Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Largely it was to make things realistic, as realistic as I can. Background in physics and engineering; I also tried to structure channeling as if it were a science or technology. No eye of newt, hair of dog. There are real limits, there are rules, there are technological structures to channeling which I think are fairly obvious to anyone who looks at it. That was the major influence.
Plus making sure that I see that everything is real. Well if I bring about a blacksmith, well I don't know anything about blacksmithing, but I was able to get some nineteenth century books on blacksmithing, and once I had written the scenes I sent them to a woman I met that was a blacksmith and farrier, and she said you need to do this and you need to do that, but otherwise it is okay.
About research: What, if any, research for your novels have you done, and how did you do it?
The calling of a fiction writer, particularly a fantasy writer, is to know a little bit about a lot of things—just enough to be dangerous, so to speak. I tend to read survey books that talk about history—things that give overviews, such as the history of warfare, or the history of the sword, or navigation. That kind of thing. I would say I do a fair amount of research, but mostly it's an attempt to dump as much into my brain as possible for spawning stories and writing about things intelligently. For Mistborn, I researched canals, eunuchs, and London during the mid 1800's.
I do a lot of broad-based reading in historical works. Things like the History of Warfare and the like. From there, I decide what I need to know for a specific book. For Mistborn, I read a lot on Canal Culture, Alchemy, Eunics, and early 1800's London. Mostly survey works.
I was interested in your insights as to what kind of subject matter you research for your books?
I kind of answered this above, but I will say that MOST of it is along the lines of "How did this piece of technology work" or "how did this battle play out." Historical things.
Let’s start with an Alloy of Law question, since that’s why we’re both here. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the evolution of the world of Scadrial, specifically in how you’ve integrated the world’s technological advances. Was there anything in particular that drew you to the old west setting, and did you do anything to research it, like going to a shooting range or a ranch?
Good question. I actually wrote the prologue LAST. I wrote it to be the prologue to another book about Wax and Wayne if I did one. I always knew what happened, but I didn’t want to start the book with the old west, because most of it didn’t happen in the old west, it happened in the city. What is now chapter one used to be the prologue. And after writing the whole book I realized that we didn’t see into Wax’s heart, we didn’t know what he was always referencing with Lessie… we actually needed to see it. And so I actually took that chapter and moved it to the front. I worry a bit that it will old-west-ify it a bit too much, because I did see this as a city book. All of the Mistborn books have taken place in cities.
The evening began with the amusing sight of Brandon Sanderson piling various items of furniture on top of one another to create a home-made lectern for his laptop. Following a brief aside on the difference between a lectern and a podium (and how this plays into the editorial process), Brandon read from a novella he’s recently written. [Legion] Apparently, he started it on the flight back to the US the last time he came to the UK. He couldn’t work on the Wheel of Time since he was awaiting the outcome of some research on the notes. He went on to explain that Robert Jordan left a pile of notes roughly half Brandon’s height that his two researchers dip into when Brandon needs an answer to one of his questions. This is normally quick, but it can take several months to come up with a fully researched answer. The reading lasted about eight minutes and seemed to be from the beginning of the novella. I won’t spoil the concept, but it’s clever and deeply silly.
The evening then moved to a Q&A. Questions and answers are paraphrased from my notes and memory, so they won’t be absolutely word-for-word, but they shouldn’t be much different from the original conversation. I’ve included all the questions, not just the Wheel-related ones.
Someone asked if it were hard to write Jasnah, an atheist character, for a devout Christian.
Brandon said he read a lot of atheist message boards for inspiration. Also, it sounded like he'd had the character in his head for a while, but hadn't found the right book to put it in—e.g. he said it would make no sense to put an atheist in a world where gods walk around (i.e. Warbreaker).
Who are your favorite writers?
My favorite living writer right now is probably Terry Pratchett. There is no one who can balance humor and plot and character like he does, particularly in his books about Vimes. I really like Guy Gavriel Kay a lot, and I try to read a lot of new writers to see what's going on in the field, so recently I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and that was a great book. I read a lot of history books and non-fiction as well. If you opened up my eReader you'd find three or four Terry Pratchetts, all the Wheel of Time, all the current Hugo nominees and a bunch of books right now on psychology. When I do research I cast my net very widely and then snatch what feels right out of that. Occasionally I'll read a specific book for a specific book, but usually I'm trying to increase my general understanding.
The Memory of Light tactics were the things I was most worried about getting right. RJ was more a military historian than me and he was a soldier, so we went looking for help. Harriet knows a man named Bernard Cornwell who writes a lot of military fiction, so he helped us, and Alan Romanczuk is a war historian, who was able to help us a lot. He built the battle plan for the entire war, as far as troop movements and the tactical portion of the Last Battle. Connecting them and making it meld into the story with the characters was my job. We went rounds about "this is tactically sound" or "no it's not", so Alan was a big help making it believable. I did research, but my feeling is that I can get to 70–80% of knowledge on a subject pretty quickly through a month or two of research, but getting that last 20% is something that takes 10 years of work. My goal is to get to 70–80, and then give it to someone who knows their stuff and have them help me from there.
The names of the people Brandon referenced here were probably butchered. I was just trying to keep up with him so I could record the main parts of his response instead of focusing on the names of his references. [Fixed—Terez]
Also of interest to WoT fans and aspiring writers, both: one fan asked, given the lack of majorly epic-scale battles in Brandon's other work, how he approached the near endless warfare that makes up the bulk of A Memory of Light.
The answer: research, research, research, and lots of help from experts. Brandon asserts (and I can believe) that he can get himself to about 80% expert on just about any topic in the course of writing prep, but his lack of personal experience with warfare (reminding us of Mr. Jordan's service in Vietnam) put him at a disadvantage in accurately conveying what needed to be conveyed in the last battle. Military buffs and armchair historians came to the rescue (including Team Jordan member Alan Romanczuk), outlining a series of strategies and tactics based on real-world battles that Brandon used as a guide. However, Tarmon Gai'don being on a somewhat different scale than we're used to in our Age, both metrically and dramatically, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Brandon and the battle guys about amping up the drama without sacrificing realism—inserting twists and character moments to make us cheer or weep.
The last book had a lot of military action in it. Did you have to do a lot of research for that?
Yes we did. And I relied a lot on some experts that we know to give me a lot of help on that.
Did you have any Air Force consultation with the to'raken scenes at all?
That was in mind. We had a lot of military experts help us out with these books. I relied on them a lot.
As an abuse survivor I just wanted to thank you for creating a character like Vin. The emotion you brought about through her story, was so authentic. How do you create your characters and how much research do you do?
Most of my character research comes from talking to people, reading interviews, and taking notes. For Vin, it was particularly important to me that I get it right, so I did go speak in person with some special individuals that helped me out. In most cases, however, I look on-line.
Brandon described Mat as "good" and "above the curve." However, compared to Lan, Mat was "completely out-classed." Brandon confirmed that Lan is at the top in terms of combat ability, but added that, at his height, Tam was "pretty darn good" and could have taken Mat. However, Brandon cautioned that all this was not factoring Mat’s luck. Mat's combat abilities vary a great deal, depending on whether he was "ticked off," what the stakes of the battle were and whether he was in "awesome Mat mode."
Regarding the battles in the end of the series, Brandon said that some of the researchers working with them studied historical battles and fed him movements for authenticity.
Jordan tried to protect Maria from spoilers in the work he had her do for him. She eventually persuaded him she could handle them. Almost the first thing he then gave her was Verin's full backstory. This was somewhere around the time Path of Daggers came out.
The oddest research request was Jordan asking how babies feel when they are born. This was eventually used in the bonding scene in Winter's Heart.
Lots of interviews and lots of reading on forums. People who post their hearts and souls on-- if you find the right forums, where people are among like-minded individuals, you can watch like a fly-on-the-wall and see what people are saying and how they are feeling. Because I strive for authenticity, that's what I-- whenever someone is feeling I want it to be authentic, and the more far removed from my own experience the better it is, if that makes sense to me, to get it into my books. So I try very hard for that.
In fact I'm going to be suggesting to the Veterans' Administration to use the series for treatment for PTSD. There are literally some things in there I've never seen anyone actually understand or get before. Some of my military friends have just been in absolute tears after reading your book.
That is an honor to hear.
I go there when I’m looking for, like that, like, I know I wrote something about this, what did I put in the book. Then I’ll go to your wiki and look at it.
I got that habit with the Wheel of Time, because I could find it in the notes, but it always takes longer to go to the notes than to Google and Google doesn’t index my wiki, so I go to yours. I think it’s well done. More stuff about the SA wiki and maybe they’ll link it on Brandon’s website.