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.
Lyn sends the first chapter of what the author suggests is "literary," or an “historical non-romance,” Born Running.. The rest of the submission follows the break.
I was born running. Running away and running after.
When I was a kid in Napoli I used to run up and down the steep lane where we lived, skipping over the stone steps, dodging among the neighbours as they walked along. I imagined myself a little black fox unnoticed by human eye as I twinkled around the legs of passing adults. They never looked down, they never saw me there.
I was a quiet kid. Never had many friends. Ugly, awkward, skinny, my hair was the only part of me I could stand to look at in a glass, so I took good care of it and never cut it from one year to the next, and oh, it was my glory, dusty black with copper highlights, well, it's the same today, you can see. I never used any color on my hair, no matter what the gossips speculate.
We lived in the Spagnoli Quarter of Napoli, in Vicolo Oliva, so narrow a lane that the sun only touched the ground at noon. The buildings were nothing fancy, ancient brown stone, two or three storeys with those little balconies over the street where our neighbors sat among their pretty potted begonias, leaning on the rail to observe the passing scene.
My mother and I, we didn't have a balcony. Our 'house' was only a room, called a basso, opening right out the door to the street where people passing could look in on us and say "Good morning", except that, you know, my mother was not well thought of. We were number thirty-two-A. Peppe and his family lived down at the lower end, number forty seven. Peppe's family, (snip)
While I definitely responded to the likeable voice and the good writing of backstory and the environment, for me there was no story question raised. Nothing actually happens because there is no scene here, just a narrator telling us stuff (and, I should add, not telling us a story). I didn’t have an idea of what the story is about. By the end of the chapter, I sorta did, but not here.
Part of what I do when flogging a first page that doesn’t raise a story question is to read on and see if there’s one later. For me, there was. Here’s an edited version of later material as a first page. It may not be powerful in terms of jeopardy, but maybe it could work. See what you think. Another poll follows.
The last whistle blew to end the fútbol practice, and the boys broke apart, laughing and jostling each other. Peppe came in our direction. Martina and Giulietta and I sat like stones. At the benches he picked up his shirt where he had dropped it earlier.
Then he gazed at us. His eyes. Cool, serene, direct. Smiling.
He used the shirt as a towel to dab the sweat from his chest. He seemed to be looking at Martina. We all held our breath. Martina was the prettiest girl in all of Santa Lucia. I wished, I wished, oh how hard I wished that I were not so awkward and ugly and scruffy. I wished it with all my strength, sitting there, holding my breath, hugging myself. Yet I dared not push myself forward for fear he might notice how ugly I truly was beside these pretty ones.
Then he looked at me. He said, "Renata, can I tell you something." It was not a question.
I shrugged. I looked at my feet. I could not utter a sound. I suddenly felt this terrible fear that he was about to tell everybody about my mother. The other girls, they came from the Santa Lucia Quarter on the other side of the Via Toledo, they knew nothing about my mother.
I looked back at Peppe then. I knew he was about to mock me. I could see the devil twinkling in his eyes.
He smiled a devastating smile just for me. He said, "You have such beautiful hair, why don't you comb it sometime?"
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 Lyn Alexander