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)
Kerry has sent the prologue and first chapter of Out of Control.
The tall man climbed the final steps to the sixth floor of the tenement, surprised to find his breathing elevated. He paused at the top of the concrete stairway to catch his breath.
The stairwell corners were stained dark, the harsh ammonia smell of stale urine overpowering. He moved outside onto the landing and studied the graffiti-daubed walls, their rough concrete surface no barrier to aerosol paint. ‘You don’t spell ‘bollocks’ with an ‘X’,’ he said to no one.
An eroded sign in the stairwell pointed left, and he strode along the ill-lit balcony with caution. ‘What a way to live.’ To his left, the flats with front doors and windows, one brightly painted and well tended, the others peeling paint, panes cracked or boarded. To his right, the balcony opened to the air. The gap between floors supported by regularly spaced and crumbling concrete columns. Rusted metal railings spanned the gaps between the columns, but offered dubious protection against a headlong plummet to the rubbish-strewn courtyard below.
Keeping clear of the railings, the man continued his search. A gust of wind blew rubbish in eddies around his feet. He shivered against the cold and turned up the collar on his leather jacket.
An old Ford Escort belched acrid blue smoke. Not for the first time that day, the children moved the makeshift wicket from the middle of the road to allow the car to pass. They waited impatiently on the pavement, their dirty faces wrinkled against the fumes. Upon reaching a downhill stretch, the car gathered speed and turned left into Broad Avenue, which was neither broad nor lined with trees. They resumed their game after shouting obscenities at the hapless driver. The car could still be heard long after it had disappeared from view, the engine note loud in the early evening stillness.
Cricket pitch restored, their T20 World Cup final resumed. The right-handed batter prepared to face the wrath of the Indian and Pakistani pace-men once more. She took a leg stump guard and squinted. The setting sun only partially obscured by the bowlers’ left shoulder. She nodded, “C’mon then, five to win off the last over, lets ‘ave all you’ got!”
The bowler, ‘Wasim’, wiped his nose with the back of his hand and returned to his bowling mark, some fifteen paces back. He gripped the tennis ball firmly in a grubby fist, kicked an empty crisp packet out of his path, and then turned to face his tormentor.
Bloody girls’ got it coming, Wasim moved into his run-up, increasing pace as he approached the point of delivery. His bowling arm described a big circle, elbow locked and extended, brushing close to his right ear, just as his big brother had taught him. He released the ball and (snip)
There’s plenty of scene-setting description, too much of it for this reader. While it is specifics and details that create reality in fiction, there’s no need to give a photographically complete snapshot of a setting. For example, in the prologue, all of the description from “To his left . . .” really isn’t necessary.
And then there’s the lack of tension. There’s none whatsoever for this reader in the prologue opening. If, for example, we were to get into the head of the tall man and know more about his mission or its possible consequences, it might help. In fact, we never learn that in the prologue because the tall man ends up being killed.
While the flavor of the chapter opening is nice, it doesn’t seem to relate to the prologue. What happens in the chapter is that the ball is hit into a supposedly deserted house’s yard. The kids see something inside the house that scares them (blood everywhere), and a parent investigates, then calls the police. However, we don’t know what has been seen or how it relates to the story—or what the story is about.
I think this narrative starts way too soon. All the detail and buildup in the first chapter doesn’t create real suspense, and the reader is left disappointed. There’s a story question, but it’s not accompanied by any reason to care, or enough of a hint of what’s going on. I suggest looking at dropping the prologue and starting the story later.
Email me for a free ebook copy--for Kindle or .epub readers--of We the Enemy. The reason? I hope you'll help spread this thought tool for addressing the need for action to do something about gun violence..Reviews are here, but don't buy the book, just email me for a copy, and tell me which kind of ebook you need.
All I ask is that you pass it on.
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