BEA Swag/First Page Test

So on Halloween night when you get home, do you ever take a picture of the collected swag? Or at least dump it on the bed and ogle?

Well I don’t Trick or Treat much anymore, but here’s (most of) my BEA swag, all organized by size.

Mmm . . . free books.

When buying books, I usually avoid the back cover (spoilers!) and go straight for the first-page test. Judging a 80,000-word document on the basis of one page may seem cruel and unusual, but I’ve found that most books reveal a lot about themselves in that first minute. At least, they reveal more than real-live human beings when you first meet them. A human, after all, might just be having a bad day.

So here’s a quick BEA-swag-related First Page Test for your delectation.

Chain Mail, by Hiroshi Ishikazi (Tokyopop)
(fourth from right, bottom row)

I stood in front of the mailbox and cried. Snow fell around me, frosting my hair and shoes, slowly blotting out the words of the test results I held in my hands. Out of over twenty-five thousand test-takers, I had placed first in Japanese, Mathematics, Science, Basic Studies, and General Studies. I had finally made it.

But it was too late. My mother was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. If I had only studied harder, if I had only gotten these results a month earlier, maybe it would have made a difference.

Melting snow slid down my back. I shivered, remembering the sound of flesh striking flesh . . .

Things that brought me in:

1) “I stood in front of the mailbox and cried” is a lovely first sentence. We are somewhere specific, and something specific is happening.

2) I like “frosting” a lot, because it’s being used in a slightly unusual way, and is strong visually. And there’s something perfect about the snow alighting specifically on the character’s “hair and shoes.” Hair, because it reveals that she’s not wearing a hat—she just stepped out to grab the eagerly awaited mail. And shoes, because she’s looking down at the letter, and also because she’s crying—staring at your shoes is not usually a sign of happiness. (I’m assuming the protag’s a girl because of the cover, by the way.)

3) Wait, she’s crying because the test results are perfect? Brain was ready for the opposite. Unexpected is good.

4) The second paragraph sets off a wave of micro-mysteries for the reader. How did her test results make her mother go away? And is her mother dead, or something else?

5) “Melting snow slid down my back. I shivered, remembering . . . ” is a cool way to physicalize the bad memory. And “flesh striking flesh” is definitely bad, bad, bad.

Things that kicked me out:

1) The construction “test-takers” is clunky to me. Like, why not say “students”? I mean, we know this is about testing. You could just say “Out of twenty-five thousand, I had placed first” and it would make sense. Still, the term is probably just a literal move from the more elegant Japanese. Translations get a few extras free passes, because I like the odd feel of an ocassional literalness.

2) Maybe we’re going a little too quickly into the explanation of this little micro-mystery? I’m not a fan of flashbacks that start before we’re fully in a scene, which always seems stagey.

These are minor quibbles, though. I’d definitely keep going.

I’ll be doing more of these soon. It’s a fun and easy way to dispense writing advice. But I won’t be doing any American authors, for reasons that I will soon reveal.

And in fairness, I’ll be putting up my own first page soon . . . Extras‘, that is. So you can mock it to your hearts’ content.

53 thoughts on “BEA Swag/First Page Test

  1. Extras is pretty good. I got the second draft due to a mistake involving Scott’s crashing computer.

    My favorite character is Moggle. Haha.

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