More on Brandon Sanderson’s Epic, The Way of KingsMarch 17, 2010
It’s been really nice to have a little extra time as of late to spend reading, and thinking about speculative fiction literature again (following one of the most hectic chapters in my life thus far) and to spend some time just meandering the net in search of information on what looms on the horizon. Well, on March 16th, Sanderson provided readers a bit of perspective on his upcoming fantasy epic, The Way of Kings, including a little wisdom as to what we should and should not expect from the upcoming novels.
“KINGS is what you might call my baby, the grand epic I’ve been wanting to tell for many years. I now feel my writing skill is capable of doing the story justice.”
Some insight then, from Sanderson’s blog:
POINT ONE: This book is the start of a longer epic.
KINGS stands at 425,000 words right now. I’ll be trimming that down to (hopefully) 380–390k when I do the next draft. (Which will be the final draft.) That will put it at roughly double the length of MISTBORN or ELANTRIS. The series is called the Stormlight Archive, and Tor purchased four books from me. I’m not planning that to be the end, though I’m cautious at locking myself into a certain number of books. (Though I do have the entire series plotted, and am fairly certain I know exactly how many books it will be.) For now, let me just say that it won’t be as long as the Wheel of Time, but will be longer than anything I’ve attempted so far.
POINT TWO: It is not a replacement for the Wheel of Time.
I will be sorry to see the Wheel of Time end, just like many of you will be. It will be difficult for me on two levels, both as a fan and as a writer. I’ve been reading these books since I was fifteen. More than half of my life, now, has been spent with Rand and company. My career has been shaped by them, and several years of my life recently have been dominated by their stories.
However, I don’t intend to replace the series. I have to be my own person, approach storytelling in my own way, and write with my own voice. To intentionally set out to replace the Wheel of Time would be monumentous hubris. The Wheel of Time doesn’t need replacing. It’s still there, on our shelves, just like it’s always been. Once it’s complete, that will be (in many ways) even better. We’ll be able to read it straight through, beginning to end, without waiting.
POINT THREE: I think KINGS is one of the best books I’ve ever written.
I think the characters are incredible, the magic imaginative, the scope and history of the world impressive. I think the story is exciting, and has a depth beyond what I’ve been able to do before. I’m trying some new, exciting things for me—some nonlinear storytelling, some great internal artwork, and layers of depth to the storytelling.
POINT FOUR: However, the book is just a book.
My editor, bless his heart, compared THE WAY OF KINGS to DUNE and LORD OF THE RINGS in the catalogue copy that he wrote. He’s a wonderful man, but I cringe when any new book is compared to masterworks like those. DUNE and LotR have proven themselves over decades, passing the test of time. They had monumental influences on their respective genres.
No new novel has the right to claim such a comparison out of the gate. If you go into KINGS expecting the next LORD OF THE RINGS or DUNE, you will be disappointed. I am not Tolkien or Herbert. I am what I am—a largely unproven writer still in the early days of his career.
Early in my drafting process for this book, I fell into some traps by putting too much weight upon the future of this novel. I began to think that KINGS would be the book that would define my solo career, and I began to worry (with all of the recent eyes that have been watching me) that this book needed to be something incredibly jaw-dropping and earth-shattering, otherwise it would be a failure.
That’s a bad way to be thinking as you write a book, and probably an even worse way to be thinking as you start reading a book. The Wheel of Time didn’t start to really make its mark until book three or four; it was the same for Harry Potter. Series like this take time to build. Beyond that, you can’t go into a series with the mind-set that it needs to be a huge blockbuster to be successful.
I’m not sure what I want people to think about this book. I want them to read it, enjoy it, and say nice things about it. I want them to anticipate it and talk about it on blogs, waiting for the day it is released. But in the end, it’s just a book. Let’s not hype this thing to death.
POINT FIVE: Have I mentioned that it’s big?
I started working on THE WAY OF KINGS fifteen years ago. I wrote the first version of the book in full back in 2003. It was always planned to be big. You don’t grow up reading Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, and Melanie Rawn without wanting to do your own big epic. When I showed it to my editor back in ’03, he thought it was too ambitious to be published, at least as my second novel.
There are thirty magic systems in this world, depending on how you count them, and around six thousand years of history I’ve mapped out. There are dozens of cultures, a continent of enormous scope, and a deep, rich mythology. However, when I say things like that, you have to realize that very little of it will end up in the first book. The best fantasy epics I’ve read begin with a personal look at the characters in the early books, then have a steady expansion into epic scope.
I’ve spent many years thinking about the epic fantasy genre, what makes it work, what I love about it, and how to deal with its inherent weaknesses. And so I’m trying to make use of the form of the novel (meaning how I place chapters and which viewpoints I put where) in order to convey the scope without distracting from the main stories I wish to tell.
Anyway, I don’t jump between dozens of characters in this novel. There are three central viewpoints, with two or so primary supporting viewpoints. I intend the first book to be its own story, focused and personal. I don’t want this to be the “Wow! Thirty Magic Systems!” series. I want it to be a series about a group of characters you care about, with a lush and real world that has solid and expansive depth.
We all wrestle with hubris, and it’s a credit to Sanderson’s character that he bares his worries for all to see — where the promotion of these books are concerned — striving to keep our expectations in check, but to simultaneously expect something great if we can keep things in perspective (i.e. not expecting the next Tolkien). But as far as hype goes, it is certainly my belief that the majority of readers are able to see beyond the hyperbole and form worthwhile conclusions on their own independent of what someone else has to say, be it a cover blurb, review, or publisher’s press piece and that Sanderson probably needn’t worry about Kings own comparisons with other grand epics. It’s been done to death before and will certainly be done again and again. I’d reckon it can be deemed an honor that his turn has come. Whatever the case, based on what we know so far and on its own merit, I’m really excited for this.