I initially had 2 questions here and have been encouraged to split them: Is the magic in the Cosmere connected

Brandon Sanderson's approach towards magic is in my eyes rather unique. Each story has a completely different approach to it:

  • Mistborn using metals as catalysators
  • Elantris having one city where the magic is strong and can be accessed by drawing symbols
  • Warbreaker having BioChromatic Breath which is mainly used to awaken "living" things, and some exceptions.

Are these all his inventions or did he get inspired by other works where these types of magic were already introduced?

  • 1
    You could probably also include the chalk/geometry magic of The Rithmatist. :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 12:13
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    @SeanDuggan didn't read every book from Sanderson just yet. Currently I am on "The Way of Kings" with its soulcasting which is also a very interesting thing. I'll extend question and answer as soon I am through with the books.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 9:46

2 Answers 2


Following a link on the other question and further from there I stumbled over this post (http://www.theoryland.com/intvmain.php?i=428#4):


NADINE: You have created some fantastic, original and well thought out magical systems. Where did you get the inspiration for the metal-based system of the Mistborn series and the breath-based system of Warbreaker?


BRANDON SANDERSON: Thank you! During the early days of my career—before I got published—I found myself naturally creating a new magic system for each book I wrote. I'm not sure why I did this. I just found the process too involving, too interesting, to stop.

For Mistborn, I came to the book wanting several things. I wanted a great magic system that would enhance the graceful, martial-arts style fights. This was going to be a series of sneaking thieves, assassins, and night-time exploration. And so I developed the powers with a focus on that idea. What would make the thieving crew better at what they did? I based each power around an archetype of a thieving crew. The Thug, the Sneak, the Fast-talker, etc.

At the same time, I wanted to enhance the 'industrial revolution' feel of the novels through the magic system. I wanted something that felt like an industrial-age science, something that was a good hybrid of science and magic. I found myself drawn to Alchemy and its use of metals, then extrapolated from that to a way to release power locked inside of metal. Metabolism grew out of that. It felt natural. We metabolize food for energy; letting Allomancers metabolize metal had just the right blend of science and magic.

For Warbreaker, I was looking back a little further, shooting for a more Renaissance-era feel. And so, I extrapolated from the early beliefs that similarities created bonds. In other words, you could affect an object (in this case, bring an object to life) by creating a bond between it and yourself, letting it take on a semblance of your own life.

Moving beyond that was the idea of color as life. When a person dies, their color drains from them. The same happens when plants die. Vibrant color is a sign of life itself, and so I worked with this metaphor and the concept of Breath as life to develop the magic. In this case, I wanted magical powers that would work better 'in' society, meaning things that would enhance regular daily lives. Magical servants and soldiers, animated through arcane powers, worked better for this world than something more strictly fighting-based, like in Mistborn.

I assume Elantris has also some inspiration, but he sadly didn't add this to his answer. I only found this answer as a general inspiration for the book, but not the magic system itself (http://www.theoryland.com/intvmain.php?i=428#11):

As with all of my books, there wasn't one single inspiration, but a number of them. A few of them here were: Chinese and its writing system, and how it relates to Japanese and Korean. The difference between teaching others of your faith in order to help them, as opposed to teaching them in order to aggrandize yourself. What it would be like to live in a leper colony. A king made into a beggar. A woman who, like a friend of mine, felt she was too tall and too smart for men to find her attractive. Magical servants that didn't look like any I'd read about before. And the thought of telling a story about someone who was basically a good, normal person—without a deep, dark past or terrible hidden flaw—who got trust into the worst situation I could imagine.


In addition to Thomas's comment, I'll also note that Sanderson has three rules for writing magic:

Sanderson's First Law of Magics:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

Sanderson's Second Law of Magics:

Limitations > Power

Sanderson's Third Law of Magics:

Expand what you already have before you add something new.

He also discusses his magic and world-building occasionally on Writing Excuses.

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    It might be worth finding his youtube channel for his creative writing classes, he teaches at an American university and goes through his magic system. It's a great listen!
    – Stormie
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 14:05

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