Writing Excuses 7.46: Project in Depth The Emperor’s Soul

Spoiler alert! We’re going to talk in depth about The Emperor’s Soul, which just came out, and if you haven’t yet read it but want to, we’d rather not spoil it for you. The e-book is available here.

So… ready?

Brandon talks to us about the origin of the magic system, and why he decided it fit well for setting in the same world as Elantris. He also talks to us about the way in which he arrived at the ending, and how the ending grew very naturally from the early stages of defining the character.

We have fun comparing Howard’s interpretation of a story point with what Brandon actually intended, and Mary talks about the structural changes made between the draft she read and the final version, a change that perfectly fulfills the definition of killing a darling. And on the subject of darlings, Dan asks about the fight sequence, and whether that really needed to be part of the story. Then we talk about some darlings Brandon opted to NOT kill.

Audiobook Freebie (limited time only): Legion by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Oliver Wyman


Come up with a magic system based on stamps, but that has nothing to do with forgery.

Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by William Dufris

18 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.46: Project in Depth The Emperor’s Soul”

  1. Thanks for the episode! Just note that the free Legion audio book isn’t available in Australia :( I look forward to reading Emperor’s Soul.

  2. Really enjoyed this. Especially since I just finished reading this a week or so ago (RE: Right before NaNoWriMo started), so it was great to delve into that world for a bit before heading out to my own world.

    I also love the reasoning behind the various things you did and why you did them. Especially when Mary talks about the signals and the issues with the prologue and the new POV. This is quite timely for me, because I had been wondering over the past couple of days about potentially inserting a new POV into my NaNo story, but I decided against it for much the same reason as Mary explained. So that was awesome because it made me more confident about my choice.

  3. I just picked it up at one of Brandon’s signings and finished it in one sitting. Brilliant story. Thank you for providing insight into how it was created!

  4. By the way, the Emperor’s Soul audiobook has also been released now, though probably not outside of the US/Canada.

  5. Wow stamp magic. who would have thought. well Brandon of course. Shame on me i haven’t read elantris so i can’t really relate with all of his magic systems but i devoure Warbreaker and l fell in love with it’s system. i’m pretty sure Emperor’s soul is as good. Great podcast once again. i really like the dynamic between you guys.

  6. An entirely different system of magic based on stamps, you say?

    A magic system in which Philately is the basis of true power, amongst the few with the knowledge of how to use them… the symbology of the images on them and whatnot determines the sorts of magic they can be used in, while quality and rarity determine the power of the spell in question. all but the simplest of spells requires dozens of stamps, and every use risks damaging them…

    Story revolves around a particular rare stamp, previously thought lost/destroyed, coming up at an auction. Very small initial print run, perfect quality, quite likely the only extant copy. A misprinted memento mori grim reaper image… the key piece required for a spell to grant immortality.

  7. So, this week I read Legion and The Emperor’s Soul, as well as listening to this podcast. While I don’t like to disagree with Mary, all I can do is report how I felt about the novellas and I gotta say that the Emperor’s Soul worked well for me.

    The bit at the end where she decides to go after Hoid(?) didn’t make me expect a sequel, it just felt like she was going on with her life and made the story feel more real. The viewpoint switch to Favra didn’t feel weird to me or make me expect the book to be longer. And I think I’d have been very disappointed had we not gotten to see her use one of her Essence Marks, after all that build up.

    So, I really liked it.

    That said, while I also liked Legion, the ending on that one made me feel like it should be the start of a series. I’ve been thinking about why I feel this way and I’ve come up with the following reasons:

    1) The plot of Legion doesn’t have the same impact as the Emperor’s Soul. In TES you feel like she’s fighting for her life to create an amazing masterpiece. In Legion, it feels like a private eye grudgingly taking on a missing persons case. To me at least, this makes the plot of Legion feel like the early part of a book where the Noir Private Eye takes on a routine case that accidentally pushes him into the main plot of the rest of the book. Except we’re missing the rest of the book.

    2) Dangling Plot threads. In TES the only real thread left hanging is the matter with the Imperial Fool and, because his betrayal occurred outside of the text*, the resolution of that doesn’t feel like it needs to be in there either. We also get the feeling that the magic is well understood.

    In Legion the only plot threads that got resolved are why the camera kept not working and what happened to the inventor. Everything having to do with his mentor and the hows of the two magical elements (the lightbulb and his aspects) aren’t explained at all. This implies, to me, that there is more book coming, because we still have too many things unresolved.

    Possibly, if I went through both books, enumerated all the plot points and everything, I might find more left hanging in TES than Legion, I dunno, but something about the book just doesn’t feel like the story is finished yet.

    3) Foreshadowing of the Post Conclusion. In TES, I get the sense that I know how things are going to go after the book is over. The Forger is going to get away and look for Hoid for awhile, the Emperor is going to become a better ruler, and Gaotona is maybe going to be a bit less harsh to the Emperor. You get the sense that things will work out. However, with the way Legion ends, I don’t get that sense that he’s going to ultimately succeed, nor do I know what’s going to happen if he does. There’s a big mystery there, which, again, implies more story.

    Ultimately, the way Legion was written, it feels like it demands a novel length sequel, while TES feels like a good stand alone book.

    * I absolutely agree that the big fight scene with Hoid needed to not be in the book. If it had been, I think that her finding Hoid again at the end would have had to be in there too.

  8. As for the Writing Prompt, well, when you say stamps, my mind goes directly to postage stamps. Now, I’ve seen a few stories about inter-dimensional postage and using them to go to fantasy worlds and stuff, so that’s out. I don’t really want to do stamp collecting magic, so that’s out. It kind of has to be travel magic then, but that’s what you;d expect to happen……so, what if it was just a side effect of the actual magic?

    Such were my thoughts when I had the idea of enchanted items that are made to be “lucky.” Each item can influence probability slightly so as to produce a more optimum result. For example, an enchanted hammer would be more likely to hit a nail than your thumb, but it’s not going to hit a nail if the nearest one is 10 feet away, sorta thing.

    Now the reason that it’s used with stamps is that the magic ensures that the letter gets delivered. It might take a really long time, but it will always reach it’s destination eventually. See, even though the stamp can only produce small probability changes, it can keep doing that over the course of the entire trip. So, when you multiply one coincidence per hour by the number of hours in a month, you can get some crazy improbable results. It becomes similar to the magic rings that appear back home even when you try to get rid of them.

    Anyway, I think this has a number of cool potential applications. The only one I’ve thought of so far are Rescue Stamps*, but I thought someone else might have a few ideas.

    *”Rescue Stamps” would be really powerful stamps which can handle non-specific addresses, alter probabilities much faster, and have a return to sender feature that can lead the receiver back to the sender, might be able to reach help in hours to days, depending on how close they were.

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