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)
Today’s floggee is bestselling author Tess Gerritsen and her latest novel, Last to Die: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel. I’ve read the novel and enjoyed it a great deal. I recommend it for readers of crime thrillers. I typed out the text of the opening to determine what would be on the first page of a typewritten manuscript, which is not necessarily what’s on the page of a printed book or ebook.
The opening page of the first chapter of Last to Die:
On the night that thirteen-year-old Claire Ward should have died, she stood on the window ledge of her third-floor Ithaca bedroom, trying to decide whether to jump. Twenty feet below were scraggly forsythia bushes, long past their spring bloom. They would cushion her fall, but most likely there’d be broken bones involved. She glanced across at the maple tree, eyeing the sturdy branch that arched only a few feet away. She’d never attempted this leap before, because she’d never been forced to. Until tonight she’d managed to sneak out the front door without being noticed. But those nights of easy escapes were over, because Boring Bob was on to her. From now on young lady, you are staying home! No more running around town after dark like a wildcat.
If I break my neck on this jump, she thought, it’s all Bob’s fault.
Yes, that maple branch was definitely within reach. She had places to go, people to see, and she couldn’t hang around here forever, weighing her chances.
She crouched, tensing for the leap, but suddenly froze as an approaching car’s headlights angled around the corner. The SUV glided like a black shark beneath her window and continued slowly up the quiet street, as if searching for a particular house. Not ours, she thought; no one interesting ever turned up at the residence of her foster parents Boring Bob and Equally Boring Barbara Buckley. Even their names were boring, not to mention their dinner conversations. How (snip)
I like the way the first sentence adds a level of stakes and tension to the story questions that follow. Without it there would still be some tension and questions—would she jump, would she break her leg—but the narrative seems to take a little detour into the character’s feelings about her foster parents rather than staying with the dangerous part of the scene, and the opening words add motivation to keep reading. I realize that it's not the close third-persoin POV that I generally prefer, but in the hands of a pro this works for me.
The writing is clean and clear, the voice professional and fits the character. If anything, I would delete the “suddenly” in the last paragraph.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
I am not a fan of most writing books because they all seem to say the same things. "Show, don't tell." "Create believable characters." "Keep your plot interesting." Rhamey doesn't just tell you what to do, he shows you with concrete examples and a humorous touch. I learned more from this book than I have from all the other books on writing I've read so far combined. Writing Mom
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