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)
Rebecca has sent the first chapter of A Gentlemen’s Conspiracy.
‘Truth is pure. To the pure, all things are pure, all kinds of knowledge whether good or evil; the knowledge of which can’t defile. John Milton
Eighteen months ago
I placed the legal file on the conveyer belt and handed my badge to the sheriff. The client’s mug shot had been in heavy rotation on the news cycle. He scanned it and I walked through the metal detectors. I took special care on initial consultation visits, choosing a dark blue, silver pin-striped skirt suit.
“Clear,” yelled the duty sheriff.
I walked along the white industrial hallway, the only noise from my heels as they clicked on the floor tiles in quick-step. I hit the access button to speak with the duty guard.
“Attorney visit,” I said.
The elevator was deafening as it grinded up the shaft to the fourth floor. Jailhouse elevators act on your senses, closing you in tight and piercing the brain, carrying you off to a winding and uncertain future. As I entered the visitation room it was empty, as planned.
“Jimmy Delmore, please,” I said into the speaker.
The duty sheriff recognized me but we weren’t acquainted well enough to be casual. He unlocked the doors, and escorted Jimmy Delmore into the visitation area and disappeared. Mr. (snip)
Good voice, pretty clean writing, and a narrative about a business-as-usual visit to a jail by a lawyer—and zero tension for me. If this had included anything about her feelings about the case, or, in fact, anything about the crime committed and consequences for her if she took it, I might have turned the page.
It seemed like this was serving as a prologue—the next chapter jumps to 18 months later and a scene that doesn’t involve anything in this chapter other than the protagonist. I think that this is another case of starting the story too soon, or in the wrong place.
There are some small technical things—the antecedent for the “he” who scanned the mug shot is not the sheriff, which is what was intended, but the client. And there’s some overwriting that could be trimmed.
But I think the best thing to do is to show you the opening of the next chapter, for which I would definitely have turned the page. It needs some editing and punctuation help, but there's good story here. See what you think and vote.
“It’s called stalking,” I said, “and the existence of it isn’t predicted upon you acknowledging it.” Why was this man who stood 6:2 trying to intimidate me? I stood 5:5, weighed one hundred and twenty-five pounds, had extremities the size of a chicken, and wore a size seven shoe. His salary out-stripped my own 25:1, and we were standing in my office, a place where I should feel safe.
The Chief Financial Officer watched me like a lion stalking a gazelle in the African Sahara but I was not unnerved. All attempts to intimidate me caused my adrenal glands to flood, like dye descending in water color swirled around me changing my mood. My brain tried to process but my blood wouldn’t relent, pure unadulterated rage won. Not physical rage but mental rage making me sarcastic, insensitive, and downright mean.
He stepped in and gently closed the door. Really, now in addition to claiming sexual harassment I could also claim false imprisonment. I vacillated between screaming and giggling.
“You’re a master at deflection,” Ashe Williams, said in a tenor voice.
He traversed the room bringing up face to face. Anger was present in his demeanor despite his resolve to remain composed. His brow was not raised nor did he change color. He didn’t fidget. His jaw wasn’t clamped but as I searched for traces of emotion, the veins running alongside his neck quivered. In an instant, I imagined my neck being snapped in two. The (snip)
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