What went through my head is one worry that we have in epic fantasy. The longer the series goes, and the more characters you add, the less time you can spend with each character. This gets really frustrating. You either have the George R. R. Martin problem where he writes a book and doesn’t include half of them, or you get the middle Wheel of Time problem where he will jump to each character for a brief short time and no one’s plot seems to get advanced.
If you look back at Elantris, I did a lot of interesting things with form in that novel, and I wanted to try something interesting with form for this series that would in some way enhance what epic fantasy does well and de-emphasize the problems. And I thought that I could do some new things with the form of the novel that would allow me to approach that, and so I started to view the book as one main character’s novel and then short novellas from other characters’ viewpoints. Then I started adding these interludes because I really like when, for instance, George Martin or Tad Williams or some other authors do this. You’d jump some place and see a little character for a brief time in a cool little location, but the thing is, when most epic fantasy writers do that, that character becomes a main character and you’re just adding to your list. I wanted to actually do something where I indicated to the reader that most of these are not main characters. We’re showing the scope of the world without being forced to add a new plot line. And I did that is because I wanted to keep the focus on the main characters and yet I also wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to show off the interesting aspects of the world.
When you read Way of Kings Prime someday you’ll see that there are six major viewpoint characters, all in different places, with all different plots, because I wanted to show off what was happening in different parts of the world. That spiraled out of control even in that one book. Keeping track of who they were because there were such large gaps between their plot lines was really problematic. Instead I condensed and made, for instance, Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s plots take place in the same area as Adolin’s. And so, even though you have three viewpoints there the plot lines are very similar. Or, at least they’re interacting with one another.
And so the interludes were a means to jump around the world. They’re essentially short stories set in the world, during the book, so when you get this book, maybe you can think of it this way: Kaladin’s novel with Shallan and Dalinar each having shorter novels or novelettes or novellas, with occasional, periodic jumps to short stories around the world. And then of course Kaladin’s flashbacks. As we’ve mentioned, every book will have flashbacks from its main character to enhance the main plotline.
I’m hoping that form will do a couple things. It’ll show the scope of the world without us getting too overwhelmed by characters we have to keep track of. You know when you hit interludes that you aren’t going to have to pay attention to most of them. You can read and enjoy them, but you aren’t going to have to remember them. How about that? You can want to pay attention but you don’t have to remember them. By the end of the book, the main characters’ arcs and flashbacks should have been resolved and you should have a feel of a completer story from that main character. And then we have other characters that are doing things that are essentially just starting plotlines.
In the next book, you’ll get another character with a big arc and flashbacks. The major characters from previous books will still have parts and viewpoints; Kaladin will still be important in the next book but it won’t be “his book”. He’ll get a novella-length part instead.
(Of course, they’re not really novella-length because it’s a 400,000 word book. Those “novellas” are actually like 70,000- or 80,000-word novels)
Each book will have interludes, and you will, very occasionally, revisit people in the interludes. I’ll let myself have one interlude that’s same between each part like we did with Szeth in this book. Szeth’s a little bit more of a main, major character, so you’ll get several interludes from him, then eight just random characters around the world. And you may occasionally see those characters again, but you don’t have to remember them; they’re not integral to understanding the plot. They should add depth and they should be showing you some interesting things that are happening in the world while we’re focused on a few important plot lines.
I don’t want to do travelogs in my books; my characters are not going to be sweeping across the countryside and showing you all the interesting parts of the world. I tend to set my books in a certain place and if we travel someplace, we skip the travel. But that means the chances of us ever visiting Bavland with a major character and a long plot are very low. But, you know, being able to show just a glimpse of Szeth there allows me to give some scope and feel to the world.
I will say that I really loved doing all the interludes because they gave me a sense, when I was writing this book, of jumping to something new, which is part of what kept me going in all of this. Are they my favorite scenes in the book? No, but they were probably my favorite to write because it’s like I get to take a break and write something wacky and loony, so to speak.
Will there be a flashback character in each of the Stormlight novels?
Yes, and it should rotate to different characters. I have not yet decided who gets each book yet. I keep going back and forth between a couple of characters. I’ll probably have to sit down and completely outline both of their backstories–their flashback sequences–and after finishing that see which one best fits the theme and the plot of the novel, the story I’m trying to tell. So it’s going to take a while to decide that.
It’s very likely there will be 10 different characters. The only caveat on that is that part of me really wants to do a second Kaladin book. And so I haven’t quite decided who gets flashback books. You can probably guess from reading this book some of them who do. But there are some that don’t necessarily absolutely need them, so Kaladin may get a second flashback book. Szeth will definitely get a book.
I’m not sure on Adolin yet. He’s one that could, maybe not. I mean he’s got some interesting things going on but we’ll see how the series progresses first. There are characters who will get flashback books that you haven’t yet met or at least not spent much time with.