Submissions Welcome. 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.
Arielle sends the prologue and first chapter of The Flaw in Beautiful Things . The remainder of the chapter follows the break.
Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.
To the aged eye Dante appeared to be standing alone in the orchard, a stout stick clutched firmly in his grubby fingers. In Dante’s mind though; he was swamped on all sides by a fearsome enemy. His gleaming sword poised perfectly in anticipation of the imminent attack. His dark eyes swung left right up down, calculating his plan of attack against the monsters he faced. Hulking night trolls with lightening crackling between their palms. Slavering jackals with poison dripping from their jowls. Deceptively fragile looking forest imps with enough strength in their spindly fingers to crush a man’s bones to dust. Worthy opponents indeed. With a ferocious battle cry Dante leapt into action, his mighty sword swirling around him in a dizzying blur, too fast for the feeble human eye to perceive. Down went the night trolls blood gushing from fatal gut slashes. The heads of the jackals flew far from their bodies. The tiny imps crushed into oblivion with a well-placed spinning kick. With a final flourish Dante sheathed his sharp sword and gazed around in satisfaction. Leaves drifted slowly back down to the ground and beheaded dandelions drifted away in the breeze. An irate squirrel chattered at him angrily from the safety of the apple trees. Worthy opponents indeed.
Satisfied that his realm was safe from invaders; for now at least; Dante turned on his heel smartly and began strolling out of the orchards, whistling a merry little tune of his own composition. As he walked out of the shade of the trees Dante began to ponder a question.
“Hey will you take a picture with my baby?”
Quinn froze in the act of trying to discretely pull out her wedgie and smiled plastically at the man who had spoken. “Sure, hand ‘im over.” She answered as enthusiastically as she could manage. Taking the screaming child, she planted him on her hip and posing just so, smiled for the camera. Once the pictures were taken to the satisfaction of the father, Quinn handed the still howling child back and waved cheerfully goodbye to the departing diners. As soon as they were out of sight she slumped against the bar with a sigh. Reaching back with both hands Quinn gave her shorts a mighty tug downward, freeing them from the crevice in which they had lodged themselves. Straightening Quinn wandered over to where the rest of the waitresses had congregated.
“Girl you are way too nice.” One of them commented as she approached. “There’s no way that I would have stood there and posed with that brat for as long as you did.”
“Yeah.” Another one chimed in. “I just checked their table. He didn’t even leave you a tip.”
Quinn laughed embarrassedly. “I felt bad for the kid.” She said sheepishly. The other girls made noises of agreement. “Seriously, what kind of father keeps their baby out til closing time?” One of them griped. Quinn shrugged noncommittedly then turned to start the cleanup.
While the prologue has colorful fantasy things in it, there’s no real story question. Basically, it’s a boy at play. No jeopardy, nothing happening to make me wonder what will happen next. There are some clarity/punctuation issues, too. What is an “aged eye?”
I liked the character in the first chapter, and it was amusing to have her dealing with a wedgie. Her sympathy for the child also works to maker her an engaging and sympathetic character. But, again, there are no story questions raised.
I think both the prologue and the chapter need to start later. As it is, they begin with setup. Get closer to the inciting incident.
Also, you need to read up on how to use paragraphs. There is one in the prologue that is more than a page long (single-spaced) and amounts to more than 1200 words. You will guaranteed stop a reader in their tracks when they encounter a solid block of text like that. The “paragraph” has plenty of opportunities to insert paragraph breaks.
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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Arielle