With the next book in the Wheel Of Time series, Towers Of Midnight, being published on 2 November 2010, SciFiNow had the chance to talk to Brandon Sanderson. Following the passing of the original author of the series, Robert Jordan, Sanderson was invited by Jordan’s widow to conclude the series, which has spanned over 20 years and will consist of 14 novels by the time it’s finished. Sanderson spoke to us about Towers Of Midnight, writing for a series he’s followed since he was a boy, and gave us an update on when to expect the final novel, A Memory Of Light.
You’re midway through your concluding trilogy in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel Of Time. Can you tell us a little bit about the latest novel, Towers Of Midnight?
This is the second of the three books. What happened was, about two years back I’d planned to write the last book as just one book. And it was getting rather large, and the publisher was getting rather scared, so he talked to Harriet – Robert Jordan’s widow – and they discussed it, talked to me and said ‘Would there be natural break points if we were to publish this as three volumes?’ We weren’t expanding it at all, I was to write it in the same length, but they’d do it as three. There were actually natural break points; the first volume that we published, The Gathering Storm, was a very focused narrative – I’d written several plotlines for several of the main characters. They’re very tense narratives taking them to some very important moments in their lives. It worked very well to break the book after that. What the second one does – it’s actually a little more true to form for the Wheel Of Time series because we expand vision and scope in this novel. This is the novel where we reach out, and instead of having that very focused, narrow visual edge to the last book, which worked very well. But there are hundreds of characters in this series, and some of them had to – for the last book to work – the focus had to be shifted away from them. In this book, we’re opening the world back up, looking at what’s going on around the world in all of these different narratives instead of having primarily two main focuses, we’re looking at everybody again. This is the penultimate book. We’re ramping up for the ending, essentially of the world in these books; this has everybody turning their eyes towards that and it all coming together. It’s very large, it’s very, I guess, epic is the word that you’d use for what’s going on.
As you say, there are hundreds of characters; it’s an intricately detailed fantasy world. How hard was it to immerse yourself in that when you came to write them, to get a handle on these characters and what’s going on around them?
Yeah, that was probably the most difficult part of this. I’ve read the Wheel Of Time since I was a kid, I started reading when I was 15, so I was very familiar with a lot of things in the book – I thought I was extremely familiar – but then I started working on it and realised that there’s a depth to this that, in just reading it, I hadn’t seen. I’ve read the book multiple times, I was a fan, but there are literally thousands of characters in these books. I think there are over 2,000 named characters. As a reader, you grab hold of the ones that you like, and if some come on stage that you’re not so interested in, they pass and it’s okay, you don’t have to fixate on them very much. As the writer I have to learn all of these different voices. All the different interactions and passions and narratives, and goals and motives of all these different characters. There are a great number that I didn’t have to do that with because they’re small, they’re named but don’t influence the plot. But there are dozens of them that do influence the plot, that I had to learn. The difficult part is when I sit down to write a scene, when I write my own books I can just simply write it and do no wrong. But for these I have to do a lot of research for every scene, going back in the books and saying okay, this minor character, how do they talk? What is the voice? What do they want? All these things, it can be very demanding.
So how much do you have to work off from what Robert Jordan left behind?
There’s a lot of notes. It really depends on the scene. In some scenes he actually dictated or wrote complete scenes. In other places he left very detailed instructions. And in other places, he brings one character into play and then doesn’t mention them for hundreds and hundreds of pages and then they’re in another place having done something that he hasn’t mentioned. It’s because he wasn’t a linear writer, he was one of these very creative types that just seized upon moments and wrote those moments. I ended up getting this massive pile of notes where certain scenes were done, and they were all over the place time-wise, whatever he’d been passionate about what he’d been working on, and other things that he just hadn’t gotten to yet. But there are these huge lists of questions and answers between him and his assistants, which is really what makes this possible, because they ask him a lot of questions – what happens to this character? Okay, what’s this character doing? Those sort of things that I have a lot of one-line and two-line answers to that can help me draw these things together.
Next: Added pressure, possible continuations, and the experience of writing for The Wheel Of Time.