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)
Kayla has sent this opening
The chilly, stagnant air of the basement hit my nose as Grandmother and me descended the creaking stairs. Even though she was approaching ninety she refused to give up these nighttime visits into the family’s sanctuary. At twelve they were easy for me to manage, but I wished she would put a stop to them for her own health.
In the cement basement there was nothing out of the ordinary here, just a ratty old couch, coffee table and a dusty TV. Yet as Grandmother and I stood on either side of the coffee table it began to change. The wooden table slowly began to turn into a tree stomp long enough for a person to stand on. The hidden tree stump is my family’s sanctuary.
It was the only place where the woman with powers of the mystic could flee to cast their spells. The sanctuary was where our family could tell stories of two moons without having to whisper them in fear. Our family was dwindling now, dying off and disappearing until it was only me and Grandmother.
The sanctuary was made of hard packed dirt, round and maybe thirty feet wide across. It was not prettily decorated, there were simply wooden shelves lining the ten foot high hole, and in them were vials and bottles of every ingredient we could ever hope for. There were also spell books of all sorts stacked on those shelves.
Nope, although . . .
There are many interesting things in this opening, but it got bogged down in description. And there was no real tension. But there was on the next page—I would suggest substituting the following, taken from the next page, for the last two paragraphs:
Faint illumination came from the crystal clear water in the ten foot wide, two foot deep impression in the center of the room. It was our ‘cauldron’ if you will. Usually my grandmother simply explained spells or properties and uses of certain ingredients. But tonight there was an air of purpose around her as she gathered vials from the topmost shelves, a magicked breeze pushing her up high enough to reach them.
Something in her mood made me know that I would not like this spell. Death and pain is often a part of the family spells, a part that I wanted to forget about. She said, “Everyone dies, but few make use of their death. I am growing old and weak, I prefer to die on my time than on (snip)
With this, there’s enough to pull me forward. The other details can be worked in as the narrative flows. Setting the scene is important, but don’t squander that opening page on a flood of detail. Sketch it, then fill in later. Other notes on the first two paragraphs:
The chilly, stagnant air of the basement hit my nose as Grandmother and me descended the creaking stairs. Even though she was approaching ninety, she refused to give up these nighttime visits into the family’s sanctuary. At twelve they were easy for me to manage, but I wished she would put a stop to them for her own health. Unless there’s something significant about not quite being ninety, there’s no need for qualifying it—a definite statement is better.
In the cement basement, there was nothing out of the ordinary here, just a ratty old couch, coffee table and a dusty TV. Yet, as when Grandmother and I stood on either side of the coffee table, it began to change. The wooden table slowly began to turn turned into a tree stomp stump long enough for a person to stand on. The hidden tree stump is my family’s sanctuary.
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