Submissions wanted: 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)
Steve sends the first chapter of an urban fantasy, Crooked Halo. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
Mik put his seat back and tray table in their full upright position. He made sure his seat belt was securely fastened.
This was a new experience; he usually left an aircraft in mid flight, wearing a tactical assault parachute.
Shortly after they lifted off from Amsterdam the woman in the window seat asked him whose uniform he wore. She understood a sergeant’s stripes, and the three rows of ribbons spoke of years in uniform, but the color and cut was not in her data bank.
“Georgian Armed Forces.” Her accent said American, so he added, “A small country between Russia and Turkey.” He knew that to most Americans, Georgia was between Alabama and South Carolina.
She laughed. “Oh, I know where Sakartvelo is. I was just in Chechnya, trying without success to extradite a terrorist. Alleged terrorist, as they are careful to say on the news.”
Mik had acquired his English in Afghanistan, serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, and he wasn’t sure what extradite and alleged meant; they sounded like lawyer words, ones used to justify inaction. Terrorist he knew, and understood. In his world you simply caught them and killed them. As he had done just yesterday, although not exactly under orders.
The scene is set nicely and the character introduced in a way that makes him immediately interesting—and starts raising story questions. I thought there were three lines in particular that worked to build tension: the one about usually leaving an aircraft in mid-flight (hyphen needed there) and the last two about killing terrorists.
However—the chapter goes on to basically give exposition and set-up; nothing happens that creates a problem for this character. I would look for a way to start the story closer to the inciting incident and, if needed, weave some of this information in at that time. Involve us with the character’s troubles and you’ll have a stronger narrative. No particular notes other than the hyphen and perhaps a comma after “Shortly after they lifted off from Amsterdam.” Good writing, confident voice.
But, seriously, look for a stronger opening later in the story. After the opening page, the chapter was on the disappointing side. It didn't give me an idea of what the story was about, nor did it increase tension. In fact, it lost tension for this reader.
My vote: Yes.
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