Submissions invited: 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.
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)
Matthias has sent the prologue and first chapter of Tim Walkers.
But first . . . Matthias writes from the Netherlands that English is not his first language, nor even his second, and his English is self-taught. Nonetheless, here he is, putting his writing out there for the world to see.
Writers, you gotta love ‘em.
The Prologue (Note: because it’s short, I’m going to give you the whole prologue rather than just the first page)
It had to be done. The young baby boy sobbing softly in his arms expressed disagreement but Marlin knew better. It was for the boy's own good. He had to sacrifice his dear baby son to the orphanage.
What kind of hellish pit would he be casting his son in to? What would become of the boy?
He had wondered these things countless times before. But committing his son to the grim-looking orphanage might be the only chance they'd have. The only chance for truth to prevail. The truth that Marlin had labored to uncover for years. A truth that would most likely kill him. The truth about Moncento, the corporation to which he was about to deliver his son.
Timing was of the essence.
With a sigh he exhaled the prospect of death. Carefully he kissed the small, whimpering, boy on the forehead.
"May the gods be with you Tim. All of them" he spoke to the boy as he placed him on the cold ground.
The irony was agonizing. But there was no alternative. He had to desert his next-of-kin on the doorsteps of his very worst enemies. The boy was beautiful, the diffused morning-sun illuminating his soft skin, as if the infant radiated a soft glow into the dreary world surrounding him. Unable to tear his eyes from the poor baby Marlin rose to his feet, his fingers trembling. He reached for the door bell and rang it. He did not wait to see if anyone had heard the desolate note that lingered in the air.
He yanked his head around and ran away. From his pocket he retrieved a pistol. With the confidence of an experienced soldier he popped off the safety lock. It had to be done.
The first chapter
Tim Walkers was his name. The small note that had been left with him had only those two words on it; Tim Walkers. It was written in an elegant but unfamiliar hand and the boy's only treasure. Today was his ninth birthday.
But there were no presents, there was no family, no relations; no one wished him "many more years to come". He was raised an orphan, alone.
Not that it mattered, he was used to celebrating his birthday in loneliness. Moreover, the years to come wouldn't likely be many and it would unwise to wish for them.
Tim was a small boy, small enough to have people guessing about his age. His short hair dark-blonde, the ends scattered over his forehead. Under the boy's brows a pair of green eyes witnessed the malevolent world around him with ever-growing despise.
With what little strength was left in his arms Tim raised his shovel and scooped a few coals in the blazing kiln before him. The fire consumed its dark meal happily. Just as Tim wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his jacket; five painfully loud beeps rendered the raging fires inaudible for a moment.
Tim immediately dropped his shovel, as did all the other boys who attended the factory's fires. As it clattered to the ground; a few embers fell, unnoticed, to the planked floor.
No, but there’s promise
The story questions were almost enough to get me to turn the page on the first chapter. While the prologue was interesting and did raise good questions, the “real” story starts with the boy, and I’d much rather start there.
The first chapter isn’t as successful as a scene as the prologue was—the scene isn’t set, and it opens with backstory about his birthday (perhaps to get his age in, but still . . .). The embers on the floor promise dangerous action ahead, and that’s good. But the story is told from a distant author’s point of view. I’d much rather that it immersed me in the boy’s experience and helped me feel what is happening as he does. Best of luck, Matthias.
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