England. To an extent, it is very easy to buy yourself up a rank. What you’ve got to remember is the very high ranks are harder to attain. By nature, the children of someone of a very high rank sometimes are shuffled down to a lower rank—until they hit a stable rank. There are certain ranks that are stable in that the children born to parents of that rank always have that rank at as well. Your example of the soldier who serves with distinction could very easily be granted a rank up. In fact, it would be very rare for a soldier to not get a level of promotion if they were a very low rank—to not be ranked up immediately. The social structure pushes people toward these stable ranks. For the serf level, if you’re able to escape your life of serfdom and go to a city, often getting a job and that sort of thing does require some measure of paperwork listing where you’re from and the like. But if you were a serf who was educated, that would be pretty easy to fake. What’s keeping most people as serfs is the fact that breaking out of it is hard, and there are much fewer of those ranks than you might assume. The right of travel is kind of an assumed thing. To be lower ranked than that, something has to have gone wrong for your ancestors and that sort of thing. There are many fewer people of that rank than there are of the slightly higher ranks that have the right of travel. It’s a natural check and balance against the nobility built into the system. There are a lot of things going on here. Movement between ranks is not as hard as you might expect.
Ditto with the lighteyes—does exemplary service raise one’s dahn?
It’s much harder for a lighteyes, but the king and the highprinces can raise someone’s dahn if they want to. But it is much harder. In the lower dahns, you can buy yourself up in rank. Or you can be appointed. For instance, if you’re appointed as a citylord, that is going to convey a certain dahn, and you could jump two or three dahns just by getting that appointment. Now, if you serve poorly, if a lot of the people who have the right of travel leave—which this doesn’t happen very often—if your town gets smaller and you’re left with this struggling city, you would be demoted a dahn, most likely. If a lot of the citizens got up and left, that would be a sign. They could take away your set status by leaving. That’s something that’s built into the right of travel. So these things happen.
If parents have different nahns/dahn’s, how is child’s position calculated? For instance, if Shallan had married 10-dahner Kabsal, what dahn would their children belong to?
The highest dahn determines the dahn of the child, though that may not match the dahn of the highest parent. For instance, there are certain dahns that aren’t conveyed to anyone except for your direct heir. The other children are a rank below. I believe that third dahn is one of the stable ranks. If you’re the king, you’re first dahn. Your kid inherits. If you have another kid who doesn’t marry a highprince, and is not a highprince, then they’re going to be third dahn, not second, because that’s the stable rank that they would slip down to, along with highlords and the children of highprinces.
Or, and another thing—what happens if a lighteyed child is born to darkeyes or even slaves? Which should happen often enough, given that male nobles seem rather promiscous. Anyway, are such people automatically of tenth dahn?
The situation is very much taken into account in these sorts of cases. Normally—if there is such a thing as normal with this—one question that’s going to come up is are they heterochromatic. Because you can end up with one eye of each color, both eyes light, or both eyes dark. That’s going to influence it a lot, what happens here. Do you have any heirs? Was your child born lighteyed? This sort of thing is treated the same way that a lot of societies treated illegitimate children. The question of, do I need this person as an heir? Are they born darkeyed? Can I shuffle them off somewhere? Set them up, declare them to be this certain rank. Are you high enough rank to do that? Are you tenth dahn yourself? What happens with all of these things? There’s no single answer to that. The most common thing that’s probably going to happen is that they are born heterochromatic. Then you’re in this weird place where you’re probably declared to be tenth dahn, but you may have way more power and authority than that if one parent is of a very high dahn, just as a bastard child in a royal line would be treated in our world.