[Assistant Peter’s note: This post was written back in March by Karen Ahlstrom, but it fell through the cracks while we were working on Oathbringer.]
I just finished the timeline for Oathbringer, and thought you might like to hear about the process. (Spoiler warning: There may be tidbits of information in this article about the plot of Oathbringer, but I have specifically made up many of the examples I use, so you can’t count on any of it as fact.)
I know that some of you think, “Brandon posted that he had finished writing Oathbringer months ago. Why do we have to wait until November before it’s on the shelf at the bookstore?” This is a natural question. I asked it myself years ago when I heard similar news about a Harry Potter book. The timeline is one small part of the reason, but it will give you a small glimpse of what is going on at a frantic pace here at Dragonsteel trying to get the book ready to go to press.
You may know that I’m Brandon’s continuity editor. I keep records of every character, place, spren, and piece of clothing to name just a few. The next time a person appears, I make sure they have the right eye color and eat the right kind of food. There’s so much more to it than that, but it gives you an idea of the level of detail I try to be on top of.
Another thing I track is the timeline of each book. I have a massive spreadsheet called the Master Cosmere Timeline (I can hear some of you salivating right now, and no, I won’t let you peek at certain corners of it).
In some of Brandon’s books, there are a few main characters who spend most of their time together in the same place. For those books, the timeline is simple. Take The Bands of Mourning for instance. It’s about four days long. Nobody goes off on a side quest. The timeline only takes up 32 lines in the spreadsheet because there are that many chapters. On the other hand, the current spreadsheet for the Stormlight books has over 1100 lines.
Here’s a sample of the timeline spreadsheet. The white columns are the dates, which I have an entirely separate post about. In column F we have an event that happens in the book. Column E tells how long it has been since the last event. Then I have the quote from the book that I used to justify the timing, the chapter the quote appears in, and whether the event happened on the day of the chapter, or sometime in the past or future.
The timeline for Oathbringer starts on day 4 of the new year, and ends on day 100. (Which, for those of you who keep track of such things, makes the date 1188.8.131.52). My day count could change by a day or two here and there, but I’m pretty happy with how I got the different groups of people to all end up in the same place at the same time.
Why bother? Well, sometimes Brandon writes a flashback and someone is looking at a cute baby. It’s important to tell Brandon that this particular kid wasn’t born for another four years. A character might think to themselves, “It’s been a month and a half since I was there,” and though it has been 45 days, a month on Roshar is 50 days long, so it hasn’t even been a single month. Brandon often glosses over those conversions in early drafts.
The most important purpose, though, comes when two groups of characters are apart for some length of time. Let’s take Kaladin and Dalinar in The Way of Kings. Kaladin was running bridges for battles where Dalinar and Sadeas cooperated. Were there the same number of days in Kaladin’s viewpoint between those battles as there were in Dalinar’s viewpoint? The answer is no. I was assigned this job after that book was finished, and as much as we squashed and fudged, there is still a day or two unaccounted for. An interesting tidbit from The Way of Kings‘ timeline is that Kaladin’s timeline has 50 days in it before Dalinar’s starts. Chapter 40, when Kaladin recovers from being strung up in the storm, is the same day as the chasmfiend hunt in Chapter 12.
Going back to Oathbringer, sometimes I’m amazed at the power I have. As I go through the manuscript, I can take a sentence like, “He spent four days recovering,” and simply replace the word four with two. Brandon gives me a general idea of how long he wants things to take, and I tell him what it needs to be to fit. It’s a big responsibility, and sometimes I worry that I’ll mess the whole thing up.
Oathbringer is the first book in the Stormlight series where I worked with a list of the storms from the start. Peter tried on Words of Radiance, but Brandon wrote what the story needed and expected us to fit the storms in around that (A perfectly reasonable process, even if it makes my job trickier). In Oathbringer though, the Everstorm and highstorm are each on a much stricter schedule. We need such exact timing in some scenes that Peter (with help from beta reader Ross Newberry) made me a calculator to track the hour and minute the storms would hit any given city.
Yet another thing we needed to calculate is travel time. How fast can a Windrunner fly? How many days does it take to march an army from here to there? Kaladin might be able to do a forced march for a week, but what about Shallan or Navani? How long could they manage 30 miles a day?
Hopefully now you can see why we’ve needed months of work to get this far, and will need months more to get it finished in time. At some point, we’re just going to have to call it good and turn the book over to the printer, but even though you think you want to get your hands on it now, it will be a much better read after we have the kinks worked out.