1st Page Critiques & Mark Lawrence

So author Mark Lawrence has made a little collection of critiques for amateur authors and I read through the lot of them after being forwarded the link. I thought I would post it below because I found it to be an interesting concept. Maybe I was in a funny mood this day, because the idea got its hooks in me. It is no doubt a brave and noble endeavor on his part.

At first the idea horrified me – to be judged on your first page alone sounds even worse than submitting to agents. At least your query letter is especially constructed to meet their needs. A good opening can definitely grab readers (for an example, I found a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart sitting next to the microwave at a private school I was teaching in recently. Apparently no one on staff knew who he was. I flipped it open and the first line was: “I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.” Amazing! Seems like a paradox and I’ve only read four words) but at the same time an excellent novel does not need a thrilling opening if it proves itself excellent. I completely forget the first paragraph of Crime and Punishment, but that is in no way indicative of the quality of the book.

Then I found it interesting and horrifying. As an author who is serious about getting noticed for my epic fantasy debut, where would I stack if I had the balls to submit (which I don’t)? Purge of Ashes has an excellent pace to it, this I trust. It developed from a script serving the story beats of an action movie and a compliment of this ilk was the first response I got from Realmwalker. But the first page? The book ramps up the action pretty quickly, but page 1 of the Prologue is less ‘exciting’ and more ‘critical detail’ necessary to appreciate much of what is to follow (how is clear come the 2nd or 3rd chapter). If I don’t start with a robbery, a murder, a chase or a hunt, are readers going to put my novel down?

I relaxed once I read a few of the first pages. Not enough to submit, mind you, but enough. While Lawrence describes himself as viscous and not pulling any punches, he comes off gentle enough in my estimation. Certainly on #5, despite questioning the author’s language of origin. These are worlds apart – and what’s more his preamble explains that the point is not to prove what works and what doesn’t – it is to provide assistance to anyone who faces similar challenges in writing. A one-man Dragon’s Den (or Shark Tank if you get American TV). Mostly right all the time.

What I realized from my fear and recovery was was that in importance hardened fans defeat the first few pages. Gain hardened fans and hardened fans will spread your wares. They will urge others on no matter what section of your novel they may struggle with. I have no doubt that Lawrence would be incredibly popular regardless of how hair-raising the first pages of Prince of Thorns are. My chief inspiration is the Malazan Book of the Fallen and if there is one thing that ought to be gleaned from the increasing fandom of this superb series it is that rabid fans can badger the most baffled and un-hooked readers into anything if there is gold buried beneath.

So I say bury the gold. If it shines bright enough, it will be found.

Anyway, here is a link to all of the critiques.

JM

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