Saddle up, folks - it's once again time to pick on conventional writing advice and point out why you shouldn't always take those oft-repeated words of wisdom as The Gospel According To [Insert-Famous-Author-Slash-Fabulous-Agent-Or-Editor-Here].
Beginnings are terribly important. (This part, at least, is true.) The conventional wisdom goes something like this: an agent or editor is going to give you just a little bit of time - maybe even less than a minute - to hook them with your prose. Therefore, your beginning must:
* Start with someone dying
* Blow something up
* Drip with so much voice that the reader can't hear herself think
* Be The Most Amazing Thing You Ever Write
Yes, you must have a compelling beginning. But here's the thing: once you get past that initial hurdle (Agent or Editor reads sample, requests more material, How Exciting!), the rest of your novel must be just as compelling as the beginning. Whatever bar you set with your opening has to be maintained throughout the rest of the story. How can you tell if yours works?
I was recently invited to contribute to The Page 69 Test blog, where authors open their novels to page 69, read what's there, decide whether it's representative of the tone of the entire book, and provide commentary along with a sample (or all) of the text on the page. This, in my opinion, is a fun and interesting way to evaluate the general tone of a novel (and refreshingly different from displaying, commenting on and reworking your beginning over and over and over and over...)
Does it work? Here are a few quick snippets from my own page 69s.
MASTER OF NONE
I was so dead.
Trevor stopped in front of me. “Mr. Donatti.”
He jammed the Taser against my thigh and pulled the trigger.
I went limp. Fortunately, the rope held me up. He kept the jolt short, and when he pulled back, I gasped, “Jesus Christ. Aren’t you supposed to ask me a question first?”
Trevor shook his head as if he was disappointed. This time, the damned thing juiced the side of my neck.
“Leave your manners back at the ranch?” Eddie’s smile stayed in place, but his arms folded across his chest. Where had he gone wrong? And then Gabriel remembered the name. The goddamned name.
“Well, I’m charmed.” Eddie nodded and stepped back to let him through, and he moved to the bench. Eddie added with a grin, “Looking forward to bein’ the first guy with the pleasure of beating you.”
Great. He managed a weak smile and sat down. The clock moved on, and time rushed him toward the inevitable.
Desolation engulfed Shiro as he trudged up the stairs leading to the security hub. The air around him was stifling, choking, weighed his feet down until he could barely lift them to continue on his path.
Everything was gone. His friends, profession, his alter ego, even the self-control he’d prided himself on for so long—all dissipated like so much smoke. Furthermore, he was faced with an impossible task, one he wished with all his heart had not fallen to him, the unsuccessful completion of which would end in his death.
Without knowing how much time remained until his forced departure, Shiro planned on collecting all the information Serizawa’s security force had amassed on Shonen over time. Perhaps there was something they had missed that would at least give him a starting point.
At the moment, he faced the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“I'll bet you will.” Cobalt shook his head, turned away, and headed for the center booth. The first day, he told himself, would be the hardest. Tomorrow the empty ache inside him would diminish a bit. Tomorrow he wouldn't see Will's tortured flesh every time he closed his eyes, or the look on Will's face for the moment he trusted him—like the sun breaking through clouds.
Tomorrow. But not today.
I do feel these pages are pretty accurate, as far as reflecting the various tones of the books. So, how about you - what's on your Page 69?