Submissions sought.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.
Christian sends chapter 1 of Red Alleys. The rest of the chapter follows the break.
Estigo faced the gates with a feeling of dread. They looked old and dusty, not much of a threat for the armored car. Still, the mission felt off. Taking down the toughest gang on Mars would no doubt be a tough job. Estigo had a sense the Alley Burners were waiting, that Cloud Nine was in over its head. He was right.
To Estigo's right, Retrigo stood, leaning on the armored car. He saw the look on Estigo's face. "We spent months planning this thing. Don't tell me you want out now?"
"No, I'm good."
"Then act like it."
Retrigo was the leader of Cloud Nine, one of the first organizations formed on Mars. Despite his position, few people in the organization knew much about him. Even Estigo, Retrigo's second-in-command, knew little about him. Estigo told himself that it didn't matter, but he still wondered if there was more to Retrigo than he knew.
Inside the headquarters, a group of about thirty soldiers stood, armed with machine guns. If they were waiting for something, they didn't have to for very long. The armored car crashed through the gates and blasted into the headquarters. The soldiers fired instantaneously. One of its back windows shattered and it slowed to a halt. Smoke began coming out the back. One of the soldiers, a bulky man near the front of the group, walked over to the armored car at peered (snip)
There’s good clean writing here, but I feel that this opening page needs work on the storytelling side. There’s some head-hopping right away, in the second paragraph. I’ve a note below on the dangers of the two very similar names, Estigo/Retrigo. And then the scene-setting and staging of the action lacks clarity—the narrative doesn’t show us where the headquarters is, what the scene beyond the gates is.
And there are POV slips (maybe)—if the waiting soldiers are waiting inside the headquarters building, how can a soldier on the outside know how many they are and how they are armed? I see similar tangles coming up later in the chapter, and the through line of who’s doing what wasn’t clear to me. As for story questions, since this is all anticipation and the POV character isn’t clear, nor are the consequences of failure, this page didn’t work for me on that level, either. Try opening later with less setup and with action happening. A few notes:
Estigo faced the gates with a feeling of dread. They looked old and dusty, not much of a threat for the armored car. Still, the mission felt off. Taking down the toughest gang on Mars would no doubt be a tough job. Estigo had a sense the Alley Burners were waiting, that Cloud Nine was in over its head. He was right. The first sentence is “telling.” Can you show us how he feels? For example: Estigo’s gut tightened when he faced the gates. “tough” is an echo of “toughest” earlier in the sentence, make them different.
To Estigo's right, Retrigo stood, leaning on the armored car. He saw the look on Estigo's face. "We spent months planning this thing. Don't tell me you want out now?" Unless you have a really important reason for these characters’ names to be so similar, I strongly advise you to change one of them to something completely different. As is, readers will inevitably become confused at times or have to work to keep the characters separate. Not best practice. “He saw” is a shift in point of view from Estigo, with whom we started in deep third person, to Retrigo’s POV here—Estigo can’t know what Retrigo is seeing.
"No, I'm good."
"Then act like it."
Retrigo was the leader of Cloud Nine, one of the first organizations formed on Mars. Despite his position, few people in the organization knew much about him. Even Estigo, Retrigo's second-in-command, knew little about him. Estigo told himself that it didn't matter, but he still wondered if there was more to Retrigo than he knew. The back-and-forth of Estigo-Retrigo-Estigo-Retrigo is dizzying. And confusing.
Inside the headquarters, a group of about thirty soldiers stood, armed with machine guns. If they were waiting for something, they didn't have to for very long. The armored car crashed through the gates and blasted into the headquarters. The soldiers fired instantaneously. One of its back windows shattered and it slowed to a halt. Smoke began coming out the back. One of the soldiers, a bulky man near the front of the group, walked over to the armored car at peered (snip) Are “the headquarters” behind the gates? If so, that should be established early on. For example: taking down the headquarters of the toughest gang . . . etc. And here we need to see a little more—are the soldiers visible and waiting in a courtyard or some area between the gates and the headquarters building? But the armored car bursts through the gates and into headquarters, implying that the soldiers are inside headquarters. If they are, how can Estigo know that there are thirty of them and how they are armed? The staging of this scene isn’t clear at this point. The reader won’t know what to “see.”
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 Christian.
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.
. . . through the shattered window.
"We get 'em?" asked Derik, another one of the soldiers.
"Wait a minute-" the first soldier began.
The armored car exploded in a fury of flames as a bomb went off inside. Derik leaped back but caught on fire. He could only watch as the other soldiers were burned to death. He pressed the button on his walkie-talkie. "This is 317. Send reinforcements."
Retrigo and the other soldiers from Cloud Nine ran through the empty space that had once been the gates of the headquarters. In the chaos, Retrigo and Estigo slowly made their way through the smoldering rubble, when Retrigo suddenly stopped. Estigo began to speak, but Retrigo put a finger to his lips, pointing to a figure up ahead. The figure turned and Estigo suddenly recognized him.
"Ryan! I thought you were dead!"
Ryan made no response. Instead, he pulled a gun from his belt. Estigo turned toward Retrigo, expecting an explanation. Instead, Retrigo pulled out a gun as well.
"What's going on?" Estigo demanded, pulling out his gun.
"Drop your gun," Retrigo said.
Estigo stood, unmoving.
"Are you deaf? I said drop it. "
Estigo looked at Retrigo, then back at Ryan. There was a gunshot behind them and Retrigo looked away for a split second. Estigo fired, and Ryan fell to the ground. Hearing the sound, Retrigo spun around. He aimed his gun at Estigo, trying to get a clear shot. Before he could, Estigo had darted behind a building and disappeared.
Retrigo reached for his walkie-talkie. "This is 214. Get to the tower."
The tower was a tall building in the middle of the headquarters. In fact, it was exactly where Estigo was headed. The closer he got to it, the more soldiers that would be on guard. He rounded a corner and saw one of them coming toward him. With nowhere to run, he said the first thing that came to his mind.
"I lost my uniform. Do you know where the extras are?"
He didn't expect it to work, but the soldier just looked past him and said. "Second story, first door on the right."
Promising himself not to let his guard down again, Estigo brought his mind back to the mission. He had to get to the tower, there was something about it. Then he remembered. On the third floor of a tower, the Alley Burners kept a set of documents. For some reason, he needed to get a set of blueprints. Retrigo had never told him why. It may have all been a lie, but he had nothing else to go on.
"There you are!"
Estigo turned and saw Retrigo behind him holding a gun. Retrigo spoke with a chuckle. "This, time, you're coming with-"
An Alley Burners patrol car sped past. The driver saw Retrigo and accelerated. "Eat this!"
"Wait! I'm a-" Retrigo started, but it was too late. The car struck him on the side and he collapsed in the middle of the road.
The driver got out of the car and saw Estigo. He reached for his walkie-talkie and Estigo ran for the tower, hoping he wasn't too late. Already, he saw groups of soldiers starting to make their way to the tower. He put on an extra burst of speed and made it to the tower just as one of the soldiers spotted him. Panting, he opened the doors of the tower, only to see a group of armed soldiers waiting for him.
Estigo shoved his way through the group and could get a good distance past the soldiers before they began firing. One shot hit him in the ankle and he collapsed to the ground. He forced himself to get back up and sprinted for the metal stairway a few feet away. His steps became heavier as he reached the second floor, and he stopped to rest.
"He went that way!"
Estigo saw the other soldiers climbing the stairs after him, and kept going, gasping for breath. He didn't know which room on the third floor held the documents, and he didn't even know which blueprint he needed. As he reached the third story, he saw a door with a sign reading CLASSIFIED and tried the handle. It was unlocked.
Shutting the door behind him, Estigo looked through the room and groaned. There were file boxes everywhere. But then Estigo remembered. Retrigo had said something about blueprints. Maybe the Alley Burners were designing something. He saw a set of blueprints scattered across the floor and took a closer look. It looked like the design for a bomb.
"Which room is he in?"
Estigo froze. His pursuers were gaining on him. He pulled out his phone and took pictures of all the blueprints he could.
"He's in this room!" There was a voice on the other side of the door.
Estigo couldn't escape out the door. That was when he noticed a fire escape on the side of the building. He ran toward it just as the door burst open behind him. Three men ran into the room with guns in their hands and began firing.
Estigo jumped onto the fire escape and began going up. He would be trapped on the roof but easily surrounded on the ground. As far as he knew, everyone else from Cloud Nine was dead. The three men began climbing the fire escape behind him. One of them fired, but the bullet bounced off the metal steps. Estigo pulled out his own gun but waited to fire. Finally, he reached the roof.
Derik was waiting for Estigo on the roof. He had several burns from the earlier explosion but otherwise looked fine. He had a look in his eye, and it wasn't the friendly sort. On the other side of the roof was a small jet. Estigo ran toward it.
"Oh no, you don't!" Derik pulled out a gun and fired in front of Estigo, holding him back.
"Was it you who came up with that trick?" Derik asked. "The one with the armored car."
Estigo nodded but said nothing. Behind him, the three soldiers had reached the top of the fire escape and watched the scene unfold.
"I'd like to say I was impressed, but I wasn't," said Derik. "I saw it coming a mile away."
Estigo pulled out his gun.
"Drop it!" Derik demanded. Estigo dropped the gun.
Derik walked over to the gun and picked it up. "Wait, is this a fingerprint sensor?"
The gun exploded and Derik was thrown to the floor. The three soldiers began firing, but Estigo reacted rapidly and ran to the jet, trying to open one of the doors. It was locked. He pulled out his gun and shot at the window. It shattered, and Estigo jumped into the jet.
The three soldiers ran toward the jet. Estigo fired it up and started it toward them. They tried to get out of the way, but one didn't react in time and was thrown over the side of the roof. The shattered window would leak oxygen once Estigo left the barrier around the headquarters. He reached for the controls and put the backup window in place.
On the ground, Retrigo watched as Estigo flew the jet away from the headquarters.