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)
Christina sends a revised first chapter of aYA novel, Aftermath: The Last Ginger. The first round is here (scroll down, there's a prologue). There was no permission to continue the chapter, so this is it.
Erica and I are already hiding in the bushes when the States attack the City.
I swear I didn't know it was going to happen. We aren't hiding from the States on purpose; we aren't even hiding from the policer. Although he might have some other impression of the situation.
She's so upset after the exam she starts hyperventilating on our walk home. It's ugly and I want to ditch her, but that’s against the Law of Courtesy. Instead I pull her into our elderberry bushes, which we claim when there's something to talk about. We can sit next to where the river disappears down a long tunnel under the south wall without being seen; the bushes stay tall and leafy until at least October.
I kneel in the mulch, not caring that my skirt rides up to my thighs, not checking for dirt or insects.
“I – That was stressful,” she stammers, red-faced.
I almost hug her – anything to get the frail look off her face – but catch myself. Once I picked a leaf from her hair without asking permission and she smacked my hand. “It sucked.”
“City help me if I get a laborer,” Erica bursts, then claps her hand over her mouth to contain any further incriminating words. “If I don’t get Cameron I don’t know what I’ll do.”
She could tell me she wanted to fly for the reaction I’d give her, except maybe to slip her a thermometer. Maybe I should check for a fever, because no one should want to marry Cameron, (snip)
Well, I did appreciate starting with an immediate scene, and the voice and writing (except for tense) is fine. But we start with something happening in the now and then, in the second paragraph, go to then. The flashback is used to set up the world instead of giving us the story, though I appreciate that a character is distressed—but we don’t know the consequences of failing whatever the “exam” is. And slipping into a flashback necessitates switching to past tense, the way I see it. As mentioned below, I think it would have been stronger to continue with what happens with the attack and then weave this part in later. I voted no, though this world was interesting. Notes:
Erica and I are already hiding in the bushes when the States attack the City. Good teaser opening line. But I think it might have been better to continue with the attack than flash back in time a little bit to set things up.
I swear I didn't know hadn’t known it was going to happen. We aren't weren’t hiding from the States on purpose; we aren't weren’t even hiding from the policer. Although he might have had some other impression of the situation. Clarity issue: who/what is the “policer?” He appears on the scene on the next page, but he isn’t there yet and she can’t know about him because she’s hiding. Technically, since this paragraph and what follows is a flashback to the time before the attack, they should be in past tense.
She's was so upset after the exam she starts started hyperventilating on our walk home. It's was ugly and I wanted to ditch her, but that’s was against the Law of Courtesy. Instead I pulled her into our elderberry bushes, which we claimed when there's was something to talk about. We can sit next to where the river disappears down a long tunnel under the south wall without being seen; the bushes stay tall and leafy until at least October. Information issue: what is “the exam?” This is so generic it doesn’t mean anything. Is it a school subject exam? Then say “math” or whatever it is. If it’s a social exam of some sort that categorizes young women or evaluates their position or worth in this society, give us a clue. Otherwise we have no idea why she might be upset. Let us know why, too. What are the consequences if she/they don’t do well on “the exam?” Did the narrator also take the exam? Is she worried? I do like the reference to the “Law of Courtesy” to help set up the world.
I kneel knelt in the mulch, not caring that my skirt rides rode up to my thighs, not checking for dirt or insects.
“I – That was stressful,” she stammers stammered, red-faced.
I almost hugged her – anything to get the frail look off her face – but catch caught myself. Once I picked a leaf from her hair without asking permission and she smacked my hand. “It sucked.”
“City help me if I get a laborer,” Erica bursts burst, then claps clapped her hand over her mouth to contain any further incriminating words. “If I don’t get Cameron I don’t know what I’ll do.” The notion of “getting a laborer” hints at what the exam was. While I think it’s a good thing to weave the nature of the world into the story, I think a clue earlier would give this more meaning and impact.
She could tell me she wanted to fly for the reaction I’d thought to give her, except maybe to slip her a thermometer. Maybe I should have checked for a fever, because no one should want to marry Cameron, (snip) Clarity issue: I’m sorry, but I have no idea what is meant by “tell me she wanted to fly”. Flee? And I don’t know what the reaction the narrator would, but apparently doesn’t, give her.
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 Christina