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)
Scott has sent the first chapter of Family Secrets
When you direct a psychiatric inpatient ward, whether it’s at Boston’s storied Trent University Hospital or not, you’ve got to be attuned to every nuance of the therapeutic milieu. The safety of your patients and staff depends on it.
And so I noticed on my way to the library when the head nurse raised an eyebrow. Especially because Laura Raino had been a little different somehow since she broke up with my assistant ward chief.
“Hey, Dr. Randall,” Laura said. “Finish your session with Ryan Harper a little early?”
Ryan Harper had survived shooting himself in the head. He’d leveraged his wife’s family fortune in a start-up business gamble and lost everything, including the wife and her family enclave and the funds to send his boys to college. The motel room telephone startled him just as he pulled the trigger, and the bullet glanced off his skull and knocked him out.
He claimed he no longer wanted to die. I could understand his earlier hopelessness and shame--I might feel the same way if I believed I’d failed my own family--but his sudden and unexplained reversal didn’t ring true. Especially since his two stalwart teenage sons came to visit every day, and he barely acknowledged them.
“I didn’t have an appointment with Ryan.”
“Brandi said you did.”
Close, but . . .
Good writing, and I like the voice—confident and clear—and there is a story question raised: where is the patient? But I didn’t find that compelling enough—while these two people don’t know where he is, the narrative didn’t give me a strong sense of jeopardy. And it’s not clear that there’s a risk for the protagonist. I think the exposition about the patient’s problems saps the narrative of energy.
There aren’t a lot of nitpicks, so I did this: I simply cut out material to see if there was a page I’d turn within the existing narrative. There was, and it follows. It could use a couple of dialogue beats, but I’ll leave that to Scott to add. A second poll follows to see if this is an improvement in the page-turning department. It raises a very interesting story question about the protagonist, and inserts jeopardy for the patient. Let me know.
When you direct a psychiatric inpatient ward, you’ve got to be attuned to every nuance of the therapeutic milieu. The safety of your patients and staff depends on it.
And so I noticed on my way to the library when the head nurse raised an eyebrow. “Hey, Dr. Randall,” Laura said. “Finish your session with Ryan Harper a little early?”
“I didn’t have an appointment with Ryan.”
“Brandi said that’s why he’s not in Men’s Group.”
“Then where is he?”
She shook her head.
My stomach deserted its post for a new one near my tailbone. “Call an emergency community meeting,” I said. “Maybe one of the other patients knows something. We’ll organize the rest of the staff to search.”
Three minutes later we’d looked in every patient room and every staff office. The other patients either didn’t know or weren’t saying.
This was going to be bad if Ryan was still intent on killing himself, bad for everyone. There would be a departmental level Critical Incident Review. I liked CIRs less than most doctors, because they could trigger an investigation of my credentials, and my credentials were not what you’d call…beyond reproach.
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