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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)
Sydney sends the first chapter of The Starshade’s legacy: Last of the Imirri, a YA fantasy novel.
Okay, whoever said waiting was fun needs to be taught a lesson in boredom. I sighed in annoyance as my eyes roved over the treetops from my perch in the watchtower. Ardoway had gone hunting as usual, leaving me to get the firewood. That, however, already lay in a heap on the floor. Now all I could do was wait for my brother and hope that he managed to bring down a deer for our dinner tonight. It had been over a month since his last catch, and we desperately needed the meat.
Still, a sigh rushed out of me and I rolled over onto my stomach to straddle one of the rafters. I hate waiting, and I hate not being able to go hunting either. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t learn to use a bow too! Splinters dug into my palms when I clenched my hands in anger, then I cursed and jerked them away from the beam to pick out the fragmented wood. Great. Bored and in pain. A perfect combination if there ever was one. But when my eyes raked impatiently across the edge of the forest again, they halted. Then grew wide in disbelief.
A deer stood not more than forty paces away from the tower, ears pricked toward the village in the center of the valley. Atop its head, a crown of massive horns reached to the skies. Its fur was lush and thick, body well filled out despite the unceasing winter. And I was stuck here, looking at it and without any means of trying to catch it!
The voice is good, and the writing as well, though in places there’s a bit too much of it for me. Quick line edit to show what I mean, but continue on, there’s more.
Splinters dug into my palms when I clenched my hands in anger, then I cursed and jerked them away from the beam to pick them out the fragmented wood. Great. Bored and in pain. A perfect combination if there ever was one. But when my eyes I raked my gaze impatiently across the edge of the forest again, they halted. Then my eyes grew wide in disbelief.
Even edited, though, there wasn’t much tension in this opening for me. Not much of a story question raised, and no suggestion of a problem ahead. Almost all of the chapter that followed, something like 15 pages, was world-introduction and set-up. While nicely written, it was still exposition with not much happening.
Until along came something that was interesting and compelling. I’ve adapted some of that later material to create this possible opening page. What do you think? A new poll follows.
Few people passed me on my way to the tiny shack at the edge of the village. Those who lived here often went in the opposite direction –either towards the forest or to home. The only thing beyond was blackened ruins, and then the mountains. It was a foreboding place, especially at night when the wind screamed through the valley like a child that could never be soothed.
Something flickered in the corner of my eye, and I jumped, glancing over towards the ruins. What the . . .? Deer weren’t prone to going anywhere near the village, and it was taboo to go near the burned-out house after the fire.
A hazy outline hovered just above the ground near the ruins. It solidified into a recognizable shape. A woman. She stood an easy six feet in height, and her glowing blue eyes pinned me to the spot. Long, dark hair flowed about her shoulders and her stern, but young-looking face bore the faintest traces of a smile. Her skin, nearly transparent, pulsed and faded in intervals and a long, pale dress as thin as mist blew about her slender ankles.
My mouth opened and closed several times like a fish’s would–trying to find something to say, some sound to make, but it was as if my voice had been rendered clean from me. Thoughts rapid-fired in my mind. A ghost? A spirit? What exactly was she? Was she even real?
“Come.” She mouthed, beckoning me with a crook of one long, thin finger.
Then she vanished–blown apart as if by the wind.
My point is that if you can engage the reader with something truly interesting happening, there is plenty of time to weave the world in as things continue to happen and story questions are raised. So why start with set-up when you can start with tension? I'm certain that Sydney feels that the reader needs to know what's in the set-up, and maybe some of that is true. But not all of it, and what matters can be woven in.
I've mentioned this before--in one of my critique groups, when I brought in the third chapter a member said, "Your story starts here." I resisted for a few months, thinking that I needed that stuff, and then realized he was right. I took about 3 sentences of material from the first two chapters, wove then into the third, and had a much stronger opening.
For what it’s worth.
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