Thursday, January 12, 2012

"The Boy Who Shoots Crows"

Randall Silvis is a novelist, screenwriter, essayist and teacher.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Boy Who Shoots Crows, and reported the following:
It is such an interesting notion—and such a useful exercise for writers—to test whether a page chosen at random, any page, in this case page 69, fulfills its purpose, justifies its existence. Does that page illuminate character? Advance the plot? Provide necessary exposition? Or, at the least, establish setting and, in doing so, suffuse that setting with a palpable atmosphere of expectation, menace, dread, false gaiety, impending doom? Any page that fails to provide at least one of those elements should be excised, ripped out.

And so, I tested my novel not once but twice—first with page 69, and then with page 96.

And whew! I’m happy to answer yes to both pages. Yes, you can stay. Seven paragraphs in total, all working, colluding, all are welcome to remain.

Nearly all of the action on page 69 is interior action, but it casts an illuminating light on the protagonist. It shows that, even in happier times, Charlotte is quick to turn reality into an impressionist painting, part Norman Rockwell, part David Lynch.

First paragraph, page 96: Happy times no more. The search begins. We are deep in the pines, but where is the missing boy? Where is the helpless child? The gray mist of morning—not sun-limned but gray. No rosy glow this morning, no quiet ebullience of a new beginning. A pallbearer’s trudge through the scene of the crime. Also in this paragraph we get another indication of the protagonist’s proclivity for distancing herself emotionally from unpleasant circumstances.

Paragraph 2: The camera pans to a wide shot. Then tightens to a medium shot, then to a reaction shot on the protagonist as she sees what the reader sees.

Paragraph 3: She retreats into a memory, relives her therapist’s words of advice, and tries her best to implement them.

Paragraph 4: She is unsuccessful.

And so, just what does my page 69 do? It reveals character, and shows the protagonist’s desire to escape mundane reality. And page 96? It moves the plot forward a lurch or two, but, more importantly, it establishes the sense of crushing dread that will envelop the protagonist over the next 300 pages.

Am I completely happy with these pages, or with any of the 356 pages? Is a writer ever completely happy with his work? Yes—five minutes before he starts writing the story.

After that? Probably not.
Learn more about the book and author at Randall Silvis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue