When we submit our manuscripts to agents, and then them to publishers, we’re held to standards set by published authors, especially if we’re writing in a genre. This post launches “Flog the pros,” a new kind of look at first pages—the first pages of the pros.
Below is what the first 17 lines of the manuscript for A Game of Thrones would be, formatted the way I do it here at FtQ. The author is George R. R. Martin, and the blurbs on the paperback call it a genuine masterpiece (of epic fantasy). This is from the first of the four volumes that my son gave me for Christmas. I’m about halfway through (at 400 pages in a small font so far), and I’m enjoying it tremendously.
He’s created a rich and engaging world and varied and fascinating characters to populate it. But, as we ask here, how fares that first page? Here is the first page of the prologue—yes, I read a prologue, and enjoyed every bit. Give it a flog, will you? And don't let "this isn't my genre" be a reason to decline the opportunity--the test is of storytelling, not genre.
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)
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildings are dead.”
“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.
Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”
“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have we?”
“Will saw them, Gared said. “If he says they are dead, that’s proof enough for me.”
Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel sooner or later. He wished it had been later rather than sooner. “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs,” he put in.
“My wet nurse said the same thing, Will,” Royce replied. “Never believe anything you hear at a woman’s tit. There are things to be learned even from the dead.” His voice echoed, too loud in the twilit forest.
“We have a long ride before us,” Gared pointed out. “Eight days, maybe nine. And night is falling.”
Ser Waymar Royce glanced at the sky with disinterest. “It does that every day about this time. Are you unmanned by the dark, Gared?”
Will could see the tightness around Gared’s mouth, the barely suppressed anger in his eyes under (snip)
I think this opening does a good job of setting the scene even though it is briefly sketched, and establishing character and voice. And there’s tension between the characters, and story questions. While I might quibble stylistically with an adverb or dialogue tag here and there, this is strong writing, and it fits the genre well.
I think that there’s a lesson here for fantasy and science-fiction writers who too soon dive into world-building. This is an immediate scene that involves us with people. There’s just enough of the world to let us know that it’s not the one we occupy, and the author fills and builds that world within the context of what’s happening in the now of the story. What are your thoughts?
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.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey