Friday, June 29, 2012

Page 99 or What can one page tell you?

While at Uncle Hugo’s last weekend with Jon Hansen, he told me about the book he was reading, “The Forever War.”

“How is it?” I asked.
He handed a copy to me off the shelf. Duh. We were standing right in front of it. I did what I do with any book I’m considering. I opened and started reading. In this case, it was page 1, and this was the line:

"Today we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man."

That’s a damn good line, I thought. I’d buy that book. (Fortunately Jon has agreed to lend me his copy when he’s done.)

So apparently, when book shopping, I don’t really give most books a big chance. I don’t want to read a hundred pages to decide if it’s a good book or not (I know many people who do). But—if the line or paragraph gets my attention, if the writing is so good I want to turn the page and see what happens next—I might purchase the book. If not, the book goes back on the shelf. 

This made me wonder about my writing—and I’ll ask you writer-types the same questions. So what happens when you pick up your work and open to any page and read any line or paragraph? Do you like what you find and want to keep reading? Will your readers?

For me and my own work, it depends on the page. I sometimes am surprised and think, “Gee, that’s good. Where did that even come from?” Other times I want to put my own work back on the shelf (but I can’t. It means back to the writing desk).

And then of course, there is always this site:

It’s based around this saying:
“Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”
~Ford Madox Ford

It’s an interesting idea. Check it out. If you create an account, you can read other people’s page 99 from their books (mostly unpublished)—or upload your own page 99 and get feedback. I’ve gone to it a few times, to check out what other writer’s have posted there. After reading each sample you can give feedback, most importantly, about whether or not you’d buy the book, or turn to the next page. I might be a tough grader, but for most of the samples I read on my last visit to I wouldn’t turn to the next page or buy the book in 9 times out of 10. Why?

In some cases it was “thick text” (one unrelenting descriptive paragraph filling the entire page), unrealistic or forced dialogue, telling vs. showing, unlikeable characters, characters who are doing nothing, great descriptions with no true character motivation, and so on. Or in other words, not great writing.

It’s not easy being a writer, but it’s also not easy being a reader. We’re all busy people, and if I (the reader) am going to take the time to read your stuff, you’d better be good, and you’d better be entertaining, and your writing has to be alive on the page, every single page. It’s got to be poetic, or funny, or scary, or (pick your favorite emotion), or contain likeable characters and an actual story. Or we’re not turning the page, and we’re not buying your book. And as the author, I think that stinks. But I also know that’s the name of the game. Why do you think I spend all this time editing and revising?

For fun I decided to post page 99 of my unpublished book BLACKHEART here:

Please feel free to check it out. Leave feedback if you’d like. Check out other authors on the site, or even post your own page 99 if you are searching for feedback. Again, you’ll need an account to do this. There are ground rules for the site, so read them carefully if you do set up your own account.

I debated about also putting up page 99 of my new book-in-progress, SUNLIGHT. But, it’s too new, still a first draft. I haven’t even entirely settled on which page will actually be page 99. But, I did look over that page in my rough manuscript, and it made me realize this: to make this page in my book work, to make it really stand out, sing, carry the story, I’ve got more work to do. 

Back to writing.

Happy 4th of July!



Lisa said...

Did you get any good feedback? Was it really pg. 99?

Mark Teats said...

It was really page 99.

I've gotten 67% positive feedback thus far. Some of the comments are odd. People speculate (incorrectly) on what the book or characters are about based on that one brief page. A bit like when you share a few pages out of your novel in a workshop, and people want lots more detail. "If you read the 98 pages that came before this one, you'd have a much greater understanding by reading this one page." It's kind of funny, in some ways. My favorite comment so far was the one that said, "Probably wouldn't read this book. I don't like paranormal romance." (Which is about the last way I'd categorize my own book.)

Jon said...

It's amazing how unhelpful people can be sometimes. "More detail? ...Thanks."