Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Page 99 Litmus Test

So I picked this up from the lovely June and Noelle--both writer-friends picked up from ye olde webernet: page 99 as the litmus test for the novel, the page upon which you can base your opinion with neither the rush of just-starting giddiness nor the tumult of the climax nor the cosyness of denouement. To quote its originator, Ford Maddox Ford, turn of that last century English novelist, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

After reading these ladies' entries, I thought I would give it a whirl myself. Do you want to know what page 99 of my currently-being-queried project is? The big reveal, the grand test of quality for the whole novel? In my formatted manuscript, it is:

..."and acknowledged, 'I, as well.' "

Yes, that's right. Page 99 is one of those awkward spillover pages before a new chapter starts. Five lines of acquiescence, and that's it.

It doesn't exactly make me want to read more. Unless the font was a really good one.

But to play fair, and post something worthwhile, and bare my literary soul to anyone willing to read, let's take a look at page 98, shall we? (Setting--Charleston, 1780 for those unfamiliar.)

The Reverend began the prayer to close the service, and though Anna bowed her head, she did not think of prayer, but of the feeble magnolia leaf overflowing in the wake of the much stronger rain and of her own helplessness. It was not only her physical inability to escape the conflict that was no longer a distant war belonging to men leagues away, she realized as the Lord’s Prayer rose on a hundred voices around her. What provoked her was her was her inability to own her place in the rising tides. Her brother was a part of the war, as was Benjamin--they forged their own places within it. Yet it was only happening around her, changing her reality as a flood changes the course of a riverbed.
Anna realized that the women had begun to rise from the benches and gather their children, while the men had broken ranks to retrieve their hats. The mistress of the house, whom Anna heard called Mrs. MacIntyre, emerged in the midst of the women as they moved toward the steps.
“Please, if you will consider sewing a few shirts for the army, or providing old linens for bandages?” She grasped hands fervently and nodded in encouragement as women offered their time and fabric. “I’ll host a little sewing circle here tomorrow afternoon, if anyone would like to work at their shirts here.”
“Marjory, why don’t we come?” Anna found herself saying before she had thought through the proposal herself.
Marjory seemed taken aback by the idea. “I suppose we could,” she conceded, “though I don’t know the first thing about sewing shirts.” She raised a single, delicately arched eyebrow at Anna.
“I don’t either,” Anna laughed. She grew more serious as she added, “But to think that they might aid our brothers, or some other boy--man--gives me some comfort.”
Marjory did not balk at Anna’s frank words, but merely nodded and acknowledged, “I, as well.”

A couple comments:
  1. Funny, because this isn't intended to be a Christian inspirational novel, and this is the only church scene in it. I wonder--would a reader judge the entirety of the book as having a Christian overtone from this page? My intention was more to acknowledge the active role of religion in the lives of eighteenth century individuals and in the American Revolution--on both sides, actually. Though this is a preacher with Patriot sympathies, Anglican ministers prayed with their congregations each week for the health and victory of King George.
  2. Strangely, most of the main characters actually do get mention here. And one rather extraneous character, too.
  3. This is probably one of my favorite scenes, atmospherically speaking, in the MS--it's a Sunday church service gathering on the porch of a fancy house during a rainstorm. I love it because I actually attended church service at a reenactment on the porch of a fancy plantation house during a light drizzle--there are images neatly lifted from that experience. There are others I did not include, namely having ones' nose run profusely during the sermon because of the chill.

What do you think of the Page 99 Test? How do you test out books before buying or picking at the library?


missbluestocking said...

I laughed so hard when you shared with us how page 99 really started off for you. To tell you the truth, I had to manipulate the font a bit (shrink it from size 12 to 10), so that I would no longer be at the scene in page 99 where one of THE big scenes occur. That would be a total spoiler.

Good point about whether the church scene would make your work seem like an overall Christian inspirational. I don't think that'll be the case. It's not preachy at all. And we know that religion played a big role in the period you're writing in. So, not having that church scene would be odd. And I loved it! I could picture the scene transpiring so well. It was just--stunning. Like I mentioned in my reply to your comment on my blog--I love small details of everyday life. And you capture the life of an ordinary man and woman so well in this scene. The women rising from the benches, gathering the children, and the men getting their hats. I felt like I was IN this scene.

I hope you'll share more of your work with us--oh wait. The LTWF girls were just talking about your work. We'll send our critiques to you as soon as we can. Thanks for being so patient :)

Connie said...

I love the idea of the page 99 litmus test. In fact, I liked it so much that I blogged on it too. But, I did credit you and included a link to your blog. (I hope that was okay.)

Arabella said...

cool idea, thanks

Rowenna said...

Thanks for stopping by--and of course you can keep the idea going, Connie! Will read yours, too :)