Random Buzzers Q&A with Christopher Paolini – Part 2

Christopher Paolini recently sat down to answer hundreds of fan-submitted questions in a forum style interview with Random Buzzers. The questions varied from the obvious “when does Book 4 come out?” to the not-so-obvious, netting us dozens of fresh and exciting answers from our favorite author. We spent hours collecting and sorting the hundreds of questions and answers from this interview and will be offering them for viewing in a series of posts here on Shur’tugal!

Part two of our compilation includes questions specific to Christopher himself, his writing style, advice for aspiring authors, how he created his books, what he plans for the future (more books outside of Inheritance and even Inheritance, Book 5!). Keep reading for part two for many exciting answers from Christopher, and don’t forget that the best is yet to come in part three (TWELVE pages of Inheritance-specific questions!)!

Personal Questions

What’s your favorite animal?
Dragon of course! (Although I also really like black panthers)

Do you have a favorite dragon-themed book?
Favorite dragon-themed book(s): Dragonriders of Pern series, the Pit Dragon trilogy by Jane Yolen, A Wizard of Earthsea (and sequels), the Talking with Dragons series, and many, many more.

Who is your favorite author? And who would you say has inspired you most?
I have way too many favorite authors to pick just one. Many, many authors have inspired me over the years, both within and without the fantasy genre. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed reading the science fiction books of Iain M. Banks.

I was also a homeschool student, and I was wondering what kind of an impact thats had on your life?
Homeschooling had a huge impact on my life. Because of it, I was able to graduate from High School at fifteen, which gave me the time I needed to write Eragon. If I had been in public school, I would have been too busy for such a large project.

What is your favorite hobby/what do you spend most of your time doing when you’re not writing?
My favorite activity besides writing is drawing. Unfortunately, I don’t have nearly as much time for it at the moment as I would like. However, that’ll change once I finish Book Four.

I heard you were homeschooled, Is that true? If so, did you like it?
Yes, I was homeschooled my whole life. It was a great experience, and I’m very grateful to my parents.

Would you like to see Ellesméra come to life?  It would be such a wonderful place to visit and to read a book!!!
Ellesméra is one of my favorite places in Alagaësia as well.

When you create a new character to put into the story, how much development do you put in them? Do you only develop them enough to serve their purpose in the story, like the man who could see lights of energy in people (or something along those lines, I forget)? Or do you sometimes flesh out a character you liked, even though they didn’t have a big impact in the story?
It depends. Sometimes I only create enough of a backstory for a character to write a particular scene. Other times, I’ll work out the person’s whole life story in detail. It just depends. And, of course, there are always characters who start off as rather minor but then end up evolving into much more nuanced and well-rounded people.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a dragon rider, as yourself I mean?
Of course! That’s why I started writing this series in the first place, because I thought it would be neat to be a Dragon Rider!

Do you get enjoyment from feedback about your books and future endeavors and how do these inspire you?
Knowing that my writing has had a positive influence for some people is one of the most rewarding aspects of this whole experience. And it definitely helps give me some inspiration when I’m having a hard day writing.

Consider a Twitter account?
Life is too short.  (p.s. Besides, my life is pretty boring most of the time. “Sat at the computer. Drank tea. Wrote.” Repeat ad nauseam.)

If you wanted to be anyone in the series (except for Eragon), who would it be?
Hmm . . . any character in the series? . . . Probably Roran. I like Roran. He knows what he wants and how to get it. And he’s managed to hold his own in a world filled with supernatural forces and warriors.

Have you gave any thought as to what you will write when you finish the Inheritance Cycle or will you take a break from writing for a while?
I’ve given a *lot* of thought to what I want to write after I finish Book Four. In fact, I have a number of books entirely plotted out that I’ve been waiting to write for several years now. Some are fantasy, some are science fiction, some romance, historical fiction, mystery, thriller, horror . . . you name it! I even have another book set in Alagaësia, although it won’t be my next project.

What does your sister think of having a book character based on her?
My sister has a great deal of patience with her dear brother who keeps poking fun at her in his books. However, I can say that Angela the herbalist has some awesome scenes in Book Four.

What was your inspiration for writing the Inheritance Cycle? How did you create the characters for the books?
My inspiration? Daydreaming, a love of fantasy, and a desire to write the sort of story I enjoyed reading myself.

The characters? I asked myself questions: If Eragon is going into a town, whom might he meet? What would they do? Who would be their friends? And so on. Just by asking questions, you can build a whole world.

Hmm. It’s rather hard to say where ideas come from. Sometimes I see something in my everyday life that inspires me. Other times, the concept seems to jump into my mind fully-formed. In order to come up with the Lethrblaka, for example, I combined the ideas of a giant bat and a large, starving grayhound, along with beaks and claws and a few other nasty traits. The Eldunarí I can’t say; I’ve had the idea for them ever since I began the series.­

Do you ever act out parts of the books or participate in live action roleplaying?
I’m not part of a reenactment group, since I don’t have the time. As for acting things out . . . my sister refuses to work near me because I tend to mutter while writing. Repeating my prose out loud helps me to refine it.

Where did you live before moving to Montana?
I lived in Santa Monica, but moved to Alaska when I was very little.

What will you be doing once you write the last word of Book 4?
Once I finish the Inheritance cycle, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do. I know that I want to take some time off and travel a bit, but I also have so many stories that I want to tell, I can’t imagine walking away from the computer entirely. I’ll just have to see what feels right.

Have you been writing your whole life?
I wrote a number of short stories growing up, but Eragon was my first book-length work.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
Wow, I’ve never been asked that before. . . . Probably spending time with my family, or playing along the Yellowstone River by our house.

Who is your role model?
My parents and sister.

I was wondering if you write your story straight through or do you jump from scene to scene and then work on connecting everything?
For the most part, I write books straight through. That’s how my mind works, but many authors are able to write non-sequentially.

What do you think about the fact that by writing the Inheritance Cycle, you have inspired so many people to try to come up with something on their own, me included?
I think it’s great. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that what I’ve done has helped provide inspiration for other authors.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Coffee. I’d walk over a bed of coals to get that stuff.

Have you personally drawn a gilded lily?
Unfortunately not. If I do, I have I feeling I’ll need to use gold leaf in order to depict it properly.

I know you have lived several different places and currently reside in Montana, but would you like to spend time existing somewhere else?
I like visiting other places in the country, and, at some point, I may live elsewhere, but Montana will always be my home.

Read any good books lately?
Been reading the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks and enjoying them a great deal.

I saw on one of your replies that you liked the Dragonriders of Pern series. Which one is your favorite?
Dragonsinger was one of my favorites. Also, The White Dragon and Dragonsdawn.

After you’ve finished with Book IV (and maybe some other books after that) will you invest a little more time into drawing?
I definitely plan to do some more drawing once I wrap up Book Four. That’s been one of my goals all along. In fact, I have a half-finished drawing of Glaedr’s eye on my drafting table at this very moment. (Yes, Zar’roc has gold furniture.)

Is there one place in particular that you felt like you JUST HAD TO ADD IT to your books?
The mountains where I grew up have inspired many locations throughout the series, from the Spine to Tronjheim (we have a mountain just about the same size and shape) to the scree field that Thorn, Saphira, and Eragon visit in Eldest. Also, I based Helgrind on the amazing formation known as Shiprock in New Mexico. And much of the dwarves’ underground structures were inspired by the Carslbad Caverns, also in New Mexico, and the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana.

If I had grown up in a city, I might still have ended up writing fantasy, but it probably would have been a very different kind of fantasy. Living in the mountains here in Montana has had a huge influence on me as a writer.

Do you prefer to be called Chris or Christopher (or is there a different name/nickname)?
I usually prefer to be called Christopher.

So, which Doctor is your favorite? [Referencing the show “Doctor Who”]
Nine, Ten, & Baker. Haven’t seen Eleven yet. Just a few days away now.

Under what conditions do you generally write the best? How many times did you COMPLETELY rewrite the books during your writing?
The only book I’ve completely rewritten is Eragon, during the second draft.

I generally write the best in a calm, quiet location, where I can mutter out loud and listen to as much music as I want to without bothering anyone else. Tea helps as well. Tea and bacon.

You plotted out the whole cycle in a month. You have six more books plotted out. Can I ask, how did you plot out the series?
Plotting really is as simple as asking questions. I’ve said it before, but it’s true. Ask yourself what your heroes would do. What your villains would do. What the dogs and the cats and the sentient mushrooms would do. Asking questions and answering them is how you establish a chain of events — causality, in other words. As long as those events are varied and interesting (and internally consistent to a degree) you’ll have an entertaining story. Also, I’d recommending checking out the book Story by Robert McKee. I wouldn’t follow all of his recommendations, but he has some good advice about how to go about constructing a plot.

Did you learn a language for school? If so what one (or more than one)?
The only languages I know are English and my invented languages, although I can pick out a fair bit of Old Norse and related tongues. If you’re really interested in creating a language, there are some websites devoted to just that craft. Great resources for a fantasy/sci-fi author.

How did you start out as a writer and did you ever have writers block?
I started by daydreaming about all the things I’d rather be doing instead of school or chores. Nothing more than that. As for writer’s block; I spoke of it in an earlier post, but, basically: Plot out what you’re going to do beforehand, and write about something you’re enthusiastic about. Also, talk out any problems with friends and family.

Read everything you can get your hands on. I know I do. And keep asking yourself questions. What if all the genders in this story were reversed? What if the good guy was actually the villain? What if? What if? What ifs are what stories are built on.

What do you think makes a good story?
What makes a good story . . . ? That’s different for everyone. Some people like Twilight. Others like Dickens. And who’s to say which means more to their respective fans? For me, a good story is one that both entertains me and also gives me interesting things to think about.

What is your favorite musical instrument and why?
Favorite musical instrument? Funny you ask. I’ve been trying to decide on one to learn. I like the recorder (and I play a bit), but I’ve always been partial to the sound of pan pipes — they make me think of the elves.

Drums are fun to play as well.

Do you ever go skiing/snowboarding?
I’ve never had the chance, and I don’t think my editor/agent/family/fans would appreciate it if I broke all my fingers and wasn’t able to write for six months.

Do you find writing a means of escapism?
I find daydreaming as a means of escape. Writing is merely transcribing those daydreams.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re writing? Do you have a favorite song that triggers your creativity? Or an album that helps you write?
I usually listen to movie soundtracks. Favorite ones: Conan the Barbarian, Pirates (all three movies), John Carpenter’s work, Kingdom of Heaven, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and more. Top one of all time: Waterworld, especially the track titled “Swimming”.

Has your sister ever knitted you any wool socks? I for one can vouch for the warmth and comfort they bring in Winter.
Now *THAT* is a good, solid, sensible question from a person who knows what winter is. . . . Angela hasn’t knitted me any socks (she prefers to knit them for herself: garish, multi-colored, stripey things), but she has knitted me many hats and scarves. During winter, I probably spend more time with one of her hats on than off. She makes them double thick for me; I like a hat that can stand up on its own.

Are you a Harry Potter fan?
Yup, big Harry Potter fan.

Do you have your family members edit your work or do you make them wait to read it like everyone else?
Well, they still have to wait for me to write it before they can read it, but yes, they help with editing.

Ever heard of the Japanese form of comic drawing called Manga? Or Anime? I would like to see you attempt to draw your characters in that form.
Yes, I’m very familiar with both of those forms. Neither of them really interest me as a style for my own art, though.

Advice for Aspiring Authors

How do you get yourself to write and keep on going? And do you have any tips on revision?
It’s great that you’re interested in writing and storytelling. Consistency is the hardest part of the process, at least for me. Sitting down at the computer and working on the same story every single day for sometimes years at a time takes a great deal of discipline. That’s why it’s important that you write about something you’re enthusiastic about. There’s no real trick to getting yourself through a book. It mainly comes down to whether or not you’re willing to put the time in.

As for revisions; reading out loud is a great way to catch mistakes in your prose and improve the overall quality of your writing.

Also, what advice would you give a fan that wanted to become a writer?
The best advice I can give you as a writer is:

1. Learn everything you can about English (or whatever language you’re writing in). Language is the tool of the trade, and the more you know about it, the better you can tell your stories.

2. Find someone to read your work and tell you how you can make it better. Friend, family, teacher — as long as they like the genre you’re working in and can give you constructive feedback, you’ll learn a huge amount from the experience.

3. DON’T GIVE UP. It’s incredibly easy to get discouraged in this world, but you have to have the courage and determination to ignore all of the naysayers . . . and also to sit down at the computer and work on your story every day.

4. And don’t forget to have fun!

The only addition I would make to what I already wrote would be to read your own work (and the work of others) out loud. Doing so helps you to hear where you’ve made a mistake and how to make it better. The rule of thumb is: If it sounds wrong, it usually *is* wrong, no matter what your grammar books may say.

If you are serious about your writing, you might want to check out these resources, which I have found useful: Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card; On Writing, by Stephen King; and Story, by Robert McKee. Though Story is intended for screenwriters, I found McKee’s principles and advice invaluable for structuring a novel. Online, I recommend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site at http://www.sfwa.org.

I also recommend the Writer’s Handbook and the Writer’s Market (your library may have copies). New editions come out each year. They include loads of information on how the publishing industry works and contain essays from experts in the field on such topics at how to improve your writing, how to sell your work, and how to get inspired. You should also pick up a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style; it’s the bible of the publishing world.

Write, write, write! Then ask your librarian to  direct you to a local writers group and/or to an author or English teacher in your area who would be willing to review your work and help you grow in the craft.

Do you have any advice on telling people about the stories you write? Sometimes it can be hard for me to explain my stories to people because of the level of complexity I deal with.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. I used to have that same problem as well. The solution is to pick the biggest, most exciting elements of your story and use those as your summary.

For example: “Eragon is the story of a young man who becomes intricately linked with a brilliant blue dragon named Saphira. Together they go on a series of adventures, and there are dwarves and elves and dragons and battles and romance and all the good things a story needs!”

It helps to grin like a maniac while saying this.

Where do you get your inspiration when you have writer’s block?
I go for a walk, or take a shower, or exercise, or do anything to get my mind *off* the story. I usually don’t get stuck when plotting out a book, only during the actual writing of it. Writers’ block tends to mean that you either don’t know what you’re writing about or that you don’t really want to be working on the project at hand. There’s no easy solution to the second problem, but the first can be resolved by shaking up your thoughts, talking to other people, and, generally, looking at the situation from different angles.

I am working currently on a comic book and I’m having trouble with the characters. I can’t seem to get the dialogue to fit the personalities I have envisioned for some of them, and for others I have hit a block on how to describe the abilities and physical features I can see them with in my Minds Eye. What advice can you give on these subjects?
Describe the features that you yourself find interesting; odds are, your readers will find them interesting as well. Sometimes it can help to imagine that you’re telling the story to someone close to you (friend, family, etc.). Dialogue is harder . . . Write what sounds good to you. Listen to those around you for ideas. Try to pin down what defines their individual speech patterns. And, don’t try to force your characters to speak in a way that they don’t want to.

When you hit a wall, how do you overcome it to finish writing?
It can be hard to get through a book. Even if you’ve done it before. (Speaking from experience here.) Variety is exciting. Variety is stimulating, and there’s always the temptation to jump from project to project because that new idea you just had is *so* awesome. It takes discipline to work on the same book every day for a year (or however long). Aside from backstory, have you tried plotting out all of the main events in the story? That’s how I get through a large manuscript. If I try writing a story without plotting it out beforehand, I can’t get more than five or six pages into it. (At least, that used to be true, ten years ago. I may have changed since.)