5 years of FtQ This month marks 5 years of doing FtQ, and more than 300 novel openings that I (and you) have critiqued for writers. Thank you to all my readers, commentators, and submitters. This blog wouldn’t exist without you, and I know that I’ve learned, grown, and profited from our association over the years.
The best thing, for me, is the sense of community that lives here at FtQ, of writers helping writers. So happy anniversary to you, too.
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 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.
Some homework. Before sending your novel's opening, you might want to read these two FtQ posts: Story as River and Kitty-cats in Action. That'll tell you where I'm coming from, and might prompt a little rethinking of your narrative.
Christine sent two versions of her opening chapter, wondering which worked best. We’ll look at those, and then a third option that I plucked from the narrative. Please read the three versions and then tell Christine which, if any, compelled a page turn.
A neat, stone farmhouse squatted beside the massive barn, its garden tucked under a thick blanket of snow. No new flakes had fallen since the morning, so the lion’s tracks were clearly visible in the lantern light as the farmer showed them to the four Rangers.
“The ‘nightstalker’ came up here." They were standing in front of the barn door, where the beast had paced back and forth. Deep scratches showed on the wood. "Couldn’t get inside. I had it shut up tight.”
Captain Faldur Relaszen bent down to study the prints. He was lean and compactly built, with gray-green eyes in a smoothly-weathered face. “These were made by a male. A large one,” he said. The lion had come out of the woods on the opposite side of the barn, circled it, and then struck up the ridge behind the house, disappearing into the woods again. Faldur didn’t like the fact that the nightstalker had come so close to the house. “You’d best go inside, and keep your doors and shutters bolted,” he said.
The farmer nodded, a worried look on his face, and glanced up at the looming peaks of the Dagger Mountains, which showed as pale smudges against the indigo sky. “They don’t usually come down until after the new year. Do you think they are breeding?”
“It’s possible. But we had an early start to winter.” Faldur gave him what he hoped was (snip)
In the cold crack of winter, the lions came down from the mountains. Then the Hanorja, who lived and farmed in the foothills, brought their livestock in after nightfall and barred their doors tight. Normally the ‘nightstalkers,’ as the farmers called them, weren’t a threat until the new year was well settled in. This year, however, winter had come early, and reports of nightstalkers filtered in from around the region to the King’s Rangers, whose task it was to hunt the hunters.
Captain Faldur Relaszen received a message just as he was dressing for the Midwinter Feast. Faldur was lean and compactly built, with smoothly weathered features that made his age difficult to determine. He preferred it that way, for at fifty he was on the young side for a captain. He opened his door to find his second in command, Lieutanant Harth, who was looking particularly elegant in his dress uniform of dark green wool and silver braid. “There’s been a nightstalker at Highfield farm, about an hour ago. The Delfenward wants it looked out right away,” said Harth.
Faldur swore, then began unbuttoning the jacket he had just buttoned. The fabric of his own ‘dress greens’ was still stiff, the outfit having been so little used since he had it made two years ago. “Are the dories being saddled?”
The Rangers split up, following on either side of the nightstalker’s prints, keeping a stone’s throw between the two pairs of partners. Harth and Faldur’s partner, Romer, both had their bows ready, knowing the black lions would be visible against the snow, even at night. Faldur preferred a sword for this kind of work. Brilward, the new recruit, was also a swordsman.
They entered the trees warily, following the tracks that wound up along the ridge and then plunged into the neck of a shallow, thickly overgrown ravine. Faldur motioned for Harth and Brilward to circle around to the other side and see where the tracks came out, while he and Romer guarded the spot where the lion had gone in. They did so, their gray-green cloaks fading into the gloom. Faldur stared down into the bushes, trying to discern the outline of a nightstalker or the reflective gleam of feline eyes.
A soft hooting sound caused him to look up. It was Harth, indicating that they had found the tracks. Faldur and Romer were moving around the ravine to join them, when Faldur saw a black shape leaping up behind the other two.
He yelled, signaling them to jump left. They just barely dived out of its way, and Romer loosed an arrow which lodged in the beast’s shoulder as it overshot them. It turned to attack again, snarling with pain and fury. Faldur surged forward through the encumbering snow as the (snip)
What do you think? You can choose multiple options in the poll.
I thought the writing was good, so no need to nitpick. While world-building is necessary in science fiction and fantasy, so is tension necessary in a novel's opening. I thought the first two versions lacked the tension to get me to turn the page, so dug deeper into the narrative for the action scene in version 3, which worked better for me (though, were this the actual opening, I'd move the multiple naming to later, or scatter the names throughout). What are your thoughts?
For what it’s worth.
Your generosity helps defray the cost of hosting FtQ.
Public floggings available. If I can post it here,
- Email: email 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter as an attachment (cutting and pasting and reformatting from an email is a time-consuming pain) and I'll critique the first couple of pages.
- Please format with double spacing, 12-point 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 you turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2009 Ray Rhamey