Submissions Welcome. 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
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 checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. 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.
Download a free PDF copy here.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins engaging the reader with the character
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- The character desires something.
- The character does something.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- What happens raises a story question.
Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.
Also, if you think about it, the same checklist should apply to the page where you introduce an antagonist.
Brent sends the prologue and first chapter of First Tuesday. The rest of the chapter follows the break.
Please vote and comment. It helps 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.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.
Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Brent
Call it a coup, call it a revolution, call it restoring the vision.
It began in a New York nanosecond. As with most upheavals, the trigger lay buried amid the minutiae of daily life, long before anyone noticed, long before such a minor alteration could bring forth major transformation.
Coup, revolution, restoration. The woman considered none of those labels as she probed the system, lurking behind firewalls and cutouts, studying her triple monitors, watching her handiwork slip into place.
“JC,” she whispered. An observer might have thought it an oath, a hushed plea, a prayer.
But the woman no more pondered Jesus than the coup, or the revolution, or the restoration that JC would trigger. A job begun, she thought, a job well done.
“Hey, buddy! You.”
John Garner turned at the tap on his shoulder, stopping amid the hustle of Amsterdam Avenue. The man who’d accosted him was tall, a good four inches longer than John’s own 5’10” frame, with dirty blond hair that rested uneasily on the collar of his olive-drab pseudo-Army-surplus jacket. Or maybe the jacket was the real thing, though John was sure – almost sure – the Army had ditched olive-drab for desert camouflage fifteen years ago.
“Weren’t you just in that coffee shop?”
The man’s words sketched a question in form only – no upturned voice at the end, no doubt, more imperious accusation than query. Two sentences, and already the man reminded him of his second-year torts professor, a frustrated courtroom-wannabe who treated his students as hostile witnesses.
The man assumed the answer – correctly, as it happened – and kept speaking. “Did you pick up a piece of paper there?” Again, it sounded like “Where were you on the night you murdered your wife?”
John felt like shouting, “Objection!” Instead, he took a deep breath, refusing to let the man, a total stranger, spoil one of those unexpectedly warm fall afternoons that made even smart people believe winter would never beset New York. He decided that if the man were going to act (snip)
Clean writing and clear voice recommend this narrative to the reader, but how does it fare in the storytelling department? For me, the prologue was too much tease with vague references to things I don’t know and that aren’t revealed to me. What upheavals? What job? These are information questions, not story questions. So the prologue doesn’t get a page-turn from me.
The chapter opening comes closer. It does seem to have conflict, and there are story questions raised. The aggressive tone of “the man” helps to bring tension and raise questions. But . . .
But there’s so much writing here for what should be a simple and interesting confrontation. All of the time spent in the opening on the nature of the jacket the man is wearing—does that impact the story in any way? And there are descriptive notions such as his hair resting “uneasily” on a collar. What does that mean, exactly? The hair wouldn’t be feeling an emotion.
This is an action scene, essentially, with one person accosting another in an aggressive way. It isn’t the time for long-way-around writing, I believe, but time for pace and movement in what happens. Here’s an example from the next page:
So he took his turn in the role of mime, face a mask of incomprehension, arms bent ten degrees at the elbow, palms upturned halfway in the universal symbol for “Huh?”
That’s a clear signal to me that overwriting is in my future. So, despite the beginnings of a story question, I decided not to move on. Of course, because of the way this works, I did read further, and there may be an interesting story ahead and there was intense action—but, for me, the narrative continued to meander more than I was in the mood for. I think Brent should focus on distilling the story down to what’s happening and then add back in touches of nuance (not gobs) to give it his unique flavor.