Apologies, I got wrapped up in a new book design project and forgot to post yesterday.
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)
Tracy sends the first chapter of A Higher Level of Not Knowing. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
Every time this happens, I know that it is the end. And it’s happening again. First, I see blasts of all sorts of vivid, muted, colors—orange, red, and a faint, fantastic blue that has no name I can think of in the Crayola box. It’s like watching fireworks underwater, pervading all space around me, until it overtakes me. I’m falling. Then darkness---As I fall through what feels like miles and miles of tangled, scratchy brambles that attack my skin and feel like thin, emaciated tree limbs encircling me; leaving their mark with every contact. Falling…I can feel welts forming on my legs as my skin tears. I can hear voices.
I want to scream, say something for myself, but my voice is somehow muted by the cacophony of sound that has overtaken me as I fall. Muffled voices that are not my own create a strange, hushed, rhythmic, eerie rush of words that I cannot understand, but is still somehow strangely familiar.
I can feel sweat beading up and rolling down, across and around every free surface of my body as I continue to fall. My heart is strangled by all of the nervous sensations attacking my body all at once, and I know when I stop falling, I will be dead. There’s no way around it. And I (snip)
Maybe it’s just me, but I often have difficulty with dense, intensely subjective interior sensations like this that I don’t understand. And then I had to translate the mashed-together words (rather than make the reader stop to decipher them, help out with dashes like this: what-gone-on-man, who-dis-one here, ahh-she-a-beaut). This could be a dream, and I wasn’t being involved in it.
A couple of other points and then I’ll suggest an alternative edited from later in the chapter. How can colors be both vivid and muted? Those are opposites, right? There’s the use of “muted” twice in the same paragraph. And I felt that the opening sentence immediately robbed the narrative of “what happens next” tension—this has happened before, and it was not the end. So why read on?
My vote: no. But see what you think of the following as perhaps a stronger opening:
My body jolts and my eyes pop open.
Everything is blurred and glaring. I see what looks like the shapes of people’s heads, of varying sizes, hanging over me. My skin prickles as my senses come back to life. I’m lying on my back on some kind of hard surface. People standing over me stare into my face, muttering what seem like unconnected words. I start to recognize some of the smaller faces and finally I fully understand what one of them is saying as he moves in closer and cups my ear with his tiny, pudgy, brown hands.
“Ms. Younger?” Zahir says, so softly that I can barely hear him even though he’s speaking directly into my ear. “Please wake up. Can you hear me?”
I can still feel my heart beating out of my chest, but I try to calm my insides enough to answer his calm request.
“Yes, Zahir, I can hear you. Are you ok?” I can see that his face is tear-stained and he has a look of desperation like how he looked when he came back to school the day after his mother died.
Before he can answer, Mr. Green, the largest of the heads hanging over me, pipes in “Ah, Ms. Younger, so nice of you to join us again being that this is YOUR class that I had to address because apparently, you decided to take a little nap in the middle of it.”
For me, this one raised enough story questions to get the page turned. I knew much more about the character and saw that she was in some kind of difficulty. I wanted to know what had happened and what would happen next.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
“There are many, many books out there on how to write a novel etc. etc. etc. I am always in the book store browsing through them but somehow they are a mission to read and never quite provoke me into writing, until I found Flogging the Quill. Rhamey does not beat around the bush and gets straight to the meat of it. At the end of the day after years of procrastination I am actually writing and getting on with my dream project. I have recommended this book to my friends and they have all agreed it is a quick read but full of worthy and real world advice. Thanks for the help Ray!” Holmes
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