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)
Mike sends the first chapter for Dog Island . The rest of the chapter is after the break.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the event on the first day of February, 1995, lasted two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The epicenter was listed as Latitude 30-25’23” N, Longitude 088-33’07” W. That put it twelve miles out from the gulf coast of Mississippi. It was just west of Horn Island in the chain of barrier islands that separated the waters of the Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico proper.
They called it an unclassified seismic anomaly. People on the gulf coast just called it the earthquake. Some believed it was a prelude to the terror that followed soon after.
As preludes go, it’s hard to beat an earthquake, but there were others who would tell you candidly that the real prelude was two years earlier. The day Manny showed up.
The park was scheduled to die in the morning. It would be a lingering death; there were four acres to kill.
By the end of the week, probably. Tristan Graaf stood eating frozen yogurt from a Styrofoam cup as he regarded the hulking, yellow executioners. Smelling of machine oil and diesel fuel, they were lined up like a squad of sentries, as if given an opportunity the prisoner could somehow flee.
With his almost-not-limping gate, he headed south on the well manicured St. Augustine (snip)
Hmm. The writing is clear and clean (well, maybe a little tidying of punctuation). And, even though the opening segment is not the kind of scene that I prefer, it did give a sense of reality to the story to come, and that’s good. And it ended with a good hook—there is terror to come, and Manny has something to do with it. So I eagerly kept reading.
But then we don’t, it appears, continue with the story of terror and Manny. We go to Tristan eating yogurt as he contemplates what I guess are bulldozers (it wouldn’t hurt to be more specific in some way so we can visualize what he’s seeing, even if it’s a detail such as “their blades lowered and ready to scrape . . . etc.”). While the “death” of a park is unfortunate, it doesn’t seem like a terror, and where’s Manny? The tension sags and flickers out in the second half of the page—no drama in yogurt consumption and contemplation. This got an almost from me—the opening segment was a yes, the second part a no, so it didn’t really have the strength to compel a page turn.
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 Mike
. . . grass. Horizontal rays from the sinking sun that made him shade his eyes bathed the palm trees and last minute visitors with a warm orange light.
The park sat on a massive concrete structure that was the gulf side border of Southern Star Marina. With the thirty-four acre marina between it and the shore, the park had a world class, panoramic view of the sound.
The Marina was in the shape of a rectangle with the west side pulled away, leaving a space in the upper northwest corner for the entrance channel. The east wall supported a two lane driveway that led to the park. Parking spaces along the driveway served the boat slips that lined the inside of the wall. The driveway on the west wall led to the harbor master's office, a fueling and service station, and a million candle power lighthouse.
Since he was four years old, Tris visited the park every week with his granddad. When Tris was older, his granddad pointed out different parts of the structure and told him marvelous stories about how it was built, the men he worked with building it, and the raucous adventures they had over the months from 1965 until it was finished two years later.
He looked past the marina to the empty lot on the other side of Beach Boulevard. The Southern Star Hotel had stood there until it burned down in 1990, a year after his granddad died. A much younger granddad had also helped build it in 1949, the year he met and married Laut Mom--what the family called his grandmother. Granddad was thirty and she was twenty-one.
"I just don't see the difference. They have volleyball at Southern and UNO. You could get a job there."
"And they have football in England, but they don't wear helmets," Olivia Ross said to her dad.
Avery Ross gave his daughter a quizzical look.
“It's irrelevant, Dad.” She made an impatient gesture; they had gone down this road so many times. “UCLA offered me a job. Southern and UNO didn't."
While earning a degree in physical therapy at LSU, she gained national recognition as a member of the volleyball team. LSU made it to the national final four her senior year, and during the tournament she got to know some of the UCLA players and coaches.
They tied up after a short cruise around the sound. Now, they stood facing each other on the Wild Weasel, a thirty-five foot converted Duffy lobster boat. The cruise was Avery’s idea. He wanted to give it one more shot.
The lull in the argument gave them a chance to retreat to neutral corners, sitting opposite each other on the bench seats.
Olivia watched headlights coming and red taillights going on the driveway. She understood her father's struggle. If she left for the west coast, he worried that she might not come back. The illusion that she was still his little girl would finally be shattered.
Avery studied the flickering "E" on the red neon EL CAPITAN that adorned the casino barge. He knew he was being foolish, but he couldn’t help himself. He was scared.
"So, bottom line, are you forbidding me to go?" Olivia smiled slightly. It was a familiar scene played out numerous times since she had turned eighteen. It was their tradition. She reached out with both hands and took his.
"You know you don't need a job," he said softly. He looked down as a smile that mirrored his daughter's came unbidden.
It was over. That was part of the tradition too. If he forbade her to go, his twenty-three year old daughter would seriously consider accepting his wishes. But he never once played that card, and both knew he wouldn’t now.
"An assistant coaching position at UCLA will look great on my resume. How can I pass that up?"
She squeezed his hands. "It’s a chance to get me out of your hair for a while, and come on, it's California for Pete's sake."
A voice said, "Yeah, she looks like a California girl to me." It came from a bearded stranger carrying a red gym bag. He stepped onto the Wild Weasel from the pier followed by another man with a long beard. The second man held a gun.
Tristan’s roots on the gulf coast ran deep. His eclectic family tree read like a who’s who of the nationalities and ethnicities that forged the new world, back to the pirate Laurens de Graafe, who helped found the original settlement called Biloxi in 1699.
He wore a large, black wooden cross around his neck. He was told that it had been passed down through the generations from the reformed pirate himself——along with a treasure map he had never been shown.
But the park was a tangible part of his own history. He grieved for its loss.
The headlights of more late visitors came up from the entrance on Beach Boulevard. After a hopeless public campaign to keep the park, they were here to pay their last respects. They crept past the line of boat slips as the security lights buzzed and flickered in the dusk.
Tris turned and headed back to his car. His view of the shore was obscured by the gigantic box that was the El Capitan Casino barge, anchored where the slips for large sailing vessels used to be.
In a few months it would be the third casino to open for business on the Mississippi gulf coast. The patrons would need someplace to park, so, acting out the protest song from the sixties, they were about to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
Full night arrived by the time Tris got in his car and headed down the drive toward Beach Boulevard. He glanced out at the dark outlines of boats in their slips under the formed concrete awnings. One by one in rapid succession, they briefly flashed as the lighthouse beam swept by.
Olivia thought they looked like the bearded brothers on an old cough drop box. She and her father stood up.
"Who are you?" Avery said. He gently pushed Olivia behind him.
"Just two friendly guys in need of a boat ride," the one holding the gun said. They were both wearing dirty coveralls and mud streaked Hunting boots.
"You want us to take you somewhere?" Olivia asked.
"Brilliant deduction, honey. Yeah, Gaillard Island."
"Gaillard Island?" Avery said. "Why?"
"That’s not your business."
"That’s in the middle of Mobile Bay. Even if we wanted to, we don't have the fuel to--"
"We're not asking." The man with the gun pointed to the west side of the marina. "There's a service area next to the lighthouse. You can gas up over there."
"Start the boat and let's get going. Now," The bagman said.
"Hey! Hey you!" Another voice in the night joined the conversation. "Tol' you two b'fore, stay off my boat."
They all turned to watch as the newcomer came aboard the already crowded boat. He was pointing at Avery and Olivia and seemed oblivious to the gun. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a deep tan complexion. His shoulder length dreadlocks, and Jamaican accent pegged him for an islander. He swayed a bit as if the boat was in choppy seas and not tied up in a slip.
The gunman pointed his weapon at the unwelcome newcomer. "Hey, where the hell you think you're goin'?" The Jamaican moved next to the man holding the gym bag and put his arm around him. He shook his finger at Avery and Olivia.
"This is the sec--no third, third time I caught them on my boat." The Jamaican’s expression invited his new friends to be as indignant as he was. They looked on with confused fascination.
"Hey buddy, watch yourself," the gunman continued to aim at the Jamaican. "You wanna die tonight?"
"Ha!" The Jamaican slapped his thigh and stepped closer to the gunman. He still had his arm around the bagman, who staggered as he was pulled along. "I like you, mon--mons. I take you guys anywhere you wanna go."
The bagman stepped out from under the Jamaican's arm and pushed him away. Caught off balance, the Jamaican stumbled closer to Olivia and Avery.
Avery said, "What the hell? You're drunk--"
"You shaddup, mon." The Jamaican pointed at Avery and took a step. He stumbled and pushed Avery into Olivia. The momentum forced all three to move to the starboard side of the boat. "Stay here," The Jamaican whispered, then he turned to the gunman. "Sokay I get these assholes off my boat? Then I take you to Gal--where you said."
"No." The gunman pointed his weapon at Avery and Olivia. "They stay on the boat." He swung the gun around and aimed it at the Jamaican. "Get away from them and get over there." The gunman indicated the stern. "Move slow and careful."
"Sokay mon, sokay," said the Jamaican. He held his palms out and grinned as he swayed from his left foot to his right, then he backed unsteadily toward the stern.
The gunman turned and pointed the gun at Olivia and Avery. "Do you know this jackass?"
"Well," Avery said.
"I tol' you mon--"
"Shut up, you!" The gunman swung his weapon around and pointed straight at the Jamaican's chest. His finger was white around the trigger.
"Just shoot him and let's get goin'," the bagman said.
"Wait!" Avery looked at the Jamaican sheepishly. "I'm sorry," he said, then turned to the gunman. "He always hides his key in the same place." Olivia stared at him with raised eyebrows. "We just couldn't resist taking a little spin in your boat. Didn’t think you’d show up tonight."
The bagman's face was red. "What the hell is this bullshi--"
"I put the key back where I got it," Avery continued.
"Everybody shut up!" the gunman said.
"I don't see it here." The Jamaican had his back turned to them, looking over the transom. "Hey wait, what's this shit?"
"What?" The bagman stepped closer.
The gunman still kept his distance and tried to watch both the Jamaican and Avery, pointing the gun at one, then the other.
"Hey guys, guys, c'mere." The Jamaican, still looking down over the transom, made an exaggerated beckoning gesture with his arm. "Look at my engine. They got some crap all over my engine."
The two would-be boatjackers moved closer. "What's wrong?"
The Jamaican straightened up and looked at the gunman. He was on the verge of tears. He gestured vaguely toward the stern rail. "Look. Look what they done!" He took a couple of sobbing breaths.
The gunman stepped closer, trying to see over the transom, while the Jamaican rested his arms on the stern rail and laid his head on them, moaning something unintelligible.
The exasperated gunman was ready to shoot them all and try to drive the boat himself, but he was concerned that there might really be something wrong.
He moved next to the Jamaican and bent over the rail, trying to see into the darkness below. He lifted his head to ask if there was a flashlight, but instead, the Jamaican made three swift moves and the gunman said, "Oof!" as he jackknifed over the short rail and into the waters of the marina.
"Does he know how to swim?"
The remaining boatjacker stepped back and held the bag defensively in front of his body as the Jamaican pointed a semi-automatic at him.
At that moment two powerful flashlights lit up the scene.
A female voice said, "Police, don't move!"
A male voice said, "That's the worst Jamaican accent I ever heard, Tris."