Turning the Page

You probably remember the recent post at Writer Unboxed that offered a look at the first page of Stephen King’s newest book and asked whether you’d turn the page. Here’s my blog post that directed you there. I was surprised and impressed that several of you guessed that was Stephen King, by the way. Even knowing that’s him, I can’t really see it. I mean, if I squint and think “COULD this be Stephen King?” I can sort of see it. But I could easily be persuaded it was someone else. This is true even though I’ve read a lot of his books, though mostly not the newer ones. The last one of his I read was Duma Key, a book which annoyed the heck out of me because of the unbelievably manipulative way King killed that woman at the end of the novel. Both the obvious manipulation of the reader and the unbelievability of the scenario involving her death bothered me a lot and that’s when I quit reading his books. Looks like he’s published 16 more novels since. Wow. He sure is fast.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is, the person who wrote that post, Ray Rhamey, does frequent posts like that at his own website, where he posts a first page and then explains whether or not he’d turn the page and why, and polls people on whether they would.

So, I mean, what could I do? The idea of sending Ray the first page of Tuyo and betting that I could make him turn the page was just irresistible. So I did. I did say I was a pro, though not at Stephen King’s level of pro-ness, in case he wanted only first pages by unpublished authors. But it turns out he’s fine with a turn-the-page challenge from a pro. So here’s his post about Tuyo’s first page.

Right away I felt I was in the hands of a pro. Strong voice, good writing. If you look at the checklist, you’ll see much of it reflected in this brief page. Setting the scene: check. Something has gone wrong for the character: check. Peril with high stakes: check. Something is happening: check.

The only desire we see is for him not to freeze . . . but to live has to be an underlying desire. Here, action is his inaction, his will to wait for death rather than flee. As for story questions, the narrative offers more than one. For me, plenty of reasons to read on.

A recommendation for you. I did read on . . . and on . . . and on. This is the first in a series, three novels so far. They were, for me, compelling. I hardly put them down for a week.

So that’s certainly satisfying!

Also, these first page examples and the polls are just interesting. There’s a lot of them here at this site, if you’re also interested in effective novel openings.

Oh, also, I notice there’s a new such post at Writer Unboxed this morning. Here’s the first paragraph of the page provided:

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for September 19, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Blood-sodden, the girl staggers into the black. Her clothes are disheveled, hanging off her young body, revealing expanses of pale flesh. Shoe lost, foot bleeding. She is in agony, but the pain has become inconsequential, eclipsed by other sufferings.

Aaagh! No!

Actually, for me, this paragraph is a bit of a turn-off because the girl’s not in good shape. But also, I do think it’s a weak paragraph. I’m bored by the advice to show, not tell, but the last sentence above is a weak example of telling. Also, as Elaine T commented here not that long ago, opening with “the man” or “the girl” is annoying to many readers. That includes me.

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9 thoughts on “Turning the Page”

  1. That’s a great result for Tuyo, going from picking up your thrown gauntlet to reading the whole book and its two sequels.

    Not a fan of that other opening paragraph… which turns out to be something of a counterpoint. She’s in worse shape than Ryo, at least physically, but it still comes off much less intense.

  2. What a good idea, to send him Tuyo’s opening! It really is compelling, and it got the whole series recommended to new readers. Very good result!

  3. Sending the first page of Tuyo really was irresistible. The instant someone says “Can you make ME turn the page?” I respond, “I bet I can!”

    You’re right, Craig, that is a counterpoint. The reader is pushed hard away from engaging with this girl, whoever she is, by the style in which that page is written.

  4. I just went and looked, and that other extract turns out to be what the character of that book is reading. It’s still badly written and I wouldn’t turn the page. If it is really from a best seller I think the author must have a reputation that sold it, I can’t see it passing agent or editor slush pile otherwise.

    Very pleased for you that the ‘Flog a writer’ person not only turned Tuyo’s page, but all the pages.

  5. Elaine, this in combination with the Stephen King page is making me want to go look at first pages for a lot of recent #1 bestsellers. They can’t all fail to be engaging. This one with “the girl” seems really pretty bad to me, but surely it’s not all reputation moving everything to the front of the list? I wonder if Ray Rhamey is specifically selecting books with not-great openings?

  6. Congratulations! The blogger obviously has excellent taste.

    I’m in the minority on the Stephen King opener; I was interested enough in what was going on that I’d turn the page if I had picked up the book for some reason. On the other hand, I didn’t actually go to Amazon to buy the book, which suggests that I wasn’t as interested as all that! The current extract is sending very strong signals that it’s not a story I want to read, but that has more to do with the subject matter than the writing.

  7. I suspect that the blogger actually has an above average ratio of good first pages. There are an awful lot of mediocre to bad books out there. Most of my reading is based on recommendations, and given a recommendation I’m more than willing to suspend judgment for a chapter or two. However, if I just randomly grabbed something off the sci-fi/fantasy shelves, if it didn’t grab me in the first page, I’d put it back on the shelf, and my experience along those lines is that the vast majority of work does not make a good first impression. I think agents and editors must be in this situation frequently. If I was doing a random sample of self-published stuff, I’d be even more skeptical. I think a lot of traditionally published stuff is mediocre to bad, and that’s at least got SOME editorial filter built in. Self-publishing lowers the bar a lot. There’s good self-published stuff, but I need a recommendation to dip my toe into it, or it needs to be a REALLY good genre match for my interests.

  8. Allan, you’re probably right. It’s been a long time since I went to a bookstore and opened books randomly to read first pages; I too get most books by new-to-me authors because of recommendations, so that’s hardly a random sample.

    Still, you’d think editors would help authors tighten up the first page if necessary. I know not all agents do editorial critiques for authors, but really I’d expect more of that from agents too if necessary. Certainly Caitlin wouldn’t let a blah first page just sit there.

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