Submissions Wanted. None in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.
The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.
Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.
What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.
Download a free PDF copy here.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
- What happens moves the story forward.
- What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
- The protagonist desires something.
- The protagonist does something.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.
Michelle sends the first chapter for Desperate Tolerance. The rest of the chapter after the break.
Minnie scanned the room hoping for someone new. The same old married couples and the same desperate singles she’d known for years gathered in groups, chatting and drinking. It was as if she’d walked in on a funeral wake mourning death rather than a party to celebrate Karen’s birthday. She grabbed a glass of wine off the kitchen counter and found a quiet spot out the back. Releasing a long sigh of frustrated boredom, Minnie wished she were anywhere else but there.
“Let’s get out of here.” A stranger held his hand out to her. “You look as bored as I am. You wanna go to a real party?”
Tall, dark and shockingly handsome, Minnie felt the tug of the stranger’s mysterious magnetism. She didn’t stand a chance against the sparkle in his crystal blue eyes promising excitement and fun. Putting her wine glass on the table, she held out her hand to him. Entwining her fingers with his, he led her along the side of the house and through the front gate.
On the street, he opened the passenger door of a black BMW and Minnie got in. Now watching him walk round the front of the car to the driver’s side, she wondered if she was taking too big a risk. Sliding into the driver’s seat, the stranger looked at her and smiled, his boyish innocence calming her. There was still a chance for Minnie to get out of the car and go back to the safety of the party, but she felt glued to the seat and fixated on the stranger.
This opening passes the writing hurdle pretty well, but I had issues. One was with visualization of what’s happening. She goes “out back” but we don’t see what that entails. She puts her glass on a table that we don’t know is there. The action is compressed “telling,” and I don’t get much a feel for this character other than that she is incredibly reckless. In today’s world, what young woman would just go off with a “stranger” without knowing a name and no conversation to get to know him? For me, what happens here just wasn’t credible.
There is a story question, but for me it boiled down to what kind of trouble can this level of foolhardiness get her into, and I didn’t really care enough to want to know. At the least, I feel that this character needs to be fleshed out and properly motivated, and I didn’t think boredom rose to that level. Give us more of her and why she takes this chance. It seems to me that the stakes of blithely going off with a stranger brings risks of rape, assault, and kidnapping, to name a few that she, it appears, ignores or isn’t aware of. Those are some serious stakes that would make an interesting story if she were conscious of them and motivated to take them, but that’s not in this page.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.
Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Michelle
Giving her one last chance to change her mind, he rested his hand on her knee and asked, “Ready to go?”
Minnie nodded. She didn’t ask where they were going. They didn’t talk during the short drive through the suburban streets and onto the expressway into the city. All that mattered was that they’d escaped the dull party and were now on an adventure together. In the city centre, he turned into the basement carpark of the Metro Towers luxury apartment complex and silently escorted Minnie to the penthouse on the 30th floor. City nightlights shone spectacularly through the floor to ceiling windows.
He took her hand in his and she followed him into the bedroom. She knew she was supposed to say no on the first night, but the force propelling her to him was irresistible. She wasn’t even drunk this time. Minnie was fully aware of what she was doing and what was about to happen. Undressing her and himself, the stranger placed her delicately on the soft quilted king-sized bed. Taking powerful control of her, she could feel the knotted tension in her overburdened mind and body untangle and dissolve. He rolled off, reached for the remote on the bedside table and clicked off the light. Laying on his side, he nudged her to nestle into him. Minnie fell asleep safely wrapped in the arms of her stranger. She didn’t even know his name.
In the morning, she woke to his smiling face looking down at her. When she sat up, he bent over and kissed her on the forehead.
“I have to go,” he said.
Minnie wondered where he was going impeccably dressed in an expensive looking suit so early on a Sunday morning, but she knew it was better not to ask.
“Get dressed and I’ll take you home,” he said, and left the room.
Needing to pee and freshen up, she found the bathroom. In the mirror, she saw that her cheeks were flushed pink, her lips blooded red, her eyes clear. She looked alive. Reborn. Prepared to face him, she found the stranger sitting on the couch in the lounge room, hunched over a laptop on the coffee table.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“Where do you live?”
“Not far from Karen’s place,” she said.
Minnie’s brow frowned in confusion. “It was Karen’s party we were at last night. Don’t you know her?”
“Oh that Karen! Yes, of course I know her. Come on. Let’s go. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
This time, Minnie felt awkward on the silent drive out of the city and to her home. She knew she should say something to the man she had sex with so recently, but she couldn’t find the right words. He asked directions and when he stopped outside her house, Minnie waited for him to ask her phone number – to ask if he could see her again. Silence.
“As I said, I’m in a hurry.” He reached over and clicked opened the door. “I’ll call you when I’m not so busy.”
“But you don’t have my number,” she said.
“I have your number. Don’t worry, Minnie. I’ll call you.”
“How do you know my name? I never told you.”
“There’s no time to explain now. I have to go.”
She got out of the car and watched him drive away until he reached the end of her street and turned the corner.