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)
Laura has sent chapter 1 of Bleeder (YA novel)
“Ow!” Angela recoiled as she slammed her finger in her locker door. “So it’s going to be one of those days again,” she said under her breath, shaking out the pain.
Piling up English papers, she noticed a faint burning sensation trickle down the injured finger. Panic invaded her mind and adrenaline pinched her stomach before she even looked down. She’d felt that burning before. She knew what she would see.
Dropping her books, Angela sunk down to the floor, leaning up against the bank of lockers. Sneakers rushed by and none of them seemed to notice that she was in her own private hell. She glanced at her finger.
“Dammit.” It was just what she’d feared- a flap of skin had been torn away and bright red welled up underneath, starting to slowly ooze down her knuckle. She desperately looked for something to wrap the injured finger in- not paper, not a book, not her sleeve… what she needed was a Synthetix. Of course she didn’t have any. They might give her away. She decided to stick her finger in her mouth. The acidic, coppery taste assaulted her tongue as her mouth began to burn. She needed to get out, but the only way out of school was through the nurse’s office, and in order to go to the nurse’s office she needed a pass. A pass from a teacher.
Heart pounding, Angela tried to look casual as she walked down the hall with her finger in her mouth. Everybody seemed to be walking against her. Everybody seemed to be staring at (snip)
I think the clues that there’s something wrong are too subtle to raise strong story questions—Synthetix and blood burning her mouth just weren’t enough for me. Angela feels panic, but we have no clue why, nor do we have a feeling for why a hurt finger could be a serious problem.
Instead of notes, let me see if I can lift narrative from other parts of the chapter for a stronger opening. I may do some minimal editing. See what you think and vote.
“Ow!” Angela recoiled as she slammed her finger in her locker door. “So it’s going to be one of those days.” A flap of skin had been torn away and bright red welled up underneath.
She needed a Synthetix. Of course she didn’t have any. They might give her away. She stuck her finger in her mouth. The acidic, coppery taste assaulted her tongue as her mouth began to burn. She needed to get out, but the only way out of school was through the nurse’s office, and she needed a pass from a teacher to go to the nurse’s office.
Before walking into English class, she examined her injury. The blood was bright red against her swollen finger. And the nail was starting to turn black.
Inside, she went to the teacher’s desk. “Ms. Gartner, can I go to the nurse? I… I slammed my finger in my locker.”
She could feel the blood beginning to drip down her finger. She couldn’t let it fall. She couldn’t let them see. She was stuck.
Angela put her finger back in her mouth. Better the blood burn her mouth than the floor. Or a desk. Or another student. The teacher caught a glimpse of the spreading black.
“You need to leave,” Ms. Gartner said. Her voice shook. “Now!”
Whispers rippled from one side of the class to the other. "Do you think she’s got it?" "It’s impossible! She’s a girl!"
For me, this opening raises lots of interesting story questions, and it seems clear that her problem is serious and something I’ve never read about before. What is her condition? What is this world she’s in? What is her danger? I just did my killer first page workshop at Wordstock, and saw the same kind of thing—narratives that had the stuff of compelling openings buried later in the chapter.
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