Submissions invited: 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.
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)
Elizabeth sends the first chapter for Teddy Roosevelt Is Dead. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
Tearing the key from the ignition, Jessie leaped from her battered green Jeep and ran to the back door of the community theatre. She hated being late for interviews and this was more important than most. Peter Friesen – historian, scholar, amateur actor, and jerk extraordinaire – was waiting for her in his dressing room. If the clock on her dashboard was right, he had been waiting for almost 20 minutes. And from what she knew about Peter, he had probably stormed out of the building, furious from her lack of respect and impossible to placate.
In the back parking lot, Jessie’s hopes grew. Peter’s silver Lexus was still parked in the VIP lot. Maybe he had been so absorbed by his rehearsal that he had forgotten to watch the clock. Maybe a fan had waylaid him after practice, and he had enjoyed regaling a beautiful young historian with little-known facts about Teddy Roosevelt. Maybe luck would work in her favor just this once.
Slowing to a walk, Jessie smoothed her stubborn red curls back into her usual braid, straightened her jacket, and pushed open the weathered back door. Maybe this would be the year the community theatre would repaint the old building. Taking a breath, she stepped into the cool, shadowy hall.
“Hello,” she called. “Anybody home?”
Jessie knew the tangle of halls, dressing rooms, and closets as well as her own bedroom, (snip)
No, but . . .
There’s a dead body waiting for us on page three—if we get there. At this point, there’s little in the way of a story question or tension. It looks like Peter is there, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The writing is is a little over-written in spots (battered green Jeep) but good—a couple of nits: the reference to “stubborn red curls” is a small break in point of view, and the style used in publishing is to spell out numbers (it should be “twenty”).
I’ve cobbled together a different page from later narrative. See if you would turn this one:
Jessie leaped from her Jeep and ran through the back door of the community theatre. She hated being late for interviews, and this was more important than most. Peter Friesen – historian, scholar, amateur actor, and jerk extraordinaire –had been waiting for almost twenty minutes.
When she entered his dressing room, a coppery smell assaulted her, accompanied by a deeper, more distressing scent she knew from her long-ago days covering the police beat. She pushed back the images that still haunted her nightmares and called, “Peter, are you here?”
Jessie stepped further into the room, and then spun away from the sight that confronted her. “Oh God, Peter,” she sighed, and knew she was too late to help.
Pulling out her cell phone, she dialed 9-1-1 and got Monica. “It’s me, Jessie, from the paper,” she said. “Send the sheriff, quick. I think Peter Friesen’s dead.”
“Where are you, Jessie?”
“I’m at the community theatre. In the back. There’s blood all over the dressing room.”
“Don’t touch anything. The sheriff will be right there.”
As if she wanted to touch anything. Just walking into the room had added to the sights that tormented her during long sleepless nights. Then the reporter in Jessie awakened. Taking shallow breaths to avoid the smell of Peter’s death, she went to work. She pulled a digital camera from her bag and began shooting.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
“This book has some of the most helpful writing advice I've encountered in quite a while, illustrated by copious--and I mean copious--examples. Ray doesn't pull punches, and his illustrations have real-world wording at times, but it's truly like having an editor on your bookshelf. I definitely recommend it.” Richard
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 format with double spacing, 12-point font Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins.
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
- And, optionally, permission to use it as an example in a book 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.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey