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.
Ela sends the first chapter of an upper middle grade story, Red-Eyed Daniel. There's an alternate opening and a second poll. The rest of the submission follows the break.
My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home. But no. Striking when I was sitting in the dermatology clinic, waiting for the doctor, was much funnier. Other patients had zits, warts, and strange-looking birthmarks, but I was different. One moment my skin was smooth, and two minutes later—all covered in blisters. Mom was the only one who thought I was normal.
Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t here. In front of me sat a mother with her little girl who scribbled in a coloring book. The smell of her fluorescent yellow highlighter overpowered the stench of medication and even the smell of the freshly painted doorposts.
But then the girl stopped scribbling.
“Ewww, that boy is gross!” she said, pointing at me.
My face burned and I looked at my sneakers.
“Enough, Linda. That isn’t nice.” The girl’s mother said.
“What about his friends?” the little girl continued. “Don’t they think he’s gross?”
What friends? Nobody wanted to be friends with a boy who sometimes turned into a pizza.
I wanted to jump to my feet and flee, but this time I couldn’t hide in a place with nobody around—I couldn’t miss my turn.
The voice and writing are good, and we’re dropped into an immediate scene and introduced to a likeable character who clearly has a problem. As for his desire, we can assume he wants treatment for his condition. But . . .
Once we learn of his problem, we divert into a detailed description of the waiting room, right down to the smell of paint. As it turns out, none of this impacts the story. Even middle-grade kids know what a doctor’s waiting room looks like, and this description (overwriting) slows the story. Not needed.
The girl’s reaction does let us know more about his condition, but I suspect that you had already been able to imagine that being covered with pus-filled boils was pretty gross. Not needed.
I gave this an almost because I am not expert in what works for middle-grade readers. This might work fine for them. But it didn’t for me. What follows this first page is a fair amount of equally well written setup, and we do get to some very interesting developments later. In my view, the first page could have gotten to that part right away.
Following is an alternative opening plucked from later in the chapter. It skips over much of the setup, some of which can be woven in later if needed. See what you think and give a vote.
Blisters. Again.My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home. But no. Striking when I was sitting in the dermatology clinic, waiting for the doctor, was much funnier. Other patients had zits, warts, and strange-looking birthmarks, but I was different. One moment my skin was smooth, and two minutes later—all covered in blisters. Mom was the only one who thought I was normal.
The front desk lady announced that my long-awaited turn had arrived. “Daniel Venture?” she asked, looking out above her glasses. “You’re in room seven, at the end of the hallway.”
The clinic was small but for some unknown reason I couldn’t find Room Seven. I trudged for about five minutes and as I wandered, it dawned on me that the blisters were vanishing. Rolling up my sleeve, I noticed that several erupted blisters had already dried and fallen off, revealing smooth, flawless skin. Finally, I found room seven in a narrow empty hallway.
Inside, behind a square wooden desk, sat the doctor. She wore a floor length black evening dress, and her straight black hair flowed down like a mannequin’s wig.
“Be seated,” she said softly.
But before I had a chance to step forward, the chair slid backward.
And that was when something emerged from her curtain of hair. A slim forked snake (snip)
I think there’s a good, strong story to be told and I urge Ela to see if there’s a way to get it started on the first page (note: if the doc is seated at a desk he can't see the length of her dress). A good beginning, for sure. Your thoughts?
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 Ela
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.