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)
Holly sends the first chapter of Juno, a dystopian YA tale. Please vote—the feedback helps the writer.
It took me a while to figure out that I should never immediately say what was on my mind. Of course, I had to learn it the stupid way when I told some friends that I thought my math teacher was the school’s biggest blowhole, and it got back to Mom.
It turned out to be a two-for-one screw-up. Not only did Mom find zero humor in my little joke, it cemented my reputation as a troublemaker in her mind. And to make matters much worse, it was beginning to look like I wasn’t going to graduate. Becca, my mom’s friend and principal of Aurora’s school, had cornered me outside geography. Another class I hated.
“You’re going to fail,” she said.
“I thought I was doing okay in geography.”
“What then?” I shrugged, holding my hands slightly out from my sides and my head tilted to the side. “Whatever it is, I’m doing my best.” A practiced move, it was my default response to Becca. I knew she was talking about math and all my look did was make her mad, and she went straight to Mom. She was furious and Dad didn’t say anything which was his default. He didn’t understand us and preferred to stay out of the day-to-day battles of wife and daughter.
I begged Mom to let Kenneth -- my boyfriend -- help me. She agreed, reluctantly, but it (snip)
The writing’s pretty clean, and we do start with an immediate scene—but we also start with not much in terms of story questions or tension, and nary a hint of what’s different or dystopian about this world. If the writer hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known. And difficulty with math is not exactly a terribly threatening situation, it seems to me. My vote: no.
In contrast, take a look at the opening pages of two other dystopian YA novels. The first one is from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
There are several things that work to make this a strong opening. The first paragraph introduces “the reaping,” which sounds bad and is scary-enough trouble to cause bad dreams in her little sister. Then the narrative reveals relationships—a key to characterization—and subtly lets us know that this isn’t the world we’re accustomed to where none of us clean our kills. A third key to this opening is a strong voice and what the narrator reveals about herself—the fact that she wanted to drown a kitten because she’s responsible for feeding the family, her mixed feelings about her mother, her love for her sister. A strong character, for sure.
Now for the opening page from The Hunt, by Andrew Fukour
There used to be more of us. I’m certain of this. Not enough to fill a sports stadium or even a movie theater, but certainly more than what’s left today. Truth is, I don’t think there’s any of us left. Except me. It’s what happens when you’re a delicacy. When you’re craved. You go extinct.
Eleven years ago, one was discovered in my school. A kindergarten student, on her first day. She was devoured almost immediately. What was she thinking? Maybe the sudden (and it’s always sudden) loneliness at home drove her to school under some misbegotten idea that she’d find companionship. The teacher announced nap time, and the little tyke was left standing alone on the floor clutching her teddy bear as her classmates leaped feetfirst toward the ceiling. At that point, it was over for her. Over. She might as well have taken out her fake fangs and prostrated herself for the inevitable feasting. Her classmates stared down wide-eyed from above: Hello, what have we here? She started to cry, they tell me, bawl her eyes out. The teacher was the first to get to her.
After kindergarten, when you’re free and clear of naps, that’s when you show up at school. Although you can still get caught by surprise. One time, my swimming coach was so enraged by the team’s lethargic performance at a school meet, he forced all of us to take a nap in the changing room. He was only making a point, of course, but that point near did me in. By the way, (snip)
Well. This one immerses us into a clearly violent and very different world, and makes clear the threat to the narrator. The voice is also strong. Lots of story questions raised and clear jeopardy in a strange, deadly world make this a strong opening page.
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