Call for submissions--I'm down to a couple of weeks of opening chapters to flog, so if you'd like some fresh input on yours, please see the directions below and send me yours.
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)
Heather has sent the first chapter of a memoir, Tell Me What He Did. Note: there are two openings to look at, and two polls.
“Run!” I yell to Pam. “They’re right behind you.”
She dodges the boys, races past Mommy’s vegetable garden, and heads toward the maple tree in her backyard. If she touches the trunk, we win, and the boys will finally have to keep their promise to play house with us.
I kneel behind the shrub. My side aches with each deep breath. Using the hem of my shirt, I wipe sweat off my forehead.
Steve sneaks behind Pam and drops the hula-hoop lasso over her head. She kicks and screams as her brother drags her to the cave, the cinderblock barbeque pit in my backyard, and rolls a pretend stone in front of the cave door.
Pam beats on the rock. “I can’t escape. They’re going to eat me.”
Hula-hoop in hand, Steve turns toward my hiding place. “I’m coming to get you.”
“No!” I race toward the tree, but Bobby’s guarding it, hands spread wide to grab me. Maybe I can circle around back.
Looking over my shoulder to see where Steve is, I trip on a root, and fall. A piece of gravel jabs deep into my knee.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “Let me see if I’m bleeding.”
No, but . . .
The writing is just fine and evokes a real sense of childhood. What happens even manages to suggest a time in the past, a more innocent time than today’s video-game days. But then there’s the matter of tension.
I think it’s tougher to create story questions and tensions in memoir for an author who is, necessarily, deep in her memories. While this story opening is fun to read, there’s no real hint of trouble ahead for this little girl. The story is about abuse, but there’s not a hint of that here.
So, in my usual fashion, I read deeper into the chapter and found something that worked more strongly for me. See if this narrative, lifted from page 3, works for you in terms of creating tension and the other story factors.
Pam and I sit under the maple tree in my backyard. I slowly nibble the chocolate coating off my ice cream bar, trying to make it last as long as possible. A drop of ice cream dribbles on my hand and I suck it off.
Pam pokes a straw into her cherry sno-cone, “I don’t want summer to end.”
“Me neither.” Not true. School’s safer than home.
“In ten days, we’re going to have to get up early and sit in a stupid classroom.”
“You’re lucky. There’s no homework in first grade. In second, I’ll have tons.”
“Yech, homework.” Pam scrunches her nose.
After we finish our ice creams she stands. “Let’s find the boys.”
Throwing our sticks and wrappers in the garbage, we walk toward Pam’s house. Steve and Bobby jump out from behind the woodpile, grab us and shout, “Got ya.”
I get so tired of boy’s games.
A green Plymouth turns onto our street. Pam and the boys race toward my house shouting, “Shirley’s Daddy, Shirley’s Daddy.”
My stomach churns as I head home.
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 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 you turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2012 Ray Rhamey