Lessons From the Terrible Writing of Eragon

I’ve never read Christopher Paolini’s Eragon before now, but I’ve heard it compared to both Star Wars and Harry Potter. I know I can expect a young male chosen one and (obviously) the dragon on the cover. Perhaps a dragon named Eragon, as that’s just “dragon” with a letter swapped out?

Since Paolini was a teenager when he wrote this book, he has a solid excuse for poor writing. In fact, he’s probably ahead of the curve for his age. But that doesn’t make his work immune to critique. Someone decided to publish this, and lots of people paid money for it. Then they made a movie out it. Sure, it’s for a young audience, but don’t young adults deserve strong writing too?

Let’s get into it.

Opening and… a prologue! We have a prologue. Sorry, the story will have to wait. This prologue is sitting here before chapter one, so clearly we need to read it.

Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.

A scent will change the world by itself? Please tell me everyone in this world spends the next month gagging on horrid fumes, until they gather and go on a great quest to find and destroy the source of their smelly doom! I want to read that. I suspect this book will disappoint me.

Use Omniscience Wisely

A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air. He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.

It’s the ultimate in youthful worldbuilding; every race gets their own hair color and eye color! Unfortunately, describing someone with only hair and eye color is both unimaginative and ineffective. I don’t know if he’s young, old, thin, thick, upright, bent… so I can’t picture him. Also, since his hair and eyes are red, I can’t help wondering why he’s called a “Shade.” I keep imagining his skin as dark gray, even though the text says otherwise.

Paolini also needs a more graceful way to work in description than opening a sentence with “He looked…” If we were seeing the Shade from the viewpoint of another character, it would at least make sense. Here we have to ask: he looked human to whom? There is no character observing this, so that puts it in omniscient, rather than limited, perspective. Here’s what omniscient narration should sound like:

His appearance was almost human, leading many travelers to drop their guard and approach peacefully. Only when they stood within an arm’s length did they see the maroon eyes and crimson hair hiding under his hood. By then it was too late to run.

Limited perspective provides a closer connection to the viewpoint character. Omniscient perspective sacrifices that closeness for greater freedom and flexibility. With that flexibility, there’s no excuse to stuff observations awkwardly into your narrative. Give those observations some voice and breathing room; let them add personality to your work. If you’re not going to do that, don’t give up the advantages of limited perspective. Stick to what characters are actually observing in the moment.

There Is Such a Thing As Too Brief… and Silly

He blinked in surprise. The message had been correct: they were here. Or was it a trap? He weighed the odds, then said icily, “Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes. Stop whoever is coming… or die.”

Hahaha. I will now add “… or die” to every direction I give someone ever. Between that and how he says things “icily,” we know that this is a ridiculous villain. This was also the moment I noticed the prologue was titled SHADE OF FEAR.

These first two paragraphs are too brief. They should slow down a little and provide more context… or die. You’ll hear lots of advice to trim your work and watch your exposition; that’s because most writers are too long-winded. It doesn’t mean you can’t be too brief or use too little exposition. This is a complex situation stuffed into a tiny space: the Shade has received a message that told him someone would be here, he came even though he didn’t believe it, smelled that someone was indeed here but wasn’t sure it was the people he’s looking for, weighed the risk of sticking around, and then commanded his troops into ambush formation.

Who is he seeking and why? We’re already in his head, so we should know. If he needs to remain mysterious, we should witness only his commands, not his thoughts. Knowing his goals won’t slow the scene, either. In fact, it would provide a stronger plot hook, because readers would have a better understanding of what’s at stake.

Around him shuffled twelve Urgals… they resembled men with bowed legs and thick, brutish arms made for crushing. … The monsters hurried into the brush, grunting as they hid.

Naturally there’s a race of inferior sentient beings that the protagonists don’t have to feel guilty about slaughtering. Forget Star Wars and Harry Potter, this is clearly another Lord of the Rings knockoff.

Replace Generic Description With Specific Details

The Shade peered around a thick tree and looked up the trail. It was too dark for any human to see, but for him the faint moonlight was like sunshine streaming between the trees; every detail was clear and sharp to his searching gaze.

I like the moonlight to sunshine simile here, because it provides a nice visual. Even so, Paolini is consistently doing too much telling and too little showing. Here’s how he might have shown more:

…for him the faint moonlight was like sunshine streaming between the trees. His gaze surveyed the forest and found crickets singing in the grass, owls hiding in the branches, and the stems his party had trampled as they came down the hillside.

“Every detail” has been replaced by specific imagery. It’s more engaging, and it feels more real than simply saying he can see clearly.

They wait longer in the woods, and…

The Shade hissed in anger, and the Urgals shrank back, motionless. He suppressed his distaste–they smelled like fetid meat–and turned away. They were tools, nothing more.

“The Shade hissed” communicates his anger effectively, Paolini doesn’t need to say “in anger.” Once you show, telling is redundant.

Then we have a reminder that the Urgals are worthless and the Shade is evil. Very good, let’s move on please.

They wait in the woods again. Despite the rushed beginning, it’s becoming tedious. When time passes in your story, you don’t need to stuff several paragraphs of nothing happening in there. Just include one paragraph describing how the moon rises on the horizon or the protagonists grow hungry and tired.

The smell was stronger this time. Excited, he lifted a thin lip in a snarl.

We still don’t know what this smell is. It is flowery? Spicey? Earthen? If we’re going to dwell on it this much,* we should have less generic description.

The emotional expression also needs work. Unlike his angry hiss, we wouldn’t know he was excited, because this body language communicates anger. Even with the label, it still comes off as more angry than excited. Paolini should have dropped “excitement” and added body language associated with excitement. He could also include thoughts about how the Shade can’t wait to sink his teeth into whoever’s approaching.

Last, “in a snarl” isn’t effective phrasing. A character’s action has been dimmed into a noun rather than a verb. On rare occasions you may want to de-emphasize actions this way, but I doubt that’s what Paolini wanted here. It is more powerful phrased as: “He lifted a thin lip and snarled.”

Know What Words Mean

“Get ready,” he whispered, his whole body vibrating.

Woah there,”vibrating” is not the word you want. Quivering, shaking, and shivering are used to describe human motions. While Paolini was perhaps too young, anyone who pleases the ladies should know what connotation “vibrate” has.

Put Thought Into Your Narration

Ahead of them, the Shade heard a clink as something hard struck a loose stone. Faint smudges emerged from the darkness and advanced down the trail.

Three white horses with riders cantered toward the ambush, their heads held high and proud, their coats rippling in the moonlight like liquid silver.

The good guys have arrived! But we’ve established the darkness looks like daylight to the Shade. If they are emerging from it, it should be from a longer distance than the hearing range of a loose stone.

The first time I read the second part of this clip, I thought the heads held high and rippling coats belonged to the riders. Now I realize it’s the horses. This is a little odd, it suggests the riders are of secondary importance. Maybe these are super magical horses?

Redundancy Is Still Redundant the Third Time

On the first horse was an elf with pointed ears and elegantly slanted eyebrows. His build was slim but strong, like a rapier. A powerful bow was slung on his back. A sword pressed against his side opposite a quiver of arrows fletched with swan feathers.

The last rider had the same fair face and angled features as the other. He carried a long spear in his right hand and a white dagger at his belt. A helm of extraordinary craftsmanship, wrought with amber and gold, rested on his head.

Between these two rode a raven-haired elven lady, who surveyed her surroundings with poise. Framed by long black locks, her deep eyes shone with a driving force. Her clothes were unadorned, yet her beauty was undiminished.

Why hello, Arwen.

So here we have the first rider who’s an elf, the last rider who is also an elf, and the middle rider who is once again an elf. Why not just say they’re all elves? That’s not the only redundancy, either. A modern fantasy audience knows what elves are, so you don’t have to both name them as elves and describe what an elf looks like. Faux Arwen is described as a raven-haired elf with black locks.

Aside from Arwen, we have description that is focused more on weapons than characterization. That’s not surprising, since they are riding into a fight scene. However, it’s really strange that the helm is described in such depth, but no other armor is mentioned. I’m left with the impression that this overwrought helm is the only armor they have. Perhaps the emphasis on the helm is foreshadowing or something.

At her side was a sword, and on her back a long bow with a quiver. She carried in her lap a pouch that she frequently looked at, as if to reassure herself that it was still there.

We have a McGuffin! Paolini wouldn’t need to describe it here if he had just told us the Shade was looking for it. But since he didn’t, here we have a random pouch of strange importance.

Arwen is… frequently looking at the pouch right now? Or has she been doing that in general during this trip? Since she “surveyed her surroundings with poise,” I’ll go with the latter.

This is a tense moment; they are riding into an ambush. The rest of the description covers what exists in this instant, not what these characters do in general, and for good reason. For instance, if you said, “The dwarf held his axe high as he charged the oncoming orcs. He had practiced this ferocious pose over his many years of battle training,” you would be breaking the tension by leaving the moment.

And of course, Paolini is continuing to explain every time he shows:

  • He blinked <– That means he’s surprised!
  • The Shade hissed <– in anger! Anger right there!
  • He lifted a thin lip in a snarl <– that’s excitement, not anger, I swear it!
  • Wrought with amber and gold <– extraordinary craftsmanship!
  • She carried in her lap a pouch that she frequently looked at <– Psst, she’s looking at it a lot because she’s worried it will be stolen!

In these situations, make sure the showing details are strong enough to stand on their own, and then remove the labels… or die.

Draw Some Diagrams or Something

They passed the Shade’s hiding place and the first few Urgals without suspicion.

The Shade was already savoring his victory when the wind changed direction and swept toward the elves, heavy with the Urgals’ stench. The horses snorted with alarm and tossed their heads. The riders stiffened, eyes flashing from side to side, then wheeled their mounts around and galloped away.

The elves have “galloped away,” so I guess that’s the end of this conflict.


I looked up several youtube videos of horses cantering, and it confirmed my impression that while it isn’t full speed, a cantering horse isn’t slow. Somehow the elves pass just a couple Urgals – who patiently wait to strike at the elves until their kind master orders them to – before the wind changes, and then manage to stop and turn their mounts, then speed up into a gallop, before they are attacked. Looking ahead, Paolini states there are only a dozen Urgals. Maybe they’re really spread out?

I’m still trying to figure out how eyes can flash from side to side. I think Paolini meant the elves were looking or gazing from side to side.

The lady’s horse surged forward, leaving her guards far behind.

This line was disorienting. First the elves gallop “away,” then her horse surges “forward.” I think away and forward are supposed to be the same direction, even though the riders have turned around and are going back the way they came.

Made-Up Words Make Magic Sound Silly

The Shade jumped out from behind the tree, raised his right hand, and shouted, “Garjzla!”

That is some comical spellcasting. Don’t make up silly words when you don’t need to. The Shade could have “shouted in a harsh tongue” instead.

A red bolt flashed from his palm toward the elven lady, illuminating the trees with a bloody light. It struck her steed, and the horse toppled with a high-pitched squeal, plowing into the ground chest-first. She leapt off the animal with inhuman speed, landed lightly, then glanced back for her guards.

The Urgals’ deadly arrows quickly brought down the two elves. They fell from the noble horses, blood pooling in the dirt. As the Urgals rushed to the slain elves, the Shade screamed, “After her!”

Wait, after describing every piece of weaponry those two elves had on their bodies, now they’re dead before they had a chance to use them? And what was up with that helm? I guess it’s purpose is to be found on his dead body or something. This only confirms my suspicion that the horses are the actual main characters.

Again, Know What Words Mean

A cry tore from the elf’s lips as she saw her dead companions. She took a step toward them, then cursed her enemies and bounded into the forest.

Haha, Arwen’s bounding like a lil bunny rabbit! Bounding implies a bouncing motion, it’s used to describe how four-legged animals run. Humanoids don’t “bound” unless they are jumping between specific points – like stones in a river. I think Paolini is relying too much on his thesaurus.

Don’t Invent Things That Break Your Plot

While the Urgals crashed through the trees, the Shade climbed a piece of granite that jutted above them. From his perch he could see all of the surrounding forest.

Where did this big piece of granite come from? If it was there before, why wasn’t he using it to spot the riders before the ambush?

He raised his hand and uttered, “Istalri boetk!” and a quarter-mile section of the forest exploded into flames.

Holy crap! Why didn’t he just get on his granite perch, explode the elves and their horses, and take the McGuffin from the ashes? Or if the McGuffin is too flammable, a quarter mile of flame would still have helped his ambush plans.

Grimly he burned one section after another until there was a ring of fire, a half-league across, around the ambush site. The flames looked like a molten crown resting on the forest.

So… he can keep doing that? I’m sure questions about why he doesn’t just explode things will never come up in the story ever again.

Don’t Let Important Things Happen Off Screen

Suddenly, the Shade heard shouts and a coarse scream. Through the trees he saw three of his charges fall in a pile, mortally wounded. He caught a glimpse of the elf running from the remaining Urgals.

I know the Shade has good vision, but can he really tell through the trees at a distance that the wounds are mortal, specifically? And how did they come to fall in a pile? Paolini should have shown a few blows rather than telling us the results. Perhaps Arwen skewered three at once, like a shish kabob.

She fled toward the craggy piece of granite at a tremendous speed.

Wait, what? Wasn’t she running in the other direction? It does make sense that she would turn around, ring of fire and all, but we should have seen it happening. This is especially true since she had a bunch of Urgals running after her. She could have been trapped between the flames and her pursuers. It’s convenient that she’s heading straight for the Shade.

Also, “tremendous speed”… she’s still on foot, right?

Awkward Foreshadowing Is Awkward

Black Urgal blood dripped from her sword, staining the pouch in her hand.

Is Arwen carrying her sword and the pouch in the same hand? Otherwise, is she waving the sword over the pouch or something? Of course, this is just an excuse to remind us she has the McGuffin, which isn’t a bad idea.* But Paolini should have just said something to the effect of “she clutched the pouch against her side,” etc. This isn’t subtle, just awkward. If you actually need to hide some foreshadowing, you have to disguise it as something else, not just put it in there and hope no one notices.

In addition, readers gain nothing by keeping this thing a surprise. At this point in the story, some magic item or other won’t mean anything to them.

Use Powerful and Meaningful Language

The horned monsters came out of the forest and hemmed her in, blocking the only escape routes…

“Get her.”

As the Urgals surged forward, the elf pulled open the pouch, reached into it, and then let it drop to the ground. In her hands was a large sapphire stone that reflected the angry light of the fires. She raised it over her head, lips forming frantic words. Desperate, the Shade barked, “Garjzla!”

Why lookie here, Paolini does know how to narrate spellcasting without making up silly words. He just chooses not to. Also, put that Shade dialogue in a new paragraph where it belongs… or die.

We also have a couple phrases that have been weakened by making them secondary to the action. For instance, instead of “As the Urgals surged forward, the…” Paolini should have put “The Urgals surged forward. The…” Anything that happens while the main action occurs should be something you want to de-emphasize.

Villains Need to Be Effective

A ball of red flame sprang from his hand and flew toward the elf, fast as an arrow. But he was too late. A flash of emerald light briefly illuminated the forest, and the stone vanished. Then the red fire smote her and she collapsed.

The Shade hollered in rage… He shot nine bolts of energy from his palm–which killed the Urgals instantly…

The Shade can casually shoot energy bolts from his palm that kill people. Why did he need the Urgals again? Besides simply making his enemies and everything around them explode in fire, he could have just shot energy bolts at them and taken the stone.

I get that the Shade is the Big Bad,* and so he’s supposed to be both evil and powerful, but this is an unsustainable situation. Remember that Sauron doesn’t appear in person during the Lord of the Rings, because if he did, he would squash the heroes. He’s still threatening because readers have only heard intimidating rumors about him; they haven’t seen him in action. The Shade doesn’t have Sauron’s aura of mystery, and he doesn’t have a good reason not to kill the good guys. It’s only the prologue, and he’s already suffering from Team Rocket Syndrome by pretending he doesn’t have amazing powers.

And even with exploding fire and bolts of energy, he isn’t intimidating. The entire point of a prologue like this one is to set up the threat of the story. How does watching him lose do that? Paolini would have done better by showing The Shade succeed at a smaller goal, and then cackle about how he will soon have the stone or something. That is, assuming he bothers to explain what the stone can do, so we know what the stakes are.

Miraculously, Arwen is still alive. Apparently the big red fire that downed her horse was just a sleep spell. The prologue ends with the Shade grabbing his horse out of no where and taking her as his damsel. I imagine it will be up to the chosen one to rescue her – but why should readers care? To make your opening effective, you’ll need to demonstrate why the conflict matters… or die.

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  1. Sara

    Wow! I begin to think that all “big” books published were paid to be so famous. How stories like that managed to be published? The market was not as saturated like today?
    Anyway, when I read the post title, I opened my mouth and thought, “Christopher Paolini, did you wrote so bad for your 18?”
    Well, I have to admit that at least my opening scene is better written. It is true that today we have more information and opportunity to correct errors with so many in this world of books. (sorry for any typos and grammars, ’cause I don’t write in english)

    By the way, you’re addicted to read or you also write? I see you have so many good tips that your stories should be awesome!

    • Chris Winkle

      I’m sure there’s a variety of reasons why bad books get published, but I suspect a big one is that there’s a large market demand for that type of story, and publishers want to publish this type of story enough to overlook flaws. For instance, since Buffy became popular, there’s been high demand for urban fantasy. And readers craving another Tolkien, Harry Potter, or Buffy might overlook flaws too.

      I do write, I’m hoping to put some of that writing on Mythcreants in the next year or so. Whether it’s any good, I’ll let readers judge for themselves.

    • Michael

      He wrote it when he was 14 for a writing assignment. Published it when he was 15 and toured with it until it got enough attention that the big six took notice and he got picked up for a publishing contact.
      I’ve noticed a thing about the black swans none of them seem to have good writing, none of them seem to follow the rules. However, they should have edited it better once big six got ahold of it.
      Interesting though that he had such a work ethic that young. Have you seen the size of those books? Clunky prose, or not he worked hard, and did something adults struggle to do. Anyways that’s my two cents.

    • Ben

      I do believe Paolini’s Parents published it originally.

  2. Rand al'Thor

    I think Eragon is okay but once you thoroughly analyze it it seems like the modern Sword of Shannara. I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of Eragon clones in the future.

  3. cait

    I never could get into it, it reminded me of Tolkien too much and I never liked his work either. *waits to be burnt at the stake for saying that*

    To be fair I only got a few chapters in before I was putting it down and the people I spoke to who read it enjoyed it. (It was the only series that kept my dad reading even though he hates reading)

    But It bugs me when younger writers praise him, like they do Tolkien for being the best fantasy writers out there. In my writing group I see this way to often. It often brings up lack of diversity in their work and clichéd their stories become. But can you argue with a mass of young writers and authors who hate diversity.

    I knew there was some specific reasons why his work bugged me and I didn’t get far enough to be able to articulate them. Thanks for the article!

    • Chris Winkle

      Tolkien has its strong points and its weak points – as many very popular works receiving praise do. I just finished Lord of the Rings, but it was my second attempt, and I only managed because I knew and liked the story from the movies. However, I will say that Tolkien’s work is vastly superior to imitators such as Paolini and Brooks – at least the portions of their work I’ve read. They’re trying to create the same effect as Tolkien, but they don’t know how because they haven’t mastered wordcraft like he has, and they’re trying to skip all the buildup he put in.

      I’m glad I could help you figure out what was bothering you about Paolini’s work. Hopefully now you’ll have more fuel to argue with the pro-cliché crowd you’re dealing with

      • Krssven

        Not just ‘vastly superior’, but also ‘created the modern fantasy genre virtually single-handedly’.

        I’ve read LotR and all of the other books, and where Tolkien falls down slightly is his propensity for songs, overly flowery dialogue (for a modern reader) and a strange unwillingness to write battle scenes. For example, Helm’s Deep is a major event in the war, but it gets a few pages at best while many more were wasted earlier in The Two Towers describing Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli running (and talking, and sleeping, and running some more).

        • Renna

          Okay yeah I know I’m a year too late but I have a theory about the lack of battle scenes – he fought in one of the World Wars and lost friends. A huge core message found in the books is the value in simplicity, peace, friendship, and compassion. When I read LOTR it’s not a ‘war’ story, it’s a uniting story, a friendship story, a hopeful story. I am sure drawn out battles would have personally been difficult for him to write as he despised war. he may also have felt that the battles were not the actual point of his book and placed his emphasis where he felt it was due.

          • Leon

            Also, battles arent really that interesting. If you read A Song Of Ice And Fire, very fer words are spent on soldiers trading blows its the build up and the aftermath that are that are interesting.

          • Krssven

            Of course battles are interesting. They are the focal points of the story, the points in time where the characters win or lose, live or die. Tolkien had a propensity to gloss over these moments without ever justifying them. Helm’s Deep is a huge battle that when probably visualised was the main part of the story of the Two Towers, just as the battles at Pelennor and the Morannon were. But it gets almost nothing in terms of page count. Coupled with the overly descriptive, flowery dialogue and you find the biggest flaws with those books. There are certainly many people that are turned off by them, even though he created modern fantasy. LotR also needed a really good, hard editing. You could almost condense it down to a single (if thick) novel.

          • Cay Reet

            One problem with large-scale battles in a book, in my opinion, is that it takes a lot of skill at writing them, because otherwise you’ll bore the reader and they’ll just skip through. Easier for a movie or TV series, because humans are visual animals and can take in a battle shown much better than a battle described.

      • Jeffrey Scott Burke

        Tolkien’s imitators overlook a number of things, but the main one they fail to see is how he uses backstory. This failure is the primary reason that some have written millions of words and woven hellishly complex plots yet failed to achieve anything nearly as powerful as his effects.

        First, he worked his backgrounds out in enormous detail and so had plenty of details to choose from when he needed to present something from the past. By comparison even the biggest names of the contemporary fantasy genre are lazy; their backgrounds tend to be sketches. And it shows. Second, Tolkien almost never uses that background to explain anything but rather puts it to artistic use creating more questions and mystery. The huge amount of detail he has available allows him to present just the right details to accomplish this. It would be impossible to work out a full history of Arda or even Middle-earth merely from what’s given in LOTR; but what’s given is enough to show that that full history nevertheless exists.

  4. Andrew C. Erickson

    I immensely enjoyed this book while growing up. The story of Star Wars in the world of LOTR has plenty of appeal for a boy still finding the good bits of fantasy (Side Note: Little do you know that you have just read the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope in fantasy form. I would be hardly surprised to learn that pseudo-Arwen’s frantic mutterings were something to the tune of “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope”). It wasn’t until later that the main character’s knack for having a “revelation” 3 times day began to bother me.

    On another note, I would totally read your Eragon rewrite, fixing his tendency to tell not show and write with a thesaurus at his elbow, among other things. Please provide….or die!

    • Chris Winkle

      Haha! Oh wow, it’s really Star Wars plot in MIddle Earth? That makes a scary amount of sense. Are the “revelations” his Jedi powers? I was hoping they were smell-related. Boy wakes up, smells whatever it was that alerted the Shade, and discovers that he is the one chosen to smell the… smell.

      I’ll be doing more of these critiques. so I may have to die many times over.

  5. Tamara Ryder

    Quite apart from his amateur plot construction mistakes, the greatest flaw in Paolini’s work is the emotional maturity of his characters. Since he was in his teens when he started writing the story, all his characters think, feel, and react like teenagers. Which is okay for characters like Eragon who actually is a teenager, but for his supposedly elderly mentor and his elf girlfriend it comes off as a little ridiculous. This is also the main reason why the Shade is so not scary. He reacts to failure pretty much like a toddler if toddlers could shoot fire from their hands. He strikes out randomly, killing his own allies out of spite. So I know from the get go that unless the hero is totally incompetent, this guy will be pretty easy to defeat. A few chapters in and what do you know? The hero is totally incompetent. This is why I’m not a big advocate of teenagers getting published. You need practice to write a really good book. You need to write a few bad ones first, but there’s no reason to inflict your learning process on the entire sci-fi/fantasy fandom. The genre has enough trouble getting respected in the world of modern literature. But what you need most of all is life experience and emotional maturity. It’s the characters and their relationships that make a story really compelling. If you’ve never had to deal with the complications of a real relationship, you can’t possibly write about one convincingly. I think Paolini has a lot of potential as a writer, and in another few years if the success of Eragon hasn’t given him a swelled head, he may turn out something worth reading. But that’s the other thing about getting published at that age. You’re not mature enough to handle the fame and money without losing the ability to write just for the joy of it, and every really good book that’s ever been written has been written for the joy of telling a good story, nothing more or less.

    • Lucky

      Yes. I agree with you Tamara. But have you tried to correctly write characters to perfection? What I find about books is that most books do not have good character transitions. I was annoyed by that until I tried it myself. It is difficult. Try writing from a twelve-year-old character’s perspective of a first glimpse at green if you don’t believe me. I look at this quite a lot actually; and Eragon’s immaturity may not be entirely reasonable, but it is not unreasonable either.
      Therefore, Tamarra, it is not necessarily a flaw. Paolini having written it at such a young age, it is astounding that Eragon even has a proper character arc.
      Kind regards (I am no longer frustrated)
      Tago, Orca and Opal.

    • Adam

      You make some good points, but as someone who has read this series multiple times, I can easily tell that a lot of your misconceptions come out of ignorance. Yes, the first book didn’t start out good. I think I read the first few chapters around 3 times and after each time put the book down and didn’t touch it for a year. However, when I really took the time to get past those few chapters, I really began enjoying the book. It was in my opinion very well done for an author of that age. I’m reaching my 20’s now and this series among the Reckoners series is one of my favorites. Perhaps it’s my lack of in-depth writing knowledge but overall I think this was an amazing series.

      • Krssven

        She’s clearly read it. I’ve read it. All of the criticisms are spot on.

        I’m really, really tired of seeing comments like this that are clearly suggesting between the lines that people criticising something they enjoy have not read it or somehow aren’t privy to its genius.

        Eragon is not a work of genius, it was the work of a child that didn’t even get proof-read, whose family used their clout to get published. It isn’t under-appreciated, it’s just not very good, which is fine. Lots of things that aren’t particularly good turn out to be popular – people need to stop assuming that popularity automatically means that the work is quality.

  6. Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux

    Beautiful. Thank you– especially for the correction examples. Now I’m going to go learn what Team Rocket means… I have a feeling my first villain might be in that category.

    Do you do copy editing?

    -Rose (Rachel’s friend)

    p.s. you can check out my current WIP if you like: http://www.lizziebluebeard.wordpress.org

  7. Kayla

    I agree that these are flaws in the book, though your criticism is a bit harsh. I read this years ago so I didn’t pick up on this stuff at the time, but while it helps to be perceptive the article comes off as kind of mean. I figured you were a writer yourself, so you must know about how difficult it can be and that everyone makes mistakes. Just thought I’d speak in his defense

    • Eriberri

      Constructive criticism is not the same as criticism used for the sake of hurting someone, it instead helps us to learn from our mistakes, shows us things from another perspective, etc. Harshness should be expected from time to time, particularly with Paolini’s stellar example, but it’s not a personal thing.
      A passionate writer knows that constructive criticism, given well, can be one of the most helpful tools they can receive (far, far better then praise) as it helps the writer see their work from a fresh perspective, reflect on it, and so grow as a result. Harsh constructive criticism is the best kind, free from sugar-coated delusion which serves no good purpose; After a while you develop a thicker skin anyway, especially when you begin to see the results of your newly applied knowledge.
      A writer’s writing style is a living thing, constantly growing and evolving with a lifetime of experiences – both personal and shared. As a writer you’re never too good or too famous to learn from advice and better your art. There’s always someone better then you at this thing!
      Anyway, Paolini could have gleaned a lot from a tool like this but then we wouldn’t have this excellent article to help us, so I’ll forgive the awful writing for my own sake.. just this once.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Also, something to consider, this isn’t how Chris would have phrased feedback had she been one of Eragon’s beta readers. This is a book that someone thought was good enough to publish, and made bazzillions of dollars. If the author’s feelings are hurt by criticisms of the work (not of him, there are no personal insults here) he can take comfort from his giant pile of money.

    • eric horn

      i todaly agree with you

  8. Stephanie

    Aww, you didn’t make it to my favorite part–how Eragon HAS to kill a deer or his family will STARVE, but then he–oooh, shiny rock! I’ll just take this home and I’m sure the fam will be fine.


    Thank you, though, for pointing out that Christopher Paolini, who might have had the core of a decent story in there somewhere, really needed a serious editor and about five or six more years to grow up.

  9. Rand al'Thor

    Christopher would have been better off writing children’s books.

  10. Eirenn

    The most hilarious article I have read in a very long time. How easy it is for a bunch of no names in the writing world to critique another who found success. It must be much harder for them to find success. I know many a young adult who devoured his books and perhaps he did not find the need to over-complicate his books for an audience that would in large, never understand or appreciate all the adult idiosyncrasies you imply the book is missing. Each author’s style and voice is unique and I do not ascribe to never breaking haughty ridiculous rules. Many HIGHLY proliific and adored authors advise the same. The basics are there with a highly entertaining story that obviously hit a note for both its intended audience and movie makers. This was a meager attempt to sound more knowledgeable and successful than is reality and nothing more. It worked for him and his intended audience. That IS success as an author.

    • Bailey

      Eirenn knows what’s up.

      • Inanna

        I agree. His books were intended for the younger crowd. I liked it, when I was a teen. I will never not like it. Most of this is rubbish.

    • Zach

      I entirely agree… And for some of the things, I’m not even sure if the author of this webpage read the book… because for example it makes sense when the spells are spoken in another other language, because that’s how magic works in Eragon! So many criticisms here are things that are logical when you’ve read the rest of the book.

      And I don’t find it problematic at all to have a mysterious beginning.

      • Bunny

        I think it seems unfair to require having read the full book in order to critique its beginning. If the beginning is shoddy, there won’t be a desire to finish the book. That’s like finding a maggot in the first bite of an apple. Nobody can blame you if you don’t eat the rest, even if the rest has an adequate explanation for the maggot being there … my metaphor is breaking down

        Now, the merits of the beginning are a matter of opinion, as is this article. Some might find this start intriguing, others sloppy and messy.

        And, I dunno, scoffing at the jealous haters who dare to differ in said opinion (as this comment you agree with is doing) just seems unconstructive. You don’t have to be a great or famous author to be a discerning reader. I’m not a filmmaker, but I am confident in asserting that, say, Birdemic is a crappy movie. I don’t need to have a degree in film to recognize schlock. Similarly, nobody needs to be a famous author to criticize something.

        • Axgosser

          The issue with that comment: this criticism isn’t even the start of the book. Its only the prolog.

          Prologs are notorious for not being needed. You could skip it and it would have very little impact on the story.

          • Bunny

            It’s what most audiences will see first, and will act as their first impression and springing-off point. The shoddiness (or lack thereof) of this excerpt is the subject of debate.

            Whether prologues are necessary is another debate entirely, but ya know.

          • Cay Reet

            As Bunny said, you’re not helping the argument here.

            No matter whether it’s the first chapter or the prologue, for most people who take a look at the book, be it online (through a ‘look inside’ feature) or at a store, the first few lines of the book are the most important. That’s actually what they tell every author who wants to be successful: start your book in a way that draws attention.

            I wouldn’t continue looking at the book – or buy it – after such a first impression.

        • Juan

          I’d like to point out a part of the critic here:

          “Naturally there’s a race of inferior sentient beings that the protagonists don’t have to feel guilty about slaughtering”.
          I get that Chris only gives us his first impressions while opening the book, but here he straight up assumed what the authors goals and opinions were from just a few words.
          And as it will turn out in the latter books, false. (On the other hand it’s been a while since I read them and I recall there wasn’t much foreshadowing about it, so I guess it’s natural Chris expected this, but still)

          The critics of the writing are all legitimate, but to go as far as call it “terrible writing” is exaggerate. It’s not even bad writing, just one with a few flaws from inexperience.
          Hardly worthy of the caustic commentary.

  11. Orose

    I understand the criticisms, I was never into Eragon myself, but I would argue that it is the audience that determines what equals good writing and what doesn’t. His writing worked for the overall audience, who were able to overlook ‘flaws’, and enjoy the story. He obviously did what needed to be done on a higher level than many people out there who write so-called correctly. The consumer is still the ultimate deciding factor & didn’t his family publish the first book themselves? It hit the right market at the right time and was written in a way that was easy for the audience to understand & accept.

    It’s not about doing it right, it’s about writing the way you want to and getting positive audience reception regardless.

    I’ve seen so many would-be famous authors complain in forums that they’re, “Doing it RIGHT!” while so-and-so, “Did it WRONG!” so, “Why did they get famous and I didn’t!?” It’s the audience. They either like your writing or they don’t, most of them don’t care about The Rules. It’s really all about their perception of the new world they’re entering. Of course few actually like to hear that fact so…

    I’m not trying to say it’s useless to critique, but in this case I feel that it comes off pretentious. Some think Paloni fumbled the ball, but many thousands of others thought and still think differently. In the end he was successful despite his ‘errors’ and if that’s the case then were they really ‘errors’?

    Not liking someone’s writing style doesn’t make the author wrong or a bad writer. You perceived faults that prevented you from enjoying the story, but others did not. If it was universally hated then I guess we could say it was “terrible writing”, but personally I’m tired of seeing people put an all-encompassing stamp on works just because they didn’t enjoy them; that totally discounts the experiences of others.

    It’s one thing to say, “I didn’t like it and here are my reasons,” but that’s not what happened here.

    • Chris Winkle

      Hi Orose,

      You say it’s not useless to critique, yet at the same time you repeatedly imply that Pauolini’s work does not have real flaws or errors because it is popular, and you also imply that a critique is not valid if it comes from someone who is less well-known than the person they are critiquing. If those things were true, we might as well send art critics of all mediums packing. (Also, editors.) We would have no reason for the Hugos, because all worthy works would have already been rewarded by their own popularity.

      I agree with you that popular works are clearly doing something right, and often critics overlook that. Unfortunately, the thing they are doing right is not always what most people consider merit. For instance, a book with a white male hero might be more popular than a very similar book with a black female hero, but that’s because of the biases of the audience, not because white male heroes are just better.

      Furthermore, a book can always be MORE popular. I could just as easily say Paolini must be doing something wrong, because Eragon isn’t as popular as Harry Potter. Books can be good in some aspects and terrible in others, having good traits does not mean they are flawless.

      We have strong reasons for criticizing popular works here at Mythcreants. Readers are familiar with them, so they’ll understand examples better, they’re more interested in reading about them, and last, we don’t want to pick on the little guy.

      As for my “terrible” label, clearly that’s my opinion, and I have defended that opinion pretty thoroughly in this critique. If you think I’m wrong, by all means defend its merits. But I don’t see how saying it can’t have flaws because it’s popular is productive. I could just as easily say that because my critiques of popular works are popular, any flaws you think they have are non-existent.

      • Zach

        That’s a fair response, and I appreciate the time you spent going into details about the writing. But some of your criticisms seem like you haven’t read the books so don’t understand what it’s about (ie criticising the use of other language words for magic, when that is how the magic works in Eragon). Furthermore the sarcastic tone seems contemptuous where there is no need to be contemptuous.

  12. Maria

    I completely agree with Orose. I enjoyed reading this series as a teen, and while I do recognize the writing has its flaws, they are overall great books. Sure, you can dissect his every sentence and criticize that he should have used the word “shaking” instead of “vibrating”, but the truth is, Paolini created a world you could get lost in, with characters who change and grow throughout the story. His story was imaginative, interesting and connected with the audience, which is really more than a lot of books manage to achieve.

    • Cay Reet

      This is, however, a blog about writing. And by going over books which made it and look at how they could have been better, people are learning. And that is the main reason for posts like this one.

      I admit I also like reading them and some are quite funny, but that’s just a side effect for me.

  13. Nova

    This is disgusting. While I do admire learning from other writers mistakes, all I took away from this was how teenagers shouldn’t even bother writing. It’s totally uninspiring. I am no longer a teenager, but I am still a young aspiring writer. After reading this, and all these comments, it has me feeling like I won’t even stand a chance. Writers are supposed to encourage each other. Not discourage.

  14. Nightshade

    hi, I get it that critique helps writers in their writing and the setup and all but it’s not very helpful to young writers when they stumble apon this. It’s not an inspiration for young writers like myself to read this, and then get hit with someone commenting about how their writing is , or might be determined by age.

    If a 30 or 40 year old decides to write their first book , it may be at this same level, beacause they haven’t written before. It’s a good thing that more people are writing young beacause by the time they’re older they will have more advanced writing. Go and check out Christopher Paloini newer writing , it’s an example of how if he hadn’t have written this book, at 18 then he might not have better advanced writing he has now

    -The kid who is in pre ap

    • Chris Winkle

      Hi Nightshade, thanks for the feedback.

      People have widely different skill levels at all ages, but we send young people to 12 years of school and then higher education to refine their writing skills. Teenagers are rarely done with that education, and they haven’t had as much opportunity to build fiction skills as older people. By this I don’t mean teenagers are all poor writers, I just think it’s a reason to cut them a little slack.

      But Paolini is a bestselling author; he doesn’t need any slack. I chose him because if somehow he notices I exist and I hurt his feelings, he has money and fans to comfort him.

      However, you’ve demonstrated that Paolini’s success doesn’t mean young people won’t get discouraged by this, which isn’t the intent of my critiques. I have to entertain my readers, but in the future I’ll consider how I can do that without being quite so harsh.

      • L.A.C

        Hey i don’t think that Paolini work was that bad, of course he had flaws but every writter has it. Even Tolkien and Jk Rowling.

    • Kira

      Actually yes, it’s an inspiration for me. These kinds of articles are useful, because they allow us to consider the flaws that can have our writing and help to improve it, as amateur author. If you can’t ignore the ”harsh” attack on the author’s writting (which I find otherwise quite amusing) and the hesitation expressed in this article toward the work of the youth, because this could discourage them, well, it’s their loss.

      • Cay Reet

        Also dealing with critique is part of being a writer (or another kind of artist).

        As a matter of fact, a lot of this could and should have been caught by an editor or beta reader, once the book was about to be professionally published, which means it’s not just about Paolini being a teenager, it’s also about other people not doing their job right.

  15. Faith Chapman

    My new dream in life is to publish a popular novel so you can make fun of it. This is awesome.

    • Chris Winkle

      Haha. Just wait for the next novel that’s an innovative hit, then imitate it. That’s worked for quite a few authors

      • Blacwolf

        The question I want answered is how can I be the writer of that next innovative hit novel that everyone else copies?

        P.S. love the blog, especially enjoy your witty humor!

  16. Jess

    I really enjoyed this critique! Harsh? Perhaps. On point? Definitely. I don’t believe the goal here was to bash a young writer because he is (was) young, but to illustrate how a lack of experience can impact your work. With a great copy editor, Eragon could have been a beautiful piece of fiction. Obviously, it was successful despite it’s flaws, which should tell us that people respond to characters and story, even if the writing is less than stellar. As a writer myself, however, I don’t believe writing to what is “popular” is ever an excuse to write poorly.

  17. j. Baxter

    I’m a professional editor who works primarily with new/unpublished authors who are trying to take their manuscripts to the next level, and I come across a lot of writers like you who get so hung up with all the little pieces and parts, that they fail to realize what makes a story people will love. Most readers didn’t notice any of the things you pointed out, because they were too caught up in the story to care. C. P. managed to capture people with his books, and despite some issues (like pacing), he successfully suspended disbelief for his readers, and gave them characters they could care about. Flawed? Yes. Successful? Wildly. I think aspiring authors like you would be far better off analyzing and trying to learn from the things he did right than focusing on the minute details that do not a story make. Can they improve it and leave authors like you with less to dissect and critique? Sure. But even though I myself am not a huge Eragon fan, I have an immense amount of respect for what he accomplished, as should every one of his fellow authors. After all, he clearly did far more right than he did wrong, because the true measure of a book’s success is in how well it connects with its audience, and aspiring authors like yourself would do well to remember that in the end, that is the only true measure of success.

    • Krssven

      This sounds a lot like the ‘it made loads of money, of course it’s good’ argument that defenders of cinematic garbage like Transformers make. Success does not a good work make. How many musicians, artists, film-makers and indeed writers suffer because their work was edged out by some kid who happened to write something popular? Criticism serves a big purpose: to highlight poor work and show others in the business exactly why and how it is poor, allowing them to make their own work better.

      Eragon reads like it was dashed off to the presses after a lazy scan-read – the publisher was too distracted by the ker-ching noises in his head to actually check the damn thing. Some of it looks like it wasn’t even read back when it was first written.

      • Cay Reet

        Definitely. A lot of the things which Chris lists in this article are stuff which an editor should have caught and either changed themselves or have sent back to the author to change them. But then, I have read a lot of fan fiction in my life and most of it has about that quality (and quite a bit of it is even better), although no professional had a hand in it.

        That whole ‘it was successful so it was good’ argument is used too much at the moment in my opinion. Yes, it found its readers and it was clearly good enough for them. Yes, a good story makes you forget about the plot holes, the bad writing, and the problems with the characters (whatever applies). But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been even better (and found a bigger market), had those involved done their job better. And that’s not even mostly Paolini. It’s the people at the publishing house who didn’t do their job well enough.

        Quite the opposite – this actually shows what a shame it is that someone was sleeping at the wheel.

    • I didn't feel like writing my name

      I personally liked the book when I first read it, but something was off. I think this article really hit the mark on what it was I (and many other readers) noticed. And while you are right about the books success, it could have been so much better if those flaws never made it into the final draft.

  18. Aspiring

    My husband I both enjoyed the series but I never read it with a critical eye but from a desire simply to enjoy the story. Now I’ll never view it the same again! As an aspiring author, I am more critical of others` works and crave the feedback as well. This article was helpful to me, a 40 something writer, and I look forward to putting the tips to use.

  19. Lydia

    First of all, you made me laugh a lot with the “…or die” thing. Kudos, it was quite enjoyable. Second, thanks for the literary critique. I can tell you have a good sense of high quality prose and I learned some things myself. Third, how much high quality prose matters really does depend on the writer and their audience. I agree with both sides here, because both are valid in different lights. On the one hand we have lasting classics like Tolkien, who because of his resonate story, experienced prose, and depth of his world building, has a legacy that will outlive us all. Eragon does not have that. It does, however, entertain its audience. I loved it when I read it as a kid, but going back to read it now, I am rolling my eyes quite a bit. He wrote it for teenagers, and teenagers loved it, so he succeeded (similar to Twilight. Read it as a kid, didn’t know better, loved it. Read it now=gagging). At the same time, it is NOT high quality prose, so if your definition of a “good” book is that, then it’s not a good book. It all depends on the perspective of the critic. I think Paolini was a successful author, but Eragon won’t be remembered for generations like Tolkien already has been.

    On another note, Chris, I actually disagreed with some of your critique. Not in the sense of what is quality prose, but in personal taste. I actually preferred some of Paolini’s brief, simple descriptions of what was going on, over your longer, more oblique showing. I don’t know if that makes me an inferior consumer, but in some of your specific instances I preferred the brief telling that moved the story along instead of getting distracted by all the imagining I had to do to connect the picture you were painting to what was happening. Again, it is all subjective and depending on personal taste, which is why the enormity and diversity of the literary market is a wonderful thing: it leaves room for a variety of writers writing for a varied audience.

    Now that I think about it, I’ve concluded it has a lot to do with the literary maturity of the reader: a large percentage of average teenagers don’t have the reading experience or attention span to appreciate/enjoy “high quality prose,” so there is a market for writers like Paolini and Meyers (also why many teenagers are bored to death by classics like Of Mice And Men or To Kill A Mockingbird). High quality prose, like wine, is acquired and taught taste. It’s a great thing to teach our kids, but many kids haven’t acquired that taste, thus the market for Paolini.

    Anyway, keep critiquing, you have great suggestions and experience to share. If someone doesn’t like it, they are free to not read it…or die.

    • Chris Winkle

      Thanks Lydia. My purpose is to entertain and inform, if I’ve done that for you, then I’ve succeeded. I don’t need to convince everyone that Eragon is bad, or even that my way of doing things is the best way.

      • John Paul

        And to briefly add to what I was saying before, much of the critiques you gave would not be noticed by the intended audience. Would you berate Dr. Suess for not having deep story telling and well written villains in “Green Eggs and Ham”? Of course not since the book is meant for small children. Similarly, Eragon is written for teenagers who want to read a high fantasy like a Tolkein novel, but with faster writing and more relatable, younger characters. For example, virtually every teenager, myself included (when I read the book), would gloss over “hissed in anger”, not caring in the slightest about the minute redundancy posed by adding “in anger”. It is minute and I somewhat agree should be removed, but you make an unnecessarily big deal out of redundancies that can often serve to build a stronger image of what the author meant. As a simple example of this, suppose I wanted to make a big deal out of how some character’s sword is quite big. Would I describe it once as a “quite big sword”? Of course not, I would reiterate how its reach makes certain attacks that are inaccessible to most warrior now easy to perform, I would write about the added weight that the length necessarily adds to the sword, I would talk about how it feels clunky to wield if one is feeble, yet powerful in the right hands. The repeated descriptions would serve to give importance to the size of the sword. If someone hisses in anger, then I know that they are not, as a snake would, hissing to smell the air around them, something that could be assumed out of context since we are dealing with a Shade, some unknown creature.

        • Bunny


          As a (fellow?) teenager, I’m tired of people using age group to prescribe a certain quality of writing, as if audience justifies shoddiness. I know plenty of peers who have attempted this book and put it aside for reasons that can be linked to the writing style (once I read this post, I was curious and asked around). That’s not to say age group shouldn’t be considered at all when it comes to the construction of a story, but usually that pertains to (like you mentioned) the age of the protagonists and the problems they encounter. I doubt many people are critiquing “Green Eggs and Ham” for deep storytelling and well-written villains for exactly those reasons. However, bad writing is bad writing, no matter who it’s targeted at.

          I found your sword example interesting, as that didn’t seem to be a question of redundancy, or at least, not redundancy in the same vein as “hissed in anger.” The reason the post’s author considered that a redundancy is because it’s a verb with common connotations of anger and then “in anger” tacked on the end, meaning it reads as “he said angrily in anger.” I agree that in this circumstance, though, it’s probably necessary to make the distinction between anger-hissing and snake hissing because we don’t know if the Shade is snakelike (although I certainly feel like that distinction could’ve been made in a less clunky way). That’s not the point of contention, however; you’re saying that the redundancy can strengthen the narration.

          Back to your example with the sword. This is not redundancy as it pertains to “hissed in anger.” In fact, I wouldn’t call that redundancy at all – that’s a case of showing, as in the “show versus tell” guidelines. If you want to show that a sword is quite large, then yes, that’s how you’d do it, and yes, that strengthens the narrative. But that’s certainly not the same thing as redundancy, so it’s odd to see you liken the two. If anything, a better way to demonstrate redundancy with the premise of a “quite big sword” would be “A gigantic sword that was enormous,” since redundancy here is redundancy in word choice, not in content.

          If we were to apply your “show not tell” tactic to the Shade hissing, I do think we could’ve ended up with a much stronger image of the Shade’s anger without risking confusion over the Shade’s snakelike-ness or lack thereof. If the Shade’s expression, posture, tone of voice, etc were known, the audience could conclude his anger on their own. However, as that line currently is in the text, it’s still a bulky and easily redundant-seeming way of getting that across.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I have removed another comment for personal attacks against the post’s author, which are against our comments policy.

  20. Joanna W.

    Ah, yes. The good old Inheritance Cycle. What a blast from my middle school past. *dissolves into somewhat embarassed nostalgia*
    I was aware of the series’ flaws from the beginning. I cracked open the first book and my immediate reaction was, “this is actually not that great, but imma keep reading anyway…”
    … which actually is one of the reasons why I admire C.P. He managed to create a series of largely mediocre books that ended up getting a huge fanbase anyway, in spite of their flaws. I think what really gripped me about the books was the plot. Oh, and the dragons. Gotta love the dragons.
    But in the end, I think what matters is touching the reader in some way. As writer, I place more value in my story and my characters than I do in syntax and logic issues. Which isn’t to say I don’t comb through my sentences like crazy. Believe me, I do. But if anyone in my audience feels like they’ve experienced something by the end of my book, I won’t care so much about the quality of my writing. I’ve done my job.
    Make the reader feel… or die.

  21. KT

    I thought it would be interesting to post this, found on Paolini’s website about how it was published:

    “Christopher was fifteen when he wrote the first draft of Eragon. He took a second year to revise the book and then gave it to his parents to read. The family decided to self-publish the book and spent a third year preparing the manuscript for publication: copyediting, proofreading, designing a cover, typesetting the manuscript, and creating marketing materials. During this time Christopher drew the map for Eragon, as well as the dragon eye for the book cover (that now appears inside the Knopf hardcover edition). The manuscript was sent to press and the first books arrived in November 2001. The Paolini family spent the next year promoting the book at libraries, bookstores, and schools in 2002 and early 2003.

    “In summer 2002, author Carl Hiaasen, whose stepson read a copy of the self-published book while on vacation in Montana, brought Eragon to the attention of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Michelle Frey, executive editor at Knopf, contacted Christopher and his family to ask if they might be interested in having Knopf publish Eragon. The answer was yes, and after another round of editing, Knopf published Eragon in August 2003.”

    • Cay Reet

      If the process really went like that, a lot of people slept at the wheel in this case, because a lot of the stuff Chris lists should have been caught by an editor – at least after it was professionally released. Self-publishing is another topic, more can go through there.

      • Zach

        Are you implying what’s on the author’s website is a lie?

        This lists some flaws and only a fraction of all possible flaws. The family and editors might have removed tons, while these remained.

        Furthermore, some of the so-called ‘flaws’ are very honestly only debatably so… the magic spells in another language for example, that’s not a flaw but it is due to how the magic system works.

        • Cay Reet

          Even putting aside the spells in another language – Harry Potter has quite some spells based on Latin, which isn’t unusual, either, I have been working as an editor myself and I can tell you that I probably wouldn’t have gotten paid after leaving such mistakes in. Yes, there’s always something slipping through, there’s always going to be some mistakes remaining. But those are too many, too big, and too obvious ones. What you can expect to remain in a book after good editing are the occasional typo and, perhaps, the odd wrong word.

          And, as ‘spells are in a different language, that’s the point’ seems to be your main argument against the whole critique: If you decide to do so, make it obvious that words in a different (perhaps even invented) language are spells from the beginning, so the reader knows what’s happening. That is what first chapters are for – introducing the reader to the world of the book and giving them all information they need to understand the basics. Details can be filled out later, but ‘magic works with spells in a specific language’ is a pretty important information.

  22. Paul

    Great article. I started writing because I saw the “Written by a 15 year old!” blurb and thought “Why not me?” Then I read Eragon, loved it, discovered fan sites, then discovered hate sites. I spent more time on the hate sites and they were negative. But they were also constructive. There were articles about writing and plotting and characterization. There were articles about how to pace a story, how to build worlds, and how to really draw your reader in. There were articles about what Inheritance was copying. I discovered some of my favorite books through criticism. This article isn’t going to make teen writers who like Eragon despair. It’s going to tick them off. It’s going to make them think. They’ll look for rebuttals. They’ll dig deeper. Good practice for getting your own work thrashed is reading the criticism of your favorite authors, even if it’s tough.

  23. De

    I’m sorry, but I think you are all a big crock of meanies. This kid is a famous writer because his story has heart and soul. His creativity was enough to make it big, and y’all need to get off your high horses.
    Obviously it’s good storytelling, whether the writing is perfect or not. No reputable publisher is going to allow a story to go out there unedited. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it’s a brilliant story told with heart. That’s why it was popular. You guys think it’s cute to knock a teenage writer? I think it’s cruel.
    But I’m sure he doesn’t mind, after all, he’s the one with his book in bookstores, a movie on his shelf and millions in his pocket.

    • Karen

      You don’t get it. This is meant to be lessons for writers, and Eragon is full of examples of bad writing that other writers — including 15-year-olds — can learn from. No one’s writing is so perfect that it’s beyond critique, and sheltering anyone from a critique is just going to teach them that criticism is bad rather than something to learn from.

  24. Scrambled

    For a book written by a 15-year-old kid, Eragon is exactly what I expect it to be: fantasy/adventure SunnyD – not very sophisticated, doesn’t really taste good, but it’s got all the sugar a kid could want. I agree that Paolini does not have the life experience and emotional maturity to create deeply compelling characters, and it is apparent that though he has access to the tools of the trade, he has not yet learned how to use them effectively. Therefore we get generic descriptions, a rather ridiculous villain, and an implausible and irrelevant prologue.

    But hey! I’ve seen what other teens are writing. Most of them don’t write beyond the minimum requirement, much less for fun. So, no, Paolini does not have the years of experience (nor taken out the student loans) to perfect his craft. He’s just a kid, and the books resonate with kids. I, for one, am glad they’re reading. What irks me is that throughout the series, as he grows older, Paolini’s writing remains stunted, stagnate, locked forever in its adolescent form. I would have enjoyed the books much more if I had been able to see his craft mature. (It also would have helped if I had not been able to predict the second book in its entirety.)

    This article is excellent as it points out the flaws prevalent in many young adult novels. It may – with the author’s permission, of course – turn up in a middle school English class or in an after school tutoring session. Not to be overly hard on Paolini, but even bad writing can be used to produce informed readers and better writers.

    I will add one more tiff, this time about publishing companies: They are not interested in providing the public with quality, but getting quality dollars out of the public’s pocket.

    • Scrambled

      I should add that my comments are aimed at the Inheritance series, especially to Eragon, and the age and experience of the author when it was written. I’m aware that he is much older now, and a much more experienced writer.

  25. Mark

    Just have to say. While I thoroughly enjoyed both the critique of Eragon and the book itself I agree that its is poorly written. I however, believe in seeing past the limitations of an author and enjoying the story for what it was meant to be. We are all human and as a teenager this kid wrote a pretty interesting book with a world that he developed. Just my two cents though

  26. Sayde

    This article is ridiculous. I cannot possibly see how an accurate review of an entire series of books could be made from the prologue of the first novel, and in reality the criticisms come across as petty and nitpicking. Every writer writes differently, and there is no wrong way to write, no matter what ‘rules’ you may be referring to. This kid was published at an extremely young age, and instead of marveling at that, you’re picking apart his writing in a tone that makes me see you as a jealous child. I would suggest reading a book before you attempt to tear it down for poor writing, because then you know what you’re talking about.

    • Cay Reet

      This is not a review, though. It’s a lesson on writing mistakes and how to avoid them. And by choosing a popular example instead of something more obscure, more people are aware of the full story and can follow the criticism better. And it won’t hurt the sales, because the book already is successful, so a bad critique won’t have too many strong ramfications.

      And it’s not only about the kid. It’s also about all the professionals in publishing who didn’t catch the problems. Nobody writes perfectly and, to a degree, a writer needs a second (and third and fourth and whatever many more they can get) set of eyes on the story.

    • Jenyfer Patton

      Thank you for pointing this out! Having read and enjoyed this entire series, I see that too many of the ‘wrongs’ described in this critique are based on inaccurate assumptions about the rest of the book. There are some points taken to stronger writing, those are legit, I’ll give that. The rest? Are actually foreshadowing events, things, places, people, species, etc. that all play major roles at different times in the story. And if the reader missed out on Angela the Herbalist, Solembum the weircat, Roran, Nesuada, Murtag, or Braum just because they couldn’t be bothered to read an entire book before ‘critiquing’ it … I fell sad that their heart never got to know those characters.

      • Krssven

        He did read the book, he says so in one of the first sentences of the critique.

        All of the points made about writing are legitimate. This book reads like it was never even read back by the author upon writing, was never edited and proof-read.

        Putting that aside, I’m sure the foreshadowing is perfectly obvious. But that doesn’t mask the flaws in any way. What’s more, you bring up (as a few others have in these replies) the common fallacy that because someone is critiquing something, then they haven’t read it.

        Success does not make something good, and disliking or critiquing something does not mean you didn’t read it.

  27. Cindy

    He was 14 and there it is; but he was published lucky chap! I actually quite enjoyed the book though agree it had a few problems. I definitely loved some of his characters.

  28. Luna

    I didn’t read the book, and if this article’s points are any indication, I’d have never gotten past the second page. Regardless, the teenaged author was able to resonate with young readers (many of whom can’t write a full sentence without using the term LOL). That’s a big win in the publishing industry, regardless of the end quality.

    I am still shocked though, that someone in his or her mid-teens wouldn’t know the correct spelling of the word squeal (“…the horse toppled with a high-pitched squeel”) and, worse yet, two rounds of adult editing didn’t catch it either.

    Some years back, I wrote for a newspaper. We were told to keep it to an eight-grade reading level, because basic literacy was at an all-time low at the time.

    I understand that fifth-grade is the goal now. It’s called the Dumbing Down of America, and sadly, it’s not going away. Don’t believe me? Ask the talentless Kardashian clan. They’re also laughing (and squeeling) all the way to the bank.

    • Chris Winkle

      The misspelling of squeal was probably a typo I created when copying in the excerpt. Unfortunately I can’t be sure because I no longer have the book. If it was in the book, it has been corrected in more recent versions on Amazon. I’m going to correct it in this post.

      Regardless, you can still be shocked, because several editors looked at this article and they all missed it This is not because they don’t know how to spell “squeal,” but because people pay much more attention to the shape of a word than the individual letters when they read. The substitution of one letter for another of similar size and shape is surprisingly difficult for people to catch.

      • Krssven

        Whenever I read a sentence (my own or someone else’s), just reading it makes the spelling and grammar mistakes very obvious. I don’t think I have a superpower, but it’s astounding how few can actually reliably catch bad spelling. I think I was a better speller at age 14 than most adults will ever be in their entire lives (mathematically, though, I’m distinctly average – and only mathematical skill is really valued by society these days). Do people just not pay attention in English lessons? I mentioned mathematics – I’m still able to do complex calculations despite not having a natural aptitude, because I paid attention in school.

  29. Krssven

    While the criticism is valid (if phrased in a very harsh way at times – you’re reading a teenager’s work, and we were all there once), it’s a little too easy a target to go after. He was 14, wrote a story and it happened to get published. I’d rather see an article by Paolini himself, after he went back through his books today editing the unholy heck out of them.

    • Paul

      I have been dying for years to see where Paolini goes in the world of writing. We all have those early notebooks we keep hidden. The ones that we cannot read without cringing. His got published.

  30. Nadine

    Wow, I also wonder how publishers publish the badly written stories! Makes you wonder if you were to publish a story through one… And now I also wonder about my stories. But this article’s links can help me fix my errors.

  31. Erebus

    My primary issue with this review is one of context, over half the criticisms are accurate only if you take the sentence on its own. The Urgal for example do at first seem exactly like an orc substitute, in the first book at least. Then you learn what they really are like, you realise they’re people, have families and suddenly you feel kinda sad.

    That’s called buildup, a concept the critiquer never seems to quite get, all these reviews are utterly obsessed with instant gratification, which you just don’t get in good novels, a good novel world builds, it includes unnecessary detail, because whenever you write a book there’s more to what’s going on that what the main character gets to see and it’s important the readers know that.

    The Shade for example, you don’t know what it is, you don’t know what makes it special, what it can do,, for half a novel that’s the primary threat, the not knowing, then you find out.

    The critiquer needs to learn that instantly gratifying the audience actually ruins a book, it leaves you with nothing to build upon because you’ve already played your hand to its fullest extent, a good author does eke out the information, otherwise most books would be a couple of sentences long, because why write more when you can fit the plot in the same.

    • Cay Reet

      And this is not a review, it’s a writing lesson. A lesson using a less than optimal first chapter to teach the reader how to do it better.

      • Jenyfer Patton

        If this was truly a lesson it would have included a read of the entire book if not the entire series. You can not give a proficient or accurate lesson with partial information. It also might have included a more well rounded ‘critique’. But again, that’s impossible to do with actually reading it.

        • Cay Reet

          It’s a lesson in writing and it’s well-known that the first chapter is where you catch or lose a reader, since most readers check the first chapter or two to find out whether the book is for them (Amazon, unlike your local bookstore, doesn’t offer the chance to just open a book at a random page for a read). Only using the first chapter for a first impression is, therefore, showing writers things to avoid or put into later chapters to get their readers engaged.

  32. Vivienne M.

    “It’s popular, so it must be okay,” seems to be a common opinion. No work is above criticism just because it is famous or well-loved–especially if it was written by a kid. Children’s writings SHOULD be critiqued. That’s how they learn how to write better. Don’t the readers deserve good writing, too, even if they are just children, themselves? A lot of kids who read Eragon might be inspired to write a book someday. Do we want them perpetuating the same mistakes, or do we want them to be encouraged to express themselves more clearly and to make their ideas more interesting?

  33. Nick

    Haha, you should run a weekly series where you dissect each chapter of the book.

  34. VanessaA

    I have to say the series had its flaws as well as shining moments after I read the first book I struggled through the last 3 books. I could barely handle the extra characters(his cousin and Nasuda I think- I can’t remember their names), they were unimportant to me as a reader because I only wanted Eragon’s journey I thought the sudden add-ons dragged the story out and muddled it. I like multiple characters but I think he could have been great without them (it’s just was too much).
    I think he did good as a teenage writer but lacked some knowledge because of how young he was, If i were to write a book right now at 18 years old I’m not sure how much better I could do.

    • VanessaA

      I think my grammar would be my worst flaw

      • VanessaA

        I actually would love write a fantasy

  35. Adam

    I remember reading Eragon and it’s sequels when I was about twelve, I am nineteen now and it was a massive inspiration then and it is now. I don’t go into books intent on critiquing and from the sound of it, the article sounds like you have not read the book in it’s entirety, while it is good to provide criticism some of them come off quite harsh and despite it’s flaws(as many books do, expecially Harry Potter *hint hint) it was still widely successful. A further point is that and I mean this as polite as possible but at the end of the day he still has a published book that not alot of people, you and I included have not.

  36. Peter

    Some of the criticism is good, some of it just directly conflicts with the rest of the story, the air of mystery in the next 100 or so pages. He asks questions that are intentionally left unanswered. Some of the technicalities of his descriptions are just poor in general, but I believe a small amount of it makes sense – like the “astounding speed” part. Elves in this story run incredibly fast, about the same as a normal horse. And yes, in this story the horses they’re riding ARE magical. I’m not going to say the books are written well, but a little bit of the criticism isn’t justified.

  37. Tumblingxelian/Vazak

    This is an excellent breakdown and guide, thanks!

  38. Evelena

    I don’t know what you think your problem is with YA series and books. Now I understand the real awful ones like Twilight and stuff, but “Eragon”? Really? The Mortal Instruments series? REALLY?!?! I think that Paolini did an amazing job, and you know…
    THE BOOK WOULDN’T BE PUBLISHED IF HE DIDN’T HAVE GOOD WORD CHOICE!!!!! I don’t think that you have EVER written a book at the age of fifteen. I don’t think I’ve heard of ANY of your books. I’m pretty sure that he’s finished a VERY LARGE book series and um… HOW OLD IS HE???? I’ll answer this for you:
    TWENTY YEARS OLD, and I’ve NEVER heard any of YOUR books. So I’m sorry if I think you are erroneous in criticizing him.

    This is just me, I mean he wrote most of that first book when he was 15 with a bit of help from his sister. Also I got to know: Did you even read the book? I mean things are going to seem blunt only if your combing through it, and you don’t know everything. Please read the book before you criticize it. Thanks.

    • Cay Reet

      Just to point something out: Twilight and 50 Shades of Sh*t (eh, Grey) also were published, so the argument ‘the book was published, so it has to be good’ isn’t working.

      The age of the author might actually have been a selling point, something to advertise like ‘a book from a teen for teens to read’ or something like that. And I’m pretty sure it was heavily edited, too. However, ‘he wrote the book at 15’ isn’t that strong an argument, either. Mozart composed his first pieces at 5, but it’s not a requirement for everyone who goes into music. And I’m sure Mozart didn’t overly like them once he was older, because then he could see the flaws in them.

      I’m also sure there are many books out there you haven’t read (including the five I have published so far), because nobody is reading everything that is out there. Nobody would have the time, even if they did nothing but read from the moment they are born (magically gifted with reading skills) to the moment they die (not even stopping for a bite to eat or a nap even once).

    • Krssven

      People need to stop answering criticism of something they like with the downright childish ‘did you even read it?’ It’s ridiculously simplistic and a total fallacy to suggest that because something didn’t like something, it’s because they didn’t actually read/see it.

      Being 15, 20, or 45 is irrelevant. It makes no difference to quality, and Eragon is badly written, period. Whether it is successful is no gauge of quality, it just means enough people with some money to spend bought a book with a picture of a dragon on it.

      Paolini had more than enough time to reread, edit and even mostly rewrite these books, and he didn’t. He wouldn’t have even been published if it weren’t for his parents, the book was clearly never read by anyone but people hand-picked by his parents and it doesn’t even look edited at all.

      People can like something all they want, it doesn’t make it good.

    • Bunny

      Also, saying “I haven’t seen any of your work, so you have no right to judge this work!” is like buying a faulty lawnmower, bringing it back to the hardware store, and having them say “feh, you’ve never built a lawnmower, so you have no right to say this one’s broken.”

      It’s like someone putting a mound of rocks in the middle of the floor, and when you trip on it and complain that there’s no reason for a pile of rocks to be there, they say “bah, you don’t know anything about interior design, so you have no right to say these rocks are in an inconvenient place.”

      It’s like finding a cockroach in your burger and when you point it out to the restaurant and ask for a new burger they say “ugh, you don’t make burgers for a living so you have no right to ask for a better burger than the one we gave you. And you have no right to dislike the cockroach being in it.”

      That argument reeeaaaally irks me.

      And lots of crap books have gotten published. Sometimes it’s not a matter of the book being good or not. It’s a matter of publishers, connections, friends, clot, advertising, etc etc . . .

      Finally, using lots!!!???? of???! punctuation???!!!??? marks????!!!!! does!!!!???? nothing!!!!!?! but !!!!????!!? give???!!!!!??! me!!!??!?!?!? a?!! headache!!!!!????!!!!?!?!?!?!?!!!!

    • Kat

      I read it all of Eragon. I hate it all of Eragon. I stopped reading the second book when the hero cried over a dead ant hill. It has three redeeming features: 1. The author was enjoying what he was doing and that bled into the tone. 2. He was too young to be full of himself, lowering the level of ridiculousness, at least in his first book. 3. He plagiarized from authors who did know what they were doing, thus creating a coherent plot line. Throwing darts at random words in a thesaurus is not a good word choice technique.

      I, too, started a novel when I was fifteen. I finished it in two years, whereas he finished it in three. So… where’s my money? Oh, that’s right. I didn’t have rich parents to cart me around the country promoting my book. And no, I’m not jealous of Paolini. Jim Butcher is somebody I’d be jealous of. Or Terry Pratchett.

      Also, the nice people at Anti-Shurtugal have already been over this series quite thoroughly. One of them rewrote the ‘hero’/’villain’ scene in the last book. They rewrote the main villain as dead. And most of the plot for the entire series still worked just fine. Just hand out a different motive to, like, two minor villains and bam. Dead main villain. Effective villains aren’t really a strong suit of Paolini’s. Ironically, the ‘hero’ and his serial killer brother were more effective at being bad guys, with their cheerful wholesale slaughter, killing of teenagers while they beg for mercy, and casual genocide.

      Also, The Mortal Instrument series features heroes who were saved from drowning in an ocean by a floating sheet of metal. That’s right. It was a flat sheet and it was metal and it floated on normal ocean water. Yeah, no. I wanted to like the series because it was fun to read, being poorly disguised Harry Potter fan fiction, but then that happened. It was like eating a plate full of cheese burgers, but then one of the burgers turned out to have a deep-fried dust bunny on it instead of a burger. There is precious little out there that holds up under a basic level of scrutiny and Twilight, Eragon, and Mortal Instruments do not.

  39. James


    I was really feeling gloomy today and I inadvertently found one of your posts on pinterest. It’s now been 3 hours reading one after the other and not only have I learned and brainstormed about writing, i’ve also laughed. Like, a lot. And I feel better and I want to write again and I think i’m going to spend the night reading every single post.

    I really need to patron you guys/girls/funny aliens

  40. CJ

    You really nit-picked this kids work. This stuff is subjective, and this whole post is condescending and mean-spirited. You can blab all you want about whether or not his writing is good, but the fact of the matter is that it is successful. It obviously resounded with a lot of people. Have you ever made something people like?

    • American Charioteer

      If the quality of media could only be assessed by measuring financial success, then Kafka, Thoreau, and Poe were failures, “Fifty Shades of Gray” is high quality literature, and pornography is our most important form of media.
      Media exists to be discussed and analyzed. It would be mean-spirited to write a blog post about an unsuccessful work, but critiquing highly popular media is how we get new and better media.

  41. Cay Reet

    Suggestive username…

    And, no, the original is not better than this. It’s actually much worse for introducing the Big Bad. An omnipresent narrator would work like that, instead of just saying ‘the Shade looked human, excepf for the hair and eyes.’ Especially since neither crimson (say: red) hair nor yellow eyes are impossible for humans to have.

    Like this, by going into omnipresence, you can give the reader a better impression of that enemy the hero will soon be dealing with – a creature seemingly human and harmless, but deadly to all who approach.

  42. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s note: I deleted a comment for being deliberately insulting to the post’s author. We’re more than happy for critical comments, even harshly critical ones, but we draw the line at personal insults.

  43. Mjolnir

    I don’t understand why people are saying you’re “picking on a kid” as C.P is 33 as of 2017. I picked up Eragon in grade 9/10, an age where I would read anything that had dragons in it. Even at the time I found it derivative and forgettable and I never finished the trilogy. He might have written his first draft at 15 but he was 19 when *his parent’s publishing company* published the book, and he was 20 when it was picked up by Knopf. Five years is a good, long time to do multiple rewrites and have it read by multiple editors to make a polished product.

    I was an aspiring writer when I read the book and his story of success at such a young age did inspire me. He did have a few advantages that others do not, however. His parents already owned their own publishing company, and he was home-schooled and graduated highschool at 15. This allowed him the freedom to tour across America with his parents (they visited over 135 schools and libraries) to promote his self-published book.

    His books have sold very well but critically they did very poorly across the board. Many terrible things get published and sell incredibly well: Twilight, Fifty Shades, Transformers movies, BvS, Justin Bieber, etc. Just because something is popular does not mean it is immune to criticism nor does that make them objectively good. I really enjoyed this article and breakdowns like these are not meant to insult the reader or the author, they are meant to *educate* people on how to do better, which is something we can all learn.

  44. Skylar

    Hi, I really enjoy this as, I am 14 it is very imaginative and I personally like the “Crimson hair and Maroon eyes” It is good instead of describing him with a “Wrinkly face or chiseled face” and for the first one you can imagine what you think the shade could possibly look like in your own perspective, he used more of his imagination unlike other writers because as teens are younger than you they are more creative and adults are more well boring with there writing, unlike J.K Rowling who knows how to write extremely well. If you are a writer “Mythcreants” than you can not criticize another work!

    • Skylar

      I mean I enjoy Eragon!!!

    • Cay Reet

      Since you are 14, I’m sure everyone will take your opinion with a grain of salt. Still, a little remark: When I was 14 (which was far longer ago than I want to admit), I already used to read books in the adult section of the local library. There were few books written by teenager then (that was before internet, so what the local library or bookstores didn’t stack, didn’t exist) and I enjoyed books targeting adults far more.

      Teenagers don’t have more imagination than adults. Writers have more imagination than non-writers (at any rate, artists usually have more imagination than non-artists). You can’t be creative without imagination and any kind of fiction writing demands creativity.

      Besides, even though the book was written (the first draft, at any rate) when the author was 14, he was adult by the time it was really published and took up speed. It was edited by professionals, who should have know better. The style is bad and once you’ve aged one or two more years, you’ll probably realize that, too.

      But as I said, you’re 14. And you have every right to enjoy a book you read.

  45. Edahsrevlis

    You start out by saying Paolini should double or triple the lengths of his descriptions, and then complain that his varied and non-repetitive descriptions of three elves are unnecessary and he should just say “There’s three elves in da woods.”

    Your suggested paragraph substitutions are nearly unreadable and lose my attention. What Paolini’s prologue has is what’s known in writing as a “hook”. The best books have them.
    The first page is the most important in the book, and if you had written the first page as you did, nobody would get past it.

    Tolkien was a fantastic worldbuilder, terrible writer. Spent a page describing the forest. It probably held up in the 60s but wouldn’t get a second glance in the 90s. Say more with less. Eldest and the sequels become a little bit too verbose in my opinion.

    Paolini made his mistakes here and there. There are small plot holes, the pacing can get a little slow, and it’s very Tolkienian, but in general, the books are extremely readable and engrossing at all ages.

    There is a difference between strong writing and strong storytelling. Writers don’t find success or make money. Storytellers do.

    • Cay Reet

      There’s also something different: some people have a staying power and others do. Tolkien is still read after fifty years, despite his rather difficult style. Stoker is still read after over one hundred years (even considering his last book as the reference, not “Dracula”). I severely doubt Paolini will make it that far (or Ms. Meyers or Ms. James). I would even go so far and say Paolini is over his zenith already.

      And his writing is more than just a bit messy. He describes the wrong things and he just glosses over the wrong things, too. In a fantasy story, you put focus on what is new, what is different, what people need to imagine, because they have no reference. Nobody needs to describe a forest, as long as its a regular one. Say or write ‘forest’ and people imagine a large group of trees. What trees they imagine is up to them, but you don’t need to explain to people what a forest is. The Shade should have been described far better than it was, because it’s not something which has easy reference in our world. And that whole ‘the smell that would change the world’ thing is just cringeworthy.

      Yes, Tolkien had a thing for describing things in minute detail which didn’t need it. But he also had a talent for describing action and for creating and filling a world which was interesting to the reader – because he knew what people needed described in detail. He just sometimes got too carried away with it. He was both a writer and a storyteller. As were other authors which had the staying power.

      • Ax

        How is “a scent that would change the world” cringe worthy?

        A). Individuals that use magic often have increased scene capabilities (described in future books)

        B). Foreshadowing withought actually saying anything.

        I think a lot of the criticism in this article is unfounded.

        For example: The author uses “silly words” for spell casting to set up later in the story (that language becomes a major sub plot)

        Another example: snarl is used as a noun to describe the type of smile. (Joker comes to mind with that sentence). That’s why he used it as a noun, not a verb.

        • Cay Reet

          The expression is cringe-worthy, though.

          “A scent that would change the world” says all and nothing. It’s not specific (what kind of scent is it? why is it so special?) or easily relateable (since regular humans don’t have that strong a sense of smell). Of course, someone in the story might be able to smell a scent others can’t or that smell can be a foreboding for something special to arrive. But the expression is not helping things along. Something like “a new scent swept through the forest, making animals stop in their tracks in fear” or “he lifted his head and smelled a scent he’d not smelled in ages and it spelled doom” would have been better than just “a scent that would change the world.”

          • SiSig

            I was also a bit put off by the criticism of Eragon because I actually enjoyed reading the book. Not because of its great style of writing, but because of the gripping story that didn’t let me get off the hook.
            As to the description of the “shade” in the prologue: I am also someone who’d rather have something described scarely. It leaves the character open to interpretation. Too detailed descriptions sometimes turn me off as they can become quite boring.
            I have actually read Tolkien, too. It is an epic story, wonderful for the world it creates. But reading’s been hard work at times because of the endless descriptions.
            Both my sons were totally engrossed by Eragon as well as Harry Potter. I couldn’t get them away from the books, and the same happend to my husband and me with Harry Potter. My sons both stopped reading Lord of the Ring after just a few pages because it was so long winded.
            So, I agree with all those who say there is no right or wrong as long as the story works. Of course there are parts that could be improved, but some of things you critizised are a matter of taste rather than perfection.
            Sorry for the mistakes, I’m not a native speaker.

    • Krssven

      I agree with Cay. Considering the high bar that Tolkien set and his quote rightly being considered the father of modern fantasy…people sure do like to insult him.

      Tolkien was a fantastic writer, storyteller AND world builder. I do think a lot of the time he got carried away in overdescription, but honestly under/overdescription is an overwhelmingly common issue, it’s just usually caught by a good editor/proof-reader. Edit down The Lord of the Rings and even more people would find it accessible today than the millions who still currently do. I doubt people will be reading Eragon in 100 years. Even a collected work consisting of small stories and notes pulled together into a narrative (The Silmarillion) is a better book than most people can ever hope to achieve.

      The criticism of Paolini may seem harsh to some, but it’s accurate. It is written as though it was still a draft when dashed off to the press and was never proof-read outside a select group of people ie his publisher family and whoever they handpicked to read it…and there’s nothing better for objectivity than being handed a manuscript written by the son of the boss.

      One thing I would add, though. Sometimes the details of the forest aren’t massively important, such as during a frantic chase scene. But if the characters are walking or waiting in a forest, then describing a little of what they can see/smell/hear makes a world of difference. It’s good to know they are walking on a carpet of pine needles, or through a largely dead patch of trees, through a dense tangle of undergrowth or wide spaces under towering old growth.

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, under the right circumstances, it can be very important to describe a forest, too.

        What I mostly meant was that new things, things which don’t exist in our world, need to be described well, so the reader has a chance to understand what it is. A thing which does exist, such as a forest, doesn’t need a description just so the readers know what you’re talking about. That doesn’t mean you can’t describe it in detail, if it’s useful for your story.

  46. American Charioteer

    Most of the disagreements about this article revolve around whether a work’s popularity is dependent on (and thus a proxy for) it’s quality. This experiment strongly suggests that the popularity of “Eragon” says nothing about any intrinsic, reproducible quality:
    https://www.npr.org/2014/02/27/282939233/good-art-is-popular-because-its-good-right (original paper: https://www.princeton.edu/~mjs3/salganik_dodds_watts06_full.pdf)

    For a deep analysis of the issue, see “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell (especially his analysis of the Hush Puppies brand) and “Hit Makers” by Derek Thompson. Both authors would agree with Cay Reet that the best gauge of a novel’s quality is whether it is still read fifty years after the hype machine has died down.

  47. Saumya Kulp

    Could you possibly do the first chapter of Eragon (not the prologue)? I’m eager to hear what you’d think of it. Especially Eragon being the only guy bravest to brave the Spine.

  48. Kenzie

    Seeing as Eragon was written by a 14 year old, as a story that was supposed to be fun, not critically torn apart, it is an amazing story. If you had read the story with on open mind, and read the entire series, you will realize that this is a wonderful story, and that he gets better as he goes.
    And, another thing, the prologue was necessary. It tells us what we need to know later on in the story.
    Maybe, instead of tearing apart the first three pages of his book, you should read the entire story, then come back and tell us what you think.

    • Cay Reet

      As mentioned before in the comments: while the book was being written by a 14-year-old, it was horribly badly edited by adults who should have known better.

      Nobody says you can’t enjoy the story or love the book, but it still has weaknesses you can learn from, if you’re a writer yourself. Chris uses popular books because a ) a lot of people have read them and are familiar with the material and b ) they’ve made their money and it’s not costing the author any audience to criticise them.

      • A Perspiring Writer

        ‘Nobody says you can’t enjoy the story or love the book’

        This is something I might have a problem with, because why would I enjoy a book that’s clearly bad?

        • Cay Reet

          Stories speak to people in very different ways, so some people might enjoy aspects of a book which others don’t think about or don’t like.

          Nostalgica also often comes in – a book might be an important memory from someone’s youth and they love it because of that. In their mind, it’s different and doesn’t have the problems which are obvious for someone reading it at the moment.

          The important thing is to realize that a book has its problems and accept that. You can still like it, but you shouldn’t deny that there’s some kind of problem with it – as some fans do, saying ‘this is not true, this is a perfect book, you’re wrong!’

          • A Perspiring Writer

            But this book is objectively bad, so why would it be okay to like it? Wouldn’t it be* better to read objectively good books instead; books that we can like?

            Maybe I just have a problem separating subjective opinion from objective fact, but I CANNOT see why it’s okay to like a terrible book.

            *NICE IF WE WERE OLDER**

            **I’m very sorry

          • Cay Reet

            Some people deal well with the parts which are bad, because they don’t care about them. For them, the rest of the book might be worth it. Nothing is 100% good or 100% bad, so if you can live with the bad parts, you might still love the rest.

            People have different levels of tolerance for bad writing (as they do for bad music or bad movies). That’s a very subjective thing, I’m afraid.

          • Bunny

            Hello, Perspiring Writer!

            Enjoyment is not objective; there are things that are more likely to make people enjoy a story more or less, and these are generally agreed upon (have a strong plot, consistent character motivation, a compelling conflict, etc.), so those are more “objective” in the storytelling world. That said, you still can’t give the same book to everybody and expect them to rate it exactly the same on a scale of enjoyment. Saying it’s “wrong” to like a bad story also implies a moral judgement, which there isn’t really when it comes to books with problems like poor plotting or nonsensical motivation or goofy made-up words. Like Cay mentioned, people can be willing to overlook these things, perhaps for nostalgia, perhaps for other reasons. Additionally, purposefully consuming stories that you know are bad can be great fun, and helpful, too (I wrote a whole article on this, in fact). Basically, the way I see it, the amount of enjoyment you get out of a story is subjective; the technical steps the author takes to give readers enjoyment are less so.

            However, when people refuse to see or acknowledge these problems, or claim that none exist at all, especially problems like lack of diversity or sexism, things get much stickier. The question of whether it’s “okay” to like it becomes more nuanced, because in sexist or racist stories, immorality is often embedded in the story itself, and overlooking it or ignoring it could have larger consequences or reflect poorly back on the reader. I would take ethical issue with someone claiming the sexism and rape in Red Rising was totally fine, because that’s a question of morality, and if you’re overlooking that I have serious concerns. I would not bring morality into an argument with someone claiming that “garjzla” doesn’t sound silly.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Maybe I should explain my position better: I try to look at the world from an objective point of view, and that includes stories. I don’t consume stories that are ‘objectively bad’* because if I did, then I would believe that I had poor taste**.

            *or enjoy them if I do

            **That’s probably the reason why I’ve distanced myself from Star Wars (that, and I have no idea why people enjoy The Mandalorian when it’s clearly bad).

          • Cay Reet

            Well, in that case, you have to understand that other people don’t try to see everything objectively. They usually see an awful lot of things subjectively. That’s why you can subjectively love an objectively bad thing.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            I think that’s the problem: I legitimately DO NOT understand that, and probably never will.

          • Cay Reet

            The accept it as a fact, as weird as it is, because it is a fact.

          • Bunny

            Hello again!

            Personally (and therefore subjectively, I suppose), I would also add that cold objectivity seems like a rather restrictive way to view the world. To me, at least, “taste” has always seemed more a measure of what people consider good than what they enjoy – as an online dictionary put it, “the ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard.” Trying to approach everything from a solely objective point of view seems to overlook your own participation in the process of enjoyment. I’d push you to ask yourself whether you legitimately cannot find any enjoyment in bad stories, or whether you don’t allow yourself to enjoy them for fear of your taste being considered “bad.” In my experience, the thing people tend to be least objective about is their own objectivity.

            I’d also caution you about the potential of coming across like you’re making a moral judgement – or actually judging things morally, even if internally – based on how objective you think they are, because I could see that bleeding over into judgement of other people for placing value in subjective things.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            About me asking myself that question, it’s the latter.

            And about objectivity: I want to try to see the world as it really is, without subjective opinion getting in the way.

          • Cay Reet

            I’m afraid that’s doomed to fail.

            Even if you do your best to be objective, in the end it will be your subjective view of what is objective in this or that case. Not only are there things which different people will even objectively see differently, humans also aren’t built for objectively seeing things. What you see as objective is already something you subjectively chose to represent objectivity – at least in many ways.

            Numbers only are true or false, but a lot of things in our lives don’t have that binary status. They can be true, false, or on the large spectrum between those two.

          • Bunny


            With regards to your answer to the question I posed, I would say that it just seems strange to consciously try to make the world a less enjoyable place for yourself. Hence why it seems so needlessly restrictive. To what end is any of this? It sounds like you’re worried about someone judging you for being subjective, but… I mean, if this conversation is showing anything, it’s that others consider this attempt to commit to objectivity stranger than any book opinion you’ve given.

            Like Cay said, the world “as it really is” is already filtered through your eyes, your upbringing, your social surroundings, your peers – nothing exists in a vacuum. Even your sense of what’s “objective” necessarily comes from some other set of standards made by a person or people with their own subjective thoughts and feelings. I mean, what’s “fact” or “objective” has changed massively over time. See the plethora of outdated medical practices, Social Darwinism, race “science,” and so on. This also applies to storytelling. “Classic literature” followed rules and trends that are utterly obsolete for storytellers today. Objectivity can be pretty darn subjective.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Here’s my theory: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and because of that, I try to make logical sense of the world.

            So, I NEED consistency (another quirk of aspies like me), and that means I need to find a logical, consistent explanation for nearly everything¹.

            This, however, causes problems ², as I try to find the objective truth of any matter, even when there might not be one ³.

            It’s just a theory, but I hope that this helps explain things for anyone reading.

            Whew, I think that this comment might be my longest ever on Mythcreants. If anything needs clarification, feel free to ask⁷; there’s no way that I can anticipate EVERY question in this comment.

            ¹ If you ever notice in my comments that I try to preemptively explain myself ⁴, or ask for an explanation from others, then that’s why.

            ² And I am aware that it’s a problem (Asperger’s doesn’t mean a lack of self-awareness), but it’s ingrained.

            ³ For example, I was flip-flopping on whether or not Star Wars was good or bad, occasionally several times in one day. And I still don’t quite know what to make of Marvel movies.

            ⁴ I also feel like my comments end up rather long and rambly because of this very same thing. I’m trying to explain anything about my comments that I think might be confusing to people ⁵.

            ⁵ That’s also why I love these footnotes so much, they let me add extra material into my comment without breaking up the main text ⁶.

            ⁶ Side note, I ended up with so many footnotes that I had to use numbers instead of asterisks to make it look better and more readable.

            ⁷ I’ll be checking the site as often as I can.

            Postscript: I have a text analyzer running in my browser right now, and it says that my comment’s tone is ‘confident’*. Yeah, one look at my username’ll**** prove that wrong.

            *It also auto-corrected a previous auto-correct**

            **And now it says the tone is ‘friendly”***. I’ll never understand computers.

            ***Back to ‘confident’.

            ****shut up grammerly im trying to be funny

          • A Perspiring Writer

            This comment was broken up into two sections, with a total of eleven footnotes between them.

        • Kit

          Rather than claim to look at the world from an objective point of view, I reckon you’re better off accepting that everyone’s view, including yours, is subjective. All you’re effectively saying is that your opinion is the ‘correct’ one, and nobody’s allowed to like things that you don’t. That’s nonsense.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            It certainly isn’t what I’m trying to say; I have a problem with not being able to get my thoughts across right in conversation, so sometimes I might word things in a way that looks like something else, but I don’t mean that.

            For example, most of the time, I really don’t think my opinion is correct.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Also, I’m not saying that my opinion is the correct one; I’m saying that my goal is to find which opinion is objectively correct.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            At least, that’s what I’m trying to say.

    • Krssven

      Having been written by a teenager does not make it immune to any and all criticism. Eragon is an amazing story – to 14 year olds, but is poorly written from any other perspective. People always make the mistake that those criticising something a) didn’t read it and b) aren’t ‘giving it a chance’.

      I admire the worldbuilding and characters that were created by someone who was only 14/15 years old at the time. He clearly had early talent, but that book would never have been published as it was had it not been for his parents. It certainly was never more than waved at an editor or proof-reader.

  49. Kenzie

    Also, this is EXTREMELY discouraging to young authors, like myself, who are trying to succeed. All I’ve gathered from this post is that you are against teens who are writers. Yes, some teens are horrible with words, but some are not. Writing quality is not determined by age, but by books read and learned from, as well as experience. The more you write and read, the better you get. I have read stories by authors who have been writing for years, and I, as a child, could recognize them as some of the worst books I’ve ever read. Young authors can write well. And I’ll be sure to dedicate my novel (which I wrote when I was twelve. And I have been told it is better than some novels written by VERY experienced authors. And not just by family) to you, to prove that young authors can write well, and will, in spite of the people trying to tear them down.

    • Cay Reet

      This is not against teens who write. This is to make it clear that everyone, even an author with 200 successful, published books still has to grow. That there are always things to do better. And that just because someone is published and you are not doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer and that someone is perfect.

      This post is teaching you, for instance, that being a successful author doesn’t mean you will not or cannot be criticised. That even a successful book can be mediocre one way or other. And if you check the other ‘Lessons from Bad Writing’ posts, you will see that Chris isn’t any more gentle with adult authors. Every author makes mistakes and by pointing them out, we can learn. That is what this whole page is about: learning about writing and becoming better that way.

    • Bunny

      If a book is written poorly, it is written poorly. The author’s age is not a factor. The quality of their writing is. This post was in no way about Paolini’s age. It was about his writing. In fact, Chris made a point in the beginning of the post to point out that, in the published world, all books are open to critique. This was in no way an attack on all teenage writers. Paolini is not the whole, in the same way that none of the adult authors that the Lessons from Bad Writing posts have dissected are the whole, either.
      I, too, am a young author trying to get published. I wrote books when I was 14 and I would not care if someone critiqued them. In fact, I might even be honored, because it shows that people read my book and cared enough to put down their thoughts about it. Not to mention it means that I’d be published!
      As for this being ‘discouraging’ to teenage writers, well, just look how far even a crummy book like Eragon has gone. If it could do so good as to be made into a movie, then surely your book has that capability as well. You can look at it and go “I can do better than that!” and go ahead and do it.
      I’m not trying to say that people don’t judge your writing based on your age. I’ve certainly experienced that and I’ve decided to leave my age out of my query letters for that reason. Age can be polarizing. Some people will say “Oh, she’s too young to have written anything good” but others will go “This is amazing, people will love to read the work of this rising star.” But neither of those views were expressed in this critique, which is why I’m confused as to why it offended you so much.

    • Nen

      Hey, it’s awesome that you’ve already written a novel! I personally don’t agree entirely with this post about the Eragon books, but they aren’t entirely wrong, either. I’ve been editing professionally for a long time, and if you want to be successful with your books, you’re going to need to be more relaxed about assessing criticism. This criticism wasn’t even directed at you in any way, yet you are allowing yourself to feel attacked by it. Take a step back, settle down, and realize that there are a million opinions roaming around out there, and your job as a writer isn’t to identify with all of them OR to reject all of them. Your job is to find the value, the grains of truth, and anything that you might be able to use to make your writing better in the critique, and to be brutally honest with yourself about it. When you can do that, you’ll be ready to receive criticism and grow as an author. Before that, you’ll just be fighting against the world in the name of the book you’ve created. No author in that position ever improved their book or learned from the process. I am always impressed by young authors, but even more so by those who are willing and able to be impressionable, teachable, and more interested in how to make their books better than in defending them for being great already. Also, remember that compliments are not critique, so take them with a grain of salt as well!

    • Jasin Moridin

      You are taking a critical dissection of genuinely offal prose (and no, I don’t mean “awful”) that happens to have been written by a teenager and published *by his parents* as a personal attack against you. Many of the other comments on this post seem to be doing the same. It really, truly is not an attack on you, or even on Paolini.

      The post is meant to educate, and while the tone is somewhat harsher than it really needs to be, Paolini’s writing is objectively bad. Part of it is just lack of life experience (like not knowing that words that are synonyms still have nuances that set them apart, and using the wrong one can have hilarious, probably-unintended implications), part of it is odd stylistic choices (seriously, a scent that would change the world?), and part of it is the fact that it looks like the proofreading process beyond checking for typos was just waving the manuscript at a brick wall with the word “EDITER” spray-painted on it.

      • Cay Reet

        So I have been doing my editing wrong all these years? I need to spray-paint “EDITER” on a wall and wave the manuscript at it? Maaaaan!

        You’ve just given me a great mental picture to take out the next time I have to go into editor mode.

      • axgosser

        Honestly: any book can be objectively bad (even Harry Potter).

        I think a lot of the criticism against Eragon is unfounded.

        • Bunny

          Erm . . . did you read the article above? I think it pretty much proves that the criticism is not unfounded. Instant damseling, questionable word choice, confusing action, dehumanizing the enemy, incomprehensible magic powers that are setting up contrivance . . .
          I agree that any book can be considered bad under the right light, but Eragon is right out there in the open and it’s definitely not looking great.

          • axgosser

            Yes. I have read it. The vast majority of it is indeed subjective.

            Nearly every single “complaint” could be argued to serve a deliberate purpose in the narrative.

            Since I don’t have all night I’ll only point out the top 3…

            Use Omniscience Wisely

            The article complains about the description of the shade and then proposes a much stronger sentence. Although I would agree proposed sentence is stronger – it doesn’t mean it should be.

            The chapter isn’t about the shade nor is the shade a major villain in the series. He is not the prolog’s main purpose. Spending that much time on his description could send mix-signals.

            Also – it could tell us things about the shade that we shouldn’t know at this point in the story.

            Replace Generic Description With Specific Details

            This is the most unfounded criticism above. The purpose of this scene was not providing details of the surroundings but rather describing the shades powerful eyesight (without overtly saying it).

            Adding extra “fluff” doesn’t do anything to move the story along (even if it sounds better) or serve any purpose.

            Put Thought Into Your Narration
            “Get ready,” he whispered, his whole body vibrating
            … this complaint was equally laughable. He’s not human (not really). Vibrating is actually quite appropriate giving the context (that you learn later in the novel).

            Made-Up Words Make Magic Sound Silly
            – the entire book would be dead if you took this advise.
            The major motif of the novel is “words matter”. It is a huge component of the entire series.

            It looks like I did more than three… oops.

          • Bunny

            Hello again!

            1. Why would you /not/ want stronger sentences? The shade is the main villain of this chapter, at least, and if we want to care about what happens to the McGuffin, we need to dislike/be afraid of him. Setting up the shade as a threat might actually be a good idea because when the true big bad is introduced and makes the shade look like a sheep it will demonstrate the extent of the big bad’s power. Plus remember how much description the elves (and that helm) got. They aren’t the main characters, either, but they’ve got description galore. And why exactly wouldn’t we need to know that the shade can see in the dark? Is that a spoiler of some sort? It’s right there in the text. The sentence was suggested because this fact could be shown, not told, like Paolini is constantly doing.

            2. Again this could have been conveyed better. That was the purpose of that section. As for fluff: “fluff” and “specificity” should not be confused. Specificity provides detail which is often needed for things like scene setting, foreshadowing, clarifying, etc. Fluff is restating what was already said or adding things that are unrelated and unnecessary.

            3. He might not be human, but his readers are, and they’ll certainly notice. If Paolini wanted an exotic word choice to exhibit how inhuman the shade was he could’ve used “juddered” or something. I honestly don’t see how the whole “vibrating” thing could become important later. Unless he’s secretly a phone?

            4. Maybe the entire book would be /improved/ if you took out the “garzja”s. The prologue certainly would be. Words can matter but they don’t have to sound silly in order to do so. And you can make made-up words work. I can look at the Harry Potter series and say that those made-up words sounded natural and fit in their setting, because they were semi-recognizable and readers are already committed to the book by the time they’re introduced. Having a word that sounds like Kurt Cobain choking on a hairball dab smack in the middle of the prologue is certainly off-putting.

          • axgosser

            Not to sound harsh… but this is really why one should read an entire book before leveling criticism.

            1) The purpose of this prolog is not to introduce the shade as “the big bad”. He’s not… although he is certainly one of the more iconic early villans… he is nothing more than a convenient plot ploy (which if you mentioned that as your complaint you might have been on to something).

            Secondly – the elves in question are actually more crucial to the story than the shade. The female elf is a major (spoiler alert) MAJOR character that lasts the entire series. The death of her comrades dramatically impacts her charter arc (and as a result the story).

            So no… the elves are 100% major characters.
            That’s why more time is spent describing them then the shade.

            2) It was not hinted earlier that the shade had good eye sight. Not to my knowledge anyways. The “shrubbery” was not as important as actually describing the shade’s abilities.

            3) A shade is a human/creature that has been possessed by evil spirits (in most cases multiple). So yes. Vibrating does fit since their body consists of multiple “spirits” vying for control, though you are free to argue a better word could have been used. (it also explains the more comical villain attribute).

            4) You are arguing semantics… not a novel’s worth. This is strictly personal opinion at this point. You are arguing that taking away the language would make the novel better.. without understanding how that language is a focal point.

            The “strange silly word” is actually a made up language taken from derivatives of Germanic and Latin languages. That language is critical to the plot development of the entire story. You can’t criticize it (unless you also want to criticize making up a language and making it important is bad).

          • Bunny

            Okay, you’ve got a point. It’s true that I haven’t read the book, but that doesn’t change the fact that I certainly wouldn’t be compelled to after this shoddy prologue. With that in mind, let me see . . .
            1. Earlier in the comments I saw that someone (I forget who) mentioned that the shade was a villain for like half of the first book. Can’t confirm or deny, but that’s a substantial amount of time and I still support enhancing his threat (if only to make the big bad more menacing when he comes around).
            That would also warrant him, if not as much as the elves, then at least a few lines more description than he gets. Give him his dues is all I’m saying – and you’ve got a much better baddie.
            2. But there was a better way of showing his eyesight being good. Show vs. tell and all. And most times it’s better to use a slightly less direct showing. For example, I can say “she looked around fearfully,” but it would be better if I said “sweat beaded on her brow as her eyes darted back and forth, ceiling to floor, left to right.” She’s still looking around fearfully, but now the reader knows exactly what that looks like and can form a clearer picture in their mind. Saying “the shade can see well” (which is essentially what Paolini did) is like the first example, while the article’s suggested edit was like the second.
            3. Okay, I wouldn’t have known that. I can and will still argue for a better word choice, though. Some synonyms: pulsating, juddering, oscillating. (Maybe not oscillating. Sounds too scientific.) I’d opt for juddering. Juddering is a very good word.
            4. Okay, I agree we’re moving into subjective territory here. Silly sounding to me, meaningful to you – whatever, I can’t contest. Maybe it gets better as the book goes on, I wouldn’t know.
            I’d still argue for better placement, though, but again maybe that’s personal preference.

            Can I mention that this is my first full-fledged back-and-forth comments argument here on Mythcreants? Wow! I don’t know if that’s something to be excited about but it’s certainly a milestone!

    • Kat

      Just in case you, or others reading this, are still discouraged, The Epistler sums up why Paolini was so poorly regarded as an author in the first Epistle. If you google it, it should come up. It talks about why he sparked so much outrage, which means you can learn how to avoid the same things he did.

  50. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I’ve deleted a comment for insulting other commenters, which is a violation of our comments policy. Unfortunately that means we also lost Krssven’s reply, which was fine, but sometimes such sacrifices must be made in the course of comment moderation.

  51. Gosser

    1) The shades role in the first book… is interesting. And also subjective to criticism. Yes the shade “technically” was a major villain for first book… but he also drove literally zero plot development the entire book. He didn’t progress the plot, force characters to act in certain ways, etc. He was there.


    The plot of the first book revolved around trying to track down another set of lesser villains (which are not even introduced until chapters 3-4). Rescuing the “damsal” as well as the final show down between the shade and the main character was quite by accident (not major focal point) (and one that the main characters hoped to avoid entirely).

    Effectively the Author needed a strong Villan that could “maim” the main character – giving him something to overcome and forcing character growth in the process.

    The shade served that purpose… and was his only purpose. What the shade did was more important then the shade itself.

    2. I’ll concede point #2.

    3. I would agree. Juddering/Pulsating would be better. Also a little bit more information on shades in the universe: magic users normally can not use magic without outside aid. AKA spirits (or being entwined with a Dragon). When someone tries to summon a spirit that is too powerful to control… it will posses them. And a shade is born.

    4) The main reason why I say this is subjective… one of the books of the series is named after one of those “silly words”. And the plot line directly revolves around it.

    There is even one scene where the main character misuses a “silly word” and causes a great deal of trouble for everyone. (that lasts multiple books)

    If you remove the “silly words”…. you’d have to rewrite at least 1-2 books worth of content because it would no longer make sense.

    I mean… maybe that would make the series better?
    But at that point you are arguing for/against the essence of what the author was trying to accomplish. Not the merits of the words themselves.

    And yea. I enjoy talking

    • Bunny

      1. Huh. I don’t know how I feel about a villain who’s literally a plot device. Was it a fake-out or a subversion or something? Like a “you thought the baddie was the shade but no surprise it’s this other person/demon/dragon/alien/creature/some combination of the above”? Otherwise I feel like that could be kind of a cheap way of jump-starting the hero’s arc, if not to set up a twist. Again I haven’t read the book but I feel like if that’s the shade’s sole role maybe it would have been better left to main big bad. That way the threat would be established early, the shade wouldn’t be tacked on, and the hero could have the same sort of jump start.
      I can’t think of any other throw-away villains like that – villains that are just kind of there – so I guess I don’t have anything to compare it to.
      3. I’ll admit that that sounds like an intriguing magic system.
      4. Well, if the words are really that intrinsic, maybe I can see how leaving them in would be better than taking them out. The “silliness” factor /is/ pretty subjective, but I suppose that the role the words play in the story is not, so if they were to be left out maybe there would actually be something important lost. Again I wouldn’t know.

      All this is very interesting!

      • Cay Reet

        One could argue that Darth Maul as he was used in Phantom Menace was that type of villain.

        A way to get around the ‘I need a villain to harm the hero, but I want a type which couldn’t do that’ would be to make the confrontation with the harming not the main one and have a secondary villain (some henchman, for instance) do that. Then you have the main villain whom the hero has to overcome in another way.

        • Jasin Moridin

          So, the Shade is apparently just like Narg from the Wheel of Time. The hero’s first taste of fighting the bad guys, who is a bit more than just a random mook, but still not actually that much of a threat to said hero in the end.

          I understand Robert Carlyle’s portrayal of him in the movie got the character a little mini-fandom of his own, too. Just like Narg, the one Trolloc in all of the Wheel of Time that we get to see talking. “Narg smart!”

  52. Alehandro velasquez

    Excuse me but i happen to think that is my favorite book. there is nothing wrong with it, you just cant understand the context!!!!!

    • Bunny

      Nowhere in this article does it say “You must hate this book! You are a dummy if you don’t hate this book! We are forcing you to hate this book!”

      Your opinions are your own.

      What other context would there need to be? This is a critique of the opening chapter of a book. Any reader would encounter these problems and be perplexed by them. They are valid problems. Nobody goes into a book knowing everything about it and this is an accurate gauge of the reactions first-time readers would have.

      Also, everything has problems. Some just have more than others (like, say, Eragon).

  53. Josh

    If your going to review a book at least read it first. Granted some of his writting style is lacking, but you do the story an injustice by reviewing it before you actually understand it. What a shade is is explained latter in the book, also he was not the “big bad,” he is just a henchman. Eragon is a boy not a dragon, he is a dragon rider. The stone is a dragons egg which is mentioned a few chapters latter.

  54. Josh

    Also he did not actually make up those words. They are words from Old Norse.

  55. Linneae

    I am fully proud to declare that this is the third time I’ve visited your website just to read your hilarious (but meaningful!) observations. Really great article. Aspiring writers should definitely read this… or die.

  56. J. M.

    1.One thing I have heard a lot in this thread is that “Paolini was only 15, give him a break!” No. First of all, Paolini started writing the book at 15, and finished it at nineteen. Second of all, it doesn’t matter what his age was, because it was published, and that carries an expectation that it meets a professional standard. If your book is going to be published like a professional, then it needs to be professional, no matter what your age is. Age excuses don’t fly in the professional world. This would be like if I saw a sub-par painting in an art gallery, and people said, “the painter is only 15, give him a break!” When I am led to expect that a book meets a standard of quality, and it fails, I feel cheated.

    2.Another thing that I have heard is that, “He got his book published, so it must be good.” Well, first of all, his book was originally self-published, by his parents. The only reason that is was published is that Carl Hiassen gave it to his stepson, the kid liked it, and Random House slapped a fancy new cover on it. I’ve read articles from people that have the self-published copy, and Random House didn’t do that much editing.

    3. People are saying that the prologue was necessary, but that’s only because nothing happens in the book for the first fifty pages. The shade doesn’t even appear until a lot later into the book. Spoiler: he gets killed at the end. He does scar the main character, but that is healed by a Deus Ex Machina. Also, people say that the Urgals get more fully explored in the other books, but, in this book, they are treated as cheap minions, and the main character just kills a bunch of them without remorse. Also, the Urgals embody the “noble savage” trope, but I’m not going to get into that right now. Third of all, the elves that get killed are never mentioned again, except once in the third book, and fake Arwen doesn’t seem affected by their deaths. When she does, it seems like Paolini just wrote that scene because he realized that he forgot to show fake Arwen’s trauma for the rest of the first book, and the second.

    4. The books never get better. Even thought the author is more experienced, he never gets better. If anything, he gets worse. The third book doesn’t even have a strong plot, just a lot of subplots. The first book actually had the feeling that the author enjoyed writing it, but the other ones got bogged down in unnecessary description. Also, the problem with the conlang is that the author puts down words in his book, and doesn’t say what they mean, so you have to flip to the glossary at the back, which takes you out of the story.

    5. Paolini took everything not-so-good from Tolkien, and left the rest. For example, he took the description, which was one of the things I did not like about LOTR. The books were verbose in that regard.

    6. The map is terrible. It has almost no topography. It has two mountain ranges, and everything else is flat. Also, it has this random giant desert, rivers that flow to nowhere, and one giant forest up north, where it should be snowing all the time, and no forests anywhere else. It also has no hills, canyons, diverse landscapes, or anything else that makes the landscape interesting.

    7. The books have other problems besides bad writing. They follow the beauty equals goodness, ugly equals evil thing, and don’t treat women well. Women are constantly described on their looks (for example, the “evil ” councilmen in the next book are barely described, while the “evil” councilwomen have lots of description on how ugly they are) and literally every single person, except one, who is kidnapped, is a woman. There is no diversity in the cast, as almost everyone is while, and mostly everyone is male.

    There are lots of other problems, but I am going to stop here. Thank you, Chris Winkle, for this great article, and please critique the first chapters of the sequels in this series. Please.

    • Angelo Pardi

      Not that I disagree with most of your points, but I don’t think “too many descriptions” is a valid issue. “Bad descriptions” is certainly an issue (with Eragon and other books !) but “too descriptive” is completely subjective. Some great books are almost only descriptions and use them effectively ; others use no descriptions at all and are great nonetheless.

      • J. M.

        Yes, I get what you are saying. I guess it is just my preference not to have too much description, because I like to imagine things, but you have a good point.

  57. Pelin

    That …or die. Addition cracked me up so much. At the last one I had to take break and laugh for a while.
    I really adore the reviews here. The style is brilliant.

  58. Caroline

    I read a ton growing up (my mother worked at a library so I was there every day after school and over summers). I picked out Eragon because I thought the cover was really cool. I think Christopher Paolini has a great imagination, but I absolutely agree that Eragon is poorly written. The whole series is poorly written. They’re just awkward. I listened to these as audio books when I was a kid, and the narrator did a great job bringing the story to life. As a kid, I did not pick up on the poor writing. But I was 18 by the time the last book came out, and by then I could tell. Paolini’s stab at romance especially made me cringe. The only thing that saved the last book for me was Gerard Doyle’s performance as a narrator. Several years later I was listening to the series again, and by then the poor writing was obvious to me. I mentioned it to my mother, (she’s also a published author), and she said she thought they were awkward all along. I started listening to them again a year ago and at that point, they were hard to get through, even as audio books, because of the writing. The examples the post’s author points out may seem trivial individually, but in the hundreds of pages in the series, that kind of thing does add up and affect the quality of the work.

    I think the story line has a lot of potential in general, and is gripping enough for young readers who are too wrapped up in it to notice good vs poor writing or to reflect on things like the portrayal of women and other problematic social issues. However, I would not say these books are good or fine the way they are just because they work with younger readers. Especially when people who once enjoyed them cringe to re read them. They do hold a younger audience’s attention, but could have gripped a far broader range of consumers. Harry Potter, for example, resonates with people of all ages. Paolini’s youth is no excuse. His books were published as a result of his privilege and were not subjected to the kind of editing and critiquing we should be able to expect from published works.

  59. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    I’ve read this article many, many times, but this was the first time I read it after I read Eragon for the first time.

    I haven’t read the critique for book 2 yet, so you may already know this, but “Arwen’s” real name is… Arya.

    Yeah, I think you might’ve been onto something there, ha. Thank you for this hilarious series!

  60. Tony

    Wow. When I first read the book I literally never noticed all the flaws. You should do more… or die.

  61. Glorfindelno9

    What an enjoyable post! When I read Eragon, I was about 12 or 13(SO long ago) and I remember disliking it immensely. I could not put my finger exactly on every detail that bothered me, but the Elfiness really drove me crazy. No one but Tolkein should ever attempt elves, and even then they frustrate me. Eragon and Brisingr were probably the books I enjoyed most, but even then, I waded through tremendous amounts of dullness and stupidness to get to the interesting parts. I have washed most of the memory from my mind, but I remember loving Saphira, caring little about Eragon, and liking Murtagh. I despised Arya. The others, I cared nothing for. I admit that their were some good parts, and that Paolini was not at all devoid of talent. The good parts could have been condensed into one book, about half the size, and spared me much frustration.

    Now I am 15, I am home-schooled, as Paolini was, I live in the adjacent state as he did, and I am writing a YA fantasy quartet. (No one murder me please!) Now here is a question, how do I not end up writing like he did? My main character is a 15-year old girl (surprise!) It is a Chosen One story. Only the Chosen One is her nephew. She spends most of the first book looking after and protecting her nephew, and also learning about magic. Is this as boring as snot? And does it sound like Christopher Paolini?

  62. Glorfindelno9

    Thank you so much for the advice! I seem to be in stage 2 with a little bit of stages 3 and 4 thrown in. (This isn’t exactly my first book, but probably the first one I’m taking seriously.) I’ve never researched on writing novels before, and I’m enjoying reading tips, although many of them may be passing straight over my head. When I was first forming my books’ world I raved about the plot and concept to some of my sisters, who didn’t waste words telling me where my plot holes were, and questioning my plans. I like to think I am taking their advice, but I can’t be sure. (My older sisters are very opinionated about books, and if my books manage to please them, I will count my career as a smashing success.)

    As for the writing itself, I enjoy writing, and I’m mostly trying to write down what makes sense and not worry about sounding smart. I am seeing a lot of weak sentences in my writing, but I guess I’d better finish writing and then go back to edit it. I expect to be doing a lot of editing, and will probably not publish my books until after college.

    My weakness is probably the fun phrases which make sense, but sound ridiculous. Such as, “She wondered why and then wondered why she wondered.” If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, but it makes me laugh every time. Then I want to put it in anyway, because it makes me laugh, but I wonder if people would take it too seriously…
    Anyway, sorry for the long comment, or rather, history of my life and dreams, and thank you again for your advice. I will definitely be looking at the posts on this site about villains, as mine is turning out to be comic, which was not my intent!

  63. S.T. Ockenner

    Doragon’s evilly bare upper lip was bared evilly, in its bare evil, evilly bared to all onlookers. He also had a wicked lack of a mustache.

  64. Varun

    Respectfully, as a fan of the series despite its flaws, I’m going to have to do some defending of the book here. First, the part about each race having different hair and eye colours is inaccurate. Shades are not a race, but rather humans who have been taken over by malevolent spirits. Of course this is not explained in the prologue, but it is later in the book. Also, the elf running “at tremendous speed” was accurate, and she was indeed running on foot – it is established later in the book that elves are significantly faster and stronger and altogether more physically capable than humans. Also, the item in the pouch is intentionally left unknown at this point, though it is soon revealed in the book. And as a point of clarification the Shade is not the “big bad” for the series. Any comparisons to Sauron for example should be left for Galbatorix, who is the actual primary antagonist of the series.

    The book and series are far from perfect, but I do believe more than half of the criticism here is resolved if one actually reads the entirety of the book or even better the series.

    • Varun

      Oh, also, the description of the Urgals that makes them a lesser sentient race which can be slaughtered without remorse is true from the protagonists’ perspective in the first book, but without spoiling too much of the third book (If I recall correctly, it could also be the 2nd book) I’ll just say there is more there than that.

      • Julia M.

        It is retconned in the second book, but that creates problems because in the first book, Eragon treated them like they were just animals to be slaughtered, and he doesn’t feel any guilt after finding out that they were sentient races.

        Also, none of the Urgals bear him ill will for that (even after he insists on searching their minds), which seems rather odd.

    • Julia M.

      I don’t think leaving the item in the pouch unknown was a good narrative device, since the dragon hatching was already a foregone conclusion. There was a dragon on the cover. Revealing it early would’ve actually made the book more interesting, because readers would’ve been wondering how the elves got the egg, what the bad guys are going to do with it, etc.

      Also, Chris’s comparisons to Sauron were to show how the Shade should be threatening, which holds true even though he dies in this book.

  65. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s note: We’re a simple blog. Someone insults one of our authors, we delete their comment.

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