(guest post on the CSFG blog)
When I set out to write a first novel (or, rather, to finish writing a novel for the first time, having started and abandoned several), I had been writing and selling short stories for a number of years and was conscious of the vast difference in breadth and complexity of storytelling from shorts to novels. Perhaps too conscious.
I wanted to write an Australian novel and, specifically, I wanted to set it in a magical, colonial-era alternate Australia that I’d been developing through some of my short stories. So, I started looking at historical events that I could fictionalise. This was a mistake. Why? Because real life is way more complex than fiction.
I had settled on an alternate history of the Eureka Stockade gold miners’ rebellion, in Ballarat, Victoria in 1854, in large part because of the ready-made set of larger-than-life participants. The problem was that these events had far more players, major and minor, than I – as a first time novelist – could comfortably manage, far more that most writers who aren’t George R. R. Martin would ever create to populate a story that is entirely fiction. The result was that, even after massively cutting and consolidating real-world characters and their interweaving threads for my fictionalised story, I still ended up with a first draft that was 229,000 largely meandering words of a 100,000 word novel.
Which isn’t to say that you should never set out to write a historical novel or, as in my case, a fantasy novel that jumps off from real historical events. Historical fiction and alternate history are both thriving genres and many writers deliver those stories very well. (Have you noticed how historical novels have a tendency to be big fat books, though? And yes, Mr Rutherfurd, we’re looking at you.) Rather, this was a bad decision for me.
So, what went wrong?