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Ray Rhamey is a writer and editor. He has made a living through creativity and words for a few decades now. As a writer and then creative director in advertising, he rose to the top tier of the Chicago advertising scene, then left it to try screenwriting. In Hollywood, he became a writer/story editor at Filmation, one of the top five animation studios. Look for his screenplay credit next time you rent an adaptation of The Little Engine that Could at your local video store. In 2001, he launched editorrr.com, and he has clients from the Pacific Northwest to Lebanon. He is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Northwest Independent Editors Guild, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Seattle Writers Association.
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1. Flogometer for Anne—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Anne sends a revised opening for a story now titled Mountain Man. The original version is here. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Monday morning, Elizabeth Logan looked in the powder room mirror to check her hair and makeup. She applied more lip gloss. She could never have too much lip gloss. Her eyes looked fine. So did her hair.

She walked through the narrow hallway to her office in the Washington D.C. 1860’s row house, which was the Logan Foundation’s place of business. Her charitable foundation, founded and lovingly nurtured solely by her. She perched on the padded window seat under the bay window and anxiously watched the street traffic. She felt sick to her stomach.

There was nothing she could do now but wait. In a few minutes someone from the FBI would be ringing the bell. Yes, government person, she was guilty. Her reason for embezzling her charity’s donations? She needed the money. It appeared that her husband, Declan, was searching for wife number three. Eventually, he was going to leave her. High and dry. And when that happened, Elizabeth Logan would become an actual charity case.

It started four years ago when her salon colorist persuaded her to add highlights and low lights to her blonde hair. It had been a definite improvement. However, her husband’s tastes ran toward attractive, scantily dressed women with ‘trashy blonde’ hair. She’d looked like that once. After she’d changed her hair, she tried to convince him that wealthy women in their mid-thirties shouldn’t look like twenty-five year old sluts. Declan’s answer had been, “Then I guess it’s (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

This opening is interesting in that it introduces a sympathetic character who is an admitted criminal, and there’s jeopardy ahead in the arrival of an FBI agent. I think there’s enough of a story question to turn the page, but I hesitated when the story slipped into backstory mode. I think the flashback isn’t needed at this point—it’s important that her husband is going to leave her, but the history of when she began to believe that isn’t really needed. A lot of this chapter is devoted to setup—look for ways to shorten those parts and to increase the tension and jeopardy for her. Notes:

 Monday morning, Elizabeth Logan looked in the powder room mirror to check her hair and makeup. She applied more lip gloss. She could never have too much lip gloss. Her eyes looked fine. So did her hair.

She walked through the narrow hallway to her office in the Washington D.C. 1860’s row house, which was the Logan Foundation’s place of business. Her charitable foundation, founded and lovingly nurtured solely by her. She perched on the padded window seat under the bay window and anxiously watched the street traffic. She felt sick to her stomach.

There was nothing she could do now but wait. In a few minutes someone from the FBI would be ringing the bell. Yes, government person, she was guilty. Her reason for embezzling her charity’s donations? She needed the money. It appeared that her Her husband, Declan, was searching for wife number three. Eventually, he was going to leave her. High and dry. And when that happened, Elizabeth Logan would become an actual charity case. I’d avoid clichés such as “high and dry.”

It had started four years ago when her salon colorist persuaded her to add highlights and low lights to her blonde hair. It had been a definite improvement. However, her husband’s tastes ran toward attractive, scantily dressed women with ‘trashy blonde’ hair. She’d looked like that once. After she’d changed her hair, she tried to convince him that wealthy women in their mid-thirties shouldn’t look like twenty-five year old sluts. Declan’s answer had been, “Then I guess it’s (snip) The beginning of this paragraph signals a flashback, not a good idea on the first page where I believe we need to be in the “now” of the story. The flashback is brief and it does characterize her husband as a creep, but it wasn’t really needed.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Kathleen

 

Continued:

. . . about time I traded you in.” Afterwards he’d laughed and hugged her and told her she looked great. She’d never felt secure after that.

 It was cold in the office. It made her nipples hard. She thought about stepping out on the small front porch to warm up. Although it was the first week in June, it had to be close to eighty degrees outside. Instead she got up and went into the small conference room next to her office. She rubbed both arms to make the goosebumps go away and re-adjusted her short-sleeved mohair sweater across her chest.

She’d just turned on the lights in the conference room when the doorbell rang. She glanced at her vintage Lady Rolex. Ten o’clock precisely. She should have known. Government people, always on time, always following the rules. What kind of terrible news did they bring? Should she open the door and present her wrists for the inevitable handcuffs? No. That wasn’t her style. She always fought hard before admitting defeat.

She looked through the door peephole and her jaw dropped. Male. Mid-thirties, several inches over six feet tall, slim build, dressed in a perfectly fitted navy blue suit. He had longish dark brown hair and a few days beard growth that was the fashion these days.  She couldn’t see the color of his eyes because he was looking down as he pulled a black wallet from his inside coat pocket. His eyelashes were annoyingly thick and long. Such a waste on a man. She opened the door halfway. Large soulful brown eyes gazed down at her from a serious face.

“Elizabeth Logan?”

“Government person?”

He opened an identification wallet that showed his picture and a gold badge. “FBI Special Agent Thomas Clay Atkins, District of Columbia White Collar Division.”

Elizabeth spent another few moments verifying his credentials, hoping it would make him nervous. She always liked to have the upper hand in encounters with people. Not that she was a ball-buster, she just wanted to be taken seriously from the get-go. She’d spent her childhood as a non-entity who wore her siblings’ hand-me-down clothes, and played with their broken, cast-off toys. She vowed she wouldn’t go unnoticed as an adult. Finally she stepped back and opened the door all the way. “Come in. Let’s talk in the conference room.”

***

Elizabeth Logan’s pale pink fluffy sweater immediately distracted Thomas Clay—TC to his friends. He felt the urge to touch that fluffiness with his index finger. Her high-heeled sandals tapped rapidly on the hardwood floor as she led him to the second doorway on the left. Her backside filled her tight white slacks beautifully. No panty line. Not a good way to start, he warned himself.  He hadn’t done well the first time he saw her either.

Last Saturday night the Logan Foundation held a charity gala at the Capitol Hotel. He’d walked into the Roosevelt Ballroom at the end of the evening to get a look at Elizabeth Logan in her natural surroundings.

He’d joined the hundred or so guests gathered around a staircase that led up to a balcony-level lounge. A woman clothed in a glittery blue cocktail dress stood on a step high enough to position her above the crowd. The DJ introduced her and then handed her his microphone.

Elizabeth Logan had been stunning. Impeccably dressed—obviously—but beyond that, she radiated an unusual charm. He was instantly drawn to her. Even her voice captivated him. It was pitched low for such a petite woman. He heard a hint of a southern upbringing. She drew out certain words and softened her vowels. After her short speech, he’d noticed how she enjoyed the clearly evident affection of her guests.

Now he sat inches away from her. They studied each other for a long moment. He didn’t know what she was thinking during that time, but he spent it acting like a school boy. Her eyes—hazel with flecks of gold. Nose—long, thin, with a cute bump at the bridge. Lips—wetly pink from some kind of lipstick. And he detected a slight lavender scent. Probably her shampoo. His heart skipped a few beats. Elizabeth began fiddling with the pen and yellow pad laying in front of her. She cleared her throat with emphasis. Obviously, she was waiting for him to begin.

Say something, you fool. He opened a blue folder and removed some paperwork. “Gerald Flanagan contacted us last March regarding a discrepancy between the amount he and his wife donated last year versus the amount stated in the Logan Foundation’s annual contribution letter. He said he asked you to send him a corrected letter so he could finish his income taxes.”

Elizabeth thought a minute and nodded, “Yes, I remember talking to Mr. Flanagan and couldn’t find the amount he said he donated in our records. The amount stated in our letter was the amount recorded in our books. I told him I was sorry but I had to report what we received.”

“I have a copy of Mr. Flanagan’s cancelled check and a copy of the Foundation’s letter.” TC handed Elizabeth the copy of the front and back of Mr. Flanagan’s check. “Do you recognize the endorsement on his check? It isn’t the Foundation’s name or bank account number.”

She looked at the paper and handed it back to him.

“If you could explain that endorsement, maybe we can clear this whole thing up today without putting you through an audit,” TC said.

Elizabeth wrote Gerald Flanagan’s name on her pad and slowly underlined it three times. “I told Mr. Flanagan that sometimes when we receive a lot of checks at one time, they might go through a holding company account, and then be transferred to the Foundation’s bank account. That’s why the endorsement is different on his check. As for the amount discrepancy, I think I suggested that maybe there could have been an error on the bank’s part when deposits were posted and transferred. That’s something I’m not privy to.”

She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “At the time, Declan and I were getting ready to go out of town for a month. I told Mr. Flanagan I’d given him all the information I had and if he couldn’t get things resolved, I would look into it further when we got back.”

“Out of town for a month. Sounds nice. Where did you go?” TC asked.

“We went to our house in Telluride with a group of friends. It’s an annual thing.”

“I’ve never skied in Colorado. I hear it’s fantastic.” TC gushed.

Elizabeth gave him an irritated look like she had no desire to talk about her personal life. He had no idea why he’d even asked. It just popped out.

 He smiled crookedly, “Sorry, not on subject. Please continue.”

“Well, I forgot about it and never heard from Mr. Flanagan again. I thought he’d resolved it on his end with his bank.”

 TC shook his head, “No. Mr. Flanagan filed for a six month extension on his tax return to give you time to clear this up. When he didn’t hear from you, he called us.” He added, “More likely the problem is between you and your bank. You might want to contact them.”

There. He’d given Mrs. Logan all the facts. He relaxed in his chair and stretched his legs under the table. He gazed at her, waiting for her response. Her face was pinched with tension, or anger…or something. It felt wrong to accuse this seemingly nice lady of misappropriating funds. But he knew looks could be deceiving. Incidents like this happened all the time. It only took one person to blow the whistle to get the ball rolling. When the auditors started digging, they’d probably find more inaccurate contribution letters. He studied the range of emotions that crossed her face.

***

Elizabeth’s head spun. An audit? By the FBI? She hadn’t expected that. What had she gotten herself into? It appeared Agent Ring around the White Collar had it all figured out. Her method of skimming donor money hadn’t been clever enough. Although Agent Atkins was the bearer of bad news, the whole time he talked, she was strangely soothed by his voice. If he ever whispered sweet words into her ear, she could see herself falling helplessly into his arms.

She felt a frown beginning so she raised her eyebrows and forced a tiny smile. She could wring Gerald Flanagan’s neck. The little twerp. Rich people didn’t prepare their own taxes. Her scheme had worked fine for more than three years, after Declan mentioned it might be time for a new wife. If they divorced, the damned pre-nuptial agreement gave her nothing but her personal property. So, bit by bit, she’d accumulated a nest egg, preparing for the inevitable. The Foundation would never miss it and it was her salvation.

She took a deep breath and laid one hand on top of the other on her lap in an attempt to appear calm. She remembered one of her husband’s drunken lectures on getting out of a tight spot. “No matter how bad things get, it’s always possible to rearrange the facts so you look good. Never admit mistakes or reveal how you run your business. People may try to bring you down, but if you say as little as possible, the odds are in your favor they’ll never be able to prove anything. It’s all smoke and mirrors sweetheart.” She hadn’t really understood him until now.

She chewed on the inside of her lip. This audit would ruin everything. Agent Atkins was smart. He hadn’t fallen for her ‘It must be the bank’s fault’ explanation. That line had stalled Gerald Flanagan for a while. But company records didn’t lie. No smoke and mirrors there unless you’d been cooking the books from the beginning. She hadn’t started the Foundation with the intent to steal. Time passed, she fell into a routine and forgot what she was doing was wrong.

All she could do at this point was let the auditors do their job. Whatever they found, she’d deal with on a case by case basis. As far as Mr. Flanagan, she’d offer to resolve the misunderstanding by returning the difference. It was only fifteen thousand dollars. The foundation could well afford it.

Elizabeth glanced at Agent Atkins. He was staring at her. She felt like he was examining her soul. If she met his gaze, she feared he would see her guilt. His eyes were watchful, but kind, and a little bit sad. For a fleeting moment she considered telling him the truth.

 TC broke into Elizabeth’s thoughts, “Look, I’m not trying to destroy your Foundation. You should be proud of your philanthropy. I researched your organization. You’ve come a long way in less than ten years. And all that during the recession as well.”

Elizabeth’s face brightened. “Yes, we’ve done a lot of good work and don’t plan to stop. I can’t imagine what might have happened with Mr. Flanagan, however I assure you I will get to the bottom of this.”

TC grabbed his pen, “Great. What’s your business manager’s name? I’d like to set the audit schedule.”

Elizabeth straightened up in her chair, flicked her hair behind one shoulder, and stuck out her chest hoping that her nipples still showed. Game on government person. May the best man win. She peeked up at him coquettishly. “Well, I guess that would be me.”

TC looked confused. “No business manager? But this is such a large organization…”

“I believe in keeping administration costs low. It’s not rocket science to deposit checks. If I get a lot in at one time, my accountant takes care of them.”

“Is that where the holding company, LF Heritage, comes in?” TC asked.

Elizabeth pretended to appear bewildered. “You would have to ask the accountant. I’m not sure what all they do.” She clicked open her pen and held it over her pad of paper. “You just tell me what you need, and when, and I’ll arrange to provide it.”

***

TC was glad the meeting was over. Mrs. Logan had taken lots of notes. They agreed upon the daily schedule and the records needed. Two auditors would work in the Foundation’s conference room beginning next Monday at one o’clock. He told her the entire process should take about two weeks, if there were no problems.

He laid his business card on top of her pad. “My stomach is rolling. How about I take you to lunch?” As soon as he said it, he wished he hadn’t. The invitation came out so easily. He never asked anyone he investigated to a meal. Not even to go have drinks. It wasn’t an agency rule—or maybe it was—he couldn’t think straight right now. He thought it was his own rule because he never wanted anything to influence his investigations. Not that he’d ever worked with such an attractive Person of Interest before. He had no idea why he wanted to get to know Elizabeth Logan better. On top of that, she was married and he wasn’t on the market either.

***

“Lunch?” Elizabeth looked at her watch. “Oh, I didn’t realize it was so late. Sorry, I don’t eat lunch, only a good breakfast and dinner.” She ran her tongue slowly back and forth along the inside of her upper lip, still considering his request. “Anyway, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. It could jeopardize your audit and besides, my husband might object to me being seen in public with such an attractive man.”

Elizabeth slid TC’s business card under the top page of her pad. Her fund-raising events were finished until October. Declan wouldn’t be home much and she’d be lonely. A little flirting couldn’t hurt. The lunch invitation looked like Secret Agent Man might be open to some fun. Maybe for the next few months, she could trade a forty-nine year old cheater for a thirty-something hunk. She wouldn’t let anything happen, of course, but it might help her forget that her marriage was on the rocks and her security fund was about to go up in smoke. God forbid there be any talk about going to jail.

She extended her hand to shake TC’s hand and seal the deal. “Let the games begin, she challenged with a smile. “Till next Monday then.”

TC’s hand engulfed hers. It was warm and firm. Her whole body shivered at his touch. Yes, if she played her cards right, this could definitely be an interesting summer.

Add a Comment
2. Flogometer for Isaac—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Isaac sends a short story, The Boy Who Dared to Speak . The rest follows the break.

The boy ran for his life. He ran as if all the demons, monsters and inmates from all the circles of Hell were after him. Close on his heels were at least a dozen well-armed city guards. The guards brandished swords, spears, maces, axes, and other tools of ill will. Ahead of them ran at least two dozen commoners, laborers, craft’s men, farmers, all of them thirsted for the boy’s blood, with looks on their faces like wolves hot on the trail of a fat stag. The commoners were coming closer to catching up with the boy because they were not encumbered by heavy armor, yet they still could not gain on him enough to make the kill. As the boy ran, he franticly tried speaking words and phrases in an archaic language which would give him the advantage he needed to escape, but he kept losing his focus to obstacles he had to jump over or side step, as well as the random objects constantly flung at him by his assailants. As he continued his mad dash for the city gates, the boy bemoaned his situation. Eight years of age! The boy was only eight years of age and he was a fugitive from the law, wanted dead not alive. He had done nothing wrong; he was no thief, no bandit, and he had never broken a single law or statute until today. At the mob behind him, without looking back, he barked furiously “I was just trying to help!” If they heard him, they did not respond with words but with more violence. The boy was alone in his struggle.

The closest thing to help he received from the other town’s people was either their (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

I think this is a good effort by a new writer. There’s plenty of conflict, story questions are raised, and there’s imagination at play. But the craft needs work, in particular learning the art of paragraphing. Long blocks of text like this are not only hard to read, they slow the pace. In my notes I’ll separate this into paragraphs. The rest of the story needs the same treatment. Notes:

The boy ran for his life. He ran as if all the demons, monsters and inmates from all the circles of Hell were after him. Close on his heels were at least a dozen well-armed city guards. The guards brandished swords, spears, maces, axes, and other tools of ill will. This is all about “the boy.” I think giving characters names makes them people rather than objects to observe.

Ahead of them ran at least two dozen commoners, laborers, craft’s men craftsmen, farmers, all of them thirsted thirsting for the boy’s blood with looks on their faces like wolves hot on the trail of a fat stag. The commoners were coming closer to catching up with the boy because they were not encumbered by heavy armor, yet they still could not gain on him enough to make the kill.

As the boy ran, he franticly tried speaking words and phrases in an archaic language, magical words which that would give him the advantage he needed to escape, but he kept losing his focus to obstacles he had to jump over or side step sidestep, as well as the random objects constantly flung at him by his assailants.

As he continued his mad dash for the city gates, the boy bemoaned his situation. Eight years of age! The boy was only eight years of age and he was a fugitive from the law, wanted dead not alive. He had done nothing wrong; he was no thief, no bandit, and he had never broken a single law or statute until today. He yelled at the mob behind him, without looking back, he barked furiously “I was just trying to help!” If they heard him, they They did not respond with words but with more violence. The boy was alone in his struggle. I don’t think someone running for their life would pause in their thinking to bemoan their situation.

The closest thing to help he received from the other town’s people townspeople was either their (snip)

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Isaac

 

Continued:

. . . refraining from joining the angry mob or they simply got out of his way. When he finally came within sight of the city gates, his worst fears were realized. The gates were locked shut. He knew there were words he could use to bust them open, but he had no clue as to what they were, or if he had the strength to use them without dire consequences. Not knowing what to do he reached the city wall; he pressed his back up against it, panting and wheezing from seemingly running over a dozen leagues. His rest however, was short lived as the now massive confederation of armed guards and seething town’s people closed in on him. They had cut off every conceivable route of escape. As he began making his peace with Adoni, an idea spontaneously combusted inside his mind. He didn’t know if it would work, or how safe it was, but he had no choice. If he hesitated, he would die anyway, he had to take a risk. The boy opened his mouth and bellowed three words in the dead language, then turned his back on his attackers and jumped.

This jump was no higher or faster than the jump of any other human being, but what he did next broke the laws of physics. Much to the disgust of the bloodthirsty crowd, the boy climbed the wall like a spider. He did not use gouges or grooves in the wall for support. He simply scaled the vertical surface of the wall as easily as an infant would crawl across the floor. Some of his would-be killers tried in vain to imitate him, but he was beyond their reach. When he made it to the top of the wall another guard ran to intercept him. Before the guard could bring the hilt of his sword down on top of the boy’s head, the boy uttered three more words in that mysterious language and jumped off the top of the wall. Instead of falling to his death he slowly floated through the air and landed on the ground below, then took off running with renewed vigor. The boy ran west. He ran and ran and ran until he reached Filoni Forest, and kept running among the trees until nightfall.

The setting of the sun and subsequent darkness served to reassure the boy he had covered enough ground so he wouldn’t have to worry about any search parties sent to capture or kill him for one night at least. He started a quick camp fire and began to sing. This was not a song any bard would recognize. It was an ancient song composed long ago as a method of foraging for fruit and other natural materials from the plants and trees in the wilderness. The lyrics were of that long forgotten language which had saved the boy’s life twice that day. As a response to the sound of his voice, the bushes around him bore berries which he plucked, gleefully. He then altered the lyrics of his song and repeated it until a large grizzly bear dropped a dead rabbit at his feet, and left without so much as a snarl. He then slaughtered the rabbit with his scalpel and roasted it on a makeshift spit.

As he silently ate his modest meal around the campfire, the boy finally had time to reflect on the whirlwind of events that had been the past twenty four hours. An old woman, she could not have been any younger than eighty. She wasn’t the only beggar he saw on the streets, she was one of countless thousands who lived on the streets of the city he lived in. The boy saw this elderly woman coughing up blood, and took pity on her. He was not yet as adept at the medical arts as his mentor but the boy could tell this poor woman was not long for this world even as he saw her unnaturally thin body convulse with every bloody coughing fit. The boy carefully and quietly ushered the dying old lady into a nearby space between two buildings. It didn’t take much effort on his part to get her to come with him, she was seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. The boy thought she would have followed him even if he were some sort of serpent offering her fruit. Once they had some privacy the boy began chanting words quietly in that special language. She was hard of hearing and so she scarcely heard these words much less understood them, but none the less as a response to his voice the color in her gray pasty skin returned like a cloudy sky giving way to the sun. Her coughing yielded less and less blood until she stopped coughing all together.

As the boy saw the change in his patient in both her symptoms and her demeanor, he became overwhelmed with joy. He knew he could not save this old woman from death outright, but he also knew he was helping an unfortunate soul pass into the next life in a peaceful manner, as opposed to the terrifying  process death would be for her otherwise. As these pleasant thoughts filled his head he continued his chanting and that chanting turned into a song. His voice steadily grew louder and louder and without him realizing his voice began to echo through the streets. This went on and on until he heard the voice of another boy who yelled, “The tongue! He uses the tongue! Guards come! Come quick he uses the tongue!” and both boys ran.                                   

As he finished his meal of rabbit and fruit in the woods, the boy was fairly confident he knew the way to the nearest city which was not full of people who wanted to kill him, Green Maiden. He was also confident that if he was fast enough he could get to the port city of Green Maiden and stow away on a ship and then maybe, just maybe he could find himself in a faraway land where someone like him could be accepted, or at least tolerated.

The boy slept until the crack of dawn, traveling north toward Green Maiden by day. He sang food and shelter out of the plants and animals and slept by night. On the third day, he reached the gates of Green Maiden. The boy could not remember a time when he felt more hopeful and optimistic for the future. As he walked up to the gates, out of nowhere sprang a multitude of armored guards’ with sharpened spears. He couldn’t believe his eyes. “How could they have possibly known I was coming”? He asked himself angrily. This crew of warriors dwarfed the conglomeration of guards and commoners he had escaped from three days ago. They surrounded him on all sides, and before he could think of a word to utter in the legendary language, he heard a man’s voice. It was deep, clear and, projected like that of a minstrel or bard. The boy did not recognize his words but they sounded strangely familiar to him. “It sounds like the…” Flash! Boom! The entire world flashed white. He could not see a single thing, colors, shapes, images of any kind were all gone. All he could see was white. He was as good as blind. At the same time his ears rang, it was as if his brain was a giant bell that had just been rang by the whipping tail of an Elder Dragon.

As his vision began to return and his ears continued to ring, he noticed a huge sweaty hand clasping the small of his back as well as something firmly pressed up against his stomach. It took about a minute but the boy realized he was being carried on somebody’s shoulder. Not knowing what to think the boy started pounding the man’s back as a feeble attempt to break free. Noticing this the man uttered a phrase in the language they both evidently knew. The boy recognized one of the words in his phrase but it was of little consequence because that word meant sleep.

The boy woke up at dusk. He found himself in a tent. He didn’t know how long he had been out for sure. For all he knew it might have been dusk of the same day he arrived at Green Maiden, or dusk of the day after. Nor did he have any idea who kidnapped him and put him to sleep. He rose from the hay mattress he had been placed on, of which there were two. He then cast off the blankets that he had been tucked in under with care, and began to rethink his assessment that he had been kidnapped. For one thing, neither his hands nor his feet were bound with chains or ropes. There was also the fact that he was not in any dungeon or torture chamber, and the possibility that he was dead didn’t seem likely either since his surroundings didn’t exactly scream Heaven or Hell. He was in a two man tent presumably in the wilderness again. As he stood there trying to get a grip on his situation. He herd the voice of the man again, except this time he spoke in Common Tongue. The boy had been through a lot during his run for his life

The prospect that a random stranger would rescue him thereby angering the highest authority in the land without an ulterior motive seemed far too good to be true. The man was arguing with a woman, about what sounded like the logistics of a dangerous journey. Getting frustrated the man said, “I know you’re not helpless! Far from it, but the children are! If something happens to him this entire venture will have been for nothing, but as I said before if something happens to our child I…. She cut him off saying, “nothing will happen! We both know the words to use to protect our child, and mark my words that boy is not to be underestimated. You forget he escaped a force of over a hundred men with only his wits and his knowledge of The Tongue!” Before the man could press his argument, the boy showed himself, steeping through the entry flaps of the tent. When she saw him the exotically beautiful woman in the red dress smiled and put a finger to her husband’s lips to silence him, then pointed at the boy. The man turned to the boy and arose from the tree stump he was sitting on and in a suddenly jovial tone of voice said, “Well hello my young friend. I’m sorry we couldn’t properly introduce our self’s sooner. My name is Caaseye (Cass-I) son of Mitty the Pious. This is my wife, Raya daughter of Emperor Shinskay, ruler of the western realms. And this,” he continued with a smile as he placed a large but gentle hand on his wife’s belly “This is our first born child, who has yet to join us.“

 Their names and the fact that they were parents did not work to quell the boy’s suspicions. With a frown he said, “Congratulations, Caaseye, Raya.” Caaseye wore a chain mail shirt under a leather jerkin and a cloak around his back. To the boy the two of them formed an odd if not seemingly honest couple. A thought then occurred to him which only deepened his frown. Pointing a finger at Caaseye he exclaimed, “How can you allow your pregnant wife to accompany you when you’re running about rescuing fugitives from the law? Dose she not obey your commands?” Raya’s smile abruptly morphed into a stern frown not of anger so much as a matter of fact correction of the boy’s outburst and pointed a finger of her own at him. Caaseye simply burst out into deep, long, wheezing laughter. Inadvertently cutting off Raya he said between fits of laughter, “Son if you remember nothing else throughout the years of your life, remember only this: A meek woman who holds her tongue will not challenge you and she will most likely do as you command, you will live an easy and quiet home life, but if you want an exciting life, if you want to feel truly alive as long as you live, than find you a woman who pumps fire from her heart and casts forth ice from her tongue!” He then motioned towards Raya with a thumb saying, “Of course, consequently, sometimes getting your way can be about as easy as slaying a lion with both hands tied behind your back.”

Caaseye’s proverb smoothed over his wife’s objections to the boy’s question. Caaseye than stopped laughing and adopted a more serious tone. “Now then, I know you must have numerous questions and I know how hard the past few days have been for you. First things first however, do you have a name young man?” The boy hesitated, he looked at Caaseye and stared up into his eyes, then similarly looked Raya dead in the eyes. Satisfied he could trust them he answered, “Umbara, it’s just Umbara.”

They spent the rest of the evening and well into the night talking around the fire, but most of the conversation consisted of answering Umbara’s questions. Most of his questions were about the language, where did it come from? What else could it do? How does it actually work? Most of these were easy for his new friends to answer though some of them were simplified because as they pointed out to him, “to fully understand the nature of this subject takes years of study.” Umbara revealed that he never knew that the language which he now knew was simply called The Tongue, was known to anyone other than him and his mentor, who was a professional healer who adopted him from an orphanage and made him his apprentice. The healer also secretly taught him the words of The Tongue which applied to healing the human body as well as some basic self-preservation such as the song he used to feed himself in the wilderness. Caaseye and Raya told him of how they were the heads of an order of warriors who used The Tongue both as a weapon as well as a tool for peace and called themselves The Hands God. “We founded this organization with two goals in mind. One, to keep the peace among the nations by recruiting our members from all ethnic groups across all borders,” said Caaseye. Then Raya added, “Sadly the High King of your land not only wants nothing to do with us and will not allow any of his subjects to join our ranks, but what’s worse is he has declared himself and by extension this entire country to be our sworn enemy.” “So that’s why what I did was unlawful,” Umbara realized.

“Yes” answered Caaseye, “The Tongue has long been outlawed in these lands but none have so aggressively enforced this as the mad King Zambore.” “But why?” Barked Umbara. “It’s simple,” said Caaseye. “He wants to reestablish the hegemony of his forefathers over the land and he believes we are a threat to his ambitions, in that he is not wrong, is he my love,” he added with a smile and a kiss to Raya.

Umbara sat on a blanket next to the fire. On the opposite side sat Raya on the tree stump, and next to her sat Caaseye on a log, which was just big enough to support his weight. Umbara for the time being was out of questions for his new friends. He stared into the crackling fire and thought. He thought about his mentor who had been kind enough to take him under his wing and into his home to teach him both his profession and The Tongue. He saw the cheap grave his mentor had been buried in after losing his life in a fire. He remembered the old woman whose pain and suffering he relieved, and finally he recalled the deep, dark, primal, fear he felt as he ran from the combined might of the city guards and the angry mob as they fell upon him like an avalanche of hate. The combination of all the events of the past few days became too much for him to process, and Umbara wept.

As if on que, Raya rose to her feet. She slowly sat back down next to Umbara and with deceptively strong arms she embraced the sobbing boy, stroking his hair and encouraging him to let it all out. Caaseye stayed where he was, fighting to keep his own emotions from spilling out. Umbara cried into Raya’s shoulder unmitigated for the better part of an hour, holding on to his new mother figure as if for dear life. When the worst of Umbara’s sobs were over, Caaseye joined his wife kneeling down next to the two of them he set a hand on Umbara’s shoulder gaining his attention and said in a serious yet quietly calming voice. “You are the bravest child I have ever met. I have gone into battle with many brave men and women and yet never have I seen an individual who would act as you acted in such a situation. You may not comprehend the full extent of your actions now, but know this, what you have done will inspire others in ways even I cannot foresee. What I do foresee however is an opportunity which you have provided us with. I intended to capitalize on it but we cannot hope to do so without your help. What say you?”

“Under one condition,” Said Umbara between sniffs. “Name it,” answered both Caaseye and Raya simultaneously. “Take me with you.” I never want to see Eastland again!” I don’t care if this is where I was born, you can burn this entire region to ground if you like,” said Umbara with a spiteful turn in his voice to emphasize Eastland and his new found hate for the land he was born in. Releasing him from her embrace, Raya stood him on his feet and shifted to her knees so she and the boy were at eye level. She than cupped either side of his face with her hands and chose her words carefully. “When all of this is over and you have settled into your new home in the city of Highsentinel where our order is based, you will not be required to return to this land if that is what you wish. But hear me and hear me well young man, never condemn an entire nation full of innocent people to death or even to abandonment just because you have a quarrel with the system that governs it.” When she saw that the boy did not understand, she sighed and held his hands in hers trying to think of a way to get through to him.

Caaseye came to her aid and translated her words into layman's terms. “What she is trying to say is just because Eastland has been cruel to you does not mean you should never return. Nor that we should burn it all to the ground. When High King Zambore is deposed so will be his laws as well as his cruelty. When that happens this land will not be the same place you are about to leave. Never again will a healer or those of any other profession have to worry about using The Tongue and being killed for it. A place is effected by the people in it but it is not defined by them. Do you understand?” Umbara inclined his head, saying “Yes sir, please forgive me” Caaseye simply ruffled his hair. “Not to worry, stick with us and in time you will be a man of great wisdom.” Then raising a finger he added, “But only in time.”

“The hour grows late, we all must bed if we are to stay on schedule tomorrow,” said Raya. “Is there anything you need before my wife and I retire? Asked Caaseye. “Yes actually one thing” said Umbara, “May I?” He asked, motioning towards Raya. “Of course,” said Caaseye. “Yes of course, “said Raya. Umbara approached Raya and gently placed his hand on her belly. With a smile Raya moved his hand to the spot on her belly where the baby most often kicked. As she did Umbara rejoiced as he felt the child kicking. “She likes you” said Raya. Confused Umbara asked, she? “Yes she, you see there are words in The Tongue one can use to see things the eye cannot ordinarily see.” Answering Umbara’s next question before it left his mouth Caaseye said, “Yes I will teach you these words someday.” Then the four of them retired to their tent for the night.

Just before the first light of the day Umbara and Caaseye rose and set about packing up the tent and loading it in the covered wagon which he and Raya had been using to travel. While the men were packing, Raya fed the horses. After the men ate a small breakfast of half a loaf of bread each and Raya had eaten the rest of the stew left over from the night before since she was eating for two, they took off heading west toward Highsentinel. Caaseye and Umbara sat at the front of the wagon. Caaseye held the reins and Raya sat inside the wagon singing to her child rubbing her belly all the while. “Just think, by sun down we will have crossed the border into Midgard and you can put your past behind you,” said Caaseye. “Will you tell me about Highsentinel?” Asked Umbara. “Yes, it is a wonderful place. It has been the seat of power for all of New Pangea as long as it has sat upon the ground. In fact no empire in recorded history has ever been able to rule without gaining control of Highsentinel.” “Where did it get its name?” Umbara asked. “Does the city itself watch over the land?” “No, but good question,” answered Caaseye. “It gets its name from the faces of the four Great Stone Sentinels. They are set high upon the face of the mountain which overlooks the plateau that the city was built on. They were carved into the rock by an ancient civilization long before any of our earliest historical records can recall, which means their origins must date back before the great scorch.”

They talked like this for hours and hours, about history and what the land of Midgard was like. This went on until well into the afternoon. Their conversation abruptly ground to a halt, when seemingly out of nowhere, Caaseye caught with his bare finger and thumb an arrow which came no closer than an inch from his forehead. Umbara stared at him with genuine disbelief. Without wasting a single moment Caaseye pointed a finger at the road ahead of the horses and roared a phrase in The Tongue. As an instant response to his command a nine by nine foot wall rose from the ground like a plant and shielded them from the subsequent volley of arrows. “They’ve been tracking us!” Raya said furiously as she stepped out of the wagon. “The decoy must have been caught!” “What are we going to do?” Umbara asked, fear evident in his voice. As a response Caaseye pulled a latch on the floor of the wagon which uncovered a weapons cache. It consisted of long bow, a quiver of arrows, and a chain with the head of a scythe on the end. What caught Umbara’s attention immediately, was the sword. The blade of this sword was five and three quarter feet long and wider than Umbara’s body.

Caaseye passed the bow and arrows and the chain to Raya which she took after strapping a heavy iron plate to her belly. Then to the boy’s further disbelief Caaseye lifted the monster of a sword with some effort but not the effort Umbara thought would be needed to lift it. Umbara then managed to find the words to ask Caaseye. “wa-where was your s-sword forged?” Caaseye just smiled and said, “In the bowels of Hell, if you ask my enemies.” Umbara was not willing to rule that possibility out. Then Caaseye and Raya ripped the cover off the wagon so she would be able to see where she was aiming her arrows. Umbara asked what he could do and Raya replied, “Get on the floor of the wagon and keep your head down” He was relieved to hear her orders because despite his bravery, Umbara had no desire to spill blood and doubted he would be of much help when all he knew how to cut with was a scalpel. Before he could share this information with Raya, Caaseye called out to them, “Here they come!” and Umbara watched as Caaseye swung his behemoth sword cutting through helmet, skin, and bone bisecting the other man from head to toe. “Now!” Yelled Raya when she caught Umbara staring dumbstruck at the spray of blood where the enemy combatant once was. Not needing anymore convincing he did as he was told and curled himself up on the floor of the wagon. Gaining a better vantage point to make her kills she stood above Umbara, drawing an arrow as the on slot of warriors began.

Nothing but the death and/or capture of the three of them would turn their enemies back. They came from either side of the earthen wall Caaseye had erected. On the left he slew dozens of warriors in quick succession, and on the right Raya with deadly accuracy picked off each and every enemy she saw, wasting not a single arrow. Like ocean waves striking a mighty cliff the solders fell to Caaseye’s sword and Raya’s bow, until her arrows ran out. She then unfurled her chain and swung it round and round, each swing taking a life with it. The battle raged on in this fashion until the best and worst thing that possibly could have happened, happened. Raya swore a foul curse that only sounded fouler when coming out of a mouth as beautiful as hers. Umbara soon realized what the problem was as well and repeated her vulgarity. Now covered in blood from head to toe Caaseye without turning his back on his opponents inched closer to the wagon and his wife and asked what was wrong. Dispatching another warrior she answered her husband with a mixture of frustration and excitement. “She’s coming!”

Seemingly without thinking, Caaseye spoke four words in The Tongue and without any initial spark, a ring of fire sprang up around the wagon and himself, three of the warriors were cooked alive in their armor. He then handed his sword to Raya and took the reins of the frightened horses and ran them through the fire which disappeared as soon as the horses made contact with the flames, doing them no harm. As he raced to find a more defensible position, he asked Umbara, “Have you ever delivered a child before?” “Yes twice actually but I had help both times” he replied tentatively. “Well this time you’re going to do it yourself!” Before Umbara could protest for a plethora of reasons, Caaseye interrupted him saying, “I trust you and I’m putting the life of my wife and daughter in your hands! Now can you do this?” Feeling like crying again Umbara said, “I will not fail you” “I know you won’t” replied Caaseye.

When Raya’s contractions started, Caaseye realized there was no place he could find without traveling too far and he could not travel too far on a bumpy road while his child was being delivered so he halted the horses. On the bright side he had a few minutes before the soldiers caught up with them on foot, so he took this time to comfort his wife who was in the middle of her birth pains. She still clutched the handle of his sword as pain wracked her body. Umbara spoke a word in The Tongue which temporarily eased her pain. Caaseye than took his sword from her grasp and replaced it with his hand. Neither one of them spoke. They simply shared a deep moment of intimacy in the form of eye contact. Finally he said “Umbara will take care of you and of her.” “I know,” she said quietly, then kissed him and added also in a quiet tone, “Now go fertilize the ground with the blood of your enemies.” Her talk of violence only made him want to stay with her more, but instead he kissed her and did as he was told.

Like a man possessed, Caaseye cut down man after man after man. He swung his sword so hard in fact that when it passed through an enemy it became embedded in a huge rock just beneath the surface of the ground, and he could no longer use it since it would take too long to dislodge. It was only then when he stopped killing for one second that he noticed his arms were in excruciating pain so much that he couldn’t believe they were still attached to his body, and the pain only doubled with ever move he made with them. Because his sword was so large wilding it required a slow and methodical style of fighting in order to endure a long battle, he had over exerted himself by ignoring that fact and despite the fact that he was fighting for as good a cause as any could fight for he still cursed himself for being so reckless. To make matters worse, there were still a dozen more warriors left alive. Thankfully, there were only a dozen of them left alive, so he spoke a word which numbed himself to all the pain in his body.

Before the next warrior could bring his axe down on Caaseye’s neck, he grabbed the man’s throat and crushed his windpipe like an egg shell, then dropped him. With a smile he addressed the remaining eleven men who were sent to kill him saying in The Tongue, “Don’t you gentlemen have anything to live for?” He was skilled in the art of The Tongue, and so was able to use it to force his question into his enemy’s subconscious minds. At this all eleven of them paused and thought for a moment then dropped their weapons and ran back toward the fortress they had been sent from. Relieved he fell to his knees and leaned his head on his sword which was still stuck in the ground, giving thanks to the one true God. He almost fell asleep in that position, when he heard the ear piercing screams of his wife and suddenly getting a third wind, he ran one hundred yards back to the wagon where his daughter was about to be born.

Just before Caaseye arrived at the wagon he heard the high pitched cry of his new born daughter. At the sound of her cry the new father tripped over his own feet, then started picking himself up, then stopped. Satisfied with the knowledge that his family was safe, he decided to rest his aching body for just a minute    Umbara cut the umbilical cord and cleaned the child as best he could, then wrapped her up in a blanket. Once she had calmed down and he had said a few more words in The Tongue to make sure she stayed calm, he handed the newborn daughter over to the new mother. Raya looked into her eyes and then wasting no more time, began breast feeding. Satisfied with a job well done Umbara turned around and saw Caaseye about five yards away from the wagon. Taken aback, he sprinted over to Caaseye and tried helping him up to no avail. “No I’m fine, it’s ok,” said Caaseye as he struggled to one knee. “Now tell me, is she healthy? Is she whole?” Umbara replied with a smile, “I’m happy to inform you that you are now the first time father of one healthy baby girl.” Caaseye replied in a slurred yet still audible voice. “A father yes, but a father of one, no. She is not my only child. You want to know why?” Umbara gave him an inquisitive frown. Caaseye laughed his trademark deep wheezing laugh. “Because as far as I am concerned you are my son now! You my son will forever be known as the boy who dared to speak.” And so the family of four; the battered and bloody father, the tired but blissful mother, the beautiful new born daughter, and the eldest son, all mounted their wagon and continued home.        

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3. Flog a BookBubber 24: Jinx Schwartz

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter from Just Needs Killin’, a free mystery novel by Jinx Schwartz. It is the sixth in a series.

My VHF radio crackled to life and a familiar, if tremulous, voice carried throughout the cabin. "Raymond Johnson, Raymond Johnson, this is Jan. I'm at the marina office. Can you please, please, come get me?"

That quaver spoke volumes— volumes of ca-ca.

Not that I wasn't happy to hear from my best friend, but Jan turning up unannounced at Puerto Escondido, coupled with the telling timbre of the call, was a dead-on harbinger of an impending pity party. Or worse.

Her pitiful plea was, unfortunately, broadcast throughout the cruising community for miles around. I envisioned boaters lunging for their radios, poised to switch to whichever channel I chose in order to answer Jan's call. Dashing their hopes of "reading the mail" and listening in on what promised to be a titillating conversation, I answered with a simple, "I'll be right there," followed by a smug, "Ha!" after I let go of the transmit key and gleefully imagined a collective sigh of disappointment wafting my way on a light breeze. We boaters are so easily titillated.

Wondering, however, whether the last laugh might be on me, I let loose a sigh of my own, and said, "Po Thang, let us go fetch your po Auntie Jan and see what manner of well-known substance has hit the friggin' propeller."

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Just Needs KillinThis book received an average Amazon rating of 4.4 stars. I liked the voice and the writing—since this is the sixth book in the series, her regular readers must like them as well, along with the stories. But, for me, no compelling story questions arose in what is primarily all setup. This is, by the way, all of the first chapter. For a reader unfamiliar with the series, the use of “Raymond Johnson” leads one to think that’s the name of a male protagonist. Well, the protagonist is female, and Raymond Johnson is the name of her boat. Confusing. I’d appreciate editing that got this story started on the first page. It wasn’t until about the 16th Kindle page that there was a hint of story, but still little in the way of tension. A leisurely, well written narrative that didn’t, for me, turn out to be a page-turner.

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow. You can turn the page here.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

 

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4. Flogometer for Daniel—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Daniel sends the first chapter of Homesick. The rest follows the break.

Alabaster McKenzie

Blue cigarette smoke lingered between me and my opponent—a miner with scattered patches of dark hair. A rowdy crowd took bets on who was going to win. I glimpsed at the odds table and saw my name in the lead. As it should be.

Frown all you want, soon you’ll be crying. 

I glanced at the cards: three Crosses—close to an unbeatable combination. I’d been toying with the guy all night, now was the time to finish the charade. I pushed my chips in. All or nothing. 

He licked his lips and showed me his cards—two Crowns and a Sceptre. A combo that happened once. In. A. Million. He grabbed the chips with a smirk. 

I dragged myself from the chair, pushed my way through the crowd, and stumbled out of the Gambling Room in a haze. I rubbed my tired eyes.

Someone from inside shouted, “Franklin has beaten the Bass. Congratulations!” 

I followed the lava tube’s amber lights to The Tharsis, one of a few canteens in the colony that served my favourite drink. I needed something strong to wash away the bad taste from my mouth. Patrons in grey jumpsuits sat next to a jukebox in the corner. Bionics. I slouched on the nearest barstool and raised a finger. 

Were you compelled to turn the page?

The voice and writing are clear and strong, and we’re opening with an immediate scene. There’s conflict, too—unfortunately, it’s soon over and the tension is gone. A character we don’t know loses at a gambling game. For this reader, not a compelling scenario. What are the consequences of losing all his chips? What’s his desire, other than to win? What changes in his life does this loss cause? No hints about those things.

It turns out that this takes place on Mars—it would have been good to establish that when setting the scene. Plenty of setup follows before we get to something happening for this character, and the same goes for the next one. I suggest that you try to get your characters into trouble sooner.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Daniel

Continued:

“Watcha havin’?” asked the barman.

 “A Skevie on the rocks.” I removed my jacket and folded it on my knees. The scent of old sweat and defeat wafted up and stung me. That dark spot on the sleeve looks like someone’s rubbed their nose on it.

The barman dropped a pair of ice cubes in a glass, poured the purple liquid, and handed it over. I swallowed the drink—the lemon and liquorice taste scorching my throat. 

A screen behind the counter displayed a slideshow of Martian landscapes—endless red dunes, a close-up of miners showing thumbs up to the camera, and the old Curiosity rover tomb.

Who in their right mind would visit that monument? I need to get off this rock.

One tall man kicked the jukebox and soft piano music started playing.

A voice from behind interrupted my thoughts. “Hey, why the stoneface, Alabaster?”

Only one person dares pulling that joke …

I sighed. “Aren’t you supposed to cheer me up?” 

My agent, Rence Parkell, a short man in a black suit, smiled and sat on the stool next to me. 

“You’re wanted by the Bionics in the next event. It’ll feature hot-shot politicians from Earth who want to play with our Poccarat celebrity. We need their support.”

“I’d have more fun poking a rat.” I emptied my glass and motioned the bartender for a refill.

“Regardless, you’d need to be in top form.” He stared at me intently. 

I arched my eyebrows. 

“You lost tonight, didn’t you?” he said.

“Temporary lapse of judgment.”

“Bass, nothing’s temporary here. You don’t lose games, that’s why you’re employed to represent them.”

The jukebox switched to a classic song by Frank Sinatra.

“I know you’d rather do things your way,” continued Rence, “but Kápros wants to see you tomorrow morning.”

I sighed. “What’s the rush?” 

He moved in a bit too close, his peppermint breath slapping me across the face. “This is your chance, Bass. These politicians are powerful. Influential. Rich.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

“This is different.” He shook his head. “Besides, some people say you’re losing your touch.”

“Who?”

“Some people.”

“You’re an arsehole, Rence.”

The barman served a second Skevie. 

 “Don’t you see? This is an opportunity, Bass.”

“Their events are a waste of time. The Bionics can handle their own damn PR.” 

The idea of another year of fake smiling and playing cards didn’t thrill my bones. My family waited for me on Earth, and I’d already been here far too long. “I’m going home.” I clapped Rence on the shoulder.

“Aren’t you finishing your drink at least?”

“You can have it. Pick up the tab too.” 

He tried to protest but I ignored him and walked out. 

***

 The air vents were closing for the night. It had something to do with the Bionics not wanting oxygen circulation in the corridors during the evening. My theory was that rebels from the Darsis colony would hesitate to attack in a vacuum. The lights had been dimmed too. Long volcanic stalactites glistened above me, reflecting the gloomy light ahead. I inhaled deeply before stumbling into the hallway.

The sliding doors of my quarters were ajar. I entered. Paper had been scattered on the floor and my sofa torn apart. 

What were they looking for?

I peered behind my wardrobe. Kylia’s locket was gone! My head started to spin and I felt queasy. The oxygen had escaped the room when the doors had been left open. 

The room danced in circles round me. Faster and faster. Until it stopped.

***

 Amaryllis Cayne

The implant inside my left wrist itched. I scratched until my skin turned red. I’d asked my parents for a pair of earrings before we arrived a few weeks ago, but they thought jewellery wasn’t suitable for a fourteen-year-old girl. I would probably not be allowed to wear nail polish or lipstick until I turned 50.

Mum gave me my bag outside the school and said, “Remember what we’ve talked about.”

I sighed. “Mars is our opportunity for a better life. I get it. Dad’s been saying that a lot lately.”

“That’s right. And we’re grateful, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” I muttered.

“Please don’t scratch your wrist, Ammie. Dad and I are going back to the mines, but we’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Why isn’t he here, mum?”

“I don’t know, honey, something came up. But we love you very much. Don’t forget to think happy thoughts, okay?” 

“Promise.”

 The portable display on my desk lit up. “Name three steps to glory.” 

I didn’t have to think, my chip already knew. I typed in the answers, making sure they were spelled correctly. A humming sound inside the classroom grew louder. A large display at the front of the classroom lit up, revealing a bald man with piercing white pupils. “Children of Bionics,” he said. “Next week you will join the ranks of our glorious community.”

His smooth voice sickened me. I made a gagging motion to my neighbour, a short boy with a lot of hair. He replied with a stern look. Spoilsport. 

The bald man droned on about human glory, fortunes, and blah blah blah. My parents were slaving in the mines beneath Mars’ surface. Where was the glory in that? 

I accessed my desk panel, skimming through photos of Earth. Children playing in the sand underneath a blue sky. I’d love to be on a beach. I rubbed my wrist again.

“Amaryllis, pay attention,” whispered Spoilsport.

Horrid images of hands, riddled with scars and warts, flashed on the front display. “These damaged limbs will need replacement to continue the required hard labour,” said a voice-over. “We always need large, strong limbs for the necessary duties in the mines.”

I closed my eyes. I’d seen them every night since we arrived—every time Dad hugged me. He never complained though. He seemed to believe it was a necessary sacrifice, but I couldn’t help feeling heartbroken. 

“The Bionic upgrade program starts tomorrow. Tell your parents to play it like Bass and they could become the chosen ones. Until then: pure thoughts and healthy minds.” The voice faded out. 

A siren blared and the displays went blank—the signal I’d been longing for. Everyone rose in unison and recited the last stanzas from Unity Through Wisdom in the Bionic Bible: 

We’re unified in peace.

Together against Darsis.

Kápros, our benevolent leader.

Leading to glory.

 I took my display and stuffed it inside my rucksack. The other students shuffled out of the classroom and into the hallway, where the machines scanned them for Earth objects. Spoilsport approached me, his breath stinking of tuna.

“You’ll get into trouble,” he said. “What’s with the Earth photos anyway?”

“They remind me of home.” I shrugged. “I don’t want to stay here.”

Spoilsport shook his head, revealing small ears behind his mane of hair. “The Bionics are heroes, y’know. The first humans on Mars. Take a leaf out of their book if you want to survive.”

I rubbed my wrist. “The implant’s driving me crazy. Do you think there’s a way of … removing …?”

His eyes widened. “Don’t say that!” He backed away with quick steps and joined the departing crowd.

I left the classroom and passed through a series of machines that perform a Bionics check. I’d been told anyone caught by them was “caned”—punished. I didn’t own any Earth items, and they hadn’t said anything about photos not being allowed, so I didn’t worry about getting caught.

The machinery scanned me: two lights, one red, one blue, shone into my eyes. I blinked. It stopped for a moment, and a mechanical voice said, “Insert chip into slot.” 

I slotted my hand into a small opening. The device made a series of high-pitched tones. “Impure thoughts recorded.” Something sharp caught my hand. 

“Let go,” I shouted. 

The cold metal gripped my wrist tighter. “Beginning assessment,” said the voice. “Assessment concluded. Impure thoughts detected. Severe correctional measures initiated.” 

My knees shook and my heart leapt up into my throat. I tried pulling my hand out. Excruciating pain blasted my shoulder. I shrieked and twisted my wrist in panic, but it wouldn’t budge. Several bursts of agonising electric shocks surged along my arm. I convulsed.

I fell to my knees, tears flowing. The metal grip round my hand released and I collapsed onto the floor in spasms. Shaking, I clung to the wall and got to my feet. I couldn’t feel my left arm. 

A bald man wearing a grey jumpsuit approached me. He had a tiny display round his chest showing his heartbeat. He put his hands on my shoulders, white pupils staring straight through me. “Dear child, we cannot tolerate impure longings.” He shook his head. “This is your home now.”

Tears flowed, clouding my vision. Keeping my head down, I tucked a few red strips of hair behind my ears. Through hiccups of sobs I stuttered, “Yes, sir.”

The Bionic placed a finger under my chin, tilting my head back. “Hush now, child. Let us not mention this again. Remember what the Bionic Bible says about impurities.”

I wiped away my tears with a sleeve, and picked up my rucksack. “Impurities … are like salt in our drinking water, sir.” My cheeks burned. 

The Bionic caressed my hand with his cold touch. “And too much salt is harmful. Now go.”  

With hunched shoulders I hurried home.

***

I retreated through the lava tubes to our yard, glancing behind me in case a Bionic followed. The colony was a metallic jungle inside the Tharsis Montes volcano, connected by narrow corridors. The Bionics patrolled most of them.

Our quarters were cramped and stuffy. We only had a coffee table, a chair, and three bunks. With aching limbs, I threw myself onto the worn chair. I sat with my head buried in my palms, still shaking from shock and humiliation. Why’s this happening to me? I hate this place. I just want to go home. 

I wept again. 

Add a Comment
5. Flogometer for Jim—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Jim sends the prologue and first chapter of Zombies Don’t Skate. The rest follows the break.

Prologue:

This morning, I found myself lying in bed, awake, but with my eyes still closed. Dreading the day ahead. If I could keep my eyes closed, maybe I could put it off indefinitely. This was gonna be one of those days. Today was the day I had decided I would ventured out into the world for the first time in seven months. I’m not a shut-in, nor agoraphobic, I was however afraid of zombies, and they were waiting for me outside.

My situation was getting serious. My Supplies were running low and as much as I hated the thought of leaving my safe little hidden shelter, I knew my time down there was limited.

 The situation in Austin was also not good. But to be fair, the situation worldwide was pretty screwed up. About nine months ago America watched a report on Television of an outbreak in western Africa. It was a particularly nasty outbreak. A virus was sweeping across the continent, something the world had never seen before. A hellish rendition of all things evil — ripped right off the screen of a horror movie.

At first they resisted using the term “Zombie” to describe the infected.

The first reporter to witness the infected horde in Sierra Leon didn’t sugarcoat it. His was the first report we saw, it was Pulitzer Prize worthy and terrifying at the same time.

The reporter was running hunkered down talking over his shoulder into the big black ball of his mic. “Things are bad here!” he said through the camera.

Were you compelled to turn the prologue's first page?

 

Chapter 1:

The bomb shelter was built by my late father. It was the product of his paranoid genius. He had been a manic conspiracy theorist with what could only be described as a severe dis-associative disorder. He never sought help for it and no one ever forced him to. Maybe someone should have.

Dad had always felt like the end of society was right around the corner. So, he collected guns, canned food and all manner of gadgets he thought might come in handy someday. He never worked at any one place for long. That is until he found a job as a night watchman at a warehouse near the airport. Personal relationships were tough for him. The watchman gig was a solitary job. It was perfect.

When I was in school he would come home every morning and make me breakfast. We would sit at the table where he would share the most recent plot he had discovered. The one that would inevitably end the world as we knew it.

As a little kid, his theories terrified me. By high school, I realized he was not altogether right. The time we spent together was tough, but  I excepted him and just tried to enjoy what time he gave me.  Once I graduated, I was gone, happy to be free of him and his craziness. I loved him, but as a kid with a crazy dad. I just had to leave.

We never talked much after I moved away. I got a call on my birthday once in a while and I went home for holidays now and again. But, we lived separate lives.

He died of a heart attack three years ago. It had to be the two packs he smoked every day. He (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the chapter's first page?

 

Good first-person voice and a gripping situation right off the bat drew me in. By the way, I wouldn’t label this the prologue—since it starts in the present of the story and continues right on in the first chapter, I think this is chapter 1. Yes, there’s a considerable info dump, but it’s interesting stuff. In an edit, I’d have to think hard about what to cut. Or whether or not to start with an action scene and weave in the information here.

Without the running start that the prologue gave it, chapter one doesn’t open all that successfully—it’s all backstory. I’ll add that I don’t really think all the stuff about his father is needed at this time (if ever—I don’t see how his father’s paranoia will affect the story ahead). I think an editor’s hand could strengthen the pace and involvement of the story in this chapter.

But the chapter does continue the story and gets him out of the shelter to discover what has become of the world, and I was interested in going along with him to find out. Note to Jim: you will definitely need an editor at some time; there were grammatical errors that will hurt you with readers. If it were me, I’d also look at where to start the story and how to include the world setup stuff. But it’s richly imagined, and your zombies are different enough to make me want to read more. Luck.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Jim

 

Continued from the prologue:

“Whatever this sickness is, there seems to be no stopping it! Once infected, the patient loses all self-control and will rampage on a mindless killing spree… I’ve never seen anything like it! They look sick… deathly sick, but seem to have an abundance of energy!”

He stopped for a moment and address the camera before something startled him. At which point he and whoever was behind the camera took off again. I remember seeing him weaving in and out of the crowd, bumping into the rest of the throng running with him, away from something else.

“These infected are destroying everything in their path. They feed only on living flesh! It is the most gruesome and violent thing I have ever witness.”

He stopped, took two steps into the shot and spoke through the camera. “And you know the kind of shit I’ve seen.”

It was then that the camera jerked, spun to a wide shot of sky and clouds and then turned to static snow. His report played over and over almost non-stop for days.

Once his report came back, what do you think the American government did? They went straight over there to “fix” the problem. The first team to go was with the CDC; they didn’t fare so well. It seems their standard humanitarian approach to this health crisis was the wrong approach. They headed to Africa wearing their proverbial “We need to help these poor souls” arm bands. Only the poor souls they wanted to help, didn’t want help, they wanted flesh… fresh living flesh. The ghouls saw the CDC as a new flavor of the month. The team was wiped out as soon as they reached the “Hot Zone”. None of the video footage made it to TV, but apparently it was pretty gruesome. When someone leaked the footage on the Internet, people went ape shit. From then on, there was no hope of the “Z” word not being used to describe the infected. The government tried desperately to shut down every website that leaked the video footage. It still got out, but that’s when people really started to panic. If the government was willing to violate the first amendment because of something happening on another continent, everyone knew this situation must be serious.

Zombies were taking over in West Africa, and spreading fast. Everyone hoped the deep deserts of North Africa would contain them. But, they didn’t. So, here in the states the Army got involved as the next “aid givers”. They sent USAMRIID, (U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases) with a platoon of support troops to try and get a handle on things. They actually figured out some of the virus’s unpleasant details, like how it was spread and what it did once it got inside a victim. We weren’t told anything about their findings until it was too late to do any good.

When their findings were released, we found out exactly how bad things were. The infected were not so much infected as they were transformed. Once the virus got into your system it took about four to seven hours to kill the host. The blood thinned down to a viscosity like rubbing alcohol which caused the organs to shut down. Complete organ failure was ultimately the cause of death. The virus migrates to the brain just before the heart stops beating. The heart stops beating entirely within a few minutes of brain infestation. Like a parasite the virus takes control of the victim. The brain, then converted into a non-sentient nerve center, is doing only one thing, controlling the host’s body to find and consume flesh and blood. The only requirement for this new creature is nutritional Iron. This is absorbed through all the soft tissues of the human feeding system- such as the stomach, intestines, mouth and esophagus. The iron is then carried to the brain by the now super thinned blood being weakly pumped throughout the zombie simply by its movements. Zombies are always on the move. No movement means no circulation. Apparently this is a less than efficient system of getting the much needed iron to the brain. So, zombies are super feeders. They devour every living thing in their path. They will eat animals, if they can catch them; however people are much easier to catch than a terrified critter, so we are at the top of their menu.

USAMRIID realized there was no cure from this transformation —  there’s no coming back from death. They euthanized as many as possible to get back home alive. But guess what they brought back with them? ZOMBIES! They wanted to study them and research a vaccine. That, as it turns out wasn’t a great idea. Apparently someone on the research team became infected and they infected a friend who infected a friend and so on. Some of them got out of their little lab and now we have zombies in America.

These are not the slow, arms out, sleepwalkers Hollywood often showed us. Real zombies are spry. They’re not very coordinated, and they are certainly not deep thinkers, but they carry a fear factor which seemed to turn folks into blithering idiots when being chased. Mind you, that’s all just what I’d seen and heard on TV, while there was still TV. I had never actually seen a zombie in person. And really had only seen a few televised glimpses of them. The government did a pretty good job controlling the media, and keeping the images we did get to see as PG as they could.

About seven months ago all the TV networks went to snow. National, local, all of them. Not to test pattern, not warnings, just snow. That’s when I knew the shit had truly hit the fan. I packed everything that would fit into my shelter’s storage area and tucked myself in for the long haul.

I have been in my Dad’s bomb shelter locked safely away from the zombie infected world outside for just over seven months now. For all I know the crisis is over. Today I will find out. I need to resupply, empty my trash and bury three of my hamsters.

Chapter One

 

The bomb shelter was built by my late father. It was the product of his paranoid genius. He had been a manic conspiracy theorist with what could only be described as a severe dis-associative disorder. He never sought help for it and no one ever forced him to. Maybe someone should have.

Dad had always felt like the end of society was right around the corner. So, he collected guns, canned food and all manner of gadgets he thought might come in handy someday. He never worked at any one place for long. That is until he found a job as a night watchman at a warehouse near the airport. Personal relationships were tough for him. The watchman gig was a solitary job. It was perfect.

When I was in school he would come home every morning and make me breakfast. We would sit at the table where he would share the most recent plot he had discovered. The one that would inevitably end the world as we knew it.

As a little kid, his theories terrified me. By high school, I realized he was not altogether right. The time we spent together was tough, but I excepted him and just tried to enjoy what time he gave me.  Once I graduated, I was gone, happy to be free of him and his craziness. I loved him, but as a kid with a crazy dad. I just had to leave.

We never talked much after I moved away. I got a call on my birthday once in a while and I went home for holidays now and again. But, we lived separate lives.

He died of a heart attack three years ago. It had to be the two packs he smoked every day. He lasted a while in the hospital. But he never woke up. I remember hoping he wouldn’t. I was sure if he did he would have some wild theory of a government conspiracy to kill him. I just wanted him to be at piece. And quiet.

My mom was stranger to me. She died before I turned three. I have a couple of pictures of her and my dad together and one of them with me. My dad never talked much about her. The few people who knew him before she died said it wasn’t until she was gone that he got, strange.

When he died, I inherited his house and his land. I was surprised to discover, a bomb shelter in the back yard. I would have never found it if the property surveyor the court assigned for probate didn’t find it weird there was a manhole cover in the back yard that said “Septic Tank” on it.

The house was hooked up to the city sewer system.

Hidden below the manhole cover was a small vestibule and a sealed hatch protected by a combination lock. I spent days searching through dad’s records for the combination before I gave up and called a safe specialist to open it.

The bomb shelter he built was simple and state of the art at the same time. Inside, I found everything a person would need to live comfortably for quite a while.

The place is big enough for one person. It had a desk, a work bench and a full sized bed.

I’d like to think that if he was still alive when the zombies came, he would have made a place for me in his shelter, and his life.

I never had to find out. It’s probably best.

If my dad had been the one to occupy the shelter, I’m sure the supplies would have lasted a long time. I’ve never had his willpower or his ability to sacrifice. As it turns out, I was only able to get about seven months out of the stores he had packed away.

My life had been pretty nice in the shelter, for the most part. I had my computer, my music and hundreds of DVDs. It all ran off of a bunch of batteries charged by the exercise wheels my hamsters ran in.

The hamsters had been my contribution to the shelter. Dad put an exercise bike in to charge the batteries, but I decided I needed some company. I did jump on the bike from time to time, but “The Gladiators” did most of the work. I’d named them after the old American Gladiators from the show in the early nineties. Three of the little guys, Cyclone, Havoc and Tank had died. But, with twenty four hamsters left they kept my laptop, mp3 player and wireless speakers charged with no help from the exorcise bike. And because I had planned to start a breeding program, the colony was safe.

That is of course, if I survived. I thought my chances were better than average. I have been planning an expedition outside for a while. When I took to the shelter, I cleaned out the old house of all usable items. The storage area was huge just not very livable with all the stuff piled in there.

My old man stocked the shelter with every weapon he thought might come in handy during the apocalypse. As a result, I had several hand guns, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle and a compound bow. I also had four machetes, two hand grenades, yep, I had hand grenades, and enough ammo to occupy a small country.

I downloaded as much info as I could from the Internet before it went down with the TV signal. Between my digital library and some help from a guy at a local gun shop, I knew just about enough to be a danger to myself. That fact became obvious after accidentally shotting one of my water tanks while practicing quick draws with my forty five.  After that, my guns stayed  — unloaded — during training. I had spent a lot of time since then “playing” with each of the weapons. I cleaned them, took them apart, reassembled them and I posed in the mirror, trying to see if I look like I knew what I was doing. As a result, I was confident handling them and loading on the fly. And the duct tape and epoxy held the patch on the tank, and my hearing had pretty much recovered.

“Good morning Gladiators! Who’s hungry?” As always I started my day by feeding my pint sized power plants. They were my only companions. They had become very important to me. It was amazing to me how dependent people were on social interaction, even if it’s just from a hamster. I would never have guessed when I got these little fuzzy frenzies of power I would grow so attached to them. It’s weird. Sometimes I talked to them -- and answered for them. I often wondered if I might actually have been losing my mind. Oh well, like father like son.

Each cage got two Short Bread cookies and a rodent vitamin. Sure it wasn’t the unhealthiest diet for the little guys, but I found if they had a lot of calories they naturally tried to work them off, hence more electrons went into my batteries. So it worked out for us all. They got extra yummy grub and I got to use all my gadgets.

My battery charger was state of the art. It actually told me how many amps were being produced from each hamster wheel. So, keeping track of the little guys energy output was easy.  They were fairly happy with their lives, at least I hoped so.

Eating my bowl of instant oatmeal we enjoyed our morning in silence.

With the morning feedings out of the way, it was time to start preparing myself for the expedition outside. I really had no idea what to expect. Would I open my hatch to an endless throng of zombies.

That thought caused me to shudder.

Or, would I pop the hatch and find the zombie crisis had ended. Had I been hunkered down there for seven months for no reason at all?

And if that was the case there would be other problems. My father’s house could have been sold off by the city because they thought I was eaten and the house was available. That would suck.

Back when the living things walking around outnumbered the dead, I managed a used record store. Not a thrilling job. I made OK money, but the place was failing fast. Damn digital music. I shouldn’t bitch though, I converted from vinyl to digital years ago. I guess I got lucky the zombies came before I lost my job.

A few months ago, my biggest problem was choosing between Taco Bell and Burger King for lunch. Now I had to figure out how to deal with the devastation outside, or even how to handle the lack thereof. It was a lot for a simple guy like me to deal with.

Three bottles of water went into my army surplus rucksack along with three MREs.  I found a ton of MRE’s in the shelter. My dad must have loved them, cause I have hundreds. Their only redeeming factor is they wouldn’t ever go bad. They were already bad the day he bought them. Luckily I hadn’t had to depend on them as a primary food source yet. I had eaten a few of them, just to try. When I thought about having to eating the rest. Facing the zombies out side didn’t seem like a bad idea.

I packed my portable radio, my cell phone (just in case things are back to normal) and my handbook of edible Texas plants. Wild edibles wouldn’t have been my first choice, but packed it just in case.

I strapped on my holster and my colt .45 semi automatic, four extra mags of ammo fit in pouches on the belt. The holster was the kind the SWAT guys used, it rode on my thigh not hip. It looked cool and it was the one I had practiced with the most.

A camouflage shirt and pants with a black ball cap topped off my costume. Checking my appearance one last time in the mirror, I looked like a bad ass. According to my DVD collection, that’s all that mattered.

The little box, decorated to serve as a casket for my three tiny pals came out of the freezer and got tucked it into one of the pockets in my camouflage cargo pants. They would get buried together, so they’d have company. It was silly, but it was important to me they always be together.

Climbing the ladder, my hands were shaking. It was a scary thing leaving my safe place. I had gotten used to the safety of my shelter. If I could only put this trip off one more day. The only problem was I had been putting it off for weeks. Time was running out. No, food was running out. I couldn’t keep stalling. It was now or never.

At the top of the ladder I paused. Needing moment to steel myself to the inevitable reality. The world outside would be much different now.

The hatch opened with a slight squeal as hinges moved again for the first time in months. I climbed through the hatch and into the vestibule. I stood beneath the manhole cover.

Closing the inner hatch, I didn’t lock it. I might need to get back in quickly.

The manhole cover was heavier than I remembered, but I got it to move with a bit of extra force. By moving slow I got it free, careful not to make a sound. If there was a gaggle of zombies in the backyard waiting for me, I didn’t want to ring the dinner bell for them.

I opened it just enough to see out.

-----------------------------------------------------

Looking in a 360 degree ark around the backyard. I saw my house; it looked to be intact, for the most part. My yard shed was still standing, the door was open, that was weird. My yard had a wooden privacy fence around it. The fence was intact with one exception, a section of boards looked as though they had been kicked out by someone or something to gain access. That got my attention, had someone been trying to get in, or out, I couldn’t know.

My garden was doing great. I could believe it! It was fully over grown. My corn was standing well over seven feet high and there were ears visible on every stock. The tomatoes covering the ground were ripe and there were hundreds still hanging on the vines.

A farmer I am not. But, I had this huge back yard and back in the spring, before all hell broke lose, a garden seemed like a good idea. I had always heard that any fool with a plot of dirt and some seeds could grow tomatoes, corn, carrots or lettuce. I planted all four. I hadn’t held out much hope for it when I descended into the earth. I had actually not even really thought about it much. Don’t gardens have to be tended? I guess not. But holy crap… Food! There was fresh food back on the menu!

The most encouraging thing though, was a complete lack of zombies. I slid the cover the rest of the way off.

Carefully and quietly I ascend the rest of the ladder and stood silently in my back yard. The heat was powerful. Sweat immediately began to drip from everywhere. Being in the cool confines of the shelter I forgot how oppressive Texas was in the  summer.

The heat was rough, the dead calm was worse. Not just the regular ‘nothing going on calm’ but an absolutely eerie silence. You don’t always notice it, but it’s never completely silent in a city like Austin. Out here on the outskirts east of the city, it wasn’t necessarily noisy, but there was always a background hum of distant cars on the highway, the far away roar of a jetliner overhead, the rattle of a train miles away. These were the sounds made by a world full of life, and with them gone, it was a terrifying thing.

It reminded me of walking out of a night club where the music was too loud, or the parking lot of the race track I went to as a kid where  cars flew around the track with a deafening scream. It almost felt like my ears had gone numb. The silence made me wonder if my hearing was permanently damaged from my misfire down in the shelter. brining hand slowly up to my ear I snapped my fingers. My hearing was fine; the world around me was not.

There was also a smell hanging in the air that told me all was not well. It was so pungent, it seemed like it should have been visible, like a green mist staining the air. Something had clearly died nearby, or more likely many things had died. My distant hope that the crisis was over months ago was shattered by that funky stench.

“let’s find a nice spot for you guys before this heat has its way with ya’.” I whispered patting the wee tiny casket in my pocket.

Making my way toward my shed, about twenty five yards from my hatch. It occurred to me, this little walk constituted the furthest I’d walked in a long time.

Then I froze. Not only was the door standing open, my Little John Deere tractor was gone. Someone had been in there. What if they hadn’t left? Creeping closer, my eyes tried to pierce the shadowy interior. That’s my my ankle turned on the small rock I hadn’t noticed.

“SON OF A BITCH…” my hand clapped over my mouth. I instantly regretted my expletive and made a mental note to shut the hell up. Without looking away I tested my ankle by rotating it a few times. It was fine. The rest of me was shaking.

My hand dropped to my gun. The strap on my holster popped open with a little click under my thumb. Causing me to wince. Could I make any more noise?

Slowly, and quietly I drew my pistol. It then occurred to me, I had yet to chamber a round. If I didn’t stop making stupid mistakes it would be the end of me.

As quietly as I could, I eased the slide back and slowly let it forward. As the chamber closed, it bit the meaty part of my hand. It pinched me hard.

I let out a tiny, panicked yelp.

Jerking the chamber open to release myself from its grip, ejected a live round to the ground. I let the action slam closed, to hell with stealth. That ship had sailed.

The shed had to be empty. If anything had been in there, it would have come after me thanks to my failed attempt at sneaking.

Closing the gap and going in, I stood still for a moment and waited for my eyes to adjust. My gun up and at the ready.

The shed was indeed empty. I mean really empty. My tractor was gone, as well as just about everything I had left behind. It would seem, looters had taken anything and everything they saw. I couldn’t really blame them. Actually, I hoped my stuff came in handy. The thought of a guy on my lawn tractor, being chased by zombies, leaving a swath of freshly cut grass in his wake, made me chuckle. I only wished they had left me a shovel. With out a shovel I’d have to figure out another way to bury my hamsters.

Leaving the shed it was time to check out my garden. If I was going to have to dig with my hands my garden would probably have the softest ground. I was thinking out loud about where I want to put my little buddies; “Do I bury you guys with the lettuce or would you rather spend eternity under the tomatoes. I’d bury you with the carrots, but I hate to temp you with such yummy underground snacks.”

There was something sticking out from the rows of corn.  Bloody legs. No. Not legs. It couldn’t have been legs. Not here. But they were here. They were two broken looking legs sticking out of my garden.

Then all hell broke lose. A gun shot reported. Instinctively I jumped. Then I freaked out.  Before I knew what had happened, I found myself in the dirt.

Someone was shooting and it sounded really close. Sprawled out flat on the ground there was a tendril of smoke rising out of the barrel of my own gun. There was a tightness in my wrist. My finger was still held back hard against the trigger.

“IDIOT!” The shot came from my own gun.

Standing up, I switched the safety on, and re-holstered my gun. Apparently my practice was worthless. It’s one thing to be well practiced in the safety of a shelter and another entirely to apply it to the real world. Out here panic and nerves clearly had control of my actions. My self-taught training was taking a back seat. Just as well I suppose, when it came to fight or flight, my flight reflexes had been always been legendary, why waste ‘em?

Turning my attention back to the cause of my freak out. The legs of a body were clearly visible sticking out from my rows of corn. One of the legs was turned the wrong way. Blood crusted jeans covered what was left of them.

It would seem this was, at least in part, the source of the funky smell.

Frozen in place I was not sure what I should do next. I didn’t want to see  the whole body. But at the same time, I hoped there was still a body attached to those legs.

I didn’t want to go over to it and realize I recognized who it was.

 But mostly, I didn’t want it to be a zombie. It could have been a living dead thing, sleeping or something.

I didn’t think zombies slept, but I had a hard time convincing myself while I was staring at what I thought might be a sleeping zombie.

 The only thing I knew for sure, I couldn’t leave it lying in my garden contaminating what little food I had. I wasn’t even sure if any of those veggies could still be eaten. I wondered if a dead body lying in a garden would have any effect on the veggies themselves. I didn’t know.

It took a concerted effort for me to go over and check it out.  Standing over the body, it looked like it had been “gnawed” on. No, actually, he‘d been eaten. Not completely, but enough to notice he was not all there. The most unnerving thing was what he was clutching, a half eaten ear of corn. He had come into my garden because he was hungry, and ended up as a meal himself.

The guy was probably ambushed from inside the garden. As back yard gardens go, mine was huge. Unable to see more than a few feet into the thick rows of corn.  He must have been standing there picking corn, eating it raw, when zombies grabbed him. Pulled him down and killed him.

The thought of it all had me backing away from the wall of corn stalks. Calm down, I told myself.  The gun shot would have attracted any zombies lurking around. They would have been on me by now.

There was corn in his hand. attack that took his life wasn’t long ago. It happened right over my head. The thought sent a chill down my spine — and a shiver.

Grabbing its legs I pulled.  It resisted. The thought of it pulling apart in my hands was disturbing to say the least. Decomposition had glued it to the ground.

Pulling bit harder, it started to give way. It released from the ground with a sickening squishy sound. Parts of it gave way. It caused me to gag. The newly exposed bits gave off an even stronger stench. My senses burned. What little was in my stomach emptied itself into the crotch of the thing. Instant oatmeal and bile washed over the body’s torso. “Sorry” I croaked.

Dragging it to my back yard gate at the side of my house was not easy. The gate was closed and the padlock was still there, which explained the break in my fence.

looking through the cracks of my gate for any signs of danger, or life. None of either seemed to be present; there were signs of violence though. There were burned-out cars, broken windows,  my neighbor’s door across the street was gone, but there wasn’t anything to indicate any immediate danger.

Having a terrible memory for things like combinations and pin numbers I always wrote them down in hidden places near where I needed them. In this case the combo to the lock on my gate was written in black magic marker on a board right next to the house. The combination worked and the lock popped open.

Opening the gate and walking out Felt weird. The world was being revealed to me in strange little pieces.

Leaving the corpse behind. A survey of my neighborhood was next. Its emptiness looked strange. I had known the people who lived in each house on my block. We had been a close knit neighborhood. We  picnicked together and had street parties. We rooted for the local high school Football team.

A knot grew and tightened in my stomach, it may have been left over from my recent barfing, but I knew it came more from a feeling of loss than nausea. Standing in my front yard I struggled to take it all in.

The world would never be the same.

I went back and dragged the zombie victim the rest of the way out of my backyard. Unsure what exactly to I should do with it, I drug it clear of the gate and off to the side.

Walking the perimeter of my house, there were Several windows were broken. My door was no longer on its hinges. It was lying in the foyer. The hinges were twisted and the door jam had splinters where it had been wrenched from its frame.

Curiosity Forced me inside. Having taken everything useful when I evacuated, and remembering the emptiness of my shed. The void of usable supplies didn’t surprise me.

The looters had been thorough. The inside of the places was trashed. They even tore up the upholstery on the furniture. What could they have been looking for inside the couch? It was sad seeing my father’s home ransacked. It looked like the sight of one of those over-the-top parties from high school movies. The sight depressed me. It should have been me to do this to his house when I was in school.

Outside I was again struck by the silence of the neighborhood. My house was within ten miles of Bergstrom Airport, planes were often overhead. But now, the calm was deafening. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should have expected the total dead calm to have such an impact on me. I have never really liked silence. Even in the shelter, I almost always had some kind of noise day and night. When I wasn’t listening to music or watching a movie, there was the constant squeaking of the Gladiators and their little exercise wheels. As a result, this level of quiet left me rattled. I did my best to ignore the eerie silence and pressed on with the task of finding  supplies.

Wanting to find someplace to bury Tank, Havoc and Cyclone, the search was back on. I decided my garden of death was not a fitting place for them. Mrs. Nathan’s house was two doors down and across the street. She always had the most spectacular flower boxes. I headed over to check it out, and figured I’d have a look inside her house at the same time.

The once well-manicured window boxes were now completely overgrown. They were once a marvel of symmetry and complementary colors, and now looked more like a wild experiment gone beautiful. The color was thick, it saturated the front of her house. Flowering vines that used to be trimmed back to neat little bunches of purple, yellow, orange and blue were now climbing like wild serpents suddenly released from a cage. I decided it would make the perfect place for my hamsters  to spend eternity. The search was over. I imagined them running all over the vines and flower stems eating all the colorful foliage like the frosting on a cake. I worked my way into the tangle of flowering stuff, dug a little hole in the dirt and gently placed the box in and covered it. I felt good about their place here and didn’t feel like there was anything else to say.

The state of my own home didn’t give me much hope of finding anything substantial in my neighbor’s houses, but it was worth a look. I kept wondering where everybody else ended up, the street was deserted.

Searching from house to house, if a door was closed I would knock and yell to see if anyone was inside. I figured if anyone was home they would probably be happy to respond to a non-zombie at the door. That was my thinking anyway. I was concerned they might be freaked out after having been through so much up here they might be a little jumpy. Proceeding with caution seemed to be a good idea.

As it turned out, it was a non issue. Most of the doors were busted down like mine. Having a look inside several homes I didn’t find much, other than a lot of blood.

It was obvious, lots of people had died here. There were several houses I couldn’t bring myself to enter. The stench was so bad I knew there would be bodies inside. I needed food, but I didn’t think I could eat anything found in a place that putrid.

The only food I found was a box of Mac and cheese. It had a corner eaten off by rodents, but the internal wrapper was intact. There were two beers in Tom O’Malley’s garage. “Thanks, Tom” I said as I stuffed them in my pack for later. The rest of the houses on my street had proved to be a waste of time.

My most interesting find was made in the street. It looked like graffiti, fresh graffiti. A mix of confusion and excitement rush through me. It looked like it wasn’t put there for decoration or just vandalism sake. It looked like it may have been a message. Someone had painted a roller-skate with a simple looking flower growing out of it, on either side of the stem there was the letter “D”, and beneath the wheels of the skate was the word “CLEAR” and was dated, three and a half weeks ago. I had no idea what it meant. It could have meant there were no people left in this neighborhood. It could have meant there were no zombies here. Or, it could have been left by my last neighbored to clear out. I had no idea. It certainly had me wondering. Why a roller-skate?

I did find something else of interest in O’Malley’s garage; his daughter’s bike. It was a small mountain bike with a pink and purple frame. It said “Daisy Rocket” on the frame. It also had a white wicker basket attached to the handlebars. She used to ride it  around the neighborhood with her little dog in the basket. I hoped she and her dog were somewhere safe. But, finders keepers, the bike belonged to me now. The basket would come in handy for carrying any supplies I found.

I was mobile.

Roding through other neighborhoods, they were in the same condition mine had been. All the homes were abandoned, broken windows and doors were the norm. The streets were littered with burned-out cars. The remains of violence were everywhere. I didn’t see any bodies, but there was plenty of blood and gore. There were a few places where it looked like a pile of bodies had been burned. I had no way of telling if the bodies were those of zombies or not, but I hoped they were. Every street had at least one home burned to the ground.

There were also more of the painted messages on the streets. They didn’t all have the same skate symbol as the one on my street, but they were similar. One I saw was a stick figure skeleton wearing skates and holding a big mug and a sword. It was dated within a few days of the one on my street. I saw several others with different images but the same basic message, “Clear” as of a certain date. Clear, seemed like a good message to leave. Clear of anything had to be a good thing. A few had a number with a line through it beneath the word clear. I just wasn’t sure what to make of them, but it did give me some hope. Maybe, I wasn’t the only person left in the world.

I rode my bike in the direction of the local grocery store and shopping center. I hoped there might be some food left on the shelves. I was getting worried. If I didn’t find a source of food, I would have to take my chances with my garden. And, even with that, my days would be numbered, there just wasn’t enough there to feed me for long. My dad’s MRE supply would last me for a few months. But, if I had to relocate to survive, I would need those on the road.

The lack of zombies had me feeling optimistic. Maybe they were all gone and the challenge now, would be to simply to survive the Zombie aftermath. The corpse in my garden made me doubt this, but hope is a great motivator, I wanted to believe it however unlikely.

“It's time to go shopping.” Talking to myself, I picked up the pace.

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6. Flog a BookBubber 23: Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter page from a free novel by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant. It was promoted as a thriller.

The man in the light-blue robes circled the park’s fountain with no particular sense of hurry. His bare, bloodstained feet took slow, steady strides, imparting a sense of purpose in his apparent aimlessness. He looked like a man with nowhere to be and nowhere to go … whose lack of destination carried its own agenda. Like Shavasana, the so-called yogic corpse pose in which doing nothing at all is the challenge, the man seemed to be testing discipline through lack of activity.  

As the man walked, his blue robe (a peculiar color for such as him, with his shaved head and Zen bearing) swayed above his feet, a saffron sash occasionally peeking at his waist. He looked mostly down, not around, as if praying, or perhaps concentrating. A small, serene smile was on his dark-skinned face, and his eyes sparkled. He didn’t seem precisely happy, but he definitely didn’t seem unhappy. If anything, his bearing was one of acceptance. Of rightness. Of a deep knowledge that things in the world and the universe were as they should be, and that he knew how to work within that system, how to move, how to be, how to foster a sense of fulfillment. As people passed and nodded to him, the man would press his hands together in front of his chest and make a small bow with a smile — the gesture of namaste, which was intended not just as a greeting, but as his soul’s acknowledgement, centered in his heart chakra, of the other person’s soul.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

NamasteThis book received an average Amazon rating of 4.8 stars. I had mixed feelings about this opening. The writing is just fine, the voice distant but also fitting for a religious character. Without the bloodstained feet I’m not sure I would have turned the page, but with that as a tantalizer and the professional, if leisurely, approach to introducing me to this mysterious character, I did want to know what he would do next. So I turned the page, and I think I’ll be reading the book. What did you think?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow. You can turn the page here.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

 

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7. Flogometer for Wayland—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Wayland sends the prologue and first chapter of Good at Dying. The rest follows the break.

Prologue:

Peaceful, yet so wise, so married. ¿The occasional, appealing, dangerous flash is from remembered poetry?

~ Moran, Jr. starting his third long drink ~

∞ ∞ ∞

If you'd seen Madison Monroe Moran, Jr. an hour ago crossing Main Street in Blue Ruby, Virginia, empty-handed, you would have guessed he was a weary traveler like yourself just arrived in Blue Ruby. From the look he had then, you'd have guessed he was a frustrated bon vivant making his way back to the Inn from the Piggly Wiggly where he, like you, had found the selection of French cheeses limited and the wine nonexistent. His face then was haggard and you would have thought he was muttering animatedly about the ordinance against selling off-premises wine in the historic center of town.

You'd have found him attractive, dangerous, but vulnerable. Subconsciously, you'd have wanted to give him one of your famous foot massages. But his attractive vulnerability was just one of the reasons we've waited until he's in the comfort of his suite at the Inn to invite you—the first handsome woman we've encountered in Blue Ruby today—into the story.

Now that he stands in the kitchen of his suite in the Sage County Inn, before his bottle a third time, an iron grip on the neck, is Madison Monroe Moran, Jr., the orphan son of an Irish (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the prologue's first page?

 Chapter 1:

She'll unbutton the top button on her dress and use one of the napkins from Momma's cedar chest to wipe down into the front of her dress a little and around her neck and she'll close her eyes and hold her face up at the sky and let you look at her neck without having to be ashamed.

John L plans a picnic alone with Cleo

~ ∞ ∞ ∞ ~

JOHN L WHITTLES: A SHOW of busyness to avoid being in the kitchen with Cleo. She stands bemused at the sink washing the breakfast dishes, barefoot with swabs of cotton between her toes to allow her nail polish to dry unmarred, enjoying the warmth of the water on her hands. She looks out the window at a doe and fawn, nervously eating what leaves they're able to reach. The deer are nibbling on a sassafras tree John L pruned to make bushy at a lower height so it would attract does with fawns. All the trees are holding on to their leaves this year, she thinks.

Cleo tries to conjure her mother, a mother she’s only ever seen in pictures. 17 years old and no mother. No mother to explain the fix she finds herself in. Occasionally, she glances back over her shoulder to smile at her Uncle John L whittling away in the front room.

He whittles at the life-size replica of a flintlock blunderbuss rifle he previously whittled from a big hickory limb. The blunderbuss is his proudest achievement in 13 years of learning the art of whittling. He started whittling at 15 to pass the time when he couldn’t go back to sleep at (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the chapter's first page?

Although well written, this prologue’s opening page (and the rest of it) illustrates the risk you take in writing in the second person. The writer asks me, the reader, to be someone else for a while. This is not the same as immersing me in a character’s story, it’s asking me to be the character.

But when “I” wanted to give another character one of my famous foot massages, I was thrown out of the story. For one thing, I don’t have any famous foot massages. For another, I wasn’t feeling any urge to give one. Perhaps this is just a failure of my imagination, but I was unable to get past the disorientation of being whoever and whatever this character is. And I didn’t know who and what “I” was supposed to be. Male? Female?

Then there’s the lack of story questions in this leisurely introduction of a character. The same applies to the opening page of the chapter. And then there’s the shifting point of view in chapter 1, hopping from the head of the man to that of the girl and back again. This is either head-hopping or an omniscient point of view, and neither works well for me. I find it confusing to have to switch from one mind/point of view from one paragraph to another without any kind of transition. And I ended up not understanding what the story was about after reading these first pages. I’m sure it’ll be engaging for someone, but the styles of both the prologue and the chapter just didn’t work for me.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Wayland

Continued from the prologue:

. . . orphan, still worth your closer look?

You think, ¿Married?

You're right that he looks married, but as he sips his whisky (very good, very expensive Irish you now see) he also is beginning to relax, look alive, lose that haggard look—sipping carefully, savoring the taste, breathing slowly out to have the vapors numb his nostrils, leaning back now, closing his eyes, fighting not to finish with this second drink so quickly...

¿The occasional, appealing, dangerous flash must be from remembered poetry? Peaceful now… Yet so wise.

He was muttering animatedly when he crossed Main Street about the letter he left on his desk back at The Blue Ruby Times. With the letter, his friend in London included a clipping of The Horse of the Year show in which Sefton, survivor of the July Hyde Park IRA bombing, was named 1982’s Horse of the Year. In the letter, his friend, an English reporter he knew in Africa wrote, “Most moving ceremony with Sefton yesterday. Long after we have forgotten the 4 men killed at Hyde Park, Sefton will be remembered. Parker Bowles was first on the scene and is credited with saving Sefton. It takes a horse to rally the people.”

For a month or so after the Hyde Park bombing, Moran read accounts of it in The New York Times delivered a day late to his office. Mainly he was interested in what answers the bombing provided for The Irish Question. And he was always interested in seeing if any Morans were involved in the answers.

Not having seen him cross Main Street from his Blue Ruby Times newspaper office—it’s there behind that big window, occupying all of the 2nd floor directly over Autie’s on the left and Piggly Wiggly on the right—you're now sure he's married, but still think he's a poet. And dangerous. ¿Dangerous because he’s married and stays in the Governor's Suite at The Sage County Inn at Blue Ruby? The governor of Virginia is Charles Robb, inaugurated in January. Moran's not the governor, so what gives?

So, want to get Moran dressed to go back across Main Street to Autie's to be irresistible in public, prowl for company? ¿You'd like to see him rouse himself for a dangerous liaison, shuck the mantle of ease he's starting to drape about his person? ¿Slip on tasseled loafers without socks—without socks even though it's a cold and dropping November Tuesday and the sun is down?

Going over to Autie's with no socks would be a manly enough clue for the sort of eager woman you've deduced in your one day in town inhabits Blue Ruby. ¿But, any night, a manly clue in Blue Ruby? ¿For whoever can be found taking advantage of the jukebox advertised in Autie's window: America's last nickel jukebox? Your thoughts are right on: No socks is manly, yet tasteful in Blue Ruby, a sufficient clue, particularly for a maiden looking for a motel memory, that this man has come from just the stone's throw across Main Street at the Inn; comforting clothing language at last call so that there'd be time to order your last drink if you were the one who wanted to keep him waiting without seeming too... too… too virginal; the kind of dynamite hint you'd want that there was a warm—and expensive—bed just that close. Bedroom slippers with no socks would be gauche.

You're not really interested in seeing him work Autie's, believe us. The kind of maiden who's already in Autie's comes too early and stays too late to hold Moran's interest for longer than a quick nod would take. Though… the one maiden—Racey Osgood—settled in tonight is full of hope for finding another manly man. Her interest would hardly be piqued by Moran’s big office overhead, or his influential position as the owner-publisher of the paper: She works there, actually runs the place, has since before Moran ever took over the paper from his father. He’s not her kind of manly man.

 Racey’s memories of past successes of attracting manly men at Autie’s come up as smoothly as her drink goes down, so smoothly that she occasionally must spice her sweet dreams with three drops of Tabasco sauce tapped into the vitamin-laden mix of V-8 juice, a squeeze of lemon, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. She's in her seat for the long haul tonight to take advantage of the cheap music—Queen of the Silver Dollar is playing now; she's there early to watch for the first handsome stranger through the door.

Racey dances from the waist up while on the napkin she spins her drink to appear thoughtful instead of penurious; nurses her Four Barrel Carb (Autie's clever name for the mix of V-8 and beer) to save a buck. She straightens to decline the ever-present Ernest's tiresome offer—his third this afternoon—to "mix in a little ethanol to keep her horsey running.”  He palms the shiny flask toward her under table height and glances back at the bar to make sure the barkeep doesn't see him offering free samples:  If you get it elsewhere, drink it elsewhere is Autie's hard and fast rule. 

She'd also refuse Ernest's request to dance even if he'd ever been known to request such a thing. She's polite, waits for him to glance back at the bar before her next furtive glance at the door; says, while glancing, she has to work tomorrow, can't afford a hangover, plans to leave as soon as The Fiddle Barn idiots start coming in.

Moran'd be puzzled but flattered if he knew you still saw possibilities after studying him this long, were now actually impatient to see him work a room, drop a quarter in for six plays and watch him go for a honkytonk honey, watch to see if he was really the kind of man a classy woman like you would find worth studying for a first, maybe a second evening... To honor his feelings for the little woman you’ve guessed is back home, you may hope he'd resist anyone else’s charms, but still you'd like to see what he was made of, what types he might be enchanted by, or if he was one of the rarae aves still looking for a good woman, a little randy, but with a sharp mind to separate her from your average honky-tonk honey.

Not much else to do in Blue Ruby on a Tuesday night unless you're into two-step dancing, which, being Tuesday, will start in about two hours at the aforementioned Fiddle Barn in the mall on the outskirts of town.

You'd be surprised, disappointed in Moran's backwardness, a reluctant retreat he started when his forwardness contributed to his marriage failure, and his wife running off with his best friend. This Tuesday night, he has already briefly entertained the thought to go to the Fiddle Barn where the maidens are younger and harder to enchant with no socks or other habiliment idées fixes; where they're looking for bumptious, rough-edged men who will dance if cornered until it's time to go home. But alas, he knows that Pearl Slemp, his current obsession, would be there for sure. And that he’d start drooling publicly after a couple of long drinks.

He has no intention of leaving his nest at the Inn. He will drink himself into a stupor. We've been out with Moran before, studied Moran for over a year now, and have good notes on his 3 years since his father killed himself and left him a goodly chunk of money and the great, modified Governor’s Suite, with the best shower in Blue Ruby, and a mere 43 long strides from that best shower to his desk as publisher of The Blue Ruby Times. Before the goodly chunk of money piques your interest, move on in for a closer look, e.g., at the seemly scar across his fetchingly agley nose. Turns out Moran's newish nose is a trophy he won early in his stay in Blue Ruby in a bar fight right there at Autie's.

Now that he's finished three long drinks standing in the kitchen, he is back from the bedroom… now shucked down to his shorts, wearing—open in front—the bathrobe his father left him, one he will drape the tail of over the back of his chair and hold down with bricks on the hem… Then, a safety pin to close the robe at his sternum; then, a space heater between his feet to blow hot air under his chair where the cheap bathrobe will trap and redirect the hot air to warm his back. Not easy to imagine the beauty of the nest he’s devised unless you'd seen him settled in on the several chilly evenings like we have; and had our more fully developed gift of being able to listen to his thoughts.

¿And that flyer he uses as a coaster to protect the elegant end table by his nest? The picture that dominates the flyer is the colorized official picture of Pearl, Miss Virginia, 1965. Moran commissioned the colorization for the advertising campaign for Blue Ruby Motors. It is the first time The Blue Ruby Times will include flyers in the paper.

The table is the only thing of his mother’s he’s kept. It has followed him to Africa and back.  Every evening before he rests his drink on the flyers, he makes sure there are enough of them to prevent moisture from the glass from soaking through to the table. You are spot on, it’s some significant torture Moran puts himself through every evening when he comes out to drink on his balcony: A mix of subliminal oedipal yearnings and a crippling obsession to bed Pearl Slemp.

Tonight, Two-Step Tuesday, be with us as Main Street in Blue Ruby comes alive below him. This Pearl will appear, twice as old as her picture, but twice as beautiful. 

Moran will savor the lingering taste of the whiskey from his kitchen drinks and wait for the full impact of the six ounces of Irish whiskey he’s finished before pouring a final long shot. This Tuesday, he will wait to pour until a few minutes before Pearl appears in the flesh on Main Street below him. He places his empty shot glass on a corner and runs his finger over Pearl’s lips.

Except for a border around the flyer of the names of car brands, drawings of  clown face balloons, and pictures of Ford cars and trucks, the flyer is dominated by the 17-year-old, newly colorized picture of Pearl Slemp at her coronation as Miss Virginia, wearing a crown of diamonds, hugging a trophy. Under her breasts is written the question: Would you buy a used car from this woman? Across the bottom it reads: Blue Ruby Motors, Pearl Slemp, VP-Pre-Owned Vehicles. Crown, trophy, earrings, tears, lips, and teeth: sparkle.

He looks again at the picture of Pearl he uses to keep from making water rings on his mother’s table. Moran is distracted from bad memories by a heated discussion on Main Street, two pickup truck drivers about to come to blows over who’d been waiting longer for the parking spot to open up in front of Autie’s.

Not that your eye is anything but uncommon, but even a common eye would've caught right off that the bathrobe is made from one of those cheap modern fabrics with aspirations to silk. Moran has already determined that real silk, cotton, or wool are all too breathable, let too much air flow through instead of redirecting it up his back. Under his microenvironment he will wear only underwear shorts. You are not ready for this yet, but if you succeeded in getting him into the big bed his father left him—a bed in which Pearl spent many a night with his father—you’d soon come to know he’d worn the shorts all day and he doesn't take them off even for bed.

We need your uncommon eye, your thoughts, your sympathy for Moran, Jr.

Thus, with your second look, you've confirmed dangerous but can dismiss cool. Not cool, even if you do like the sketchy, rock-star stubble. Your observations are all good, in fact, great— and we're glad you saw into and right through Moran. Moran is an aspiring poet which accounts for Moran not being cool in private. The question: Can we plumb his depths, his poetical anxieties, inspire a public face that's not so slaveringly expectant when he encounters the eager, beautiful women who are immediately attracted to him? Is he salvageable for the kind of classy, but sexy, woman like you who is looking for a trophy husband? Can we relaunch him?

Moran is always out here on the balcony a little early on Tuesdays. He waits for the appearance of Pearl, who is looking for a trophy husband to father her children.

He sporadically bobs and weaves to see clearly through the balustrade. He is watching the early arrivals wait for Piggly Wiggly patrons to leave the prime parking spaces in front of Autie’s. His fleeting blissful look is a yen for the corned beef and cabbage special Autie’s serves on Tuesdays.

The roar and the burrap, burrap, of the downshift of his dad’s classic Porsche, the only one like it in the county, causes him to blink alive and lean forward. From around the corner it comes into view.

Watch:

When his father’s old—now Pearl’s new—car comes directly below, he will lean back slightly to make sure Pearl doesn’t glance up and see him. Chilly as it is this Tuesday, she has the top down and as usual her ex-husband Harley sits in the passenger’s seat. Those two women standing at the open trunks of their cars will respond to Pearl’s burrap, burraps by slowing down instead of hurrying. The women have stopped to chat while they transfer their groceries from their carts to their trunks. They will continue to talk to each other while looking scornfully at Pearl and the Porsche. Cars will queue up behind Pearl. Harley will get out of the car to help the women with their groceries and start them smiling when he bestows his locally famous “snake” dance move on them.

Moran is smiling now at the memory of Harley at The Fiddle Barn doing “The Cobra” on the dance floor. Harley is a man Moran thinks is a little loose in the loafers, but that is probably sour grapes, given that Harley holds Pearl’s heart in his hands every Tuesday night. After parking, as Pearl exits the car she glances up at the balcony. Moran quickly leans backward, like a boxer dodging a haymaker, and wonders if she saw him smiling foolishly over the railing.

When he arrived in Blue Ruby in 1979, some 2 years, 10 months, 21 days, 5¼  hours ago—notice he glances at his watch—Moran ensconced himself in his dad’s suite, this Governor's Suite, and began, unwittingly, to shut down his systems.

Moran, Jr. is not going anywhere this Tuesday night, same as most every other night for the past 11 months.

Chapter 1

She'll unbutton the top button on her dress and use one of the napkins from Momma's cedar chest to wipe down into the front of her dress a little and around her neck and she'll close her eyes and hold her face up at the sky and let you look at her neck without having to be ashamed.

John L plans a picnic alone with Cleo

~ ∞ ∞ ∞ ~

JOHN L WHITTLES: A SHOW of busyness to avoid being in the kitchen with Cleo. She stands bemused at the sink washing the breakfast dishes, barefoot with swabs of cotton between her toes to allow her nail polish to dry unmarred, enjoying the warmth of the water on her hands. She looks out the window at a doe and fawn, nervously eating what leaves they're able to reach. The deer are nibbling on a sassafras tree John L pruned to make bushy at a lower height so it would attract does with fawns. All the trees are holding on to their leaves this year, she thinks.

Cleo tries to conjure her mother, a mother she’s only ever seen in pictures. 17 years old and no mother. No mother to explain the fix she finds herself in. Occasionally, she glances back over her shoulder to smile at her Uncle John L whittling away in the front room.

He whittles at the life-size replica of a flintlock blunderbuss rifle he previously whittled from a big hickory limb. The blunderbuss is his proudest achievement in 13 years of learning the art of whittling. He started whittling at 15 to pass the time when he couldn’t go back to sleep at night after being awakened to give Cleo her bottle.

Now he has started to whittle it into ¾s life-size replica of a 30-30 rifle with the stock reduced to be the grip of a walking stick. He started the reduction using a picture from a magazine, but now works from his memory of his grandfather’s 30-30.

John L hasn’t told Cleo he is whittling the gun into a walking stick for weekend hikes through the woods with her. When he's finished, he wants it to still look enough like a real rifle that you could fool a flatlander. But, for his purposes, whittling some of the stock away will make it lighter, better to use as a walking stick. Every so often, he touches the knife to his thumb to test the sharpness.  Breathing out during each long curl of wood he strokes from the stock relaxes him; besides whittling a realistic looking gun to use to threaten Brother so Brother will shoot him with a real gun, he has found the whittling distracts him from his evil thoughts about Cleo.

Occasionally he stands to make sure the grip will be at the proper height for pushing himself up a hill or bracing himself coming down. He measures the length of the new gripping area with the breadth of his hand. The old stock gives him plenty of wood to work with. He could speed his project by using a power jigsaw and leave the fine tuning for whittling, but he likes to see how thin he can make the curls of hickory dropping into the pan between his feet.

He was undecided until just this morning if he wanted the grip to be smooth or crosshatched. Crosshatched would give him a better grip but could cause his hands to become calloused and rough. He’ll just wear gloves when he walks in the woods with Cleo to keep his hands from getting rough. Young women don’t like rough hands.

Making a walking stick of it risks defeating his original purpose for the replica—he’d planned for a year and a half for it to be the weapon he’d use to provoke Brother to kill him. But lately he has thought he can avoid getting himself killed. He looks up at Cleo and thinks how foolish he is to get himself killed instead of letting Cleo’s and his appetites take their sinful course. His niece gets more womanly every day.

His plan to have Brother kill him once more gets pushed to the back of his mind.

IT’S SUNDAY, NOT THE SABBATH for the faithful of Nash Hollow Holyfull Church but still the true day of rest for John L and Cleo, a day of reflection for things human. It's after breakfast and before a picnic Brother hastily arranged at Tuesday vesper services, and confirmed last night. “The faithful can enjoy a day of fellowship during this glorious October God has offered,” he'd said.

Cleo thinks of the week ago Sunday she spent in Blue Ruby with Paige and Paige's date, Paul—poor, timid Paul, preoccupied with his pimples as always that day—a prop Paige brought along to permit her to explain her sexual thoughts with bold words. She used Paul to make her counsel seem to be that of a friend who already had her man. Cleo wasn’t fooled for a minute that Paige was practicing what she preached with Paul.

Cleo's stomach turns again when she thinks of Paige's familiar use of her Uncle John L's first name. Paige has become enamored of the whole idea of an older man for herself; she has her sights set on Uncle John L. Cleo knew Paige was gossiping with her other friends about how John L was so rugged, soooo sexy.

Later in the conversation, Paige said, “Did you know my parents waited until I was two months old to give me a name? For two months, I was Baby Girl Hatcher. Mother read a European novel where they named the heroine that way, waited until her personality was formed enough that they could give her a fitting name. You should think about getting your name changed. If it weren't for the movie, I think Lolita would fit your personality, make you more attractive to men.”

On parting, Paige said, “Take John L on a picnic, ask him about the birds and the bees. Hee hee.”

Cleo wishes now she'd not come back to report to John L that Paige thought Cleo should arrange a picnic with John L. She checked Lolita out of the library on the Monday after the date with Paige and read it in two nights. She wished she’d seen Lolita in the movie. After she read the book, and saw what a tart Lolita was, she asked John L what he thought of the name Lolita. He uttered the name aloud several times and said he liked the name a lot but not as much as he liked the name Cleo

Today she wonders, again, what it would be like to seduce her uncle. She has started to seduce him in her daydreams. It makes her feel like Lolita in the book.

For Christmas, she will give him an ecru button-down shirt Paige told her that she and the other cheerleaders thought would top off a sexy outfit. She imagines the Christmas morning scene. She will smooth the shirt on him, walk around him to tuck it neatly into his trousers when he tries it on. She’ll ask him to take it off under the pretense she wants to iron smooth the folds, let her eyes dwell on his chest when she hands it back to him, ask him to wear it to church.

When they come home from those Christmas morning services she’ll ask John L to take off his suit coat and necktie and put on the pumpkin sweater she has put on layaway. When they passed by it he called it Pumpkin-colored. He probably called it pumpkin because it was so close to Halloween when they saw it. It was the color of a shirt her father, the Spaniard Delgado, had given John L when he was 13, a year before she was born. Cleo is calling the sweater tangerine at Paige's urging. Tangerine is a sexier word than pumpkin, Paige had said. “Think of him wearing an ecru shirt under a tangerine sweater.”

Cleo remembers sex scenes from books she's read lately, wants to live what she's only read about up to now. Cleo's nipples are hard and her breaths shallow. She will teach Uncle John L to call it the tangerine sweater as soon as possible after Christmas.

John L is also eager. His throat is constricted. Full. He touches the pulse in his neck. He has forgotten his grandmother’s harangue about being careful about what he does around Cleo. She lectured him that one of the faithful from the church told her about rumors she'd heard in town. The congregant had repeated rumors being spread by Ralph Skeens. Ralph told all who would listen that Cleo’s friends were telling stories about her trysts with John L, trysts Paige proposed, but trysts that are only coalescing in John L and Cleo's daydreams of becoming incestuous lovers.

After breakfast, Cleo had called John L out of his bedroom to entice him to admire the new gingham cloth she'd bought to cover the food in the basket, and the dress she planned to wear to the picnic. She already knew it was his favorite. He smiled sweetly and his first words were that they couldn't afford the cost of church picnics. She blushed—the way he said it made it seem like they were married.

She seized the moment. “If you drank wine, I would’ve gotten you to buy a bottle. Paige says a good, full-bodied Bordeaux would be right for roast beef sandwiches. I thought about it, but I knew they'd not welcome us with spirits. I’m making fried chicken. Wine wouldn’t go with fried chicken Paige said. But, let's do our own picnic next time.”

He said, “You've got to stop listening to Paige. You're too young to be drinking.” Nevertheless, he started then to plan a picnic alone with her:

If she will agree to go on a picnic with you without the church, you can drive the back road toward Dillard to the wide spot where the path up to the old graveyard starts. The five steps up to the platform are getting too shaky and you'll go first so that you can pull her up to the platform after you. Then she goes ahead so you can catch her if she slips. You'll remind her you told her to wear her winter shoes to keep from slipping, but you're glad to have a reason to put your hands on her soft spots.

You'll offer to let her use your right glove so she won't wear blisters on her hand from pulling herself up by grabbing sassafras saplings and you'll like her softness on your bare hand. And her soft spots will get warm from your touch and her thighs and her soft behind will heat up from climbing. She'll be dewy before you make it halfway up the climb and you'll tell her “We could do it here and not go up to the tables.”

She'll understand, but she'll say, “Do what?” She'll act like she's innocent but it's her way to tell you she wants to too. But she won't tease you too much. You'll say out loud her idea to have a bottle of wine with her good roast beef sandwiches the way they do in picture shows was a good one.

She'll color up but you won't be able to see it because her cheeks will be red from climbing. She'll unbutton the top button on her dress and use one of the napkins from Momma's cedar chest to wipe down into the front of her dress a little and around her neck and she'll close her eyes and hold her face up at the sky and let you look at her neck without having to be ashamed. You'll put one of Momma’s napkins over your lap to hide yourself, but you won't be able to hide your smell and she’ll be thinking she smells bleach. And she’ll know you’re trying to stay manly but she needs to hurry.

You'll be sitting on the old tablecloth and put the basket off to one side and you'll play her waiting game by asking her to tell you about pineapples again. How they have such small seeds for such a big fruit. It'll make her think you're more interested in her mind and give you the chance to swell up again.

She'll make the first move to let you know it's what she came for. She'll open one other button but hold it closed for just a minute and you'll get the nerve to look at her chest and lick your lips with your mouth open and look up at her face and say, “Whew.”

And she'll color up again and know you see it, but still will let go of the button and reach in towards her shoulder with her thumb to pull up the strap of the new brassiere she forgot one day on the kitchen table and you saw was padded because she thinks her behind makes her look too much like a pear shape and Paige told her she had bought one like it for balance for when she had her clothes on. Then she'll ask if you mind if she unbuttons the rest of her buttons to cool down some and will unsnap the front of the brassiere, which she'll say when she unsnaps it was a brassiere made especially for good picnics.

You'll tell her her breasts are fine, plenty good enough. And you’ll move over next to her and put the right one in your mouth because that's the side you'll be on since you're right-handed. And you’ll use your right hand to put her hand down on your thing.

She'll brag on your thing and then put her tongue in your mouth and breathe through her nose and then she'll be thinking about what Paige told her the last time you spied on them after play practice. The thing about men forgetting about your breasts when they take off your panties and how men with good manners like small breasts.

She'll push off her shoes with her toes, and you'll open your eyes to look at the frosty wine toe polish and use your hand to go up under her dress looking for the place where her underwear has hair coming out from under, but you won't find any underwear and she'll push herself onto your first finger and start moving slow and she'll stop kissing in your ear and start moaning like she's having a bad dream.

Then she'll whisper in your ear, “Do you mind a woman with no smallclothes? I wanted it this way so I could show you my underpart while we ate sandwiches so you'd know I was sure. But you knew without me showing you it.”

And she'll start cooing like doves.

And after you'll tell her to stop acting like a tramp but you'll tell her you'll let it go this time but don't do it next time and will start when you get back home to write down things to say for the second times.

But any of those times you won't say you love her or let her know you think all the time about her. Young women don't like things like too much love.

And when you get home after the picnic you won’t go into her room and tell her her breasts are perfect instead of just plenty good enough.

CLEO FINISHES PACKING THE PICNIC basket, “Uncle John L, did you ever finish that book Cold Sassy Tree I gave you a while back? I saw it somewhere here the other day and I want to let Brother borrow it. It's about a man that marries a younger woman after his wife dies.”

“Cleo, what am I going to do about you? You told me it was about a town named after an overgrown sassafras tree at the city limits. I'd’ve been worried about what you were reading if I'd known it was about something dirty.”

“I was telling you how the book got its title the day you were cutting back the top of the little sassafras sapling outside the kitchen. No whole book is about a sassafras tree, even if the tree is as big as the one in the book.”

“I'll start it soon. I'll give it to Brother myself when I'm done with it.”

“I’ve been watching that same doe and fawn come past the sassafras for a while now, wondering if I'll ever see my mother before I die. Tell me why I’m named Cleo?”

“Your mother... Joy Ann named you. I think she expected you to grow up to be special like Cleopatra. Jimmy Ray is still talking to her about coming back for you. She’s got children by another man than your daddy, even if the second man is a Spaniard, too. It's nothing about you, she just got married without telling her husband about you and she's probably scared he'll divorce her if she tells him.”

Cleo thinks she’ll tell John L soon that Lolita is a Spanish name for a young girl whose real name is Dolores, which means suffering.

AT THE PICNIC, CLEO STANDS in the younger crowd dominated by Ralph Skeens. He is reprising his role as congregation clown for the 16- to18-year-old Holyfull congregants, a role he started to perfect seven years ago when he dropped out of high school to work in the big mining equipment warehouse outside Dillard. At 23, Ralph still wears his worldly wit with some great appeal for the younger crowd.

With little success, John L tries not to stare at Ralph’s adoring crowd. Occasionally, he makes a point to pause close enough to Ralph's group to find out what they're talking about. He hears enough of two of Ralph's jokes—neither joke fit for a church picnic—to remember he used to entertain with his jokes. And Ralph is too old to be talking like Donald Duck. 

John L walks from table to table sampling food he has no appetite for. He sees Brother, surrounded by the churchwomen listening to Ralph’s sister, Sister Skeens, hold forth. Brother is looking over the top of their heads at Ralph’s crowd. John L thinks of Brother staring at Cleo through her wet clothes when he baptized her when she was 13.

Not knowing of Brother’s weekly counseling session with Ralph for his flatulence at Holyfull during Saturday Sabbath services, the last thing John L would ever suspect Brother of is his thought: ¿Next week, find out from Brother Skeens if he knows Autie’s recipe for corned beef and cabbage?

Grandma Owens kin Phoebe, not believing in going to church affairs where men and women dress up, is not here: “The kind of thing alley cats would go to if they could dress up,” was her rebuff to Brother, who made the mistake of announcing the picnic after the vesper prayer and before consulting with her.

For John L's comfort, Cleo is far too animated about what Ralph is saying. He wishes he wasn't always nervous around Cleo these days. He wishes he was in Ralph's place. He'd like for Cleo to be putting her hand on his arm to let him know she liked what he just said. Like Cleo’s daddy Delgado did his arm.

John L feels like someone has pulled his insides out when he overhears Cleo excitedly accept Ralph's invitation for a date next Friday for “a night of dancing at The Barn and a midnight snack at Autie's.”

John L will say to her when they get home, “He's too old for you, Cleo. And you're too young for midnight snacks with a man Ralph’s age.” He begins to get another erection. He'll also remind her when they get home she wanted them to go on a picnic with wine. Not knowing how to dance bothers him, makes him think again he needs to invite her to the Blue Ruby Fiddle Barn, or promise to take her to a dance over at the Dillard Fiddle Barn if she'll teach him how to dance at home.

He wonders if being her uncle gives him enough Biblical authority to lock her in her room if she disobeys him when he tells her she can't go with Ralph on a date into Blue Ruby.

A few minutes later Cleo is glowing. It's her first date alone with a man. She leaves the group and walks over to Brother, who has broken away from the churchwomen to stand in front of the fried chicken Cleo made.

By the time she reaches Brother, he has a piece of chicken in each hand. “Hello, Brother. I made the chicken you're eating.”

“I guessed soon as I tasted it. Your frying hen did not die in vain.”

“Brother John L's not finished with the book we talked about—with the older man who married the younger woman. He promised this morning he would give it to you himself soon.”

Brother says, “Is Brother John L instructing you after the Bible? Proverbs 22:6 says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’”

“What about women, shouldn't us shes be trained up?”

“Would we like to share something about our upbringing, Sister? Would we need to come in for instruction?”

“Maybe we would. Brother John L's embarrassed about grownup things. I remember you saying women must be subservient to men.”

“It's husbands or ministers—husbands in the Lord—women must subject themselves to, not just any John L, Dick, or Harry husband. Ephesians 5: 22 and 23 says, ‘Wives be subject to your husband, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is also the head of the church. He Himself being the savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in all things.'  Husbands being Jesus and authorities of the church as well as husbands of the flesh.”

“I've accepted a date with Brother Ralph to go into Blue Ruby to a movie and a late supper on Friday. You won't be too hard on me if I'm out and about a little after the Sabbath begins, will you?” She tucks her chin and bats her eyes coyly.

“Before you do, I'd like to meet with you. Have Brother John L drop you by the house on your way home from school tomorrow.”

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8. Flogometer for Trin—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Trin sends the first chapter of Oh Brother. The rest follows the break.

“Grab my force ball plunger,” my Dad said. “No, that’s the suction cup one. Damn, damn, damn.” Water began gushing from the toilet. Dad started plunging until he came to the cause of the clog. My brother Maxwell’s infamous red ball. He must have dropped it in there by mistake. Although Dad was a salesman in the plumbing department, he seemed to know very little about plumbing itself. He was beet red and looked mystified. The water spread across the floor like a small flood. “Amelia, you’re going to clean this up.”

“Me?” I said, while making a new companion with the ground, my stare impenetrable as if this would get me out of the predicament.

“Yeah you," he said. He could have added the word dummy and I wouldn’t have been surprised, just heavily weighed down by the sopping mess and the amount of rags my mother would have to wash. I took on the project though, and rolled up my overalls and began the job. My mother, Roseann, wouldn’t be home till later in the evening, she was a homemaker and enjoyed filling her time by running errands for my brother’s boy scout troop.

My Dad’s six foot, fifty-year old frame maneuvered around the toilet. While, I began taking rags and wiping up the mess. It smelled like rotten eggs in the bathroom, and I pushed back strands of brown wavy hair, doing my best not to shake off any barrettes.

“Where’s Maxwell-Amelia?” My Dad asked as an afterthought, fumbling with the float (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

For me, this narrative starts at the wrong place unless, that it, it’s really a story about unclogging toilets. All of this action, as it turns out, has no bearing on the rest of the story. While it serves to characterize, why not characterize while giving us what the story is actually about. What does the protagonist need or want? What is preventing her from getting it? What goes wrong in her life that forces her to take action? That’s where to begin the story, and I didn’t see that in this chapter. Look for the real start later--there was a hint of something interesting, perhaps paranormal, at the very end, but far too late to engage this reader--and it wasn't about the protagonist. Some craft notes:

“Grab my force ball plunger,” my Dad dad said. “No, that’s the suction cup one. Damn, damn, damn.” Water began gushing from the toilet. Dad started plunging until he came to the cause of the clog. My brother Maxwell’s infamous red ball. He must have dropped it in there by mistake. Although Dad was a salesman in the plumbing department, he seemed to know very little about plumbing itself. He was beet red and looked mystified. The water spread across the floor like a small flood. “Amelia, you’re going to clean this up.” I’ve plunged my share of toilets, and it doesn’t match my experience that he would “come to” the ball. Plunging forces clogs down and out of the toilet, so I don’t see how he could come to the ball.

“Me?” I said, while making a new companion with the ground, my stare impenetrable as if this would get me out of the predicament. “making a new companion with the ground” didn’t make much sense to me at first and pulled me out of the story. Also, it’s a floor, not ground. This tries a little too hard for me.

“Yeah, you," he said. He could have added the word dummy and I wouldn’t have been surprised, just heavily weighed down by the sopping mess and the amount of rags my mother would have to wash. I took on the project though, and rolled up my overalls and began the job. My mother, Roseann, wouldn’t be home till later in the evening, she was a homemaker and enjoyed filling her time by running errands for my brother’s boy scout troop.

My Dad’s six foot, fifty-year old frame maneuvered around the toilet. While, while I began taking rags and wiping up the mess. It smelled like rotten eggs in the bathroom, and I pushed back strands of brown wavy hair, doing my best not to shake off any barrettes. Mentioning her hair color is a small break in point of view—she would not ordinarily think of that. Unless his size and age are important here, they are excess detail.

“Where’s Maxwell-Amelia?” My Dad asked as an afterthought, fumbling with the float (snip)

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Patricial

Continued:

. . . ball and trip lever.

Fortunately, Maxwell was with the other eight-year-olds in a game of cops and robbers on his bike.

“He’s outside, Dad.”

“And your brother Zion?” Dad asked, while wiping sweat off his half-bald head and tossing used tools in a large white bucket.

Before I could answer, there was insistent knocking at the door and my father shouted, “Someone get the damn door. We’re expecting a new foster kid.”

Another foster kid? I thought to myself. Three foster kids had already came and left this year alone-all of which were bad behaved. When no one in the house responded to my father, I took it as a sign to depart, leaving him to his own devices- glad to be relieved of the tension in the bathroom.

When I opened the door, a teenage boy stood there, while a woman in a station wagon was waving from the street, shouting, “This is the new foster kid. There’s an emergency at the office, your parents have already met him. I’ve got to go.” She waved one last time before driving off in mad-hurry.

The teenager had grayish black shaggy dog-like hair. He looked to be around fifteen and and wore jeans that said in bold letters: Marithe Francois Girbaud. They fit tightly on his husky, plump body.

I thought I would joke with him a bit. “Are you Husky?” I asked, because my parents didn't like the term fat and insisted that we call-kids over a hundred pounds Husky.

“No I’m not Husky, my name is Sam Burns.” He had with him a huge black chest fastened down with a big Masterson lock.

Looking back on it, his name alone suggested his ruthless risk taking abilities like an arsonist who plans to burn down a house but doesn't plan on burning those who live in it. I told myself from that day forward I’d call him “Burns” for short.

“Dad, there’s a kid here!” I shouted.

“Oh, that must be the new foster kid. Show him upstairs, would ya? And close the damn door before you let the cold air out.”

The air conditioner blasted frigid air in the living room. Blue sheets were used as separators on four doorways of the main floor, blocking air from going room-to-room, and upstairs into the attic bedrooms. I decided to give Burns a tour of the house and inform him of important rules.

“This is the living room,” I said pointing to a couch and Dad’s lazy-boy. A tall entertainment center was propped against the left wall with family photos scattered across it. I couldn't tell if Burns was listening because his head barely nodded or seem to acknowledge what I said.

“So where’s the kitchen?” He asked. I pointed to a hallway that led into a room from the main door.

 We walked into the kitchen while I explained, “Everything needs to be eaten at the table, unless you’ve been given permission to do otherwise. Mealtimes are at nine, twelve and six. “You don’t get snacks without asking for them.”

We walked out of the kitchen, through the living room, and I pointed to the door to the left “Mom’s room, and to the right is Dad’s. Don't ever step foot in our parents’ bedrooms without being invited. And if you’re invited, you’ll know because it's probably for something bad you’ve done. There are rules here, okay?”

 As we made our way upstairs to the attic, Burns paused to hang his jacket on a brass hook held on a wall on the stairway. “You don't use what's not yours in this household.” I removed his coat from one hook and placed it on another. When we reached upstairs, he began messing with the functions of a radio that sat on a cedar chest. “This radio is not yours,” I pushed a dial to shut it off.

“That's fine,” he said, taking out a walkman from inside a hoody, “I've got my own radio.” He turned the radio on high blast-Led Zeppelin, from the sounds of it. I couldn't make out the words. I was twelve, I enjoyed music from groups like Backstreet Boys and Destiny’s Child but I thought Led Zeppelin sounded like non-stop head banging music. I also couldn’t get the hang of the beat.

Walking into the room, Zion was standing at a tall drafting table putting together what looked like a space station with his Legos. Without introducing himself, Burns claimed an unoccupied bed by shoving his god-awful trunk at the end of it.

I bit my lip before explaining, “Zion-this is a new foster kid.” Zion looked up from his Legos with an eye roll.

Burns tossed his backpack on the bed revealing his bad habits by going over to where Zion stood and tousling his hair. Zion didn't like it one bit. Zion had heavy sandy hair and the looks of Steve Urkel: big heavy glasses he constantly pushed up his nose and pants he wore above the navel.

“Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Would ya?” Zion exclaimed.

Burns looked away from Zion, he seemed caught up in what he saw on the wall, a big poster of baseball star, Kirby Puckett.

“Did he really sign this?” He stared at the poster's signature.

Zion took this opportunity to gain some leverage over Burns. “Ah yeah, he signed it. And if you touch it, you die, because Mom said only adoptive kids can touch these posters. Our brother got it signed by Puckett himself after seeing him at the airport.”

The truth was, the signature was one of those copied ones they slap on every poster. But hell, Burns didn't know the difference and besides it gave us leverage over him and let him know his place in the foster home. He was the foster kid and we were the ones to stay. The chosen ones.

“Oh, they didn't tell you?” Burns exclaimed., “After a few months of staying here, I plan on getting adopted too.”

Good luck, I thought sarcastically.

“Oh, no you don’t!” exclaimed Zion.

“Yes, I do. All, I have to do is tie your parents around my finger and they’ll adopt me faster than a rabbit in a hat. And my first line of business is to call your mother and father, my Mom and Dad. And if you had any sense at all, you'd respect your newest and handsomest brother.” Burns placed his hand over Zion's face as Zion struggled to hit him.

“How dare you!” I said, my eyes squinting up at him. Zion and I were twelve years old. It took us ten years to accept the rules of the house and our parents as our own after coming to live with the Radtke’s when we were both only two years old And Burns planned on calling our parents-his own- on the first day? Who’s to say, my parents would even like him, and who knows what sort of mischief this kid would cause my parents.

“First of all,” I said. “You aren’t the oldest, Rich is. When he gets a wiff of you, you’ll be begging on your hands and knees to get the hell outta here. Second of all, you aren’t handsome. I’ve seen dogs that look better than you.”

Burns ignored me and continued teasing Zion, before deciding to get himself settled in.

                                                                        ***

If independence had a smell, it was campfire s'mores and cinder blocks, anything and everything barbecued and planted grass. I really enjoyed Independence Day unlike most holidays where you sat around all day waiting to eat. The little freedom the Radtke’s got we cherished- like lighting off firecrackers and standing in front of sprinklers with our play clothes on.

Independence Day was a tribute to the summer, like a big birthday candle lit once a year.So it came as no surprise that two days after Burns arrived, my parents took the liberty of driving all the way to Wisconsin to buy firecrackers. It was still illegal to buy fireworks in Minnesota in 1997- whether big or small. Therefore, Mom hid all the firecrackers in the back of her closet when we came home. Zion kept dipping his head in there all day making dibs on which ones thought he'd light.

By nightfall, we took turns lighting them off. It was humid as the night was black. We weren’t the only ones who had the idea of setting off firecrackers. Our next door neighbors were shooting them off, although we could barely see them because of the huge Lilac bushes that separated our yard from theirs. We heard countless booms and bangs-and screams of delights.

 Zion was up next to light a firecracker that resembled an Army tank. He said he wanted to keep the tank for himself after it went off. Zion seemed to be on cloud nine seeing how the tank was similar to a toy in his toy chest. He examined it thoroughly before planting it evenly on the sidewalk and took an electronic lighter to its wick. Its wick was on top of its periscope. The tank seemed to be a dud, standing still as a stump of a tree.

Burns went over to the tank and stomped on it, shouting out, "Stomp the dud, stomp the dud."

Zion's excitement seemed to turn to complete sadness as he rounded his shoulder blades and stared at the trampled tank. I ran to where Zion sat. I tried to shake him out of his stupor.

“Zion, Zion, it's okay, there will be more firecrackers.”

“Not any more this year.” He said, staring at the tank as if it was his most prized possession.

We looked at the almost empty paper bag that held the firecrackers. Mom said there were a few more but what was left was sparklers and glow worms, baby stuff in comparison to the ones we lit. The sparklers were still pretty to me though; I could light a pink sparkler and dance all night to the flashes of light.

Burns said he was going for a walk. Zion stared at the tank before moving.The tank was similar to the one our brother, Rich, drove in Iraq. I pictured my brother driving the tank through sandy and rocky terrain, covered with the help of the sahara. Zion said he was on a mission to find Burns. He began marching out of the backyard as if he was going into combat.

After he left, I spent the better part of an hour picking up the leftover firecrackers and putting them in a pile and then ripping them to shreds.

Butch, our next door neighbor came by. From far away, he could easily be mistaken for a ten year-old. At 5’1” he was as thin as a rail and wore a flannel shirt tucked into a brown, leather belt. Butch was in fact forty-years old and balding but that didn’t stop him from acting like a kid. Butch had a large rope swing that propelled from a thirty foot tree limb. Every kid in the neighborhood spent time jumping off his deck railing, swinging themselves to an adjacent garage roof calling out any amount of rants and cheers of good will; proclamations like “watch-out below!” His backyard could be compared to a Swiss Family Robinson movie.

Butch was also friends with my father and the two of them would spend hours in the basement drinking and talking politics in manic loud voices that we kids didn’t concern ourselves with. We had enough day-to-day lectures from our father to know better than go down there.

Butch fumbled for a cigarette from his shirt pocket. He took out a match from his matchbook and lit the cigarette, letting it sit loosely on his lips.

“What’s up Amelia” he says finally.

“Nothing much.” I respond.

“Where’s Zion,I want to talk to him about throwing trash in my yard.”

Zion turned the corner into the yard, just then-huffing and puffing real loud. He began pacing in circles. I wondered where he just came from. Did he find Burns? And if so, did Zion and Burns have a fight over the ruined tank?

“Hey turbo slow down,” said Butch watching Zion pace and not making any motion to stop him. “What happened?”

“Wait till that bastard shows up.” Zion kicked out his left leg to show what he would do to when Burns got home. “Do you know what he did to me? He put his hands around my esophagus.” Zion squeezed his own throat by demonstration.

Burns strangled Zion, I thought to myself. That’s the worst thing you could do to my brother. Sure- I’ve gotten into plenty of fights with Zion, but I would never try to strangle my own brother.

In his rage, Zion kicked Butch’s fence.

“Hey-slow down” Butch exclaimed, “We got enough holes in this-here wooden fence,” motioning to the fence while trying to hold it up straight.

Zion kicked a loose rock around instead. He had his chest puffed out as if he was going to fight someone- massaging his neck as well.

“Hey, why don’t you just sit down and take a break?” Butch offered him a lawn chair but Zion pushed it away.

“Hey, what hurts the worst?” Butch asked, pleading with him to express himself thoroughly.

“My esophagus hurts.” He showed Butch a place on his throat where red marks showed signs of Burns squeezing his throat.

“He’s doing illegal things to me.” Zion insisted, his eyes huge and bloodshot.

“Are you going to fight Burns when he gets home?” Butch asked.

Maxwell cut the banter short by saying “Hey-you shouldn't taunt Zion, “He's got powers.”

“Powers huh?” said Butch. “Are you going to turn into a Power Ranger little man? You got some moves?”

Butch didn’t get to see the powers Zion was said to have that night. But Zion and every kid that knew him believed in his powers. His powers, it seemed, extended to whenever he was mad or someone else provoked him. Dad's hand would slap a wall instead of someone’s face. A play toy hit the bed instead of breaking into a million pieces.

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9. Flog a BookBubber 22: M. Louisa Locke

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter page from a free novel by M. Louisa Locke. It was promoted as “A charming historical mystery brimming with suspense!”

“Time to head out, Dunk. Mr. Rashers will have our hides if we’re not back by seven-thirty, sharp.” Seth Timmons sorted through his coins and threw down two quarters, which included a generous tip for the amiable waitress.

Dunk mopped up the last of his gravy with the end of his roll and stuffed it into his mouth. “Don’t you want to take that with you?” the young apprentice mumbled, pointing to the two chunks of potato and a strip of beefsteak left on Seth’s plate.

Seth told him no and pushed himself away from the table as Dunk took out an ink-stained handkerchief and rolled up the left-overs, sticking the soggy bundle back into his jacket pocket. The boy was only fourteen, but he already neared six feet and looked to have a few more inches to go if his prodigious appetite was any indication. Seth remembered what it was like to be that young and feel on the brink of starvation all the time. He also remembered what it was like to really starve.

Slamming the door on the dark thoughts of the war and Andersonville prison, he said gruffly, “You think that’ll tide you over till quitting time?”

Dunk grinned. “Well, I guess I forgot to mention that Ma packed me supper. But since you were so nice as to treat me to a meal, I’ll split that with you later if you get a little peckish.”

Seth chuckled, put on his stetson, and turned to wend his way through the crowded (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Deadly ProofThis book received an average Amazon rating of 4.4 stars and had 143 5-star reviews. For me, I think the writer was lucky to have had anyone turn the first page. The writing is professional and we’re starting with a scene, but where’s the tension? The only story question raised is whether or not Seth will split dinner later with Dunk. Well, I guess there’s also what happened to him in the war and Andersonville, but that’s backstory, not what’s happening now. Nor did I have any idea that this was a mystery from the narrative on the first page. Oh, the title gives me that, but shouldn’t the narrative have at least the aroma of a mystery? A no from me.

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow. You can turn the page here.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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10. Flogometer for Ellie—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Ellie sends the prologue and first chapter of “Absurdist/ Speculative / Philosophical Science fiction “ story, Ephemeral. The rest follows the break.

Prologue:

There was once a child; for simplicity and anonymity sake let's name this child Cas. Cas was like a lot of people, but was also unlike others at the same time. They were a quiet individual, but also quite social in some instances. Like everyone else, Cas strived to be different; they wanted to stand out and be seen as more than just another person in the vast universe. They wanted to inspire and motivate others and make an impact on life. Cas wanted to mean something.

Now you as a reader may be thinking that yes everyone thinks this at some point and everyone wants to be something; and this thought is correct. All people are amazing. All people are different. Everyone IS somebody. It is simply the fact that people often cannot see the truth in the blistering speed in that life goes by. The people who fight through the hardest fights will most often get the largest reward; seeming to everyone else the reward being small. But they know what they went through to get there. We can all be great; we can all leave our mark no matter how big or small. This is hoped to be soon understood.

Cas was quite sarcastic in conversations when they did talk; mostly because they loved to make others laugh. Cas loved making people laugh; it gave them a sort of feeling of accomplishment. That they, although a minuscule part of a vast world were able to make someone happy; to make someone exert a positive emotion just because of something they (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the prologue's first page?

Chapter 1:

The sun was shining vividly on the brisk fall evening of September 23, 2015, in Cas' hometown of Birch Falls. A very telling name since it states the towns odd abundance of birch trees. Cas liked to take walks on days like these because it made them feel quite calm; something their mind was more often than not... not. The streets were to Cas' benefit, quiet. It helped them clear their mind and to feel free from the mayhem of the world around.

"This is nice", Cas thought silently. But they couldn't get rid of the utter feeling of emptiness; the feeling of dissatisfaction with the path their life has been affixed to. I want to do something exciting and new, I want to do something that isn't of the daily cycle; I always find myself walking the streets and thinking about what I could do or thinking what can be done but I never actually get around to actually doing such actions. What's the point of living if I don't experience it myself. So many possibilities, so many paths to take yet I walk this lonely road of casualty.

Yes, life is beautiful. The world is pretty alright. Seasons, smells, people, senses, the unknown; all of these things are so beautiful and brilliant in so many ways that I cannot fathom being able to express it in a way that could describe such beauty. Technology. Science. Knowledge. Art. So many concepts and realities that can all be learnt, but simply cannot be grasped by my feeble mind. The possibilities are infinite. We could do anything (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the chapter's first page?

The writing and voice are strong in these opening pages, but these narratives aren’t meant for me. While understanding that there are experimental elements to this tale, I stumbled over and over again at the use of plural pronouns for Cas instead of singular. I could see no reason in what is here for doing that other than, perhaps, to conceal the gender of the character. But every use of “they” instead of “him” or “her” jarred me right out of the narrative because it never stopped feeling, well, wrong. And, grammatically speaking, it is wrong.

The other issue for me is that in neither the prologue or the chapter opening pages did much of anything happen and there were no story questions raised. In the prologue, we have some authorial musing and a description of a character, but nothing happens.

In the chapter opening, we soon dip into a lot more musing. For me, long introspections such as this don’t count as something happening. The character seems to want something in the chapter opening, to do something exciting and new, but that is not a pressing desire to me. There are no consequences suggested for doing something different, either positive or negative. I think it takes a different kind of reader than I am to get into this narrative approach.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Ellie

The whole thing:

exposition / prologue

There was once a child; for simplicity and anonymity sake let's name this child Cas. Cas was like a lot of people, but was also unlike others at the same time. They were a quiet individual, but also quite social in some instances. Like everyone else, Cas strived to be different; they wanted to stand out and be seen as more than just another person in the vast universe. They wanted to inspire and motivate others and make an impact on life. Cas wanted to mean something.

Now you as a reader may be thinking that yes everyone thinks this at some point and everyone wants to be something; and this thought is correct. All people are amazing. All people are different. Everyone IS somebody. It is simply the fact that people often cannot see the truth in the blistering speed in that life goes by. The people who fight through the hardest fights will most often get the largest reward; seeming to everyone else the reward being small. But they know what they went through to get there. We can all be great; we can all leave our mark no matter how big or small. This is hoped to be soon understood.

Cas was quite sarcastic in conversations when they did talk; mostly because they loved to make others laugh. Cas loved making people laugh; it gave them a sort of feeling of accomplishment. That they, although a minuscule part of a vast world were able to make someone happy; to make someone exert a positive emotion just because of something they did. This feeling gave them a purpose to continue. They wanted to create things, help people, speak out and be a motivation but they simply were incapable of forming the phrases to paragraphs to explain these feelings and emotions; Cas wanted to do more than make people laugh.

Cas' thought process was sporadic; emotions and feelings would change in a flash, so many personalities; so much imagination. There was so much they wanted to learn and do in the short life that they were handed and they wanted to make the most of it. Little did Cas know, they already had been making an impact with every action they make; changing an infinite number of outcomes, realities and disillusions.

But Cas was more than just what was seen in reality. Their mind beginning to get corrupted with darkness; they were unknowingly included in a war that was not of reality. There was a power they held that made them able to connect their conscious into the warped realities; their mind a bridge between life and darkness. Cas is slowly beginning to be unable to distinguish which they are in anymore; the darkness seeping into their veins; beginning to take over.

CHAPTER 1 - From Humble Beginnings

The sun was shining vividly on the brisk fall evening of September 23, 2015, in Cas' hometown of Birch Falls. A very telling name since it states the towns odd abundance of birch trees. Cas liked to take walks on days like these because it made them feel quite calm; something their mind was more often than not... not. The streets were to Cas' benefit, quiet. It helped them clear their mind and to feel free from the mayhem of the world around.

"This is nice", Cas thought silently. But they couldn't get rid of the utter feeling of emptiness; the feeling of dissatisfaction with the path their life has been affixed to. I want to do something exciting and new, I want to do something that isn't of the daily cycle; I always find myself walking the streets and thinking about what I could do or thinking what can be done but I never actually get around to actually doing such actions. What's the point of living if I don't experience it myself. So many possibilities, so many paths to take yet I walk this lonely road of casualty.

Yes, life is beautiful. The world is pretty alright. Seasons, smells, people, senses, the unknown; all of these things are so beautiful and brilliant in so many ways that I cannot fathom being able to express it in a way that could describe such beauty. Technology. Science. Knowledge. Art. So many concepts and realities that can all be learnt, but simply cannot be grasped by my feeble mind. The possibilities are infinite. We could do anything with this life that has been given. I do not know how I came to be. How is it that I exist; my own mind; the ability to change what may and might happen in this world. But why now? How did I come to be now? This brain and this body, what is the possibilities of me being ME, how is it possible. This is the one thing I can never understand.

I can hardly figure myself out. One moment I feel one way and another moment is something completely different. Throughout the years of my life I have changed with blurred lines to when and how something changed. What moments of life have impacted me; and more so what have I done to make this loud life a better place. Change is certain and there is nothing that may stop it. It's not predetermined, but fluid; it can be changed based on the actions and events that happen around each and every individual. I find that beautiful. No one can predetermine what may or may not happen in the next illumination of our orbit around the sun. The sun is beautiful. How could something of such complexity exist? This uncertainty is what makes life worth living. It's what makes life beautiful. I am sure that I sound extremely philosophical and most certainly kind of weird, and that would be an accurate assumption. I am very weird, but at least, I'm not wired because that would mean that I be connected to a highly deadly amount of electricity and that would probably kill me. Good to note for future possibilities. You never know when you may get attacked by wires. With all these things I find beautiful, why am I unable to find reasons to see myself as important? why does my mind leave my grasp of control and become to torture itself like a roller coaster that has fallen off its rails? my mind has a second face; a phantom pain that I bare day in and out, asleep and awake.

My mind is the world that I am trapped in; the world inside a reality where I am numb to my surroundings. I need to regain control or I need to get out; I need to get out of this darkness. I'm starting to believe that my thoughts are turning against me; this philosophical shit is an excuse to waiver my focus on how I am feeling; the predicament I am in. I believe the world is beautiful and complex yet I can't analyse myself, my emotions, what I am doing, why I do what I do; will I pass through this time as a ghost or will I begin to live. This universe in my mind is clouded and blurred to me. what am I. this I must discover.

Cas snapped out of their deep thoughts as it started to become night; how long they had spent walking around was lost in time. It's probably about time I stopped stressing my mind too much before my head just explodes. They thought.

Cas decided to walk back home with the feeling of utter dissatisfaction. As if the walk was not enough to make them feel good - partly due to the fact that they once again had gone into deep thought and when they snapped back time had once again left the grasp of their internal clock; which they had left in the deep recesses of their mind. Cas listened to the sound of the leaves being unsettled by the wind, the cars travelling on the distant highway. They walked and inferred making their way home as the sun started to bow under the treeline, the darkness seeping through the light onto the ground and into the sky.

Cas woke up the next morning in their small apartment. it was quaint and had everything they needed. Looking around their room they saw all their posters of shows and bands they loved; covering up most of what was a blue painted wall that consumed the room. Their desktop PC they built 4 years ago sat on a wooden desk in the corner; while on another table lay a bundle of laptops that they owned and played around with. The most notable laptop they owned was their Favourite Aluminum finished laptop that laid alone nice and clean; besides the "MightyCarMods" Sticker they put on it.

"why the fuck did I put it on a computer, it's a car mod sticker and I have a truck. yet I put it on a computer." they thought.

Looking out the window beside their bed Cas looked out into the sky that was priorly dark and illuminated only by the distant stars of the universe. The light that had travelled millions of light years just to be seen for the first time; a photograph of what that star used to be and never will be again. More so than what was seen outside, Cas could see their reflection in the glass. Cas could see their hair, that went down to their shoulders, Glimmering in the sunlight they could see the lavender hue reflect in the suns rays. It reminded and made Cas think more so of space, of all the eclectic colours and facades seen in the infinite region of darkness.

What is out there, What is to be found that has not yet been uncovered.

Where is everyone. We are not alone; yet so very secluded. The time will come that we as a species will have to co-exist and will do amazing things. this planet is but starting point to where we will one day be. I just wish I could stay alive long enough to see it; but I'll merely be able to go and see what is to be seen here on this planet. oh and is there much to be seen here still. Why can't I be more than what I am? why can I not have the power to find what is truly out there? where is everyone?

Cas spent the rest of the morning looking out the window.

Oh gosh, it's 11:00 AM, Cas resonated in their head 5 times until they finally overcame the inability to move. Cas walked to the washroom the clean their face. In the mirror, they saw the body they were genetically given at birth, mystified on how they came to look the way they did. their body slender, Sort of short - but not really; depending on who was asked. Their skin was soft, their face sculpted gingerly revealing soft features.

and I wonder why people think I'm 14... it's probably due to the fact I'm 5'3".

Satisfied that their face didn't feel like complete trash, Cas walked back to their room and put on some new clothes. Disregarding what clothes went together they put on a pair of black ripped jeans, a loose, baggy Rise Against band shirt that dulled down the curves of Cas' upper torso, and a long flowery / colourful cardigan that Cas just couldn't get enough of.

Well, I have no clue what to do. All I ever do is sit in that chair staring reminiscently into that computer chair like a drugged horse that is about to be put down. I need at least some social interaction ever once in awhile, I have friends so-be-it that I neglect to have the motivation to ever go see them or make plans. I constantly am lonely and I refuse to see anyone but then I feel worse and when I do see people I end up feeling like I am annoying them; it's a vicious circle that keeps on happening. might as well continue that circle so it's not dormant in one position for too long that it becomes seized in a sense that I just begin to crumble.

Cas picked up their phone, and opened up squanch chat.

what a weird name for a texting app, how do you even make that name up, Cas thought for a moment.

 They scrolled back and forth through their friends list seeing who was on and intently thinking about who they could talk to who wouldn't get totally annoyed - BZZ, “What the heck,” Cas said out loud as their phone vibrated in their hand unexpectedly, startling them. a message..? from Nate.

"I'm at your front door you goat", Nate texted. "What", Cas replied.

"I'M AT THE FRONT DOOR TO YOUR APARTMENT, WHAT IS THERE TO NOT UNDERSTAND!", Nate spammed into their inbox multiple times.

Jesus, he's getting more sassy each and every passing day, Cas thought walking to their door.

 They opened their door; a large figure towered in the opening. "Hey Lil one", Nate said as he picked Cas up off their feet and carried them into their house. "Dammit, Nate!", screeched Cas protesting against the demeaning belittling that they felt from being carried around. "Fine, fine" Nate exhaled, putting Cas back down on their couch. "What's been new with you Cas? it's been awhile since we've talked; anything new and exciting in your life? have you done something that's not play on your computer or go on walks?". "I'm honestly not sure Nate, life has sort of been a blur as of late. I've been following the same mindless routine for a while now; time seems to have flowed around me like a tsunami molding around a magnetic field.", Cas echoed.

Cas closed their eyes, darkness consuming their optical nerves. They felt a large rumble under their feet; their eyes snapped back open a moment later from the shock.

A mist had engulfed their house, a dark purple glow casting in from the windows now consumed their house.

What the..? what is going on?

Cas got up and ran to the window, all they could see was a thick purple mist that unraveled into the distance. They turned, ran to the door and opened it.

 What is this noise; this gritty screech - these voices in my head? am I going crazy?

The ground starts to reverberate like an elastic band that had pulled far past its limit and snapped; making it nearly impossible for Cas to stand. That's when they started to see a figure. “Hello? Can you hear me? “, Cas yelled. multiple figures darker than the horizon Cas could see, large and overbearing in the distance fading into view through the mist. The air began to pulse as if a drum was disturbing the pressure. Their ears began to ring until they heard the thunderous screech "OPEN IT" --

what is going on? open what? what are they talki---

A thunderous blow connected with their head, the force sending shock waves down throughout their skeleton - everything then fading into black. 

Cas’ brain started to spark, a show of dots started to swirl behind Cas’ eyelids. They began to regain consciousness,

 what happened… why am I back in my room?

“Nate?”, Cas yelled, hoping he was still there to explain what had happened.

No response… well that's just cheery.  my head feels like it just got smashed with a cinder block.. what the hell.

Cas stumbled back onto their feet and looked around.  Their room looking as it did when Nate had come over.  Looking out the window Cas saw the heavy rain. the sky exploded with the sound of the clouds fighting, startling Cas.

oh god, why did that scare me? what day is it today, the forecast never said anything about a storm tomorrow.

Cas stumbled over to their bed and shuffled around for their phone.

where the hell is the bloody thing, why is it always such a struggle to find I---- oh there it is.  

Cas picked up their phone and tossed it into the air, making it twirl a few times before gravity pulled it back down to their hand. “IT's the 26th?! “, Cas screamed internally when they saw the date on their phone.

but it just was the 24th, I was hanging out with Nate, closed my eyes then - then I was asleep? I think? how is it the 26th, how do I just sleep for two days randomly; how do I randomly black out while hanging out with someone? why not text him, the easiest way to find ou---

Cas glanced on the top bar of their phone and saw the signal indicator.

no service, nevermind. well isn't it just my lucky day today. a ton of unexplainable occurrences and no answers. in what unorthodoxy way is this even fair to happen to someone.

 Regaining their composure, Cas groggily walked to the washroom to splash some water on their face - hoping it would help with the pain that was being felt. They turned on the water and eased their head down, splashing the cold water onto their face, the feeling almost refres----

OW, my arm!

Suddenly Cas’ forearm started to throb. Cas twisted their arm a bit and began to massage it, but it felt different.  Looking at it cas saw what was wrong; what they could not explain.

What is this? how did I get this scar? I definitely did not drink any alcohol so I'm sure I didn't go get a drunken tattoo - so how did I get this? it's shaped like some weird symbol? could this be connected to my dream in some way. but if so, how? , Cas pondered.

Cas studied the weird scar formation on their arm for many minutes. It was shaped almost like a galaxy, and it was thicker than a normal scar. The scar was Flush white was the ends faded with bumps as if the galaxy tails were being blown away like sand on a windy day. Suddenly, the scar began to discharge pain once more, but this time, it was different - it had a slight glow that was in sync with the throbbing of pain. It was time to move on, There was nothing Cas could do about it at this point in time so it's best that it be dealt with later.

I’m going to go for a drive, not like there's anything better to do and it honestly seems like the best way to get my mind off of all this craziness Cas thought to themself.

Cas always loved to drive. Cas loved cars, and with their love for making things themselves; they had built their own car.  Cas’ had a 1952 Ford Truck, Painted green and black with rather large mud tires, making it look as if it had a lift kit. It had a Standard transmission because Cas hated the thought of driving an automatic; it’s just so boring. They grabbed a coat and their keys and stormed outside into the heavy rain, making their way towards their truck which was parked on the side of the road. Cas opened the door and heaved themselves into the truck, hastily closing the door to get out of the rain.

     They put the key in the ignition and turned it 2 clicks; they then moved their hand to the real ignition which was a button.

A touch of modern irony and small touches to make it my own was a great idea.  

they pressed the button; the thunderous beat of the engine jolting into motion; drowning down quickly to a soft beat that continuously repeated as if it were a marching band running two groups of opposite synchronizations.

Know what, I sort of feel like going to the library. Maybe I can find out something about my dream. Or vision. Or whatever that was. Who knows maybe it's some epiphany of a coming event. Or a past event… wow, look at me getting all superstitious jeez.

    They eased their foot off of the clutch and put the truck into gear; then they were off. They drove their way into town; listening to the eccentric drumbeat of the rain hitting the cab of their truck.

Wow the town's quiet, even if it's stormy out there's usually, at least, some people walking about.  Almost all of the lights are off too. Gosh, why is everything have to be so dark and gloomy? 

They made their way down the streets of the town, stopping at every sign to admire the old buildings that made up most of Birch Falls, blending in with nature around it like it was always meant to be there.

The finally made their way to the library, and to Cas’ luck, the lights were on, a decent sign that it was indeed open. finally, at least, one thing decides to go my way today. They turned the key of the truck and put the parking brake of the truck on; then proceeded to jump out of the truck and back into the pouring rain. “AHH WET RAIN, NOT FUN, ITS COLD, RUN NOW”, Cas yelled as they ran up the steps and into the library.

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11. Flogometer for Peter—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Peter sends the first chapter of The Belles of Nolichucky. The rest follows the break.

A spear flew through the air towards his chest as Rabaad slammed down hard onto the contraption. He had carved smooth sticks flat and curved up at the front, greased with animal fat and strung together through slots in the wood with ropes made from twisted vines. A loop of vine attached to the front to help him steer. A slippery seat to slide on and he moved away, heading downhill on the snow covered ground. High up on the mountain, untouched, smooth unbroken whiteness spread out before him into the distance, as he picked up speed. The four angry men, who had moments before believed they had caught him, disappeared into the distance behind him.

Far down below the snow line lay a green valley, and in the distance, strips of grassland between forests. He angled across the slope, controlling the pace, and the wind whipped in his face, blowing his dark hair back. A childish desire to yell "weeeee" overtook him. How strange to be so near death and then suddenly free, using this simple device. His invention. His conception that meant so much to him, and nothing yet to anyone else.

It had started so simply. Slipping over on his behind and sliding down an icy slope. Then he wondered if he could use this slide, without the soggy pants and pain in his rear end. Many months of fiddling lead him to his first attempt. This was his tenth version, and although he used it many times as a plaything, this was the first time he used it for anything useful. He needed it this time, and it worked. An excited buzz ran through his mind.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Good writing and voice, and dramatic action starts this opening page—someone having spears thrown at them certainly faces jeopardy. However—for me there were a couple of clarity issues in the opening paragraph, not the least of which is what happened to that spear coming at his chest. Still, it was involving until the last paragraph veered off from something happening to an info dump. So I stopped reading there. Peter, save these little tidbits of information until they’re needed for story purposes or leave them out altogether. I appreciate the depth of your knowledge of this character, but it’s not good to include asides such as this. Notes:

A spear flew through the air towards his chest as Rabaad slammed down hard onto the contraption. He had carved smooth sticks flat and curved up at the front, greased with animal fat and strung together through slots in the wood with ropes made from twisted vines. A loop of vine attached to the front to help him steer. A slippery seat to slide on and he moved away, heading downhill on the snow covered ground. High up on the mountain, untouched, smooth unbroken whiteness spread out before him into the distance, as he picked up speed. The four angry men, who had moments before believed they had caught him, disappeared into the distance behind him. Clarity issues: The spear comes at his chest as he slams down, but it isn’t clear as to whether or not it missed him. Also I didn’t really understand what the part about a slippery seat meant. I would just delete it.

Far down below the snow line lay a green valley, and in the distance, strips of grassland between forests. He angled across the slope, controlling the pace, and the wind whipped in his face, blowing his dark hair back. A childish desire to yell "weeeee" overtook him. How strange to be so near death and then suddenly free, using this simple device. His invention. His conception that meant so much to him, and nothing yet to anyone else. I think it should be “wheeeee.”

It had started so simply. Slipping over on his behind and sliding down an icy slope. Then he wondered if he could use this slide, without the soggy pants and pain in his rear end. Many months of fiddling lead him to his first attempt. This was his tenth version, and although he used it many times as a plaything, this was the first time he used it for anything useful. He needed it this time, and it worked. An excited buzz ran through his mind. This is a bit of an info dump to give us backstory, and it takes us totally out of the “now” of the story. Fill this stuff in later after you’ve got us firmly hooked. It does not contribute to story here.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Peter

Continued:

Without this device, he would still be hiding in the forest. Kirak's warrior's might have caught him. He would not have been flying free as a bird down the snowy hill away from them. If only he could see the look on their faces.

Hunting kept the tribe alive. Only a large range provided security, for if the herds thinned out too much, there would be no food.

The men of Kirak's tribe closely guarded their territory, and killed anyone they caught trespassing.

In the old days, no one would deny him from hunting in these hills, but now Chief Kirak sought to exclude his tribe. He resented it. The challenge of eluding warrior's excited him, and he had the right.

It had been easy to elude them in the previous days, for he mastered hiding in plain sight, and without snow he could slip away unseen. But in the night it snowed, and the tree branches now hung low, laden with white crystals. A beautiful sight, but dangerous in a subtle way. Snowshoes allowed him to walk on top of it, but even those oafs could follow the tracks. Branches could be used to mask tracks, but that was slow going, and not always effective. So, after a breakfast of cold cooked venison, he had headed out onto the long sloping ground that headed down into the valley far below.

Two men waited nearby and were soon on his path, and when two other men appeared from a group of trees in front of him, they had a spring in their step, as if they would soon catch him. The thrill of the game drove him, and he loved to go where the enemy resented his trespass. The long toboggan ride led him deep into Kirak's territory and who knew what he might find there. The speed exhilarated him.

The sled steered with a simple lean and pull of the rope, left or right. With the weight of all his equipment, he maintained only tenuous control. He reduced the speed by carving across the slope. The perilous descent took him far around the mountain into enemy territory, away from his pursuers.

 As trees approached he guessed the wrong path and wiped out with a spectacular flight that buried him in a snow drift. After checking for anything broken he found and packed the sled. Light and flexible, it fitted neatly on his back and did not obstruct his movement. With his snowshoes on, he proceeded into the trees. The path would be easy to follow, but they were far behind, and while they followed, he knew where they were.

The trip through the forest led over to a longer sloping run. As he walked, his mind wandered. Five summer seasons ago he had passed the rites of manhood. In the intervening years he mastered the hunting craft, and now liked to hunt alone. He enjoyed the silence, to think and plan, free from the chatter of others. The quietness offered opportunities for silent ambush, not available to those in a group.

A buck's head appeared in the quiet morning air and made him shiver with intensity, every nerve on edge. The pristine beauty of the forest caught him in the moment, as if nothing else existed. He took his sling from his pocket and a stone from his bag.

But the long slow approach could not succeed. As he took a step the snow crunched under his feet. The buck pranced away, and he walked on.

Coming to the other side of the forest, he saw another wide open slope created by a previous landslide, which led, with a gradual slope, down into the valley below. He stopped to consider his options. Moving fast took him away from danger, but it might lead him towards it. His followers would not catch up with him if he just continued walking, but in the folly of youth is any man sensible? Fun versus safety, and Rabaad was inclined towards fun.

He took to sledding again and the long run took him deep into the valley to the snow line. There he took off his snowshoes and packed his sled again. He trekked across the slope, but still descending, continuing his path away from the pursuers, and then over rocky ground which he hoped would break his trail.

Yet he knew it would not, for an experience tracker can follow trails over rocky ground. His sledding had given him a comfortable break from his pursuers. He enjoyed playing this little game with the warriors of Kirak's tribe, but the time had come to break the trail, or risk compounding his problems by some combination of unforeseen events.

Never the sole disaster or the expected mishap brought the careful hunter down. Combinations of events conspired to create the unexpected situation. He had seen a man escape a bear attack, to be skewered by the tusks of a wild boar. In the long term, chance and misfortune conspire to bring you down.

The sun shone on his back, warming him and making him happy. His pursuers would take many hours to follow the path that he had tobogganed down.

He dreamed of hunting. A patch of good throwing stones lay nestled against a rock on the ground off to the side of his path. His stone pouch hung on his belt, already full, but he could use them for practice. He aimed to be the perfect hunter, to hone his craft to the same sharpness of precision as the tip of his spear.

Selecting the base of a tree as a target, he practiced the quick silent throw, which released the stone to fly, without any warning sound to set the quarry on the run. Today, he felt the sling work with him in harmony. At the target he found all the stones within easy reach.

He continued on his path, still heading across the slope, but descending towards the valley floor. This land, so deep in enemy territory, was unknown to him. As he continued down a fast flowing river came into view. The pleasant surprise put a spring in his step. The strong flow stood in standing waves that rippled, lines written in the unmoving movement.

As he approached, the power scared him. Rabaad wanted to cross the water without getting wet, to break the trail and get him well away from his pursuers. A raft would do the job but that would take time, and time ticked with each step of the warriors feet, tracking him through the snow. He sat for a moment contemplating the risks. He needed to be well clear by the time the warrior's arrived, but that would not be till after midday. He had time.

But the crossing carried risks. The strong flow of the water could carry him under, and the cold water would suck the heat from his bones. Death came to the unwary person who did not respect the power of the flow. He could head upstream and construct a blind, making himself invisible from the pursuers, or any passing prey. This option seemed less obvious, and perhaps Kirak's warriors might believe he had crossed the river when he had not.

Ylgu, an elder of his tribe, had showed him how to construct a blind using a leather hide, and Rabaad believed that he perfected it. Markings on the hide broke the outline, and appeared as branches in dim light. Rabaad used the blind many times to elude his pursuers and catch game.

The leather had been worked supple and thin. He carried it folded up, underneath the sticks that formed the sled. He had crafted the sticks so that they fitted together, with a tongue and groove. A slot through each of the sticks allowed vines to hold them together, making a ridged sled when in use. When not in use he loosened them off so that the sticks wrapped around his body.

This day, curiosity pulled him on, to brave the crossing and see the other side of the river. Some slight nervousness twinged his mind. He had played hide and seek many times with Kirak's warriors, and the fear crept up on him that someday the oafs would get a lucky break and discover him. Or someone with true tracking skill and cunning would be in the party. They would kill him if they could. He decided to make the crossing.

The raft needed five small trees, each with width that he could fit his thumbs around, finders locked to build the upper platform. Using a stone axe he chopped one down. As he cut into the second tree, the axe broke where the stone blade fitted into the handle. He cursed. Time ticked away with the trot of warrior's feet. Still four more trees to go.

Using the blade as a hand axe he attacked the second tree and brought it down. It took time and now his hand gave him pain every time he swung the axe. Then he noticed that a corner of the hand axe had chipped away. His plan headed towards disaster.

A large wedge shaped stone with a jagged edge caught his eye. With some touching up it would make an excellent saw stone. He set it up on a level platform against the third tree. He pushed the saw stone back and forth as the jagged blade bit into the wood, relieved that this motion did not jar his hand. The remaining three trees went down, but time had passed. He imagined soldiers running through the trees towards him. How much time did he have to build this stupid raft?

Using the saw stone he cut the five trees half way along the length, and cleaned up the branches using his hand axe, to make ten poles. Then he lashed them together using vines, supple and easy to bend, now that the snow-line lay above him.

The build had taken too long.

He grouped five bundles of sticks and bound each one with vine. In his haste a bundle flopped loose and he re-tied it. Then he attached the bundles to the base, and launched the craft, tethering it to the earth by a small vine, pegged to the ground. He tied his gear, the blind, sled and oiled waterproof pack, to the raft.

He paused listening for any sound. He could hear nothing. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck.

A tree back up the path had the right thick bark to make an oar and he walked back to it, step by quiet step. He tore a long and wide section off it use as an oar.

He paused at the tree. A pigeon took to the sky, making the distinctive whir, whir sound.

He stopped. There was no sound except the trees bending in the wind.

Something was wrong. Without hearing them, he knew they were out there.

The crack of a broken stick sounded like an explosion, and he ducked, as a spear buried into the tree behind where he had been a moment before.

Without looking he grabbed the strip of thick bark and sprinted for his raft. He kicked the peg securing the raft to the shore free, and in one motion pushed the raft clear and leaped onto it, his momentum carrying it away from the shore. A warrior raced down the hill and hurled his spear. Rabaad ducked, and the spear sailed into the water beyond him. He paddled further out into the river, as another spear missed him by a hands width.

Rabaad paddled on, the current now grabbing the ungainly craft.

The flow took him quickly, surprising him with its ferocity, as the standing waves threw him. Still he paddled further out into the middle, struggling for balance.

Rapids appeared in front of him and his fragile raft poured through a narrow opening. He laid down flat, gripping the raft with his arms as it rose and fell as the current took it over a series of standing waves. He rose to his knees, but had no time to find his balance as rapid after rapid bounced him around and propelled his fragile craft forward. The river poured through a narrow gap and turned sharply to the right in front of a rock wall. He staggered for balance as the current threw him around, flushing him out into a long line of standing waves.

Clear now, the water's force raced around a long curve, then though a narrow gap and out into a shallow wide pool. The raging water disappeared into nothing. Mist obscured his view, and a moment later, the water fell from beneath him and he sailed through the air over a waterfall.

Smashing down hard he found himself deep underwater tumbling around end over end. Releasing the broken raft, he kicked free and paddled with his arms, seeking the surface. His lungs burned, and, desperate to breath, he kicked and pulled, hauling himself up.

Gasping for air, he exploded onto the surface of a clear pool. Above him rained the tall waterfall he had flown over and around him wet rock surrounded a large pool. Mist filled the air. With his head above the water, he peered out looking around for signs of people.

Crawling out, he saw a well-used path to follow. It led up, out of the canyon. His wet clothes sucked the warmth from his body.

His raft had been broken up by the fall, showing what had happened, but there was no time to hide the evidence of what had happened. His gear had come free from the raft, and he retrieved it from the water. The oiled waterproof backpack had dry furs and he put them on.

Then he packed his gear, strapped it on, and followed the track that led up. A shout from the trees behind him told him that he had been spotted. Hurrying now, the steep climb tested his muscles, and the slippery path with rocks and mud made the climb difficult. At the top he found himself in open grassy land. In the distance a forest spread out and he made for it at a run.

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12. Flog a BookBubber 21: D.D. VanDyke

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter page from a free novel by D.D. VanDyke, the first in a series.

I’m scribbling these case files down in hopes they’ll be useful for another woman in my position, another former cop who’s had to kiss the love of her life goodbye and settle for another.

I’m not talking about some guy. I’m talking about the Force, the Thin Blue Line, the fraternity of police I’ve been barred from.

Being on the outside looking in does have its compensations, because now I’m my own boss. I have an agency, California Investigations, named for yours truly, California G. Corwin. My leftover hippie mother stuck the moniker on me, though it’s really not so bad because I go by Cal. I’ve always been a tomboy anyway.

With a clear docket and hope for a new case this Monday, I reached down to flip the drop box open, the one inside my Mission District office off of Valencia. The sounds and smells of San Francisco streets faded behind me as the door swung shut and latched automatically, a feature that said a lot about the neighborhood.

Glancing at the Golden Gate Bridge themed clock on my wall, I saw the big and little hands were just about lining up on noon. I decided I’d let myself off the hook this time for coming in late as I’d done all right at the poker table last night, picking up a couple C-notes. I’d rolled into bed some six or seven hours ago as dawn struggled to break over the Coast Range before giving up in the windy face of cold Pacific Coast rain. Coast Range before giving up in (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Loose EndsI like the writing, I like the voice, but, well, yawn. This is crime fiction, but it starts out with info dump and backstory. Zero happens. Zero story questions. Too bad, as it turns out interesting things do happen a page or two later. This story starts too soon with the wrong stuff.

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow. You can turn the page here.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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13. Flogometer for Catherine—are you compelled to turn the page?

 

Apologies for the belated post, had a business trip to Portland yesterday.


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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Catherine sends the first chapter of The Belles of Nolichucky. The rest follows the break.

Friday, June 2, 1967

            MacBeth woke up. Something didn't smell right. The half-wolf half-pitbull rose, alert, ready, the thick fur of his neck fluffing out. He slunk in predator crouch out of the kitchen pantry into the dining room.

            The man packed the pieces of silverware one at a time into his duffel bag. He was careful not to make a sound. Not a clink, not a tinkle. He'd spotted this mansion on his trip through Nolichucky last week and knew it had to hold treasures untold. Silver and gold. For the taking.

            MacBeth issued one short, sharp growl. The burglar turned around. MacBeth launched straight for his balls. The man didn't move as quick as the dog. MacBeth's fangs pierced the burglar's jeans at the tip of the zipper and latched onto his dick. The man screamed. MacBeth, jaws locked began a slow backstep. The man screamed, his fists pounding the dog's head. MacBeth had the thick skull of his pitbull mama and the long well-muscled neck of his wolf daddy.

                                                            ***

            Deputy Beau Marsh climbed out of his Chevy cruiser. The thin red-head pulled his belt out of his pants, held his cap over his precious area and belted it down tight. He been advised of the nature of MacBeth's action. The burglar had to be an outsider. No one in Nolichucky  -  no one in his right mind  -  would venture uninvited into the Gregg mansion in the dead of night for any reason whatsoever. If MacBeth didn't get you, sixty-eight year old Aunt NayNay, legally Naomi (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

 

Well, this certainly opens in media res—there is definitely something going on. But the opening section with the dog doesn’t, it seems to me, relate to whatever the story is about. What happens here? A burglary is foiled by a dog, a cop arrives afterward. The page—and, I think, the chapter—boils down to setup. I suspect, thought I don’t know, that this story is not about the burglar with the troubled penis. He doesn’t even have a name.

It could be about the officer, but there doesn’t seem to be anything current or looming that could trouble him. So what’s this story about? I dunno. While the writing is good, there are still some things to look at in the narrative. Notes:

Friday, June 2, 1967

            MacBeth woke up. Something didn't smell right. The half-wolf half-pitbull pit bull rose, alert, ready, the thick fur of his neck fluffing out. He slunk in predator crouch out of the kitchen pantry into the dining room. I think “slunk” pictures the dog’s movements just fine.

            The man packed the pieces of silverware one at a time into his duffel bag. He was careful not to make a sound. Not a clink, not a tinkle. He'd spotted this mansion on his trip through Nolichucky last week and knew it had to hold treasures untold. Silver and gold. For the taking.

            MacBeth issued one short, sharp growl. The burglar turned around. MacBeth launched straight for his balls. The man didn't move as quick quickly as the dog. MacBeth's fangs pierced the burglar's jeans at the tip of the zipper and latched onto his dick. The man screamed. MacBeth, jaws locked began a slow backstep. The man screamed, his fists pounding pounded the dog's head. MacBeth had the thick skull of his pitbull pit bull mama and the long, well-muscled neck of his wolf daddy. This is a little nitpicky, but accuracy affects credibility. The narrative says the dog’s fangs latch onto the man’s penis at the “tip” of the zipper. Doesn’t that mean the top? If not, where is the tip of a zipper? The bottom doesn’t seem logical. Both a man’s penis and testicles are at the bottom of the crotch in a pair of pants, not at the top of the zipper. Think through either the nature of this staging or the description. Also, no need for the repetition of "the man screamed"

                                                            ***

            Deputy Beau Marsh climbed out of his Chevy cruiser. The thin red-head pulled his belt out of his pants, held his cap over his precious area and belted it down tight. He been advised of the nature of MacBeth's action. The burglar had to be an outsider. No one in Nolichucky  -  no one in his right mind  -  would venture uninvited into the Gregg mansion in the dead of night for any reason whatsoever. If MacBeth didn't get you, sixty-eight year old Aunt NayNay, legally Naomi (snip) I found the detailed description of the action with the cap confusing, especially holding his cap over his parts as he belted it down tight. First, that seems difficult to do—putting a belt around your hips requires two hands, so how is he holding the cap in place? I do think it’s a funny thought. I also think this could be solved with a simple summary that doesn’t go into detail—I think the reader could buy it. For example: He used his belt to strap his cap in place over his precious area. All the detail is a bit of overwriting and lent itself to confusion rather than clarity, IMO.

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14. Flog a BookBubber 20

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter page from a free novel by Carolyn Arnold, the first in a series of five.

NOTHING IN THE TWENTY WEEKS at Quantico prepared me for this.

A Crime Scene Investigator, who had identified himself as Earl Royster when we first arrived, came out of a room and addressed FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jack Harper. “All of the victims were buried—” He held up a finger, his eyes squeezed shut, and he sneezed. “Sorry ’bout that. My allergies don’t like it down here. They were all buried the same way.”

This was my first case with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, and it took us to Salt Lick, Kentucky. The discovery was made this morning, and we were briefed and flown out from Quantico to the Louisville field office where we picked up a couple of SUVs. We drove from there and got here about four in the afternoon.

We were in a bunker illuminated by portable lights brought in by the local investigative team. A series of four tunnels spread out as a root system beneath a house the size of a mobile trailer and extended under an abandoned cornfield.

A doorway in the cellar of the house led down eleven feet to a main hub from which the tunnels fed off. The walls were packed dirt and an electrical cord ran along the ceiling with pigtail fixtures attached every few feet.

We were standing in the hub which was fifteen and a quarter feet wide and arched out to a depth of seven and half feet. The tunnels were only about three feet wide, and (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

ElevenI’m happy to see good, clean writing that doesn’t need a lot of line editing for grammar and punctuation, and the voice is good as well. This is a mystery, so a certain amount of setup is expected and the story questions can relate to the mystery instead of the protagonist at this point, but how well does this opening do at that?

For my money, not all that well. The first paragraph does a good job of establishing an aspect of the crime—there are multiple victims, and they are buried. But that paragraph wastes time and pace on the investigator’s allergies. He doesn’t appear in what immediately follows and his allergies have no impact on the story. A sign of overwriting, and that’s not a good predictor for a good read.

And then we get info dump and setup with how they travelled there and extreme detail about the tunnels—tell me there’s a tunnel and that men can walk in it and I can image it. No need to tell me that they are about three feet wide, etc. More overwriting, IMO. So no page turn from this reader.

Here’s a paragraph from page 2 that would have helped ramp up my interest if it had been on page 1 instead of all that description:

“It’s believed each victim had the same cuts inflicted,” Royster said. “Although most of the remains are skeletal so it’s not as easy to know for sure, but based on burial method this guy obviously had a ritual. The most recent victim is only a few years old and was preserved by the soil. The oldest remains are estimated to date back twenty-five to thirty years. Bingham moved in twenty-six years ago.”

Should this writer have hired an editor?

You can turn the page for more here. Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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15. Flogometer for Ashleigh—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Ashleigh sends the first chapter of a science fiction novel, When We Was A Child . The rest follows the break.

Flesh.

My leg slices through the air and slams into flesh. His flesh. Right in his umbilical hole, right where the shade sneaks through generation after generation. My foot goes numb from the force and he gasps and begs me to stop. But I can't.

Don’t! I scream at her.

But she does. My leg, an identical leg to my right and three more to my left pull back and shoot forward, in his thigh, in his arm, in his face. His third Vice President, a clone like I am, collapses on the ground in front of me. Each blow makes me dread her more.

"No more. Please!" he says.

He doesn’t fight back; it doesn’t seem to occur to him to even try. The corners of my mouth sag, and a tear slides down my cheek. Cold anger, and hot sadness swirl and bang inside me, they team together against the emotion that is truly mine. Fear. My arm tenses.

Calm down, President Prodida.

She can’t hear me, I’m trapped in my own mind. My sinuses burn and tears push at the sides of my eyeballs, but she won't let another tear fall. Soggy grass mixed with dark red gore lounges on the cliff of meat that used to be his brow and slides down when he looks up at me. One of his eyes squint, and the other is swollen shut. His lip trembles.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

 

This opening page starts out with a bang, good writing, and strong voice. There’s conflict, and a character that seems troubled. But troubled by what? For this reader, there were clarity issues. I had to read it more than once to figure out what was going on. Same went for the rest of the chapter. I understand the motive to not reveal too much, to keep mystery going, but if the narrative is too terse and lacking in clues and concrete images, there are readers you will leave behind. For me, there were too many clarity and staging issues to want to continue. That does not mean that there isn’t a compelling story here—in fact, the world interests me quite a lot. But being unable to see or understand it adequately stopped me here. Notes:

Flesh. I would delete this for a single reason—it takes up a line of next without contributing much, and it keeps what I think is a very valuable line off the first page. I’ll show that at the end.

My leg slices through the air and slams into flesh. His flesh. Right in his umbilical hole, right where the shade sneaks through generation after generation. My foot goes numb from the force and he gasps and begs me to stop. But I can't. No need for repetition that slows the narrative, the next sentence identifies the male nature of the victim. The “shade” line refers to something I don’t know and raises an information question (as opposed to a story question), but I’m willing, as a reader, to let that go for moment if it’s clarified soon—but it isn’t, not in the rest of the chapter.

Don’t! I scream at her. I assume that this is thought. Problem: I don’t know who “here” is. A later paragraph seems to identify “her” as President Prodida. I would use the name here. More than that, this is an opportunity, especially with the previous line telling us that the kicker can’t stop. If I would you, I would expand this line to include the fact that the kicker is being controlled. Thoughstarter: Don’t! I scream at President Prodida. Stop! I scream at her to stop controlling me.

But she does. My leg, an identical leg to my right and three more to my left pull back and shoot forward, in his thigh, in his arm, in his face. His third Vice President, a clone like I am, collapses on the ground in front of me. Each blow makes me dread her more. I found this confusing and difficult to parse. Expanding it would help. If there are four clones of her also kicking, please show us enough to see it. I wonder about the kicks landing “in” his thigh, arm, etc. Wouldn’t they hit, instead? How to they go into his body parts? The reference to “His” was also confusing because the reference to the controller so far has been to a female, and the later narrative also seems to say that the President is female. So who is this “his” referred to here?

"No more. Please!" he says.

He doesn’t fight back; it doesn’t seem to occur to him to even try. The corners of my mouth sag, and a tear slides down my cheek. Cold anger, and hot sadness swirl and bang inside me, they team together against the emotion that is truly mine. Fear. My arm tenses.

Calm down, President Prodida.

She can’t hear me, I’m trapped in my own mind. My sinuses burn and tears push at the sides of my eyeballs, but she won't let another tear fall. Soggy grass mixed with dark red gore lounges on the cliff of meat that used to be his brow and slides down when he looks up at me. One of his eyes squints, and the other is swollen shut. His lip trembles. How did grass get on his brow? He falls, and it seems that it must be on his back. He speaks to her, and she sees the grass on his brow, which must face up. The grass also has to be cut, otherwise it can’t slide down when he lifts his head. The staging here is not clear at all to me.

Here’s the line from the next page that I would include because it helped me understand that the character is being controlled. It was a separate paragraph of thought: Don't look at me like that. I'm not doing this, it's not me. It’s not me.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Fluidity

Continued:

. . . Don't look at me like that. I'm not doing this, it's not me. It’s not me.

Those three words repeat in my head, but I don’t feel any less responsible. I wanted him to hurt.  So much. Maybe I’m just like her. My fist, aching and red with his blood – or my blood – rams into his ear, and his head snaps to the side. The grass splats on the sidewalk, crimson pooling from under it and nausea roils in my stomach.

"You deserve this. Abomination." my voice says.

He deserves something, but not this. He looks at me again, his face distorted in patterns of shadow, light, and abuse. My eyes glare at his that plead for mercy, and I’m relieved when his neck muscles give out and his head clunks to the ground. I stare at him, ashamed that I’m glad to be rid of his accusing gaze.

That’s enough, leave him alone!

Blood trickles out of his mouth, and he doesn't move. My heart pounds so loud it wobbles my eyeballs, but I move forward in the fuzzy morning, because whether I see or not doesn't matter. President Prodida controls me; she controls all four of us. My foot nudges him. Nothing. My foot nudges him harder, and his flesh moves willingly, like it fell off the bone. But still, he doesn't move.

"Gods." My voice says. "Oh, Gods."

Try again. Try. Again.

My fingers clench in and out of fists, trying to slow the adrenaline that races up and down my body.

My foot pushes him so hard he rolls on his side. Moments pass, then he coughs and groans, and tugs his over-wear up. His beneath-wear is blue with a transparent circle of fabric in the middle of his stomach. My senses freeze as I gape at the skin that has no hole.

Oh, no.

My feet trip over one another and my back crashes into a Reuse bin behind me.

"I won't tell anyone." he gasps out, crying and drooling like a liveborn. His sobbing pierces into my brain, and clouds the world until only my arm, feeling for the edge of the bin, exists.

My body moves to the left, and the world comes crashing back when I see the girl peeking out from a window.

Hurry, President Prodida!

Though it’s no use, the girl’s probably been there the entire time.

My fingers find the smooth seam of the massive bin, and as my body turns away, my eyes glance back. Into the darkness, not at him. But I see him anyway, he’s still. I feel hollow, as my hip sockets churn, and run me far away.

She'll report you.

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16. Flogometer for Rebecca—are you compelled to turn the page?

Sorry I wasn't here yesterday, I got wrapped up in doing my taxes and it slipped my mind. This is an interesting one, but could be stronger, I think.


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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Rebecca sends the first chapter of a paranormal fantasy, Snake Safety 101. The rest follows the break.

The dreaded polygraph test. My last obstacle to becoming a police officer. I sat in the waiting room, plain tile on the floor, posters meant to educate participants displayed on the plain walls. The air conditioning blasted at me but couldn’t cool my nerves. I’d barely passed the background check. A drug dealer’s kid had a hard time joining the police force, but that’s all I’d wanted since I was sixteen and freshly rescued from my own stupidity.

I’d disclosed my drug use on the pretest. If only I hadn’t been an idiot as a teenager. I’d tried to fit in with my friends. It didn’t work. They got high. I didn’t, but not for lack of trying. I’d stagger, or laugh at the stupidest things along with my friends, but it was all an act on my part. A great big lie. Yup, and here I was lined up for a polygraph test.

“Sarah?” A middle aged man with laugh lines at the corners of his eyes called my name.

I jumped up. “Here, sir.”

He tugged at his collar as if his tie was too tight and waved me through a door, down a hall, and into a small room. The officer who monitored the proceedings sat behind a window in an adjacent room.

“Sit there.” He pointed to a chair that looked similar to one used by clinics to draw blood.

“Okay,” I said. “This is my first polygraph…”

“Then you’ll be happy to know it only bites first timers.” He winked. “Next time you’ll (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

There’s a lot to like about this opening page. Good writing, clear and likable voice, and a definitely interesting character. There is a story question—will she pass—and consequences—if she doesn’t, she won’t be a cop. But is that enough to make it compelling. I’ll confess to being ambivalent about it. Interested? Yes. Compelled?

What follows in the chapter uses the questions in the interview to give us some good backstory . . . but still, I wonder if the first page couldn’t be stronger. I’m going to cobble together narrative from later in the story to see if you think it’s stronger, but first a brief note—I wouldn’t include the man tugging at his collar. It seems to be a touch of overwriting, detail that just doesn’t matter to the story.

So here’s an alternative opening. As you’ll see, I think it should start with the polygraph test already in progress. A second poll follows.

The dreaded polygraph test. My last obstacle to becoming a police officer. A drug dealer’s kid had a hard time joining the police force, but that’s all I’d wanted since I was sixteen.

Just tell the truth. That’s what the officers I’d talked to said. Lots of them had done drugs as teenagers and passed. And I’d disclosed my drug use on the pretest. Now here I was, wired to a machine, an officer watching through a window to a room next door.

The technician finally popped the big question. “Have you ever used drugs?”

My pulse shot up. “Yes.”

“When was the last time you used anything?”

“I quit when I was sixteen. But a year ago, I was at a party and someone spiked the punch with synthetic THC. If I’d known, I would have dumped the stuff out.”

He looked at me. “The party where a dozen people were hospitalized and several died?”

“Yes.” I prayed they wouldn’t count that time against me.

He frowned at his screen. “Did you become ill?”

“No.”

His eyebrows rose. “How much punch did you drink?”

 “A Solo cup.”

He shook his head. “No way. Three others drank that much and they’re dead.” He fiddled (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page with this as the opening?

For me, this opening raises stronger questions and clearly puts her in jeopardy of failing the test. I had to wonder why she didn’t die. Instead of telling the reader about not being affected by drugs up front as the original opening does, let us discover it through the grilling she’s going through.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Rebecca

 

Continued:

. . . be safe.”

I smiled to let him know his attempt at making me relax was appreciated.

He handed me a set of wires. “Connect these around your chest.”

I did, the pressure reminding me of Gerald and his snake. I held my breath, freezing in place like I used to. Like he’d demanded me to. They’re dead. They’re both dead. It’s only wires. I breathed deep and forced the memories from my mind, but not before a trickle of sweat dripped between my breasts.

The technician didn’t seemed to notice my almost panic. I’d been working for years to abolish them, and when one did creep up on me, I was better at hiding them.

He wrapped sensors to my fingers, and put a blood pressure cuff on my arm. I rubbed my free clammy palm on my dress slacks.

He looked at his screen and must have been satisfied. “Here we go. What is your name?”

“Sarah Anne Tierney.”

“What is your address?”

“614 Mountain View, Denver, Colorado, 80216.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two.”

He watched his screen. “Very good. We’re all set for the important questions. Remember, answer as fully and truthfully as possible.

I nodded.

“Have you ever stolen from an employer?” All business, he looked at me through the bottom of his bifocals. The list of questions I’d answered on the pre-test lay beside him.

“No.” Employees had stolen from Mom’s restaurant. It always left me steaming mad and sometimes cost us a lot of money.

After a dozen questions relating to workplace honesty, he asked about sexual abuse and pornography. No, I’d never raped anyone. I was lucky Gerald had had a ‘favorite’, so I hadn’t been raped. Some of the older gang members had sold dirty pictures, but I didn’t. And I’d never traded sex for drugs. The pretest had given me a heads-up about the questions. So far I’d been able to keep steady.

He asked, “Have you ever used drugs?”

My pulse shot up. “Yes.” Just tell the truth. That’s what the officers I’d talked to said. Lots of them had done drugs as teenagers and passed.

“Which drugs have you taken?”

“I used marijuana lots. Cocaine, once. LSD, once. Mushrooms, once. Heroin five times.”

“When was the last time you used anything?”

“The last time I deliberately used a drug was when I was sixteen. But then, a year ago, I was at a party and someone secretly spiked the punch with synthetic THC. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had any. If I’d known, I would have dumped the stuff out.”

The technician looked at me for the first time since he sat down. “The party where a dozen people were taken to the hospital and several died?”

“Yes.” I prayed they wouldn’t count that time against me.

“You’re lucky to be alive.”

“Yes.” I fidgeted, aware of the mild untruth of that particular answer. It wasn’t even a question. Why did I say anything.

He peered at his screen with a puzzled frown.

I should have kept my mouth shut. Damn, it must have registered as a lie, since I wasn’t in danger when I drank the punch.

“Did you become ill?”

“No.”

“How much punch did you drink?” he asked.

I shrugged. “A cup.”

“An eight ounce cup?”

“A Solo cup.”

He coughed. “No way. Three others drank that much and they’re dead.” His eyes widened. He fiddled with a setting, and exchanged a glance with the frowning officer behind the glass.

“I know,” I said. “It was terrible. I’d love to find the person who did it and send them to jail for a long time.”

He shifted sideways, pulled a green bandana from his pocket, and dabbed it on his forehead. “How did you survive?”

My stomach roiled. If I told the truth, he wouldn’t believe me no matter what his machine says. If I lied, he’d know that too. “Uhh…” I swallowed hard. “Drugs don’t affect me. Neither does alcohol. I don’t know why.”

“Hmmm.” He checked the wires connecting me to the machine. After re-sticking one with more gel, he said, “Please remove your shoes and socks”

“My… why?”

“Sometimes people wear tacks in their shoes to create pain and give abnormal readings.”

Not good. I slipped off my sandals and knee-length hose.

He patted the soles of my feet then sat again. “Keep both hands where I can see them.”

My right had been tied to his wires, my left on my lap—in plain sight.

“How did you use heroin?”

“Injected it.” I rubbed my forehead. Why was I so stupid back then?

“Are you completely recovered from your addiction?”

“I…I wasn’t addicted.”

His lips flattened. “Did you attend a rehabilitation facility?”

“No. I took heroin five times and it never affected me once. I know it sounds strange, but…”

“No one only takes it five times.”

His tone scraped my nerves. I wanted to slap him, but kept my hands folded nicely in my lap.

“How did you recover from the use of heroin?” He looked at me down his nose with a scowl on his face.

“I just stopped. I tried to get my friends to stop too. It was horrible how it took their minds so that all they wanted was more. It’s scary stuff.” Memories of Gerald’s gang that I was forced to become a member of flooded back and I clenched my fist to keep it from shaking. Stay in control. He’s dead.

The technician frowned. “You quit heroin without help?”

“Yes.”

“So neither heroin nor synthetic THC affect you?”

“That’s correct. But all that was before I was sixteen. I’ve straightened out since then.”

His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’ve never taken a polygraph test before?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

He asked a variation of the same questions dozens of times.

My hopes cascaded to the bottom of a pit. “Is it saying I’m telling the truth?”

“Yes.” He shrugged with a jerk. He didn’t look at me and his face seemed tight and pinched.

A knock sounded at the door. The officer from the window poked his head in. “That’s enough. We have what we need.”

The technician nodded.

The officer retreated and the door slammed closed.

“Disconnect yourself, Miss Tierney,” the technician said.

I took the wires off, and pulled on my nylon socks and sandals. “Did I pass?”

He glanced at his screen, then at me. “I don’t appreciate being played with. And this…” He waved at the screen. “Was a farce.”

“You’re failing me?”

“Yes.” He stared at me. His eyebrows almost met in the middle.

“Why? Everything I told you was the truth.” I’d spent too much time working toward this goal. Besides, I’d promised. And the person I’d promised to was also dead. There wasn’t any other option. “If it’s about my nonexistant reactions to drugs or alcohol, I can prove it.”

“Impossible. No one has a complete immunity to drugs.” He wiped his forehead again. “You’re a pathological liar. It’s the only explanation.”

No way I’d show him my tears. I spun and marched to the door with my chin held high. We’d see about this.

Add a Comment
17. Flog a BookBubber 19

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the prologue from a novel by Liliana Hart.

My life was a disaster.

I sat in my car with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and watched the rain pound against the windshield. I was soaked to the skin, my skirt was ripped, and blood seeped from both knees. There were scratches on my arms and neck, and my face was blotchy and red from crying. Along with the external wounds, I’d lost a good deal of my sensibilities, most of my faith in mankind, and all of my underwear somewhere between a graveyard and a church parking lot.

I’ll explain later. It’s been a hell of a day.

My name is Addison Holmes, no relation to Sherlock or Katie, and if God has any mercy, he’ll strike me with lightning and end it all. I’ve had a job at the McClean Detective Agency for exactly six days. It’s been the longest six days of my life, and I’ll be lucky if I live to see another six. Unspeakable things, things you’d never imagine have happened to me in six days.

Now I faced the onerous task of telling Kate McClean, my best friend and owner of the McClean Detective Agency, how I’d botched a simple surveillance job and found a dead body. Another dead body.

I should have kept my job as a stripper.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

Whiskey RebellionI’m delighted to see another prologue that works. In fact, I downloaded this book to read. The voice is clear and likeable, the writing crisp and clean. All of which promise a pro at the wheel, but then there’s the clincher—these 16 lines of narrative are packed with story questions. This opening gets a happy Yes! from me.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

 

Add a Comment
18. Flogometer for David—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


David sends the prologue and first chapter of a story for grade-schoolers, The Red Path. The rest follows the break.

Prologue:

The boy-with-no-name wandered alone in the wilderness for three days, waiting for the vision the elders had said would come. He was weak from fasting and his skin burned beneath the summer sun.

“I can walk no further,” said the boy-with-no-name. “I will sit and wait for my vision to come.”

He was about to sit down on a large flat rock when he heard a rattle. He looked down to see a snake, coiled on the ground in the shade of the rock.

 “Watch where you’re sitting!” hissed Rattlesnake.

“I’m sorry,” said the boy-with-no-name. “I am very tired. I’m just going to sit on this rock for a while.”

“This is my rock. Go sit someplace else and don’t bother me.”

“Oh, I won’t bother you. I will just sit and wait for my vision to come.”

“Have it your way,” said Rattlesnake, and bit him on the leg.

The boy-with-no-name fell to the ground and Rattlesnake disappeared under his rock.

Once the poison reaches my heart, thought the boy-with-no-name, my body will become a corpse, then a meal for the birds and the four-leggeds.

The boy-with-no-name closed his eyes and lay completely still.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Chapter 1:

Every house looked pretty much the same on the street where Joel Zemeckis lived. There were, after all, only four models to choose from. Despite fancy names like Casa del Sol and El Palacio, they were all one-story ranch-style houses, either three bedrooms or four, with a sliding glass door that opened to the back yard. Acres of orange groves had been bulldozed over during the nineteen-sixties to build housing tracts identical to this one, with two spindly trees planted in every front yard. Now the sixties were over, the orange groves were gone, and the seventies were just beginning.

Bonita Vista Drive was one of those streets in one of those housing tracts where everything was new but nothing new ever seemed to happen. Even the Indian attack that summer at 392 Bonita Vista did not come as a complete surprise. In fact, the Zemeckis front lawn had been the battleground for repeated skirmishes all year.

“There they are, the white devils,” Joel whispered to his war party, hiding behind the hedge that separated the Warren’s front yard from his own. His brother Bruce and his friends were divided into two teams, facing off against each other on the Zemeckis front lawn, battling for the Super Bowl Championship of the neighborhood.

They think their helmets and shoulder pads are so great, thought Joel, but they look like bobble-head dolls. They’re a joke and they don’t even know it.

Were you compelled to turn the chapter's first page?

 

While I’m generally not included to go for prologues, I thought this one worked  well. The “legend” style of the storytelling was done well, and there is the story question of what will happen to boy-with-no-name. From our acquaintance with this kind of folk legend, we know it will be momentous.

The first chapter was well written, has a good voice, and opens with a lively scene to introduce a likable character. So far so good. There’s impending conflict, too, in the game that’s being played. Perhaps this is intended as bridging conflict to get us to the rest of the story. But it’s just play. There are no serious stakes at hand in this game as far as we can see. There is a relationship to the prologue with the Indian theme of the boys’ costumes, but that’s about it.

Also, the introductory paragraphs strongly resemble an “info dump” and are clearly not in the voice or from the point of view of the child in the story. It’s the grown-up author delivering a bit of a message along with some scene-setting. It does not, in my view, contribute to creating tension in the reader. It fails to immerse me in the experience of the character right away, and I think that would be especially necessary in a story for younger grades.

While the rest of the chapter is fun, it boils down to all setup. We end the chapter not knowing what the story is really about or how the legendary character in the prologue figures in.

Even though grade-schoolers might enjoy the way the chapter opens with play conflict, I think it would be much stronger if it was the real story. David, I suggest you take a look at starting later, much closer to the inciting event. The family moving because of the dad’s job is not the inciting incident for Joel’s story.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 David

 

 

Continued from prologue:

If I never return home, the elders will know I have failed in my quest.

A shadow fell over his face and he opened his eyes.

Straight down swooped Eagle!  

He grabbed the boy-with-no-name in his talons and lifted him up. He had enormous black wings with white tips and white tail feathers. Each thrust of Eagle’s powerful wings carried them higher and higher above the earth.

The boy-with-no-name shouted to Eagle, “What are you doing? I am not dead yet!”

“You were not moving,” Eagle said. “You looked dead to me.”

“Well I’m not! I’m alive, so I wish you would put me down.”

“It’s a long way down from here,” said Eagle, as he carried the boy-with-no-name far above the ground.

“What can I do up here in the sky? I am two-legged and live on the ground.”

“On the ground you cannot even see where you are going. Up here you can see clearly in every direction,” Eagle pointed out.

“I am on my vision quest, that is how we two-leggeds on the ground find our way. So please put me back down.”

“Have it your way,” said Eagle, and let go.

The boy-with-no-name fell from the sky. Spiraling towards the earth he could see his village below, the home of his family, the home of his tribe and the home his ancestors. But the river was red—teepees on fire—and the bodies of his mother and father, the bodies of his tribe lay motionless on the ground.

Suddenly the earth rose up to meet him and everything went black.

###

When the boy-with-no-name awoke the sun was low and the shadows were growing long.

I have died and come back to earth. I must return home.

The boy-with-no-name ran back across the desert, through ravines filled with greasewood trees and up along the high bluffs that led to home. When he came to the river, the river was not red; he saw the poles of teepees in the distance, beyond the manzanita, and when he finally reached camp and saw the faces of his mother and his sister and his father and his little brother, tears of happiness ran down his cheeks.

It was late when the tribal council met that night. The boy-with-no-name did not speak of what had happened or what he had seen.

“It is sacred and cannot be shared,” a voice inside him said.

The boy-with-no-name said to the elders that night, “I will be your messenger—to the world below and to the world above.”

“Ho-ka-hey!” the men in the circle shouted.

From that day on, the boy-with-no-name could travel high above the earth to see into the future, and use the medicine of the earth to heal his two-legged brothers and sisters. He was no longer the boy-with-no-name. From that day on, he was known as Snake Feather.

Ho-ka-hey!

CHAPTER ONE

A New Path

Every house looked pretty much the same on the street where Joel Zemeckis lived. There were, after all, only four models to choose from. Despite fancy names like Casa del Sol and El Palacio, they were all one-story ranch-style houses, either three bedrooms or four, with a sliding glass door that opened to the back yard. Acres of orange groves had been bulldozed over during the nineteen-sixties to build housing tracts identical to this one, with two spindly trees planted in every front yard. Now the sixties were over, the orange groves were gone, and the seventies were just beginning.

Bonita Vista Drive was one of those streets in one of those housing tracts where everything was new but nothing new ever seemed to happen. Even the Indian attack that summer at 392 Bonita Vista did not come as a complete surprise. In fact, the Zemeckis front lawn had been the battleground for repeated skirmishes all year.

“There they are, the white devils,” Joel whispered to his war party, hiding behind the hedge that separated the Warren’s front yard from his own. His brother Bruce and his friends were divided into two teams, facing off against each other on the Zemeckis front lawn, battling for the Super Bowl Championship of the neighborhood.

They think their helmets and shoulder pads are so great, thought Joel, but they look like bobble-head dolls. They’re a joke and they don’t even know it.

But their helmets made them faceless, and without faces they were soulless, and because they were soulless they could not be trusted, and because they could not be trusted it was no joke.

“They are the enemy of our people,” Joel whispered to the brave on his left.

Mikey was the oldest of the kids Joel had enlisted into his tribe, and he was only six and a half. Joel was turning nine in the fall, and many summers had passed since he first played make-believe with kids his own age. After they lost interest, a younger group joined in, but they eventually moved on to sports and other stuff, too. Now he had a new war party.

Joel was the only one with a complete Indian outfit. It was made of deerskin and had a beaded chest. His headband was also beaded, and it held in place a single feather in the back. He loved wearing moccasins, and it bugged him that Mikey and the little kids wore tennis shoes. He ordered them to go barefoot, but their moms wouldn’t let them.

Bruce didn’t care if he was the enemy of the red man; all he cared about as he stood behind center was hitting Glen on a down-and-out route to the end zone at the driveway.

“Hutt one, hutt two...” Bruce began counting. He had heard the pros do it like that. He looked at his receivers on each side and continued his count. “Hutt three… ”

Behind the hedge, Joel adjusted his black-framed glasses and then placed a rubber-tipped arrow across his bow. He fit the notched end of the arrow into the bowstring and slowly drew it back, his right hand next to the red and white stripes on his cheek. It pained Joel to wear his glasses along with war paint, but he couldn’t see a thing without them. He looked to his left and then to his right; four braves on one side and three on the other, each with a rubber-tipped arrow ready to fly. Joel looked down the shaft of his arrow and focused his sights on Bruce’s big red helmet.

“Hutt four, hutt—”

An arrow struck Bruce’s helmet and stuck. Two more bounced off his shoulder pads, others hit the ground around the players on the field.

Joel led the charge through the hedge with a whooping war cry. The pint-sized Indians rushed the field and jumped on the football players, stabbing them with rubber knives, climbing on their backs and generally messing up the final seconds of the Super Bowl Championship. The battle raged on the Zemeckis’ front lawn until Mom came out the front door and onto the porch.

“Okay, kids, break it up!” She held up a white plastic device, “Joel, you forgot your inhaler.”

Two arrows sticking up from Bruce’s helmet were waving around like feelers on an insect. He pointed at Joel and laughed.

“Hey, Pocahontas, your mom’s calling!”

Joel launched himself at Bruce, but he was no match for his big brother and quickly found himself on the ground with his glasses hanging from one ear.

“Come in and get cleaned up,” Mom said. “Dinner is ready.”

Football players and Indians scattered as Joel stood up and put back on his glasses.

Another defeat at the hands of the Whites.

###

Shoulder pads and war paint were normally not acceptable at the dinner table, but Mom had other things on her mind tonight. When Joel sat down at the table he was thinking how cool his deerskin outfit was. He loved the creamy color of the hide and the fresh sweet scent it gave off; it felt natural and alive, unlike the wrinkle-free pants and shirts that Mom bought him to wear to school; and it was soft, and felt so good against his skin that he wished he could wear it all the time.

Dad, as usual, was thinking about a math problem when he sat down at the head of the table, punching numbers into a pocket calculator he held in front of his face. Dad always wore a long-sleeved white shirt and a skinny black tie. The only variation was sometimes he wore a gray tie, and in the summer he wore a short-sleeve shirt; what never varied was the pocket protector in the front left pocket of his shirt.

Bruce sat down wishing he could replay the last thirty seconds of the Super Bowl game—or kill Joel—when Mom came in from the kitchen carrying a platter piled high with drumsticks and chicken breasts. Mom always said she was average, but a better description would be that she was medium: medium height, medium weight, medium brown hair.

Joel’s hair was black and he liked to wear it long, touching his collar in the back, which was the complete opposite of his brother whose hair was blond and always cut short in a crew cut. In fact, Joel was the only one in the family that had black hair. Sometimes, when Mom got really frustrated with him she would throw her hands up and exclaim, “I don’t know where you came from!”

Mom placed the platter in the center of the dinning room table and took her seat. As Joel and Bruce grabbed for the first drumstick she made an announcement:

“Kids, your father and I have something to tell you.”

The boys stopped mid-reach. Dad put down his calculator.

The grave tone in Mom’s voice made Joel’s stomach clench in knot.

“Your father has a new job. He’s going to be working for the Department of Energy,” Mom said proudly.

“Top secret stuff!” chirped Dad.

The knot in Joel’s stomach started to relax.

“But here’s the thing—”

Mom hesitated, and Joel’s stomach knotted up again.

“His new job is in Albuquerque—New Mexico. We’re going to be moving there.”

The boys sat with their jaws hanging slack, and then Bruce wailed, “We can’t move! I’m starting quarterback this year!”

“They have Pop Warner there too,” Mom said. “I’ve already checked into it.”

“But I won’t know anybody.”

“You always make friends. It’s a big change for all of us, but your father’s work is very important.”

Joel didn’t hear much of what Mom had just said, because all he could think about was having to go to a new school and make new friends. Fear flooded his body and he thought he was going to throw up on the platter of fried chicken.

Mom turned to Joel with a cheery look on her face.

“And I know you’ll make new friends too!”

Joel hated it when she put on a fake smile, as if he couldn’t tell what she really thought.

“There’s Serendipitous Fallout,” Dad said gleefully.

Bruce made a face. “Awww… I don’t believe in that stuff.”

There was really nothing to believe in. Serendipitous Fallout was Dad’s expression for an unexpected discovery made during an experiment—a happy accident.

“We’re taking a vacation on the way!”

Bruce lit up—but it did nothing to relieve the dread Joel was feeling.

“Hawaii?” Bruce asked.

“That’s not on the way,” said Mom.

“Disneyland?”

“No, not Disneyland.”

“We’re going to the Four Corners,” Dad broke in.

There was dumbfounded silence at the Zemeckis dinner table—so Dad continued:

“It’s the only place in the United States where four states—Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico—meet at a single point!”

Bruce groaned.

“Tell them what we’re going to do,” urged Mom.

“We’re going to visit some ancient Indian ruins—a place where Indians lived over a thousand years ago.”

Joel perked up. “Indians?”

“Give me a break,” Bruce said to no one in particular.

“Will we get to see some real Indians?” Joel asked.

“There aren’t any Indians living there anymore,” said Mom, “it’s a national park, called Mesa Verde.”

“We will be driving through Indian country,” Dad said. “It’s logical to assume we could see some in their modern habitat.”

“Which tribes?” Joel was out of his seat, fears about making new friends temporarily forgotten.

Dad had a distant look on his face while he retrieved the information…

“Navajo, Hopi, Ute —”

“Apache?”

Dad smiled at Joel. “Apache, too.”

“Don’t get too excited,” said Mom. “They live the same as we do now. They don’t live in teepees anymore.”

 “I just want to see some real Indians. “Joel was jumping up and down. “Can we camp out?”

“We’ll see. We only have two days there; your dad starts work that Monday.”

Dad picked up his calculator.

“I've done some calculations: If we drive through the desert at night to beat the heat, and maintain an average speed of sixty-five miles-per-hour, allowing two hours for rest stops and refueling, we can make it to the Four Corners in fourteen hours and forty-seven minutes.”

“This is so great!” Joel shouted, bouncing around the room.

Bruce shook his head. “Serendipitous Fallout, my butt.”

It was only a matter of weeks before the movers had packed up the Zemeckis’ furniture and departed for their new home in Albuquerque. That same night, Joel and Bruce and Mom and Dad piled into the family station wagon and drove down Bonita Vista Drive for the last time. With Dad behind the wheel, Mom seated next to him in the front and the boys in the back, they all set off for the Four Corners at the exact rate of sixty-five miles-per-hour. If Dad’s calculations were right, they would arrive at Mesa Verde at 1447 hours the next day, which, for non-atomic scientists, is 2:47 p.m.

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19. Flog a BookBubber 16

Oops, got caught up in a couple of book design projects and forgot about this week’s BookBub flogging. So here it is:


Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter a thriller by Seely James.

Pia Sabel trailed five yards behind Agent Marty, her head of security, as sunlight stabbed between the leaves overhead and the oppressive weight of Washington’s summer pressed in. For the last three days, everything in her life had focused on those who hurled the javelins of power and those impaled on their spikes. In her twenty-five years, she’d grown accustomed to winning, from Buenos Aires to London to Beijing, and had long ago lost patience with anyone or anything that distracted her from her goal. Yet she was walking toward just such a distraction.

Agent Tania followed two yards behind. “You think they’re really going to press charges?”

Pia glanced over her shoulder. “They can’t. The State Department doesn’t have the authority, or the evidence, or any enforcement charter.”

“Then what the hell does State do?”

“Make sure US corporations get foreign contracts, make sure our spies have somewhere to hide, and make sure US travelers stay out of trouble.”

“Foreign contracts? Is that how we won the Algerian deal?”

“The Secretary helped us land that one. That’s the only reason I’m taking this ridiculous meeting.”

They walked up the slight incline in silence. Marty reached the corner, checked both (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

Bring ItGood clean writing, good voice, and we’re opening with a scene. So far so good. But what’s the story question here? We have some “information” questions, which I feel cheat the reader and find irritating: winning what? What goal? What distraction? Press charges for what? Against whom?

The opening paragraph starts with setting the scene pretty well, but it quickly devolves into references to backstory and exposition about the character—all of which, IMO, should have waited until later. Let’s get some story on this page to chew on—are the charges against her? Let us know. What are the consequences of the charges? But the narrative quickly tells us that State can’t press charges, so there’s no problem, right? We need story here and we’re not getting it. Your thoughts?

You can turn the page here.

Edit poll

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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20. Flogometer for Kate—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—None Left in the Queue. 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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Kate sends the first chapter of her science fiction novel, Rust. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

The body lay in the undergrowth as if flung there. Ben’s breath rasped in his throat and his heart pumped faster. His temperature spiked again in reaction. Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down into his eyes. He blinked, cursing the sting of it, but it was just sweat this time. Not tears. No more tears. He’d seen too many bodies for that. Shamballah. The joker who named this hellhole of a planet ought to be laser lashed.

‘Got something, Jon,’ he said into his comm unit. ‘Looks like another dead runner.’

Jonathan Milton, in charge since acting captain Sam Chang went down with the Rust fevers, replied after the slightest of pauses. ‘Confirm, Ben. Run a commentary, if you please.’

‘Yessir. Approaching body from the south east. Body is facing north, just … laid out on the ground, face down. Low scrub, scattered trees in this quadrant. There’s a – there’s a cloud of insects of some sort, hovering over it, but nothing’s on the body itself. Body is naked. Female.’ Ben swallowed and stopped for a moment, his laser heavy in his arms. Sweat slid down his neck. The rusting disease was unrelenting. He crept closer, sweeping the nose of his laser in steady arcs around the clearing.

‘Ben? What’s going on?’ Jonathan’s anxiety came clearly across the comm. His voice was taut, strung with the tension that gripped the survivor’s camp.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Strong writing and a confident voice, and we’re immediately immersed in the now of the story. Kate manages to set the scene and begin building the world of her story without slowing the pace to deliver gobs of description, weaving it through the action, unnoticed. Nice job. And there are definite story questions raised. I turned the page. But it could have been just a little bit crisper. Notes:

The body lay in the undergrowth as if flung there. Ben’s breath rasped in his throat and his heart pumped faster. His temperature spiked again in reaction. Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down into his eyes. He blinked, cursing cursed the sting of it, but it was just sweat this time. Not tears. No more tears. He’d seen too many bodies for that. Shamballah. The joker who named this hellhole of a planet ought to be laser lashed. Too many words spent on description for me. Not needed, I think.

‘Got something, Jon,’ he said into his comm unit. ‘Looks like another dead runner.’

Jonathan Milton, in charge since acting the captain Sam Chang went had gone down with the Rust fevers, replied, after the slightest of pauses. ‘Confirm, Ben. Run a commentary, if you please.’ Avoid having too many names right up front.

‘Yessir. Approaching body from the southeast south east. Body is facing north, just … laid out on the ground, face down. Low scrub, scattered trees in this quadrant. There’s a – there’s a cloud of insects of some sort, hovering over it, but nothing’s on the body itself. Body is naked. Female.’ Ben swallowed and stopped for a moment, his laser heavy in his arms. Sweat slid down his neck. The rusting disease was unrelenting. He crept closer, sweeping the nose of his laser in steady arcs around the clearing. Unfortunate echo of facing/face. Maybe “on her belly” or something else?

‘Ben? What’s going on?’ Jonathan’s anxiety came clearly across the comm. His voice was taut, strung with the tension that gripped the survivor’s survivors' camp.

‘Uh, sorry sir, just making sure the coast is clear, sir. Approaching body now. It, uh – (snip)

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Kate

Continued:

. . . she – is not moving that I can see. Pretty sure she’s dead but sir, she looks unharmed. I mean, she’s not – she’s not Rusted, sir.’

‘Explain, Ben.’ Jon’s voice vibrated with impatience and a sort of … hope?

Ben felt a similar stirring. His arms began to tremble. ‘Sir, I – I don’t immediately recognise this, uh, person.’

The comm hissed emptily.

‘Are you able to conduct a close quarter examination of the body? Is the immediate environment clear of threats? No, wait – I’ll send Stanton to cover you. Take guard position, wait for Stanton before you go in.’

‘Yessir. ‘ Ben said again. Habit. Jon was a Contractor, not a Federation officer, but those distinctions had lost their meaning since the crash. He looked around the clearing once more, hearing Jonathan on the open channel order Stanton across to his coordinates. He was half a click away, five minutes or so in these conditions. Cautiously, half an ear out for any sound or movement in the clearing around him, he returned his gaze to the body.

The girl looked like she was asleep. Her skin was smooth and unmarred by the horror of the weeping rust scabs. She gleamed in the low light of the open forest. Almost metallic, Ben thought. Maybe copper, or – or bronze. He tried to bring back long ago lessons in world civilisations. An image of a fierce, hawk-faced man with black hair and red skin flickered across his thoughts, but that wasn’t quite right. He shook his head, and his eyes travelled the length of the woman’s body. Who the hell was she? Her arms were thrown forward, as if begging aid. He could only just see the curve of the left side of her face, her smooth, bald head tucked down between her arms. She looked tall, and strong. Well, anyone would, compared to a camp full of Rusted cripples. Ben snorted and gripped his laser more tightly. What’s taking Stanton so long?

The flying insects weren’t bothering the body but they’d quickly discovered Ben. He swatted at them with his free arm, trying to keep his vision clear. He could feel his own scabs tearing and catching with the awkward movements. Why they bothered with full combat uniform at this stage he didn’t know. It wasn’t going to help them fight the real enemy. A quick death by some ugly beastie sure seemed preferable some nights. Nights when he writhed with white- hot lightning fizzing through his veins and bones and muscles. Nights when his brain lit up with phantom lights and sounds like a goddam vid game. He hadn’t even hit the killing stage of the fevers yet, and still the pain was insane. Mornings he’d wake to a sweat-soaked sleep bag and his god-awful collection of rust scabs. Almost his whole body now. Even his prick. He emitted a mournful note of disbelief as he thought of his crusted penis, the shock he felt every time he released it from his pants for a piss.

‘Ben! That you? You okay, man? I’m just about on you – what’s going on?’ Stanton’s heavy breathing sounded through the comm and snapped Ben back to attention.

‘Nothin’ man, just … this place is creepy. Gotta dead body here even the flies don’t wanna touch, but not a mark on her that I can see.’ Ben heard crashing in the brush to his left and saw Stanton push through at a trot. He swiped bushes out of his way and held his laser steady as he came.

‘Right,’ Stanton huffed. ‘Where is she?’

Ben nodded to where the girl lay.

‘I’ll keep watch, Ben. You go on and have a look,’ Stanton said, his head already swivelling as he scanned the clearing.

‘Keep me in the loop back here,’ Jon snapped, losing patience with being at a distance. ‘Doesn’t either one of you have an operating cam?’

‘Uh, yeah, sorry Jon.’ Ben toggled his cam on, knowing he must be tired, and getting weak, to forget basic procedure like that.

He took the few short steps over to the girl and bent over her, grasped her left shoulder and flipped her onto her back. Her eyes were closed. The bones of her skull and her face were fiercely prominent, elegant. Her expression was blank but she was familiar. I know her ... It’s ... His gaze travelled down and he lost his train of thought. Her breasts were very, very nice. Ben jerked his gaze back up to her face, reddening, knowing Jonathan back at base was noticing him notice what he was noticing. He glanced down again at the length of her body. No marks. Lean, well-muscled build. Long legs. He looked away.

‘I don’t know what got her,’ he said, trying to keep his voice steady. He was still a soldier, goddammit. ‘She’s unmarked. No puncture wounds I can see, no open wounds, no obvious breaks to limbs or spine, in fact I’d say – ’ The girl twitched and Ben stumbled back with a yell and almost fell on his ass.

Stanton swung his laser to her but Ben was in the way. ‘What! What!’ he screamed. ‘Ben! You okay?’ He rushed to Ben, his laser glowing with charge and Ben smashed the barrel of it away.

‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! She’s alive!’

‘Stand down! I repeat, stand down!’ Jonathan shouted through the coms, almost deafening Ben. ‘DO NOT SHOOT TO KILL! Wherever she came from she may have answers for us!’

Stanton stood wide legged, quivering, his laser pointed at the girl, his face white with strain.

Ben scrambled back to the girl’s side, cautiously placing a hand against her throat. ‘She has a pulse, I can feel a pulse!’ Ben said, turning his head to look at Stanton. They both yelled when the girl’s right hand snapped out and grasped Ben’s wrist. He pulled away instinctively but her grasp was steel. She opened her eyes.

‘Holy shit,’ he breathed.

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21. Hope as a genesis for story questions

Due to a deficiency of submissions to flog (as in the cupboard is bare), I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about an opportunity to create story questions that arise from positive events in a story.

In critiquing submissions here on FtQ, I frequently bemoan the lack of any hint of jeopardy for the protagonist that is sufficient to raise a story question. In a sense, the motivation for the story question is fear—fear of failure. But what makes that meaningful is the protagonist’s hopes for success. Without that hope, without that desire, there’s no tension derived from potential failure.

When I talk about hope as a tool for creating tension that stimulates story questions in one of my workshops, the example I speak of is in a romance story. When the heroine meets the man of the story, if the heroine is someone the reader likes the reader immediately fosters the hope that they will get together. But the reader also knows that her hope is likely to be frustrated because of . . .

Expectations. Modern readers, those who have read at least a novel or two, are wise to the ways of storytellers. They know that events will be followed by twists and complications that upend them. The kiss can be followed by a slap. The love letter can be followed by a lawsuit. The promise can be followed by betrayal. Readers anticipate those things, and the “what will happen next” story questions pop right up.

Hidden jeopardy. A terrific way to create story questions is to conceal a threat to the protagonist’s hopes from the character but not from the reader. A character driving down a road on a foggy night isn’t tension-producing . . . unless the reader knows that the road has washed out and there’s a fifty-foot chasm awaiting her that she’ll never see in time.

In my current WIP, Gundown, Jewel has met a man that she has developed a liking for. She has just gotten a new job that she’s excited about, and invites her man, Earl, to come to a public meeting at which her new boss, a man she respects greatly, will be speaking. From the text:

“Maybe you can meet him at this newcomers meeting he wants me to come to. It’s at the park Thursday night.”

His voice sharpened. “The park? Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll take you.”

She smiled at Earl. “It’s a date.”

Earl turned a thoughtful face toward town and said, “Yeah. It’s a date.”

Sounds mundane, right? No tension there. But the reader knows that Earl has vowed to kill the man who is her boss in a public meeting. So there are two layers of meaning in his turning his face toward town and saying it’s a date: Jewel’s innocent interpretation (hope), and the reader’s knowledge of Earl’s intent—which means jeopardy for Jewel if he does what he plans. The story questions arise: will he kill the man? If he does, what will that mean to Jewel? How will it affect her?

So don’t hesitate to inject positive, hopeful events into your protagonist’s life. The reader will expect you to somehow sabotage them and will wonder what happens next, especially if she knows that forces unknown to the character are ready to act to destroy her hope.

For what it’s worth.

Submit your WIP to FtQ for a critique:

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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.

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22. Flog a BookBubber 17

Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

But wait, there’s more.

And then I’ll give you an alternative opening page edited from narrative later in the chapter to see if it serves better as a page-turner. A poll follows to share what you think. Enjoy.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the first chapter a novel by Russell Blake.

An arid wind blew a beige dust devil down the desolate road that ran from Ramallah to Jenin. Ribbons of orange and crimson streaked the edge of the predawn sky as another long night drew to an end. The young Israeli Defense Force soldiers manning the checkpoint fidgeted near a baffle of sandbags, the final minutes of the graveyard shift fast approaching on a rural thoroughfare that saw little nocturnal traffic.

Maya rubbed a fatigued hand across her face and exchanged a glance with Sarah, her friend and confidante on the lonely duty, and the only other woman on the all-night vigil. Four soldiers, relaxing with their rifles hanging from shoulder slings, stood by the two-story tower that had been erected the prior month to afford a better view of approaching vehicles. A scraggly rooster marched along the sandy shoulder, a solitary visitor on the deserted strip of pavement, its crimson-crowned head bobbing in determination as it strutted to a destination unknown.

“Only ten more minutes,” Maya said, stifling a yawn.

“Not that you’re counting every second or anything, right?” Sarah smiled, her cherubic features and bobbed whiskey-colored hair peeking from under her helmet a stark contrast to Maya, all angles and emerald eyes and black hair.

“Am I that transparent?”

“Why don’t you hit it a little early, and I’ll cover for you? If anyone asks, I’ll say you had (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

JetPretty good writing and good description to set the scene (though I wouldn’t have “a fatigued hand” in there). This opening does a good job with setup, but what else is there to draw the reader forward? In a sense, this opening relies on reader experience that creates an expectation of trouble ahead if all seems well. But is that strong enough? I suspect it might be for some readers, but it wasn’t for me.

I still want a story question of some kind, not a vague and only possible prospect of trouble ahead. So I’ll offer an alternative. Please answer the editing poll and then see what you think.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Alternative opening:

Dim headlights approached the checkpoint from the north. The lamps flickered as an ancient red and white ambulance bounced along the rutted asphalt. The Israeli soldiers stiffened as the vehicle coasted to a stop, and Eli joined Sarah at the wooden barricade. The driver rolled the dusty window down and handed his identification papers to Eli.

Eli studied the license and registration in his flashlight’s beam, holding up the identity card and comparing the driver’s leathery countenance to that of the man in the photograph. The driver winced as the beam played across his face, and Eli lowered his flashlight.

“Where are you going?” Eli asked.

“The hospital. We have an injured boy in the back who’s in bad shape.”

“What happened?”

“He fell off a ladder. We think his back might be broken.”

Sarah stared at the passenger. Their eyes locked through the grimy glass, and after a long moment his gaze darted to a blanket on his lap. A butterfly of disquiet fluttered in her stomach, and she gripped her weapon. “I want to search the vehicle,” she said, steel in her voice.

The driver shook his head. “With all due respect, this is a critical case. Minutes count.”

A bead of sweat traced its way from the man’s hairline down his face in spite of the predawn cool. Sarah stepped back and swung the ugly snout of her rifle at the ambulance.

Were you compelled to turn the page with this as the opening?

You can read more here.

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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23. Flogometer for Shifu—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Shifu sends the first chapter of Cupid Proof. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

“You’re snoring.”

I ignored the words, rolled on my stomach and continued to listen to ‘Girl on Fire’.

“Eve, you can sleep until ten o’clock, but you have to move today.”

“I domnt wamma muv…” I reached out and searched the bed for my blanket. As soon as I could grab it, Mom pulled it away.

I shot a sleepy glare at her and rolled my eyes. I pulled myself off the bed and slumped backwards.

“This comfy bed… Can’t leave…” I pushed a hand under the pile of pillows I abandoned while I was asleep and moaned.

“Eve, this isn’t easy for us either.”

My eyes opened involuntarily and with such suddenness that I felt dizzy. I looked at Mom who had a solemn look on her face.

“I’ll get ready and then we’ll talk okay?” I pulled myself off the bed for a second time. Rubbing my eyes, I walked to the dresser and stared at myself in the mirror.

“Okay.” Mom walked out, closing the door behind her. I continued to stare at myself through the mirror.

“Well, Eve… This is gonna be fun…” I yawned and dragged my groggy feet towards the (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

This opening introduces a teenage girl doing what they do when a parent tries to waken them in a realistic way—though I’m not a girl, I recognize her behavior. My mother used to use a cold wash cloth to shock me out of slumber.

But that’s about it. What’s happening here? A girl gets out of bed. No notion of why, no notion of any problems ahead . . . no hint of a story question. Basically, this chapter is setup and didn’t get around to story questions until the end of the chapter. And, even then, Eve didn’t have any problems to deal with. I think the story starts later.

There were craft issues, too—clarity and overwriting, and those things showed up later in the chapter, too. Notes:

“You’re snoring.” Why not “Wake up?” Telling her she’s snoring isn’t exactly a move to get her out of bed.

I ignored the words, rolled on my stomach and continued to listen to ‘Girl on Fire’.

“Eve, you can sleep until ten o’clock, but you have to move today.” If she can sleep until ten, why is the mother insisting she get out of bed now?

“I domnt wamma muv…” I reached out and searched the bed for my blanket. As soon as I could grab it, Mom pulled it away.

I shot a sleepy glare at her and rolled my eyes. I pulled myself off the bed and slumped backwards. I didn’t understand this action. Is she off the bed or not? To make it clear, something such as . . . and then slumped backwards, back onto the bed.

“This comfy bed… Can’t leave…” I pushed a hand under the pile of pillows I had abandoned while I was asleep and moaned.

“Eve, this isn’t easy for us either.”

My eyes opened involuntarily and with such suddenness that I felt dizzy. I looked at Mom’s who had a solemn expression look on her face. All that about opening her eyes is a bit of overwriting for me—excess detail that doesn’t move story or characterization forward. Just have her open her eyes. Actually, you don't have to have her open her eyes, just saying that she looked at her mom takes care of that.

“I’ll get ready and then we’ll talk okay?” I pulled myself off the bed for a second time. Rubbing my eyes, I walked to the dresser and stared at myself in the mirror. The first time I read this I thought to myself that she hadn’t gotten out of bed—that was due to the lack of clarity in the earlier paragraph.

“Okay.” Mom walked out, closing the door behind her. I continued to stare at myself through in the mirror. No need to repeat the reference to the mirror, we already know she's staring at it.

“Well, Eve… This is gonna be fun…” I yawned and dragged my groggy feet towards the (snip)

Continued:

. . . bathroom.

“I got the freaking internship… with amazing bonuses…” I waved my almost lifeless arms in the air as I said the word “amazing”. I put some toothpaste on my brush and brought it to my mouth.

“Bbyshitta tshree yar olds gonbe fun. Shoomush… foon…”

I was a zombie weirdo in the mornings until I splashed cold water on my face. And I did just that, shuddering as I did.

I walked into the wardrobe, thinking to myself. Am I being too stingy? I was going to be away for a month or two; I should be more generous with my packing. But I was generous! Three huge suitcases were placed by the door. The only things in my dresser were all the black dresses and two gowns Mom bought for me. I stuffed them in a corner of the top cupboard yesterday, so that she wouldn’t know I didn’t bring them along.

If I was going to do this, I will be doing it my way. Woohoo!

I scanned the room, my shoulders slumped. The four blue walls, the white curtains, my comfy bed and my spongy pillows; they still looked welcoming. Nothing much, I thought, since I owned so little compared to most girls I’ve met. But I was still going to miss them. Closing the door behind me, I wiped an imaginary tear from my eyes. Goodbye room. I’ll miss you.

I grabbed a suitcase and pushed it down the staircase, a smug look on my face as the sound of it landing grabbed Mom and Dad’s attention.

“Eve!” Mom looked at me with a horrified look on her face while Dad picked up the suitcase and sighed.

“Why do you hate boys so much?” The seriousness in his voice startled both me and Mom. “I or your brothers haven’t done anything to hurt you.”

Mom sighed and looked at me, and something told me this was a topic frequently discussed between them.

“I dunno, I just don’t.” I shrugged, picking up the suitcase with ‘FRAGILE’ written on it and holding it out for Dad which he grabbed. I took the other suitcase and slid it down the stairs. Dad grabbed it before it landed properly and hoisted it up while I reached downstairs.

“Ready? Is everything set?” Dad patted his jean pockets while I watched Mom put on her designer cross body bag.

“Don’t look at me, Eve. You rejected your gift and gave it to some school kid on your own.”

“I wasn’t adoring your bag Mom. I’m glad I rejected such an expensive, but downright useless thing.” I pointed at my Nike backpack for emphasis.

“It was a gift, for God’s sake!” Mom turned away from us but there was a slight hint of red on her cheeks.

Dad ruffled my hair and chuckled. “She’ll inherit your passion for fashion someday, Hon.”

“God forbid.”

Mom ‘hmphed’, crossing her arms acros her chest and Dad laughed.

“We’ll miss you Eve.”

“I know I will.”

Edinburgh was only an hour’s drive from where we lived. And thankfully, Mom and Dad gave me time to ponder about the world and its existence while I stared outside the window.

Just kidding.

The three of us put on some exotic music and made up senseless lyrics while we sang. At one point, Dad sang something along the lines of ‘Ian and Eve are made for each other’. I decided to ignore it since fighting back would make them think of more absurd ideas.

“Dad, do you really feel that bad about me not being social with guys?”

I felt the car slowing down but an hour was not over yet.

“Not really. Eve, you’re nineteen, and I’d like to see you at least be friends with some guys. You downright reject and shame guys. I feel them, as a man, you know.”


I shrugged. “Sorry Dad.” At least, I apologized. Frankly, I didn’t bother to know why I was so antisocial around boys.

“Don’t think about it. Maybe the time hasn’t come yet.”

Mom giggled.

“Dreeeeeeeeeaam ooooonnnnn!” I sang. Dad laughed before turning up the volume and speeding up.

Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ was on the radio. I put my hands on my ears. Houston sounded so desperate, it was sickening me.

The sound of the car screeching to a halt rang in my ears as I opened my eyes. As soon as I did, my jaw dropped.

“Is this Birmingham Palace?” I stuck my face to the window glass, hoping to see more.

“Ha-ha, no, it’s the Bryans’ Mansion.”

No way. “Only three people live here?!”

“And a butler and a maid.”

“Next joke please, Dad.”

“He’s not joking.”

I gave Mom a horrified look.

“Don’t worry, love. You won’t get lost. You’ll stay with Mia, in a room close to the entrance.”

Whew.

“There you are, Arthur! Welcome!”

I turned towards the sound and saw a smiling, middle aged man opening the gates and walking towards our car. He was followed by a boy that looked my age and a small girl who clutched a teddy bear in her arms.

Dad got out of the car and the men greeted each other in a warm embrace. Mom got out and walked over to them as well, so I got out too.

“Rina! How nice to meet you!” the man said as he hugged Mom.

“And this is Eve, I presume! You look just like your mother!” He reached out to hug me as well, when I instinctively took a step backwards, putting my hands in front of me. From the corner of my eye, I saw that boy and girl gasp a little and when I looked at Mom and Dad, they were shaking their heads.

“I mean, uh,” I straightened my posture and held out a hand, “Yes, I’m Eve, and thank you, nice to meet you,” He looked slightly baffled but shook my hand anyway.

“Sorry about that, Eddy” Dad whispered to the man, but I heard it faintly. “Eve, this is Mr. Edward Bryan, CEO of BryCO Group of Companies.”

I smiled a bit and nodded my head in acknowledgment. “It’s an honour to be an intern here, Mr. Bryan.”

“Please, call me Eddy.” He smiled, which looked creepy to me.

Sweeping a bead of sweat off his forehead, he said. “Hot weather isn’t it? Jimmy!” A man in his forties rushed out the front door towards Mr. Bryan. “Get Eve’s luggage to her room! And tell Maya to prepare tea for the guests!” Then, he motioned to us. “Let’s go inside.”

As we all followed Mr. Bryan inside the building, I wondered if my time on Earth was coming to an end because something told me it was.

I felt a tug at the edge of my sweater.

It was the kid who was clutching a teddy bear in her hands. “I’m Mia. Nice to meet you.”

Ohh God of the Seven Heavens! She sounded just like little Anna from Frozen.

“Aww, I’m Eve. Nice to meet you too.” I crouched down to her level. “Are you, um, the one I’m going to babysit?”

She giggled, sending a wave of happiness inside me. Her eyes were closed as she grinned. “Mm!”

Kids were so adorable.

“You’re so pretty, Eva!” she reached out to touch my hair and giggled.

“Oh, you’re so cute Mia!” I caught her in a hug, despite my thoughts disagreeing with my statement. Cute she was, right now. Cute she won’t be, later. Kids had little devils inside them. I could already see myself chasing her around the house with a spoon, begging her to take a bite. Or with a diaper, begging her to put them on before she pooped or peed all over the house, which I’d have to clean. I don’t mind cleaning, but I hated begging. What if-

“Are you both going to stand there or are you both coming in? We need to lock the door.”

I shot an instinctive glare at the boy called Ian. He interrupted my thoughts. And he didn’t look pleased either.

“Ian!” Mia slid out of my embrace and ran towards the boy.

I rose to my feet and strode towards them.

“Ian, Eva’s gonna be the prettiest nanny I’ve ever had!” Mia jumped, her loud giggle threatening to burst my eardrums.

“Haa-haa Mia,” I blurted.

Ian shot me a glare to which I responded similarly.

What the hell was wrong with this kid?

“Ian, bring Eva in already! You have all summer to talk and bond with each other!”

I gagged. Ian had a disgusted look on his face. But the people inside were laughing heartily.

“Coming, Daddy!” I watched Mia run inside and I was going to go inside when Ian spoke.

“You’re weird and I don’t like you.”

Ha-ha! What a funny dude!

“Nobody asked for your opinion, Bryan!” I chuckled again as I walked past him into the house.

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24. Flog a BookBubber 18

Apologies for not posting last Friday--my daughter and my two grandchildren came for a visit and I was happily wrapped up in family. I'm not sorry, just apologetic. Now, on to the flog!


Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, It seemed to me that it could be educational to take a hard look at their first pages. If you don’t know about BookBub, it’s a pretty nifty way to try to build interest in your work. The website is here.

I’m mostly sampling books that are offered for free—BookBub says  that readers are 10x more likely to click on a book that’s offered for free than a discounted book. Following is the first page and a poll. Then my comments follow, along with the book cover, the author’s name, and a link so you can take a look for yourself if you wish. At Amazon you can click on the Read More feature to get more of the chapter if you’re interested. There’s a second poll concerning the need for an editor.

Should this author have hired an editor? Here’s the prologue for a novel by Tod Borg.

The big rotary snowblower was parked in the dark at the side of the road where the shoulder had been cleared of snow. The unusual snow removal machine was one of the huge ones, built on a double-engine chassis, designed for clearing highways.

The drive engine was idling quietly despite its size. The much larger blower engine was off. Because that engine made so much noise, the operator would fire it up at the last moment.

Three kills. Maybe four or five.

That’s all it would take to get rich.

Three people who were in the way. People who deserved to die.

The money involved was the kind no one could ignore.

Not even a priest.

 Not even a saint.

There was some footwork involved, some financial maneuvering, a disguise, a little bit of persuasion. If the killings weren’t all done in the same way, there would be no consistent M.O. to track. If a victim or two couldn’t even be found, better still.

The rotary driver knew from research that most murderers aren’t that careful, yet many are never caught. Which made a careful killer almost impossible to find.

It had taken a week to prepare for the first kill.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

Tahoe Blue FIreI’m delighted to see a prologue that works. It works because it immerses me into the midst of something happening, a real scene, and it also takes me into the mind of a character. And this character plans to do murder. Coupled with clean, strong writing and voice, how can you resist wanting to know what happens next? I’m downloading this for my Kindle—and it’s free. One little thing—unless using the character’s name would spoil the mystery ahead, I would go ahead and name him. Even killers need to have some aspect of humanity, and names help give that. You can turn the page for more here.

Should this writer have hired an editor?

Your thoughts?

Ray

© 2016 Ray Rhamey

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25. Flogometer for Deborah—are you compelled to turn the page?

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.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore 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.


Deborah sends the prologue of Vision. The rest follows the break.

Jackhammer heavy rain was pounding the concrete moat surrounding our normally safe Brooklyn brownstone when Lara shook me out of a deep sleep.

”Jack, did you hear that? Is Shelby sleepwalking again?” As I stumbled out of bed and hurried down the hall in her wake, I tried to remember if I’d locked the gate we’d put at the top of the stairs when we first found Shelby sleepwalking.

We tiptoed into our daughter’s room and saw her in her bed, her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face.

“Must’ve been the storm,” I said through a yawn.

I took my wife’s hand and started back to our room when a floorboard creaked downstairs. Panic tore through me as I realized an intruder was in the house.

We scrambled back into Shelby’s room to hide. As I scooped my daughter up her eyes opened wide with fear. I covered her mouth and Lara held a finger to her lips. When Shelby nodded understanding I pulled my hand back and placed her on the floor behind her canopy bed where we were huddled.

“Stay here, I’m getting my gun,” I whispered. My Glock 17 sidearm was locked in the biometric safe in the master bedroom-like always when I was off the clock.

“Jack, don’t,” Lara said grabbing my sleeve. “What if they hear you? Let them take what (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

This must be my lucky week—here’s another prologue that worked for me. Good action, strong story question, likable characters, all work. However, there are things that could make it stronger. In particular, it would have been much stronger if a paragraph or two from the next page could have been included—and it could have. I’ll show you an alternate created with judicious editing below, after my notes.

Jackhammer heavy rain was pounding the concrete moat surrounding our normally safe Brooklyn brownstone when Lara shook me out of a deep sleep. “Jackhammer” does a fine job of describing heavy, intense, loud rain, no need for “heavy.”

”Jack, did you hear that? Is Shelby sleepwalking again?” As I stumbled out of bed and hurried down the hall in her wake, I tried to remember if I’d locked the gate we’d put at the top of the stairs when we first found Shelby sleepwalking.

We tiptoed into our daughter’s room and saw her in her bed, her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face. “Saw her” is a filter that distances the reader. Give the direct experience. Eg. We tiptoed into our daughter’s room. She slept in her bed, her long lashes etc.

“Must’ve been the storm,” I said through a yawn.

I took my wife’s hand and started back to our room when a floorboard creaked downstairs. Panic tore through me as I realized an intruder was in the house. Credibility issue here. I don’t believe you could hear a creak through “jackhammer” rain. In addition, why have the heavy rain at all? As it turns out, the rain doesn’t impact the story in any way, so it’s a waste of words, IMO. And it’s not credible. Also, I don’t know that panic tearing through him is needed, especially when it turns out that he’s a cop. Just having the reader learn that there’s an intruder will give them the fright emotion needed.

We scrambled back into Shelby’s room to hide. As I scooped my daughter up her eyes opened wide with fear. I covered her mouth and Lara held a finger to her lips. When Shelby nodded, understanding I pulled my hand back and placed her on the floor behind her canopy bed where we were huddled. Why would they go there with the intention of hiding in that particular room. It turns out there are better options. Have them go back to get the child, yes, but hide there? Why? The attic, it turns out, is very close. The highlighted "her" could be read as Shelby's lips, not the mother's--a clarity issue that should be fixed. And there’s a staging problem. You need to show them going behind the bed, not tell us after the fact. For example. When Shelby nodded understanding, we huddled behind her canopy bed and I placed her on the floor.

“Stay here, I’m getting my gun,” I whispered. My Glock 17 sidearm was locked in the biometric safe in the master bedroom-like always when I was off the clock. A bit of an info dump not needed here. Getting the gun is important, the rest is not.

“Jack, don’t,” Lara said grabbing my sleeve. “What if they hear you? Let them take what (snip) I’m against participle (“ing”) construction when simple past tense is stronger, eg. Lara whispered, “Jack, don’t.” She grabbed my sleeve. “What if they hear you . . .etc.

Here’s a reconstructed first page that includes the paragraphs from the next page that I’d like to see here. A poll follows:

Lara shook me out of a deep sleep. ”Jack, did you hear that? Is Shelby sleepwalking again?” As I stumbled out of bed and hurried down the hall in her wake, I tried to remember if I’d locked the gate we’d put at the top of the stairs when we first found Shelby sleepwalking.

We tiptoed into our daughter’s room. She slept in her bed, her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face.

I took my wife’s hand and started back to our room when a floorboard creaked downstairs. An intruder was in the house.

We scrambled back into Shelby’s room. As I scooped my daughter up, her eyes opened wide with fear. I covered her mouth and Lara signaled silence with a finger to her lips. When Shelby nodded, I placed her on the floor behind her canopy bed.

I told Lara, “Stay here, I’m getting my gun,”

Lara whispered, “Jack, don’t.” She grabbed my sleeve. “What if they hear you? Let them take what they want and leave.”

Shelby said, “Daddy please stay here. Don’t you remember what happened when I was your mommy and you were my little boy?”

“When do you mean?” Her timing sucked, but when my gifted daughter remembered something from a past life I needed to hear it before she forgot.

Is this a stronger opening?

Your thoughts? See where this story goes after the fold.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. 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 Deborah

Continued:

. . . they want and leave.”

Why the hell didn’t I grab my gun before I ran in here? Someone who’d break into an occupied house in the middle of the night would have no problem killing. I should’ve gone for it as soon as I realized someone was in the house.

“Daddy please stay here. Don’t you remember what happened when I was your mommy and you were my little boy?” my daughter asked.

“Shelby, not now,” Lara hissed, too scared to hide her irritation. She released my shirt and leaned back against the bed, dropping her face into her hands. A blink of lightning followed by a deafening clap of thunder made us flinch. Lara shivered in her gauzy nightgown.

“When do you mean?” Her timing sucked, but when my gifted daughter remembered something from a past life I needed to hear it before she forgot.

“It was in that big hurricane. A lady crashed into a tree along the river and her car was flooding fast. You were so brave, but while you were helping a big branch fell on your head and you got swept down the river. When we found you, you weren’t moving. Your face was all blue and your head was bleeding. They hadn’t invented CPR yet Daddy. You died.”

“This is totally different Shelby. The person downstairs is gonna hurt us if I don’t do something.”

“It’s not different. You’re a courageous soul Daddy, but you always die young. Please don’t go, I want you to live a long life this time,” A chill snaked its way up my spine.

“Shelby, what’re you talking about? Daddy fights bad guys every day and he’s never gotten hurt,” Lara said massaging her temples. As usual, she chose to ignore that Shelby wasn’t talking about who I was now, but who I was in former life.

“Okay, that’s enough. Here’s what we’re gonna do. Go through the closet into the attic. Close the door and don’t make a sound. I’m getting the gun,” I said.

“No Jack, you come too.” Lara said clutching my bicep.

“You know I can’t do that. Whoever’s downstairs expects someone to be here—both cars are out front. He’ll keep looking until he finds us. Plus, if this is work-related he’ll expect to see me. You two get to safety. Don’t make a sound and don’t open the door no matter what you hear. I’ll get the gun and we’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing.”

The first step on the staircase squeaked. Lara’s terror-filled eyes met mine and I pointed to the closet. As I squeezed them together in a quick hug that I hoped wasn’t a final goodbye, I could feel Shelby’s small body trembling.

As they made it through the closet and closed the attic door I heard the first step give again. So, there were at least two. Dammit. There was no way I’d make it to my gun.

I scanned the room looking for another weapon. There wasn’t much to choose from. Shelby wasn’t exactly an athlete, no baseball bats or lacrosse sticks here. The best I could find was a baton. I grabbed Shelby’s bedazzled phone from her desk and texted my partner Sam to send help. With no other option, I snatched up the parade baton, streamers and all seconds before the intruder came into the room with his gun drawn.

I came from behind the door and smashed him on the side of his fleshy shaved head. He howled, grabbing his temples with his meaty hands and dropping his pistol onto the shaggy fuchsia carpet. I lunged for it. Baldy grunted, and dove for it too with all the grace of an elephant tipping over.

We collided, rolling across the floor, and crashed against the dresser. Toys and awards rained down. He avoided the downpour, landing a punch to my chin that made my vision blur and I fell backwards unfortunately just missing a pillow and landing on top of a Rubix’s Cube. As I rolled off the sharp toy digging into my back a glint of metal under the bed caught my eye. It was the gun. I reached for it but Baldy grabbed my ankles and pulled me back just as my fingertips grazed the cool metal.

I picked up a trophy from the debris on the floor as I slid away from the gun and hit him hard on his ear. Blood trickled down his flabby jawline. He punched me in the gut and bounced across the bed and onto the floor where he snagged the gun. I sprang up and came at him low, my head impacting his gut.

We struggled for control and fell, rolling around until I found myself straddled on top of his hulking form, the commandeered gun in my hands. I took aim at my adversary who was bucking like a bronco, and fired, hitting him right between the eyes.

The loud crack behind me a second later sounded too close for thunder. I was confused, until I coughed and saw blood spurting from my mouth. As I tumbled forward and rolled off my victim onto my back, I looked up at the second assailant, his unmasked face familiar. His blond hair was greasy and his jeans were filthy. He smiled and kicked me. As I groaned in pain, staring into his eyes, crazed with passion, I knew I wasn’t going to see tomorrow.

“I know I’ll find you again someday,” I thought of my family, and as my assassin pulled the trigger again, it went dark.

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