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 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.
Jennifer sends the first chapter of a middle grade book, When the Time Is Right. The rest of the submission follows the break.
I wake up, yawn, and stretch. Day three at Camp Enigma. Or... wait. Is that right? I feel like I've woken up in this top bunk a lot more than twice.
I roll over, and something thunks to the floor. My book. I know without even looking over the side of the bunk. How do I know it was my book?
"Hey, Vik!" Richie calls from the bunk below. "Watch it!" The bunk beds shake as he climbs up the ladder. "You coulda killed me."
"Did it hit you?" I ask. Not that it really matters. Richie is already crazy. A book to the head isn't going to change much.
"Naw," he says. "I knew it was going to fall."
"Really? You knew?" I roll over to study his face. He doesn't look like he's kidding. "How long have we been at camp?" The words come out of my mouth before I even realize I'm asking. I can feel my cheeks reddening at the stupid-ness of the question.
"First night I broke my arm.” He holds up his cast. “So last night was our second night. So today is day three." He shrugs, like it's no big thing. The look in his eyes, though, says something else. Like something is bothering him.
I open my mouth to ask what's wrong, but Richie cuts me off -
“Duck!” he shouts, leaning sideways.
More good writing in this opener—strong, clear voice and narrative in an immediate scene are all to the good. The scene is set sufficiently so we can “see” just enough. And there are story questions raised, but they are subtle and don’t seem consequential: how did he know it was his book that made the thud, how did his friend know to duck, why does his friend seem bothered. For me, they didn’t quite add up to compelling, but they earned an almost.
But I think the page could have been compelling with one more little incident from the next page added. Unless it’s absolutely necessary to the story that we know immediately that they’ve been there for three days and when his friend broke his arm, I’d cut or move those parts of the narrative to get the following on the first page right after Richie shouts to duck:
A balled-up sock comes at me from the other top bunk and hits me in the side of the head. It came from behind Richie. He couldn’t possibly have seen it coming. And yet he still somehow knew. What is going on?
Add this to the list of what’s-going-on-questions already raised and you’ve got me.
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 © 2016 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2016 by Jenifer
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.