Schedule note: I've about 16 writers lined up for flogging
(that really sounds weird, doesn't it?), so next week I'm going to
crank up the rate of pummeling to twice a week. I'm aiming for posting
on Tuesdays and Fridays. We'll see.
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, etc.) there should be about 16 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page).
This is for Jessica. I think you're going to like this one. Here are the first 16 lines:
The last sound I remember before the footsteps was my pick-locks tinkling to the bottom of the pocket of the ridiculous overcoat James had made me wear. As I nudged the door shut behind me, the nighttime sounds of Miller's Court faded, leaving me in silence and the dirty glow of gaslight through curtains. I gathered the billows of tweed around me, marveling, as I tiptoed toward the back room of McCarthy's shop, that I hadn't knocked anything over. James had said the coat would make me look like Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes had never had to roll up his sleeves to pick a front door lock, or hike up his coat-hems to keep from tripping into precarious towers of candles. I had come for a dog.
"Not just any dog, Ira," James had said. "What you seek is a black porcelain hound of such repugnancy that even Hugo Baskerville would have shrunk from it."
I'd agreed to fetch the thing, despite my condition, because of all he had done for me. But what the dog had to do with our blackmailer, or why I was to find it in the back room of a Whitechapel chandler's shop were questions Professor James Moriarty had yet to answer.
Instead of the candles one might have expected, the chandler's storeroom was lined with shelves, and the shelves with figurines
--hundreds of them, two and three deep in some places, each more loathsome than the last. Damnation! How was I supposed to find some misshapen porcelain cur --
What fun this opening promises, right from that enticing opening line. In just that one line Jessica has managed to raise a couple of story questions: "last sound I remember" make you wonder what happened next; pick-locks suggests thievery, but of what: and I even wondered why the ridiculous overcoat.
Jessica has managed, and managed well, to capture the six primary ingredients of a strong opening in just these 16 lines:
- Story Questions
- Scene setting
There's tension set up by the first line, as well as story questions. More story questions are raised along the way. There's mention of a blackmailer to pique my curiosity. And, for anyone familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories, the mere mention of Professor Moriarty raises even more story questions. Excellent.
Voice is quite clear (easier in first person, I think, but still not easy). I felt I was in professional storytelling hands.
It's all clear
The next page didn't disappoint: the footsteps were made by none other than Watson. The promise of a fine adventure has been made and cemented.
But this wouldn't be FtQ if there weren't a couple of nits to pick.
"ridiculous coat" While I liked the flavor of this, and it does contribute to characterization, it does nothing at all for adding to the picture. I suggest swapping the adjective or perhaps plucking something from the description that follows to suggest what we are seeing, i.e.
"the billowing, gargantuan overcoat James had made me wear."
The other primary nit is this sentence:
I gathered the billows of tweed around me, marveling, as I tiptoed toward the back room of McCarthy's shop, that I hadn't knocked anything over.
I felt it was unnecessarily convoluted. Consider:
I gathered the billows of tweed around me and tiptoed toward the back room of McCarthy's shop, marveling that I didn't knock anything over.
This opening illustrates how, in the hands of a strong writer, you can open a novel with an action scene and yet sprinkle in bits and pieces of necessary backstory and exposition while still building tension. I felt no speed bumps in this narrative, yet immediately knew a lot about what was going on.
Nice, Jessica. Have you submitted this? Best of luck.
For what it's worth,
Public floggings available. If I can post it here, send 1st chapter or prologue as an attachment (cutting and pasting and reformatting from an email is a time-consuming pain that I refuse to do) and I'll critique the first couple of pages.
© 2007 Ray Rhamey