Kaladin in Bridge Four
This chapter is probably the most depressing thing I’ve ever written.
Writing a depressed character, someone in this bad a situation, is risky. It goes against almost every writing rule out there. A character like this can’t be active, and there is basically no progress to the story. (I talked a little about this in the chapter 4 annotations for both The Way of Kings and The Hero of Ages.)
Sometimes I’ll read the writing of new authors in my class who will try to use depression as a character flaw. They’ve heard instructors—perhaps myself—talk about how internal conflicts can create a really strong character. They also know that depression is something real and difficult to deal with in life, so they figure it will make a good demon for the main character to overcome.
The trap is that if the author is truly good at writing depression, then nothing actually happens in the story. It can be wonderfully authentic and at the same time wonderfully boring to read.
This chapter is kind of the culmination of me breaking rules in the beginning of The Way of Kings. I think this chapter makes the story incredibly more powerful—but the chapter itself is like a kick to the face to read. Slow, depressing. I assume this is probably the biggest place where—if people are going to stop reading—they put down the book and never pick it back up.
As I’ve said before, The Way of Kings is the book where I decided to break many rules to create something I felt was awesome. Great risk, and hopefully great reward.
I hated sending Syl away from Kaladin here, but it had to happen—in part because of how much it hurt to send her away. She’s basically the only light left in these scenes with Kaladin in Bridge Four.
Syl wasn’t in the original draft of Kings. I developed her over the years between 2003 and 2009; there was a time when the four winds from mythology would be active and alive on Roshar, and she was one of those. Eventually, the spren developed as a concept. They grew out of the greater worldbuilding and magic system rules for the cosmere. (The connected universe of my epic books.)
At that point, she became a sentient spren—one of many that would be in the books. Still, she was very special. I do worry about the Tinkerbell vibe that she gives off to some people. I tried hard to distance her from that. No wings, the constant shape changing, that sort of thing.
Her innocence and childlike nature is an important foil and balance to the darkness in Kaladin’s life. Then she leaves, and all innocence is gone from him.