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)
Benjamin sends the prologue and first chapter of The Problem with Cats. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
I spent a small fortune on bribes, drinks, and antacid researching the real story behind the headlines about the public trial and incarceration of my grandfather, Alex Weinstein. I reviewed every transcript I could find and interviewed every witness who could be enticed to talk. Sifting through my research, I decided to focus the book solely on my grandfather to expose the quiet desperation of a common man in today's society.
I gave the manuscript to a campaign manager friend of mine for feedback; just call him "Mike." Mike read it and then invited me to his candidate's fundraiser so I could contribute to his campaign in the spirit of gratitude.
At the fundraiser, we discussed politics, the candidate's future, and briefly the manuscript. Unfortunately, Niles Jordan, a lobbyist from the Detroit office of the Society for the Protection of Animals, was also a donor and more unfortunately, within hearing distance of that particular conversation.
One week after the party, I received my first call from the SPA about the manuscript.
"Change the first chapter," Niles Jordan said. He said more of course. He let me know that my using the "f" word repeatedly and in all its different conjugations had absolutely no effect on his "request".
Well, for me, the prologue opening amounts to what most prologues seem to be—setup. It’s not an immediate scene and, with only information happening, not much in the way of tension. My vote: No.
Grandpa was a son of a bitch. When Dad told me Thanksgiving dinner was at Grandpa's house, I told him so. "Hell no. He's a son of a bitch."
Grandpa was eighty-four years old. His prostate, one kidney, and half a lung were gone from various cancers. A mortar round in World War II blew out four feet of his intestines and an obstruction from a week of eating cheese took out five more feet. One more foot and he was a candidate for a permanent colostomy bag. He was deaf in his right ear and blind in his left eye and the last time I had the bad luck to be on the phone with him Grandpa told me to go screw myself.
"It'll be fine," Dad said in the car driving from Metamora down Lapeer Road. I heard him; I put my headphones on and looked out the window so he would know I was ignoring him. My iPod died less than a mile from the house, but I was not about to take the headphones off. I figured I could fake listening to music for the next hour.
"He's cooking," Dad said. I kept looking out the window. "You know he's a great cook." I turned and gave Dad my best doubting stare. "At the block parties every month," he explained. "He would barbecue. People from all over the city came just for his cooking." I looked back out the window.
I do like the voice and the writing in this narrative, and there’s an underlying sense of humor that suggests fun to be had ahead. On the other hand, what’s happening here? Two people going to dinner. I don’t get a sense of any problems that will face the narrator, or any serious consequences to him that would come out of going to a family dinner, no matter how odd or obstreperous Grandpa is. In other words, no compelling story questions or tension for me. My vote: no.
For what it’s worth.
Free sample chapters—click here for a PDF
“I'm a rank newbie with just my first draft under my belt and a bad case of "Now what?" I've read many books on writing and editing, but Flogging the Quill is the first to give me hope that I may indeed be able to whip my creation into a novel-like shape. I especially recommend it for NaNoWriMo. FTQ makes an excellent read in December after the chaos of November fades. Ray shows you, very clearly and with humor, what needs to happen after 'The End.'” Elizabeth
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