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)
Deborah sends a prologue & first chapter of a YA novel, Vision.
Eight Years Ago
The weary moan of an ancient floorboard jolted us awake. We rushed to our daughter, hopefully snoozing soundly and not perilously sleepwalking as she had so often before. When we reached her doorway and saw the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face we relaxed-until noise stabbed through the brief quiet of a lull in the raging storm. An intruder was stealthily opening drawers and cabinets downstairs.
“I’m getting my gun”, I declared to my wife Lara who was huddled next to me with our daughter Shelby, now awake and taking cover behind the legion of fluffy stuffed animals shielding her bed. My Glock 17 sidearm was, as usual when I was home, locked in my biometric gun safe in the master bedroom. Jackhammer heavy rain pounded the concrete moat surrounding our normally safe brownstone.
I knew from experience, someone brazen enough to come into an occupied house in the middle of the night would have no difficulty killing. I silently berated myself for not having the foresight to grab my weapon when we first heard the noise. I should’ve known better.
“Jack, please don’t”, Lara said clutching my pajama shirt sleeve. “What if they hear you? Maybe they think we aren’t home and they’ll take what they want and leave.” Lara was sitting on her knees, her pale bare feet tucked under her small frame, her long, silky, chocolate colored hair pulled back into a ponytail for sleeping.
“Shelby, can you come down here please? We have some news!” My mother’s soprano voice vibrated with unconcealed excitement as she summoned me. I apathetically tossed my trigonometry homework down on my bed, and ambled down the steep, wooden stairs to where she and her boyfriend Michael were standing as one in the living room, shoulders touching, their fingers tightly intertwined. My mother wasn’t generally prone to theatrics, so I didn’t know what to expect.
“So, how was your day?” she practically sang as I reached the last step. Her blue eyes twinkled with a percolating secret about to bubble over.
“Seriously? I thought you had something to tell me?” I said as I assumed my most unaffected pose, leaning against the creaky old walnut banister. Both my hands were tucked into the front pocket of the fuzzy purple fleece that was working hard to keep me warm on this blustery January day.
Rather than roll her eyes at my teenage nonchalance as she normally would, she looked up at Michael, her junior by eleven years and flashed a toothy white smile. She turned back to me, holding her breath for effect for just a moment before thrusting her polished hand at me like a queen waiting for a kiss. On her delicate finger, she wore a beautiful square cut diamond ring, guarded with an army of glistening, blood-red rubies.
In terms of story questions, I thought that the prologue had a chance—it’s an active scene, there is jeopardy ahead, and a nice family. The chapter opening, in terms of story, didn’t rise to the level of compelling—or, really, very interesting. We can deduce what is happening, but there’s no reason to think that an engagement ring creates a problem for the protagonist.
While there’s promise here, I felt that the writing hasn’t reached a publishable level yet, and that stayed my hand. There is overwriting and a lack of crispness that foreshadows an uneven read that will bog down now and then. I felt that there was an overuse of adjectives to describe, and that continued in the narrative that followed.
So keep at it, Deborah, but trim it down to the essence and keep the story moving. You do that well in the rest of the prologue, but the chapter soon became a lot of exposition and set-up. Get to the story.
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 Deborah