Submissions Needed. 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)
Erika sends a first chapter, not sure about the title. The rest of the chapter is after the break.
I hadn’t dressed for running and was losing ground fast. The shiny black dress shoes I wore burrowed into the dry sand with every step, my tuxedo jacket flapped open as I pumped my arms. The San Diego evening was cooler than you’d expect, brisk gusts of wind bouncing off the sea at sporadic intervals. A full moon blazed out of a cloudless, starry sky, washing the beach in cool shades of blue.
Waves sent salty spray into my face as I reached back to tear the jacket off my shoulders and fling it to the sand behind me. My quarry raced on ahead, lighter than me and almost dancing across the top of the sand. If I had to guess, I’d say I was chasing a woman, 5’ 1” max, with a body fat percentage that had to be in the low teens. She wore an all-black ensemble, complete with a matching ski mask and boots that kicked up little spits of sand with each stride.
Her speed was impressive; she widened the gap between us by almost two paces for each one I took. She ran like someone who knew where she was going, my guess was that she was headed toward the public parking lot a quarter mile ahead. I had to assume she’d prepared a contingency plan in that parking lot somewhere. Guns, explosives, sharp rocks, something painful of that nature. If I didn’t catch up with her before she reached her defense cache, I was guessing I wouldn’t like the welcome.
“Enough of this crap,” I said and stopped just long enough to kick off my dress shoes. A (snip)
Ah, a good strong action scene with clear writing and a good (though over-written at times) voice. The scene is well set, what’s happening is clear, and good story questions are raised: what did the quarry do, who/what is the person chasing her, and why.
The narrative could be crisper, though, and my belief is that you can’t waste the space it takes for verbiage that should be subjected to the delete key. Still, I turned the page, but would have done so more convinced that I was in good hands with some editing, which I’m sure Erika can do. Notes to that effect:
I hadn’t dressed for running and was losing ground fast. The My shiny black dress shoes I wore burrowed into the dry sand with every step, my tuxedo jacket flapped open as I pumped my arms. The San Diego evening was cooler than you’d expect, brisk gusts of wind bouncing off the sea at sporadic intervals. A full moon blazed out of a cloudless, starry sky, washing the beach in cool shades of blue.
Waves sent salty spray into my face as I reached back to tear tore the jacket off my shoulders and fling flung it to the sand behind me. My quarry raced on ahead, lighter than me and almost dancing across the top of the sand. If I had to guess, I’d say I guessed I was chasing a woman, 5’ 1” max, with a body fat percentage that had to be in the low teens. She wore an all-black ensemble, complete with a matching ski mask and boots that kicked up little spits of sand with each stride. I like “little spits of sand”—nice description, very visual, promises more good writing ahead.
Her speed was impressive; she widened the gap between us by almost two paces for each one I took. She ran like someone who knew where she was going, my guess was that she was headed toward the public parking lot a quarter mile ahead. I had to assume she’d prepared a contingency plan there in that parking lot somewhere. Guns, explosives, sharp rocks, something painful of that nature. If I didn’t catch up with her before she reached her defense cache, I was guessing I wouldn’t like the welcome. a lot of use of “guessing” and “guess” here. Look for alternatives (figured, etc.) or delete some, too much repetition
“Enough of this crap,” I said and stopped just long enough to kick off my dress shoes. A (snip) we already know they are dress shoes, no need to repeat
The rest of the chapter follows the break.
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 Erika
daily barefoot run on the beach routine has some advantages, not the least of which is being able to keep up with pixies during nighttime sand chases.
I put on a burst of speed and kept my eyes on the troublemaker who’d ruined what had been, up until ten minutes ago, a tedious evening of guarding teenage girls at a school-sanctioned Welcome Formal. Of course, when the girls you’re getting paid to protect are the daughters of the wealthiest and most influential people in America, you can’t afford to stop paying attention for even a minute lest you miss something. Something like a woman dressed in black trying to break in through the back door. Maybe it sounds weird, but I was actually pretty grateful to get out of there and put my training to use. If not for the woman in black, my post at the school would have run the risk of being the most boring assignment of all time. I didn’t sign up to be a case officer for the CIA so I could listen to girls whine about corsages and hair spray.
Without dress shoes slowing me down, my long legs ate up the gap between me and the troublemaker in short order. By the time I could hear her labored breathing and the staccato, panicked sounds she made as she ran, I knew I had her. All I had to do was tackle, disarm, and subdue her and I’d be free to find out what the heck she was doing trying to sneak into a high school formal. She wasn’t at that dance to make friends, and there were a lot of people who would need to know who she’d been targeting and why.
The unlit public parking lot materialized in the darkness. It was empty but for five cars scattered throughout the lot. I didn’t have time to make a note of the makes and models present because my quarry stopped up short, clutching her side as though she had a stitch.
In retrospect, I should have realized it was a trap. If I’d known who I was dealing with at the time, I would have handled it differently. Maybe I would have kept my distance, maybe I would have run, screaming, away from her as fast as possible. What I definitely would not have done is try to tackle her.
Which, of course, is exactly what I did.
She played me, and as I went flying over her head only to land hard on my back at her feet I realized she’d let my assumptions about her get the best of me. The air was knocked out of my lungs but I tried to scramble back up anyway to dodge the heel of her boot, which came stomping down next to my temple.
I grasped her toes and heel, wrenching her foot to the side with a quick jerk designed to disrupt her balance and send her to her knees. Anticipating what I would do, the rest of her body was already in motion and her foot flew out of my hand as she leapt up into a neat backward roll that not only served to jerk her foot from my hand but also kicked a bunch of sand into my eyes.
I rolled away and scrambled to my feet, my eyes burning with sand and tears, and tried to assess exactly what kind of hornet’s nest I’d managed to kick. She stood about five feet away in a textbook Hapkido ready stance, fists guarding her face and torso, her weight balanced on her back leg. The eyes that stared out at me from her ski mask were Asian, canted in a smile that was both menacing and mischievous.
She should have run away while I was down, I thought as I assumed a ready stance of my own. By letting me face off against her, she ran the risk of me learning something about her. If she’d run while she had the chance, I would have been left with next to nothing. I filed her arrogance away as a potential weakness and tried a diplomatic tack with her.
“Nice night for a run, huh?” I asked. My heart rate was up, making it a little hard to talk. I was annoyed to see she wasn’t breathing hard at all.
She didn’t answer.
“Look, I don’t know what you were doing at the Coronado tonight but I’m sure it was a misunderstanding,” I said. Lying through my teeth is an integral part of being a counterintelligence officer. Not to brag, but I’m pretty good at it. You could say I’d had some practice before joining the Agency. “Can we talk about this?”
She sidestepped to her right and I matched her movement, studying the way she moved in the hopes of picking up on a vulnerability somewhere. A bad knee, an uneven stance, anything I could use to take her down fast. She had none, so far as I could tell. She just kept sidestepping and I just kept circling her, waiting for her to make the first move. When we’d rotated enough that I was facing the ocean with the parking lot at my back, I started getting antsy. I got that prickly, uncomfortable feeling I always get when I know someone’s sneaking up on me, but I couldn’t risk checking. She was up to something, I was certain of it, and it seemed like it’d be a bad idea to wait around for her to show me what she had in mind.
I moved in with a couple quick kicks and punches designed to focus her attention on defending herself. She parried the strikes, moving with an economy of motion I was forced to admire even as she retaliated with a sequence of blows to my throat and face. To my annoyance, our martial arts skills were evenly matched enough that, despite the substantial blows we were both able to land, neither of us ended up with the advantage.
When we separated after a bout of kicks that left me bruised and her winded, I saw her reach for the small of her back. I hadn’t spotted anything large enough to be a firearm there, but I couldn’t be certain thanks to the lighting and constant motion.
I reached for the .22 caliber Colt pistol I keep at my ankle, but before I could draw it she winked and ducked. I heard a quiet click and then a wall of furious sound and heat smashed into my back, laying me out flat on the sand.