Writing Excuses 7.24: Project in Depth — Way of Kings

There are a lot of things that Our Very Own Brandon Sanderson can get away with. In The Way of Kings, he gets away with not just one, but TWO prologues. In this ‘cast Mary, Dan, and Howard get to grill Brandon about his opening epic, The Way of Kings.

This is the second entry in our “Project in Depth” series in which three of the cast members gang up on the fourth and ask them all about one of their books.

We get answers about the prelude/prologue decision, the extremism of the setting, and lots of information about why this book needed three different major character POVs. Brandon talks in detail about some of the character problems he encountered with Dalinar in the early drafts of the book. If anything, this part of the discussion points up the importance of a good re-write.

Finally, Brandon talks about his naming conventions.


Take a character of yours, and split that character into a character and a foil.

Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged), by Robert A. Heinlein, narrated by Christopher Hurt

29 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.24: Project in Depth — Way of Kings”

  1. “Shallan, my least favorite character…”

    I’ve never understood why Shallan is so unpopular. She’s my favorite character in the book! I’m looking forward to her getting more exposure next book.

  2. “I’ve never understood why Shallan is so unpopular.”

    As someone who liked Way of Kings but not because of Shallan, I’ll explain.

    Shallan is not a very strong character. She’s entirely wishy-washy in all of her actions and cannot stay committed to a goal. She is weak-willed and easily persuaded when it comes to her philosophical beliefs, her goals, and her romantic interests. As a result her story never really goes anywhere other than discovering that she’s special due to forces entirely outside of her control. Her story taking up about one-sixth of the book and being entirely unrelated to all other events (within the first book) does not help.

    Should Shallan be in the next book I hope her character develops a lot stronger from where she is now.

  3. I say this with all due respect to Mr. Sanderson…I found this episode far more fascinating than Way of Kings itself! More so than receiving writing advice, I love learning how authors actually construct their works. I would be willing to pay money for extended, in depth conversations, just like this. Superior episode.

  4. @John K:

    Shallan is anything but “wishy-washy.” The problem I had is that the course of action to which she was committed was a foolhardy, dishonest one that involved creating strong bonds of trust and then breaking them. In a word, it was a con, but it was one doomed to failure and the victim was somebody I found more sympathetic than Shallan.

    The world-building pieces we got from Shallan’s story were some of my favorites in the whole novel, though.

  5. One of the things I loved about Shallan’s storyline, Howard, is how sympathetic Brandon made us feel about her mark. You guys often talk about making promises and fulfilling them – by making Jasnah who she was, Brandon promised us not “yet another con story” but a story about how Shallan grows. She starts out knowing nothing about Jasnah other than that she has a soul caster that she needs to steal in order to save her House from debtors, and that she’s a heretic (given how strongly religious the people of Jah Kaved are, that makes her a particularly good mark). As she gets to know her mark, she begins to admire her and it’s only when she does something truly shocking that Shallan actually (and successfully, might I add) steals the device.

    All in all, I liked Shallan. She was a refreshing chance of pace from the hardcore politics of the Kohlin chapters and the misery of Bridge 4. (I’m not saying I disliked Kaladin, just that chapter after chapter of describing crappy living conditions gets boring. If I was looking for that, I’d read 1984 again.) It also adds an excellent way to do general worldbuilding, which would be difficult to incorporate into the Shattered Plains chapters without breaking the tension of those plot arcs. The people of that world, aside from scholars, would not be overly concerned by the nature of normal spren, the fact that there’s no soil on something like 90% of the continent (assuming I understood that interlude chapter in Shinovar correctly), and all the weird and wonderful adaptations that go along with such an environment. I can’t see Dalinar, say, taking great note of the lack of soil and how plants can curl up into protective casings and most of the land species are armored, while Shallan would certainly consider such things worthy of her time. (The fact that humans are not (I can’t recall if there were horses, too) raises some interesting implications about the nature of that world, but that’s waiting on future books before any conclusion can be drawn.)

  6. Sorry for the double post – there are a couple of unrelated things that got lost in my defending the Shallan plot arc.

    Firstly, one of the things I loved about Way of Kings is the POV characters for each part being mentioned beforehand. For one thing, it tells me that a character hasn’t just been forgotten. Wheel of Time, for instance, carries Perrin’s plotline way ahead of the rest of the characters in Book 4, then pretty much drops him completely up until he shows up shortly before the Dumai’s Wells battle in Book 6. This approach to plot structure is one of Wheel of Time’s greatest flaws (IMO – the others being the scope creep in the latter half of the series and how verbose it gets) (As a side note: Brandon, thank you for making Bubbles of Evil cool again. That village with the spontaneous nightly violence was superb.)

    Secondly, a technical matter. Is it just my speakers, or is Mary much quieter than the gentlemen of the podcast? It could just be that my speakers can’t really handle the pitch of her voice as well as the others, making her quieter by comparison, but I think it’s probably on your end (as Writing Excuses is the only audio I’ve noticed the audio having more trouble with female voices than male ones).

  7. Shallan is also my favourite. May be because of the witticisms, maybe because of strong female characters in her plotline (go Jasnah!!!) and a lot of Cosmere stuff. The con plot also helps.

    And Kaladin my least fav, because he never does anything morally wrong. Which is kinda funny since this is exactly why I loved Sazed so much.
    But Saze gets a lot of plot and developement before everything goes bad for him and he gets depressed. And Kaladin is getting kicked by the world and depressed before I could really start to like him, engage in his plot etc. And he’s a bit too stereotypical hero for me. Young idealistic man from a village, beaten by the world and evil people. Sure, he’s educated, and not an orphan. But still.

    But I’m not a typical epic fantasy reader. I never really liked LotR (boooring descriptions). And stopped reading Wheel of Time on 8th book or something (too long to remember who is who). So my opinions aren’t probably shared by many other readers.

    BTW I enjoy the weird (as a compliment) worlds. Roshar is much better than ye olde medievale Europe fantasy setting.

    And the learning curve is OK, even if I’m reading it in English which is not my native language. Way of King was very nice to read, no problems with learning curve. Unlike ie. 1st book of Malazan, which I just couldn’t read in English, despite having read it in my language earlier. So WoK’s curve is not too high.

  8. Thank you, THANK YOU web writers for FINALLY defending Shallan! I have read dozens of comments on several sites bashing her, when I always found her the most intriguing viewpoint character in the book.
    My favorite character, however, was Wit. (Even though as Hoid he has shown up in every other world of Brandon’s, Wit in this book is unique.) I mentally connected him with Lear’s Fool–a sarcastic clown, much more intelligent than his bosses, and much more in tune with what’s going on. Some time I would like to hear Brandon talk about developing this character, but that would never fit into the fifteen minutes, and after all we’re in a hurry . . . .

  9. I think that the section title pages telling the reader who the PoV characters of the next section worked very well. The place where it worked the best is when Shallan’s story arc comes to a head and she is exposed. She is left alone to dwell on her failure and then we leave her PoV for an entire section. If I did not have the section headers telling me that we were going to leave her alone for a while then I would have spent the long space between her chapters expecting it.

    When I saw the section header telling me that we were spending time with Dallinar and Kalladin it reinforced the feeling of abandonment that Shallan was going through. Also I knew that we were going to be coming back to Shallan by the end of the novel, so I didn’t spend much time worrying that her story had ended.

    I can see how the chapter headers would not work for every story. But they work in WoK.

  10. This book is so big that it should have had two W.E.-episodes. Maybe it would have been better to look in depth at “Mistborn the final empire”. “Mistborn” is also a big book but “Way of Kings” is almost double in size and with much more strange stuff in it.

    There were a lot of things that weren’t mentioned.
    For example
    -The racism that exist in the society
    -The magical communication
    -There was no in depth on the characters (except a little on one of them)
    -No minor characters was mentioned at all
    -There was nothing about what drove the economy or that the food supplies could be produced by magic.
    -Nothing on the shard blades.
    These points are just a few of the things I would have liked to hear some stuff about.

    I usually think that W.E. episodes are great. Today’s episode was mediocre.
    I looked forward to this episode and had hoped for more than was possible in the limited time span.

    This has been a comment on the W.E. episode NOT the book, which I think is great.

  11. I’ll second Rashkavar’s statement regarding Mary’s audio. For several of the recent podcasts, I’ve really had to strain to hear her.

    I appreciate the insight on Brandon’s struggle with Dalinar and what he did to make it better. I’ve been struggling with a troublesome character recently myself. Brandon’s success gives me hope that I’ll find a good solution too.

    I’ll reserve judgement on Shallan till I actually finish the book. I’m only half way through. So far I’ve liked her but my complaint is that I barely get to know her and then she disappears for a big chunk of the story. I’ll finish reading and let the rest play out before I cry foul.

  12. I admit that I resented Shallan a little for taking me away from the other characters. One of the problems I had was that Jasnah was such a compelling character; I would have rather read about her. Also, the added depth that gets doled out is anti-hero stuff, which wasn’t working for me. I did enjoy the ghost story feel and that part of the magic system was being revealed through her and by the end she was working for me, sort of. In a lot of ways I feel like she was just a vehicle for some awesome reveals, but admittedly I don’t identify with her character at all, so that colors my opinion.

    The other POV characters generally rocked the kasbah. I still get shivers when I think about Kaladin fight scenes. Zeth nails tragedy, and Dalinor is the consummate noble leader (in a good way).

  13. I loved Shallan! I mean, she was my third favorite main character, but I really enjoyed her section of the book. The main thing for me was that I just loved Kaladin and Dalinor.

  14. *spoilers* (then again, so was the entire episode)
    I thought of Shallan as a weaker character until my third readthrough. That was when I realized she was a shard bearer. Completely changed the character for me. Oh, the possibilities…

  15. Have been neglecting my WE habit for a while, great cast to come back to. It may even get my buddies to stop asking when the next one is coming out. They both like to write.

    Probably not though. Neither are WoT fans, so they are slightly bitter about the reason for delay.

  16. Great Episode as always, but I just have to give some feedback to Brandon:
    I skipped the parts of Shalan, because I liked the other characters better.

  17. As deeply as I loved Way of Kings, I felt like it might almost have been stronger to split into three: Kaladin/Dalinar, Shallan, and Interludes. I was never once glad to find out, “Oh, here’s what’s happening with Shallan/Szeth/someone else on the continent I’ve never heard of!” – and this was not because I didn’t care about those characters. It was because I was so wrapped up in the battlefield storyline that everything else was a distraction. I wanted to find out what happened next to Kaladin-now, to Dalinar-now, to Kaladin-then; I wanted to worry about Shallan after that, and everyone else really needed to start showing their relevance to Kaladin’s world now. (Or it could just be that I’m an enormous sucker for honor-against-impossible-odds, whereas I’m only a moderate sucker for conscience-overcoming-calculation.)

    As for the interludes, I’m glad they exist for depth, but I did want them a bit shorter so as to be less distracting. Unless/until I find out they contain characters and events relevant to Our Heroes. Which was my chief interest in Szeth, fascinating though the character is. (Does his culture really punish killers by forcing them to become assassins without conscience? This seems like a bad idea… then again, Szeth’s past and sentence haven’t been clearly detailed yet, so I need to withhold judgment.)

  18. I love that Kal’s name actually did come from “Paladin”… while reading I laughed every time he gained another Paladin ability (healing, tanking, etc.). I was half-expecting him to bubble-hearth. :)

    Kaladin was my favorite character, but I also liked Shallan because I could see a bit of my teenage self in her. Jasnah grew on me. I like Adolin too but I’m thinking he has to hook up with Shallan because her flaming hair will catch his attention, and he’ll love her wit, like how he got along with Wit.

  19. “The country’s full of vipers.”
    Looks like we need to call Schlock!

    @Wendy: “I would be willing to pay money for extended, in depth conversations, just like this.” I’m going to have to remember that, if I ever publish a book! Write an “inspirations, process of creation, etc.” volume! Good idea!

    On the other hand, I definitely enjoyed Way of Kings! My one complaint was that I couldn’t focus on anyone’s story, since the thread kept bouncing between characters. I might have preferred the book to go:
    1. Intros
    2. Everything Shallan
    3. Everything Kaladin (including the one chapter by the young guy, but possibly not the stuff after Dalinar giving up his Shardblade)
    4. Everything Dalinar
    With misc chapters going where appropriate.

    Have you already tried that? And if so, why didn’t it work?

    @Mike Handy: “My favorite character, however, was Wit.” LOLOLOL! Personally, I can’t quite tell whether I like Wit or Kaladin best…

    @Grant Gardner: “Great episode, but who has is the next in-depth? Mary or Dan?” I second this. And add: “and which book?”

    @Joe Clave: “The other POV characters generally rocked the kasbah. I still get shivers when I think about Kaladin fight scenes. Zeth nails tragedy, and Dalinor is the consummate noble leader (in a good way).” Agreed! I think I particularly enjoy Kaladin because he uses patterns to create an epic group of warriors… he makes plans to fix things, and (at least frequently) they work…

    Oh, by the way, in case anyone’s wondering why I’m not commenting much about Shallan, it’s because I took my own advise and read the book by character, instead of by time. Only, I left most of Shallan’s scenes for last and I’m not done with the book yet…

    @Amanda Wan: “I like Adolin too but I’m thinking he has to hook up with Shallan because her flaming hair will catch his attention, and he’ll love her wit, like how he got along with Wit.” Oh, that is a prediction! When the next book (or the one after…) comes out, I’m going to have to check whether it came true!

  20. Another reader defending Shallan. I can’t think of a book where I’ve had such a hard time picking my favorite main character, but Shallan is definitely vying for the top spot. Her section was a nice interlude from the “action-based” sections of Kaladin and Dalinar.

    I hope we see more of her and Jasnah and Jasnah’s mother.

  21. Adolin and Dalinar Kholin are my favorites, though with the Epilogue, Wit is fighting it out with the two of them over the position. And for me, Shallan was just… Well, she was just there. I neither disliked nor liked her. She was merely a revealer, for me. Jasnah was very interesting, but I never really got drawn in with Shallan like the way I was with Dalinar or Adolin, or Szeth. It’s not that I want her to just BATTLE BATTLE FIGHT or anything.

    But she spent quite a bit of time moping around, a problem we see in almost all pieces of literature, and with Kaladin also doing that, it was very tough feeling sympathy for either of them.

    @Amanda Wan:

    I had the same problem. I kept subconsciously calling him Paladin because I see an annoying red line underneath his name every time I type it. xD

  22. Okay, I can’t figure out how to submit questions for microcasting, so I guess I’ll put this here: Do you have any advice on plotting longer projects like this series?

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