Submissions Needed. Nothing in the queue. 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 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)
Stanley sends a first chapter of The Tapping I believe it’s intended for middle grade readers. The rest of the chapter follows the break.
Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all.
Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep.
Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .
Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream?
She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.
This opening page (and the chapter) has storytelling issues that need to be worked on. It opens with a good deal of backstory and exposition and then leads into a dream, all things that tend to defuse tension. Then the character wakes up, and that’s about all that happens. There’s no real story question raised other than the wet pajamas, which, if true, could have been the start of something interesting—but the character ignores it. Later in the chapter she recounts her dream to her friends but doesn’t mention waking up wet. I passed. Notes:
Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all. The unattributed pronoun “it” at the beginning refers to something the reader doesn’t know, so it’s basically meaningless. And this opens with backstory instead of the “now” of what’s happening.
Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep. A lot of “telling” and info dumping in this paragraph. What happens tomorrow doesn’t matter now. The list of names doesn’t add, either.
Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 fifteen of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .
Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream? Her pajamas are wet but she doesn’t react other than to notice it? If I woke up in bed with my pajamas wet, I’d get out of bed. Seems like the bed would be wet, too, but in the chapter she just stays in bed and goes back to sleep. Not credible to this reader.
She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken awakened by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.
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 Stanley
Kathy laid her head down on the pillow and again started to drift into sleep. It was not long before she heard it again, the tapping sound. Was she back in the same dream? "No," she thought, "I am still awake." She listened closely. The tapping was coming from under her bed. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to go to sleep again. The tapping soon stopped, but she kept her head under the covers for the rest of the night, and vowed she would not listen to ghost stories ever again.
Suddenly, there was knocking, this time at the door. Kathy still had the covers over her head. Kathy's mother was saying, "Wake up, Kathy. Dawnese is on the phone." Kathy, blurry eyed, noticed it was morning. The sun was shining through the window.
Kathy's mother knocked again and said, "Kathy! Dawnese is on the phone."
"Yes, mom," Kathy responded sleepily, "tell her I'm coming." What a night it had been! She was sure it had just been a bad dream, but the tapping noise had sounded so real. She was still very sleepy. "What time is it?" she thought. "Seven thirty! I'm late!" They had planned to get everything ready at seven for an early start on the hike. Dawnese was probably calling to find out why she wasn't ready yet. Kathy threw on a robe and headed upstairs to the answer the phone.
Kathy was a happy girl of 14 with a long slender build, brown hair and eyes. Dawnese was just slightly younger. They had been friends for a long time and had just discovered fun things to do with boys. It was summer time and they didn't want to waste any of it.
"Yes, Dawnese," Kathy said with an apologetic tone, "I overslept. Those ghost stories last night at the campfire kept me from sleeping very well."
"You'll have to tell us all about it on the hike, but we late getting started already."
"Okay," said Kathy, "I'll hurry. Come on over. We can leave in about 10 minutes."
Kathy hung up the phone and quickly ran to the bathroom. Over her shoulder, she shouted to her mother, "Mom, can you make my sack lunch right away?"
Kathy quickly showered, unusual for her, and hurried off to her room. Her room was in the basement of the house built almost 50 years ago. It was dark and gloomy in some parts of the basement, but Kathy had painted her walls a lively yellow color and plastered pictures of mountain scenes and movie stars throughout the room. Linoleum squares covered the floor, but she had a large throw rug in the center of the room to add some warmth. Her bed was a big old fashion four-poster painted white. Kathy's bedspread was a lively plaid and gave the room a comfortable feeling.
Kathy turned on the radio as she picked out light blue shorts and blouse to wear. She would wear her sneakers and take a daypack with her. She and her friends planned to spend about three hours walking up Emery Gulch to the old mining camp. The area had a swimming hole with a hot spring feeding it. Living in the mountains at about 5000 feet elevation made many of the swimming areas too cold in early June. The hot springs made the water very comfortable this time of year.
Kathy picked out a white swimming suit and said to herself, "I hope this doesn't get too dirty at the Emery swimming hole." She finished dressing and made one more quick glance at the mirror to see how she looked. She heard the knock on the front door upstairs, and quickly left her room; bed unmade, and slammed her door as she darted up the stairs to her waiting friend.
"Hi, Kathy," said Dawnese, "I see you are ready."
"Yes. How is my lunch coming, Mom?"
"It’s ready. I packed you two tuna sandwiches, a granola bar, an apple, and soda. Anything else you want, dear?"
"No, Mom, the lunch is just fine."
There was a knock at the door. Kathy said, "Come on in Bill."
As he opened the door, Jeff said, "Do I look like Bill? Of course, I am better looking!"
"Not so fast, Jeff," said Bill as he pushed his way inside. "Are you girls ready to go yet?"
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and just cool enough to make the walking enjoyable. Kathy look at Bill. He was tall, thin and muscular. At 16 he had hint of a mustache, brown hair and brown eyes. Her mother said she was too young to date so these group activities gave her time to spend with Bill, even if they were not alone.
"I wonder how the Emery swimming hole fared this last winter," Bill wondered aloud.
"I am sure the hot water will feel just fine," Kathy said. "I can't wait to go swimming again."
"Did you learn any new strokes in school last year, Kathy?" asked Jeff.
"I sure did," said Kathy. "I learned to do the breaststroke. I also did a few backflips, but they are still a little scary."
"I can give you a few instructions," said Bill.
"Thanks,” said Kathy as she smiled at him.
They walked in silence for a few minutes as they opened the gate through Olsen's yard and started walking towards the Gulch. Emeryville had been a coal mining town in early 1900's but several mining accidents had closed down the mines. It had been just too expensive to reopen them, although there had been recent talk about opening up the mines using newly available extraction methods. Kathy's grandfather had been a miner, but he had died several years ago. Kathy's father was an engineer and felt it might be possible to make money on the mines again. He believed there were gold and other valuable minerals still present in the mine.
There were many superstitious people in this old mining town. There were some who said they had heard the cries of the dead when the mine collapsed in 1917. They were afraid of the ghost of the dead men from the mine. Times were changing and less of the people believed old tale.
"Kathy," said Dawnese, "you were going to tell about your dream last night."
"What dream?" asked Jeff.
"Well," said Kathy, "you know we told ghost stories around the campfire last night. Some of those stories seem just too real to me, especially with the old timers still talk about the night of the mine collapse. When I went to bed last night, I must have still been thinking about the Emeryville Ghosts because I woke up last night about midnight."
"Yes, go on!" said Bill.
"It is hard to describe. Spooky! My room was dark. The moon must have gone behind a cloud. The room was deathly quiet. I felt as if I was in a cave and there was no way out. Now, you know I am not afraid of caves, but this was different. I heard the tapping of the miners’hammers and the distance sound of those trying to reach us. I could feel the water getting higher and higher, and I struggled to breath. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't!"
"Scary," said Dawnese.
"Strange," said Bill, "we have told those stories many times before and nobody had those types of dreams.
"What did you do, Kathy?" asked Jeff.
"I covered my head and tried to go back to sleep. I was even too scared to try to turn on my light."
"I would be too," said Dawnese. "Could you get any sleep?"
"No, it was strange. Occasionally I heard a tapping noise again. It seemed to be under my bed."
"Were you asleep?" asked Bill.
"I must have been because there couldn't be a real noise under my bed," said Kathy slowly, but she was not sure herself. "Let's talk about something else, please."