Christopher Paolini on The Inheritance series
The author of The Inheritance series - Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr has created answers to some of his readers most common questions, and his publisher kindly passed them on to us.
You can read about the books, the different characters and how Christopher goes about creating his magical worlds.
- How did you come up with the idea for Eragon, the world and the stories?
- My decision to write Eragon began as a challenge to myself. I was homeschooled in a rural part of Montana, am an avid reader, have always loved to tell stories, and enjoy tackling big projects. When I graduated from high school at fifteen, I needed something to do before going off to college. So I decided to write a story, one that I would enjoy reading myself.
The creation of Eragon was a personal journey, my attempt to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, and the first part of a larger story. As the manuscript developed, I drew inspiration from good literature, music that sends tingles up my spine, great movies, and nature—the soaring Beartooth Mountains that edge the valley where I live, and the Yellowstone River that rushes by my home. This natural beauty helped me envision my fantasy world; at times, I could almost see Saphira flying over the sharp, snowcapped mountain peaks that I see from my window.
I was also inspired by the book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville, the tale of a boy who buys a “stone” from which a dragon hatches. I loved the idea so much, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I asked three questions: what land would a dragon egg come from, who would find it, and - since dragon eggs can’t be common - who else would be looking for it? My quest to answer those questions led me to envision the story that became Eragon.
- How do you dream up the magic words and language?
- When I was writing the first draft for Eragon, I needed to invent a word that meant fire; it was supposed to come from an ancient language that is always used with magic.
To begin my research, I flipped through a dictionary of word origins and eventually found an Old Norse word, brisingr, that meant fire. I loved it so much, I decided to base the rest of my language on Old Norse. To find more words, I went online and dug up dictionaries and guides to the language. I invented more words based on what I learned, and then formed a system of grammar and a pronunciation guide to fit my world.
Developing this has probably been the most difficult part of writing the books. The dwarf and Urgal languages I created for Eragon were worked up completely from scratch.
- Why do you think dragons are so popular/fascinating?
- Fantasy is perhaps the oldest form of storytelling, with roots in myths and legends. Mythic tales of terrible monsters, dragons, heroes’ amazing feats, and all-powerful gods and goddesses abound in folklore from around the world. Dragons tap into this ancient lore. While they are often depicted as evil or terrifying, the main dragon in my story, Saphira, is both best friend and companion to Eragon—although she is not above eating her enemies!
- Do you know the characters really well – almost like friends?
- I have been writing the lives of these characters for nearly ten years now, so they are very close to me. While I identify closer with some, such as Eragon, Roran, Saphira, and Angela, all are individuals in my mind, with very real and unique personalities.
- Did you find it harder to write Brisingr because of all the expectation from fans – everyone is so excited about it, it must have added some pressure?
- A bit, at first, but once I got past the first few chapters of Brisingr, I became so caught up in telling the story, I didn’t worry about what anyone else might think when they read it, which is the best attitude to have when writing a book. To help me get over the initial difficulty at the beginning of the book, I abandoned my computer and wrote by hand–with an ink-dip pen on parchment paper–for a good third of the book.
Yes, there is pressure, but once I finished Eldest, I found myself getting anxious and restless. I’ve been writing long enough to recognize that there’s only one cure for those symptoms: beginning the next book. I have a story to tell and it wants to be told.
- Have you always wanted to be a writer?
- Painting, carving wood, metalwork, being outdoors, and writing poems and short stories are activities I enjoyed as a child. But I never intended to become an author. The creation of Eragon was just a wild challenge for myself, my attempt to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, and the first part of a larger story. Publication was the furthest thing from my mind. I certainly didn’t know how big a project I had tackled, but as I poured my heart and soul into the story, writing it soon overshadowed other activities. Only after the completion of Eragon did I seriously contemplate a career as a writer.
- What would you say to anyone who is thinking of becoming a writer? Any advice?
- Write every chance you get. Read widely and study how authors compose their sentences, dialogue, and plot. Improve your grammar and vocabulary, the tools of the trade. And find a mentor (an author, teacher, or journalist) who can help you grow in the craft, so your creative vision will sparkle.
Although writing is a difficult and oftentimes lonely occupation, it’s entirely possible to learn the technical aspects of the craft. The creativity, however, must come from within yourself. If you have the desire to tell stories, then don’t let anyone tell you not to. Have courage!
- Are there any children’s books you wish you’d written? Or books which inspired you to become a writer?
- I was inspired by the book Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville, the tale of a boy who buys a “stone” from which a dragon hatches. I loved the idea so much, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I asked three questions: what land would a dragon egg come from, who would find it, and—since dragon eggs can’t be common—who else would be looking for it? My quest to answer those questions led me to envision the story that became Eragon.
- Do you think the fact that you started writing while you were still a teenager makes the books more appealing to kids because you 'get them' and are more on their wavelength?
- I think that that could be a factor. When I began writing Eragon, I was trying to tell a story that I would enjoy reading. I wasn’t thinking about getting published. I was pleased and a bit surprised that so many other young people enjoyed my story, too.
- Which book makes you laugh? And which book makes you cry?
- Many of my favorite books are emotionally rich. A few favourites are His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman; Dune, by Frank Herbert; Magician, by Raymond E. Feist; The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, by Ursula K. Le Guin; Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy; Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens; One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and the Hyperion tetrology, by Dan Simmons.
- What is your favourite time of day to write? And favourite place?
- For me, being an author is an exercise in discipline; I work each day whether inspiration strikes me or not. I’m a slow and steady writer, so it’s necessary for me to put in long hours daily to complete a novel.
It helps me to have a routine. I get up, eat breakfast, write until late afternoon - with a short break for lunch - lift some weights, then eat dinner and relax with a movie. I often write again in the evening. Although it’s a lot of work, the plot and characters are so interesting that I seem to live their lives as I write.
- I have the ideal situation for writing. From my office window I can see the soaring Beartooth Mountains that pierce the sky and the winding Yellowstone River below. This natural beauty helps me envision my fantasy world.
- Which fictional character would you most like be?
- If I could be one of my characters, it would be the dragon Saphira. I would fly over the soaring Beartooth Mountains that have inspired my writing. I would swoop through the narrow, tree-covered valley between the peaks, and I would playfully dip in and out of puffy white clouds.
- What is your favourite word?
- One of my favorite words is verdigris. I like its sound and I like its meaning: a green coating or crust of copper salts that forms on copper, brass, and bronze exposed to sea water or air for a long time.
- Can you give us a sneak preview of book four? We’re all very excited about it!
- Brisingr is the continuation of the adventures of Eragon and the dragon Saphira, as recounted in Eragon and Eldest, the first two books of the Inheritance cycle. In it readers will discover a ship made of grass, a forest made of stone, and a rose that is a star. And they’ll battle terrifying enemies and view the world through the eyes of a dragon!
- Many thanks Christopher, we so appreciate your time and thanks for writing such wonderful books for us to enjoy!
- You are most welcome, and … May your swords stay sharp!