“Open the book to page 99, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” – Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford was a writer and critic in the early twentieth century. Many consider him to be a guiding influence in the development of literature during that time.
And Ford Madox Ford was wrong.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t exactly wrong. Perhaps he is only guilty of an over-generalization in the quote above. I’m sure when he wrote that, he meant you could tell the overall quality of the writing by sampling a page from the middle of a novel. Which you can, if you are a discerning reader who understands that what you are really looking for in that one page is the quality of the writing, not the development of the plot. How many books have you read in your life that have a major plot development on every page? I know I’ve never read one.
The flaw in Page99Test.com – the website that takes the above quote as its credo – is that not everyone is a discerning reader. For example, I posted my page 99 from my most recent novel (which will be published in February by Ink n Beans Press). Based on that one page, I have received comments accusing me of everything from being anti-Christian to copying The Sixth Sense. Considering that the main character is a novelist suffering from writer’s block who has a great idea right after he kills himself, I suppose the critiques do have a certain amount of validity. However, how they arrived at that conclusion from one page – a page on which the main character doesn’t even appear – is beyond me. In any case, the critiques should be held to grammar and style. If you don’t like the way I write based on one page, I’m fine with that, but hold your tongue on the plot, please.
I’ll admit I was taking the comments a little too personally until I critiqued one particular page on the site yesterday. In it, the writer used some of the most beautiful metaphors and similes I’ve seen in a while, including one that described a girl as being as fresh and green as new Swiss chard. I loved it. When I submitted my critique, I saw the critiques of others. Many of my fellow critics felt that those same metaphors and similes were a detriment to the work. One person even said the writer shouldn’t have referenced Swiss chard because no one knows what that is. In fact, the critiques were split almost down the middle: half would turn the page and the other half would burn the book. And what was the book? Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, a novel first published in 1964 and now well-known to many a high school student in
Canada and the because of its frequent appearance on high-school syllabi. U.S.
Writers, I encourage you to post your page 99s on Page99Test.com. However, think of it as another marketing tool: people who have never heard of you will read your work, even if it is only one page. Don’t take the critiques to heart unless they are oft-repeated and have more to do with grammar and style than plotlines.
And when you are feeling discouraged, remember: one page does not a novel make.