Submissions sought. There’s naught in the queue. Get fresh eyes on your opening page. 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.
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.
Ela sends the first chapter of an upper middle grade story, Red-Eyed Daniel. There's an alternate opening and a second poll. The rest of the submission follows the break.
My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home. But no. Striking when I was sitting in the dermatology clinic, waiting for the doctor, was much funnier. Other patients had zits, warts, and strange-looking birthmarks, but I was different. One moment my skin was smooth, and two minutes later—all covered in blisters. Mom was the only one who thought I was normal.
Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t here. In front of me sat a mother with her little girl who scribbled in a coloring book. The smell of her fluorescent yellow highlighter overpowered the stench of medication and even the smell of the freshly painted doorposts.
But then the girl stopped scribbling.
“Ewww, that boy is gross!” she said, pointing at me.
My face burned and I looked at my sneakers.
“Enough, Linda. That isn’t nice.” The girl’s mother said.
“What about his friends?” the little girl continued. “Don’t they think he’s gross?”
What friends? Nobody wanted to be friends with a boy who sometimes turned into a pizza.
I wanted to jump to my feet and flee, but this time I couldn’t hide in a place with nobody around—I couldn’t miss my turn.
The voice and writing are good, and we’re dropped into an immediate scene and introduced to a likeable character who clearly has a problem. As for his desire, we can assume he wants treatment for his condition. But . . .
Once we learn of his problem, we divert into a detailed description of the waiting room, right down to the smell of paint. As it turns out, none of this impacts the story. Even middle-grade kids know what a doctor’s waiting room looks like, and this description (overwriting) slows the story. Not needed.
The girl’s reaction does let us know more about his condition, but I suspect that you had already been able to imagine that being covered with pus-filled boils was pretty gross. Not needed.
I gave this an almost because I am not expert in what works for middle-grade readers. This might work fine for them. But it didn’t for me. What follows this first page is a fair amount of equally well written setup, and we do get to some very interesting developments later. In my view, the first page could have gotten to that part right away.
Following is an alternative opening plucked from later in the chapter. It skips over much of the setup, some of which can be woven in later if needed. See what you think and give a vote.
Blisters. Again.My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home. But no. Striking when I was sitting in the dermatology clinic, waiting for the doctor, was much funnier. Other patients had zits, warts, and strange-looking birthmarks, but I was different. One moment my skin was smooth, and two minutes later—all covered in blisters. Mom was the only one who thought I was normal.
The front desk lady announced that my long-awaited turn had arrived. “Daniel Venture?” she asked, looking out above her glasses. “You’re in room seven, at the end of the hallway.”
The clinic was small but for some unknown reason I couldn’t find Room Seven. I trudged for about five minutes and as I wandered, it dawned on me that the blisters were vanishing. Rolling up my sleeve, I noticed that several erupted blisters had already dried and fallen off, revealing smooth, flawless skin. Finally, I found room seven in a narrow empty hallway.
Inside, behind a square wooden desk, sat the doctor. She wore a floor length black evening dress, and her straight black hair flowed down like a mannequin’s wig.
“Be seated,” she said softly.
But before I had a chance to step forward, the chair slid backward.
And that was when something emerged from her curtain of hair. A slim forked snake (snip)
I think there’s a good, strong story to be told and I urge Ela to see if there’s a way to get it started on the first page (note: if the doc is seated at a desk he can't see the length of her dress). A good beginning, for sure. Your thoughts?
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 Ela
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.
I’d already seen twenty-seven experts who ran tests for allergic reactions, blood abnormalities, and genetics. They plied me with pills and creams, chia seeds and kale, and other vegetables people don’t usually eat, but nothing helped. Maybe twenty-eight—Dr. Augustine, Artimonah’s new allergy specialist —would be my lucky number.
When the door finally opened, the front desk lady announced that my long-awaited turn had arrived. “Daniel Venture?” she asked, looking out above her glasses. She scanned a list of patients. “You can go in now. You’re in room seven, at the end of the hallway. You’ve been referred to a different doctor.”
“What!” I jumped to my feet. “I waited four months to see Dr. Augustine!”
“Correct, but it seems Dr. Augustine felt he wasn’t suited to help you properly. Don’t worry, the doctor you’ve been referred to is excellent.”
I stood there speechless.
“Well, young man, your options are to complain, or see the other doctor. I believe the latter would be far more productive.” She leaned sideways, checking to see how many patients were still waiting, and shouted, “Bob March?”
With clenched fists and a body that felt like it was on fire, I went in search of Room Seven, where I would probably be checked by yet another doctor who would hmmm and hah. The clinic was small but for some unknown reason I couldn’t find Room Seven. I trudged for about five minutes and as I wandered around, it dawned on me that the blisters were vanishing. Rolling up my sleeve, I noticed that several erupted blisters had already dried and fallen off, revealing smooth, flawless skin. My whole body felt lighter than it did when I was covered in blisters. Finally, I found room seven in a narrow empty hallway. The number on the wooden door had been glued on at a slight angle. I knocked twice.
“Yes?” came a woman's pleasant voice from within the room.
Inside, a green curtain blocked out the sunlight, darkening the space. Next to the examination table, which was partly hidden by a screen, was a sink with a mirror positioned above it. I glanced at myself, hoping to see swelling blisters, but in vain. Even my forehead, which I knew had boasted a huge blister just minutes earlier, was clean. Only my body remained sticky with pus and sweat.
Opposite me, behind a square wooden desk with a large globe on it, sat the doctor. She wore a floor length black evening dress, and her straight black hair flowed down her back like a mannequin’s wig.
“Be seated,” she said softly.
But before I had a chance to step forward, the chair slid backward.
I froze mid-step. Impossible. Clearly I was hallucinating. Chairs don’t just move on their own.
“How did that happen?” I mumbled, still glued in place.
The woman smiled. “Be seated,” she repeated, and for some reason, at that moment, I felt a strong urge to sit. I couldn’t explain it. I simply walked towards the chair like an obedient soldier and sat.
I focused on her crooked nose and her smooth skin in a trance. Eventually she said, “So, what seems to be the problem?”
After snapping out of it I felt a bit foolish for staring. “I break out in blisters and I don’t know why.”
“Hmm,” she said, turning to face her computer. Tik tik tik, her long red nails tapped as she typed.
“—really serious attacks. It started when I was seven…”
She was still tapping but I wasn’t sure if she was even listening. I kept talking anyway.
“…doesn’t look like it now, but I’ve got loads of videos if you want to see—“
I was getting to my worst outbreak, which came in the middle of a school play, when she stopped typing and raised her hand.
“I know exactly what your problem is.”
I felt my jaw drop. “You do?”
“Just a second,” she said, still looking at her computer screen.
I watched her face as she typed, hoping to pick up a clue. Nothing. The only sound breaking the silence was the clock ticking. I took a deep breath but my heart raced. That solitary sentence of hers— “I know exactly what your problem is” —made my stomach turn over. After all these years, here was a doctor—a savior! —who understood the problem. I was so shocked that for a moment I stopped breathing.
The doctor plinked a final key on her keyboard and turned to me. “You have chronic blisteritis.”
Chronic blisteritis. Wow, tough.
“This rare disease affects a thousandth of a percent of the world’s population. Because the disease is so rare, many doctors have never even heard of it.”
I nodded vigorously, still shocked by the good fortune that had befallen me.
“The symptoms—well, you already know that.”
“How can it be treated?” I asked.
The doctor smiled. She planted her elbows on the desk, interlocked her fingers and leaned her chin on them, scrutinizing me. “I am only aware of one way.”
“Yes.” I was prepared. Swim with sharks. Immerse myself in ice water. Eat a tomato (I hate tomatoes). Anything.
“The Dumah Clinic,” she said, “specializes in your condition.”
“And where is it? In Artimonah?”
The doctor rolled her eyes up towards a corner of the ceiling. They flashed in a shade I’d never seen—somewhere between the red of a setting sun and the yellow of a snake’s eye. “You could say so.”
“And—covered by insurance? How much?”
“Well, the clinic’s currently, as they say, getting its wheels turning. However, I,” she placed her hand on her chest, “as a member of the clinic’s research staff, can tell you that we do not receive any governmental support, and raise all our own funds from donations. We employ Schrodinger Technology which utilizes Dystrones produced from the person’s own body, making treatment simple and pleasant.”
I listened open-mouthed—the way I usually did in physics class—but I knew one thing for sure: a lot of talking meant it would be expensive. I began thinking about what to tell Mom. Maybe I could start working to pay for the treatment by myself? She was already worked to the bone at Artimonah’s metal factory, The Iron Man, just to support Adri and me, and I didn’t want to make her burden heavier.
“…which is why the treatment is free.”
The last word hit me hard. “Free?”
“Yes, free. Unless you insist on paying. We obviously would not refuse.” She smiled with just one side of her mouth.
“So I go as a volunteer?”
She nodded affably.
I had one question: “How do I start?”
“Mm-hmm,” she said. A click on the keyboard made the printer behind her spring into action, producing a booklet so thick she barely managed to staple it.
“In short, the booklet includes a contract for you to sign in which you agree to undergo the treatment from beginning to end, for free, and we commit to administer it to you with precision, dedication and absolute confidentiality.”
Glancing at the first page of the booklet, I thought it looked exactly like my physics final, which I flunked. She handed me a pen.
“Print your name clearly. Then sign where it says ‘Name of Patient’ right here.” She pointed with a red fingernail. “Next to it, add today’s date.”
“But how can I sign this? I’m only thirteen.”
She smiled again. “Trust me, there is no need for a legal guardian.”
My heart was beating like crazy. Mom always told me to read every contract from beginning to end before signing, and deep down I knew I was doing something wrong, although everything seemed to be going great.
“Can I have a few minutes to read it?” I asked.
A shadow crossed her face. “If you want to read the booklet at home, you are more than welcome. After you sign, of course.”
I lowered my eyes toward the page and tried to scan as many sentences as I could. But nothing made sense.
“Is there a problem?” she asked in a silken voice. “Was my explanation of the technology and method insufficient?”
“Does—does it hurt?” I asked, just to buy time.
“Not at all,” she said sharply. “Any other questions?”
I shook my head. Good treatments always hurt.
She was watching me tensely, so I slowly wrote, ‘Daniel Venture’ in my messy handwriting and then glanced at her. She continued glaring at me without lowering her eyes. She wasn’t as relaxed and complacent as she had been a minute earlier; instead, she was barely breathing.
“Are you signing, Daniel?” she said almost without moving her red lips—had they been red beforehand?
I swallowed hard. More slowly, I wrote the date, and stopped when I reached the signature.
“You know what,” I said, “I think I’ll read this at home first.”
She seemed ready to jump on me and start strangling me any moment, but she remained perfectly still.
“I also want to talk it over with my Mom.”
One of her eyebrows went up. “Your Mom? And where is your mother now?”
Strange question. “At work.”
“Are you sure?” she said, and her lower lip quivered.
“I—I—I—” I couldn’t get any other word out. Walking backwards, I reached the door and stretched my trembling arm out, never taking my eyes off the woman. The handle was freezing, as though dipped in ice. I flicked the handle and bounded out of the room, slamming the door behind me.
And then I ran as fast as I could. Without looking back, down hallways where I noticed only a few people still waited, which seemed suspicious to me. Only once I was at the main exit did I understand why. Outside, the sun had almost set. Impossible! It was morning just a minute ago!
Forcing myself not to think about how the day had passed so quickly, I started running once more, never easing the pace until I got home. Panting, I took the stairs to our apartment two at a time and pounded on the door with both fists until it opened.
“Daniel!” Adri said. “Where were you? Why didn’t you answer the phone?”
“Is mom home?” I sidestepped her and went into the apartment, straight to Mom’s bedroom, glancing at the kitchen and living room on the way. As I feared, her room was empty.
“She hasn’t come back from work,” Adri mumbled.
“Did you try calling her?” I asked, and without waiting for an answer I whipped out my phone and called. No answer.
I called her work number and crossed my fingers as I waited for someone to pick up.
“I don’t think—”
“Quiet,” I said just as a sluggish male voice answered.
“Is Sheila Venture’s still at work?” I blurted.
“She works in the production department. I need to speak with her. It’s an emergency.”
Silence, and then tap-tapping at a keyboard, and so slowly that I wondered if the man on the other end was typing with one finger and taking naps between each letter. After about thirty seconds more, the man answered.
“Really sorry, kid. I don’t know what you want, but there’s no Sheila Venture here and there never was.”