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)
Tricia has sent chapter 1 of Death of a Small Town Gossip
Adelaide pounded on the door. Her puffy white hair jiggled as she knocked. The hair gave away her age. Though 75 years old she could easily live another 30, which annoyed almost everyone in Brent Falls. Adelaide thought her only shortcoming was gossip, and she delighted in the sin.
"What's wrong with people?" she muttered. "Why does it take so long to open the door?"
Clarissa looked out the peephole and sighed. She would've preferred to see almost anyone else. She glanced around the front room. It could be cleaner, but most people could probably say that about their houses. The problem? Adelaide kept her house pristine; everything had a place and one place only. Before Adelaide could knock again, Clarissa opened the door just wide enough to stick her head out. "Hi, Adelaide. What can I do for you?"
"First of all you can invite me in."
"Now's not a good time. My son has the stomach flu; we were up all night." He'd finally fallen asleep about an hour ago. All Clarissa wanted was a nap. "Besides, my house is a bit messy, and..."
"Oh, nonsense. Don't worry about a little mess." Adelaide pushed the door open and walked right in. "A few things out of place never bothered me." She surveyed the room, noticing every bit of clutter and dust: the newspaper spread out on the couch, an empty cereal bowl and (snip)
Basically, for me there were no story questions sufficient for a page-turn. What Adelaide might want just didn’t do it. On a later page Adelaide accuses—falsely—Clarissa’s grade-school son of shoplifting. That, on this page, would have gotten a page turn.
The opening paragraphs seem to give us Adelaide as the protagonist, but that quickly switches to Clarissa in the first head-hop (Clarissa couldn’t hear Adelaide’s muttering from inside). The Clarissa character is sympathetic, but the rest of the chapter focused on Adelaide and was mostly talk. Head-hopping kept popping up, which always bothers me.
The title suggests that there was a murder in the story, but there’s no hint of it anywhere in this chapter. If that’s the case, I’d sure try to start somewhere near there. Remember to start with story and you’ll have a better shot at keeping a reader involved. Clearly, you can write—now focus on storytelling and get us into a scene with fraught with meaningful things happening.
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