The Trials And Tribulations Of A First Time Novelist

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At present I have one book well and truly finished (Shadow of the Raven). It has been professionally edited, and is now published on Amazon. I’m currently working on the final sections of Book 2 of the trilogy (Pit of Vipers) and hope to have that on Amazon before too long.

I have to admit that my writing speed has improved with Book 2. Shadow of the Raven seemed to take forever: I wrote and rewrote, deleted and saved, or totally scrapped so much of it. I can say with all honesty that my ‘Deleted’ file is almost a novel’s worth in itself!

But for Book 2, much of the basic research into the historical events and everyday life in the mid ninth century has already been done, and my writing style, storyline and characters have taken shape. So I feel much more confident in getting my ideas down this time around. That is not to say that the writing now just flows effortlessly to the computer keys with every scene. With some sections it does, but there are many new settings, situations and characters to be described and developed in Book 2 – and, of course, hopefully made to sound interesting – if not totally intriguing!

For experienced authors, many of the things I’ve agonised over are not an issue. Though I found little difficulty with viewpoint and character depiction, the development of the plot was a different matter. I knew what my story was about and what I wanted to include, but I soon learned that the story was not the same as the plot. Keeping the right balance between action scenes, emotional and humorous ones – or even those just necessary to move the story along – needs detailed planning, as well as careful consideration of the ‘show don’t tell’ element. Thankfully, I do love writing dialogue, and find it a wonderful way of ‘showing’ the many facets of characters.

Please bear in mind that I’m still new to the novel writing business. I have no doubt that many of you out there could easily write pages on the points I’m trying to make here. What I’m really saying is that novel writing is a long, slow learning process, and at the beginning I think it’s normal to struggle with the intricacies of the job. Me . . . well, I even whittled about word count, for goodness sake!

With regard to the latter, many of the scenes in my ‘Deleted’ file are there by virtue of my own editing once the book was finished. On consideration of the length of my original manuscript (which had grown to become a great monstrosity of a thing!) I set about deleting scenes I thought unnecessary to the continuation of the plot. For me, that was hard, since everything I had written was there because I liked it – and had taken time to do in the first place. Still, the over-long tale had to be shortened somehow.

But I love writing and no matter what ‘trials and tribulations’ I meet along the way, I know I’ll persevere. I have several ideas for future novels, but right now I’m focusing on getting my Sons of Kings trilogy finished.


I’d like to share one of the deleted sections here. It would have featured towards the end of what is now Chapter 4 of Shadow of the Raven. It’s a battle scene – something I really wasn’t looking forward to doing in the first place – in which King Aethelwulf of Wessex defeats the marauding Dane, Rorik.

Rorik’s raids play a vital part to the future events of the story, but I found that by removing the entire chapter in which this scene featured, I not only saved words but was able to move the main plot along quicker. The results of the battle are revealed indirectly in the following chapter. I still have qualms over whether I should have left it in. Anyway, here’s the scene:


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The Battle of Aclea

An owl screeched its alarm, flapping from a low branch to glide like a spectre between the oaks of the woodland behind. One of the horses whinnied in response to the harsh cry and King Aethelwulf prayed the sound would not carry to the enemy below.

Entrusting their mounts to a handful of men until the battle was done, Aethelwulf and his hundred warriors crouched at the top of a gentle slope, taut as bowstrings; shields slung across backs, two or three javelins held inside each, and swords hanging from baldrics. Beyond the slope, the shadowy plain stretched for less than a mile before rising to the wooded ridge. Along the foot of the ridge, remnants of watch fires threw muted light on the edge of the camp. Aethelwulf hoped the guards would be too drowsy at this hour to be vigilant.

The eastern sky was paling fast; at sunrise the camp would rouse, the element of surprise lost. Scanning the top of the ridge, praying that Osmund and Aethelbald’s men were waiting, he raised his arm, the signal to advance down the slope.

Stooping low they moved in silence, crouching at intervals behind scrubby gorse and bramble, panted breaths evidence of heightened tensions as inevitable combat neared. The shouted alarm came as they moved across the open ground in the growing light of imminent dawn, the camp now less than a hundred yards away. The Danes swarmed from their tents, howling to their gods; hurling spears and rocks at their rapidly nearing assailants.

‘Shield wall!’ Aethelwulf yelled.

The manoeuvre into the tight wall was instant; two rows deep, shields overlapping, left sides over right. At Aethelwulf’s side in the centre of the front line the standard bearer hoisted the Wessex banner, the great white dragon on its backdrop of red, eliciting jeers and hammering of spears on shields from the Danes, now lined in their own defensive wall barely twenty five yards away. But, as Aethelwulf had hoped, few wore body armour: shields and helmets were all the late alarm had afforded.

The drumming on shields abruptly ceased and an ominous silence pervaded the plain. Warriors stood rigid, muscles flexed for the opening strike.

The first spears whistled as the two lines strove to weaken each other’s defences. Most flew overhead. Some glanced off shields; some slammed into them and held fast. A few struck unresistant flesh. Men screamed and fell.

And the gaps in the shieldwalls reclosed.

Gradually the missiles lessened, then ceased, and Aethelwulf moved forward a pace, his eyes fixed on a bull-necked figure standing prominently in the enemy front line. ‘So… the straggling remnants of Rorik’s warband think to challenge the might of Wessex!’ he mocked. ‘Naked raven chicks are no match for the clutch of the dragon!’

Rorik stepped out and threw open his arms. ‘We quake in our boots at the prattle of a deranged old man!’ The Danes wailed in mock terror. ‘Look closely at what you face, great king. Naked of armour we may be, but we are double your number. Yet you think to better us!’ He threw back his head and roared, the sound a chilling mix of derisive laugh and snarl. ‘Our chicks enjoyed pecking the eyes from your Saxon whores and butchering the curs you call men! And your gold will serve us well.’

Aethelwulf snorted. ‘Your murderous hordes have gained no more than a few captives and a modicum of plunder from poor homesteads. Saxon gold will never be within your thieving grasp.’

Rorik seethed, Aethelwulf’s denigration too accurate to deny. ‘Say your prayers to your god old man. Your mangy carcasses will feed the buzzards!’

The clash of colliding armies defiled the peace of the dawning day. Weapons thrust through gaps between shields, stabbing and slashing at legs, feet and faces, maiming exposed flesh and bringing men down, creating crucial breaches in the enemy wall. Danes dropped like swatted flies, despite outnumbering the Saxons two to one, their lack of body armour costing them dear. Aethelwulf fought with the vigour of a warrior half his age, his focus on Rorik. But gradually the craven jarl retreated behind his men, safe from Wessex swords.

Then Osmund’s hundred men were careering across the plain. Panicked, too many Danes turned to counter the oncoming wave, ignoring the continued frontal assault. Beset from front and rear the already depleted Danish force stood little chance and Saxon warriors showed no mercy. The battle was soon over.

Shouts alerted Aethelwulf to the group of riders fleeing from the empty camp towards the Roman road, Rorik’s swarthy bulk in their midst. But Saxon mounts had not yet been retrieved, and Aethelwulf could do no more than watch the riders fade into the distance. Tracking them down would be futile. Though he knew Rorik would head eventually for Thanet, Aethelwulf could not spare the men to cover the myriad, minor tracks he might take.

They buried their dead with Christian prayers and full honour; those men had given their lives for Wessex. Enemy corpses were relieved of their spoils and left where they’d fallen, a feast for the scavengers.

‘Gather their horses,’ Aethelwulf yelled. ‘Take whatever we can make use of from the tents, then fire them. Then we head home.’


Whether or not I did the right thing in deleting this, it’s too late now. The book is published. But I’ve brought attention to it here simply to add weight to what I said about the long, slow learning path towards becoming an experienced and, hopefully, good novelist. In this instance, deleting a great chunk of this chapter rid me of 1,526 words (the battle scene itself is 879 words) but at the expense of causing me some pangs of regret – not to mention annoyance at myself for wasting time writing it in the first place.

*****

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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3 Responses to The Trials And Tribulations Of A First Time Novelist

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Writing a Trilogy | Millie Thom

  2. I have passed this point in the book and didn’t miss it. But, now I am enjoying it and would have like it there.

    • milliethom says:

      Hi, Dinata. Yes, fortunately, I’m well passed that stage now, too. I have two books on Amazon and am writing the third at the moment. I certainly know more about the writing business than I did a year ago, when I wrote this post. Thank goodness! Lol. 🙂

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