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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.
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)
Rebecca sends a first chapter of a fantasy novel, Bloodsworn. The rest of the chapter is after the fold.
I didn’t know what a portal jump would feel like, but that wasn’t what I expected. And this rutted wagon road surrounded by creepy dense forest wasn’t the sunlit cottage I thought I was headed toward either. Besides, shouldn’t someone be here to greet me?
My pounding heart and sweaty palms made me question why I was stupid enough to step into a different world, but the gate was gone, committing me to my decision. I scanned the forest with my senses. Most of the birds and mammals were similar to Earth’s fauna, their dark auras indicating animals that rely on instinct for survival. Others, like a family of canines, had a brighter glow. They were intelligent. Not human intelligent, but probably smarter than a dog at home.
The trees and plants were mainly green and normal. I stepped closer—but not too close—to a pink bush with two inch thorns. Its energy spiked as if anticipating lunch. I skittered sideways almost tripping. Dammit. Why couldn’t Lizzi call for help from someplace normal, like Safeway or the Apple store?
My sister’s fear and despondent misery leached across a thousand miles through our birthbond. How could I find her—and rescue her when survival might override my best intentions? I had to try, even though it would take me months to reach her. I shuddered, what had brought my free-spirited sister to such depths?
I liked the voice, and the narrative does introduce an interesting character and world. There are some clarity issues, though, and, as you’ll see, the narrative strays from story in the last graph. But I turned the page. The rest of the chapter follows after the directions for submitting. Your comments can help the writer. Notes:
I didn’t know what a portal jump would feel like, but that wasn’t what I expected. And this rutted wagon road surrounded by creepy dense forest wasn’t the sunlit cottage I thought I was headed toward either. Besides, shouldn’t someone be here to greet me? The “that” has no antecedent, so the reader can’t know what it means. It would help to show the arrival that she refers to so the reader understands. Either that or get rid of it—the feeling of a portal jump isn’t important, but the fact that it happened is. The portal jump could just land her on the rutted road, etc.
My pounding heart and sweaty palms made me question why I was stupid enough to step into a different world, but the gate was gone, committing me to my decision. I scanned the forest with my senses. Most of the birds and mammals were similar to Earth’s fauna, their dark auras indicating animals that rely on instinct for survival. Others, like a family of canines, had a brighter glow. They were intelligent. Not human intelligent, but probably smarter than a dog at home. She refers to “my senses” more than once, but the reader never knows what they are. If they are other than the 5 senses we normally utilize, then show us so we’ll know what’s happening. Without that, it doesn’t mean much.
The trees and plants were mainly green and normal. I stepped closer—but not too close—to a pink bush with two-inch thorns. Its energy spiked as if anticipating lunch. I skittered sideways almost tripping. Dammit. Why couldn’t Lizzi call for help from someplace normal, like Safeway or the Apple store? Nice. I like the voice, and citing familiar things is interesting.
My sister’s fear and despondent misery leached across a thousand miles through our birthbond. How could I find her—and rescue her when survival might override my best intentions? I had to try, even though it would take me months to reach her. I shuddered; what had brought my free-spirited sister to such depths? A little too much musing and statement of story questions for me. I’d delete the questions and get on with the story, with what’s happening NOW.
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 include in your email permission to post it on FtQ. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft 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.
Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Rebecca
I'd have to use my senses judiciously. If I used them too much, I'd exhaust myself and be completely defenseless. Lizzi’s birthbond led roughly in the same direction as the road. Hopefully it reached some semblance of civilization, soon too, because I’d never sleep if I had to spend the night alone in these woods.
After hiking for an hour, I topped a granite ridge that broke through the canopy of the forest. Greenery spread into the distance on all sides. No civilization in sight. Who had opened the gate for me, and why into the middle of freaking nowhere? In Colorado, I’d feel perfectly at home in such isolated country, here my fear stank through my clothes. When the gate opened in my office this morning, I’d thought Lizzi was finally coming home, or at least visiting. Then I felt her despair—could still feel her despair.
The road angled down the opposite side of the hill, wove through truck and house-sized boulders that reminded me of my favorite rock climbing area. The trail leveled out through an open glade with tall grass.
My senses picked up two people. A man and a woman—human, by the tight, sine wave pattern their lifeforce’s projected—rode toward me about a mile behind on large animals. I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe they could help me. Then again, sometimes people could be pretty horrible, especially to strangers. I slipped off the trail and hid behind a rock. If they felt dangerous, I’d let them pass without showing myself.
Soon the riders rode into view. The music of the woman’s laugh reached my ears. Both wore white shirts and red vests with an insignia on the left shoulder. The four-legged animals resembled horses except for two spiral horns protruding from their wide foreheads. Brass balls covered the tips.
They felt like normal people, attracted to each other according to the waves of energy that flowed between them. He smiled at the woman, while she threw her white-blonde hair over her shoulder in an I-hope-he-notices kind of way. She was dressed in a tan split skirt and sat astride.
Indecision gnawed at my nerves. I doubted they knew English, so communication would be near impossible. Would they help a visitor from another world? The man wore a sword. Would he attack me? I recalled my last conversation with Lizzi. The five years seemed like eons ago when she told me about this other world. “There’re people there with talents like ours. We won’t be outcasts any longer. Maybe you can find someone to love and share your life with. I think I have,” she’d said. “Come with me, please.” I’d tried to humor her, but didn’t believe her, until she proved it to me the next morning when she leapt through a worldgate with an armed security guard hot on her heels.
Damn, I missed her.
I hated meeting new people too. Hopefully the local customs didn’t require shaking hands. I’d have to take a chance. The thought of spending the night alone out here scared me silly.
The riders were thirty feet away when I stepped from behind the rock.
“Hello,” I called.
Both animals stopped, ears perked.
“Hello, stranger,” said the man. His brown hair fell across his eyes, and he swept it back with his fingers.
“I—I.” I understood him and it wasn’t English he spoke.
“Are you alright?” he asked, swinging down from his mount.
Unable to trust my voice, I nodded. What was going on? When did I learn another language? Cold chills flushed down my spine. The man approached, but I backed away.
He stopped midway through a step. “We won’t hurt you. I’m Sir Bron McGreggor, truthsayer of first rank under the Warlord’s command, and this is Lady Ara Finde, a storm mage of second rank.” He performed a quick, deep bow, while keeping an eye on me.
His lifeforce remained a steady brown without the red stain of a lie. Truthsayers and storm mages could be the talented people Lizzi told me about. Reassured, I found my voice, but the words felt unnatural on my tongue. “I’m shorry.” I tried again. “Sorry. I fiddn’t, I mean didn’t think I’d be able to understand you. I shouldn’t be able to. Yet I do…speak your language.”
“What else would you speak?” His gaze caught my mangled right hand and a horrified look crossed his face. “Skouldian? Are you an escaped slave?”
My stomach jolted in a knot. My senses told me both of them were instantly sympathetic. Definitely not slavers. But why would he think that by looking at my hand? Most people either acted like there was nothing wrong or directly asked how I lost my fingers.
"No. I..." I hid my hand behind my leg. How much should I tell them? That I'm here from another world looking for my sister? That I'm following her birthbond to rescue her? I didn't think so. But what to say? If truthsaying was a talent, what did that mean? It didn’t matter, I’d never been a good liar, and it probably wasn’t a good time to start.
“I'm lost.” I adhered strictly to the truth on that one.
“We can help you,” Sir Bron said. "This road leads to Serenidy." He pointed the way they were headed and Lizzi’s birthbond led. “And to Laftland in the other.”
“I'm going to Serenidy then. Do you know how far it is?” They seemed nice enough. The lady's expression was concerned with a little frown. She was puzzled by something, but nothing antagonistic came from her.
Sir Bron laughed. “Too far for a young woman to be walking alone. There's an inn a day's ride from here. Why don't you join us?”
“I hate to be a burden,” I said, “but I'd like that very much.” The problem was, what then? I had a Swiss Army knife, my keys, and the clothes on my back, no money, no food, no tent, and nothing to barter with. I hated freeloaders, and it looked like I might’ve turned into one. What was I thinking this morning? Not that I had time to gather anything, including my thoughts, before the gate had started to close. My sister needed me now.
“Red here can carry both of us. What's your name, miss?”
“Liana Carnelly,” I said.
“That's an odd name.” Sir Bron mounted, and reached a hand to me.
I put my foot in his vacated stirrup and grasped his arm near the elbow. That way he wouldn't touch my skin and receive a jolt of my emotions. I settled behind him and grabbed the cantle of the saddle for balance. My senses felt a twinge of jealousy from Lady Finde and I hoped she’d forgive me a short ride with her beau.
Sir Bron nudged the animal with his heels to make it go forward just like a horse. That little motion reassured me some things would be the same as back home.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“A long way from here. What do you call these animals?” I asked. Growing up on a horse ranch had made me a good rider, but I hadn't ridden since Dad sold most everything after Mom died.
Sir Bron leaned sideways and turned until he could see my face. “Serdaths. Where did you say you were from? Serdaths are everywhere.”
“I didn’t. I’m from Colorado.”
“Never heard of it.” Sir Bron faced forward.
“Miss Liana.” Lady Finde spoke for the first time. “How did you come to be out here? Laftland is fifty resmen behind us. There’s nothing but a few scattered inns along the road. You have no belongings and you’re dressed in strange clothes.”
The ultimate question, one I’d thought about a lot over the past two hours. “I’d rather not say.” They might lock me in the looney bin if I told the truth. Maybe. Wariness and curiosity flowed from her. I didn’t get the caution from him, but he seemed to absorb every word I said.
“Are you talented?” she asked.
“I don’t really know what talented means.” I squirmed, thankful that the saddle and a layer of clothing protected the serdath from me, otherwise the animal would be squirming too and might dump us.
“Can you do things that normal people can’t, even with all the proper teaching?”
I never admitted to the ability to do strange things. When people found out, they avoided me. Sir Bron and Lady Finde already suspected me to be talented. What could it hurt?
“I suppose with that definition, I’d say yes, although I don’t call it a talent. More like a curse.”
“You’ve not been trained?” Lady Finde’s indignation flared in my defense.
“Not formally.” Training. Wow, I’d never thought that possible. I shoved that hope down. Training would be nice, but out of the question. Transferring emotions was an affliction, but I loved my ability to see energy lines of the planet and life forces of people and creatures. Unfortunately, it would be in demand by every government and spy organization back on Earth. I imagined it would be the same here, unless everyone here could. Maybe I’d check it out—after I found Lizzi.
Lady Finde sucked in her breath. “The Guild must be notified. You could be a danger to yourself or others.”
It wasn’t if I never touched anyone. “I have it under control.” Lady Finde didn’t seem like a person who would let the matter drop, so I made ready to jump from the Serdath’s back and split into the woods someplace where the serdath’s couldn’t follow. We rode through an open glade, so I’d have to wait.
“What do you do with your talent?” Sir Bron asked.
Suddenly a ripple of energy expanded then split like a barn door slamming open in a gale. A man appeared from a flash of light.
I gasped. The serdath danced sideways, as sensitive to my emotions as a horse would be.
“Easy, Red. Easy,” Sir Bron crooned. “It’s only a teleport, what’s the matter with you?”
The teleport was a scar-faced man whose clothes fit skin tight like a professional bicyclist. Anticipation radiated from him, even though his smile was casual and disarming.
I instantly disliked him.
The serdaths stopped.
“Hello,” said the teleport.
“Good morning,” Sir Bron said in a bold voice. He introduced himself and Lady Finde like he had to me. “The young lady behind me is Liana Carnelly. Are you carrying a message?”
The teleport sauntered toward Lady Finde’s side until he stood a few feet away. “My name is Jras. My Lady, I’m in need of a storm mage.” He glanced into the woods beyond, over the Serdath’s withers.
I sent my senses into the woods following his glance. A man waited there with an expectant air, hiding just out of sight. Damn. I’d been concentrating on Sir Bron and Lady Finde so much that I hadn’t ranged my senses to know he was there. I sensed closer. He held something in his hands.
“I’m sorry.” Lady Finde shook her head. “My orders come from the Guild House. The Warlord has requested my services until further notice.”
Malicious energy spiked from Jras. He raised his hand and stepped nearer to Lady Finde.
The man in the woods moved. I recognized his body position, before my senses distinguished the rifle.
“It’s a trap,” I yelled. “They’re going to kill us.” My panic made both serdath’s jump forward. I scrambled for a grip around Sir Bron’s waist.
Jras snarled and leapt at Lady Finde. His fingers scrambled for purchase on her clothing, but he fell to the ground.
A gunshot echoed through the forest. Sir Bron jolted. Blood spurted from his shoulder inches from my face. Oh no. Don’t touch me! Please don’t touch me!
“Go! Go!” I shoved my insistence into the animals. They surged to a gallop. Lady Finde clutched her saddle and leaned into the wind, taking the lead.
Two more shots missed. Then we were into the trees. Sir Bron started to slip, but I grabbed the saddle in front of him with both hands. Unless he balanced himself I wouldn’t be able to hold him for long. Luckily we followed Lady Finde, and I didn’t have to use the reins too. Sir Bron’s hands flopped at his sides making it easier to avoid skin contact.
My arms ached. We’d fled a mile and the serdaths still ran hard. I couldn’t wait until they tired.
“Lady Finde,” I called. “Slow down, I can’t hold him anymore.”
She glanced back. Her mouth opened in an “o”. She pulled her mount to a stop. Sir Bron’s Serdath followed suit.
“Help me,” I said. “He’s too heavy.”
“Dear Certa.” Lady Finde swung down. “I didn’t realize he was wounded.” She braced against Sir Bron, holding him in the saddle until I could get off, then we lowered him as gently as possible to the ground.
“Bron, Bron. Can you hear me?” Lady Finde brushed his hair out of his face. She leaned down with her cheek over his mouth. “He still breathes.”
“Go for help,” I said. “I’ll stay with him.”
“What if the teleport finds you?” she asked.
I swore. We should have stopped off the road, but now it might hurt Sir Bron worse to move him again. “I’ll hide in the woods. Hopefully they’ll think we left Sir Bron for dead.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Lady Carnelly. Many talents have disappeared lately. I think you saved me from an awful demise. Use Sir Bron’s sword to protect yourself.”
“I will…why did you call me Lady?”
She rose to her feet and strode to her serdath. “Because you’re talented. And unless it’s a minor talent, you deserve a title.” She hesitated. “For some reason, I don’t think you have a minor talent.”
Lady Finde mounted and was gone.
I didn’t want a title. I didn’t want to be noticed for my talent. People didn’t like it when they realized I knew their feelings. Thoughts can be fabricated, but emotions are raw, exposing the truth a person most desperately wants to hide. I doubted that would be different here. Although, I didn’t want to change, or be rid of my talent, I just wanted people to accept me for who and what I was. So far they hadn’t.
The urge to run and hide hit me hard, but I said I’d stay, and I’d be true to my word. It wouldn’t be right to leave Sir Bron defenseless, even though warding off a gun with a sword was close to stupidity.
Sir Bron groaned. I took off my long-sleeved shirt, despite feeling naked in a tank top. With my hands in the sleeves to protect myself from touching his skin, I placed the shirt under Sir Bron’s head. If I touched him, it would be me lying there mostly dead and Sir Bron healthy. My right hand tingled with remembered pain from twelve years ago when I was fourteen. My dad had cut his ring finger and pinky off in a chain saw accident. I had hugged him, only to comfort him, yet his wound had transferred to me.
Sir Bron’s sword felt balanced in my grip. I paced, my senses strained in all directions. The surge of energy when the teleport arrived was unmistakable. I’d know if he returned. Unfortunately, using my senses as much as I had today, drained my strength, but I couldn’t relax my vigil.
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