Submissions Needed. 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.
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 list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.
Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.
- Story questions
- Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
Kathleen sends the first chapter for Nothing Ever Adds Up. The rest of the chapter is below the fold.
The phone in her lap vibrated for the fifth time. Sandy checked the screen, certain it was FBI Special Agent in Charge Earl Pittman. She’d purposely let him go to voice mail four times in the last hour. She knew she had to answer it, but she’d never had the opportunity to speak in private. A few minutes ago, they’d pulled off Interstate 95 to get gas. Right now, Ellis was out at the pump. Here was her opportunity. Sandy quickly unfolded herself from the roadster, rounding the front of the car with long strides. She called out, “Ellis, I’m going for a pee.” She answered the phone as the convenience store door closed behind her.
“Where the hell are you, Walsh?” Pittman said.
He talked so loud she had to back the phone away from her ear. “I...we’re on our way to Miami. We’re driving...we just stopped a few minutes ago to get gas.” She looked between the beer posters taped on the plate glass window. The sun was at that irritating place in the sky halfway to sunset where you had to avert your eyes or risk blindness. Squinting through its glare, she saw Ellis insert the nozzle into the tank. “I think we’re...umm...somewhere in North Carolina.”
“I already know that from your phone’s GPS. Why are you going to Florida?”
“I’m still trying to get clarification on that. All she mentioned so far is that she has some personal business to take care of in Miami.” Pittman said nothing so Sandy continued, “Ellis (snip)
I think the writing is just fine on this, so no notes there. But I do have a few issues. One is a clarity problem: in the last paragraph the narrator says “All she mentioned . . .” I assumed the “she” was some other character as the only other person in the scene is named Ellis, and that read as a man’s name to me. Turns out Ellis is a woman. I think there’s a problem here.
Second, much of the first page was spent on description of the store, signs, the sun . . . while setting the scene is important, all that’s important here is that they’re at a gas station. We all know what they look like.
And, third, partly because of the space the description takes, there’s not much of a story question here, thus very little tension. Turns out that the rest of the chapter is set-up and exposition. I think you need to start the story later. From the rest of the chapter, it looks like you have a good character and story—but will we get to it with this chapter?
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.
Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Kathleen