Submissions Needed. 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 engaging the reader with the character
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- The character desires something.
- The character 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.
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.
Also, if you think about it, the same checklist should apply to the page where you introduce an antagonist.
Tamara sends a revision of her first chapter of This Bitter Cup. The rest of the chapter follows the break.
“Cora, get away from the window!” mother shrieks. “Someone will see you.”
I leave the small window with murky glass, allowing the curtain to drift back into place. “Mother, just who is ‘someone’?”
“Them! They will never stop until they have us. They seek us relentlessly and we must not let them win. We must not.”
“Let them win what? Since father died, we’ve lost everything.” My words come out too curt and I hadn’t intended that. So, I pull in a deep breath before trying again. “Exactly who is out there?”
“It doesn’t matter if you know who they are. You could know precisely who they are and still never find them. They are quiet clever, ingenious with disguise. Practically imperceptible. I keep telling you―do not trust anyone. You must listen to me; our lives depend on it and much, much more,” she declares, her agitation growing until she chokes with intensity. She swallows hard to compose herself. And when she speaks again, her voice is soothing, comforting, almost like a real mother. “Cora, I trust you.”
I want to believe her, but I see the manic eyes and crazed expression. They make me want to shout, yank out my hair, or run through the door, but instead I utter, “Then why won’t you tell me something—anything.”
Good story questions and tension in this opening, enough to make me want to know more. The writing is pretty clean, but you should capitalize Mother and Father when they are used as names as you do here. And I think you meant “quite clever,” not “quiet clever.” Stay with it, there’s promise here.
For what it’s worth.
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 Tamara