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)
Rob has sent the prologue for Soldiers of God: the Book of Lot.
“I guess I was a little too late……” The echo of his voice and the guitar reverberated down the valley to the river. The tall ebony man always wondered what it was going to be like to die. His friends always said he was rational, level headed and always staying ahead of life. This one act would change that forever. The ankle deep snow covered the feet that were only ten steps to the river far below. The thought flashed that he should walk to his destiny, but he quickly dismissed it because he wanted the world to know this was deliberate.
Most people considered suicide to be the coward’s way out. His feelings changed when his wife and three children were murdered in the mall. Eddie rationalized this was the most expedient route to re-unite with his family on the other side. He took one last moment to consider the implications of his actions before dropping his guitar and speaking to the wind. “Sorry Lord, Tonight I have other plans.”
Three deep breaths later, he turned and walked to his backpack and his chosen instrument. Like a coiled viper, the pistol rested on the frosty backpack eager to do its master’s biding. Like his soul, the 9MM was focused and ready to explode with finality. Finishing his final prayer, the weapon rose towards his head. Eddie’s wide eyes were open, looking upward with no fear of (snip)
Well, there is a story question raised, which I like, and a character in jeopardy. But I guess I just didn’t want to know the answer. The pace of this page suggested that the narrative would be too leisurely for my tastes—musing and backstory exposition just aren’t compelling to me. For me, there were storytelling issues, too—a shifting point of view, echoes of words, allusions to being late to something we don’t know, and more.
However, there was a one-line paragraph on the next page that, had it appeared on this page, would have gotten me to turn the page despite some correctable shortcomings. After he puts the gun to his head, this happens:
“Are you Edward Paul Norris?” The words were said in a deep, but friendly tone.
While that needs a little punctuation editing, the introduction of a new character right at this moment would have cranked my curiosity up to a level where I would have turned the page. Notes on the original:
“I guess I was a little too late……” The echo of his voice and the guitar reverberated down the valley to the river. The tall ebony man Eddie had always wondered what it was going to be like to die. His friends always said he was rational, level-headed and always staying ahead of life. This one act would change that forever. The aAnkle-deep snow covered the his feet, that were only ten steps from a fall to the river far below. The thought flashed that he should walk to his destiny, but he quickly dismissed it because he wanted the world to know this was deliberate. There’s a dissonance in point of view that was disconcerting. We seem to be in close third person—we know what the character is thinking—but instead of a person we have distant descriptions of “the tall ebony man” and “the feet…” Also: Too late for what? This reference to something the reader doesn’t know didn’t help me get involved with the story. Was he too late to save his family? That would add something. He can’t know that his voice echoes to the river that is far below, even if he shouted, and it doesn’t seem that he does. I highlighted the use of “always” three times in close succession—avoid echoes like that one. While this opening does set the scene to some extent, the musing kept it from being crisp. Also, why did he want the world to know that his suicide was deliberate? That could be an important motive.
Most people considered suicide to be the coward’s way out. His feelings had changed when his After his wife and three children were murdered in the mall, Eddie had decided that rationalized this was the way most expedient route to re-unite with his family on the other side. He took one last moment to consider the implications of his actions before dropping his guitar and speaking said to the wind, “Sorry, Lord, Tonight I have other plans.” I cut a lot because it just slowed things down. What does it matter what he thinks most people think? I question that he would be thinking about how efficient this method was—he’s depressed and sad, isn’t he? The pause to consider implications is delay, and who needs that on the first page? If a little scene-setting were added, this could have made an arresting opening paragraph.
Three deep breaths later, he He turned and walked to the pistol resting on his backpack. and his chosen instrument. Like a coiled viper, the pistol rested on it the frosty backpack eager to do its master’s biding. Like his soul, the 9MM was focused and ready to explode with finality. Finishing his After a final prayer, he lifted the weapon rose towards his head. Eddie’s wide eyes were open, looking looked upward with no fear of (snip) It didn’t matter to me or the story that he took three deep breaths—get on with the action. Once again we slip out of his pov so that the weapon, not Eddie, can point itself to his head. What are “wide” eyes? Were they wide open? Also, there’s no need to tell us that they were open if he simply looks upward, which requires eyes that are open.
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