Here’s a recent “Flogging the Pro” post from Ray Ramey at Writer Unboxed: Flog a Pro: Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?
Here’s the first part of the page:
Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.
Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.
And I actually like this a lot. It reminds me of … something. I’m trying to think what. This opening, with “Back in the day, when this and that, when the other, when this other thing …” and then bringing the reader actually into the pov right at the end of the paragraph … definitely reminds me of something. Not just “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” although that is actually similar. Something else.
This also appeals to me. I like the way this starts very wide and then abruptly narrows, and I like the way we start with a huge thing — “her life was over” — and then immediately transition to something very prosaic — making her child’s lunch.
Now, I mean this appeals to me stylistically. In other ways, this opening makes me suspicious. Is this some sort of grindingly depressing literary novel about the hopelessness of finding meaning in life, or something like that? Because ha ha ha no, not interested in that at all, and these paragraphs sure look like they could go that way.
Here’s the rest of the first page:
Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.
Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.
Madeline was that kind of child — [snip]
I’m still torn.
Giving advice to a child who is, perhaps, a genius: okay.
Telling this child that most people are awful: Good God Above, woman, what is wrong with you?
So, stylistically, this is very good. The writing is definitely solid. I like this a lot, in that way. But wow, I am repulsed by the protagonist. Would I turn the page? Yes, I would. Would I expect to read more than one chapter? No, I would not.
Okay, I’m going to click through and hit the “yes” for turn the page, even though I strongly doubt that I would actually read this book. I don’t know what book this is or who wrote it yet — I haven’t looked — and I haven’t yet looked at Ray Ramey’s comments either.
Okay, he voted Yes-ish, but for different reasons than mine. About 80% of readers would turn the page. I’ve never heard of the author, but nothing surprising there, of course. Great heaping gobs of authors I’ve never heard of.
What did you think of the first page?