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)
Rebecca sends the first chapter for These Two Seas. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen,” Amelia muttered, as she climbed the last steps to the top floor of St. Paul Central High School. She shifted the load of textbooks in her arms and started down the corridor. “Hail Mary, full of --”
The washroom door opened. Two young women came out: shop girls, judging by their matching sailor blouses, in night school to pick up some office skills. They stared at Amelia as they walked by. She smiled and nodded. They giggled. Fine. They could make themselves popular by crowing about the teacher who talked to herself.
Praying looked eccentric; she’d admit that. Back in her student teaching days, nothing short of divine assistance could have gotten her to stand before a room full of strangers and pretend to know what she was doing. Two years on, she no longer fought the urge to run every time she approached a classroom, but the ritual had stuck.
… now and at the hour of our death, Amen. Outside Room 305, she paused again. A middle-aged man in a gray suit stopped and made a short, stiff bow.
“May I help you?” he said.
“Would you mind getting the door?”
He grabbed the knob and stepped back. As she went in, he pulled a slip of paper from his jacket pocket and glanced at it.
Good, crisp writing, a clear voice, an immediate scene—but, for me, not much in the way of tension. There really aren’t any story questions of any significance on the first page. The man who opens the door for her doesn’t figure into the story in the first chapter. I read through it, but found mostly backstory and a portrayal of her life. Toward the end was backstory on a love affair, but that didn’t lead to anything happening to Amelia in this chapter that made her do anything other than go to bed that evening. I think this is well-written throat-clearing, and you need to start later, at the point where the story begins. This isn’t it. On the other hand, there wasn’t really anything to pick in the writing, that’s fine.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
As an independent editor of book manuscripts, I feel compelled to say I think Ray Rhamey's "Flogging the Quill" is the best how-to book I've read about writing since I was assigned Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" in freshman journalism class 50 years ago. Especially useful for writers of fiction and memoir. I'm urging all my authors to get it.” Frank Zoretich
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