Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.
Here’s the question:
Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.
So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page in a bookstore or online.
Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.
This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for October 23, 2016. How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the first chapter.
Wow!” I can remember saying as soon as Vivian stepped out of the bathroom and showed me the positive result of the pregnancy test. “That’s great!”
In truth, my feelings were closer to… Really? Already?
It was more shock than anything, with a bit of terror mixed in. We’d been married for a little more than a year and she’d already told me that she intended to stay home for the first few years when we decided to have a baby. I’d always agreed when she’d said it— I wanted the same thing— but in that moment, I also understood that our life as a couple with two incomes would soon be coming to an end. Moreover, I wasn’t sure whether I was even ready to become a father, but what could I do? It wasn’t as though she’d tricked me, nor had she concealed the fact that she wanted to have a baby, and she’d let me know when she stopped taking the pill. I wanted children as well, of course, but she’d stopped the pill only three weeks earlier. I can remember thinking that I probably had a few months at least before her body readjusted to its normal, baby-making state. For all I knew, it could be hard for her to become pregnant, which meant it might even be a year or two.
But not my Vivian. Her body had adjusted right away. My Vivian was fertile.
I slipped my arms around her, studying her to see if she was already glowing. But it was too soon for that, right? What exactly is glowing, anyway? Is it just another way of saying (snip)
My vote and notes after the fold.
This is Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks. Was this opening page compelling to you?
My vote: no.
The review average on Amazon for Two by Two was 3.9, lower than I would expect for a bestseller. This easy-going opening made me think that this story was on the literary side of the spectrum. While my writing is far from literary, I have read and appreciated literary novels. But this one? Not so much.
As readers of this column know by now, I’m interested in finding story questions in the narrative, the “what happens next” kind that makes me turn the page. Also, per Donald Maass’s advice, something to engage me with the character.
If you see a story question here, please point it out to me. Not only did I not wonder what would happen next, I found that it didn’t matter much to me. I subscribe to author Steven James’s notion that you don’t have a story until something goes wrong. Here, there’s a little hint that maybe, possibly, but who knows? The baby entering their lives could change them. Well, yeah. And . . . ?
I’m a dad, and I was there all the way for the delivery of one of my children (the last one popped out too quickly), and the narrative evokes those times. But to what end? I read the first chapter, and nary a story question surfaced for me. As it seems to often happen, the first page foreshadows what is to come—even if it’s nothing much. No page turn for me.
Turn the page for free by utilizing Amazon’s “Look inside” feature, and I recommend doing that if you have the time and interest. Two by Two is here.
Stop by my Monday “Flog a BookBubber” feature Flogging the Quill. BookBub is a website that offers free or very low cost ebooks. It is heavily used by self-publishers, though established authors are sometimes there.
We often see the meme on the Internet that self-published authors should have had editing done before they published. So the new Flog a BookBubber posts take a look at opening pages to see if that’s true. You can vote on turning the page and then on whether or not they should have sought an editor. Visit on Mondays and take a look.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!