Writers, send your prologue/first chapter to FtQ for a “flogging” critique. Email as an attachment.
Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, it’s educational to take a hard look at their first pages. A poll follows concerning the need for an editor.
When you evaluate today’s opening page, consider how well it uses elements from the checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling.
Donald Maass, literary agent and author of many books on writing, says, “Independent editor Ray Rhamey’s first-page checklist is an excellent yardstick for measuring what makes openings interesting.”
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.
SOMEONE DIED EVERY DAY. Detective Madison Knight was left to make sense of it.
She ducked under the yellow tape and surveyed the scene. The white, two-story house would be deemed average any other day, but today the dead body inside made it a place of interest to the Stiles PD and the curious onlookers who gathered in small clusters on the sidewalk.
She’d never before seen the officer who was securing the perimeter, but she knew his type. The way he stood there—his back straight, one hand resting on his holster, the other gripping a clipboard—he was an eager recruit.
He held up a hand as she approached. “This is a closed crime scene.”
She unclipped her badge from the waist of her pants and held it up in front of him. He studied it as if it were counterfeit. She usually respected those who took their jobs seriously but not when she was functioning on little sleep and the humidity level topped ninety-five percent at ten thirty in the morning.
Her name died on her lips as Sergeant Winston stepped out of the house. She would have groaned audibly if he weren’t closing the distance between them so quickly. She preferred her boss behind his desk.
You can turn the page and read more here. Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.
This crime story earned 4.1 stars on Amazon, a good showing. The writing is good enough—I’m thinking of the clumsy “She’d never before seen” when it could have been “She’d never seen—and the voice is fine. We don’t expect something to go wrong for the protagonist in a mystery, but this opening does introduce some tension with her reactions to the uniformed cop’s attitude and her anticipation of some kind of hassle from her boss. However, that's not exactly strong stuff.
But, in reading on, most of the first chapter was setup that could have come later. However, the opening of chapter two was this:
THE HAIRS ROSE ON HER ARMS, not from the air-conditioning but from the chill of death. In her ten years on the force, Madison had never seen anything quite like this. Maybe in New York City they were accustomed to this type of murder scene but not here in Stiles where the population was just shy of half a million and the Major Crimes division boasted only six detectives.
She nodded a greeting to Cole Richards, the medical examiner. He reciprocated with a small bob of his head.
Laura Saunders lay on her back in the middle of a double bed, arms folded over her torso. But the one thing that stood out—and this would be what Terry had tried to warn her about—was that she was naked with a man’s necktie bound tightly around her neck. That adornment and her shoulder-length brown hair provided the only contrasts between her pale skin and the beige sheets. Most strangulation victims were dressed, or when rape was a factor, the body was typically found in an alley or hotel room, not the vic’s own bedroom. For Laura to be found here made it personal.
Jealous lover, perhaps?
“Was she raped?” Madison asked.
Terry rubbed the back of his neck the way he did when there were more questions than (snip)
For this reader, that opening is much more compelling. There’s mystery and story questions aplenty, and we’re immersed immediately in the solving of a crime. Had the book opened with this, I’d have definitely turned the page. What do you think?
So, should this writer have hired an editor?
My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.
Writing Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
Fantasy</strong >(satire) The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles
Mystery</strong >(coming of age) The Summer Boy
Science Fiction Hiding Magic
Science Fiction GundownFree ebooks.