Christopher Paolini Interview

The successful young writer of the Inheritance Cycle. which began with Eragon, a book he wrote when he was still a teenager, chats to SFX about his new book Inheritance, the film of Eragon and what he’s going to do next

SFX: What direction did you want this book to go in, it being the last in the series?

Christopher Paolini: The whole series is really one story so it’s a continuation from the last three books. Inheritance picks up only a short while after book three and continues the adventures of the main characters, concluding them in an interesting and hopefully unexpected Manner.

What were the main challenges of writing Inheritance ?

There were two areas of challenges; one was there were some personal challenges in circumstances writing this book and two there were definitely some creative challenges writing this book. Each book has been difficult in its own way; this book was difficult in the way that it was the final book of the series. It’s a very long book, it’s a very complicated book and more than anything else, I just wanted to make sure that it was as good as possible and a fitting end of the series, to send the characters and the world off nicely. So that was definitely the biggest pressure going through my mind, just wanting to do it right. I mean I always want to do it right, but this is the end of the story – I really wanted to do it right this time.

Will we see more of Murtagh in this book?

If Murtagh is a character that readers are interested in, then they will love the fourth book because you are going to get gobs and gobs of Murtagh; there is Murtagh all over this book. Actually, his sequence in this book is probably my favourite part of the book and it’s interesting because he did not have much of a presence in the last two books, I mean, he has a big influence but physically he wasn’t very present. In this book he has quite a bit of presence and I’m very pleased with how his story turned out.

What was your favourite scene to write?

I can’t tell you without spoiling the book.

Was it near the end then?

Well, there were a couple of favourite scenes in the book; obviously the ending, although that one was so emotionally intense that I’m not even sure I can call it a favourite one. There was a scene fairly near the beginning of the book where Eragon… you know, I can’t say. Darn it, I can’t say! If I say it’s going to ruin it. There is a scene where Eragon and Saphira do a bit of flying and it’s a rather spectacular bit of flying and they see a rather unusual sight while they’re in the air; that was a favourite scene of mine.

This book has a lot of scenes that I enjoyed writing. One of the tricks when writing a book is you try to leave out the boring bits and I think I succeeded more in this book than in any of the other books. I enjoyed writing Roran though. The thing is with Roran is he’s already grown up; Eragon isn’t grown up and I love Eragon dearly but sometimes he’s a bit gormless and Roran was a nice diversion. And Nasuada, I enjoy writing Nasuada as well, she’s a little more prominent in this last book as well.

Well we don’t want to ruin the book for readers. You’ve already said that the ending was emotionally intense, how emotionally involved do you get with your characters?

When I wrote Brom’s death I had tears in my eyes. When I wrote this book, I was constantly going up-and-down, sideways and back-and-forth with my emotions, which is kind of difficult when you’re spending a week writing a battle scene and you’re in it very, very intensely and you’re thinking about death and destruction, it can really… It can get a bit much. When I wrote the final scene I was so caught up in it, I actually started physically shaking. I’ve always read about authors getting emotionally involved or talking about the reactions like this when they finish a series and I was like, “That’s not going to happen”. I’d finished the other books and I didn’t have any trouble finishing them I thought it wasn’t going to happen to me. When I actually got to the final scene, I had this wave of heat just pass through my body and I started quivering and it actually got so bad I knew the final line wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t actually fix it because I was just too much in it. I had to step away from the manuscript. I went and did the editing for the rest of the book and only then did I go back and look at that final line about a month and a half later. I changed one word and then it was perfect.”

Your characters obviously mean a lot to you. When a film was made of your first book, Eragon , did it change the mental image you had of your characters?

Not in the slightest.

Were the cast similar to what you imagined your characters to be like?

In a few ways, but also very different in others. Even if I had been the one to make the movie, I doubt I could have found actors who absolutely embodied every aspect of the way I see the characters; I think that’s true of how all readers see the characters. On the other hand it was kind of neat to see Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Robert Carlyle up on screen saying some of the dialogue I wrote when I was fifteen and sixteen.

Was it strange to see someone else give vision to your world?

It was. It was very surreal, before the movie was released, Fox flew the print up to Montana and we had a private screening. They rented out a theatre, so it was just my family and me. We were sitting in the theatre and the people from Fox were right behind us, watching us. We watched the film and it was like being in a dream where you go home and everything’s really familiar but something’s different – everything’s a little bit different. Watching the movie was kind of like that.

Did you enjoy the film?

Well, it was just such an unusual experience to be watching an adaptation of my work. I’m not sure if I can say one way or another. I’m very grateful that the book was adapted into a film in the first place because so few books ever are adapted in to a film and the movie introduced a lot of new readers into the series, so I’m grateful for that.

Do you think they’ll adapt your second book, Eldest ?

I couldn’t say at the moment, but you never know.

Who would you want to play the characters?

They’d have to recast because it’s been a number of years since the last film. I think they’d have to find an unknown actor for Eragon or maybe an actor who’s only done a few things and is just starting out; I wouldn’t necessarily pick an established actor for Eragon.

What about the elves because they’re quite established in your world?

Actually for the elves, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to go with someone like fashion models who sort of have an odd look to the face, very angular. I would maybe get dancers to play the elves, who can move in a fluid and more controlled way. I would establish a very specific look for the elves though. So I don’t know, we’ll see.

Being so young and unestablished when you started the series at fifteen, do you feel like you missed out on the traditional struggles most writers go through?

I’m sure I did but on the other hand you have to keep in mind that I was writing for three and a half years before we self-published and it was almost four years to four and a half before Random House published it; that’s a normal time to be writing before you get published, I just happened to take an untraditional route and I started younger than most people did so I sort of got a step ahead. If I’d been in college or if I’d had a regular job then I probably wouldn’t have gotten published until I was twenty-five or twenty-six. I think a lot of it is finding the time to write in the day-to-day life because writing takes time and if I hadn’t been home-schooled I wouldn’t have had the time to write.

Where did the idea for Alagaësia and Eragon come from?

Well the idea for the world comes a lot from where I live in Montana. The mountains, the landscape, the wildlife; all that played into the world. The story itself was my tribute to all the fantasy and science-fiction that I loved growing up. I write a ton of it and what I wanted to do with Eragon was to take a lot of the elements, the basic thematic elements you find in a lot of fantasy books; the young hero, the magic sword, the dragon, the wise old mentor, the evil king and to play with those over the course of the series just sort of start with the usual elements and put my own stamp over it. I think each of the books have increasingly been my own so to speak and I think the fourth one is more than any of them, it’s something only I could have written and it’s unique in that regard. Specifically, I was inspired by Tolkien of course, Raymond E Fiest, The Memory, Sorrow And Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams – I’m a big fan of those. Also The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton which is not as well known but it’s in my top ten. Dune obviously and The Wizard Of Earthsea , which is a wonderful book. The Gormenghast Trilogy and The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison, which again is more obscure one but I’m very fond of it, it’s definitely up there in the great classical fantasy works.

As a successful writer yourself, what advice would you give to budding young writers?

One: read. Read as much as you can. Read, read and read some more. Also read stuff outside your comfort zone. If you read only fantasy pick up a romance novel or two, some historical fiction or non-fiction. Then also I’d say write and write constanty. Try to carve some time out of every single day to write. I don’t care if you’re feeling inspired or not, you still have to write. I get inspired once every blue moon, which happens about every two and a half to three months. Sometimes, I can get into the white hot fury of creative energy and I’ll sit down and I can write 14 pages in one go and it’s awesome and every word is perfect. But that only happens every two and a half to three months.

In the meantime, even though you may not feel like that, you still sit down and put some words on the paper. It doesn’t have to be horrible, you don’t want to be grinding, but you do want to just be persistant. Even if you don’t get a lot done every single day, if you do a couple of pages every single day after the end of a year you’re going to have a full-sized book whether or not you intended to do that. So write every day, be persistent and don’t give up. It’s very easy to get discouraged. There are more people than you can count who are willing to tell you that you can’t do this and you have to be the one who says to yourself, “No, I can do this. I believe in this and I’m not willing to give up no matter how difficult it gets.”

Also I would recommend learning everything you can about the language you’re writing in, whether it’s English or some other language. That’s the tool of the trade so you need to know the difference between your Gerunds and your prepositional phrases and your present tense/past tense and all that. Feel free to break the rules but you need to understand the rules before you break them.

Lastly, and this is one of the most important points I’d say, find someone in your life, a friend, parent or teacher, who can read your work and who can critique it and you also want someone who likes the genre you’re writing in. Find someone who can read your work as a good reader and who can point out the places that you’re going wrong. I’ve personally found I learn more from editing than I do from any other part of the writing process; it’s certainly difficult because it’s not easy to listen to someone telling you what you’ve done wrong but it’s a necessary process of improving yourself as a writer. I’ve learnt a huge amount from editing.

When Eragon was published, you went around schools and libraries dressed in a medieval costume. Do you still own that costume?

I have two copies of that costume at home, I do. You’d have to pay me a ridiculous amount of money to ever get me to go into it again, that or unless it was for charity but other than that no.

What are you going to do after the Inheritance Cycle ? Do you have any hints as to what your next project might be?

I’ve got a whole bunch of stories plotted out that I’d like to write, some are science-fiction, some are fantasy, some are mystery, thriller, horror, romance; you name it, I’d like to try it. Overall, I just want to say I really hope fans are going to enjoy this book, I’m very proud of it and I think it’s the best one of the series. I hope that readers will feel that it’s an appropriate ending to the story and a nice send-off for the characters – that is for the ones I don’t kill.

Helen Wilson