Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Problem of Pacing

No, I don't mean the act of walking back and forth. (That's more of a solution than a problem, actually.) I'm talking about an important element of fiction: pacing. That is, how fast your novel is going and how you're propelling it.

Books like Andrew Klavan's "The Last Thing I Remember" have fast pacing. The Lord of the Rings is an example of slow pacing. (Lots of twentieth and nineteenth-century books are slow-paced, actually.) Determining the pace of your novel is a crucial element to keeping your readers interested.

Recently, though, I've been hearing more and more that books need to be fast-paced in order to be good. Today's reader is a busy person, so you NEED to catch their attention with something like a sudden murder or death by grizzly or some other plot device. (Daniel Schwabauer, in his One Year Adventure Novel curriculum, suggests dropping a body out of the ceiling when the goings get tough.)

At first glance, that seems true. If your novel isn't moving, people will get bored, right? Books like the popular Hunger Games are very fast-paced and thus lend to this myth.

Thing is, you sacrifice certain things when you focus on fast pacing. Here's a couple of examples.

1) Character-Building

Now, this isn't to say that you can't have good, round characters and a fast plot. But when your plot is going at the speed of sound, it's a LOT harder to build strong, believable characters. Some of the greatest character-building moments are when two characters are sitting around the fire and talking. And they're really not doing much at all during that time, are they?

Is that boring? No, if you do it right. In fact, a conversation that's essential to the plot and the characters at the same time is MORE interesting than running for dear life through some random forest. We want to unravel each character's secrets and discover what they're really like behind their masks. But it's hard to have a meaningful conversation when you're running around all the time.

2) Description

One thing that the Christian fantasy author Bryan Davis noted about the Hunger Games was that there wasn't much description. That's very true: because in order to have a fast-paced scene, you have to have minimal description. Description slows things down. (I've especially encountered this in my revisions of The War Horn. It's HARD to balance the pacing of crucial scenes and the description needed.)

So what about this? Is description boring? I think it's a necessary element. (Some might say "necessary evil".) There's such a thing as over-describing, but I think far too many books UNDER-describe. Without description, the reader loses the beauty of immersing themselves in a new world, and it makes things harder to imagine. Sometimes we must sacrifice pacing in order to describe, and that's okay.

3) Theme

Things are going, going, going—there's a murder here, death attempt there, and pretty soon you're flying to the end of the book. You turn the last page, take a breath, and what happens? Not too much.

You can balance meaning and pacing. But it's hard. A truly beautiful theme may come out of a book that took the time (and cut the pacing) to expand that theme. The White Lion Chronicles comes to mind. Many readers may complain that the beginning of the series was painfully slow, but that background was essential to building the theme and the characters before diving into the fast-paced stuff.

Of course, it also depends on the novel. Lord of the Rings is an epic—the very word conjures images of thick, heavy books. Thrillers, however, are supposed to have fast pacing. Still, whatever kind of novel you're writing, you need to determine the balance of power between pacing and the other elements of story.

So here's my advice. If you've made a scene slow on purpose, then stick to it, even when someone criticizes it. Just say, "Psh tosh." (That's my favorite phrase right now. Does anyone else use favorite phrases?) Fast pacing is good, but NOT at the expense of the theme, the characters, and the description.

What do you think? What do you say about the problem of pacing?

Until another day.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Crazy Dangerous

Sam Hopkins is a good kid who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Hanging around with car thieves and thugs, Sam knows it's only a matter of time before he makes one bad decision too many and gets into real trouble.

But one day, Sam sees these thugs harassing an eccentric schoolmate named Jennifer. Finding the courage to face the bullies down, Sam loses a bad set of friends and acquires a very strange new one.

Because Jennifer is not just eccentric. To Sam, she seems downright crazy. She has terrifying hallucinations involving demons, the devil, and death. And here's the really crazy part: Sam is beginning to suspect that these visions may actually be prophecies-prophecies of something terrible that's going to happen very soon. Unless he can stop it.

With no one to believe him, with no one to help him, Sam is now all alone in a race against time. Finding the truth before disaster strikes is going to be both crazy and very, very dangerous. (From

Crazy Dangerous. Doesn't it sound like a crazy kind of book? And it is, because the author is a crazy kind of author.

He's written an acclaimed series titled The Homelanders, which I've read and loved. Seeing as Andrew Klavan came out with a new book, I was excited to read it and be swept away by Klavan's trademark fast-paced writing.

And I wasn't disappointed. Around two hundred pages, and (I assume) a stand-alone novel, Klavan grabs your attention with a talkative and interesting main character, and then hooks you with the action and runs you until you reach the satisfying end. And don't worry, there's some great plot twists. Klavan keeps you guessing, and even leaves a little mystery at the end to leave you thinking after you finish the final page.

As I read the book, I thought that Klavan had gone spiritual-warfare on us, the book. You'll see.

Character-wise, the most of the characters were suitably developed for the length of the novel, especially the two primary characters. The "love interest" (which didn't seem to be more than an add-on character) felt like cardboard, to put it bluntly. There wasn't much of a theme, but more of a mantra: do right, fear nothing. Which, while not very powerful, it did serve the interest of the novel.

All in all, while not a particularly deep novel, it was a rollicking ride with some quirky characters. Definitely recommended! Rated 8.75 out of 10. (Five stars.)

(I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Four Fantasy Cliches to Avoid

In our search for originality, it is often beneficial to find out what NOT to do. Often, the mistakes that others make can point us toward the right way to go.

Recently, I've identified four fantasy cliches to avoid. Avoiding these cliches will not only help your novel be more compelling and original, it'll appeal a lot more to your audience.

1. Dwarves, Elves, and Dragons (etc.)

Many, many fantasy novels have borrowed races from other novels, especially from Tolkien's epic. There are things we find compelling about such creatures, but honestly, they're worn-out and used...a lot. Dragons especially have a special place in the fantasy lover's heart.

But just because they have a special place doesn't mean we should use them. Unless you're writing something that deliberately takes from old legends—such as an Arthurian fantasy like D. Barkley Briggs' "Legends of Karac Tor" series—these fantasy cliches have to go.

Granted, there are original ways to use such creatures, ways to break the cliche on purpose. I'll leave that to your discretion. But unless you know what you're doing, I'd strongly recommend staying away from such fantasy creatures.

And honestly, very few of us know what we're doing. Including myself. ^_^

2. Mind Readers

Quick! Name five books that have mind readers in them!

Pretty easy, wasn't it? Mind readers, however they are renamed, are often used in fantasy. How many of us have wished they could read other peoples' minds? Wouldn't that be cool?

Unfortunately, it's been used time and time again. Again, to avoid further cliches, I'd recommend you'd stay away from mind-readers. Like the other cliches, it's possible to break the mold and put a new twist on things, but until you're experienced, you should probably stay away from it.

3. Going to Another World

Ever since Narnia, this has been a popular one. (Not that there was much BEFORE Narnia...) People (particularly kids) going to other worlds from Earth is something to be avoided at all costs. Worse yet, kids that go to other worlds and find out their great calling. (*headdesk*)

Like all cliches, this can be used in a good way. See The Restorer by Sharon Hinck, for instance. That was probably the best use I've seen since Narnia for this cliche.

4. Chosen Ones

This is often grouped with #3: an ordinary person discovers an ancient prophecy (or some other babble) that means that they're chosen for a great task.

While this has been used well quite a bit, I'd still recommend that you bypass this one. (That's one of the many cliches that The Prophecies fell into, by the way.) It's just been used too often and too much.

And honorary mentions: medieval fantasy (fantasy with swords, spears, and castles), people with special abilities, revelations about relatives (think "I am your father"), and people with unusually-colored eyes, such as red, green, yellow, and purple.

(That last one was a joke, by the way.)

However, I didn't include those because they're too diverse to be lumped in with other cliches. There's too many different ways to do medieval fantasy, for instance: in fact, it's pretty much a sub-genre. Just because something is medieval fantasy doesn't automatically mean the author will fall into medieval fantasy's worst cliches.

Of course, there are many other cliches to avoid, but these are the most universal ones. As to the others, learn to discern them. Don't trust the first ideas that come to mind, as Daniel Schwabauer has said. Too often, those are the easiest ones and are most likely to be borrowed from somewhere else.

What other cliches (fantasy or otherwise) can you think of? What are some examples of these cliches in modern-day fiction?

Until next time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I'm Not Going to America This Year

(This is somewhat off the normal topic of this blog—writing—but for those of you who want to read this post can. It's mostly about missions and writing conferences and stuff.)

Many of you might know of the ambition I had for this year—to go to the 2012 OYAN Summer Workshop in Kansas. That was partially what set the gears in motion to self-publish The War Horn. All throughout this year, I've been waiting and hoping that I could go.

By the time The War Horn was available to buy, I knew that making a plane ticket's worth of sales would take a miracle. And I was hoping that God would come through with a miracle. After all, He had risen people from the dead—it would be easy enough for Him to get me enough money for a plane ticket.

But it didn't happen. It's late April now, about two months until the Workshop. I haven't gotten enough money to pay for a tenth of the ticket. So my "Workshop or Bust!!" slogan has pretty much...busted.

There was a brief hope that I might be able to go if the entire family went to a family reunion in the late summer, but that, more or less, didn't turn out either.

So to summarize...I'm not going to the Workshop.

Strangely enough, I'm not really that sad about it.

Thing is, God has better plans than I do.

As a result of this ambition, I've gotten The War Horn published. And maybe that's why God gave me the idea of going to the Workshop in the first place. However, there's another reason why God, in His infinite wisdom, didn't let me go.

It's a complicated problem. Suffice it to say that going back to America this year might very well be dangerous.

Dangerous? How could going to America be dangerous?

One book we own on missions has a section about going back to the home country. According to that book, the eight-month line is the worst time to go back, because the first eight months are usually the hardest. And there's a temptation to go back, and stay there. Eight months is where you're almost finished adjusting, but you're still missing home.

And the eight month period is right where the Workshop 2012 falls.

I think the author is right on, too. Up until this point, I had been thinking like this:

"Maybe I can go back HOME this year."
"I can't wait until next Sunday, when I can eat AMERICAN food."
"I kind of miss AMERICA. I miss AMERICAN seasons."
"I miss my friends and family in AMERICA."
"I'm holding out until I can GO BACK."

Do you see the trend?

"Dangerous" is the right word for it. Because going back to America had, in a way, become an "escape" instead of a "visit".

Good thing that God is a lot wiser than I am.

Because, in His own way, He's kept me from going. He's kept me on the track. God's will for our family is here, in Liberia, in West Africa. And he's led me not into temptation—the temptation to go "home" and stay there, and thus thwart His will.

I'm adjusting now. The days have progressively gotten better. Culture shock gives me trouble still, but for the most part I'm meeting it head-on.

I need to stop thinking of home and make THIS home. This is where God has called us, and wherever He calls us to is home.

So that's why I'm not going into America this year. God has called us here, and He means to keep us here. We'll be visiting America, yes, but it'll be a visit, not an escape.

And one last thing...


Just sayin'. ^_^

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Issue of Originality

I think it's safe to say that many of today's novels aren't very original.

There's as many vampire novels as there are sands on the seashore, and even more prairie/Amish romances. (Insert a shudder here.) End times novels, well, there's lots of those too. A well-known specific example of today's not-so-cutting-edge literature would be the popular Inheritance Trilogy (the first book being "Eragon") which manages to rip off of Star Wars in plot and Lord of the Rings in everything else. (Inheritance fans, take no offense. There are admirable things about those books, and downfalls as well, as there are with all books.)

There are original elements in all of these stories, but the basic premise, when you boil it down and take away the externals, often comes out the same. An ordinary person discovers he or she has special powers is one obvious example, taken by Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, and a whole lot of other books.

That doesn't mean these premises are bad. In fact, done right, they could very well be good. However, and note this, it's a LOT harder to write an original story with a used premise than it is to write an original story with an original premise. Why? Because we actually copy the books we've read before, whether we mean to or not. If I wrote a prairie romance novel (horror!), and I had read a lot of prairie romances, then what will happen? My own novel will turn out a lot like those other prairie romances.

Once stories are in our heads, they tend to influence how we write. This is shown (positively) by the famous writer's creed, "Read good books to write good books." So if we read a book in a certain genre, and we write a book in that same genre, then the chances are, our book will look a lot like that book. We subconsciously try to emulate the books we admire.

So how do we get out of this? It's something that's been plaguing me lately, because I realized that I've been trying to copy other novels without even knowing it. In fact, I came to a rather painful conclusion a few days ago while cross-examining my own writing: The Prophecies, which is one of my works-in-progress, is painfully unoriginal in premise. To put it bluntly, it's yet another book in which

1) there is a renamed version of Satan that's trying to take over this country. It's something that's been worn out in Christian literature. (see: Batson's The Door Within, Hopper's White Lion Chronicles, Graham's Binding of the Blade, etc.)

 2) God (likewise renamed) raises up a champion-like character to warn this country (somewhat less widespread, but still common)

 3) Oh, and there's a renamed Bible too—and some silly kings who don't know how to listen.

Worse still, the general premise of The Book of Shaldu, the first book, is almost frighteningly similar to the premise of Rise of the Wyrm Lord. There are differences, but it's still too close for comfort. (For example: there is the Wyrm Lord, a dragon-like thing, and the Daske, also a giant serpentine/dragon character. Both Satan figures in both books want to free that character from its imprisionment and thus dominate everything. The difference is, the race to find the evil serpentine character is not the goal of the story in ROTWL, whereas it takes center stage in The Book of Shaldu about a third of the way in.)

Now I'm faced with a decision to do one of three things: either stop the series altogether and forget about it, finish the series and rewrite it heavily, or take the best characters, scenes, and subplots of the book and deposit them in another book sometime in the future. I've never done the latter, but some of the dialogue and characters of the series are too wonderful to give up.

However, I've kind of gone off track from the original question: how do we truly be original when we write?

Here some stuff I've figured out, but feel free to voice your opinion, too.

1) Don't try to copy!

So you're thinking, "No, duh." Stick with me. It's less obvious than it sounds.

I have a really bad habit. It got me into writing, but it's getting me into trouble: I read a book and say, "I want to write this kind of book." So then I figure out how I can put a new twist on something that was in the book and stick it in my own writing.

Bad idea. Very bad idea.

So say I want people to talk with their minds (another worn-out concept), so I put a bit of a twist on it, rename it, and poof! It looks nice on the outside, but it's just another copied idea once you get into it.

Not only does this promote unoriginal thinking, it just doesn't feel right to the reader. I love reading original books because they feel fresh and new. A good premise sends shivers down my spine. It's like the promise of a banquet, and you're counting down the minutes. A new way of telling a story makes every page a delight.

Originality is appealing to the reader. A motley collection of borrowed ideas is not.

2) Write what you know.

Writers' creeds strike again. How many times have you heard that one? Nevertheless, it's true. If we're not trying to go off of someone else's ideas, where do we start?

Well, there are occurrences where we are zapped with inspiration from above. But most of the time, writing is gritty down-to-earth work, and not terribly inspired.

So we write what we know. You are a unique person, with a set of experiences that no one else has. Take what you know, what seems ordinary to you, and integrate it into your story.

Sometimes "knowing" something requires world-building. How can you write in a world you know nothing about? It's like trying to write a novel on Mexico without even researching Mexico, much less visiting it. Mark Twain is famous for writing things people knew, such as childhood in the West, and writing it so well that people who had never set eyes on Missouri could see that experience was talking, not imagination. They could see everything that was happening.

In the same way, we have our own experiences: so can we not use them to write something no one else could write?

So what do you think? What are some ways we can best unoriginality and write stories that will crackle with fresh and new tales? I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Synopsis, Anyone?

My outlining for my OYAN novel is flying along. I've got a lot planned out, and my history document is floating around 15,000 words. One of my more recent lessons required me to rewrite my synopsis. Since this novel's planning is nearing completion, the synopsis is ten times better than the first one (which I posted some time ago). You'll notice that it's similar to the first one—it even uses some of the same phrases. But it's a lot more complete. Take a look!


 A bloody war rages across the land...and it's Elijah's fault.

 He's imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and haunted by the one he did. The opportunity for freedom comes from an unexpected source, but when killers bent on one thing—his death—find him, he must flee. Not only that, but everyone is hunting him...even his own people.

 But things change when he stumbles upon a secret that could change the world: a riddle that leads to a means to destroy a curse that has plagued the land for hundreds of years. But pursued on all sides, he can't trust anyone, not even the man that travels with him. And before he can end the curse and bring peace to his country, he must answer the question: can a God who doesn't answer forgive him?

 Whatever happens, Elijah is certain of one thing: he had started the war. And he would end it.


Still a little rough, but it's pulling together. But for the life of me, I can't figure out a good title! Any thoughts? Oh, and does anyone else have a synopsis to share? Even a mediocre one? (After all, writing is mediocre before it becomes great.) I'd love to read it.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Few Tantalizing Tidbits

I'm deep into the planning of my next novel, and it's getting to be so good that I can't help but share a little. So read closely, and gather what you can! Most of it is fairly obscure and should tantalize you a little.

"It always seemed most curious to me, that the Elarasters have always sworn to peace and have never participated in anything remotely warlike...if in battle, they would be unstoppable, and forever immortalized as heroes, hailed as the great warriors of old reborn." Loc Shallin, "The Elarasters: A Collection of Loc Shallin Works" (Tower-Summit Publications) Printed 852 W.C.

"The spring, the spring! The mountain must not be uncovered! Doom be upon us if we unveil that which must never be brought to light!" (A quote from my 15,000-word document titled "A History of the Elathim")

"Not even the oldest and wisest can remember the tales of days long past, when the dew was heavy and the sun dim and far away. The memory of those days is lost, only preserved in the writings of one man, but he does not enter this tale, and his name is not known." (A History of the Elathim)

Here are also two poems that also pertain to this novel. They're edited for length: the original versions were much longer.

The Curse

Once a dear friend spoke these words to me
While the realm took refuge in the lee:
"One man's folly made the Mist burn
One man's drink will make the curse return."

One man's folly made the mist burn
One man's drink will make the curse return.

Can the lost be found, the low arise?
Can the blind see with different eyes?
Can those who fall be lifted up again?
Can those unclean be made clean men?

One man's folly created a wall
One man's cup sealed our pall.

All is brought to ruin, all has failed
While the voice is in prison jailed
The fell sons of men die and are naught
All this because of one man's draught.

It was one man that started this curse:
It was one man that brought us worse.

The haunted one shall seek a cure
The cursed one will make us pure
The curse is liquid, the cost is blood
But forgiveness shall release the flood.

Two men brought our curses nigh:
Will two men cause the curse to die?

The Day the Voice was Lost
A Wyndian song
from the Hundred-Year Siege

The spring was clear and cold
The mountains tall and old
The man was strong and bold
The day the voice was lost.

Reaches he the water cold
In those mountains dark and old
His spirit to the darkness sold
The day the voice was lost.

Now we stay and count the cost
The day the voice was lost.

What do you think? Good? Better yet, what sort of notions do you gather from this? (*chuckles* I'm feeling rather sadistic - but I think that comes with being a writer. Withholding information is such fun.)

And while I'm at it: what are you all working on? Have anything so epic that you just HAVE to share it?

World-builders forever. ^_^ *fist-bump*

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Athera's Dawn

Those in deepest darkness fight most valiantly for the light.

Hard pressed on every side, the Dibor struggle to overcome insurmountable odds in an effort not just to regain territory, but to survive. In addition to the growing ranks of the taken, Morgui has summoned the powers of nature to search out and destroy the saviors of Dionia. Tempests hunt those forced to flee by sea, while an otherworldly fire storm chews up the ancient forest of Grandath, destroying anything - or anyone - in its path.

While most of the Dibor manage to survive, the whereabouts of the ill-fated Princess Anorra continues to be unknown. Her faithful friends are unaware of her suffering behind the gates of Haides. The remaining Dibor soon discover that there is more to Morgui's madness than simple mayhem, as the dwarves reveal startling knowledge about the Two Trees, and worse still, about Morgui's attempt to forever thwart the Most High's plan for victory.

As Creation itself endures death throes caused by mounting evil, one thing is clear: Dionia and her champions will never be as they once were. Nor will those in worlds beyond. (From

The final battle for Dionia is at hand.

When I began Athera's Dawn, I was extremely excited. While I had read the first two books in the trilogy several times before, this was my first time reading the final book in the trilogy. I was a little nervous how it would turn out. So often, a great series would be ruined by a not-so-great last book. How would Athera's Dawn fare?

That's for you to find out.

Athera's Dawn was bittersweet for me. For two years, I had been hanging at the edge of The Lion Vrie and wondering how my beloved characters would survive. At last, I could finish the series, but in a way, I didn't want it to be finished. I didn't want the adventure to end.

In a word, I might describe the White Lion Chronicles as "painful". It's really painful reading. So many beloved characters suffer, and some die, and often it's what we call "dark". But in the end, that's what makes it so amazing. The price was paid for a brilliant ending.

The plot of Athera's Dawn was fast-paced immediately, picking up right where The Lion Vrie left off. Nearing the middle, however, it slowed down some, putting it ahead of Rise of the Dibor in plot pacing, but just behind The Lion Vrie.

Sir Hopper's writing style is at its best in Athera's Dawn. There were no major things that I would list as a "con" of this book. There were two minor notes: first, it didn't seem like there was one, coherent climax, but rather a few smaller climaxes lumped together. Second, there were a few moments that felt "convenient" to me, and others that felt unrealistic. These were, as I said, minor.

The characters of Athera's Dawn live and die and love, and Hopper does extremely well in showing the ups and downs of each character. There wasn't a lot of character development (that I can recall) in this book, but it wasn't as necessary, since the characters were already developed from the earlier installments of the trilogy.

As I approached the end, I expected (or dreaded, more like) a theologically-correct Deus Ex Machina ending. That is, where God sweeps in and makes everything right. After all, with such a strong theme and premise, and such high stakes, I thought that the novel would probably resolve in the end of the world.

I'm glad I was wrong. Sir Hopper took a surprising route and ending the book in a satisfying manner. What I especially liked is that, while God was with them every step of the way, in the end He left the final battle to His representatives on Dionia: mankind. However, when it seems like, in the end, that mankind can't win after all, that Dionia will be corrupted, something happens. Something wonderful.

What happens is directly tied to the theme. I won't tell it to you, but I found it to be an immensely satisfying (and theologically-correct to boot!) way to finally answer the question: does a sinless mankind still need a Savior?

I wish I could go on about it. Indeed, it was probably the highlight of the whole series, and my favorite part. One of the greatest scenes I've read in Christian fiction. And the culmination of the theme of the White Lion Chronicles.

But I can't spoil it for you.

After I had finished reading the last sentence of the last page of the last chapter, I had sat back for a few moments.

I didn't want to believe it was over.

But it was. And it was such a moving journey, too. I had something of an empty feeling, yet at the same time, it was satisfying. The pain and the suffering was the worthy price for the ending. It was such an amazing story - and I could only marvel at how well Christopher Hopper had captured the great struggle we have for righteousness, and the great God we have that will redeem us and bring us through to the very end.

And so The White Lion Chronicles built a bridge from fantasy to reality - there is a redeeming Lion, and He paid the ultimate price. And it is only with Him that we can win this war against ourselves.

Bravo. God has truly worked something marvelous through Christopher Hopper in this trilogy.

Highly recommended. To anyone.

Rated 9.5 out of 10. (Five stars.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: The Lion Vrie

The only way to survive is to kill the ones you love.

Having barely escaped the siege of Adriel with his life, Luik is carried north to the realm of Tontha in an effort to weather Morgui’s all-out assault on Dionia. Here he sorts through the trauma of the recent past and attempts to piece together the whereabouts of his scattered Dibor, as well as his friends Fane, Hadrian, and Princess Anorra.

When work begins on fortifying Mt. Dakka, Luik returns to the wreckage of Adriel and uncovers far more than he had anticipated. Events unfold quickly, and his path is plagued by mysterious encounters with the taken, and haunted by the increasing effects of evil upon Creation. However, the growing darkness also gives rise to the forces of good, including rumors of the mythical Knights of the Lion. Summoned by the suffering of his countrymen, Luik risks everything in search of the fabled City of Ot, and his men embark on perilous missions to rescue the far corners of Dionia. But on the battlefield each faction of Luik’s devout Dibor comes face to face with the greatest opposition of all.

Evil, now matured into its most perverted form, pits mankind against itself: father against son, brother against brother. To hesitate means death; to strike means killing those they’ve sworn to protect. (From

The drama continues!

The Lion Vrie opens on the aftermath of Dionia's greatest defeat, and more than ever, Dionians need to rely on the Most High if they are to survive...or they'll be taken.

The Lion Vrie is, undoubtedly, the darkest of the three books in the trilogy. Luik and the other Dibor - as well as the remnant of Dionia - flee to refuge and gather strength, but by the end of the book, we're left wondering how they could possibly survive. There's a brief influx of hope, and then, little by little, things go wrong, until the cunning of the Enemy brings the world down on their ears.

The Lion Vrie may be the fastest-paced of the trilogy, and it's certainly a step up from Rise of the Dibor. It seems that, now that Sir Hopper has introduced most everything, including the characters and the world, he can now move forward at a greater pace. There are, for instance, many, many battles in this book, and you can feel the characters' desperation seeping out of the pages, and that keeps the pace going quickly. In my previous review, I mentioned the shiver-down-your-spine moments where everything goes wrong. Take those moments from Rise of the Dibor and multiply them by twenty, and you have the plot of The Lion Vrie. Add to this new tendrils of subplot - such as the drama unfolding on Dionia's sister world, Earth - and you have something dramatic indeed.

In this book, you not only have a feel that the series will be great, but that it will be an epic of giant proportions. (And, as you'll see in my review of Athera's Dawn, it lives up to the promise.)

By this time, I had grown attached to the characters, and that was part of what made The Lion Vrie a page-turner: I HAD to know what happened to the characters.

And speaking of the characters, all of them (those that were left, at least) grew in this book and developed very well. Especially the main character. Luik is one of those memorable people that are in my character hall of fame.

In Book Two, there was also a noticeable change in the Dibor. They had been youthful and elite warriors at the close of Rise of the Dibor, but in Lion Vrie they begin to shoulder bigger responsibilities, and Hopper shows that weight very well.

The writing style was also improved, and "bigger" than ever. By that, I mean that the prose has a dramatic flair that aids to the enormous scope of this book: the battle for an entire world.

And finally, I get back to theme again. I've already described the essential theme in my previous review, but there were new elements to it in this book.

First, the concept of the taken. There were many chilling scenes with the taken: it showed what mankind, once fallen, is really like. But it also leaves us on a note of hope: because the taken could be redeemed and join the ranks of the Most High once more.

Again, there were many more thought-provoking moments in this novel. Sowed in this installment were seeds that would be reaped in the last book: more on that in my review of Athera's Dawn. In addition to this, the people's reliance on God was emphasized once more. When despair and doubt kicked in, and the horrors of war were all around them, all they could do was cling to the Most High.

Unlike Rise of the Dibor, there were relatively few things I didn't like about this book. There were times where characters seemed like they acted out of character (and those were few), and the various technical problems continued (such as POV and telling).

However, the Lion Vrie was, overall, a fantastic sequel with a great continuing theme. You need to have the last book on hand when you finish it, because it's got a terrible cliffhanger.

Highly recommended.

Rated 9 out of 10. (Five stars.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: Rise of the Dibor

Read the story that turned children into warriors, and warriors into legends.

The Dairne-Reih haven’t been seen in Dionia for generations—their kind and their king, Morgui, banished long ago from haunting paradise. But when creation shows signs of deterioration, the kings of the seven realms converge in the sacred Gvindollion gathering to arrive at one inexplicable conclusion: Morgui has returned. In the hopes of entrusting Dionia’s brave history and perilous future to a generation that has never known war, the kings decide to raise up their young sons as an elite group of warriors, known only as the Dibor.

Gorn, legendary hero of the First Battle, is commissioned to teach the Dibor the art of war, leading them on a four-year adventure on the Isle of Kirstell. It is Luik, son of Lair, who soon emerges as the warband’s spirited front man. But he is not the only one of his peers to grow in power; his dear friend Fane discovers hidden abilities among the Mosfar under the mentorship of Li-Saide of Ot, while Princess Anorra finds that her lifelong tutor knows as much about combat as he does about etiquette. There is little time for the Dibor to enjoy the satisfaction of graduation, however, as a sinister plot is discovered to dethrone Dionia’s kings and flatten the capital city of Adriel. The Dibor are summoned to war, along with the rest of Dionia’s fighting men. It is before the gates of Adriel Palace that Luik and his army face Morgui's prince, Valdenil, as well as the unending ranks of the Dairne-Reih. (From

(Note: this is a rather long review.)

Where to begin?

The White Lion Chronicles begins with Rise of the Dibor, and asks the question, "What would have happened if Adam hadn't sinned? Would we still have an enemy?"

With an emphatic yes, Christopher Hopper sets us on an adventure in a sinless world, where mankind's ultimate enemy builds up strength for an attack on innocence and sinlessness.

All right, first things first - the stuff I liked about Rise of the Dibor.

Christopher Hopper paints a wonderful picture of a sinless world. Dionia, as its called, is a mouth-watering paradise, and Hopper's prose conveys it well. The worldbuilding was well done, and cultural/historical things were likewise authentic - and getting culture right is hard. But Hopper does a great job at it, with enough foreign words and concepts to make it believable without overwhelming us.

On the same note, the prose was lyrical and descriptive. Very descriptive. While at times it bogged down the speed of the novel, it was nevertheless essential for the larger-than-life feel of the series. Vivid word-pictures abounded.

The plot of Rise of the Dibor, once it got going, was absorbing and interesting. While it wasn't fast-paced, it still kept you reading and built up well toward the climactic battle at the end. (More on plot later.) There were several shiver-down-your-spine scenes where you realize that the situation is much worse than you thought it would be. And that's a delicious feeling.

One area where Sir Hopper excelled was character-building. There are a lot of characters, and sometimes it was easy to get them confused, but for the most part each character was distinct and well-rounded, especially the main character, Luik. Over the course of a book, he turns from a boy into a man, and Hopper writes the transition well.

The major group of characters in this novel was the elite "Dibor". There were quite a few of them, but Hopper wisely refrained from mentioning them all at once and instead subtly slipped them in here and there in a way that avoided confusion.

Besides this, the emotions of all of the characters are well-felt (often expressed through dialogue), and there were many times that the themes of the novel were expressed in that way.

Which brings me to my favorite part about this novel: theme.

I've long held that theme is possibly THE most important part of a novel. In the case of Rise of the Dibor, it's not the plot or the prose that kept me reading, but the theme. The White Lion Chronicles are, in essence, the story of a sinless mankind's fight against evil, and the realization that they couldn't do it alone - they still needed a Savior.

This theme was everywhere in this novel. First encounters of fear and anger (which had never been felt before in Dionia), the possibility of falling into sin, and the reality of death: all of these were addressed in this book in a way that I had never thought of before. And over and over, reliance on God was emphasized, as it should be. War is shown as the terrible thing that it is, and this book is not without pain and loss. Men live and die, and mankind suffers.

Hopper's theme and the underlying theology behind it was very, very satisfying to me, especially since I now appreciate it a lot more than I did two years ago. There were multiple times where I wanted to highlight the particularly meaningful passages. And there were many scenes I found simply powerful, such as Annora's scene where she discovers her "inner sight". Breathtakingly beautiful. I would venture to say that Christian fantasy needs more authors like this: authors that don't shy away from deep questions, whether or not they would be regarded as "proselytizers" by secular audiences.

I could continue my discussion of theme, but for the sake of brevity I need to move on.

Next, the cons of this book.

I have to admit, the book starts out verrrrrry slowly. The plot doesn't begin to pick up speed until we're almost a quarter of the way through the book. However, I viewed this speed is necessary to show Dionia as it was - before war came. On the flip side, it's a significant barrier for readers who really want to like the book, but find it too boring.

Another thing I noticed was that the writing quality went steadily up as the entire trilogy progressed. In other words, what I consider to be Sir Hopper's "worst" writing is at the beginning of the novel! While this does make the ending much better than the beginning, it also makes it hard to get into the book, as I noted above.

Oddly enough, while there was POV problems and some telling, I didn't really notice it. Hopper's prose covers it up well and makes the novel move along.

Finally, the dialogue, especially in the beginning, felt forced and unrealistic at times. On numerous occasions, the author evidently felt the need to "explain" why this character had said something, which cluttered up the text and made reading harder. (For instance, a character might say something sarcastic and then an author would add that he said it "sarcastically".) This smoothed out later in the book, however, and wasn't a problem.

Happily, all the infamous homonym mixups of the previous edition had been eliminated.

In essence, while Rise of the Dibor is slow-paced and has a few technical problems, it is an absorbing novel - and the theme is brilliant. Speculative fantasy at its best.

On a more biased note, I highly prize the White Lion Chronicles as one of my favorite trilogies of all time. For anyone who reads or writes Christian fantasy, this is the highlight, the cream of the crop.

And, by the way, the eBook edition of each book costs 2.99 each - quite a great price.  That's how I bought them!

Highly recommended. Rated 8.5 out of 10. (4.5 stars.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Few Words on Theme

You probably already know of my new novel idea for One Year Adventure Novel (which I'm doing for a second time). I haven't written a single word of prose for it yet, however. I've been working on characters, hammering out the plot, and writing out histories for world-building. (I've got one document titled "A History of the Elathim" that's already well over ten thousand words long and counting.) It's not even titled yet, this novel. And most of this planning is in my head.

Recently, though, I've been confronted with the theme for this novel. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you've probably already encountered by fascination with theme. I hold it to be one of the most important parts of a novel. My recently self-published eBook, The War Horn, is a testament to that fact. It has multiple themes, some of which are easier to see than others.

But you might notice: the themes of The War Horn are more universal. Freedom and self-sacrifice are admirable traits in almost any society. I wrote these themes because I believed in them, but it's true to say that most everyone believes in them.

In this novel, however, I'm going to tackle much harder issues. The theme is one of the reasons that my planning is going on so long. And as a result, the theme is going to be that much more powerful.

But why is this theme harder to pin down?

I think it's because this theme is much more personal to me. I've been working through it myself, and now I'm emerging on top of things and more determined than ever to pen this story down. If it comes out the way it should—God willing—it'll be much more powerful than The War Horn's theme.

So my thoughts to you, reader—if you're writing a theme, examine your own experience with that theme. What do you believe about it? Better yet, what does the Bible say about it? How could your theme shed a new light on the theme?

Once you have those questions answered, you're well on your way to writing a powerful theme, and a novel that will not only entertain—it will challenge.

(And by the way, just because the theme takes a center stage doesn't mean that this novel will be boring. If you've read The War Horn, here's a comparison: the writing quality, if my more recent works of writing are anything to judge by, will be much better—the plot is going to be fast-paced, much faster than The War Horn's—the characters themselves will be better developed—the world-building is going to be intense and vivid—there will be more conspiracies—politics—and did I mention? There'll be a lot of running to do. And finally, I'm aiming for a length of 50,000-75,000 words or more in 24 chapters.)

So what are your thoughts on theme? How do you think a writer should go about finding a good theme in a novel?

POST SCRIPTUM: This was written a few hours after I wrote this blog post in a document:

I've finally worked out the theme to the best of my ability. I can't think of any other way to say it than that it was GIVEN to me by God. I literally have been muddled about the theme for so long that it felt like I was mired down and couldn't figure out what to do.

But just a few minutes earlier, I was praying about things and asked God to show me what He wanted me to do with this theme, because I couldn't work it out by myself. And then I sat down and began writing down some of what I had worked out so far.

And then the words flowed. And there is no other reason but God. And now I have the theme, and it is so much more powerful than anything I could have written without Him. I'm so excited about it that I literally can't keep still.

So, to add on: if you truly want to write a novel for God, ask Him to write the theme, not you. Because we are finite and He is infinite.

Praise God, for He is worthy of it.

Monday, April 9, 2012


All right, I admit it. I was preoccupied with The War Horn's release. I was rather absorbed in revision and formatting too, jumping through Amazon's hoops to get The War Horn on the market.

And I say it freely (but with some pain): I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to marketing.  (Although I did manage to create the above banner. It's not half as bad as I thought it would be, but I'm no digital artist, so I kept it simple.)

I've heard it said that half the success of bestselling books comes because they're well-marketed. Oops! Because until The War Horn's initial sales rush started slacking off—about three days after the release date—I hadn't really put much thought to it.

However, I do have an inkling of what I need to do. To spread the word, there are several things I can do:

1) Get The War Horn going on sites like Goodreads and Shelfari.

Check. Here's The War Horn's Goodreads page, by the way, and here's The War Horn's Shelfari page. Feel free to take a look!

2) Get reviews and have readers spread the word.

This part doesn't depend on me. While I know that you all have busy lives—after all, I'm a "reader" of other blogs too—if you read The War Horn and truly liked it, I'd appreciate if you'd spread the word on Goodreads, Shelfari, and especially That would be an enormous help.

And even if you don't have the time to plaster reviews, if you read The War Horn, shoot me an email and tell me what you thought.

Other than this rather meager plan, though, I have no marketing strategy. (It really embarrasses me to say so, but it's true.)

So I decided to ask you. Do any of you have any advice on the matter? Have you picked up anything from other authors that might help in spreading the word and getting The War Horn "out there"? Any particularly good resources? (I'd ask for book titles on the matter, but my choices in books are mostly limited to what I either buy or what I'd get through Kindle Lending Library.)

Thanks, all. You're awesome. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three Words

"On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 25:6-8)

"And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split." (Matthew 27:50-51)

"In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again."'" (Luke 24:5-7)

It was the greatest triumph, right after what some people thought was the worst defeat. The most terrible setback was transformed. The inevitable was defeated from the inside. All of this could be summed up, shouted by millions of people all across the world, shining a light into the darkness, the hope of them all and the joy of all nations put forth into three electric words. And it was so powerful that not even death could stop it. Triumph at last! Let the horns resound! The darkness trembles, for—