Christopher Paolini, the author of The Inheritance Cycle and the short story collection The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm, will be releasing his first adult novel this fall. Entitled To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, it comes out from Tor Books on September 15. To celebrate, the writer dropped by r/Books, where he described the new book as his “love letter to sci-fi, just as Eragon was my love letter to fantasy…full of spaceships, lasers, explosions… and of course, tentacles!!!” In the ensuing AMA, he talked about the new novel, compared writing fantasy vs. sci-fi, teased future books, offered plenty of writing and editing advice, and much more. Here are the highlights!
On why it seemed to take “a lot longer” to write To Sleep in a Sea of Stars than the Inheritance Cycle:
Because it took a lot longer. Partly because it’s a long, long book. (Longer than Inheritance. Longer than all but three of Stephen King’s books, going by this link) Partly because I had to learn a lot about science in order to do justice to the story I wanted to tell. Partly because I worked on other projects during that time. But mostly because I had to relearn how to tell a story. After so long spent working on the Inheritance Cycle, my plotting skills got a bit rusty.
Fortunately future projects shouldn’t take as long. I turned out The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm in short order, and my next few projects are already lined up.
On whether To Sleep in a Sea of Stars takes place in the same universe as Eragon:
No comment. :D
On whether the book is “hard sci-fi”:
Hard(ish). There’s a solid scientific underpinning for the story (which I expand upon in some back material), but the story itself doesn’t hinge upon the science. It’s more concerned with the characters and what they’re dealing with.
On his writing process for novels:
Honestly, I just take a ton of notes. It’s pretty difficult to hold all of the details of a large novel in my head, so I write everything down. Because of the size of these novels, I tend to work in layers. First layer might be looking at the general setting (aka worldbuilding). Next layer might be the main character’s story. Next layer might be the side characters. And so on. Similarly with the writing. It’s almost impossible to pay attention to all the layers/details on the first pass. That’s why we reread and edit.
On helpful books for young writers:
Style by F. L. Lucas. Best book on prose style I’ve read. Also Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. Best book on verse. For something different try The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague de Camp (I think that’s the book I’m remembering).
On his favorite books:
Too many to list, but I’m a big fan of classic sci-fi/fantasy. Some lesser-known ones I often recommend are the Gormenghast Trilogy, the Mabinogion Tetrology by Walton, and The Worm Ouroboros by Eddison.
On what he’s reading right now:
I have a reading mountain, not a pile. At the moment, I’m reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Last year really enjoyed Kings of the Wyld. Might read House of Leaves next.
On his writing career going forward and whether he feels “shoehorned” as a YA author:
Writing still inspires me. But I gotta say, I’m really, really, REALLY looking forward to working on something new. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars took up way more of my life than I expected. And no, I don’t feel shoehorned. The new book is adult, and I don’t think readers will have any problem accepting me as an adult author.
The nice thing about early success is that it frees you to try whatever you want without fear of failure. It’s like… whatever I do in the future, I can always point back at the Inheritance Cycle and say, “I did that.” On the flip side, I might never match what I accomplished in that series. But you know… that’s okay. I’m happy to have had this experience.
On whether he prefers to write fantasy and science-fiction over other genres:
I don’t! I really enjoy stories in all different genres, and I want to write quite a few of them myself. It’s just taken me this long to write my big fantasy story, and then my big sci-fi story. Lol. One of the nice things about my short story collection, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, is that it allowed me to write some different types of stories while still remaining in the fantasy genre.
That said, I’ll always have a particular fondness for fantasy. It’s our modern mythology, and I think that the freedoms fantasy allows for give the genre a power (or the potential for power) that few other genres possess.
On making rules of magic realistic:
The only real break with physics I had with my magic system was the assumption that living things could directly manipulate different forms of energy with their minds. That’s it. That’s magic. Everything else directly follows from that assumption. And as best I could, I tried to be consistent with that assumption.
On the ancient language in The Inheritance Cycle:
The ancient language is based partially off of Old Norse, which gave me a good starting place. I did this (a) because it was easier, and (b) because when I read The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, he used a bunch of Old English/Anglo-Saxon words that were just close enough to modern English words that I could understand what they meant. That tickled my brain so much that I wanted to recreate that experience for my readers.
Alas, no, there’s no overarching guide to writing with the Liduen Kvaedhí. Perhaps I’ll write it up one of these days.
I do have a bunch more language info posted over on my website, paolini.net, if you’re interested—including a scholarly paper some linguistic students wrote about the ancient language. Fun stuff.
On future works in the world of The Inheritance Cycle:
Volume 2 of Tales from Alagaësia will probably show up sooner rather than later. I have a couple more short stories I want to write this year. We shall see. Depends on how much promotional stuff I have to do for To Sleep.
A prequel has long been on my list of things to do. Might be something I’ll tackle as a standalone book or might be something I’ll do as a short story in one of the Tales from Alagaësia compilations.
I actually want to write an entire book centered around Angela. It’s on the list!
If you haven’t seen it, there’s a bit more about Angela in the companion book, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm.
On future works in general:
Hopefully I’ll have something else written this year (depending on promotional commitments). Although it won’t be published in 2020. Can’t tell you what it’ll be quite yet, but I’m excited to finally be working on something other than To Sleep!
On that Eragon movie:
The movie was… an experience. The studio and the director had one vision for the story. I had another. So it goes. That said, the movie did introduce a ton of new readers to the series (which I’m happy for), and the books themselves haven’t changed.
Now that Disney owns Fox, maybe we’ll see a reboot of the series. Especially now that I have a new book out.
I’ve been trying to get a reboot made for years. Hopefully some of the attention that To Sleep is getting will help shake things loose.
On whether he’s ever “trunked” a novel:
Yup. One screenplay, six short stories, a short novel, and the first two versions of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Each one hurt, but there’s no point in publishing something sub-par.
On tips for new writers trying to get into fantasy:
When anything is possible, restrictions become incredibly valuable (and necessary). Whatever you choose to do with your story/world … BE CONSISTENT. Lack of consistency breaks so many stories. Plus, learn everything you can about the technical aspects of writing. It’ll help you convey the story in the best possible way.
On tips for new writers beyond “read a lot and hire an editor”:
Plot your stories out beforehand. Make sure you understand the story well enough that you could narrate it to someone else if need be. If you can’t, then you probably don’t have an actual story. That and write about the things you love the most. It’ll help get you through a large project.
On drafts that don’t feel “right”:
here are a lot of reasons things might not feel right. It could be because you’re not comfortable with your own prose. Or—more likely—there are some parts of the plot and/or characters that you haven’t fully worked out. If you know what every part of a story/chapter/scene/paragraph is supposed to do, you’re much less likely to feel as things are off because, again, you know what every part should be contributing to the book.
When things are fully worked out, you’ll be able to justify why EVERY piece that is in the book needs to be there. Editing is like defending a dissertation. You stand up in front of people and say, “Yes, that sentence is needed because it does x, y, z, and without it, the following problems would arise …”
Spend some more time plotting. I guarantee it’ll pay off. And good luck!
On editing tips:
Editing is hard. Really hard. Best tips I can give you are:
- Read your work out loud. If it doesn’t flow or if things aren’t clear, fix.
- Really pay attention to what does or doesn’t make sense. Consistency and internal logic are super important.
- Find other people to read your work. Trust your own judgement, but I guarantee other eyes will help catch stuff you would otherwise miss.
- If you start changing stuff back to what you had in earlier versions… you’re done.
- Don’t give up.
On how centaurs work:
Centaurs? I. Have. No. Idea. Which is why I don’t write about them. If you really want to see a serious examination of semi-plausible centaurs, check out the Gaea Trilogy by John Varley.
On the sort of propulsion system that he thinks will carry the first human to Mars:
A chemical rocket. Probably SpaceX’s BFR/Starship. Long term, some kind of nuclear rocket.
For more, including deep-dives into the lore of The Inheritance Cycle and anecdotes from Eragon’s path to publication, check out the full AMA over at r/Books.