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.
Lucas sends the first chapter of Lorraine’s Pies. The rest of the submission follows the break.
“Is that really up to you, though? I’d imagine you’d give me an interview.”
The woman shook her head, leaning back against the glass front counter. “Look, buddy, we’re not hiring. I don’t care what the sign says.”
“Hasn’t your guys’ business has been stagnating, lately? I had a cool innovation to help you out with that, but if you’re not willing to give me a chance—”
“Jennifer, I thought I asked you to bring me a spoon.”
To the left of the front counter, a door swung open to reveal the source of the statement: a bistre-skinned woman, probably Filipino, wearing a blue blazer with her hair put up in a bun. The clicks of her heels on the tiled floor halted as she laid eyes on the man. “Who’s this?”
“Thomas Cruishank,” said he, rushing over to the woman and shaking her hand. “You’re Lorraine, I presume? I was just talking with your cashier about applying for a job—she says you’re not hiring?”
Lorraine sighed. “I suppose I could have you in for an interview. You’ll have to forgive Jennifer for her adversity—it’s been a moment since we’ve had any applicants.”
“Just doing my job,” shrugged Jennifer. “You told me not to let anybody apply—”
“I know what I said! Just... let’s forget about that. Thomas, would you follow me back to (snip)
The narrative gets good marks for voice and writing skills, but for me there were shortcomings in the storytelling department. Here are some of them:
- I don’t know where we are. There’s a counter and a door, but I have no clue as to what the establishment is. Setting the scene is key to providing context for what happens. That’s missing here.
- I don’t have any idea, after reading the first page, whether Jennifer or Thomas is the protagonist.
- Opening with unattributed dialogue is usually not good practice.
- The third piece of unattributed dialogue (the woman from the door) causes an awkward moment of narrative—“to reveal the source of the statement.” That’s a terrific way to take the reader out of the story. Instead, stay within the character’s experience. How much more clear would this be: A door swung open and a bistre-skinned woman, probably Filipino, said, “Jennifer, I thought I asked you to bring me a spoon.” Note: I wouldn’t slow the narrative down with a detailed description of her appearance here.
- Avoid using words that are unlikely to be understood by a reader—in this case, “bistre.” I know a lot of words, and have never seen that one. It means brown. Why not brown-skinned?
- There is conflict, but it doesn’t seem to be about much. Woman denies man interview. Other woman enters and agrees to it. End of conflict.
- No strong story question. The only possible one from this page is whether or not Thomas will get the job. Nothing of serious stakes if he doesn’t.
- For me, Thomas is a disagreeable, pushy person. I didn’t like him, and could care less if he gets the job.
I think Lucas needs to find the point in the story where something with serious consequences goes wrong for the protagonist and think on how to begin there. There’s good writing here, but what is the story about?
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 Lucas
My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.
Writing Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
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Mystery (coming of age) The Summer Boy
Science Fiction Hiding Magic
Science Fiction Gundown Free ebooks.
. . . my office, for an interview?”
Through the door she had come from, Lorraine led the way through a hall and to her office—a modest room painted a deep green and floored with scratched hardwood. Thomas could only assume the marks were from the furniture: an enormous wooden desk sat surrounded by a tall bookcase and two wingback chairs.
“Have a seat,” Lorraine instructed. Thomas sat on the wingback to the left of the door and watched as Lorraine clambered behind her desk, nearly knocking over several antique knick-knacks in the process. “So! May I see your résumé?”
“Oh, I’ve got something even better than a résumé.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, if you want to know if I’d be a good fit here, you don’t need a boring list of my credentials—you just need to see what I can do. Luckily, I’ve got something in mind.”
Lorraine rolled her eyes. “You know, you sound just like a salesman. How many job interviews have you actually been to?”
“That’s not important.” Thomas reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled receipt. “This is how I’m going to bring revolution to your small pie shop.”
Lorraine snatched the receipt from him smoothed it out. “…You’ve purchased a can of rhubarb preserves from the grocery store. How is this significant?”
“Before I came here, I did a little research. According to reviews, for the past fifteen years, your signature dish has been rhubarb pies, made with all-natural rhubarbs. I also discovered something else: that your business has been stagnating.”
“You flatter me, really.”
“Lorraine, I promise that if you start making rhubarb pies using preserves, your business will skyrocket.”
Lorraine chuckled. “Listen here, you city slicker. I respect what you’re trying to do, but using all-natural ingredients is a trademark of Lorraine’s Pies. I follow the very same recipe that my great-great grandmother pioneered, and I’ve no plans to change. I’m sorry, but your rhubarb preserves would go against everything that I stand for.”
“Lorraine, I don’t think you understand—change is the only thing that’ll bring this shop out of the gutter!”
“This shop isn’t in the gutter! Business has been slow, but that certainly isn’t reason to undermine my foundation!”
“Miss, are you afraid of change?”
“Rrgh! You listen here, sir. I don’t know if you’re one of those corporate hillbillies or what, comin’ in here and tryna’ uproot my good shop, but I’ve said it to the past hundred salespeople, and I’ll say it again: I will not change the way I make my pies! Do you understand me?”
Thomas shrunk back in his chair. “Y-yes, ma’am. You can keep the pies the way you want them.”
“Thank you. I think you know the way out.”
“…Don’t you want to hear my other ideas, though?”
Lorraine frowned. “You… you still wanna help me? Even after I yelled at’cha?”
“Of course! I need a job, after all—and I really do think we could restore this place to its former glory. How about that front lobby? We could rearrange the tables, take out those hideous blinds from the windows… Whaddya say?”
“I think you’re one to talk about hideous, wearing a suit fit for a mortician, but… okay. It’s against my better judgement, and I don’t particularly like you, but you’re tenacious—I’ll give you that.” She extended her hand. “Welcome aboard.”
“Are you kidding me? Lorraine, he’s some lackey off of the street! You hired him?”
“Everybody is a lackey off the street until you get to know them, Jennifer.”
“But he’s so full of himself! ‘Oh, I’m Thomas Cruishank! Would you mind moving those pretty little feet of yours off of the counter so I can clean it? Thanks!’”
“That sounds like a perfectly reasonable request.”
“He was talking down to me!”
“I’m sure we can work on that—he just needs to learn a little respect.” Lorraine peered through the kitchen window and into the lobby, where Thomas had begun to move the tables into the most “efficacious” arrangement. “Just give him a chance, okay, dear?”
“Speak for yourself—you’re the one who hasn’t given anyone a chance in, what, fifteen years? What makes him so special that you suddenly let your guard down?”
“He didn’t give up. Most everyone walks away when I refuse to sell, or change my ways, but… he accepted my refusal, and tried a different angle.”
“So in fifteen years, nobody else has thought to persevere?”
“Not many people have thought to try at all.”
“Lorraine!” Thomas called from the lobby. “I’ve done as much as I can out here without going to the hardware store.”
“Wonderful, Thomas. Thank you.”
“Can we try something baking related, now?”
“That depends—are you going to try to desecrate my methods?”
“Of course not!”
“Very well, then. Come on back.”
Thomas left the lobby and entered the kitchen (the first door on the left, in the hallway) to meet Lorraine and an annoyed-looking Jennifer. “So, what’s on the menu?”
“I’ve got everything we need for a rhubarb pie. First things first, though: we need to make the dough.”
Thomas frowned as he watched Lorraine take a mixing bowl and haphazardly dump flour into it. “Are you not going to use a measuring cup?”
Lorraine snorted. “Measuring cups? You mean those newfangled ways to measure your ingredients?”
“Uh… yeah. They’re great for making sure you don’t screw up your pie.”
“Listen here, Tom. Back in my day, we had to mix our ingredients by eyeballing it. Now, you need exactly…” She dumped in a little bit of flour. “This much!”
“Of course—exactly this much of an estimated amount.”
Several guesstimated ingredients (and another argument) later, the dough had been made, and spread out in a pan.
“Now, I’ll get some rhubarbs, to make the filling,” Lorraine said, entering the storage closet near the back of the kitchen.
A lightbulb lit up in Thomas’s head. “Lorraine! I’ve got an idea.”
“Let me guess—you want to use preserves? There’s no way in heck, boy.”
“I’ve got a better idea. We could make two pies—one with natural rhubarbs, and one with preserves—and have your cashier lady determine which one is better.”
Lorraine scoffed. “Who, Jennifer? That girl can’t tell a rhubarb from a blade of grass! Why do you think the help wanted sign was up in the first place?”
“…Fine. Just don’t expect me to be impressed—and fire up the oven, will ya?”
“STAY OUT OF THIS KITCHEN!” Lorraine yelled, chasing Thomas out with a spoon. “Honestly, the nerve. I’ve never tasted a pie that was quite that horrible.”
His pie in his hands, Thomas fled to the room at the end of the hall.
There, Jennifer sat in the far corner, wearing earbuds that she promptly tore out as the man entered. “Did she kick you out?”
“What do you think? And what is this place?”
“The break room—although it’s been mine, for quite a long time.” Cautiously, she approached him and his pie. “Is this made with preserves?”
“Yeah. Apparently, Lorraine considers that to be synonymous with poison.”
Jennifer cut a slice of the pie and took a bite, her eyes widening as soon as she did. “This is the best tasting pie I’ve ever had.”
“Is Lorraine’s food really that bad?”
“It’s not that it’s bad; it’s that it’s always the same thing. After fifteen years, you get sick of ’fresh’ rhubarb pies.”
“Well, why doesn’t she make something else?”
“…She hasn’t really had the heart to bake any other pies in an awfully long time.”
“That doesn’t sound promising.”
“Listen, Thomas—if you can convince Lorraine to start baking for real again, it would turn our lives around. She may not seem like it, but she knows this place is failing. All it’ll take is some convincing in order to change her mind.”
She put her earbuds back in and resumed her music. Faintly, Thomas could hear what she was listening to: an instrumental version of the song “Anything You Can Do.”
He had an idea.
Lorraine was still in the kitchen, three slices deep into the pie she had made. Thomas approached her triumphantly.
“Lorraine, anything you can bake, I can bake better.”
Lorraine scoffed through a mouthful of pie. “As if!”
“I can bake anything better than you.”
“No, you can’t!”
“Yes, I can.”
“No you can’t!”
“Then prove it—let’s have a little sales competition. We’ll sell natural and preserved pies, and whichever one sells more, wins! That’s the true way to settle who’s the better baker.”
“Let the public decide—yes, that does seem like a fair way to do it. JENNIFER!”
“YES, LORRAINE?” Jennifer hollered back from the break room.
“MAKE UP SOME FLYERS; ALL PIES TODAY ARE HALF-OFF, IN HONOR OF A SALES COMPETITION.”
Thomas grinned devilishly. “You know I’m going to win, right, Lorraine?”
“And why would that be?”
“Because anything you can bake, I can bake better. I can bake anything better than you.” He had broken out into song, and Lorraine took the bait.
“No, you can’t.”
“Yes, I can.”
Thomas grabbed a mixing bowl and a spoon. “Anything you can mix, I can mix faster! I can mix anything faster than you!”
“In my manse? Not a chance!”
“Yes, I can, yes, I can!”
They didn’t need music to accompany them; their voices filled the kitchen as they eagerly whipped up pie after pie and shoved them into the oven.
“Anything that you measure, I will measure quicker! My measuring cups are better than you!”
“No, they’re not!”
“By a lot!”
“No, they’re not, no they’re not!”
Meanwhile, Jennifer was out on the town, distributing flyers for the sale. The music had gotten to her, too, and she sang along to the melody that Thomas and Lorraine were sharing. “Any pie that you try, you can get half off! Try our rhubarb pie at Lorraine’s Pies!”
“Wow, thanks!” exclaimed a customer.
“Wow, thanks!” said another.
“Thanks a lot, thanks a lot!”
Lorraine and Thomas were still at it, setting up two lines for pies—with and without preserves, respectively. Customers slowly streamed in, flyers in hand, and were directed by Jennifer to the preserve or non-preserve line.
“If you try my pies, they will taste better! Try my pies if you want good taste forever!” Lorraine sang to the customers.
“That’s a lie!” Thomas yelled.
“Come and try!”
“Did you know pie preserves are 10% healthier? That means that my pies are better for you!”
“No, they’re not!”
“Yes, they are!”
“Of course not, of course not!”
As the song ended, the shop finally filled to the brim. Jennifer closed the doors, flipped the sign to “CLOSED,” and stood atop the front counter.
“CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE?” she boomed, quieting the bustling crowd. “Please raise your hand if you tried a pie with preserves, and enjoyed it!”
A sea of hands shot up, and Jennifer tallied the amount of a scrap of paper.
“Now, how many of you tried pies without preserves, and enjoyed it?”
Again, a sea of hands. She marked the total down, and hopped off of the counter. “Lorraine, Thomas—follow me, if you’re ready to score.”
With a tentative glance at each other, Lorraine and Thomas followed her out of the lobby, down the hall, and into the break room.
On the wall across from the break room entrance, a white board hung. Jennifer now stood in front of it, making two columns: one marked L, and another marked T. Reading the paper carefully, she drew nineteen tally marks in the L column, and another nineteen in the T column.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Thomas gasped. “It’s a tie?”
“Looks like it,” Lorraine affirmed.
An unpleasant silence fell over the room, until Jennifer sighed. “Listen, you two. You both brought a ton of business to the shop today, even if it was with different types of pies. Can’t you just set aside your differences, and agree to work together?”
Slowly, Lorraine turned to Thomas. “…I suppose it wouldn’t be too bad if we tried to combine our methods. I mean, my customers have spoken, and they like both our pies—so, I suppose…”
“…that we should work together for the foreseeable future?” Thomas finished. After a moment, he burst out into laughter, as did Lorraine.
She led him out of the break room. “Let’s go bake some more pies. I have a theory that your ’measuring cups’ would be great for measuring rhubarbs…”
Back in the break room, Jennifer sunk into a chair and pulled the tally paper from her pocket. It bore twenty-five tally marks under the column marked T, and only fifteen under the column marked L. She crumpled the paper in her fist and exhaled.
“I hope this works.”