Have you ever heard of the page 69 test? It’s a simple theory to help readers choose a book. You read page 69, and if you like it, chances are you’ll like the rest of it, too.
Page 69 may seem like an oddly specific place to use for the test, but the general idea is that while a fair amount of early exposition will have happened, it is still early enough not to give away major plot details.
I have always used a variation of the page 69 test when choosing novels to read. I don’t open to any specific page, but I will flip through the first half (usually starting with the first couple of pages) and see if the writing style grabs me.
The drawback to the page 69 test, or my flip test, is that occasionally you do discover spoilers. It’s a risk of the test. Sometimes it can be hard to connect with the moment or the characters when everything leading up to that point is an unknown. Still, I probably won’t stop doing it.
I pulled a selection of my last manuscript, Firelock, to post here as an example for the page 69 test. In doing so, I discovered another tricky thing about the test – as a writer, it’s tough to be pleased with the section that falls on page 69 when you know how the rest of the story goes. I cheated a little and chose something from page 70 (but page 1 of the word doc is a title page, so it still counts!)
This excerpt takes place earlier than the snippet of Firelock that I previously posted , before the pirates Anne Bonny and Jack Rackham become a couple and decide to cruise for plunder together . The setting is spring 1718 in Nassau, which was then a pirate haven of the Caribbean. Amid the strained political atmosphere heralding the imminent arrival of a new governor, Anne and Jack are dealing with a little tension of their own.
It’s early enough that the streets are quiet, though smoke drifts in clouds from the bakery, and voices echo across the water from one of the ships in the harbour. The water looks silver, the sky a mirror of pale gold against it, and I pause to admire the view.
“You’re about early this morning, Anne.”
Jack’s voice makes me turn. “Same to you.”
“I didn’t sleep much, and I thought maybe some fresh bread would ease the god-awful hammering in my head.”
“Drank too much?” I ask unsympathetically. All the pirates had little restraint when it came to carousing. He did look tired though, with shadows indenting the hollows under his eyes.
“All the crew did. Though he’d never admit it, Vane’s getting nervous now that they say the governor will be here any day. He posted a couple extra men on the ship to keep watch, and he alternates between railing against all authority, and cursing King George for usurping Queen Anne. He’s quite a fervent Jacobite, you know, odd though it seems.” Jack raises his hand to scratch at a mosquito bite on the side of his neck.
His knuckles are cracked with scabs and swollen, and the silver ring he wears on his index finger is bent into an oval shape, resting crookedly on his hand.
I catch his wrist and pull his hand toward me, inspecting the knuckles more closely. His left hand is nearly the same, only not quite as bad. When I lift my eyes to his, he stares back, his gaze steady and strong, unapologetic.
“Jem came home badly beaten last night,” I say slowly. “He said he got jumped in an alley.”
“The alleys of Nassau are dangerous places.”
“Jack, don’t make me ask.”
Still meeting my eyes, he tugs his wrist free of my grasp.
I know the answer already, but the question springs from my lips anyway. “Did you do it?”
“Because I loathe the bastard.”
“You’ve made that quite clear.” I take a step toward him, tilting my face back angrily. “Is this because of what I told you yesterday? Had you heard of it before? You stormed off so quickly that I couldn’t ask if Jem had been putting the idea about, looking for offers.”
The way Jack blinks looks like a flinch. “If he has said anything to anyone but you, I have not heard of it. I rather doubt he will dare even think of it now, because that is why I beat him. When you told me of his wicked plan, however drunk and insensible he might have been at the time, it made me very angry.”
His voice drops lower, almost to a growl, and his eyes blaze green. When he leans toward me, it makes me realise how close we stand to one another.
“I found I did not care for the idea at all, not even for a second.”
I lick my lips and rock back on my heels, putting some space between us. My pulse thunders against my throat. “That’s because you’re a good man, Jack, pirate or not.”
He scoffs, but I don’t give him time to respond.
“You shouldn’t have done it, though. I can take care of myself. I’ll have to now, in case Jem holds a grudge against me, even though I didn’t ask you to do this. You should watch your back as well.”
His eyes flicker at the mention of Jem’s potential grudge against me, but he shakes his head at my last suggestion. “I have nothing personally to fear from him.” His voice rises over my protest. “And I am aware that you can handle yourself. You remind me every day, and I’m glad of it. But goddamn it, woman, can you not realise that other people care for you? You don’t have to be alone all the bloody time!”
His outburst leaves me speechless, and the quiet crackles between us, until Vane’s rough voice drifts across the water, hollering for Jack. We both hear it clearly. Jack’s eyes bore into mine, and when the second call comes and I’ve still not been able to articulate my confused feelings, his mouth tightens and he starts to walk away.
Want to share page 69 of one of your writing projects? Or maybe page 6? Page 9? It’s an easy blog post! (Hey, I’m writing and researching two books at once, I need shortcuts once in a while!)
Have a great week everybody!