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)
Holly sends a short story, The Decapitation of Roxy Wolff. The story continues after the fold.
The piano bar was a few blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard, on Fairfax and Fountain. Dark and intimate, with overstuffed dark green booths and a mahogany bar, it was the favorite of movie mucky-mucks. Those who wanted to show off, the Flynn’s, Ava’s, and Lana’s were all down on Sunset at the Mocambo. The ones who wanted a quiet drink were here. As I stepped through the door, a short man with gray hair combed straight back and wire framed glasses brushed past me.
“Louie,” I said.
He nodded. “Krag.”
It was Louie of the MGM Louie’s. I’d helped one of his major female stars out of more than a sticky situation. Most of us don’t mind waking up on top of a starlet once in a while. But his star had awakened on top of one of the dead kind. Then she ran naked out of the Chateau Marmont onto Sunset Boulevard. Since movie stars, lesbians, and the scandal magazines could be career ending, I was the one Louie called after the police picked her up. After fixing it, I felt he owed me one for sure. Eventually, I was going to collect.
Me? I was there to meet an old friend. An executive at Fox, she had been accused of murdering a screenwriter in a particularly gruesome fashion. Unfortunately, the news I had to give her was bad, very bad.
Okay, with a last line on the page like that, how could you not turn the page? Nicely done, Holly. I might tinker with punctuation and the opening chapter a little, but it’s nit-picky stuff. The story continues after the break. Comments help the writer.
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 Holly
She was standing near the almost empty dance floor in a tight, red satin dress. I took a breath. Everything about Roxy fit together just right and all the parts worked in perfect unison.
“Roxy. I was worried you wouldn’t show.”
“You know I’ll show for you. This is a date?”
“Bullshit,” Roxy said, gently moving her hips to the riffs on the piano. “Honestly. You’re so full of shit, you know?”
Green eyes sparkling under thick, black lashes, she reached for my hand. “Dance with me.”
I shook my head but she pulled me out onto the parquet anyway. Slipping into my arms, her waves of raven hair brushed my cheek as her No. 5 started to knot me up inside. I could feel the slickness of her skin under the satin.
The Chanel continued to curl around me, ruining my composure.
I looked at her and started to say something but clamped my mouth shut instead.
“Yes, I know,” she said.
We had moved slowly against each other on the dance floor for a few minutes when she leaned close to me and put her lips against my ear.
“What do you want?” she whispered.
“I know.” She twirled her tongue on the edge of my earlobe. “Besides that.”
“I don’t have good news.”
Roxy stopped moving and I saw her eyes start to glisten as she stepped back from me.
“I don’t want to hear it. It’s all bullshit.” She turned away, and then turned back to me, tears running down her cheeks. “Why did you have to spoil it?”
“You ought to be.”
She stood looking at me for a moment. “Bastard.”
Brushing past me, she walked through the crowd and out into the night.
I never saw her again.