Submissions sought. There’s naught in the queue. 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 (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.
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.
Lucas sends the first chapter of Lorraine’s Pies. The rest of the submission follows the break.
“Is that really up to you, though? I’d imagine you’d give me an interview.”
The woman shook her head, leaning back against the glass front counter. “Look, buddy, we’re not hiring. I don’t care what the sign says.”
“Hasn’t your guys’ business has been stagnating, lately? I had a cool innovation to help you out with that, but if you’re not willing to give me a chance—”
“Jennifer, I thought I asked you to bring me a spoon.”
To the left of the front counter, a door swung open to reveal the source of the statement: a bistre-skinned woman, probably Filipino, wearing a blue blazer with her hair put up in a bun. The clicks of her heels on the tiled floor halted as she laid eyes on the man. “Who’s this?”
“Thomas Cruishank,” said he, rushing over to the woman and shaking her hand. “You’re Lorraine, I presume? I was just talking with your cashier about applying for a job—she says you’re not hiring?”
Lorraine sighed. “I suppose I could have you in for an interview. You’ll have to forgive Jennifer for her adversity—it’s been a moment since we’ve had any applicants.”
“Just doing my job,” shrugged Jennifer. “You told me not to let anybody apply—”
“I know what I said! Just... let’s forget about that. Thomas, would you follow me back to (snip)
The narrative gets good marks for voice and writing skills, but for me there were shortcomings in the storytelling department. Here are some of them:
- I don’t know where we are. There’s a counter and a door, but I have no clue as to what the establishment is. Setting the scene is key to providing context for what happens. That’s missing here.
- I don’t have any idea, after reading the first page, whether Jennifer or Thomas is the protagonist.
- Opening with unattributed dialogue is usually not good practice.
- The third piece of unattributed dialogue (the woman from the door) causes an awkward moment of narrative—“to reveal the source of the statement.” That’s a terrific way to take the reader out of the story. Instead, stay within the character’s experience. How much more clear would this be: A door swung open and a bistre-skinned woman, probably Filipino, said, “Jennifer, I thought I asked you to bring me a spoon.” Note: I wouldn’t slow the narrative down with a detailed description of her appearance here.
- Avoid using words that are unlikely to be understood by a reader—in this case, “bistre.” I know a lot of words, and have never seen that one. It means brown. Why not brown-skinned?
- There is conflict, but it doesn’t seem to be about much. Woman denies man interview. Other woman enters and agrees to it. End of conflict.
- No strong story question. The only possible one from this page is whether or not Thomas will get the job. Nothing of serious stakes if he doesn’t.
- For me, Thomas is a disagreeable, pushy person. I didn’t like him, and could care less if he gets the job.
I think Lucas needs to find the point in the story where something with serious consequences goes wrong for the protagonist and think on how to begin there. There’s good writing here, but what is the story about?
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 © 2017 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2017 by Lucas
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.