Submissions needed, none in the queue. 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 to engage the reader with the character
- Something is wrong/goes wrong or challenges the character
- The character desires something.
- The character takes action. Can be internal or external action: thoughts, deeds, emotions. This does NOT include musing about whatever.
- 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.
- The one thing it must do: raise a story question.
Caveat: a first page can succeed without including all of these possibilities. They are simply tools you can use. In particular, a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and a create page turn without doing all of the above. On the other hand, testing pages with the checklist no matter where they are in a story can help identify where a narrative lags and why it does.
Louise sends the first chapter of a creative nonfiction story, a true story, titled Forgiven.. The rest of the submission follows the break.
I am not a brave person. I do not imagine that I would have faced my death with courage. Had I died in the genocide of 1994, they would have found on me the same defensive wounds that are found on the victims as they raised their arms in a futile attempt to prevent the machete from achieving its purpose. My flesh would have proved no match for sharpened steel forcefully delivered.
Long after some of my friends have exiled themselves and a long, long time after many of my friends and family were severed from the importance of their lives, I am still here, in Rwanda.
My name is Jonathan Muzungogo and I was born in a village called Cyangugu, which rests alongside the great Lake Kivu in the Western Province of a district known as Nyamasheke in the small and beautiful country of Rwanda positioned rather perfectly in the centre of Africa.
From the moment of my birth I was different. Born to be different. Set apart from the ruling Hutu tribe that would rip my family and my country apart which would cause my heart to be wrenched from my soul, challenging the very nature of what it is to be human and forcing upon me the setting for my life’s work.
I was brought into this world to be the only son of a Tutsi family with three older sisters and one younger. I have a difference that was not celebrated in my country, being part of the (snip)
This opens with a distinct (and likable) voice. It felt true to the African nature of the character, and created immediate appeal. This isn’t a man musing, it’s a man setting out to tell us a story.
But, getting to the things a first page should try to achieve even in nonfiction, one of those it to give us a hint of either what the story is about or some sort of immediate story tension that makes us want to know what happens next. This opening doesn’t quite make the cut for me, as intriguing as the world and the character promise to be. On the other hand, I don’t think it would take a lot to include something that gives a hint of the larger story and why we should want to read it. Perhaps knowing what his life’s work in the face of massacres would make that difference. Promising, for sure. There may be a stronger opening in beginning with the later scene of his mother mysteriously packing and then folding in some of the initial material later. Keep at it, Louise.
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 © 2016 Ray Rhamey, prologue and chapter © 2016 by Louise