Can you pass the 69 Test?
No, I am not going to talk about sex again. Not even bad sex, which as we writers know is a helluva lot more fun than good sex. I want to talk about finding the heart of your story. And to do that, you have to try this little exercise:
Get out your book. (For our purposes here, "book" means published or un, completed or not. "Book" is that thing that has been keeping you up lately.)
Open it to page 69. Read what is there. I don't care if it's a full page or the last two lines of a chapter. (If you hit a blank page, you have permission to use either 68 or 70 but that's as much cheating as I allow.)
This page -- this single page -- capsulizes your entire book.
You don't believe me, do you. I didn't believe it either until I tried this experiment. I did it at the request of Marshal Zeringue, executive director for the Campaign for the American Reader. Marshal has this terrific blog wherein he promotes reading. Sez Marshal: "The goal of this blog is to inspire more people to spend more time reading books. I'll try to do that by shining a little light on books that I like and think others might find worthy of their time and attention."
He also came up with the Page 69 Test. He was inspired by Marshall McLuhan's suggestion that you should choose your reading by turning to page 69 of a book and, if you like it, read it. Marshal tried it with Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale, and was so taken with the results he devised the Page 69 writers challenge.
On his blog, he has asked dozens of writers to answer the question: Is your page 69 a good place to get a sense of your book?
At Marshal's request, I took up the gauntlet and cracked open our most recent, An Unquiet Quiet. Here is our page 69:
As Charlie Oberon staggered closer into the light, everything came into focus. His bloody sweatshirt. A woman’s lifeless, naked body. Charlie’s long fingers pressed into her thighs. Arms hanging limp, shreds of dark wet leaves stuck to them. Her hair...long, blond and thick with blood.
“She won’t wake up,” Charlie cried. “She won’t wake up.”
Louis broke into a run toward him.
It's the end of chapter 8. Does it give a good sense of the book? I'll say only that I went into this experiment a sceptic and emerged...
Well, hop over to Marshal's blog and find out. And check out some of the other entries. They're fascinating. Especially N.M. Kelby's analysis of her book "Whale Season." Her page 69 is blank. She says it speaks volumes.
Okay...back to your own page 69. How does it work for you? What is there on this one single page that somehow serves to represent the very heart of your book? Think hard. It's there. If it's not? Well, maybe, just maybe, you haven't really found the heart of your book yet.
Let me know what you found out. We'll print them here.