05/3/14
KnightsOfCalas

The “Knights of Calas” Street Team is Born

Hi everyone. The publication date for Emaculum is drawing near, and I really want to make a splash with the release. I have lots of promotional events planned and some minor advertising budgeted, but I’d like to ask for some help from you, my readers. Some of you on my newsletter list may have read about my fledgling street team. If you haven’t, let me explain.

A street team is group of readers who swear, on a hard-bound copy of The Fellowship of the Ring (or a hard-cover of Sharpe’s Rifles, Game of Thrones, or Dune), to help promote an author’s work. In return, the author provides all sorts of nifty swag (signed copies of books, free e-books, posters, bookmarks, visits to book clubs or writers’ groups, help promoting your own work, help writing your paper for English Literature 101, and lots of other benefits that you will hear about through our group page).

So, in my street team, The Knights of Calas, I’m envisioning a Fight-Club type organization. We will be everywhere, spreading the word about my works, helping each other out, beating the crap out of each other in a basement somewhere, blowing up buildings that house credit card records, making soap out of human fat. I’m still working out the details. Some of that might not be possible. But the first rule of Calas club will certainly be, “You talk about Calas Club.” And the second rule of Calas club will be, “Don’t joke with a cop when you are pulled over for doing twice the speed limit. They don’t like that. At all.” Wait. That might just be my own personal rule. Anyway, I’ve babbled enough. Here’s the root of it:

Do you want to get swag, help me become a world-famous author, earn my undying loyalty, and did I mention the swag? All you have to do is  review my works early, help me spread the word about my books through social media and other channels, and basically be the far reaching tendrils of the the Calas-World-Domination scheme. Are you in? Are you in?

Good. Fill out the form below and I will add you to the super-secret, Knights of Calas Facebook group to await further instructions.

I will only be accepting a few members at the moment, so apologies if the list fills up. To those who make it in, you will receive a free e-book copy of Emaculum when it comes out, and the first five members will receive signed copies of either The Scourge or The Scourge: Nostrum.

Thanks again for all your support! I look forward to fighting each and every one of you.

Roberto

 

04/17/14
Graphic_Reviews

The Crazy Importance of Reviews

Hey everybody. I’m posting for two reasons. The first, to update all of you on Emaculum. But I will get to the first second, if that makes sense, because I have something really important to ask, and it concerns reviews.

Big, crazy, wibbly-wobbly, timey-whymey things are going on at 47North, my publisher. Apparently their promotional efforts for books are being prioritized by the number of good reviews. The more reviews a book has, the more they will promote it. This is huge. *HUGE*. I cannot stress enough the absolute HUGENESS of this for writers. I humbly ask that if any of you have not reviewed my novels, please do so. And if you have friends or family members or literate pets that have read my books and enjoyed them, please, please encourage them to write reviews for every one of my books they have read.

I am extremely grateful for any and all efforts made in this regard. Thank you!

Now, onward to Emaculum:

The novel is almost finished, and I’m starting to get really excited. The end is a wonderful, emotional, powerful moment that is coming at me like a waterfall on the river. It seems like Edward has been questing for so long, and now I am one episode away from the resolution of his efforts. That’s right. I’m just about at episode 8. And yes, I said the end. There may be further adventures in the Scourge universe, but Edward will probably sit them out. At least for a little while…

So, the actual update:  After editing and formatting, I’m thinking I that will have Emaculum done at the end of May. Not having the deadline pressure of a serial has allowed me to go back and change things as I write, which will make this a much better novel, but it also has allowed my OCD to kick into overdrive. I’ll have some announcements as we get closer to publication time. I’d really like to make a big splash when I launch this, and I’d like all of you to help me do it. But for now, watch this space.

Thanks again! I really appreciate all the support I get from my readers. I am touched by your emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, and the many things you do to encourage, inspire, and motivate me.

Roberto

 

 

 

03/27/14
chickenroad3

“You … you … skelm!” And other problems.

A quick vent-post about the problems I often encounter with language in historical fiction.

Those of you who read my previous post on historical language know that this is an ongoing thing with me.  But tonight, I was looking for a word that means ‘scoundrel’ but isn’t ‘scoundrel,’ because ‘scoundrel’ is a 16th century word.

So I settle on “rogue.” But Rogue is also 16th century. How about “ruffian?” Yeah, the 16th century had all the good words.

Eventually, I find “caitiff” which is a 14th century word for “scoundrel,” but is about as lively as an anvil. “You’ll not be paid a penny, you caitiff!” Doesn’t have quite the ring I was looking for. And even if I use it, half of my readers will stop, look at the camera (am I the only one who’s life is followed by movie cameras?), and say, “huh?” And the other half will just skip over it and silently curse me. No. the search must continue.

Skelm! Perfect! It’s got a nice Saxon bite to it and sounds absolutely perf… oh. Curse you, 16th century! Curse you to hell!

*mental note: My next novel will be set in the 16th century*

So, after far too long spent searching (so long, in fact, that I can’t really remember why I’m looking for the damned word), I stumble upon “Poltroon.” Good. Sounds like an insult. “You won’t get a penny! You will get justice, you poltroon!” I like it. Readers won’t know what it means, but they’ll get the gist. Think of Jesse from Breaking Bad going, “Oh, snap! He called you a damned poltroon!” In fact, I may start calling people poltroons. Help me out. Let’s bring back poltroon. Start using it in ever day life. Let’s see how long it takes for a celebrity to use it. Um… where was I? Poltroon! I check the date…Yes! It works. Happy day! It only took 20 minutes and a venting blog post about language to find one! Wait a minute. Wait a damned minute…

…in the 13th century, “poltroon” was spelled “poultron.” It was only spelled “poltroon” in the — say it with me — 16th century. Sigh. The gangsta-snap, you-been-dissed quality of “poltroon” gets completely lost when it’s “poultron.” It has that sophisticated Frenchiness that defies street cred. “Ahh, non, non. You will not get a franc! You will get zee justeese, you poultron!”

Can I just use the 16th century spelling? Of course I can. Will I be accurate? Not really. But does it really matter? Unless I write the entire book in Middle English, it will never be 100% accurate. And God knows I’ve done my homework on this word.

I’m going to use it. Damn it all to hell, I’m using it. And when some poltroon decides to post a public tweet saying: “@robertocalas, in Emaculum, you used word poltroon, but in 13th c. waz actually spelled, poultron. just saying.” I am going to call them a filthy, damnable skelm.

Although it will have to mean filthy in the physically-unclean sort of way, because the “morally unclean or obscene” meaning of that word wasn’t around until …Yeah. You know the rest.

 

 

03/24/14
Surprise3

Surprise! And other tools for writers.

Hello everyone. I know things have been silent on my end for a bit, but I have been hard at work on Emaculum. I’m on Episode 6 at the moment, so only two more to go before it gets released into the wild. Since I’ve been writing and thinking about writing quite a bit lately, I thought I’d talk about one of the most powerful tools writers have in their arsenal: Surprise.

***A word of warning: The first part of this piece has a spoiler for The Scourge. And the second has a spoiler for Nostrum. Proceed at your own peril.***

Not that sort of eargasm.

Have you ever had an eargasm? You know, that moment when you’re listening to a song and suddenly get chills? It could be a particular lyric, or a lilt of the singer’s voice. But often, it’s an unexpected change in tempo or pitch. A change-up, so to speak, that catches us by surprise.

Writing is very similar. In fact, pretty much all artistic media operates on similar principles. An artist should strive to keep his or her work fresh. To give his or her audience something new. If you’ve read my previous post on writing with flourish, then you’ll remember I spoke of Maximus, from Gladiator.

“I will give them something they’ve never seen before.”

Maximus should have been a writer, because that’s exactly what writers need to strive for. Anyone can write a story. But readers don’t just want to read a story. They want to be entertained. They want something they’ve never seen before. They want to be kept off balance, never knowing exactly what will happen next. Never allowed to get too comfortable. As George R. R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) knows all too well, if you surprise and shock your readers, then they will truly fear for your protagonist.

But surprise is not just a way to scare the bejeesus out of readers. It’s also a way to keep the story fresh and fast paced and entertaining. I’ll use a few examples from my books, as I usually do, because I know them best and I’m too lazy to find passages in books by authors I love.

So here, first of all, is a scene from The Scourge, where Sir Edward, Sir Morgan, and Sir Tristan run up against an ocean of plaguers and Tristan gets caught in the horde. Edward thinks his friend has been torn apart. But the guilt and sorrow give way to joy when he sees Tristan rise up and climb into a tree. Cue the happy music. Smiles all around. But it’s precisely at those moments, when the sun is shining and the angels are singing, when surprise works best. You have to gouge the needle across the record so the happy music screeches to a halt:

I watch as Tristan pulls himself from the saddle and wraps his legs around the limb while the afflicted swipe at him. I watch as he flattens himself against the bottom of the branch. And I laugh as he gives two fingers to the mass of plaguers that reach for him and rip apart his horse. I must have kept my eyes open for too long because I feel them tearing up. I wipe at them and laugh again.

Tristan is alive.

“Stay in the tree!” I scream it as loudly as I can manage. Tristan rolls himself up onto the bough and sits. He can’t see me so he leans low to look through the downy branches and blows me a kiss. “Stay in the tree, you idiot!” I try not to smile as I shout to him. “We’ll come back for you. You’ll be safe in the tree!”

He holds up a thumb and I think he nods. And before I can respond, God smites the earth.

That’s what it sounds like. An explosion so unearthly that for a moment I am certain God has come down to earth to finish the job he started with this plague. The sound echoes across the hills so that I can’t tell where it came from. Plaguers near the willow fly into the air like daisies chopped by a sickle. One of them is split into pieces and each of the pieces flies in a different direction. Something skims off the grass with a resonant thud, then slams high into the willow branches.

There is silence. Even the plaguers stop moving.

Surprise! The story was settling into a happy lull and the danger faded. But fading danger equals fading tension, and tension is the heartbeat of any story. I actually tried to write that scene without the smiting stuff. Edward and Morgan were going to regroup and figure out how to get Tristan out of the tree, and possibly talk to the men and women they rescued. But the scene started to feel flat. And that’s another time when surprise can be used very effectively — when the story seems to be slowing down, or when the rest of the scene is becoming too predictable and not interesting enough. If your story is not interesting, you are dead in the water. Be anything you want as a writer, but never be boring. Surprise will often help you inject life into a slow scene. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said it best: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

Here’s another surprise from the Scourge books. This one is in Nostrum (book 2). Everyone knows Tristan is a wise-ass, but he’s often the voice of reason, as well. Readers begin to expect him to provide that voice of reason. And when readers get too comfortable with something, it’s time to surprise them. In this scene, Edward and Tristan have found a group of villagers throwing a woman into a river. They say they are sacrificing her to a “dragon” that has been threatening the area. Their actions enrage Tristan, who enters lecture-mode.

Tristan looks at the bound woman in the river and raises his hands. He turns toward the crowd.

“When will you people stop acting like sheep? Your priest tells you there is a dragon in the area, so you allow him to tie up your women and throw them into the river? Is that what Christians do these days?”

He points to the woman in the Stour.

“This river is probably tidal. You will go home and, during the night, the river will rise and she will drown. Her body will be carried out to sea. You will come back in the morning and she will not be here, and this priest will tell you a dragon took her. And you will believe him, won’t you? And you will allow him to murder more of your women! If you have any left, that is. Do you people have no minds? Do you truly think a dragon simply swoops down and … Satan’s hairy cock! Holy Christ almighty! House of fucking Gemini!”

Tristan staggers backward as a dragon bursts from the forest and roars. I am too stunned to react, and so is everyone else. The dragon leaps into the river, hisses, then snatches up the woman in its toothy maw.

Surprise! This works on a few different levels, I think. The first is that, this time, Tristan is not the voice of reason. He is dead wrong, and so the events have defied the readers’ expectations. This also works, I think, because Tristan gets what he deserves for his smugness and preachiness. He often ridicules people of faith for preaching and trying to push their views on others, and here he is, doing the same thing. And it comes back to bite him. Literally. And lastly, I think it works in a rather obvious way; a goddamn dragon just leaped out of the forest in medieval England. Surprise!

Okay, so it’s not *truly* a dragon, but the reader doesn’t know that at the time. And so it’s a shock. Which electrifies the reader. It’s a change in pitch. A change-up. An eargasm for the mind. And hopefully it keeps the readers wanting more.

Oh, and one last thing, like any tool in the writer’s quiver, don’t overuse it. Surprise is just an occasional spark. A dash of red among the grays and greens. The singer’s voice breaking at the climax of the song. God smiting the earth on a happy summer day. If you do it too often, the reader then expects a surprise. And it’s hard to surprise a reader expecting a surprise. Except maybe not surprising the reader at all. And a story without surprises is like a loveless marriage between reader and writer.

And there are no eargasms in a loveless marriage.

03/6/14
Adam Portrait 2013

Guest Post: Historical Fiction Writer Adam Haviaras

I’ve had Adam Haviaras on the site before and I always jump at the chance to have him visit. Adam is a historian and a writer of historical fantasy. This week, he’s releasing a new book in his Roman Empire series, Eagles and Dragons. Please have a look at the series if you are interested in Roman history or tales of politics, prophesy and adventure. (Look here for the Kobo version) The new book will be called Killing the Hydra and I’ll have a link as soon as it is published. Today, he talks about the research and travel when writing historical fiction.

Get thee to a Castle (if you can)! – Historical Fiction and Site Visits
One of the things I love about historical fiction is that it transports you to another time, place, and way of life. All from the safety of a cozy arm chair.

However, the challenge for the writer of historical fiction is to make the story as realistic and accurate as possible. This involves a lot of research, and hey, if you love history, that part is fun!

I’ve lost count of all the hours I’ve spent in libraries or my own stacks of books at home, sifting through primary and secondary sources. I’ve done the slow museum walk until my back ached and all I wanted was a glass of wine in a sun-drenched café. I’ve been all over the internet until my eyes bled from looking at photos, maps, Google Earth and Street View.

Amphitheatre of Thysdrus

And those things are extremely useful, but not so much as one thing in particular: site visits.

I love to travel, but for my fiction, it isn’t just for fun, it’s essential. I’ve found that I’m in the writing ‘zone’ when I’m describing a place I’ve actually been to. It isn’t just about what you see in a place, it’s about what you smell, and feel with your hands and feet. When you visit the actual place where your story is set, you get the sensation of the wind on your face and what it sounds like blowing through the trees and over the rocks.

You can’t get that from the internet. Not yet, anyway. Not until someone to creates a real holodeck.

Adam, about to lick the Saharan sands

I was once told by an author of historical fiction that when researching his novel on the Templars, he visited sites in the Holy Land and “licked” the stones to get a sense of their texture, shape and taste. He said this helped him a lot, though the locals looked at him strangely.

I don’t recommend licking stones, but touching them with your hands definitely helps.

In the past months, Roberto (our gracious host and slayer of spiders) has shared many pictures from his own travels to sites that figure largely in The Scourge. I’m curious what he has to say about his site visits…

Roberto? Did your site visits add a lot to your understanding of the world of The Scourge?

(Roberto: Absolutely Adam. I was reading your first few paragraphs nodding my head madly. You gain so many intangibles when you visit a place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a site visit is worth a hundred-thousand pictures. I find my best scenes are the ones that take place in the sites I have been to the most.)

The streets of Thugga

Those were great photos by the way. They really help to root the story in reality, even in the face of a zombie plague.

In my own research for Children of Apollo and Killing the Hydra, one of the most important things I did was go to the Sahara and walk barefoot over the dunes. The desert itself is a character in the books and being able to feel the sand underfoot, to pick it up and let it fall through my fingers, was fantastic; it was smooth, like sifted flour.

The archaeological sites I was able to roam through allowed me to map my story out, street by street. In Thugga (in central Tunisia), I walked with my character to the Capitol to make an offering, then to the forum where we purchased provisions, and then to the brothel where, well… you get the picture.

Actually, those site visits were worth eighty thousand words, easily!

Thugga Brothel House of the Cyclops. Where Adam . . . um . . . researched.

Of course, travel to a site is not always possible. Parts of my novels take place in what are now Libya and Algeria. Not really holiday destinations.

Apart from the fact that many ancient sites now lie in war-torn countries, the cost of getting to places is often inaccessible to most writers’ meager budgets. Sadly, travel isn’t cheap.

When I lived in Britain, it was much easier to fly to Italy from Bristol, than it is from Toronto. How about a £60 return special to Venice for the weekend? Fantastico! But now that I live on the other side of the Atlantic, those prices are not available to me.

As writers we must always find a way to put ourselves in the places we are writing about, be it in person, via the internet, books, documentaries, or by speaking with others who have been there.

The Sahara

If you are writing an historical fiction series, it’s definitely worth your while to save and make at least one trip to the place where your story is set. If you ever get the chance to go, do it. You won’t regret it and the sites and sensations you experience will carry you and your writing for a long time afterward.

The good news is that there has never been a better, more exciting time to write historical fiction than now, when so much information is at our fingertips.

Until you can get on a plane, however, keep on researching and writing, and allow your longing to get to a faraway place to fire your imagination and enrich your story.

Adam Alexander Haviaras is an author of historical fiction/fantasy set in the ancient world. He has studied history and archaeology in Canada and the United Kingdom and his both his Eagles and Dragons and Carpathian Interlude series are available from Amazon and Kobo. Adam blogs weekly on his website, Writing the Past, about ancient and medieval history and historical fiction. You can Tweet him at @AdamHaviaras or find him on Google+. He loves to hear from readers, writers, and fellow history-lovers, so don’t be shy. Contact him!

 

02/15/14
sword

Pausing from Emaculum …

. . . just a quick pause to tell everyone that I am still alive and still working on Emaculum, and to re-circulate an old interview I did for Melissa Olsen’s blog. Oh, and, hello!

Melissa Olsen: What’s the story behind the picture of you in a suit of armor?

Armor is actually making a comeback. It’s very popular in Venice and Paris. I expect that you’ll start seeing more and more of it in the U.S. very soon. The main problem is trying to accessorize in social situations. Do you use a full-jaw bevor for dinner with people you just met? Is a besegew appropriate for the theater? You really have to change your thinking, but I think it’s worth it. The reduction in violent crime alone is a great reason to try it.

 

Melissa Olsen: Do you read your reviews? Why or why not?

I’m fairly certain this woman has reviewed my book.

Yes. I read every one.  I think most writers are insecure. We crave positive feedback, thrive on it really. The negative stuff is awful, of course. I can stew over a negative review for days. But hopefully the really negative ones are few and far between. And I have come to realize that reviews reveal more about the people that write them than about the book itself.

I once read two reviews, back to back. One of them said that they loved that book, but that it wasn’t very fast paced. The other said that they liked it, but the pacing was too fast. Back to back. One after the other. I’ve also read reviews that say my story had too much description, and then a review that said the sparse descriptions weren’t enough. Oh, and there are the *really* weird ones. Ones where the reader writes two pages worth of hateful rants and insults me and my writing and everything about the book. When I read those, I think that surely I must have done something awful to them in real life. I mean, why else would they be so angry over a book? Luckily I don’t get many of those.

Melissa Olsen: Your novel The Scourge is about a zombie-like plague that spreads in the 14th century. How much were you influenced by the real-life Black Death?
I love the Middle Ages and I have since I was a child. When I decided to write a zombie story, I knew it had to be a medieval one. From there, it was an easy leap to the idea that any epidemic in the 14th century would have been compared to the plague. And though this new plague and the horrors it creates is a big part of the novel, the story is really about a knight who wants to find his wife, and the friends who are willing to risk their lives to help him. There is a lot of humor, a lot of emotion, and, yes, a lot of violence. But the medieval age was a violent time. The zombies (they are called ‘plaguers’ or ‘demons’ in the novel) are just another obstacle. Something that makes it more difficult for Sir Edward to find the woman he loves. There is quite a bit of religious symbolism in the book, and the zombies are also a big part of that.

Melissa Olsen: What’s your favorite place to work? What’s most likely to distract you (besides Facebook)?

My favorite place to work is on my glass desk, which faces a wall but has windows on either side. I am terribly easy to distract, so I have to make rules and goals for myself. I am not particularly good at sticking with those rules or meeting those goals, though. Which is why writing serials is a good thing for me. There are set deadlines for each episode. Deadlines I have to meet or everyone will hate me and I will have no friends (remember that thing I said about writers and insecurities?). The Internet is the greatest tool we writers have, and it is also our biggest downfall. It has boundless powers of information, and limitless ability to lure us away, like will-o-wisps. I spend a lot of time wandering the dark forest of cyberspace, chasing lights.

Melissa Olsen: What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

There have been a lot of scenes that I really enjoyed. Some of my favorites have to do with Tristan and Morgan, two characters who are complete opposites in ideology. There was a scene in The Scourge where a peddler is trying to trade holy relics for a horse. Morgan is overwhelmed by the thought of owning a relic and Tristan makes fun of him for it throughout the rest of the book. There is one relic in particular that Morgan traded for that caused great mirth in Tristan, and led to one of my favorite lines in the book. A lot of readers tell me they like that part too.

Another fun scene involves a mad king trying to force Tristan to put his hand into a vat of boiling oil. There’s a lot of tension in it, and we see Tristan’s humor fall away. You really get to see a different side to Tristan, who is usually laughing. I think those types of scenes, where the characters’ personalities really shine, are some of the most fun to write. But one of my all time favorite scenes is in episode 8 of the second book, The Scourge: Nostrum. Edward and Tristan are trying to escape from a tower cellar and their only option is a bit unsavory. Hilarity ensues.

 

Melissa Olsen: Someone recently asked me what character, from screen or page, I would most like to have dinner with. This became a surprisingly difficult question – apparently I like a lot of antiheroes. Who would you pick to share a meal?

That is a difficult question. There are a lot of historical figures I would love to have dinner with. Sir Edward Dallingridge, hero of The Scourge, would be the first. Edward, the Black Prince of England would be another. And William Marshall, a 12th century earl. Joan of Arc. Henry V, of course. And Eleanor of Aquitaine. Lots of people in history.

Okay, I’ve thought about it a bit. I would probably most like to have dinner with Tyrion, from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire series). He’s a little man with a huge brain and one of the funniest characters I have read. I’d also love to meet Captain Malcolm Reynolds, from Firefly (huge fan). Paul Atreides, from Dune. And, of course, Sir Tristan of Rye, from The Scourge.

Melissa Olsen: What kind of medieval weaponry are you best with?

I suppose I’m a sword guy. I have fenced for twenty five years, seven of those years quite seriously and competitively. And I spar occasionally with broadswords. I used to own a company that sold reproductions of historical weapons and armor, so I’ve done my share of stupid things with all manner of medieval steel. But the sword is the heart of the medieval tale. And there’s no weapon quite like it.

That’s the entirety of the interview. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon, promise!

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01/14/14
entertained

Hello, and a Flourish

Hey everyone! Been enormously busy with Emaculum, but wanted to get to the surface and say hello. The third and final book of the Scourge is well under way, although I may not have it finished until March. Self-pubbing a book takes a little longer when you have to do all the work yourself. But I shouldn’t complain. You guys helped fund the publishing costs, so the whining stops right now.

I’ll be publishing a humorous short story I wrote very soon. It’s something a little different. A sort of modern-day fairy tale reminiscent of The Princess Bride. Some of you who pledged a certain amount in the Kickstarter campaign will be getting a free copy.

Lastly, I sometimes get people asking me questions about writing. I really don’t do enough about the craft of fiction here on my blog. I will try to do a little more of that, for those of you interested in that sort of thing. But I won’t flood the blog with it, for those of you who are not. So, to begin, I’m reprinting a post I wrote for Jeff Wheeler (of Muriwood fame).  The post is about writing with a touch of style. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you enjoy it!

The Flourish

So, you’ve been writing stories since high school. Or maybe you just started recently. You’ve got a Nanowrimo or two under your belt and you’re starting to find your groove. And now, you’ve decided to get serious about your writing. I applaud you for it. And I will give you one piece of advice that took me years to learn:

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need flourish.

Readers can choose from thousands of different stories. Hundreds of thousands. But what they want is a story that will jump off the page. They want to be entertained. You are not a writer, you are a literary gladiator, thrilling the crowds as you knock down one sentence after the other.

“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?”

The writers of the movie Gladiator might have been speaking through their protagonist with those lines. For those who haven’t seen Gladiator, Proximo is an older man, a former gladiator who won his freedom. He owns his own gladiators now, and he tells one of them (Maximus, the story’s protagonist) this:

 “I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”

That line has always resonated with me, because it applies to every type of creative writing there is. Do not write quickly or dispassionately. Thrill the crowd. Make them love you and you will win them forever.

Maximus takes Proximo’s words to heart and when he next marches into the arena, he takes on a handful of men and kills them in dramatic and acrobat fashion. After he does so, he holds his hands up to the crowd in a moment of self-loathing and asks, “Are you not entertained?”

We have to make those acrobatic kills with our writing, but fortunately we don’t have to hate ourselves for it. Because … well … this metaphor is falling apart isn’t it?

Okay, so, how do we, as writers, make the crowd love us?

We do it with flourish, my friends. We do it with flourish.

I know my own work best, so I will provide an example from my novel, The Scourge. The protagonist, a knight named Sir Edward, is trying to goad a mob of mindless, zombie-like demons to a battlefield where his allies are outnumbered. He hopes the demons will even the odds. Here’s a section from that scene:

They pour from the millhouse in an endless stream of madness, their noses flared to the scent. I nod to Tristan and Morgan. “The mint works.”

We trot our horses away from Corringham. The legions follow behind us, staggering and screaming.

Fairly straightforward, no? Any middling writer could churn that out. It’s solid and quick. But I don’t want to kill quickly. I want to thrill the crowd. I want flourish.

At this point I guess I should explain what flourish is. Here’s how I see it: It’s the crescendo of music that gets your heart racing while you watch a movie. It’s the magician throwing his arms into the air after a masterful trick. It’s the horse rearing and pawing at the sky while the cowboy waves his hat and whoops at the top of his lungs. It’s that touch of pizazz. It’s flourish.

I wanted flourish in my scene with Sir Edward, so for the paragraphs immediately following the example above, I let my protagonist take over. And he did his best to thrill the crowd:

 In France, I often led companies of men. At Nájera I commanded the entire left wing of our formation. But I have never led an entire army out to battle. It has been a secret desire of mine. To thunder toward the French with five thousand howling men at my back, our wind-whipped standard held high above my head.

I have only five or six hundred soldiers behind me tonight. They are men, women and children, and they are not particularly fast. But they howl with the unholy power of hell. Their lurching footsteps thunder upon the heaths behind me. I hold no standard, only a smoldering flowerpot, but I have achieved my secret desire. I ride toward the French with an army.

An army of the dead.

I tried to use the most dramatic language I could, without tipping into melodrama (hopefully I succeeded). I tried to build up the tension slowly, raise the excitement bit by bit like that crescendoing music I mentioned earlier.

But flourishes don’t always required long paragraphs. They can come in the little details, too. The tiny touches you add that that bring a symphony-finale to an idea. In my epic fantasy, The Beast of Maug Maurai, one of the main characters is larger than life. He’s a grizzled old hero named Black Murrogar and I wanted to make sure readers knew that he was something special. So I added a flourish:

Murrogar sat with Ulrean today on the final leg of their journey to Nuldryn Duchy. The old warrior wore a new crimson tabard over the old, blackened mail of the King’s army, the Laraytian Standards. He wasn’t a Standard anymore, but he would wear no other armor. He’d be buried in that blackened chain. If anything ever killed him.

Did you see it? The bulk of the paragraph does a decent job of describing Murrogar, but it’s the little bonus at the end that adds the flourish: “If anything ever killed him.” A small fanfare that makes the passage resonate in a way that description alone could not achieve. Just five little words that I hope will thrill the crowd.

Want another one from The Beast of Maug Maurai? Here are a few short sentences with a flourish at the end. The setup is that a group of soldiers are fighting creatures called thrulls, and some of the creatures try to escape by fleeing into a river called the Serinhult:

  Jjarnee Kruu fired bolt after bolt from his three crossbows. He rarely missed. Thrulls fell thrashing into the water and the Serinhult carried them to another world.

It’s a subtle thing here, but it’s a flourish. The thrulls could have fallen, thrashing, into the water and been carried downstream. But they weren’t. The Serinhult carried them to another world. Flourish. Crescendoing music. Happy cowboy.

Are you not entertained?