Submissions needed, none 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 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 to engage the reader with the character
- Something is wrong/goes wrong or challenges the character
- The character desires something.
- The character takes action. Can be internal or external action: thoughts, deeds, emotions. This does NOT include musing about whatever.
- 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.
- The one thing it must do: raise a story question.
Caveat: a first page can succeed without including all of these possibilities. They are simply tools you can use. In particular, a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and a create page turn without doing all of the above. On the other hand, testing pages with the checklist no matter where they are in a story can help identify where a narrative lags and why it does.
Tony sends the first chapter of Blood of the Conquistadors.. The rest of the submission follows the break.
It took nine-year-old David McCready a few seconds to wake one Saturday morning in early October. A tinge of blue filled his bedroom as the morning sunlight filtered through his curtains. Only his slippers sat on the floor by his bed. Those strange arms that he saw last night reaching outward weren’t there now. Like the other times, he wanted to forget what he saw. He rolled out of bed and sprinted to his closet to get dressed. While putting on his pants, he crouched to see if anything was under his bed. After he stood up, he felt better. The T-shirt he chose would dictate his life for the next few hours. It was black, with the white skull and crossbones occupying the front. He’d been looking forward to this.
Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirate of the Caribbean series was David’s hero. This morning David took on that persona in search of the treasure hidden at the top of Devil’s Mountain. For young David, the top of Devil’s Mountain was the second floor of the Dorado Hotel where his family lived. David’s imagination was without bounds, but occasionally, his imagination and reality met causing frightening events.
Right after eating Reese’s Puff cereal from his favorite blue bowl, he set in with character. He named his sword Thunderstrike, and he whipped the pretend blade all about, vanquishing any pirates who came between him and the treasure. He started in the kitchen defeating two pirates simultaneously, then backed out into the short hallway next to the large (snip)
While it may seem normal to begin a story with someone waking up, it has become a clichéd way to start a story. If you are going to start with a wake-up, the story had better start right then and there, and with vigor.
But here we have an allusion to something creepy, but we’re not certain whether it was real or imagination. And then we’re off to the story of a boy getting up, pretending to be a pirate, and eating breakfast. Whatever story question was raised by the “strange arms” is pretty much abandoned.
The chapter goes on to show creepiness in the basement and his sister’s troubles with that. Still, nothing actually happens to either of them. He has breakfast, she does the laundry. This narrative starts way too far in advance of something happening to one of these kids that amounts to trouble that they have to deal with. Look later for your first 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.
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 © 2016 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2016 by Tony