Submissions Needed—none 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.
Juliette sends the prologue and first chapter of a novel, title unknown. The full narrative is after the break.
A bump in the road jarred Francisca awake. Apart from the soldier driving, she counted four mounted soldiers in front and two following them. Four women accompanied her in the rickety cart. Yesterday there had been five.
A week ago, when the French had chased them from the Battle of Renty, there were close to a thousand Spanish soldiers and dozens of carts of women who fled along with the Emperor’s forces. After a few days retreating with the troop, her group had fallen behind and turned toward the east. Soon it was apparent they would not be rejoining the others.
A rail from the cart stabbed into her side. She turned slightly and rubbed the ropes that bound her hands on the rusted iron rail. Afraid a light of hope might shine in her eyes and betray her, she lowered her head.
A small town came into view. Francisca overheard the soldiers discussing food. “I’m starved, we could—”
“We cannot attack the whole town. There will be a house or farm on the outskirts. You can wait.”
As the group plodded along, townspeople stepped into the street to watch them pass.
The writing is good and will get better with work, and the story questions raised here—why is Francisca bound and what will happen to her, will she escape—were good enough to get me to turn the page to see more. I do think it could be stronger if the reason for the light of hope were more clear--show us that the rope is fraying and that she's close to having her hands free.
Thirty years later
Catherine pushed the oil-soaked skin aside and peered out the window of the loft. The sun had not yet risen above the pines on the mountain, but promised a hot day.
“Hurry along now daughter, the birds are eating them all.”
She hung her old chemise on the hook, carefully covering it with a heavy shawl, and climbed down the ladder.
“The pails are there,” her mother nodded toward the table.
“All right,” Catherine grumbled and grabbed the pails. When she turned, she stumbled over her half-naked baby sister who dashed past her with her older sister, Anne, in hot pursuit. Anne had just changed the baby’s wet clout when the child squirmed away and took off, giggling toothlessly.
“Watch where you are going!” Anne grumbled. “She is just a baby.”
“You should be minding her,” Catherine snapped.
Well, we left Francisca in a tense situation, and I was reluctant to leave her. Now she seems to be gone and we’re with another character altogether. As for what happens in the chapter opening, well, the character gets out of bed and is told to do chores. Not a lot of tension here, this is pretty much set-up (and four valuable lines of page 1 were taken up with time and location that could have been done more efficiently). No turn on this part for me, I’d rather know what happened to Francisca.
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 Juliette