The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

14 August 2013

The first page of a great book

I had a spare thirty minutes the other day (very rare for me!) and decided to step into my local Dymock's booksellers. I'm embarrassed to admit it's been a while. I tend to download e-books these days as I barely have time to read, except while waiting for an appointment or riding the train, and certainly don't have time to shop. I missed the feel of real pages! I decided to have fun and read the first page of every bestseller--see if I could learn something.

None of them did it for me. I didn't turn to the next page on a single one. Was I just in a tough to please mood or what? Maybe it's because none were in my favorite genres of sci fi and fantasy.

I headed to that section, which was jammed onto half of one isle, with the paranormal romances surrounding them like a horde of scantily dressed Vandals at the gates of Rome. I like a paranormal romance now and then, but I was looking for something to make me go 'wow'. I read the first pages of a few epics I hadn't checked out before. Nah. Still not doing it for me.

I decided to read just the first line of some of my favorite books to see if it was me on that particular Thursday. I spotted the latest release of Ender's Game with the movie cover. I loved that book when I was a teenager in the '80s, so I read the first line, then the first page, turned the page...awesome. I made myself stop as I was short on time, but it was even better than I remembered. There was a Great Book.

I felt like a crappier writer than ever, but it was good to see what I should aim for. There was tension in every line. I felt the urge to bite my fingernails in worry for Ender from the very start. What are the monitors and what do they want with him? Why is his brother so evil and hateful towards him? Would his brother really harm him? Yes, definitely yes, and they're stuck in the same house!

Here's my scorecard for the few I looked at in case you want to read or re-read some great books:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - wow. read it now if you haven't and before you see the movie.
Magician by Raymond E. Feist - loved it as a kid and first page was ok. maybe.
Painted Man by Peter V. Brett - has an interesting world, but first page just ok.
Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman - very good. and it's newer, so not just nostalgia talking.
Forever War by Joe Haldeman - never read it, but that first page screamed 'great' so I will give it a go.

Have you ever done a first page test? Can you spot the greats right away?