Submissions welcome. There’s naught in the queue. Get fresh eyes on your opening page, and you could get a little free line editing, too. Submission directions below.
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.
Kevin sends the first chapter of an action thriller, Insomnia. The rest of the submission follows the break.
I was trying to get the dirt off my hands from the graveside service. It wasn't until the hot water from the kitchen sink started to burn me that I realized I had already washed off all the soap. I turned the tap off and dried my hands. I wasn't sure why we were preparing to eat, I knew I wouldn't be hungry. As I sank into my usual spot at the table, Dad was slunk into his chair, elbows on the table. Mom would have scolded him for that.
“Bekah, just sit your butt on your chair and we can eat,” that was Dad, voice cool as the grave.
“No need to be frustrated,” her face was still red from tears but you would never know it from her calm composure.
Everyone was a little on edge. As if funerals weren't hard enough, there had been a noisy construction crew not far from mom's grave that had really ruined it for me. We had finished the service, but I felt so vulnerable and self-conscious with men looking in from every direction I was eager to get out of there and didn't feel like I had given Mom a proper goodbye.
“I'm not frustrated,” Dad's voice was rising, “I just want to eat and you're holding us up.” He was yelling. I don't think I'd heard him yell much, at least not since we were little and misbehaving. But the glaring fact that one of the chairs at the table was now empty was obviously hanging heavy on him.
I picked up a slice of egg salad sandwich. It was on white bread, cut into four slices. It was leftover from the funeral. I had never thought about how gross the texture of egg salad was before, but (snip)
I like the voice of this narrative, and liked it even more as I read on. As a whole, the writing is good, though there are usage ("your" for "you’re") and punctuation issues. Characterization through the chapter was strong with lines such as “There was something soothing about starting a fight.”
However, for something categorized as an action thriller, nothing happens. There are no story questions raised until, possibly, the end of the chapter. A family in the shadow of grief has supper and quarrels, that’s about it. I should mention that I’ve seen a number of death-of-a-mother-or-father-or sibling openings, and they are seldom the actual inciting incident. Same goes here: the first chapter is devoted to setup, as far as I can tell. I think the story starts later, and I’d like to see that opening page. Notes:
I was trying to get the dirt off my hands from the graveside service. It wasn't until the hot water from the kitchen sink started to burn me that I realized I had already washed off all the soap. I turned the tap off and dried my hands. I wasn't sure why we were preparing to eat, I knew I wouldn't be hungry. As I sank into my usual spot at the table, Dad was slunk into his chair, elbows on the table. Mom would have scolded him for that. The use of “slunk” here for his posture didn’t work for me. Did you mean “slumped?”
“Bekah, just sit your butt on your chair and we can eat,.” that That was Dad, voice cool as the grave. Some scene-setting is needed here. We don’t know who or what Bekah is or that she was in the room. She should have been established before he says this to her. It could have come in the first paragraph. And there’s a punctuation issue in how the dialogue is presented—“that was . . . etc.” is not a dialogue tag. This happens again in the following narrative. You need to study up on the punctuation for quotes with dialogue tags.
“No need to be frustrated,.” her Her face was still red from tears but you would never know it from her calm composure. Punctuation issue.
Everyone was a little on edge. As if funerals weren't hard enough, there had been a noisy construction crew not far from mom's Mom’s grave that had really ruined it for me. We had finished the service, but I felt so vulnerable and self-conscious with men looking in from every direction I was eager to get out of there and didn't feel like I had given Mom a proper goodbye. The first sentence is "telling." Just show us.
“I'm not frustrated,.” Dad's voice was rising,. “I just want to eat and you're holding us up.” He was yelling. I don't think I'd heard him yell much, at least not since we were little and misbehaving. But the glaring fact that one of the chairs at the table was now empty was obviously hanging heavy on him. Punctuation issues.
I picked up a slice of egg salad sandwich. It was on white bread, cut into four slices. It was leftover from the funeral. I had never thought about how gross the texture of egg salad was before, but (snip) Echo of slice/slices—substituting “pieces” would cure that.
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 © 2017 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2017 by Kevin
My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.
Writing Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
Fantasy (satire) The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles
Mystery (coming of age) The Summer Boy
Science Fiction Hiding Magic
Science Fiction Gundown Free ebooks.
. . . suddenly I wanted to spit it out. I knew I wasn't hungry.
“I can reheat some soup if anyone wants it,” Bekah walked over to the fridge.
“The milk will have gone bad,” Dad was arranging and rearranging the fork next to his plate.
“The milk is fine,” Bekah said.
“That's the clam chowder?”
“Your mother made that more than a week ago.”
She dropped the pot onto the counter with a loud thud. “You don't want any right now, don't take any.”
“I don't want any now, I don't want any later, throw it out.”
I still hadn't said anything, but I could feel my face heating up and I knew I was about to. “Throw it out? Is that what you're going to do with everything Mom made? Just throw it out?” I already knew I was going to regret saying that.
I regretted a lot recently. I regretted all the hours I had spent praying for my parent's marriage. I felt like God had played a cruel joke on me when Mom's death had been the only thing that cancelled their impending divorce. I regretted all the arguing this family had done recently. All the yelling and unhappy stress all the days before Mom's accident. Most days I just wanted to be away from here – away from all this. I wanted to go back to the day when Bekah and I would crawl under the green cotton bedspread Grandma had given me and sit with a flashlight talking late into the night.
Now Bekah was crying, leaned over the counter. Dad was yelling about something, but I wasn't listening. There were no tears, her shoulders were just shaking, and she was leaned on the counter. Trying to be strong. For who? For herself? I didn't need her to be strong for me. I dropped my half-eaten sandwich on the table and started to walk out.
“Where do you think your going?” My father asked.
“Clay's house. I'm not hungry.”
“Clay has no part in what's going on right now. Sit down, we're a family.”
I'm not sure what bothered me more. The fact that he hadn't eaten supper at the table for the last six months, or that Clay's household felt so much more like family than this one. I opened my mouth, but held my tongue this time. I was about to mumble that we were only three quarters of a family. There was something soothing about starting a fight.
“May I please go to Clay's house?” I asked.
“No.” I hated when Dad got in a bad mood. We have some tests to do after supper.”
“Tonight?” That was Bekah. “Not tomorrow? You want to take tonight for your stupid tests?”
Dad was always running tests with us. He was a doctor of sorts, and skeptical of the public system. Technically he was a psychiatrist, but he always pulled us from school on vaccine days and gave us a concoction of his own. 'Safer and healthier,' he would say. The tests usually involved blood work checking for polio or something.
So we sat, just three of us, around the kitchen table. We chewed and swallowed some food, and then we headed upstairs. Slowly, begrudgingly, feeling as though my shadow weighed a thousand pounds. Only a few minutes later I was going to meet that shadow, or at least see it. If I had known that, I probably would have sat at that table and, hungry or not, ate the whole dang bowl of clam chowder.