I started Wind Age a year ago this month, as near as I can figure. Since it’s being beta-read right now, it’s on my mind a lot even apart from the anniversary, so my posts this month are going to be, with perhaps the usual digressions on the deplorable state of art in this century, mostly about this story.
First, I have a confession to make. I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction, and next to nothing set in this period. Writers are told to read extensively in their genre, to get to know how it’s done and what sells and what readers of that genre like that makes them read it and not something else. I haven’t done that, mainly because I want to avoid writing genre fiction. I’d rather not be influenced by the popular things or the tropes that show up so often. I have heard of people like Rosemary Sutcliff but not read their books (though it sounds like I should because hers are good literature on their own). So I’m not very familiar with what most readers of historical fiction like or think.
This could be a problem. A couple of my beta-readers, who as of this writing now have the fourth chapter, have said my opening is slow. They’ve been quick to say they don’t find it a big problem, though other people might. And I, with my lack of experience with historical fiction, have to stop and think.
Is a slow opening normal in this genre? Does showing the normal pace and details of life in such-and-such a period work for readers who are looking for something set in the past? (It seems safe to assume that they are, since they’re knowingly and willingly reading historical fiction.) And so on.
A good explanation for the slow plot in the beginning might be that I was going to start the story in what is now the middle, and then I found I was having to cram a lot of backstory in, then that the backstory was worth giving a proper place in the story, being quite unusual and hard to summarize without leaving out all kinds of important parts to it. So I moved the beginning back about a decade or a little more.
Another explanation could be that since, when I started it, I didn’t know where it was going to end up, and so I was sort of wandering around putting in everything that might prove later to be important. It is true that I didn’t know how the ending was going to be until I was about three-quarters of the way through. But in writing the story I was far from aimless. Alfhild knew where it was going and went there.
Still, neither of these answers for why the beginning is slow do a whole lot to help tighten it up.
Readers, do tell! What is your favourite work of historical fiction? (Do you know of any good ones set in seventh-century England?) How do slow beginnings make you feel? (Now this is for posterity, so please be honest.)
Quote is one of Oskar’s, from the Wingfeather Saga.