Just one flogging left: There’s only one submission left in the pillory. If you’d like a fresh look at your work, 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)
Trevor has sent the prologue and chapter of On Time.
Time travel was possible after all.
The problem was eventually cracked in the early ’20s by a team of graduate students at UC Berkeley. They knew they were on the right track when they picked up a radio message in the lab, a message that they would send five months later.
Once the formal announcement was made, the media spoke of nothing else. Every newspaper was emblazoned with MAN CONQUERS TIME, every site and stream delivered round-the-clock updates covering the global orgy of speculation. Scientists were interviewed who by turns hailed the breakthrough as the single most critical event in our history, or espoused their own theory of how this would lead inexorably to humanity’s destruction. Religious leaders universally decried it as a sin against God, while pundits held forth about the thorny problem of its legislation.
Yet week after week passed without humanity winking out of existence. There were no horsemen and no trumpets. The riots were fewer and farther apart; people returned to work; the pundits shifted their attention to a breaking presidential sex scandal. For most of the world, life eased back into normality.
And far beyond the hastily erected barbed wire fences, past the 24-hour armed guard, deep underground in a utility-plant–cum–Berkeley-lab, the original research team—at the gentle request of their newly appointed military counterparts—quietly stepped up their schedule.
Chapter 1 opening:
“Hey prof, you know time stuff, right? Quick question.”
Professor Abel frowned slightly and closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips against his temples. In the wake of the announcement last month, he’d become a bit of a minor celebrity. The most immediate effect of this was that he’d spent much of the past three weeks trying to explain the basics of temporal mechanics to inquisitive parties, with varying degrees of success. His enthusiasm for the whole thing was wearing dangerously thin. “Let’s hear it.”
The student hesitated. “You know the grandfather paradox? Like, if I go back in time and kill my own grandfather before my father is born. What happens if I really do that?”
Abel nodded. He’d fielded this one a lot. “The short answer is that you can’t.”
The kid was undeterred. “Yeah, I read that, but none of the articles talk about the big problem,” replied the kid. Nick, that was his name. A decent student. Not one of his best. “What if I did manage to go back and, like, find my own grandfather, and then I point a gun at him and pull the trigger. I mean, what happens? Do I disappear, or…”
Abel watched the last few stragglers from his class as they filed out. One girl dropped her phone and bent over to pick it up, affording him a criminal display of cleavage. His mind began to wander; he wished he weren’t on the wrong side of forty.
The writing is solid—I love getting clean writing—but I guess I’m just a tension junkie, and there wasn’t enough of a hit in either the prologue or chapter opening to energize a need to read. I felt that the prologue was mostly backstory that wasn’t really necessary. The one tension-inducing element for me was that the military had some requests of the time-travel team. But, even then, it seems like it would be better to get to the consequences of those requests.
And, while the first chapter does show us character, that character is bored and hardly threatened by the student’s question. I think a couple of things:
1. We don’t need to establish the when and how of discovering time travel unless it has bearing on the story. Just start with it in existence and how it is affecting the lives of characters.
2. I think the story starts way too early in chapter 1. If the professor is the protagonist, start with him at a point of change where the stakes are high and he needs to act.
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 for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2012 Ray Rhamey