Submissions Needed--none in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.
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.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
- What happens moves the story forward.
- What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
- The protagonist desires something.
- The protagonist does something.
- 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.
- What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.
Rachel sends the first chapter for an untitled novel. The rest of the chapter after the break.
Some people thrive under pressure. I’m not one of them.
‘What do you mean, you can’t do it? You’re not stupid.’
Mum pushes me out of the way and stands in front of the door.
‘Let me do it.’
She glances at the list of numbers on the panel. A perfectly manicured nail (French manicured, anything else is tarty) flies across the buttons. Five seconds later, the intercom buzzes.
Mum fixes me with a must-try-harder frown.
‘Neurology department. How can I help?’ says a voice.
‘You can start by opening the door,’ replies Mum.
‘Do you have an appointment?’
‘Professor Hopkins to see Doctor Randall at 1.30pm.’
Mum checks her watch. It’s now 1.25pm. Mum is the type of person who gets somewhere ten minutes early and waits on the doorstep for nine minutes and 59 seconds before she rings the bell. A buzzer sounds as the metal door springs open. Mum ushers me in with a don’t-dare-dawdle stare.
Lovely writing and voice in this chapter, and at the end the protagonist, Martha, is faced with a terrifying prospect. But will a reader get there? There’s low-level tension between mother and daughter here but, for me, no story questions are raised. What’s going to happen next? They’re going into a building for an appointment. An appointment for what? We have no idea. It turns out that Mum has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. If there were some sort of hint, perhaps a page turn would be warranted—Here we are, ready to learn if Mum is losing her mind in a most terrible way. That would raise a strong enough story question to get me to the real story question raised at the end of the chapter.
The chapter continues with well-done characterization. I enjoyed Martha—but, for me, the process of getting to the appointment and the description of the waiting room and its occupants, while interesting, do nothing to propel the story forward. Even though Rachel uses the chapter to set up and define the characters, I urge her to get much closer to the inciting events, which are the diagnosis for Mum and the fact that Martha has a fifty-fifty chance of, as she refers to it at chapter end, the time bomb in her brain going off some day. That was a compelling sentence for me, and if the first page could get there I’d be on board. You can characterize Mum and Dad as they deal with this rather than before the big story questions are raised. I’d like to read this novel, I think, but I’m not sure a lot of readers would get to the chapter’s end. See what you think after the rest of the chapter.
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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Rachel