Photo © 2003 Eric Cahan



An Essay by Christopher Paolini on Becoming a Writer

I have visions of lizards. Not just little rock lizards, or even something as big as an alligatoróno, I see gigantic, majestic flying dragons. I have visions of them all the time, whether in the shower, sitting on the couch, or riding in the car. The problem with seeing dragons is that they tend to take over your mind. And once that happens, you can go a little crazy. Which is probably why I became a published author at eighteen.

My novel Eragon is a fantasy story, the first in the trilogy Inheritance. It is the story of a young man who unwittingly becomes linked with a brilliant-blue dragon, Saphira, and inherits the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders, who were once peacemakers in the land. The tyrannical King Galbatorix, however, has no intention of letting a Rider challenge his authority, and his dark servants murder Eragonís family. Bereft of his home, Eragon and Saphira embark on a quest for vengeanceóone that soon embroils them in an epic battle between good and evil.

It took me about a year to write the first draft, then another to revise it properlyóbecause I had absolutely no idea what I was doing in the beginningóand finally, a third year to complete the editing and prepare the book for publication. In addition to actually writing the manuscript, for the original publication I also illustrated the book-cover and drew the interior maps. That was possible only because I originally chose to publish with print-on-demand, which gives authors more creative freedom to shape the bookís ďpackageĒ than they would otherwise have.

How was I able to accomplish all this? Let me tell you a story:
"I hate to read!" cried the little boy obstinately. "I donít see why I have to learn this, Iím never going to use it." Thatís what I said nearly fifteen years ago when Mom was teaching me how to read. Back then I knew that reading wasnít part of my world and I knew that it was just a waste of time. Mom was patient, though, and carefully guided me until I could read simple words. Then she took me to the library.

Itís easy to write those words now, but they cannot convey how that single event changed my life. In the library, hidden in the childrenís section, was a series of short mystery novels. Attracted by their covers, I took one home and read it eagerly. I discovered another world, peopled with interesting characters facing compelling situations. In fact, I still remember what the book was about; it involved tomato sauce being mistaken for blood! From then on, Iíve been in love with the written word. Instead of toys, my room is filled with books. Theyíre piled under my bed, on the floor, by my pillow, and overflow into the rest of the house. When we go into town, the only places I want to visit are the libraries, bookstores, and occasionally an art museum.

But it hasnít stopped there. I enjoy stories so much that I took the next step and started writing them myself. I read college-level courses on the subject, teaching myself about everything from plot structure to descriptions. All of this culminated four years ago, when I sat down and outlined the plot for a trilogy of books. For weeks, I struggled to figure out every detail. Then, with everything ready, I began to write.

Donít let me make this sound too easy, though. Everything I did was only possible because my parents were dedicated and loving enough to homeschool my sister and me. My mother, a former Montessori teacher and author of several childrenís books, took the time to instruct us every day. Aside from textbook lessons, she had us perform many exercises designed to stimulate our creativity. Even at a young age I enjoyed writing short stories and poems.

Itís strange; although I had a strong interest in books and stories, it never occurred to me that I might actually be a professional writer one day. All I really wanted to do was share the epics floating around in my head with other peopleówriting was just something I had to master in order to make those sagas reality.

Once my first draft of Eragon was finished, I had to learn how to write properly. That may sound like an oxymoron, but itís not. The first step in writing my book was a purely creative phase. After that, however, came the grind of editing the manuscript into readable material. It was there that I learned how to produce graceful and grammatical prose. Doing is the best way to learn, but it helps to read the rules first. In my case, I wish I had learned more about grammar before writing Eragonóit would have saved me an enormous amount of time spent fixing easily-avoidable mistakes throughout a gigantic manuscript!

One of my favorite scenes from the book is when my hero Eragon dives into a vast lake on his dragon Saphira. It always strikes me as an enchanting moment. Here is a short excerpt from this section:

The water hit Eragon like an icy wall, knocking out his breath and almost tearing him off Saphira. He held on tightly as she swam to the surface. With three strokes of her feet, she breached it and sent a burst of shimmering water toward the sky. Eragon gasped and shook his hair as Saphira slithered across the lake, using her tail as a rudder.


Eragon nodded and took a deep breath, tightening his arms. This time they slid gently under the water. They could see for yards through the unclouded liquid. Saphira twisted and turned in fantastic shapes, slipping through the water like an eel. Eragon felt as if he were riding a sea serpent of legend.

Just as his lungs started to cry for air, Saphira arched her back and pointed her head upward. An explosion of droplets haloed them as she leapt into the air, wings snapping open. With two powerful flaps she gained altitude.

When I graduated from high school at fifteen, I had planned to go to college. I even applied to Reed College for entrance in August 2001 and was accepted. However, if I had gone I wouldnít have been able to promote Eragon. Now I have the chance to share my book with the rest of the world, and I hope that everyone can enjoy this story and its many wonders. All I want to do is help you, the reader, experience the drama and beauty contained within these pages.

Right now, Iím working full-time on appearances and book signings for Eragon. Itís an exciting, new experience, totally different from anything Iíve done before. Also, Iím writing the screenplay for Eragon and Iíve started the next book in the trilogy, Eldest, which promises to be even better than the first. . . .

If all goes well, Iíll still be seeing dragons for many years.


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Jacket art copyright © 2004 John Jude Palencar
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