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Novel Update – Excerpt Included

I started working on my novel again this week. It’s the first time I’ve written something new in months. I’m re-writing the first scene entirely, and this is what I have so far (always subject to change, of course):


He knows the truth. Cobus held the parchment next to the flame on his desk, the red and orange firelight twisting and pulsing as it washed over the page. Wax dripped from the candle onto the edge of the letter — slowly dripping — and outside, the sky darkened from gray to black, and the rain beat against the stone windowsill. He is planning to kill you. You must act now. Cobus finished reading the letter, stood, and touched the corner of the page to the flame, and he watched as the paper glowed golden under the intense heat, the wax seal of stag and lion melting beneath the dancing light. A gust of wind blew in through the open window, and the flame sputtered but did not die. Cobus threw the blackened paper into the hearth, the last of the orange embers choked out by gray ash, and then he turned and went over to the desk and blew out the candle. He walked across the chamber in near darkness, the room framed only by flashes of blue and white from the outside. He found the door and opened it and then clicked it shut behind him.

He made his way down a long corridor, his boots shuffling over the flagstones, and when he came to the end of the hallway, he opened another door and stepped out into the night. The sky poured rain, a cold rain, a slanting rain, and Cobus pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and hurried across the courtyard. He entered the kitchen shaking off the drops of water beading on the black wool. Smoke filled the chamber and scented the air with mutton, venison, and trout. Several boys tended the ovens, and on the far side of the room stood the cook overseeing their work. The cook stood next to the doorway leading to the great hall, and Cobus made his way toward him. Cobus slipped a brown, leather purse from his belt, and as he passed the cook, he placed the bag into the cook’s hand.

“A deer can kill a man just as easily as a man can kill a deer,” Cobus said, and he left the room as quickly as he had entered. He walked down a short hallway and opened the door to the great hall. King Lolek and his wife, Aoife, sat at a table in the lower part of the room near the central hearth. The fire crackled and sputtered, and woodsmoke drifted up to the rafters. Eight soldiers lined the perimeter of the room guarding entrance into the hall. Cobus walked up to one of the men.

“Where is Seth?” Cobus asked.

“The queen says he’s sick and is being attended to by one of her ladies,” the guard said.

“A mother knows best, I suppose. No matter. We can fetch him afterwards. Are your men ready?”

The guard nodded, and Cobus went and sat down at the table across from Lolek and Aoife.

9 thoughts on “Novel Update – Excerpt Included”

  1. Anne, I think the key to the scene and what is about to unfold happens between the chef and Cobus and what Cobus says to him.

    Joan, I like the idea. I’ve read it both ways now, separate and together, and it works well too as a stand-alone.

    I’m thinking now about the word chef and wonder if that’s an accurate term. I’ll have to go back and look that up. The word cook might be more correct for the medieval period.

  2. Yes, cook is definitely more correct. At least according to Merriam-Webster’s, the etymology of the word pre-dates the 12th century and comes from Middle English, Old English and Latin. I’ve already replaced the word in the above excerpt.

  3. It sounds really interesting. There is a good sense of menace here and dark plotting, which I really like.

    I was a bit distracted by the use of ‘and’ to join clauses and sentences together. I think occasional use in the style of Tolkien, can work well, but I felt it was a bit overdone. Tolkien tends to use ‘and’ not to just move on the narrative, but as a countering or deepening emotion or action, such as:

    “It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel.”

  4. I’ve read back through it, and I can see in some parts that it might be overused. I guess the authors I enjoy the most use that style a good bit, and I’ve kind of taken that on in my own writing. I do think some of the above excerpt could be split into more sentences instead of combining by using “and.” Which particular sentences were you referring to? I wanted to see if you were looking at the same sentences I was. Bernard Cornwell is probably my favorite author, and he uses “and” a good bit. Also, Hemingway used it as often, for example, in A Farewell to Arms:

    “The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

    That’s from the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms. Heminway uses these types of run-on sentences often throughout the entire novel.

    Would love to hear your feedback on the specific sentences, so I can analyze them a bit more.

  5. Hi Steven

    I guess it’s perhaps depends on how it’s used. I think Hemingway’s using the “ands” to contrast the soldiers with description of nature in the opening section of his novel.

    The feeling I have is that a lot of your sentences are perhaps two sentences joined by “and” such as:

    “Cobus threw the blackened paper into the hearth, the last of the orange embers choked out by gray ash, and then he turned and went over to the desk and blew out the candle.”

    Personally I would just have a full stop after ash and start a new sentence with then.

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