How I write: Christopher Paolini
Published: January 30, 2004
|Christopher Paolini is the author of Eragon, the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy about an adventurous teenage boy with a sword and a sentient dragon as a friend. Remarkably, Paolini began the novel when he was just 15, after finishing high school as a homeschooled student. It took him one year to write it and one to edit, after which his parents released it as a print-on-demand book. When the Montana teen's self-published novel sold 10,000 copies, it caught the attention of New York publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, which purchased Eragon and rights to the rest of the trilogy for a mid-six-figure sum. The Knopf edition quickly rose onto national bestseller lists. Paolini, now 20, completed an exhausting 30-city book tour to promote Eragon and is back home in Paradise Valley finishing Eldest, the second book in the Inheritance trilogy, due for release in fall 2005.|
I write in my room, at a Macintosh computer. Our house is on the banks of the Yellowstone River. The movie A River Runs Through It was filmed five miles from our house. If you watch the Lord of the Rings movies, we have landscape like that. The Beor Mountains--the 10-mile-high mountains in Eragon--are simply an extreme exaggeration of the Beartooth Mountains where I live. When the sun is setting--the mountains with deep shadows on one side and gilded on the other--it really is the stuff of fantasy.
I enjoy adventure. And fantasy combines that with mythic elements to create a sense of awe and wonder, that sense of magic in the world. And the style of writing is different than in everyday speech. The language of fantasy is very beautiful.
And in fantasy, if you have a character that's, say, afraid of spiders, they can run into a spider that's as large as a house. It allows you to tailor the obstacles characters face specifically to their weaknesses.
Still, I try to make Eragon's world seem real, with touches of fantasy. Even if the dwarves are a little magical, they make tangible things and they get real dirt under their fingernails.
I was homeschooled, and when I graduated from high school I had a lot of time on my hands, since my parents weren't going to send me off to college at 15. So I decided to try to write a story that I would enjoy reading myself. Not to get it published.
Before I started, I studied books on stories and characters and plots. One was The Writer's Handbook. And Story by Robert McKee gave me an idea of story structure. Then, I spent an entire month to plot out Eragon and the two sequels.
Many writers don't work this way. But for me, I figure out what I'm going to write beforehand, so I'm free to concentrate on presenting it in the most beautiful, eloquent manner possible. You'd never expect a professional singer to compose a song while she sang it. She works it out in advance.
Like a lot of kids my age, I'd sit with my math book open, and stare out the window and daydream about what I'd really want to be doing, which is riding around on a dragon and fighting monsters. Basically, I wrote down my daydreams.
The kernel of the story [in Eragon] is about a young boy finding a dragon egg. When Saphira hatched, I didn't know how intelligent I was going to make her. But when Eragon first saw Saphira--I saw her so clearly, she was so beautiful with sapphire-blue scales, that I felt like she had to be this incredible character. And I knew Eragon was going to become closely linked with her because they share feelings and thoughts. Also, I thought, it'd be awfully neat to have a best friend who agrees with you and will listen to you and can eat anyone you don't like.
In Book 2, I begin to explore Eragon's growing up. He's beginning to notice women. And how do you deal with that--when you're linked to a gigantic, scaly lizard who just happens to know your every thought? Their friendship is the core of the book.
--Posted Jan. 30, 2004