The 50-page Rule

I am about halfway through Elizabeth Baxter’s Everwinter, Book 1. I should already be done with it, but I violated the 50-page rule early on.

What’s this rule, you ask? It’s a personal one: when I pick up a book, I give it fifty pages to grab me, no matter how much the story irritates. If, by page 51, I am still irritated, then I throw it across the room. And trust me, on some titles I have sped-read to page fifty-one just so I could throw it across the room.

But, when I first got Everwinter, I stopped reading it at about page 15 or so. Why? Because it felt like bastardized Nordic mythology, which was irritating. See, if you’re going to use a mythology, then don’t bastardize it or you will fall into Twinkly Vampire Syndrome (I’m sure you know to what I refer), which is some author trying to be all original by messing with something that is already established. Vampires don’t twinkle in the sunlight, they burn. Period.

So, why am I now back at Everwinter? Because, a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing my Kindle library and saw it and said, “Oh, let’s give it another shot, this time with the 50-page rule invoked.” And I did. And now I’m hooked.

IMHO, it takes at least fifty pages to set up a world. At least fifty. It takes hundreds more to actually build that world, something I found out when I read Kate Elliot’s Crossroads Trilogy. I had inadvertently grabbed the second book of the series, Shadow Gate, instead of the first one, Spirit Gate, and was completely baffled by page three. So I said to myself, “Self, let’s give this thing fifty pages to make sense.” Well, of course, it didn’t, but that didn’t matter because it was so damned compelling I finished it, discovered my error, and grabbed the first one. Which, if I had not developed the fifty-page rule with the second one, I would have stopped reading at about page ten because I thought it was too corny. Buuut…stayed with it and now Kate Elliot is one of my favorite fantasy authors.

And while the rule is personal, I highly recommend every reader adopt it. That’s because of the movies. Books are different than movies. Yes, yes, you are rolling your eyes and going, “Duh,” but movies, as wonderful as they are, have done books a huge disservice because movies show The Issue right up front, bright, in Technicolor in the first five minutes of the film. So now, everyone’s reading books expecting the main issue to be on the friggin’ opening page. That’s why you’re seeing all these “Opening Page” workshops, which is utterly freakin’ nuts. I’ve had people complain to me that the ship in The Ship to Look for God isn’t standing there at full attention by page ten. Maybe it will be in the Cliff Notes version, but (spoiler alert! Warning! Warning!) the ship doesn’t actually appear until about halfway through. God can build the Earth in seven days, but I need fifty pages just to get the place started.

Which brings me to another rule: if you’re going to read, read. And keep telling yourself it’s not a movie.

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