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.
Matthias sends the first chapter for Goodbye Mr. Cooper. He says it’s a short story—I didn’t know that short stories had chapters. The rest of the chapter follows the break.
It was a sweltering mid-summer afternoon and Mr. Thorning's corpse sweated blood. One frozen hand pointed at himself in the reflection of his conglomerate skyscraper while the other was pinned to his forehead by a .50 bullet. His suit lay discarded at his desk, his striped blouse was half-way unbuttoned. At the bottom of NetLink tower, the commuters kept on commuting, and the taxis kept on honking until Mr. Thorning's secretary walked into his office at 4pm exactly.
At 5pm precisely, the sub between New Denton City Center and Denton Science Park was among the busiest in the metropolis. Ethan impatiently swiped the countless notifications from his smartphone. Suddenly all the world cared about some piece-of-shit rich guy. He sighed at the prospect of having to hear the news anchors drone on about it for three days in a row at least.
"Next station, Canvall Main," the monotonous computer-voice announced.
Ethan slung his schoolbag over one shoulder, squeezed past a fat man in a raincoat and jumped through the subs' doors onto the platform. The small station was abandoned as usual, and the broken TL light near the stairs, after a decade of disservice, still hadn't been replaced.
Canvall Main was neighborhood local authorities had long since given up on. It was the kind of suburb that managed to look dreary throughout the year. Wannabe gangsters occupied its (snip)
The opening line is a grabber, for sure. But, for this reader, confusion soon set in. We first learn that the afternoon is sweltering, but then see that the corpse’s hand is frozen. I’m sure you meant that in the sense of stiffened by rigor mortis, but in this case it didn’t work for me--my mind immediately went to frozen as in like ice. Next, there’s a reflection of his skyscraper, but he’s in his office—only if he were outside the building could he see its reflection. Third, one hand was pinned to his forehead by a bullet, which seems impossible to me. If he was shot in the forehead when his hand covered it, then I think the force of a very large caliber bullet would throw his head back and his hand would fall away. So, right from the start, clarity became a big issue.
Then the issue turned to a lack of tension when we go to another point of view and a guy is riding a sub (I assume you mean subway, not an ocean-going underwater vessel), and then he gets off, and then we go to description of the neighborhood. The opening paragraph, despite clarity issues, launched a fine story question, but then that peters out with description of activity that doesn’t seem to relate to the story begun by the first paragraph.
It turns out that there is a relationship to the Ethan character, but none to riding the sub. But will the reader get that far? I suggest cutting out all the travel stuff, get Ethan right to getting a message and finding a .50 caliber pistol in his backpack.
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, prologue and chapter © 2016 by Matthias