Submissions needed: 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)
Leslie sends the first chapter of a YA novel, Core Quest. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
How I came to be crouching in a thorny hedge, mere feet from the edge of a certainly fatal drop into the Gusting Gorge, hiding from half a dozen men charged with my capture, trying to control my breathing, and reminding myself that no matter how violently my heart pounds, no one else can actually hear it—well, that’s quite a long story.
And it’s a story I would very much like to tell, no, need to tell—if I survive this night. I have no doubt that these men, who have spent the past week in unrelenting pursuit, would try their best to take me alive. But I know deep in my heart that I cannot allow it to happen, even if my only means of escape is my own death.
Would I have to break cover and leap over the edge of the gorge to keep my secret safe? I’d had such high hopes and dreams for my future. I’d just reached the Age of Independence seven short days ago, my nineteenth birthday, the day it all went so awfully wrong. The idea of ending my life now—when it was just beginning—felt blacker than the starless sky and colder than my quickly numbing flesh. I clenched my jaw, pressing my lips together to prevent the scream building up inside me any means of escape. That was a sound which, if released, would seal my fate.
Surely it was a miracle I’d eluded capture this long. Me—an inexperienced girl, sheltered (snip)
Hmmm. An immediate scene with plenty of story questions, good scene-setting, tension is there, and I like the voice (though I think the narrative could be crisper at times). But it’s also exposition and backstory that feels to me on the self-conscious side.
My vote: No, but . . .
Me, I’d prefer filling in these elements as things happen, not before they happen. So I modified the opening paragraph and picked up the narrative from the second page. See what you think and give it a vote.
I crouched in a thorny hedge feet from a fatal drop into the Gusting Gorge, hiding from half a dozen men charged with my capture, trying to control my breathing, and reminding myself that no matter how violently my heart pounded, no one else could actually hear. The sun had faded into night, taking any warmth in the air along with it and leaving me shivering.
The Guardsmen were close now, so close I could smell their odd metallic odor and hear their voices. Could they smell me as well? The wind was in my favor and the last of the rotting, end-of-season thornberries helped hide my scent.
I recognized the contemptuous snarl of the lead Guardsman. “Find this reeker bitch. There’s no cover here except these blasted thorn bushes. Search them, one by one.”
The Guardsmen fanned out, their movements invisible in the dark. Heavy footsteps thudded closer, along with the acrid stench of their sweat and the increasing feeling of menace. I heard their panting, cursing, and muttering. The thrusting of swords. Bushes cracking and shuddering. They were slashing the bushes apart! Was I wrong in believing they intended to take me alive? I’m sure they had expected to catch me that first day, and were frustrated and furious that I’d thwarted them for days.
The time had come. I slid my hand over my solar plexus and connected to my Core—the (snip)
The point is that we don't need the exposition and backstory elements of the world to become involved with the character and what's happening to her. By the way, she ends up leaping into the Gorge, a wonderfully cliff-hanging ending to the first chapter. Keep up the good work, lots of potential here.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
“A wealth of advice backed up by numerous examples and explanations. Ray doesn't just give you the "rules" of writing, but also gives you an understanding of why you shouldn't break the rules . . . and examples of times when it's a good idea to break them. Ray's book deals with storytelling, description, dialogue, techniques, words to avoid, and workouts that help writers to understand how to critique their work and others. He also delves into how to hook your readers and make them care about your story and its character through building tension, raising story questions, perfecting your narrative voice, writing with clarity, setting the scene, and developing your characters. This book is well worth the price of admission.” Joseph
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