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)
Suzanne has sent two prologues and the first chapter for A Map of Heaven.
He ran through the rain. He darted across the puddled street on the lower west side of Manhattan on a quickly darkening winter night. He was late. It was the opening of her exhibit. He couldn’t be late.
One year after she’d vanished without a trace he’d received an invitation in the mail. The event was described as the first show of an exciting new artist. He knew her as more than an artist. The woman he had spent the last twelve months searching for was now the subject of an exhibit. Was tonight a continuation of the hallucination he had come to think of as their week together?
On the other hand, if reality ruled the day, she should be dead.
When he’d received the invitation a week ago, he had immediately called the gallery listed on the front. The paintings had arrived two days before, he was told. The gallery owner seemed impressed with the work. She explained that the gallery would be handling the arrangements, the invitations, perhaps a small mention in the press. They had not yet met the artist, or spoken to her, but she was expected at the opening.
At least the paintings were real.
He slowed, stepping onto the sidewalk in front of the gallery. He was oblivious to the (snip)
Her throat constricted in a silent scream as she stared at the grotesque lifeless face that gaped at her from the grass.
Elizabeth sprang up in bed, shaking the nightmare from her vision. A searing pain tore through her skull. She doubled over, pressing the palms of her hands to her temples fighting back the impulse to retch. She threw the blankets to one side and stumbled to the bathroom, where she managed to spill a few aspirin into the palm of her hand and swallow them with a gulp of water from the tap. She leaned against the doorframe and massaged her temples, panting to regain her balance. Her body was drenched with the sticky sweet sheen of fear.
As suddenly as the pain arced it fell away. Like a wave that crashes to shore and quickly recedes, only a lingering dull ache that left her nauseated remained. Pushing herself upright, she slowly stumbled back toward her bed. She sat on the edge of the bed and then rolled backward onto her side and pulled the down comforter around her shaking body, moaning as an aftershock of pain pulsed through her body. She drew her knees up to her chest and protectively wrapped her arms around her head.
“Oh God.” Inconsolable tears left wet tracks down her face as she lay her head in the cradle of her arms.
“Do you know what it’s like to die?” Sitting on a bed in the busy Emergency Room of the university hospital, Elizabeth willed herself to concentrate as she held her breath and waited for the answer.
“I can explain death from a medical perspective,” the doctor said. “I won’t conjecture on what is not quantifiable, such as what becomes of us after the last exhilation of breath.”
For a moment Elizabeth tried to imagine the owl-eyed man in front of her disappearing into thin air and for a fleeting moment she wondered if the horror of her diagnosis would go with him.
“But it’s not my time to die.” A bubble of desperate emotion swelled in her throat and she quickly clasped her mouth to contain it, not knowing if she would laugh or scream. “I have plans.”
“We all have plans that go unfinished,” he offered with a pronounced look of discomfort.
She hoped the doctor would spare her the litany of his own mislaid plans, she was having enough difficulty trying not to catalogue her own. Elizabeth glanced down at her hands in embarrassment; her knuckles were white with the strain of clenching her favorite fountain pen, which she’d been holding as a talisman, ever since they’d wheeled her into the small room off the main corridor of the Emergency Room. She was propped against rigid foam pillows wearing (snip)
This is the first time I’ve seen two prologues—for some literary agents, that means two things to skip. The voice is good throughout, and the writing is pretty clean (but “exhilation” should be “exhalation”), though there are places it could be a little crisper. The first prologue was a good scene and raised story questions. There was tension—what would he find. However, I don’t think it was necessary.
The second prologue deals with a dream (the whole thing). Didn’t pull me forward.
The chapter opening is an almost only because the jeopardy she faces isn’t there—it’s a brain tumor, which is revealed later. As it is, her problem is vague, and we don’t really know if she’s to die or not. If I had known that she had a terminal disease, I would have wanted to know how she dealt with it. So here the writer has withheld information that could have raised the stakes and the tension.
Good writing, good scenes, a lot of promise.
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