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. Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this 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.
Jessica sends the first chapter of Woman of Words. The first 17 lines follow
The two words in front of Renee Jansen had to die for their rebellion. In bold black ink, they bore a name as useless as the prayers her mother used to whisper, an echo from an abandoned world.
Her hands trembled as she shredded the pile of junk flyers and coupons. The pieces of her former life floated to their graves in the trash can underneath her desk. There they’d stay buried. End of story.
Slung against the wall of the spare bedroom that Renee had turned into her office, Sophie refolded her arms, as if the action would speed up time. “Come on, Ren. He’s waiting.” Mint gum snapped between her teeth.
Renee kept flipping through her mail. “Go without me.”
“Taking a break won’t kill you,” Sophie said, “if those cigarettes haven’t.”
Forget the smoking, forget the mail. The real threat waited downstairs.
Renee curled bare toes into the plush white carpet. “I need my shoes. And coffee. And I’ll smoke as much as I want.” She rose from the desk, one taut nerve away from lighting up out of spite.
Sophie kept chewing and shifted her shiny new iPhone from hand to hand. Before the night ended, she’d force the others into about fifteen group photos to test her updated camera.
The opening paragraph is nicely written and provocative. And then I was totally lost. What were the two words? What did they have to do with junk mail? How are junk mail and coupons the pieces of her former life? What’s the relationship of the two words to anything else on this page? I have no idea. So why were they so prominently featured in the opening if the narrative isn’t going to pay them off? I read the rest of the chapter and still didn’t know.
The narrative continues with a number of what I call “information questions.” What the two words are is an information question. So is the unnamed, unidentified “he” who is waiting. Who and what are the others that could be made to group for photos? We don’t know any of those things, and I see no reason to withhold them. If we knew who “he” was and his relationship to the protagonist, then there might be something of interest there.
As an editor and a reader, I did not care for using “slung” to suggest how a person is standing. I think that’s a reach, a description that tries too hard. I thought of slinging spaghetti on the wall to see if it’s cooked. How is a human slung against a wall other than in a fight?
While it’s clear that the protagonist is upset, there’s no clue as to why, which is a missed opportunity to connect the reader with the character. Has something gone wrong? Or is it going wrong now? There’s no hint of that and, for me, no story questions raised. I feel like the writer is concealing things and making them vague in an attempt to build suspense and tension. For my money, specificity and an understanding of what’s going on is the road to a compelling narrative.
Take a look at the first-page checklist. At the top, there’s engaging with a character. I couldn’t connect with this character because I didn’t know what’s troubling her. The last item on the list is to raise a story question. I guess there is a question—why is she so upset? For me, not a compelling one. Wouldn’t it have been better to let me know what has upset her and what she’s going to do about it? And the consequences if she fails? I think there’s good writing here, and there’s an interesting story and character, but for me they are not yet on the page.
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 © 2018 Ray Rhamey, prologue and chapter © 2018 by Jessica.
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.