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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 CJ—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


CJ sends a first chapter of The Timepiece of Citarra. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

Leo dangled upside down in the gnarly old oak, waiting for the blood to rush to his head. He was that bored. What he really wanted to do was go home and play on his computer, but his Mom had put the kibosh on that. Swaying back and forth, he pressed a pair of binoculars to his face. The image switched from the green grass of the university campus, to the red bricks of the museum. Green grass, red brick, green grass, red brick, green grass, bright flash!

Whoa. Fizzing and popping like a sparkler on the fourth of July, a thin streak of light tore through the sky. Leo adjusted the binoculars. A meteor! And it was headed straight for the museum. He started a mental count down.

Ten…Should he tell Ellie? Nah, she was probably still mad.

Nine…Sure, his fake tarantula had her hollering and swatting like she was on fire.

Eight…But it wasn’t his fault she lacked a sense of humor.

Seven…He said he was sorry, even offered to go inside the museum, like Ellie wanted.

Six…And he hated museums! They were full of old junk and pictures of dead people.

Five…Ellie had jammed her headphones back on, but she’d freak when the meteor hit.

Four…It wasn’t very big, but it was coming in crazy fast. Too bad Mom would miss it.

Three…She was always dragging them outside to look at the night sky.

Two…Wait! Mom was inside the museum! One

Were you compelled to turn the page?

The last line and the fun voice were almost enough for me, but the picky writer side of me decided to not go on for a couple of reasons. The first is that my interested started to flag as Leo plowed through his “countdown,” which is clearly a sorta nice way to introduce some backstory and character, but it doesn’t really advance the story. The second reason was a clarity issue.

I did enjoy the writing and the character, and think there’s a good story ahead. One caution for CJ: I think you should have showed him falling from the tree, not just leaped ahead as you did. Notes:

Leo dangled upside down in the gnarly old oak, waiting for the blood to rush to his head. He was that bored. What he really wanted to do was go home and play on his computer, but his Mom had put the kibosh on that. Swaying back and forth, he pressed a pair of binoculars to his face. The image switched from the green grass of the university campus, to the red bricks of the museum. Green grass, red brick, green grass, red brick, green grass, bright flash! Clarity issue: pressing binoculars to his face. That doesn’t work for me. If he put them to/lifted them to/etc. his eyes, that would be fine. You need to be aware of exactly what your words are transmitting to the reader. One other thought: while I like the word “kibosh” and recognize it, I suspect it’s not a word in a contemporary grade-school vocabulary.

Whoa. Fizzing and popping like a sparkler on the fourth of July, a thin streak of light tore through the sky. Leo adjusted the binoculars. A meteor! And it was headed straight for the museum. He started a mental count down. up to the mental countdown, this was just fine. Suggest “focused” rather than “adjusted” as a quicker and more focused description of action, pun intended.

Ten…Should he tell Ellie? Nah, she was probably still mad. I didn’t care about this.

Nine…Sure, his fake tarantula had her hollering and swatting like she was on fire. I want the now of the story, not the then.

Eight…But it wasn’t his fault she lacked a sense of humor. And then this affects the story how?

Seven…He said he was sorry, even offered to go inside the museum, like Ellie wanted. Same note.

Six…And he hated museums! They were full of old junk and pictures of dead people. Ahem. Story?

Five…Ellie had jammed her headphones back on, but she’d freak when the meteor hit. Good, we’re back to the meteor.

Four…It wasn’t very big, but it was coming in crazy fast. Too bad Mom would miss it. Good, good . . .

Three…She was always dragging them outside to look at the night sky. Argh! Back to then, not now.

Two…Wait! Mom was inside the museum! Onewish we had gotten to this sooner

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 CJ

 

Continued:

Leo!” Ellie pressed back against the tree, clutching her sketchpad.

Leo had landed in a heap, mere inches from his big sister. Rolling onto his knees, he bobbled the binoculars into place. There had been no explosion. No kaboom. No pow. Not even a wimpy poof.

Starting with the roof, he scanned the museum for signs of the meteor. The binoculars were one of several gizmos attached to Leo’s multifunction micro companion pocket tool, or MMC for short. The sleek device had once belonged to his granddad. He used to let Leo flip through and tinker with each of the gadgets, and on one occasion, Leo had even made the MMC hum. But that was a long time ago, when his granddad was still alive.

Leo was about to give up his search for the meteor, when he noticed one of the museum’s upstairs windows didn’t look quite right. He fiddled with the focus and the blurry image sharpened. Whoa. Glittery waves rippled across the glassy surface. He tightened his grip on the binoculars. The meteor must have liquefied the window. Leo was on his feet and moving before he realized it.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Ellie hollered at his retreating back.

“To check out the meteor!” Not taking his eyes off the window, Leo tore across the turf, kicking up bits of grass.

Ellie yanked off her headphones. “Did you say meteor?”

Leo had no time for explanations. His MMC was humming.

Add a Comment
2. Flogometer for Max—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Max sends a first chapter of The View from an Airship. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

Once again Commander Deltz, with all his expertise, called on me for help. And once again Ilsa and I stood outside the lamp-flanked door of the Vort Svatten constabulary, waiting for him to appear. This time, however, it was different. This time it was raining. Heavily.

And I don’t say heavily lightly. The downpour soaked our clothes, plastered our hair to our skulls, and made a wonderful racket as droplets fell in a thick barrage, slamming and splashing against the cobblestones and tiled roofs.

“You know,” I said, turning to Ilsa, “I like the rain. I find it refreshing.” It does have a way of cleansing the air of soot, smog and questionable smells, and a city like Vort Svatten knows those three all too well.

She gave me a thoroughly unimpressed look, before returning her eyes to the door. “Good for you.”

I returned my own gaze to the door, peering into the warm, amber-lit window. I wasn’t lying when I said I liked rain, but inside looked so inviting just then. Apparently the entirety of Vort Svatten thought so too, if the deserted street around us was anything to go by.

“You know it’s only me who’s not allowed on State premises,” I said. “If you want you can wait insi—”

Were you compelled to turn the page?

I’ve read writing pundits say to never open with weather. In this case, I agree, and especially if the narrative goes on to discuss the nature of weather that does not cause any jeopardy for the characters. As it is, the fact that it’s raining has no impact whatsoever on what happens next. So why is it here, on the first page?

It’s part of nicely written setup designed to introduce the world and the characters. Unfortunately, it is not designed to tell/show a story in progress. I do like  the writing and the steampunk setting, and there are hints of a good detective-like story in the chapter that follows.

Why not start with story? You can always introduce more on the characters and the world after you’ve hooked the reader with story. So, rather than critique the writing, which is just fine, I dug later in the chapter, did a little editing, and came up with an alternative opening. See if you think this is a stronger opening page, and then vote.

Commander Deltz escorted me and Ilsa into the morgue, a grey, low-ceilinged room, walls lined with iron drawers for bodies and lit only by weak gas lamps in each corner. Not all of the morgue’s dead were confined to those drawers. On a table in the middle lay a rather tall, rather dead, rather naked specimen.

Deltz nodded at the body and took a position in a corner. “Name’s Hans Geir.”

I went over to the well named Mr. Geir’s side. Even in the relaxed and rather gruesome state of death his face looked unkind. So many sharp edges. Tattooed serpents wrapped their way up his arms, and his nose sat crooked, as though broken and never put back in place. Overall, a fine gent.

“What else can you tell us about him?” asked Ilsa.

“A surgeon by trade,” said Deltz. “Worked in the hospital. Unmarried, with no direct family to speak of. Nothing particularly interesting about him.”

“So why did you call me—” I halted mid-sentence.

Strange how the body can notice something before the mind does. The hairs on my neck had stood on end, and only in reaction to that did I notice I felt colder than I had at the doorway, colder even than I had outside in the rain. The dead man radiated a sharp chill, most certainly Occult.

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Max

Continued:

“Nah.”

“Alright, you be like that. You get the pleasure of enjoying this … lovely weather, with me.”

Shrugging, she replied, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

She smiled at me, her round face dripping. A memorable face is what she had, with her pale, freckled cheeks, scarred lip, and slightly crooked smile. But what made people look twice at her were her eyes, each one individually, for they seemed to have had something of a disagreement as to which colour would suit her best. One opted for an icy blue, while the other stood adamantly behind its decision to be an earthy brown.

Ilsa Essen was indeed quite the abnormality. I suppose that’s why I liked her. That and her appreciation for sarcasm.

“Suit yourself.” My attention was wrenched away from her by a rat scurrying nearby. That’s another thing Vort Svatten (and all Volto cities, for that matter, but especially so this one) have in spades: rats, which … well, which people like to hit with spades.

Something else to briefly hold my attention was the great steel-skeletoned tower reaching into the sky behind the constabulary. The mooring tower of the city’s sentry ships. As I watched, one airship detached itself from the tower and, with a rumbling of engines and propellers that was audible even over the rain, drifted away from its dock and over the city. Behind it trailed thick, black smoke, something else to be washed away.

So Ilsa and I stood there some more, exchanging shallow words amongst the rodent wildlife, until the door opened and a silhouette appeared, wearing the coat, cloak and ridiculous feathered cap of a constable.

Commander Deltz stepped out into the rain, his beige, iron-hard features cast in new light by a nearby streetlamp. “How long have you been waiting?”

I checked my watch, remembered it was broken, and slipped it back into my waistcoat pocket. “Unimportant.”

Chuckling, he looked to Ilsa, almost, but not quite smiling. “There’s a warm waiting room. You should’ve come inside.”

“No, I like the rain.” She shot me a smirking side-on look.

“So, Deltz,” I said. “What’s the story? Another ominous crime scene?” It was occasionally something like that. A dead body completely similar to any other, except for a dodgy feeling and a blood-painted symbol on the floor.

“No,” he said, to which I raised an eyebrow. Maybe it would be one of those exciting times I got to execute the culprit for them. “A body.” He went back to the doorway. “Come on.”

That oh-so-risen eyebrow sunk like a dead weight. I came from halfway across Voltun to look at yet another body. The only difference, I supposed, was that this time it wasn’t still marinating in its juices. Which was even more of a shame. When I had an entire crime scene to make my stage it was so much easier to act the expert.

“Umm…” I looked from Deltz to Ilsa to the deserted street around us, finally settling back on the constable. “You do remember how I’m restricted from State premises, right? Does the Stove Act ring a bell?”

“It does, but I’m not about to lug a dead body out of the morgue, am I?” he said. “I can stand to break a stupid law if it means getting answers.”

That’s why I liked Commander Deltz.

“Well then.” I tapped my cane twice against the ground. “Let’s not keep our deceased friend waiting.”

I’ll be honest, though they’d passed the Stove Act that prohibited it sixteen years ago, before I could shave, it wasn’t the first time I’d stepped foot in a Volto constabulary. Sadly, I had an attitude toward the law almost identical to Deltz’s. Almost. He’d only break the stupid laws to get answers.

However, the morgue was indeed unmapped territory, and as it turns out, it wasn’t worth mapping in the first place. A sterile, grey, low-ceilinged room, walls lined with iron drawers for bodies and lit only by a weak gas lamp in each corner. You could say the room was as lifeless as its occupants, but much less interesting.

Not all of the morgue’s dead were confined to those drawers. On a human-sized table in the middle lay a rather tall, rather dead, rather naked specimen.

“Would that be our friend?” I asked.

Deltz nodded and took position in a corner. “Name’s Hans Geir.”

“Good name,” Ilsa added casually, pacing around the room.

I went over to the well named Mr. Geir’s side. Even in the relaxed and rather gruesome state of death his face looked unkind. So many sharp edges. Tattooed serpents wrapped their way up his arms, and his nose sat crooked, as though broken and never put back in place. Overall, a fine gent.

“What else can you tell us about him?” asked Ilsa.

“A surgeon by trade,” said Deltz. “Worked in the hospital. Unmarried, with no direct family to speak of. Nothing particularly interesting about him.”

“So why did you call—” I halted mid-sentence.

Strange how the body can notice something before the mind does. The hairs on my neck had stood on end, and only in reaction to that did I notice I felt colder than I did at the doorway, colder even than I did outside in the pouring rain. The dead man radiated a sharp chill.

“Well, first thing’s first.” I rested my cane against the table and slicked my soaking hair back. “You were right to call me here, Commander. This is most certainly Occult.”

“You’ve noticed the cold?” His words seemed almost distant coming from that safe corner of his.

“Yeah.” Ilsa, who now stood on Mr. Geir’s other side, shot me a knowing look. “Bloody nippy.”

“An unnatural coldness is a common indicator of the Occult,” I explained to Deltz as I ran my hand along my old tool belt, searching for the right holster. “It will linger in an area where the eldritch arts have been practiced, for a few days or so, depending on the potency of the magic.”

“And?” he said as I produced a thermometer. “Something seems to be troubling you about this.”

“The cold lingers where magic’s been done,” stressed Ilsa. While she spoke, I stuck the end of the thermometer in the dead man’s mouth and we both watched the mercury shrink all the way into negative. “But we ain’t never seen it come from a body. How’d he die?”

“Good question.”

I froze midway through wiping off the thermometer. “You mean you don’t know?”

“How about I fill you in fully?”

“Please do,” I said, slipping the thermometer back into its holster, gaze fixed on Mr. Geir’s corpse.

“Nine days ago we were contacted by some of Mr. Geir’s concerned neighbours and brought to his home. We found him on his pantry floor, dead. No strange symbols or foul smells. Nothing out of the ordinary at all, except the cold.”

Nine days – my lips formed the words. Nine days and still colder than a cold thing.

Deltz continued, “So after due process we took him back here and the physicians examined him. They were able to estimate that he died only a few hours before we found him, but they could not discern how he died. No blood wounds, no fractured skull, not even a strangle mark.”

“What about poison?” said Ilsa.

“There’s nothing of the sort in his system.”

“Can you tell if he was suffocated?”

“He wasn’t.”

“Heart attack? That’s how my old man kicked the bucket.”

After a pause Deltz spoke. “That … is possible, not that there’s any way of telling. But a heart attack death doesn’t make things cold. This was Occult, I knew that much. So what choice did I have but to bring in the famous Alek Stove?”

I scratched my chin. “You made the right choice. And you’ll be glad to know I already have an idea of how this happened.” Unfortunately, not an idea I was overly fond of, to say the least.

“Go on,” said Deltz.

I took a step back from the body, and felt a little warmer for it. “The chill appears where ritualistic magic’s been done, like the site of a conjuring.”

“Not this time,” said Deltz. “I’ve returned to the scene since we moved Mr. Geir and it was quite tepid.”

“No, not this time.” The hairs on my neck lifted again, but not from the cold. “If there was no sign of ritual at the crime scene, that means either the body was moved, which is possible but based on my experience, unlikely, or the motive for the murder wasn’t ritualistic, which for the sake of making things interesting, I’m going to assume is indeed the case. This was just murder, plain and simple.”

“But what about the cold?” asked Ilsa. “It only appears for magic.”

“That’s what killed him,” I stared at Hans Geir. “Magic… The life was lifted from his body, just like that.”

Not much can scare me. In fact, nothing can. But the thought of an occultist powerful enough to kill with nothing but their own will. That unnerved me, to say the least.

“That doesn’t bare thinking about.” Ilsa stared into space. “Illusions and summonings and whatnot are one thing, but killing!”

“I didn’t think that was possible,” said Deltz.

“Neither did I.” My mouth formed a wry smile. “And I’m supposed to be the expert.”

Ilsa chuckled, but the whiteness of her face spoke all too well.

“Although, there is one last thing.” Deltz prised himself away from the corner and walked over to a tiny, sheet-covered table next to Mr. Geir. Removing the sheet, he revealed a small black locket on a thin chain, also black. He brought it over to me, holding it by the very tip of the chain, at arm's length.

“We found this on him.” He was all too eager to drop it into my palm and be rid of it.

Cold.

The moment it touched my skin I knew what it was, and it only left me with more questions.

“You found it on him?” I turned it over in my hand. On the back, delicately engraved, the initials H. G. “Oh dear.”

Add a Comment
3. Another take on character description

I came across a post titled "11 Secrets to Writing Effective Character Description" by Rachel Scheller, and I liked much of what she had to say. Might be worth your while to check it out. The 11 points she writes about are:

1. Description that relies solely on physical attributes too often turns into what Janet Burroway calls the “all-points bulletin.”

2. The problem with intensifying an image only by adjectives is that adjectives encourage cliché.

3. Strengthen physical descriptions by making details more specific.

4. Select physical details carefully, choosing only those that create the strongest, most revealing impression.

5. A character’s immediate surroundings can provide the backdrop for the sensory and significant details that shape the description of the character himself.

6. In describing a character’s surroundings, you don’t have to limit yourself to a character’s present life.

7. Characters reveal their inner lives—their preoccupations, values, lifestyles, likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations—by the objects that fill their hands, houses, offices, cars, suitcases, grocery carts, and dreams.

8. Description doesn’t have to be direct to be effective.

9. To make characters believable to readers, set them in motion.

10. Verbs are the foot soldiers of action-based description.

11. We don’t always have to use concrete, sensory details to describe our characters, and we aren’t limited to describing actable actions.

For what it's worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
4. Flogometer for Troy—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Troy sends a first chapter of Ascendency. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

“Are you really going to shoot me?” Paul says.

A man wearing a plain black trench coat gazes at a row of Humvees silhouetted against the pre-dawn glow of the rising sun. His flashlight and .45 caliber pistol aim at Paul’s back.

“Only if I have to. Now drop the keys soldier and go back to your tent.”

Paul’s eyes flick toward the nearest Humvee. He can smell the harsh acidic fumes of diesel fuel wafting off it. Almost, he thinks. He digs his right boot into the hard desert sand, kicking up a swirl of dust that shimmers like diamonds as he shuffles his feet to turn around. He looks into the glare of the flashlight. “It’s not enough with you guys spying on the Afghani’s; now you have to do it with your own troops.”

“Wasn’t too hard to figure out you’d try something like this, with the way you reacted to our report.”

“She trusted me!” Paul says.

“She’s probably dead by now. Going after her won’t solve anything.”

“You.” Paul’s nose flares. “You made me do it. You said you’d protect her.”

“Nobody made you do anything Private Weber. Basheera was good informant, but she was also stubborn. We had to use you get her—”

“We’re in love.”

Were you compelled to turn the page?

A good “what happens next” story question was almost enough to get me to turn this page, but too many craft issues suggest that there’s some rough reading ahead. There are grammatical errors, though they are fixable. But the narrative veers into overwriting, and that’s a deterrent for this reader. That said, tighten up the writing and lift it to a correct, professional level to realize your story—it could be a good one. Notes:

“Are you really going to shoot me?” Paul says.

A man wearing a plain black trench coat gazes at a row of Humvees silhouetted against the pre-dawn glow of the rising sun. His flashlight and .45 caliber pistol aim at Paul’s back.

“Only if I have to. Now drop the keys, soldier, and go back to your tent.” Couple of missing commas.

Paul’s eyes flick toward the nearest Humvee. He can smell the harsh acidic fumes of diesel fuel wafting off it. Almost, he thinks. He digs his right boot into the hard desert sand, kicking up a swirl of dust that shimmers like diamonds as he shuffles his feet to turns around. He and looks into the glare of the flashlight. “It’s not enough with you guys spying on the Afghans Afghani’s; now you have to do it with your own troops.” Here’s the overwriting. The smell of the fuel has no affect on the story and doesn’t move it forward, and neither do the detailed description of which boot he digs into the sand or the nature of the dust. Keep the story moving.

“Wasn’t too hard to figure out you’d try something like this, with the way you reacted to our report.”

“She trusted me!” Paul says.

“She’s probably dead by now. Going after her won’t solve anything.”

“You.” Paul’s nose flares. “You made me do it. You said you’d protect her.” For me, the nose flaring was a detail that didn’t quite connect, though I get where it comes from. Give us internal monologue for a dialogue beat, maybe? Or a clenching of his fists, something more easily associated with anger and fighting than nostril activity.

“Nobody made you do anything, Private Weber. Basheera was good informant, but she was also stubborn. We had to use you get her—” Note missing comma.

“We’re in love.”

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Troy

 

Continued:

The trench coated man’s face relaxes.

Paul looks at him with pleading eyes. “Please. Just let me go get her.”

 “You know I can’t do that. I’m sorry, but you broke the first rule of espionage. Never become attached to your assignment.”

Paul’s heart races and he starts to hyperventilate. He stares at the glimmering tip of the gun for a moment and then the corners of his lips twist into a scowl. “To hell with you Victor. You wanna shoot me, you go right ahead.”

Paul snaps back around and marches into the Humvee. He starts the engine and slams on the accelerator, speeding out of the Afghanistan base onto the darkness.

 ###

 A short time later, a man in battledress fatigues throws open the cloth door of a cavernous multi-room tent. At six foot two inches tall and with the physique of a large bear, Hank cast an imposing figure against dark desert behind him. His pale green eyes lock onto a single battery operated lamp that stands on a tan desk lighting up a small section of it. Victor is seated behind it typing on a laptop. Hank’s eyes narrow, the faint light reflects off a salt and pepper mustache that runs down the sides of his lips and dangles off his chin. He stomps over to him and slams his meaty hands on the metal desk.

“Where is he?”

Victor’s eyelids lift up, acknowledging his presence for the first time. “Who?”

“You know damn well who I’m talking about.”

Victor stands up from his desk and closes his laptop. He puts a hand to his chin, strokes some two-day-old stubble, and looks at his fingernails. “He took off after her about twenty minutes ago.”

Hank’s mouth drops open. “And you let him leave, all by himself?”

Victor glares at Hank. “And what was I supposed to do? Go AWOL and tag along.”

“Humph,” Hank snorts. “You intelligence types are all alike. Don’t give a damn about the grunts.” Hank turns to walk out.

“I hope you’re not thinking of going after him?”

“What if I am?”

“You’ve got twenty years in the Marine Corp Sargent. Don’t throw it all away for some kid.”

Hank looks over his shoulder with disgust. “Well I guess loyalty something you’ll never understand.”

“You know, saving him won’t bring your son back.”

Hank’s face turns bright red and he clinches his teeth. He whips around and marches up, nose to nose with Victor. “I told you,” he growls, stabbing a finger into Victor’s chest, “to keep your damn mitts outa my private life.”

“Come now Sargent, it wasn’t that hard to figure out. You haven’t had any contact with your son in years.” Hank presses his lip together and his nose flares. “Then he gets killed by an IED, and all of a sudden you become attached to this kid. Besides it’s too dangerous to go after him by yourself.”

“Oh I won’t be goin’ alone. There’re at least twenty men who’ll be willin’ to go with me. So I suggest you make this search official. Make it one of your black ops operations if you want to keep under the radar.” A sly smile forms on Hanks face. “After all, you wouldn’t want your other informants to get nervous with the way you screwed up the last op.”  

Victor’s shoulders relax. He slinks back down at his desk and opens his laptop. “All right. I’m putting this incident under my authority. Take two men and go after him.”

Hank turns and strides to the doorway. “Sargent,” Victor calls out as he opens the tent door. “If you don’t bring him back alive I won’t be able to protect you.”

“I never expected you would.”

Hank runs straight into one of the light tan tents on the other side of the base. He jogs up to Ben who is lying asleep in his cot and shakes his shoulder.

“Wha…” Ben cracks an eye open as Hank shines a flashlight at him.

“Hurry up and get dressed. Paul’s left for Basheera and we’re goin’ after him.”

“Uh, damn it.” Ben says. He throws off the blanket and puts on his pants. “I told him not to get involved with her.”

“Well love is a funny thing. You never know where it’s goin’ to spring up. Now go grab Dennis and get your gear. Meet me at the motor pool ASAP.”

“Right.”

 ###

 A mile from Basheera’s home, Paul slows his Humvee and stares the dirt road in front of him. Something’s not right. There are fresh tire tracks with thick finger sized groves and oil spots on the powder like dirt. They had to have been made by a truck but her family doesn’t own a truck. His pulse quickens. He turns off the headlights and drops his night vision goggles on his helmet. The scene around him changes into sea of light and dark shapes, all lit up in a brilliant emerald green hue.   

When he sees the dirt road dropping into a ravine, he kills the motor and gets out. He creeps forward on his hands and knees to the drop off and scans the area. A hundred and twenty yards down in the ravine he can see her home with a large pickup truck parked a dozen yards up from it. He moves several yards to the right along the ridgeline. A single light is on in the mud brick house that blasts a florescent green glare through the gaps in wooden doorway. Two men with assault rifles are standing on both sides of the door but Tázi her dog isn’t barking.

A scream grabs his attention and his blood chills. He focuses his hearing on it. He can hear some muffled sounds followed by Basheera’s high-pitched voice.

Paul creeps down the ravine keeping the truck between him and the two men guarding the house. As Paul gets closer, he can hear a man inside speaking in Dari. He’s accusing Basheera of being whore and helping the Americans. She’s sobbing and pleading with him not to shoot.

At fifty yards, Paul slides out from the silhouette of the truck, sitting on his feet.  He drops a knee and takes aim at the two men with his silenced M4 rifle. Two three round bursts cough out from it and the two men drop without a sound to the ground. Paul runs forward and hears a single gunshot a second later. The sound recoils though his body bringing him to a stop. Basheera’s voice wails from inside the house crying for her mother.

Paul shakes his head and runs to the doorway. The man inside tells Basheera that her mother’s death is on her hands. Paul gets to his knees and lifts up his night vision goggles. He takes out a candy bar sized flash bang grenade, pulls the pin, and rolls it under a gap in the door before turning his head and plugging his ears. A second and a half later, Paul hears the muffled blast of the grenade.

He bursts inside the home on his knees and takes in the situation. The smell of burned metal hangs in the air. In the thin haze, he spots the bloodied bodies of her father and three bothers on the ground to the left, her sisters body is lying on a wooden chair against the wall in front of him. Just five feet to his right, he spots a man who has a hand to his eyes and another griping an AK-47.

Paul shoots a three round barrage at the man hitting him twice in the upper chest and once in the throat. The man collapses wheezing for breath. Paul fires a second barrage into his skull and the man’s body goes limp. Paul then takes aim at another man ten yards inside. He’s holding Basheera in front of him with one arm and has a pistol in his other arm pointed at her head.

“I’ll kill her!” he shouts in Dari. His eyes are pressed shut and he’s flicking his head. Paul moves his rifle searching for an open shot but can’t find one. Basheera has her hands flailing in front of her. She lowers them blinking her eyelids and then her eyes widen.

“Paul!”

The man turns his head. He stares at Paul, blinking the tears from his eyes. “So, you are se American,” he says sounding out each syllable in a thick accented English.

“Drop your weapon,” Paul says.

The man laughs. “Drob yours first.” 

Paul’s eyes narrow. “Do it, or so help me I’ll—”

“You’ll what.” The man pulls Basheera in tighter. She starts to tremble and mouths “Love you,” while putting her fingertips to her heart.

“Ah yanni,” the man says. “You know American, we have a saying in sis land. Se winner is one who is most committed.” His rolls his eyes to the right. “I wonder…” His eyes stare back a Paul like poisoned daggers. “How committed are you.” 

He raises the elbow of his arm holding the gun, pressing it into her temple. His forearm flexes and she screams.

Paul’s eyes flash open. “Wait—”

“Allahu Akbar.” He closes his eyes and pulls the trigger.

In Paul’s mind, everything slows down. He sees her body recoil and twist away from the man. Crimson blood streams out from her head like a long silk ribbon. She seems to hang in midair for a second before her arms collapse to her side and her knees give out. He watches her fall to the dirt floor and sees her arms bounce up as she hits the ground with curls of white dust spraying out from her.

Paul’s jaw drops. His turns his head to the man whose eyes are now wide open, his hand with the gun nearly lined up with Paul. The man’s face is passive, almost gentle. Paul pulls the trigger. A three round blast strikes the man in the chest knocking him back, his arms fling forward. Paul stands and fires another burst into the man’s chest. The man stumbles backward and Paul fires another burst that ricochets into his limp body as he falls to the ground.

Paul throws off his helmet and runs to Basheera. He drops to his knees reaching his hands out. He hesitates seeing her lifeless eyes gazing back at him and puddle of dull red blood soaking into the dirt.

“Basheera… please…”

His eyes search her body for any signs of life, a mad hope for a miracle emanating from his face. Tears begin to stream down his cheeks as his fingers curl around the sleeves of her multicolored drape-like clothing and he pulls her close. He holds her tight against him while his entire body shakes. He then bears his teeth. He hears Victor’s voice whispering in his head.

You broke the first rule of espionage Paul. Never become attached to your assignment.

The muscles in his face bugle as he crushes his jaws together. Paul lifts his head to the ceiling.

“Victor!”   

 ###

An hour passes and light creeps over the barren hills. Ben drives the Humvee with Hank and Dennis down a dusty dirt road. They stop to check out an empty Humvee parked at the top of the ledge before continuing toward a mud brick house down in the ravine by a small gurgling creek. Hank and Dennis ready their rifles when they see the Toyota pickup parked near the home. Technical’s the insurgents called them and this one had a PK machine gun mounted on it.

As they get closer, they can see Paul sitting outside the open doorway in the dirt cradling a young woman in his arms. The front of her clothing is torn and she has a single gunshot wound in her right temple. Dry blood is still clinging on her face and her eyes are wide open. Two dead men are on either side of him.

Hank jumps out of the passenger side of the Humvee and rushes over to him. Paul has a mile long stare of shock in his eyes. He’s stroking her long black hair with his fingertips and whispering to her.

Hank touches his shoulder. “You ok son.”

Paul doesn’t react. “It’s my fault sir.” His lips quiver as a fresh tear falls down his cheek. “I told my parents last week I was going to bring her home with me.” Paul grasps white knuckle tight at a silver chain around his neck. He opens his hand and reveals a small blue-jeweled pendant. “W-we were going to get married sir.”

Hank closes his eyes and bows his head.

Ben backs up the Humvee in front of Paul and jumps out with Dennis. Each of them open their doors and take flanking positions with their rifles at the ready.

“We should move inside,” Ben says.

He shoots a quick look into the home and turns his head away. Blood is spattered all over the mud brick walls and the twisted bodies of several Afghans lie inside. A message written in Dari is scrawled in blood on the east wall facing the doorway. It reads ‘american spies’.

Dennis reaches out and nudges one of the limp bodies on the ground with the tip of his rifle. He looks at Hank with guarded eyes.

Hank nods at him and shoulders his rifle. He reaches down to Paul with both hands. “Let me take her son. I won’t let anythin’ happen to her.”

Paul stares at the horizon and wrinkles his forehead. “I hear her screaming.” He looks up at Hank with hollow eyes. “Ssshe won’t stop screaming.”

“I know.” Hank puts his arms under her body and gently lifts her up. “Let’s go home son.”

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

Submissions Welcome. Only one in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Tim sends a first chapter of Justice, a fantasy. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

“We need to talk.” Jobe kept the frustration from his voice as he spoke to the wizard Lysander as they walked past rows of neat cottages.

Instead of speaking, Lysander turned his head, inspecting a pair of old women gossiping across a fence.

Jobe silently cursed to himself. I should have known better. We’ve been together for a month, and he’s barely spoken a dozen words to me. A cold raindrop splattered across Jobe’s face. Great.

The gossiping women noticed Lysander’s stare, and stared back. The wizard increased his pace and began muttering under his breath. No doubt he considered the pair possible informers. The wizard saw spies everywhere, which was why the pair traveled back roads instead of taking coaches or riverboats. Then again, the wizard had reason, being accused of blasphemy and black magic by the Church. Capture and conviction meant death by immolation.

The rain intensified as the sun approached the horizon. Jobe drew level with the wizard. “It grows late. We should find shelter.”

Lysander stopped muttering long enough to face Jobe. Like Jobe, Lysander had grey eyes and brown hair, though he was double Jobe’s age. Others often mistook them for father and son, or uncle and nephew; an impression Lysander did nothing to dispel. Tis’ a role I play. A role well (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

The writing needs to sharpen up a bit and get rid of things such as the repetition of “the pair” in the fourth paragraph to refer to two different sets of people. I can forgive things like that for a strong hit of story tension, but that wasn’t here. Instead of notes, following is an opening I created from material later in the chapter (condensed it and corrected some grammar errors). See if you think this makes a stronger opening and vote.

Jobe pinned the wizard against the shack wall. Lysander’s breath escaped with a ‘woof’ as Jobe’s elbow dug into the mage’s ribs. Jobe pulled a gun from his pocket and pressed the barrel against the mage’s nose. “You recognize this?” Most people on this world wouldn’t, but Jobe figured the wizard for an exception. “You know what it can do?”

“I – I do.” Lysander trembled. His gaze darted from side to side. “What do you want?”

“Answers,” Jobe took a step back, keeping his eyes focused on the mage.

“You may have difficulty obtaining answers from my corpse,” said Lysander. His eyes focused on the weapon in Jobe’s hand.

Jobe adjusted his aim, pointing the gun at the wizard’s shoulder. “Pain will suffice.”

“I have enough pain in my life without adding more.” Lysander’s shoulders slumped. “Ask your question.”

“I flit from world to world like a leaf in a storm, retaining fragmentary memories of each sojourn. You knew this from the moment we met. More, I figure in some secret truth you carry. I want that secret.” Jobe’s lips curled in a humorless smile. “Besides, confession is good for the soul.”

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Tim

 

Continued:

. . . suited to a man without a past. Jobe’s recollections were spotty at best: brief images of faces, taverns, strange cities, and alien landscapes. He remembered nothing of his youth or upbringing.

The wizard surveyed the street. Not far ahead, the close set cottages they’d been walking past became replaced by blank faced warehouses and manufactories. “I’d hoped to reach our destination tonight,” he said, “but I have no desire to navigate that labyrinth in the dark. But I see no inns”-

A desperate plan crystalized in Jobe’s mind. “Allow me.” Jobe approached a woman bent over a weedy garden plot and commenced a swift negotiation sealed by a copper coin.

“This way.” Their hostess guided the pair through an herb garden to a tiny shed behind her trim cottage. Here, she opened the creaking door, exposing a battered table flanked by worn benches. “I want you gone by morning,” she said before stumping to the cottage.

Lysander stood in the doorway and watched her leave, muttering to himself. At length, he turned to Jobe. “I don’t trust her. We”-

Now.Jobe acted, twisting the wizards arm and pinning him against the wall. Lysander’s breath escaped with a ‘woof’ as Jobe’s elbow dug into the mages ribs. The gun appeared in Jobe’s free hand. He pressed the barrel against the mages nose. “You recognize this?” Jobe demanded. Most people on this world wouldn’t, but Jobe figured the wizard for an exception. “You know what it can do?”

“I – I do.” Lysander’s body trembled. His eyes darted from side to side. “What do you want?”

“Answers,” Jobe took a step back, keeping his eyes focused on the mage.

“You may have difficulty obtaining answers from my corpse,” said Lysander. His eyes focused on the weapon in Jobe’s hand.

Jobe adjusted his aim, pointing the gun at the wizards shoulder. “Pain will suffice.”

“I have enough pain in my life without adding more.” Lysander sounded weary and resigned. His shoulders slumped. “Ask your question.”

“I flit from world to world like a leaf in a storm, retaining fragmentary memories of each sojourn. You knew this from the moment we meant. More, I figure in some secret truth you carry. I want that secret.” Jobe’s lips curled in a humorless smile. “Besides, confession is good for the soul.”

“I suspected as much.” A long breath escaped Lysander’s lips. “There is a tale I suppose both of you should hear.”

‘Both of you?’ More evidence of the wizard’s insanity. But still… “Please do. I enjoy new stories.” Jobe’s lips curled in a false smile. He withdrew the gun and motioned to the table.

Lysander sat at the table fumbled in his pockets, finding two candle stubs which he set on the table and ignited with a mystic word. Jobe took the bench opposite the wizard. The wizard sighed. “It was twenty-two years ago…”

 

Add a Comment
6. Mastering the Craft awarded silver eLit medal

Add a Comment
7. Flogometer for Melissa—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Melissa sends a first chapter of Swept by Giants, a middle grade story. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

“Shay, wait up!” Finn walked toward me, kicking up little clouds of infield dust with each step. He was walking real slow. Slower than was necessary. Sure it was hot. Sure we had just played two hours of baseball in the blazing sun with not a drip of water to drink, but this was ridiculous. He was moving slower than a worm on a dry sidewalk.

When he finally made it over to me, I was starting to feel downright woozy. Summertime in Southern Ohio can do that to you.

“Can you sneak out tonight?” he asked. The skin on Finn’s face had blended in with all his freckles to the point where I felt like I was talking to a tomato.

“I guess,” I said.

Finn placed his hand on my shoulder and leaned in close. “It’s got to be late and it’s got to be on the down low, if you know what I mean.”

“Why?” Finn stared back at me with a look I recognized as trouble.  “Aw man, if you’re planning on peeping in on Gwendolyn while she’s getting ready for bed again, you can count me out.  Her German Shepherd almost chomped my leg off the last time we tried that.”

 “ ‘Course that’s not what I’m planning,” said Finn. “What kind of guy do you think I am?”

“The perverted kind.” I laughed and shoved him away from me.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

A delightful voice and lively writing were almost enough to get me to turn the page, but this is just about all setup and not the actual story. If you read on, you’ll find an interesting and possibly dangerous event waiting in the future—unfortunately, not in this chapter. I would look at starting the story much later, when trouble actually develops. You can weave in the setup stuff then. Very promising writing, just get to the story. There were a couple of issues, though, so here are some notes:

“Shay, wait up!” Finn walked toward me, kicking up little clouds of infield dust with each step. He was walking real slow. Slower than was necessary. Sure it was hot. Sure we had just played two hours of baseball in the blazing sun with not a drip of water to drink, but this was ridiculous. He he was moving slower than a worm on a dry sidewalk. If they’ve been playing baseball, there would be a bunch of boys there, not just the two. Where are the rest? If they haven’t been playing with a team, the narrative should be clear.

When he finally made it over to me, I was starting to feel downright woozy. Summertime in Southern Ohio can do that to you.

“Can you sneak out tonight?” he asked. The skin on Finn’s face had blended in with all his freckles to the point where I felt like I was talking to a tomato. This description didn’t work for me. Freckles are generally brown, so if his skin had blended with his freckles, it would be brown, not red. If his skin has turned red and he has lots of freckles, then it might be more like talking to a freckle pizza.

“I guess,” I said.

Finn placed his hand on my shoulder and leaned in close. “It’s got to be late and it’s got to be on the down low, if you know what I mean.”

“Why?” Finn stared back at me with a look I recognized as trouble.  “Aw man, if you’re planning on peeping in on Gwendolyn while she’s getting ready for bed again, you can count me out.  Her German Shepherd almost chomped my leg off the last time we tried that.” While I think this peeping tom behavior is entirely possible for boys of this age, do you really want to include this sexual and possibly criminal stuff? And it’s off-story, anyway.

 “ ‘Course that’s not what I’m planning,” said Finn. “What kind of guy do you think I am?”

“The perverted kind.” I laughed and shoved him away from me.

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Melissa

 

Continued:

“Nah, I want to go check out what’s happening down at the river.”

Our dead-beat little town is famous for one thing and one thing only: it’s the site of the deadliest train crash in Ohio’s history.  A westbound train busted through the guardrails of the Ashtabula Bridge and plunged into the river, killing a whole bunch of people. It happened a long time ago, when I was just a baby, but it’s all anyone’s been talking about since the city council voted to build a memorial. With all the fuss you’d think we were building something special, instead of some dumb statue and a park bench for old ladies to sit on.

“One of my dad’s buddies works on the excavation crew and he said they’ve been finding stuff, valuable stuff, like gold watches and even a wallet with the money still in it. I say we go down there and get in on the action.”

“Isn’t that stealing?” I asked.

“What’s a dead guy going to do with a watch? Make sure he ain’t late for purgatory?” Finn laughed and I laughed too, but something about it still didn’t sound right.

 “Why hasn’t anybody gathered up all that valuable stuff before now?”

“Well, right after the wreck they were more concerned about finding body parts than Rolexes, …” Finn wiped off his sweat mustache and lowered his voice about three notches. “…but then unexplained things started to happen.”

 “What kinds of things?” I was still trying to wrap my head abound what he’d just said about finding body parts. Hadn’t thought about that before, but now I was pretty sure it’d be all I’d think about for the rest of my life.

“Well for starters, people reported hearing screams and cries coming from the river in the middle of the night.”

“Screams and cries?” I croaked. Boy, I wish I had some water.

“Yep. Then dogs went missing straight out of people’s backyards – their empty collars left behind in the grass.”

The sweat on my neck turned ice cold and I felt dizzy. I really needed some water.

Finn leaned in close, his voice not much more than a whisper. “A couple of guys in town didn’t believe all the rumors and decided to going fishing one night.”  Finn paused and leaned back on his heels. “Are you sure you want me to keep going? You look a little peaked.”

I was not sure.  Not sure by a long shot, but for some reason I nodded yes.

“Well, like I said, they decided to go fishing in the river.  Their wives begged them not go, pleaded with them, but they didn’t listen. Next morning the cops found their canoe capsized in the river. When they hauled it to shore and flipped it over, the hull was smeared with blood and there were deep scratches dug into the wooden bench, like one of the guys had been trying to hold on for dear life.” 

I ran my nails across my forearm and the hairs zapped and zinged. “Never found the bodies?”

Finn shook his head real slow and steady. “Nope.”

We sat there quietly for a few seconds, staring straight ahead. The sun was starting to set and the sky was taking on colors that didn’t seem right – hot pink and egg- yolk orange.

Finn elbowed me in the ribs. “You’re such a sucker.” 

 “Wait – you were kidding?” I jumped on top of him and pinned him to the ground. 

“I really had you going.”  Finn smiled up at me.

“Why you lousy, son of a…that’s it, loogie torture.”

“No!” Finn was laughing, but trying hard to break free.

It took a bit longer because my mouth was so dry, but I worked up a nice thick glob of snot and spit. Then I dangled it inches above his face, and swung it back and forth like a pendulum.

Finn shook his head from side to side. “No, please! I give, I give!”

I spit in the dirt and released his arms.

Finn flipped over. “Man, I hate that.”  He stood up and dusted off the back of his pants. “So you coming with me tonight or should I ask Stormy?”

He still wanted to go. I was hoping he’d been kidding about that part too. And now he might ask Stormy?

Everyone called Kevin Houlihan “Stormy” on account of his bad temper that seemed to come out of nowhere. Finn had been doing more and more stuff with Stormy, sometimes without even asking me to come along. If I didn’t go with him tonight Finn might start thinking Stormy was better best-friend material than I was.

“Yeah, I’ll go. What time?” I asked.

“Make it eleven, by the flagpole and bring a flashlight.

Add a Comment
8. Flogometer for Brian—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Brian sends a first chapter of Rise of the Mages. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

The vial slipped from Xan’s grasp.

He jolted alert and reached. Missed. It tumbled toward the floor, hitting and bursting into shards.

 “Blasted, rads-infested moron!”

How could he have been stupid enough to nod off again? He seized a broom and clenched its handle with shaking hands.

Another ridiculous, blasted, idiotic, ridiculous rads-infested broken bottle! Master Rae was going to give him the tongue lashing of a lifetime. Two more weeks’ pay gone to replace it.

Tiny pieces of glass clinked as he swept them into a dustpan.

What if he’d dropped a bottle of lockweed concentrate instead of an empty vial? Losing the shop’s supply would have meant fevers left untreated during the winter. Bad enough to lose pay and to suffer his mentor’s disappointment. But to hurt people?

A journeyman apothecary needed to be precise in his movements. Each pinch of powder should contain the same amount of material, and each chop of a blade should cut the same length. When working with medicine, mistakes killed.

He ran his hands through his curly mop of hair.

If he could just get a respite from the dreams. There had to be a way. Had to, and he (snip)

Were you compelled to turn the page?

While the writing is solid (though a little too much at times for me) this opening does forecast a problem ahead for Xan and something has gone wrong, the stakes seem minimal. Sure, losing pay is not nice, but it’s not life-threatening, is it? And the dreams—if there’s a problem that they cause that is serious, let us know what it is. Getting sleepy on the job is not high stakes. Yes, the narrative attempts to make those stakes high with a little information dumping, but it’s still all theoretical. If he were handing a vial he’d mixed while drowsy to a patient and then realizes he might have done it wrong and the contents could kill, then we have a serious situation.

But here we’re talking about: breaking an empty vial, being sleepy, and a dream that we don’t know anything about. The later chapter seems to insinuate Xan into an alternate universe—but it could still all be a dream.  The front half of the chapter is pretty much all setup. I suggest you look for a later starting point, something where things do go seriously wrong for the character and he has to deal with it. Maybe that inciting incident is in the second chapter, maybe later. Notes:

The vial slipped from Xan’s grasp.

He jolted alert and reached. Missed. It hit tumbled toward the floor and burst, hitting and bursting into shards. Just a suggestion for crisper narrative.

“Blasted, rads-infested moron!”

How could he have been stupid enough to nod off again? He seized a broom and clenched its handle with shaking hands. A bit of overwriting—this close detail doesn’t add enough to make it worth the space.

Another ridiculous, blasted, idiotic, ridiculous rads-infested broken bottle! Master Rae was going to give him the tongue-lashing of a lifetime. Two more weeks’ pay gone to replace it.

Tiny pieces of glass clinked as he swept them into a dustpan.

What if he’d dropped a bottle of lockweed concentrate instead of an empty vial? Losing the shop’s supply would have meant fevers left untreated during the winter. Bad enough to lose pay and to suffer his mentor’s disappointment. But to hurt people?

A journeyman apothecary needed to be precise in his movements. Each pinch of powder should contain the same amount of material, and each chop of a blade should cut the same length. When working with medicine, mistakes killed. Info dump, detail of the “world.” Save it for when he actually does something as an apothecary.

He ran his hands through his curly mop of hair. POV break—in close third person, he would not think of the nature of his hair, he would just run his fingers through it. As such, there’s no need for this line if you ditch the description, it’s just a gesture that doesn’t move story or character forward.

If he could just get a respite from the dreams. There had to be a way. Had to, and he (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Brian

 

Continued

. . . needed to find it. Soon. Or he was going to end up killing someone. Not that he hadn’t tried to find a solution. Not that he had any idea how to proceed. Not that he could even think straight.

Xan glanced at a bag stowed near his feet. There was one way to clear his thoughts.

No. He’d allotted himself two seeds per day and had already had three with the entire afternoon left.

But did he have a choice? He had to find a solution. Today.

Xan pulled a costrel from the bag and worked out the stopper. Such a bad idea. He tilted the leather container toward his open hand. And hesitated.

Neat rows of glass canisters and dried plants stared at him, each a little representation of Master Rae’s teachings and each full of reprimand for what he was about to do. Not to mention that anyone walking by outside could see him through the window. The door could swing open at any moment.

“Get ahold of yourself, man.”

Keeping a close watch on the door and window, he tossed a licuna seed into his mouth. The world brightened, giving him—hopefully—an hour or two of clear thinking.

So how to cure an ailment when you have no idea as to the cause?

Simple. You asked Master Rae—the best apothecary in duchy of Vierna, maybe even in the entire kingdom of Bermau—to help. Which was exactly what Xan should have done after the first night of dreaming. But it was too late. How would that conversation go?

“Hey, Master Rae,” Xan said, “how can I get rid of these dreams I’m having?”

“Dreams?” Xan mimicked, lowering his voice and injecting a phlegmy quality. The result came out sounding absolutely nothing like Master Rae. “How long have you been having them? What are they about? Why do you want to get rid of them? Who—”

Xan put his hands up to escape the torrent. “Just me talking to a girl in a meadow. They’re nothing unusual except that I have them every night. For twenty nights. And I recall them more vividly than any dream I’ve ever had, like they’re more real than anything else in my life. And that they leave me feeling like I’m not sleeping at all.”

“You haven’t gotten any sleep for twenty days!”

“Staying in bed pretty much all the time on the weekends helps,” Xan said in his normal voice, “and I’ve been chewing shaved variegation bark.”

“That would work for a while, but, if you’re really as tired as you say…”

Xan stared at the floor. He couldn’t even face the imaginary specter of his mentor. “I’ve been taking licuna seeds for the last week.”

“Seeds! Are you insane? You’re fired.” Xan paused from speaking in the deep voice. “Tarnation boy! Didn’t I teach you better than to mix medicines while impaired, even simply by the lack of sleep? And you did it while taking a dangerous drug? Forget just being fired, I’m having you arrested.”

Xan wouldn’t be able to bear hearing that condemnation, that disappointment, from the real Master Rae. And what would he do next? After being discharged from an apprenticeship, no other apothecary would take him on, never mind that he’d risen to journeyman so quickly. He’d have wasted five years on a useless pursuit and be facing incarceration. His life would be ruined.

“Why didn’t you ask me for help sooner?” he said as Master Rae, stroking an imaginary beard.

“Because I thought it wasn’t a big deal? Because I thought I could handle it myself? Because I thought you would tease me about wet dreams?”

“No. I don’t think that’s it.”

Xan stared at the floor. “It’s because I’m a complete fool. You see, the girl is pretty—really pretty—and I like being with her. And I was afraid you might end the dreams permanently.”

How could he be such a complete, blasted moron? Was he so desperate for a girlfriend that he’d risk his health and, worse, patients’ lives for an imaginary one?

He rubbed his temples. Unfortunately, yes, he was. And she wasn’t even a real pretend girlfriend—he’d never even kissed her!

Ridiculous!

His hands shook, and he steadied them against his legs. If he could get just one night of pure rest, he’d be okay. There’d be no more mistakes. His mixtures would be perfect again. He just needed to the right potion.

Not that he hadn’t pored over every book in the shop already. How was it that Master Rae’s references held cures for everything from toenail fungus to balding hair but not a single mention of stopping dreams? No help for it but to figure something out himself.

Patients knocked out with Wizard’s Beard never reported dreaming. Lord Oxley’s Bane suppressed mental function. But, if either worked, wouldn’t there be a potion listed in the literature? Perhaps a mixture of the two?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Was he really considering, without any testing, trying a combination of two powerful herbs on himself? What were the chances the mixture wouldn’t make him sick? Not much higher than the chances it would actually help.

But better that than no chance at all. Right?

Xan groaned. Reasoning like that was how a journeyman apothecary ended up spending the next three days expelling the contents of his stomach from both ends.

After an hour researching, mixing and muttering, and tossing out results that didn’t seem quite right, he capped a bottle containing a murky green liquid.

He stumbled through his long walk across Eagleton and halfway up the mountain to the Diwens’ house. In his room, he held the potion in front of him. Its ugly color and floating brown chunks did nothing to inspire confidence.

Xan swirled the liquid and removed the cork. Sniffing, he waved it under his nose. “No noxious fumes.” He brought it to his mouth and closed his eyes. “One. Two. Three.”

He couldn’t do it.

With a sigh, he set the still-full potion on his writing table. “There’s no way this is actually going to work. Best I can hope for is that it does nothing.”

Xan looked at his bed, at the bottle, and at the bed again. Seizing courage with both hands, he grabbed the mixture, threw back his head, and tossed it into his mouth. His face screwed into a grimace as he choked the potion down his throat. It tasted fouler than the tonic Master Rae gave children he suspected of feigning illness.

“It will either stop the dreams, or it won’t. I’ll either get sick, or I won’t.” He flopped onto his straw mattress and fell asleep an instant later

* * *

“The meadow again,” Xan muttered.

He glanced behind him to find impressions in the grass left by his footsteps spanning as far as his vision reached. And he had absolutely no recollection of having made them. Same as always.

All the other details were the same, too—the cloudless sky painted a deep blue that only existed at the instant daylight transformed into night, the unnatural light clarity despite there being no visible source, lush grass, perfect majestic oaks.

Not that he paid much attention to those elements. A hundred yards away, Ashley waited. An unbidden smile split his face.

Stop that. Play it cool.

His attempt to vanquish the grin failed as the corners of his lips tugged upward again on their own. He exhaled sharply. Good thing none of it was real.

If the landscape hadn’t convinced him that the world was imaginary, he’d only have had to look at her. It simply wasn’t possible for someone so beautiful to exist. More so, it wasn’t possible outside of a dream for someone so beautiful to want to spend time with him.

Ashley wore her hair, the golden yellow of freshly harvested wheat, straight down her back as he favored rather than teased and curled like most girls preferred. Ribbons and lace and all manner of beaded embellishments adorned her white dress. The outfit accented her figure and drew his vision to her tiny waist. His eyes drifted to the neckline, which dipped low enough to display a wide expanse of bare skin, including the most delightful—

Wait. What was he staring at?

He jerked his gaze to her eyes.

Why—if his imagination had made her his perfect vision of loveliness in every detail—did he give her emerald eyes instead of his favorite blue?

He raised his hand to wave.

Really? Waving to her? How lame was that?

Xan stopped mid-motion. His arm hung frozen, half-extended for an excruciating moment like that of some ridiculous marionette on display for children to laugh at. He clutched it against his body.

The world lurched as he stepped toward her, but he ignored it. After reorienting himself, he continued forward. A total of six footfalls brought him to stand at arms’ length from her.

“My fair maiden Ashley.” He fell to his knee and reached for her proffered hand.

In his mind, he’d thought kneeling would be debonair, courtly. But, in the reality of the moment, he just felt like a complete fool. Warmth spread to his cheeks. Embarrassed by a construct of his mind. He was such an idiot.

“My fair prince Xan.” She smiled, clearly amused.

The delicacy of her skin amazed him. He grazed her fingers with his lips. At least, he didn’t slobber all over her.

He dropped her hand in horror at the prospect and managed to rise without further humiliating himself. “Have you waited long?”

“I don’t think so.” Her forehead wrinkled, and she shook her head as if dispelling a painful thought.

Her memory loss again. Why did she struggle so to remember any detail save her name when he had perfect recall?

Oh. Yeah. Maybe it was because there was nothing for her to remember since she didn’t exist and all.

Ashley smiled. “It’s so beautiful here. Come, let’s sit.”

She slid to the ground and rested her back against a gnarled old oak without an apparent care for mussing her dress. When settled, she patted the grass beside her.

Xan swallowed hard. That had never happened. They always stood and chatted. Could he sit that close to her? What if he started sweating? What if his stomach growled?

He eyed a tree several yards away. Lot less chance of humiliating himself over there. But  how could he politely refuse her clear request?

She slapped the ground emphatically, her expression demanding obedience.

After a last longing glance at the other trunk, he moved toward her and stumbled. Of course. He had to brace himself against the tree to keep from falling on top of her. It was a blasted dream. Couldn’t he at least be graceful in a dream?

Xan sat, somehow managing not to imperil her further with his clumsiness, a good foot away from her. She promptly shifted so her right side rested against him from shoulder to leg.

The softness of her dress and the warmth of her body thrilled him almost as much as it terrified him. More heat engulfed his face, and his palms grew moist.

Ashley hooked her arm around his and drew herself tighter to him, resting her head on his shoulder. Did she not sense his discomfort? Or did she think more contact would set him at ease?

She sighed. “I could sit like this forever.”

So could he. When he sought to tell her that, though, the proper words fled his mind. He merely nodded.

Discerning the passage of time proved impossible. He couldn’t tell if minutes or hours passed. Gradually, the silence, and the feel of her against him, grew more comfortable.

He closed his eyes and imagined putting his arm around her. Goose bumps rose on his skin. What if she pushed him away? What if she laughed?

After all those nights of talking, his first time touching her was at her bidding. Twenty nights of yearning to kiss her, wishing for confidence, and still he hesitated. He hated himself.

Coward! Brant would go for it. Blast it, even Dylan would.

Xan couldn’t move his arm without disturbing her. Ashley stirred as he raised it, lifting her head. He reached his hand above him, feigning the need to stretch. She moved no further.

Did she actually want him to do it?

Her head leaned forward in invitation. Ready to pull back at the first sign of displeasure, he lowered his arm and laid it across her shoulders. As it settled onto her, he tensed.

Instead of rejecting him, she snuggled against him. They sat, not talking, Xan barely daring to move, for time immeasurable.

All too soon, he felt a jolt, and vivid colors swirled.

 

Add a Comment
9. Do you type one space or two after sentences?

I came across an article titled “We Still Can’t Decide Whether to Put Once Space After a Period or Two.

And it’s true—I see both approaches all the time in submissions to FtQ. One of the first things I do when I open a submission is to reformat it to conform to a few standards that include:

  • text in 12-point Times New Roman font (a standard for many agents and editors, and it’s a narrow font that gets you more words per page)
  • ½-inch indent for paragraphs
  • no extra space between paragraphs
  • and, if I see two spaces between sentences, change it immediately to one

Text no longer looks “correct” to me when I see the extra space. I notice it immediately upon opening a document. I design the interiors of books, and the industry typographical standard is one space between sentences.

I was taught in typing class to put two spaces and did so for many years. But, even though it was ingrained, I retrained my thumbs to only put one space. If you think about it, with thousands of sentences in a novel, that’s a lot of space-bar labor I save my thumbs. Gotta be faster, too, eliminating all those spaces.

Note that the article I’ve linked to has only one space after the ends of sentences.

Which do you do? Poll below.

Do you type one space or two after sentences?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
10. Flogometer for Chris—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Welcome. Only one in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Chris sends a first chapter of middle-grade fiction titled The Trouble with Queenie. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

“Good morning Mrs. Payne!” I flung my arms around the Headmistress’s waist and gave her a great big hug. “Are you here at the front door especially to welcome me on my very first day to Western Canada Prep School? Wow!” Even though she was a Very Important Person here she must be pretty nice, right? So what if she was dressed all in black and as tall and skinny as a giraffe. “And isn’t this a totally awesome morning with the sun shining down and the ocean sparkling and glimmering and aren’t you just so so so happy to be alive even though you look like you’re going to a funeral?” I beamed and twirled around on my tip toes.

“Yes Queenie…good morning.” She frowned, stiffly stepped back from me and sighed. “Look Queenie, do you not remember the rules we discussed last week? When you and your mother toured W.C.P.S.? Let me spell them out for you one… more… time…Number one: no student shall cross the road by him or herself.”

“But…”

 “Number two: no student shall walk up the driveway by him or herself.”

“But you see…”

“Number three: no student shall leave their car until the car reaches the yellow line in front of the main set of doors.”

“But Mrs. Payne I really didn’t think those rules applied to me‘cause I’m in Grade 5 (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Chris's first page?

I’ll confess to not being a middle-grade reader, so I’m not sure how in tune with that audience my reactions were. I do like the voice, and (other than a couple of comma faults) the writing is good. For me, whether or not this child was going to get into trouble and the way she broke the rules were entertaining enough to warrant a page-turn. So was her voice, though I do wonder about some of her dialogue—surely no one would really talk that way. But this character does, consistently over the top in a fun kind of way. After reading through the first chapter, I wondered what was to come for this irrepressible and unique character. A good sign.

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Chris

 

Continued

. . . you know.” Plus I’d totally zoned out when my mom and Mrs. Payne talked.

Meanwhile my yucky uniform was superscratchy and I couldn’t stop squirming.

 “Queenie! These rules are for the benefit of everyone here at Western Canada Prep School,” she said with icicles hanging off her voice.

I wiggled and jiggled my brand-new yellow SpongeBob knapsack on my back to see if that would help the itchiness. And Mrs. Payne droned on and on and on about the rules and W.C.P.S.

 “Queenie! Is that understood? Are you listening to me?!”

Jeez, she didn’t have to yell.

I peered way way up at her pursed mouth – Mrs. Payne looked like she’d swallowed a sour lemon. “Okay, sure Mrs. Payne. I promise I will never break these very important rules again.”

A couple of little kids giggled, pointed at me and walked way far around us. This was not supposed to be happening to me today.

“Queenie! Remember this is a fresh beginning for you.”

Crap! Mrs. Payne must’ve talked to Mrs. Franklin, the evil principal of the public school I’d gone to in Ontario. I’m sure she made up lots of nasty stuff about me.

Really.

 Probably.

Okay, so maybe some of it was true.

“Alright, Mrs. P.!” I shouted and zipped down the hall. Zipping wasn’t running.

“Tuck in that shirt Queenie, and no yelling in the halls!”

Boy oh boy, this place was crammed full of rules, way more than my old school. How was I going to learn all the rules when I couldn’t remember to remove my shoes at home, let alone take my pill? I couldn’t even remember to flush the toilet half the time, but that’s better for the environment anyways, right?

I cruised past the first three doors on the left and skidded to a stop in front of my classroom. Since most of the kids were already sitting down, I decided to introduce myself. After all, they were going to love me for sure ‘cause this was going to be my year and I was going to be so popular.

I, Queenie, would rule Western Canada Prep School!

“Hi everybody, my name’s Queenie Merriam and I’m new here and I just moved to West Vancouver from Ontario but this place is so so so much nicer and totally awesome and can you believe how wonderful the sun feels this morning so I think we should all go outside for class and I really can’t believe it’s already September ‘cause the summer went by so so…”

“OMG, is she for real?” said a dark haired girl to the blonde beside her.

 “Queenie, please have a seat here beside Kenneth,” Miss Parfait said as she pointed to a chubby Asian boy with humongous glasses. He sat at the front of the class, right by the door, and was probably the teacher’s pet. I wanted to sit beside some nice girl, desperate to be my BFF, but no such luck.

As I skipped to the chair and carefully eased my precious yellow knapsack to the floor, the room became so quiet it was actually kinda scary. I looked around at my classmates. Darn it! Every single girl was beautiful, with long silky hair and totally perfect teeth. I tried to smooth down my short and curly red hair but it stuck out in chunks all over the place no matter how much I brushed it, and my front teeth were crazy-crooked. I glanced down at the huge strawberry jam stain on my white shirt, the milk spill on my tie and noticed that my grey knee socks were bunched around my ankles. Mom had wanted me to clean up before school, but I ignored her ‘cause I figured there was no way the cool kids would look so good in their ugly grey sweaters, uncomfortable shirts and ties.

After all, who wears a tie at ten?

And really, on what planet do girls wear ties?

But man, I looked so totally different from everyone else.

“Queenie, I was just welcoming the girls and boys to 5P and outlining the class rules.” What, even more rules?!

 “The first one is to always be on time, Queenie. You are four minutes late – I’ll let it go today...”

“But there were still kids coming in the front door when I got here!”

“At W.C.P.S. we demand more from our older children, especially those in Grades 5 and 6. And, as I told you and your mother last week, I have higher expectations for my class than the other Grade 5 teachers, remember?” She smiled at me and then turned to write on the chalkboard.

“Sorry, Miss Parfait. It won’t happen again.” My ears burning, I sank into my chair. This was so not how I pictured meeting the kids in my class. I was not supposed to be in trouble with my teacher so soon.

I’d already made a fool of myself and it wasn’t even 9’oclock yet.

I was such an idiot.

I was such a loser.

Miss Parfait started yakking about her “Expectations of her Grade 5 Pupils”, known as 5P. One of the first rules was no use of cell phones during school hours – only at lunch or after school. A bunch of kids moaned, and put away their iPhones. My brother Zach and I had begged and begged and begged our parents for an iPhone and they had finally agreed to get Zach a cell phone of some kind ‘cause he was thirteen, but not me.

Not yetanyways.

 After four or five of the 5P Expectations I lost track, ‘cause I couldn’t help gawking at everybody. You could tell who the popular kids were alright, by where they sat, (close to the window with the view of the city) how they sat (like they owned the world) and how they looked at me (like I was an ant or a cockroach). Oh man, I so wanted to be one of them this year!

Actually, I’d never ever been cool before, but I decided this was my year, because if I was friends with the popular kids, then absolutely everyone at school would love me and I could check out their houses and see if they were expensive and ginormous like their shiny, bright cars. I bet they had the best stuff too, like Skittles and barbecue chips and orange pop and trampolines and Dance Dance Revolution.

Because W.C.P.S. was on top of a mountain on the North Shore of Vancouver, when Miss Parfait stood at the far side of the classroom, the view out the wall of windows behind her was awesome. I could see the ocean, and Stanley Park, and the office buildings in downtown Vancouver way below us. My dad worked in one of those big grey towers that punched the sky.

“Queenie. Queenie! Are you paying attention? Eyes on me,” Miss Parfait said. “Ashley, why don’t you begin.”

Begin what?

One of the perfect girls with long blonde hair stood up and smiled her perfect smile at the class. “My name is Ashley. This summer my family bought another two boats, so now we have seven in total. And I went wakeboarding or waterskiing almost every day. I love to watch reality TV shows, like America’s Next Top Model and the Real Housewives. And by the way, I wrapped up a couple of TV commercials in August.”

Okay, so this was important, ‘cause this was how I’d choose my BFF, and Ashley sure looked good.

“Thank you, Ashley,” Miss Parfait said, “that sounds lovely. And now Bethany, tell us about you and your summer.”

            “Well, as you all know, I’m Bethany,” said another Princess Perfect as she tucked a lock of shiny black hair behind a tiny ear, “and my best friend, Lauren, is sitting right over there. I went to France and Italy and Greece and England in July for twelve days with my parents. We saw absolutely everything worth seeing and bought absolutely everything worth buying. Then we went to Beijing for a month to see my grandparents. And do more shopping.”

Boy, I had to work really hard on my parents to get them to buy me SpongeBob socks, but trips overseas where you shop for stuff? Amazing! Another potential best friend.

“Hey. My name’s Ryan and I love hockey, just like my dad and older brothers. I played all summer at Cedar Country Club and now I’m trying out for the gold team.”

 So that’s what the cool perfect boys did. Hockey in the summer – who knew? And what the heck was Cedar Country Club?

“Queenie,” whispered Kenny, my desk mate. “Please sit still and try to stop fidgeting with your pencils and erasers or you will get into trouble.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks, Kenny.”

“My name is Kenneth!” he hissed back.

“So, I’m Chelsea and after two very long and very stressful years, we finally moved into our brand-new 15,000 square foot house in Whitby Estates way up above W.C.P.S. where we have the best view in all of West Van. Of course, not quite everything is completely done yet, so we still have painters and other stinky workman around. We spent most of the summer in Korea visiting relatives in Seoul and did tons and tons and tons of shopping.”

I decided I’d waited long enough for my turn, so I jumped up and blurted out, “Like I said before, my name is Queenie and I know that’s a really weird old-fashioned name but all the girls in my dad’s family have that name so I got stuck with it too, but anyways, I spent the summer driving across the country with my family so we stayed at lots of motels and my parents, especially my dad, drank lots of coffee and I ate lots of pancakes even though I’m still super skinny and short, and we saw lakes and trees and the Prairies and the desert and dinosaur bones and they were all so so so cool! We went swimming in freezing cold lakes and rivers that came from glaciers and I have an older brother named Zach who’s in Grade 8 and is a total pain because he’s so perfect and he’s good at every sport in the world and gets straight A’s. I used to live in a small town near Waterloo, and that’s in southern Ontario, where nothing ever happens, and my best friend’s Jessie who is so totally awesome and likes to do everything I like. And we have a furry yellow lab named Sandy Andy Killer but usually my dad and brother just call her Killer for short, which is really funny because she is super friendly and would never hurt a fly or a squirrel and really, she doesn’t even bark, but she loves attention and she loves food, even stuff that is totally bad for her like chocolate, which is like poison for dogs, but she doesn’t care ‘cause she likes to eat everything and anything, so she’s actually kind of chubby and roly-poly. I don’t eat seafood because my favourite TV show is SpongeBob SquarePants like my brand-new knapsack and I might just marry SpongeBob when I grow up ‘cause…” I paused for a nanosecond to breathe.

“Thank you so much for that fascinating life history, Queenie,” said Miss Parfait. “Next time please wait your turn and answer the question succinctly as requested.”

But I just wanted my classmates to know who I was so they would really like me but now they would hate me ‘cause Miss Parfait kept picking on me.

And what the heck does succinctly mean?

 

Finally the lunch bell rang and I rushed over to the long table at the side of the classroom so I could grab a seat close to Bethany or Ashley.

“5P, everything away before lunch. Queenie, that means you too.”

“But…”

“Queenie, no buts! Tidy your desk first.”

Oh man, Miss Parfait was such a slave-driver. I dashed back to my desk, tossed my pencils and notebook inside it, grabbed my lunch and zipped back to the table.

“Where am I supposed to sit?”

A couple girls turned around and stared at me, giggled and then turned back to their lunch. No one else paid any attention.

“Hey, I said, I need a place to eat my lunch!”

This time Bethany and Lauren rolled their eyes and Chelsea snickered.

“Queenie, we all heard you. Even though it’s lunchtime, there’s no need to yell,” Miss Parfait instructed. “I’m sure if Kenneth squeezes over a bit you can sit there at the end of that bench.”

“But…”

Kenny looked at me with big puppy dog eyes. Rats, I was stuck with the geek again.

“Sure, I’d love to,” I choked out.

Could my first day at W.C.P.S. get any worse?

“Is everything all right in here 5P?” Mrs. Payne’s head suddenly popped into the doorway.

“Just fine Mrs. Payne,” Miss Parfait said.

“Queenie, I could hear you quite distinctly all the way down the hall. Perhaps you should drop by my office today after school and we can review the importance of the rules here at Western Canada Prep.”

“Oh, that’s okay Mrs. Payne. I wouldn’t want to take up any more of your valuable time.”

“That was not a suggestion Queenie. I will see you at 3pm.” Her high heels clicked down the hall as she went in search of more kids to terrorize.

“Hey SpongeBob girl, that’s got to be a record at WCPS!” scoffed Ashley. “I can’t believe you already have a “meeting” with Mrs. Payne.”

“And it’s barely noon!” Bethany added.

“But that’s not fair,” I said as laughter rang out all around the lunch table. I guess at W.C.P.S. the cool kids didn’t get in trouble with the teacher and the Headmistress. Especially not on their very first day.

I was so stupid.

What did a kid have to do around here to get a break?

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

Submissions Welcome. None in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Becki sends a first chapter of The Small Town Arsonist. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

A man strolled down the sidewalk, and an autumn chill touched his nose and the tips of his ears. He considered whistling – would it provide further proof of the casual nature of his evening walk? He pursed his lips, then blew his breath out silently. It would attract too much attention in this sleepy village, a lone whistle breaking the stillness. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his brown hooded jacket instead, and continued his careless stride.

He entered the alley that ran behind the businesses on Main Street. Two quick steps to his right brought him to a large green dumpster. A pivot, another step, and he crouched behind it, taking advantage of his hiding place to view the street in both directions. Empty, of course. The blank windows of the abandoned elementary school glared at him through the increasing darkness. Glare all you want, he thought as he straightened and continued down the alley. You’ll be mine in the end. You’re going to burn…along with the evidence.

He reached the back entrance to the theater that had been closed for more than a decade, raised his hand to knock, then hesitated. What was he doing? Was he crazy? His hand fell away from the door and dropped to his side. Ridiculous. He had turned to go when a gust of wind blew through the alley, carrying on it the faint clang of the old school bell. He froze, thought of what he had hidden in the walls of the school, all that would surely be discovered if he simply waited for the building to be torn down next week, as scheduled. He couldn’t let it happen. He turned (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Becki's first page?

I like the writing and the voice (though, as you’ll see, at time there was too much writing for me), and the narrative serves to raise a good story question—evidence of what that was strong enough to compel arson? I don’t understand the withholding of the name. Unless the character isn’t in the story after this—and why open with him if he isn’t—why not give a name? Is he just “a man” for the whole novel? Some notes:

A man strolled down the sidewalk, and an autumn chill touched his nose and the tips of his ears. He considered whistling – would it provide further proof of the casual nature of his evening walk? He pursed his lips, then blew his breath out silently. It would attract too much attention in this sleepy village, a lone whistle breaking the stillness. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his brown hooded jacket instead, and continued his careless stride. This works for me to show the man is being sneaky through description—good “showing.”

He entered the alley that ran behind the businesses on Main Street, crouched behind a Dumpster, and surveyed the street. Two quick steps to his right brought him to a large green dumpster. A pivot, another step, and he crouched behind it, taking advantage of his hiding place to view the street in both directions. Empty, of course. The blank windows of the abandoned elementary school glared at him through the increasing darkness. Glare all you want, he thought as he straightened and continued down the alley. You’ll be mine in the end. You’re going to burn…along with the evidence. But, while this paragraph serves to cook up good story questions, it includes considerable overwriting, and I hope there’s not a lot of that to come. How many steps it is to the dumpster, the pivot, “taking advantage” of the hiding place are all unnecessary, lengthy descriptions of simple action. Get on with the story.

He reached the back entrance to the theater that had been closed for more than a decade, raised his hand to knock, then hesitated. What was he doing? Was he crazy? His hand fell away from the door and dropped to his side. Ridiculous. He had turned to go when a gust of wind blew through the alley, carrying on it the faint clang of the old school bell. He froze, thought of what he had hidden in the walls of the school, all that would surely be discovered if he simply waited for the building to be torn down next week, as scheduled. He couldn’t let it happen. He turned (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Becki

Continued

. . . back to the door, knocked twice, waited two heartbeats, then knocked three times fast.

The muffled sound of footsteps leaked around the edges of the doorframe. It opened a crack. “What is it?” The voice was raspy, and tremulous with age.

“You answered my ad.”

“Which ad would that be?”

He opened his mouth, paused for a moment, then said resolutely, “I need a demolition man.” He held his breath. Had he said it right?

A light blue eye appeared in the crack and moved up and down, assessing the visitor. Then the door opened wide enough for the man to slip through. “I’m a demolition man.” The voice trailed down the stairs. “Close the door behind you.”

The man slid into the old theater and pushed the door shut. Yellow light from a single hanging bulb signaled his destination at the bottom of the stairs. He started down, struck by the creepy atmosphere of the place. Particle board lined both sides of the stairwell, covered with movie posters. A few had been defaced with penciled-in mustaches and devil horns. Most were torn, and some hung in tatters from their push-pins. He reached the lower level and stepped into someone’s living quarters. An antique dresser and a lumpy bed stood against one wall, and a recliner in the middle of the room faced a large flat-screen television. A microwave oven and minifridge occupied a corner.

“You got a job for me?” The voice came from the recliner.

He walked around the chair and faced its occupant – small, wrinkled, and bald. He stared, having expected someone…more. “Yeah, I have a job, but…” His voice trailed off. Could this little old guy really do it? According to his grandfather’s journals, this recluse had been the best in his day. But now?

As if reading his mind, the old man reached over and picked up a box of matches from a TV tray. He struck one and watched it burn, fascination on his face. It burned until it almost singed his fingers, then he dropped it to the cement floor. It landed on a pile of blackened matchsticks and fizzled out.

“Yes, I have a job for you. The elementary school. There are some things there…”

A hand stopped him. “I don’t want to know why. I want to know how much.”

“What’s the going rate for a ‘demolition’?

“Fifty.”

“Fifty. To be clear – fifty what?”

“Thousand. Fifty thousand.”

“Are you insane? Fifty thousand?” The man swallowed hard. He’d never be able to come up with that much.

“Hey, I’ve got expenses. Social security barely covers my cable TV.”

“But fifty? That’s a lot of channels.”

“Yeah, I like my movies. The cooking channels too. I love Cupcake Wars.”

The man’s shoulders drooped. “I don’t have fifty thousand. I’ll have to figure out something else.” He turned to go.

“Good grief, do I have to spell it out for you, genius? You negotiate. Offer me something.”

Negotiate? He hated negotiating, always paid full price for everything because he hated it so much – cars, furniture, jewelry from Mexico. Full price, all of it. “I’ve got twenty thousand. That’s all I can pay you.” He held his breath and waited. If this didn’t work, he had no idea what he would do.

“Twenty, huh? That’ll barely pay for some popcorn to go with my HBO. And I’ve been wanting to get one of those green movie players. Or blue? Blue DVD’s, that’s it. The picture is supposed to be phenomenal.”

“You mean blu-ray? Fine, my final offer is twenty thousand and a blu-ray player.”

“Throw in a twenty-five dollar gift card to WalMart, and you’ve got a deal.”

He could go without lunch for a few weeks. “Yeah, and a gift card to WalMart.”

The old man struggled out of his chair, shook the man’s hand and laughed. “Heh. I’d’a done it for fifteen. Gimme the details.”

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12. Badass in the YA world

Badass heroine coversI’m a fan of YA dystopian and fantasy fiction—The Hunger Games and the Divergence trilogy being among my favorites—so it was good to find this notice of new novels in that genre with its heroines: "7 New Badass YA Heroines for You to Love." A couple of these definitely caught my eye.

One question, though—why are there no badass male heroes in YA fiction? I’d like to read one—let me know in the comments if there’s such a critter available.

Meanwhile, if you’re a fan or writer of YA dystopian and fantasy fiction, check these out.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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

Submissions Welcome. Only one in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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 a first chapter of Raphael Ascending . The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Hustle bustle very busy, the uniforms, all shiny badges and polished shoes delivering paperwork to the suits at their scattered desks. The day after Thanksgiving. A lot of arrests made. Family affairs, booze, and football. Too much testosterone in turkey?

Their attention shifted from their chores when Detective Sergeant Freddy Wall squealed, "I'm not going on night shift." The plush, pushed- past- fifty, plain-clothes rolled his chair closer to the protection of his iron desk.

The uniforms and the other detectives, like spectators at a tennis game, shifted their sly eyes to the thirty-four year old man towering over Freddy. Chief of Detectives Troy Ames. Six two, blond, in full dress uniform sharp and spiffy, blue eyes blazing. "It's not a request, Sergeant Wall. It's an order. Monday, night shift."

Freddy's face contorted to a fierce pig-face stare, ears pinned back, nostrils arching to expose nose hairs. "You're new here, pal. You ought to know, I got a lot of friends in city hall."

Ice wrapped Troy's baritone. "Night shift or suspension, Sergeant Wall."

The audience exchanged lifted eyebrows and squints. Freddy squared his short, wide shoulders, bubbling his double chin toward his collarbone. "I could tell these guys some things about you."

Were you compelled to turn Catherine's first page?

A colorful, fresh voice and some good bridging tension on this first page. Two story questions: what will happen to Freddy, and what is the dirt he has on Ames. I think this could be crisper, and I would take a serious look at trimming the first and second paragraphs just enough  to get the next two lines on the first page, wherein Ames announces that he’s gay in a strong and fun way. Just a few notes:

Hustle bustle very busy, the uniforms, all shiny badges and polished shoes delivering paperwork to the suits at their scattered desks. The day after Thanksgiving. A lot of arrests made. Family affairs, booze, and football. Too much testosterone in turkey?

Their attention shifted from their chores when Detective Sergeant Freddy Wall squealed, "I'm not going on night shift." The plush, pushed- past- fifty, plain-clothes rolled his chair closer to the protection of his iron desk.

The uniforms and the other detectives, like spectators at a tennis game, shifted their sly eyes to the thirty-four year old man towering over Freddy. Chief of Detectives Troy Ames. Six two, blond, in full dress uniform sharp and spiffy, blue eyes blazing. "It's not a request, Sergeant Wall. It's an order. Monday, night shift."

Freddy's face contorted to a fierce pig-face stare, ears pinned back, nostrils arching to expose nose hairs. "You're new here, pal. You ought to know, I got a lot of friends in city hall."

Ice wrapped Troy's baritone. "Night shift or suspension, Sergeant Wall."

The audience exchanged lifted eyebrows and squints. Freddy squared his short, wide shoulders, bubbling his double chin toward his collarbone. "I could tell these guys some things about you." I’m not sure shoulders can be short. Narrow, yes, but short?

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Catherine

Continued:

Troy's canines gleam sparked. "Attention, everybody. What Sergeant Wall is hinting at, what he's trying to blackmail me with, to get his own way, I'm gay. Feel free to refer to me in your discussions as queer, queen, homo, fag. I don't mind at all. You have a first amendment right to do so." His arctic eyes signalled an almost evil double dog dare as his gaze swept the room. "Monday. Night shift, Wall. The end."

 

Outside the sky slung low and heavy, yellow-white swatches running camo across the gray rumbles that popped now and then with deeper bass throbs. The air sucked and squeezed in slow motion dark chill. The green and silver metro bus, diesel exhaust puffing curly snakes, swung around the corner at Park onto Bruce, the day-after -holiday traffic dodging hither skither in a bee swarm logic brought from a parallel universe. The driver of the red Caddy coupe in the ShopNSave parking lot hit the gas instead of the brake and t-boned the bus between the behemoth's front and rear doors. And the rain finally came, falling from the fast flash webs. Sharp, cold, thick with punishment. The long screech of metal ragging, the squelch of tires skidding, the squawk of horns, fed into the wind. Black Friday clusters crowded up close, concern they wouldn't get their fair share of the thrill freezing their grins.

 

Freddy focused his full attention on the Daily Globe's sports pages. The newspaper spread over a short stack of case files that needed reading and note-marking. Work that should have been done on Wednesday. But, well, football pool picks were deadlined for four p.m. Who to pick, who to pick. Ten bucks down and a double c-note to pocket if. Big if. Who to pick? Freddy scratched his right eyebrow.

Mack Grift paused at Freddy's desk on the way to his own. "You better get your reports written. Ames catches you..."

"Nancy can kiss my ass. No. Strike that. I might catch something off his luscious lips." Freddy showed his coffee stained teeth. "Some of us'll be seeing our union rep about going to the commissioner. Get Nancy booted out of here on account of." Freddy winked.

Grift dropped into his chair. "Count me out. I will not mess with Ames, period end of sentence. I seen him working out in the exercise room. He could seriously hurt an elephant. Hell, I can see him wrestling down a rhino."

"Bullshit."

"Truth."

"His kind all got empty balls."

 

Warner didn't knock first. The chief of police just bloomed into Troy's tiny office, taking up too much space. Troy's jaw muscle just below his left ear flexed. "You came to talk about Freddy."

Warner shrugged as he planted his ass on the window-side corner of Troy's desk. Again Troy's jaw muscle twitched. The wind smacked water-logged specks of this and that onto the window in company with low-toned moans and tumbling thumps. Warner shifted his weight and flicked a half-second smile. "He called the mayor. They're cousin-in-laws, you know."

Troy selected a long slim cigar from the fine-grained mahogony humidor next to his in-out tray. The in shelf was barren, the out shelf stacked high with completed work. He didn't offer a cigar to Warner. Men who came into his office without knocking didn't get an expensive imported cigar. Troy puffed his slim into life. "I didn't know and I don't care. He's been slacking for a long time. It ends now. Night shift, he'll run his ass off on prelims."

Warner bobbed his bald head left, right, left. Troy fixed his clear blues on the chief. "Pick a side. And if you pick him, my resignation will be on your desk in five minutes."

"You don't mean that."

Troy slid his yellow notepad to the center of his deskpad and wrote in sharp elegant cursive, 'I resign effective immediately Troy Ames'. He eased the sheet from its perforations, folded it neatly into thirds and held it out to Warner. "I can see the newspaper headlines. War hero cop leaves p d , disgusted by corruption."

Warner stiffened. "Listen, Ames."

"Choose a side."  Voice, eyes. Cold. Hard. No latitude. Not now. Not ever. A certainty that he would have his way. Fifteen years giving orders in the army and a man developed Attitude.

Two lights raps sounded on the door. A patrolman stuck in half his head. "Dead man on a bus, sir. Driver says maybe shot."

The lights went out.

 

Locke always sat in the long, aisle-facing seat midbelly in the bus. Cramming his six six into a smaller forward-facing one put an unfortunate squish on his delicate parts. He sat on the door side in easy slump, legs wide. The jolt from the t-bone rocked him forward but quick as get-out, his calf muscles tightened, keeping him firm on the bench. He shifted his denim jacketed body sideways to look out the window behind him. The son of a bitch yahoo in the Caddy flung open his car door and glanced up at Locke's window as he pumped his bulk free of the bucket seat. Locke flipped him the bird then closed his big hand into a big fist. Yahoo stayed sheltered behind the car door. Locke, his almost-an-angel face set to minor menace, green eyes casual, continued to stare at him.

The bus driver replaced his radio mike and rose to check his passengers. Hail joined the perfect rain, rocking the behemoth a wee bit.

 

Troy summoned Grift to accompany him and the two lab boys. Gathered in the garage waiting for the cars to warm up, Grift, having found favor in the eyes of the boss, said, "Uh, sir, can I ask you a question?"

"Shoot."

"We all scrapped our way out of division into plainclothes. You're our boss, so, why do you wear a uniform?"

"Because I look damn good in it."

Grift nodded. Mystery solved. The boss was a peacock. A t-rex peacock.

 

The tow truck eased the Caddy away from the bus, revealing the Texas sized dent in the behemoth's hide. Firemen applied crowbars to the jammed doors.

Locke's stomach gurgled and he had to pee. And the dead bus began to chill. And the damned cops clittered around outside doing a hell of a lot of not much. Unhappy day and home far away. Not that it was much of a home. A rented room over a rundown drycleaners. He counted the forks of lightning claiming the rolling gray- purple bundles climbing up from the horizon. The passenger, presumably a guy, in the seat one up from the butt of the bus, was dead, so the driver said, shot in the head maybe clued from the blood on the headrest. So Locke reckoned it would be a while before he enjoyed what little comfort he could have at home. The four old women in the front seats huddled boohooing to the driver. Unhappy day. Son of a bitch.

He gave up on his intimidation of the yahoo and straightened around to study the storm through the window across the aisle.  Magnificent, the slow impatience. The sluggish surrender  to movement. The push of under black to break out. So many artists had painted stormy skies  and none of them had ever done it right.

 

Troy stood on the top bus step and looked down the length of the behemoth. His right eyebrow scrooched. His nostrils fluttered with a quick snort. The odor of ungentle use. His inner man issued a silent hmmm. Bus. A mobile crime scene that would be towed to impound where the lab boys could take their time. Hmmm. The bus company will squawk if it's kept too long. He might have to flex an official muscle. Good. He liked flexing muscle. He had a mobile crime scene, a contained crime scene. Which should have been a plus, but, likely, the bus hadn't been cleaned all week. Cigarette butts, wads of gum, gobs of hair, candy wrappers, a million fingerprints - most of this evidence of ungentle use would not be evidence connected to the current corpse. Hours and hours of sort and separate and evaluate and in the end he could hope for a crumb to chew on.

So, order of operations. Passengers and driver off in cruisers to the station for processing. Medical examiner declares the dead guy's dead and carts him off to autopsy. Bus to impound. The bells of St. Francis tossed four o'clock into the storm. Troy's right eyebrow scrooched down again. Grift stood on the bottom steps. Troy gave him a circling finger. "And Grift, they're going to miss their supper. Get some nice deli or something."

"Yes, sir."

Troy spare the group a brief survey. The driver, a short, hefty working man who wouldn't stand out in a crowd, four little old ladies in long black wool coats and tight-knotted scarves, support stockings, sensible shoes. And the man in the middle seat. "Grift, be sure you read everybody their rights. Just in case." The sergeant nodded. Troy set his face to no-nonsense. "Ladies and gentlemen, Sergeant Grift will take you to the station. We have to talk to you while your memories are still fresh. Then we'll see you get home safe and sound. Now, if you'll go along, please."

Troy caught his breath when the man in the middle stood up and faced him. Six six to the slim-legged inch, yep. He let his gaze linger for a guilty moment on the big boy's jean zipper and the evidence to the left of the zipper of promising goodness. He added a twinkle of admiration for the broad shoulders and perfect posture. So many tall men bent their backs to lean down to the shorties of the world.

He blew a silent yep. His groin flickered and he had to focus on the job at hand and he told his inner man he might be lusting after a murderer and it would be a damned shame if the guy was and he was probably hetero anyway and focus, dude. Job. But it had been a long time and the guy...focus, Ames, focus, damn it. Then Goorgeous bounced down the steps and folded into the back seat of a cruiser.

Doc Parks flashed a big grin and saluted as he mounted the steps. 'General, I'm all wet."

Leprechaun. The only single-word description for Doc. Perfect, down to the never-lit pipe always in his mouth. Troy gave the medical examiner an eyebrow twitch. "Realized that the first day we met, Doc. Step to the back of the bus, please."

 

Doc shifted his haunches. "Yes, sir, he's dead. Probably within the past couple hours. Appears to be a small caliber gunshot close range through the cervix of the neck." Doc's delicate fingering probed the top few inches of the corpse's front. "No apparent exit wound. Odd, that. We should have a through and through." He straightened. "Curious about that. Autopsy asap. Bag him. You going to be around?"

Troy nodded. "Six witnesses slash suspects to handle, I won't be going home for a while."

They exited the bus into a dark descending thick and quick. Light rain now and ice forming fragile chips on everything.

 

Troy pulled into his assigned parking space. The radio crackled. He clicked the mike. "Go ahead."

A fizzy voice came back. "Chief, Grift. The male passenger, manslaughter conviction on the books."

"Roger that. I'm in the parking lot. Two minutes." He clipped the mike back on the rack. "Shit."

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14. Flogometer for Fran—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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Fran sends a revised first chapter of Low Flying Dirtbags. An earlier version was submitted here. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Daggett woke screaming. He felt like thousands of fire ants were crawling along the length of his body… biting and gnawing on his flesh! He screamed again and shivered. He was cold. He tried to lift a hand to his mouth but discovered he couldn't move his arms or legs. He slowly opened his eyes, trying to focus. He realized he was naked and strapped to a metal table. He felt the cold metal on his back. He screamed again as the pain exploded throughout his body. He could feel the beat of his pulse like a hammer banging into an open wound. He closed watery eyes as the fear rose. He willed himself to wrestle down the panic and told himself not to struggle knowing it would only intensify his burning agony.

Dim light filtered through a small grimy window set high on the wall above his head. He smelled mold and mildew. It was quiet as a graveyard except for the sound of water slowly dripping.

"Help me!" He howled. His throat was sore. He needed water.

No answer, in agony he hoarsely screamed again, "Please, someone, help me!" He coughed and tried to wet his lips. Hearing the water trickle made his thirst worse.

Daggett caught movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head too quickly. The room spun, and his stomach threatened to spew. He gulped and forced himself to calm down. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. God, the pain was almost unbearable. (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Fran's first page?

My feeling about this opening is that it tries too hard, that it piles the torment on until this reader wished the narrative would get on with the story. There’s a bit of overwriting, and the use of filters gets in the way of the narrative delivering a strong impact. The length of the suffering also kept a really strong story-question line from being on the first page. You’ll see at the end of the notes.

Daggett woke screaming. He felt to pain like thousands of fire ants were crawling along the length of his body, biting and gnawing on his flesh.! He screamed again and shivered. He was cold. He tried to lift a hand to his mouth but discovered he couldn't move his arms or legs. He slowly opened his eyes, trying to focus. He realized he was naked and strapped to a metal table. He felt the cold metal on his back. He screamed again as the pain exploded throughout his body. He could feel the beat of his His pulse beat like a hammer banging into an open wound. He closed watery eyes as the fear rose. He willed himself to wrestle down the panic and told himself not to struggle, knowing it would only intensify his burning agony. Several uses of “filters” diminish the reader’s ability to get into the character’s experience (though I’m not sure I want to get much deeper into this one). Filters include: he felt, he realized, he discovered . . . This opening paragraph could be crisper IMO, as the edits suggest.

Dim light filtered through a small grimy window set high on the wall above his head. He smelled mold and mildew. It was quiet as a graveyard except for the sound of water slowly dripping.

"Help me!" He howled. His throat was sore. He needed water.

No answer, in agony he hoarsely screamed again, "Please, someone, help me!" He coughed and tried to wet his lips. Hearing the water trickle made his thirst worse.

Daggett caught movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head too quickly. The room spun, and his stomach threatened to spew. He gulped and forced himself to calm down. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. God, the pain was almost unbearable. (snip) I cut the above material because we’ve got it, no need to keep torturing the reader with terrible things. More than that, cutting this lets the following sentence appear on the first page and raises the story questions to a compelling level:

A soft chuckle snaked through the gloom.

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Fran

 

Continued:

It would be so easy to surrender.

A soft chuckle snaked through the gloom.

"Please, help me!" he pled while sobbing in agony.

He heard the clip-clop of hard-soled shoes on concrete. Overhead florescent bulbs clicked on, flooding the room with light and forcing him to wince from the burning glare. Carefully he cracked his lids allowing the light to leak into his pupils. When his eyes finally focused on his captor, he saw nothing but a pair of blue eyes looking at him with curiosity, draped in a loose-fitting, long sleeved, blue hospital gown. Its face, obscured by a surgical mask and cap covering its brows and hair made it impossible to distinguish any feature or tell if it was male or female. Its hands encased in surgical gloves. Height average.

"Do I know you?" Daggett whispered painfully as he struggled to swallow.

"Doesn't matter," the voice whispered back.

The lightness of his tormentor's voice told Daggett his monster was truly enjoying this moment. It chuckled again and said, "We are far from anyone who might hear your screams of agony or your pleas for help." His tormentor whispered.

Daggett started to tremble. He couldn't control it. The panic returned and the adrenaline flowed as he desperately struggled to free himself.

"Where am I?" He stuttered with a painful rasp.

"This is where I do some of my best work, my art." The willowy whisper continued.

"What kind of art?"

"Body art… Just look at yourself."

The whisperer's gloved hands came up holding a long-bladed straight razor with a bloody blade and a small portable table torch. Daggett winced and cried out as he realized why his legs burned and his arms had long, deep cuts and blistered, seared skin. His face burned too.

"You're demented." Daggett whispered.

The blue eyes blazed with anger as the voice whispered. "To each his own."

"Please don't do this to me."

"Too late now."

"It's never too late. I won't tell anyone."

"Shhh," it whispered. "I'm going to make the pain go away. This won't take long." The killer lowered the flame from the portable torch to the inside of one thigh.

Daggett screamed as the pain raced through his body. He embraced it. The pain was proof of life. Without the pain, he feared he'd be lost.

"I want to live." Daggett sobbed in agony.

Gently, his tormentor smoothed it's fingertips over his forehead. "Shhh…we can't do that." The gentle touch set off an explosion of tremors. His body shook uncontrollably. His eyes widened in horror as he watched the lit portable torch held over his genitals. He felt heat then searing pain as he screamed in horror while the smell of scorched flesh reached his nostrils. His tormentor gleefully whispered, "My blade might accidently slide… like this… and slice right through your manhood. Oops! Look what you've made me do, Daggett!"

The pain was agonizing. Daggett's scream brought a glazed look of delight to his tormentor. Daggett tasted blood as he bit through his tongue trying to halt his screams, knowing they encouraged his tormentor. The monster stared at him as if he was some kind of lab experiment that required evaluation while performing a preordained response.

A camera magically appeared, snapping photos of Daggett's reaction. "Almost done. It won't be long now. Too bad… So sad." The monster whispered while dragging the sharp blade over the tender flesh of Daggett's neck.

Again, the pain was sudden and searing. Daggett inhaled to scream, but his lungs refused to respond. He tried to pull in another breath… Nothing! He was unable to inhale. Panic exploded as he directed his energy inward towards his lungs.

Breathe! Air!

A gurgling sound rose in his chest as the air already in his lungs seeped out through the wound. More blood began to pool around his shoulders. He struggled to cling to his final hold on life, convulsing in agony.

The killer kept smoothing its fingers through his hair. "Don't fight this. Fighting only makes it worse. It won't be much longer, it'll be over, and I'll return you to the world of the living. Another work of art, completed."

Daggett's vision blurred. His lungs and body burned as he realized who his tormentor was. His eyes widened in horror as he tried to breathe.

 "So pretty, I think you are my best work yet, Daggett." Delight danced in its blue eyes as it realized Daggett had put the puzzle pieces together. How fun!

Blackness leaked into the edges of Daggett's vision, and as the seconds counted down, his constricting pupils seeped out more light, leaving only darkness behind.

Daggett couldn't scream. Daggett couldn't point a finger. The darkness won.

 

Daggett's killer stared lustfully at his empty shell. The killing was such a treat, a well-deserved reward. The fact that Daggett recognized his killer, at the end, was even better. It was always enjoyable to bring the narcissistic, know-it-alls down a peg.

As the killer gazed at Daggett's remains, there was no remorse, just a feeling of being unfulfilled. Daggett's killer was tired of living in the shadows, tired of hiding behind someone's protection, weary of denying it's true self. It was anxious to up the ante. Wanting the cops to know what it could do. It wanted to be feared and to be that terrifying bedtime story the kids told each other when they needed to feel dread.

The killer thought about the cops running around in circles like rabid dogs trying to figure out which end was up. They'd growl and foam at the mouth, but in the end they'd find nothing but their own tails. The notion that the detectives assigned would have another unsolved case – another blot on their records – had some appeal. In fact, the killer gained great pleasure from the mere thought. Later, the killer would add Daggett's pictures to the ever-growing album. The stories the album provided were something to reminisce about while sitting in a cozy chair, in front of a warm fire, on a cold winter's night.

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15. The Master of Micro-Tension

I came across the following micro-tension exercises by literary agent Donald Maass. He writes about how to create micro-tension in his craft books “The Fire in Fiction” and “Writing 21st Century Fiction.” I’m quoting the following from an article that I found here. I’ll admit to never (yet) consciously applying his ideas, but, since I’m now involved in both a stem-to-stern rewrite of one novel and beginning a new one, I think I’m gonna do it. One exercise that really interests me is the last one below. See what you think.

Micro-Tension exercises by Donald Maass

  • Pick a passage of dialogue. Strip it down. Increase hostility between the speakers. It can be friendly ribbing, worried questioning, polite disagreement, snide derision, veiled threats, open hostility, or any other degree of friction.
  • Repeat the prompt above 100 times.
  • Pick a passage of action—anything from high violence to a stroll in the park. Freeze the action in a sequence of three to five still snapshots. Select a detail from each frame. For each snapshot record your POV character’s precise feelings. Discard obvious emotions. Choose emotions that contrast or conflict. Rewrite the passage.
  • Repeat the prompt above 50 times.
  • Pick a passage of exposition. List all of your POV character’s emotions. List all ideas. Discard what’s obvious. Find emotions that conflict. Find ideas at war. Grab what creates unease, uncertainty, fresh worry, new questions, a deeper puzzle, or agonizing dilemma. Rewrite the passage.
  • Repeat the prompt above 100 times. (If you are a romance writer, repeat 200 times.)
  • Pick a moment when your protagonist is still, simply waiting or doing nothing. Look around. List three setting details that only this character would notice. Detail her emotions. Find those that conflict or surprise her. What’s this moment’s personal meaning? Write a passage combining snapshot clarity and roiling inner intensity.
  • Print out your manuscript. Randomize the pages. (In a workshop I attended he suggested throwing them in the air and then pick the randomized pages back up.) Examine each one in isolation. Does it crackle? Are the characters on tiptoe? What question arises that the reader can’t answer? What’s going badly or wrong for your POV character? How does this page tell the whole story? Revise until the tension level is unbearable.
  • Repeat the prompt above for every page. Yes, seriously.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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

Submissions Welcome. Only one in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Juliette sends a revised first chapter of The Destiny of the Drop of Heaven. An earlier version was submitted here. The first critique is here. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Strasbourg, 1585

Guillaume crossed the street and shuffled forward. Just a little bit farther, around the next bend.

The chanteur touched his scar, the edge damp with seepage. He wiped his eye, rather the indentation where his eyes used to be, and he shuddered. The sensation still filled him with revulsion. He considered donning his patch. No— papa might be more sympathetic if he sees my disfigurement.

The image of his childhood home filled his thoughts. His step became livelier as he turned the corner, but the sight of the flower boxes overflowing with weeds and the roses beside the front door overgrown and unkempt made him scowl. He tried the door, but found it locked. He heard talking around back and circled the house. “Mama? Papa?”

In the courtyard behind the house, where his mother kept a small vegetable patch, children he did not recognize played in an untended garden. The biggest boy ran toward him and abruptly stopped, screaming, “Mama, come quickly!”

A woman appeared at the back door, her dress shabby, her hair, stringy and matted. The boy shouted something inaudible and rushed to his mother, hid behind her skirts, and pointed toward Guillaume. The woman wiped the child’s face on her apron and pushed him toward the house. “Gather the children and go inside, hurry!”

Were you compelled to turn Juliette's first page?

This is little changed from the first submission—there has been some clarification. The last time I turned the page because there was good writing here, and the time and place were interesting. But I must be in a less patient mood today because I gave it an almost. There seems to be a glitch about whether or not he has both eyes, but that’s an easy fix. No, I think the “almost” comes because I’d like a stronger clue as to what the character wants and the stakes behind it. As it is, he seems to only seek approval, but is that all he needs here? There are still good story questions—what happened to his parents among them, but that’s not compelling. Notes:

Guillaume crossed the street and shuffled forward. Just a little bit farther, around the next bend.

The chanteur touched his scar, the edge damp with seepage. He wiped his eye, rather the indentation where his eye eyes used to be, and he shuddered. The sensation still filled him with revulsion. He considered donning his patch. No— papa might be more sympathetic if he sees my disfigurement.

The image of his childhood home filled his thoughts. His step became livelier as he turned the corner to his childhood home, but the sight of the flower boxes overflowing with weeds and the roses beside the front door overgrown and unkempt made him scowl. He tried the door, but found it locked. He heard talking around back and circled the house. “Mama? Papa?” There is passive writing that I think could be more active—for example, seeing something made him scowl. Instead, for example: He picked up his pace as he turned the corner to his childhood home, but then he scowled at flower boxes overflowing with weeds and the overgrown, unkempt roses by the front door.

In the courtyard behind the house, where his mother kept a small vegetable patch, children he did not recognize played in an untended garden. The biggest boy ran toward him and abruptly stopped, screaming, “Mama, come quickly!”

A woman appeared at the back door, her dress shabby, her hair, stringy and matted. The boy shouted something inaudible and rushed to his mother, hid behind her skirts, and pointed toward Guillaume. The woman wiped the child’s face on her apron and pushed him toward the house. “Gather the children and go inside, hurry!”

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Juliette

 

Continued

She picked up a broom and advanced toward Guillaume. “Get out of here!” she shouted.

Shocked, Guillaume shouted back, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“What do you mean what am I doing here?” the woman replied, raising the broom as a weapon. “This is my house, and you are scaring my children. Now go away!”

“Your house?” Guillaume laughed. “This is my parents’ house.”

“We bought this house four years ago.” The woman slowed her step but continued to hold the broom in front of her. When she neared Guillaume, she flinched and then stared indignantly at his face.

Guillaume’s laugh transformed into a grimace. “What do you mean, you bought this house? My parents would never have sold their house!”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “If this wasyour parents’ house, they sold it to me a long time ago. Now, should I have my son fetch my husband, or are you going to leave on your own?”

“But…” Guillaume scanned the courtyard. It looked very different than it did when he left. His mother would never allow such disarray. He muttered, “I have been gone a while…” His heart began pounding in his chest and he glared at the woman. Suddenly conscious of her stare, he asked, “Why would they sell?”

“I have no idea,” she replied. Her back stiffened, and she raised her chin defiantly. “But I would appreciate it if you would leave.”

Guillaume exhaled. He glanced around his childhood home reminiscing about the big tree in the corner and playing hide-and-seek with his sister in this courtyard. He peered in the window and saw the children gawking at him. They turned to each other, all talking at the same time, and pointing at him with terrified looks on their faces. “I am… sorry.” He lowered his head and slowly backed away.

He breathed deeply to calm himself, the way he had before each performance. When he reached the street corner, he stopped and absently dabbed the discharge from his eye again. What should I do now? He scanned the street, which appeared out of focus. Where could my parents have gone? They would not have sold their home unless…

He leaned against the fence until his dizziness passed. He thought of Monsieur Cuny, who lived just up the street on the main thoroughfare. Surely, he would know where they had gone.

He turned to take one last look at the house and shook his head. That woman had some nerve, staring at him so rudely. He had once stood in the presence of nobility!

He touched his eye socket; the indentation seemed to get deeper every day. Not donning the patch had not been such a good idea after all, but strap itched and gave him a headache.

He pulled the leather patch from his bag, slipped it over his head, and made his way up the street. After his last meeting, he was almost afraid to knock on his mentor’s door. “Monsieur Cuny?” he called.

A frail old man answered. His face bore the wisdom of his age. A black coif covered the man’s thin gray hair and his full beard, peppered with white. His doublet, though new and of good quality, appeared ill fitting on his stooped shoulders.

Immediately upon recognizing Guillaume, the man’s face brightened with a smile and widening eyes. “Guillaume? Is that you? Come in, come in!” Monsieur Cuny grabbed Guillaume’s sleeve and pulled him into his embrace. “Are you all right? Your eye!”

 “Monsieur Cuny, I went by my parents’ house and —”

“What happened to you, son?” the older man interrupted. “I hired a deputy to find you, but he found you no longer traveled with your troupe. He searched everywhere, but no one knew where to find you.”

“Monsieur Cuny. Did my parents sell our house? Where are they?”

A look of sadness crossed his friend’s face. Guillaume inhaled sharply and held his breath, waiting.

 The old man hesitated and replied, “Terrible things happened while you were away. Terrible things…” he added quietly, shaking his head.

Guillaume could not breathe. His head began to pound. “What sort of terrible things?”

“Come in and sit down, Guillaume.” He gestured to the young man and reached behind him to close the door.

 Instead of obeying, Guillaume grabbed the old man’s arms and shook him. “What has happened to my parents and my sister?”

 “Guillaume, you had a betrothal contract. You should not have left that way. There were consequences. There are always consequences…”

 “Monsieur Cuny, please! Where are my parents?”

Monsieur Cuny’s face became stern. He exhaled and said, “Quirienne’s papa demanded the dowry back, but you know your parents used the money for your sister’s dowry. I offered to cover the expense, and Monsieur Feldtrauer offered to give your sister’s dowry back, but your papa refused our offer. He was a proud man.”

Guillaume paled. His chest hurt as if someone punched him. “Was?” He grabbed the wall to keep from falling. Monsieur Cuny helped him to a chair and sat beside him, put a hand on his shoulder, and spoke softly.

“Son, your papa is dead. He died about two weeks after you left.”

A sob broke from Guillaume. “No! He cannot be dead. It is not true!” He buried his face in his hands, his fingers catching in the strap of his patch. He ripped it off and threw it against the wall.

Monsieur Cuny patted Guillaume’s back until he began to calm. “Let me get you a drink of ale.”

 After a long while, Guillaume raised his head and searched his mentor’s face with a pleading expression. “My mama?”

“I saw her several weeks ago, and she was fine, as beautiful as ever.”

Guillaume sighed in relief. “Where is she? I have to see her!”

“She lives with your sister —”

Before he could finish, Guillaume started to stand. “Thank you, Monsieur Cuny. I will speak with you later.”

“Guillaume, wait! You cannot go now. By the time you get there —”

“But —”

The older man grabbed his arm. “Son, you cannot go running through the streets. It will be getting dark soon.”

“Mama will not care!”

Monsieur Cuny shook his head. “But Monsieur Feldtrauer might care. He is a very important man. You cannot just pound on his door in the middle of the night.” He hesitated a moment and continued, “And you need a bath, son. You are a mess.”

“But…” Guillaume absent-mindedly touched his eye socket.

The older man softened his voice. “Stay here tonight, mon gars. Get a bath and have dinner with me. You can visit your mama and sister in the brightness of the morning.”

Guillaume breathed loudly, hesitating, “But I —”

“Come, son. I think Edmond left some clothes in his trunk that should fit you. You have been gone for four years. One more night will not matter.”

Guillaume studied his threadbare doublet. All of a sudden, he ached for a bath and agreed to stay the night.

As he lay in the sheet lined wooden tub, his thoughts drifted back to the day he left Strasbourg. He had been betrothed to a sweet girl, Quirienne and had a good job in Monsieur Cuny’s music shop repairing instruments and giving lessons on the lute. He loved to sing and often sang to himself while he worked around the house. One day, a musician hired to play at a wedding celebration happened by and heard him singing. He convinced Guillaume to come to the celebration and sing, and perhaps join the troupe. Sweet Quirienne helped him select the perfect clothes to wear, kissed his cheek, and offered him good luck.

All those people staring at him made him nervous, but to his surprise, everyone loved him, especially the women. They could not take their eyes off him. His tenor voice had flowed so smoothly. After a while, he became emboldened and began walking around the room, singing to the women individually. He noticed the lust in their eyes. After the performance, several women introduced themselves. Several others offered more than just an introduction. All the attention went to his head, so when the musicians asked him to join their troupe, he eagerly accepted. He never even went back to tell his parents or Quirienne goodbye. He sighed and dunked his head under the water.

After his bath, he raked through Edmond’s trunk. He pulled out a simple white linen shirt with a starched collar, a red doublet with long sleeves, matching slops, and hose, and a black leather jerkin with a v-shaped front. The clothes were plain with no added adornments — typical, plain, boring Edmond.

Monsieur Cuny’s son, Edmond, had grown up with Guillaume and had been his best friend. After Edmond’s mother died, Guillaume’s mama took the job as his governess, and Monsieur Cuny came to love her as his daughter. The boys spent many days happily, playing with wooden swords, pretending to be knights, or playing with clay marbles in this old house. About the same time that Guillaume had asked Quirienne to marry him, Edmond began courting a lovely girl named Barbe. They must be married by now.

Lying on the table in Edmond’s room, Guillaume found a small looking glass and gazed at his reflection. He gasped. He touched his eye socket with the towel, his fingers lingering on the indentation.

From the time he was a child, people had commented on his beautiful olive green eyes and the way they stood out against his “golden skin,” as his papa used to say. He resembled his mama – used to resemble her. Now, people look at him with disgust. For a moment, he felt a twinge of guilt. This was his fault, hanging around with those drunken, no-good friends of his. However, when he glanced a second time, he saw Catherine’s face and relived the day she stabbed him with the thorn. Hate filled his heart.

This happened because that fat old greedy barkeep, Bastien, kicked him out of the auberge. He could have been happy there, singing and playing the lute. He did not make enough money to pay the rent simply by passing around a hat to those cheap peasants of Vacquenoux, but he entertained the customers from the coach. They enjoyed his songs and drank more ale, and that pig should have been paying him for his services.

The familiarity of the house where he had spent so much time as a child lifted his spirits a little. Other than the older man losing even more of his hair, everything appeared the same. Everyone in town knew the jolly music man, Monsieur Cuny but more than that, he knew everyone by name. When someone bought an instrument from his shop, Monsieur Cuny offered free lessons. His calm, supportive character encouraged even the least musical to enjoy the pleasure of melody. All of his children learned to play, and so did Guillaume and his sister, Eve. The lute was Guillaume’s favorite. He remembered many happy hours playing and singing together.

When he arrived in the dining room, the table where he had eaten with the extended family was set for just the two of them. Monsieur Cuny met him with a compassionate smile and handed him his patch. “What happened to your eye, son?”

Guillaume pouted. “Someone stabbed me with a thorn. I had never felt such pain.”

“I believe it. I cannot imagine,” the old man said, shaking his head.

The servant brought steaming bowls of soup, and Monsieur Cuny motioned for Guillaume to sit while she served them.

Guillaume continued. “My eye constantly watered. Once I finally got the thorn out, I thought it would heal so I started home. After a couple of days, it started to hurt worse. I could not stand the pain and stopped at a farm for help. The old woman allowed me to spend the night. She put a drop of something in my eye that she said would help. I believed her! The next day, it had swollen to twice its size, and she made me a drink for the pain. The next thing I knew, I woke up tied to the table, and that witch had removed my eye! She said it would have popped, or it would have killed me!” Guillaume’s lips quivered. He lowered his head and dabbed his eye with his napkin.

The old man’s face grew troubled. “Oh, Guillaume!” He took the young man’s hand and they sat in silence for several moments. “Who stabbed you?”

“I would prefer not talk about it, Monsieur Cuny.”

After a moment of silence, the old man continued. “When the deputy I had hired said he found you had joined the troop, we were relieved. Although we were shocked when you ran off, I have to admit, I secretly felt proud of your success as a chanteur. I heard you sang for the Duke of Lorraine!”

“Yes, Monsieur. We lived in the castle for a couple of months.” He glanced toward his soup, but his expression was far away. A smile crept over his face, and slowly his focus returned. “It was wonderful, almost like a dream. Everyone wanted to be near me, merely to be seen near me. They bought me dinner, drinks. They treated me so well.”

Monsieur Cuny dipped his bread into the bowl, sopped up the broth, and took a bite. “What happened? Why did you leave them? We thought you were murdered!”

Guillaume sighed and stared absently at the old man. “I seduced the Duke’s daughter. When he found out, he would have killed me, but she begged him to spare my life. He warned me never to return to Nancy, and forced her to join a Benedictine Abbey in Remiremont. I was so ashamed I could not come home. I have just been traveling and performing in fairs or celebrations for money. Occasionally, I sang in an auberge or bistro and passed my hat around the crowd, but when I… injured… my eye, I had to come home. Nobody will want to watch me sing now.”

After a moment of hesitation, Monsieur Cuny said, “You are talented, Guillaume. Give yourself a chance. If you are still the same person as you were when you left, everyone will welcome you back, and listen to you sing.”

“Do you think my mama and sister will forgive me?”

“Your mama loves you, son. Everyone thought you were dead. She will be happy to see you.”

“What about Quirienne?”                                

The old man shook his head, and his face grew critical. “You broke her heart, as I am sure you can imagine. She did not deserve to be treated so badly.”

 “I did not mean to hurt her.”

Monsieur Cuny raised his voice and smacked his hand on the table. “You never considered her feelings.”

Guillaume flinched and lowered his head, dabbing his eye again. “No. I just —”

“You just what?”

Guillaume exhaled and stared at the table. Neither spoke for several moments. The old man calmed and took another bite of soup. “Well, she married and I believe she has a child. I am sorry that I shouted. Eat your dinner.”

Guillaume took a bite of soup. The knots in his stomach loosened and he realized how hungry he was, famished in fact, and he ate hungrily. He expected this type of reception, but he thought his father would be the one chastising him. He could not believe that he would never see his father again. His heart ached. “What happened to papa?”

“He slipped and fell off the roof. It happened so suddenly.” The older man’s voice cracked as he recalled the incident. 

Guillaume shook his head and fought to hold back the tears. He put down his spoon.

“Your mama heard him fall. He did not suffer.” After another long pause, he continued. “Guillaume, I have to tell you something before you visit your mother. Your sister will be there and …” He hesitated as if deciding whether to continue. “Rita, uh, your mother confided in me that Eve thinks your father jumped because of the shame you caused him, but I cannot believe —”

Guillaume jerked his head up and stiffened. He inhaled and stammered, “My fault? Oh God, it was my fault!” He stood and rushed out the back door, unable to breathe. The image of his father’s smiling face transformed into the image of his mangled body on the ground, his mama running to him, embracing him as he breathed his last.

 “No, son! Your sister was wrong. It was an accident,” the old man said, following him. “Your papa never would have.” He exhaled sharply. “He loved her too much.”

Guillaume gazed vacantly into the darkness as a million stars twinkled above them. He took a deep breath. “Yes, it had to be an accident.”

“Your mama knows it was an accident, Guillaume. Maybe I should not have told you, but I wanted you to be prepared.”

Still staring into the distance, Guillaume replied, “How is mama getting along?”

“When I saw her last week, she said she felt happier than she had in a long, long time, though she refused to tell me the reason for her happiness. She is all right, Guillaume.” Monsieur Cuny laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and stood with him in silence. After a while, he continued, “Have you considered what you will do?”

“No, I had not thought that far ahead.”

“Would you like your old job at the shop? I have never found anyone as talented to take your place. The shop is getting to be too much for this old man. I could use your help.” 

“Thank you, Monsieur,” he replied. “I would like that very much.”

 “Go to bed now, son. Get some sleep. Tomorrow you will see your mother.”

Add a Comment
17. Flogometer for Isaiah—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Welcome. Only one in the queue for next week. 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 connecting the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Isaiah sends a first chapter of A Shadow Among Light . An earlier prologue/chapter version were submitted here. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Kavin spun and drew a lightbow, feeling the familiar vibration as the bow sent a charge into the arrow. The wiry fibers of the bowstring slid smoothly off of his gloved fingers as he released. Streaming wisps of white light, the arrow flew, screaming through the air. It smashed into a robotic sentry, and the bot vanished in a flash of burning plasma. Dropping to the ground and sliding, Kavin barreled into another sentry, stabbing it with a knife that pulsed with white light and destroyed the sentry as it fell. Springing up, he spun and cast a grenade into an approaching cyborg, and the creature vanished, vaporized.

The thrill of battle surged through Kavin’s veins as he sprinted forward, his feet flying past the scorched ground from the grenade. He drew his bow once again and took aim. Seconds later, his arrow smashed into a commanding officer – a human male. The man went down, his wound streaming white light and spraying blood. He didn’t rise.

Duck. The voice rang in Kavin’s mind, from beyond his own thoughts and knowledge, deep in his primal, instinctual existence. Kavin dropped, letting his legs fold beneath him. There was a roar as a rocket flew over his head and slammed into the massive doors ahead. As the heavy metal of the doors gave way, Kavin got back to his feet and faced the looming fortress ahead, surrounded in barren, bleak stone.

“Kavin!” A strong, masculine voice called from behind. Turning, Kavin faced the voice, (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Isaiah's first page?

For me, a definite improvement over the first version—good work. Good action here, and a different world is being revealed by what happens instead of us being told about it. What’s happening was enough to get me to turn the page to find out what the fight was about. But the writing could still be crisper. Notes:

Kavin spun and drew a lightbow, feeling the familiar vibration the wiry fibers of the bowstring vibrating as the bow sent a charge into the arrow. The wiry fibers of the bowstring slid smoothly off of his gloved fingers as he He released and, streaming. Streaming wisps of white light, the arrow flew, screaming screamed through the air. It smashed into a A robotic sentry, and the bot vanished in a flash of burning plasma. Dropping to the ground and sliding, Kavin barreled into another sentry, stabbing it with a knife that pulsed with white light and destroyed the sentry as it fell. Springing up, he spun and cast a grenade into an approaching cyborg, and the creature vanished, vaporized. The edits are intended to tighten the narrative and add pace. In a tense action scene, shorter, stronger sentences help create the feeling of movement and action. The use of “feeling” is a filter that separates the reader from the character’s experience; just go there directly.

The thrill of battle surged through Kavin’s veins as he sprinted forward, his feet flying past the scorched ground from the grenade. He drew his bow once again and took aim. Seconds later, his arrow smashed into a commanding officer – a human male. The man went down, his wound streaming white light and spraying blood. He didn’t rise. More edits to tighten the narrative. I’m not all that happy with the part about the thrill of battle surging through veins. A bit of a cliché. Maybe show us: Kavin roared as he sprinted past the scorched ground from the grenade.

Duck. The voice rang in Kavin’s mind, from beyond his own thoughts and knowledge, deep in his primal, instinctual existence. Kavin dropped, letting his legs fold beneath him. There was a roar as a A rocket flew roared over his head and slammed into the massive doors ahead. As the heavy metal of the doors gave way, Kavin got back to his feet and faced the looming fortress ahead, surrounded in barren, bleak stone. Unless this deep instinctual voice happens again, I’m not all that convinced by it. I also wonder about a military operation that would fire a rocket through its own troops. Seems like a dumb thing to do. We get the idea of “dropped” without the overwriting of his legs folding beneath him. I understand that you’re working to visualize what’s happening for the reader, but readers are capable of “seeing” what’s going on without a lot of fine detail, especially in a battle.

“Kavin!” A strong, masculine voice called from behind. Turning, Kavin faced the voice, (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Isaiah

 

Continued

. . . as well as its owner.

“Sir,” replied the soldier. His voice was slightly muffled by the veil he wore, covering all of his face save for his eyes.

“Lead a squad into the base,” Hait said.

With a nod, Kavin flicked a hand. Five soldiers, all in black, slipped like shadows from the ranks of soldiers at Hait’s command.

“Take it?” Kavin asked.

“Secure it, yes.” Hait’s black eyes flitted to the base for a moment, and then back to Kavin. “Better hurry.”

Pulling a glowing arrow from his quiver, Kavin motioned for the soldiers to follow him. He kept his head low as he and his team hurried towards the base. They had been pressing a constant attack on the enemy for months, driving ever inward past border upon border. They were in a civilized land, fighting an advanced enemy. And now they had reached the heart of that civilization. Now they were ready to cut of the head and restore peace and control.

Reaching the door to the base, Kavin and his men hurried through the doors into the sprawling room beyond. A thundering yell hit their ears, commanding an attack. Grenades flew, and Kavin’s squad split, rolling away from the attack. Smoke erupted into the air, burning eyes and nostrils.

Stay down, Kavin willed his soldiers. From somewhere to the right, there came the sound of shoes scraping on stone. Gunfire blazed, and a body fell.

“Damn it,” muttered Kavin. Pulling a grenade from a pouch on his belt, he hurled it towards the sound of gunfire. It landed with a ping near the source of the gunfire. A brief shout rose, and then the grenade exploded, spraying plasma.

As the smoke began to clear, Kavin rose. He gazed around the room at the carnage. He’d lost two men – one to enemy gunfire, one to spraying plasma. The enemy had fared worse; they had lost ten soldiers, one of them a commander.

His remaining soldiers stood and hurried towards a door, sealed by a force field. Some of them looked expectantly at their leader for a moment, but Kavin’s face only deepened into a frown as he went to the sides of his fallen comrades. Only one remained – the one struck by plasma had vaporized. The one torn apart by bullets lay on the ground, blood pooling beneath his body, eyes like glass. As Kavin touched the man’s hand, he found the skin already cold and lifeless.

Stooping, Kavin picked the man up and set his body over his shoulders. As he joined his remaining squad members, he saw them begin to mutter to one another and roll their eyes. Among the other soldiers, Kavin was an oddity – he grew attached too easily, and refused to accept that when a comrade died, he or she was gone. There would be no more missions together. No more fighting side by side. It was over.

“Shut up,” Kavin spat at his companions. “He started this mission with us – he’ll finish it with us.”

“He’s dead,” one of the soldiers retorted. “Leave him.”

“I don’t care if he’s dead – he’s one of us.”

“And he’s dead. So let it be.”

“He’s coming.”

“All you’ve got on your shoulders is a body,” the soldier said, tone softening. “There’s no life in it. No commands to give or follow. No words to say, no gestures to give. He’s dead.”

“I don’t give a shit! He’s coming with us, and you’d better shut the hell up!”

“Kavin.” Hait’s voice rang in Kavin’s ears, placating but firm. It wasn’t loud – even if Hait had shouted, the little earpiece that every soldier wore would have canceled out most of the volume.  “We’ve worked too hard and come too far to let this slip away now. You keep that body with you and you’ll slow yourself and everyone else down. You’ll endanger this entire mission. There’s more going on here than you realize, I think. Leave him. Care for his body after you secure the base.”

“I…”

“That’s an order,” Hait growled, his voice losing its placating tone.

Kavin tightened his grip on the body, holding the fallen man across his shoulders.

“Now, soldier!”

The force field surrounding the doors that Kavin and his men faced blazed with light, and then it exploded in a flash, knocking several of the men down. Ears ringing and vision spinning, Kavin lost his grip on the body as he slammed into the ground. Ignoring the ringing, he rolled and surged to his feet, drawing his knife in one hand. He armed his other hand with his light plasma sword before launching into an attack. With so many opponents, he preferred his LPS to a single knife. Blades spinning, Kavin slaughtered three men before they could even react. Another fell as he pulled a plasma gun from a holster.

Having been given sufficient time to rise, Kavin’s remaining soldiers sprang into action, guns blazing. Kavin was a slight anomaly – while the rest of the soldiers had advanced their weaponry and wielded guns and tactical long-range weapons, Kavin preferred traditional blades and bows. He was good with them too.

The doorway was cleared in the space of a minute, leaving bodies strewn across the floor and blood staining the hands of every soldier.

“Get the door open,” Kavin commanded. He cast a quick glance at the ceiling – several surveillance cameras glared back at him. “And take out the cameras.”

Nocking an arrow, Kavin drew back the bowstring, letting the charge build. His men took aim on the cameras and looked to Kavin, waiting for his signal. He gave them a nod, and they shot. The cameras went down. Seconds later, alarms began to blare. The force field around the inner door reappeared, and turrets rotated out from behind the walls.

“I told you to secure the base!” Hait roared over the earpiece. “Take out that alarm and secure it!”

Nodding instinctively, Kavin spun and released his arrow. It flew into a control panel near the shielded door, detonating in a blast of power, and the turrets sparked once before going limp on their mountings. The alarm, however, continued to scream.

“We have to get inside to take the alarm out!” shouted Nath, one of Kavin’s men and the squad’s technological guru. “I can take down the shield, but you need to give me time.”

“As much as we can,” responded Kavin. Motioning, he sent two men to the battered doors. “Nath’s working on getting us in,” he told Hait. “I’ve got two men by the door, but only four of us aren’t going to be able to do this without some help.”

“I don’t have any reinforcements–”

“I just want you to keep the enemy busy,” Kavin said. “We can get in, but we can’t fight through an army as well.”

“You have flares?”

“Two blue, two red.”

“Shoot the blues if you take the base,” Hait instructed. “If you’re losing it, shoot the reds and hold till reinforcements come.”

“You just said you don’t have any.”

“I can get some,” Hait replied. But the message remained clear: if the base was looking to be lost, Kavin was to do anything and everything to keep it. Or he was to die trying.

“Nath needs time,” Kavin said after a moment of silence. “Keep as many of the enemy away as you can. We’ll take care of any you let through.”

“You’d better. We can’t afford to lose this.” Then the com went silent.

“How’s that shield coming?” Kavin asked, turning back towards the inner door, but there was no answer. The shield around the door still shimmered with energy, and the door remained sealed. The soldier wasn’t there. “Nath?”

The faint whisper of cloth brushing stone brought Kavin’s head around as he looked back over his shoulders. Near the concaved outer doors of the base, Kavin’s remaining three men laid in a heap on the floor, unmoving.

Reacting purely on instinct, Kavin sprinted towards the soldiers. After perhaps three strides, a faint beeping noise reached his ears, followed by an explosion. Moving too fast to reverse his motion, Kavin dove to the side as stone and metal fell from the ceiling, burying the soldiers and sealing the doorway. There was a brief shout over the earpiece in Kavin’s ear, but once the rocks fell there was nothing but static.

 

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18. A view or two from a MFA teacher

MFA artI came across a post by a former MFA writing teacher that had, for me, interesting thoughts on the nature and abilities of writers as well as the value of MFA programs. The article is titled “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.”

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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19. Flogometer for Juliette—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 connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Juliette sends first chapter of what looks like historical fiction, no title available. The remainder is after the break.

CHAPTER 1

1585

Strasbourg, Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation

 

Guillaume crossed the street and shuffled forward. Just a little bit farther, around the next bend.

The chanteur touched his scar, the edge damp with seepage. He wiped his eye with his handkerchief and shuddered. The sensation still filled him with revulsion. He considered donning his patch. No— papa might be more sympathetic if he sees my disfigurement.

The image of his childhood home filled his thoughts. His step became livelier as he turned the corner and passed the neighboring gable and timbered houses. He scowled when he noticed the flower boxes overflowing with weeds and the roses beside the front door overgrown and unkempt. He tried the door, but found it locked. He heard talking around back and circled the house. “Mama? Papa?”

In the courtyard behind the house, where his mother kept a small vegetable patch, several children whom he did not recognize played in an untended garden. The biggest boy ran toward him and abruptly stopped, screaming, “Mama, come quickly!”

A woman appeared at the back door, her dress shabby, her hair, stringy and (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Juliette's first page?

There’s good writing here, and the time and place have inherent interest. There was just enough in the way of story questions for me to turn the page, but there had be something immediately after that raises the tension and creates stronger story questions. And I think the narrative could use some polishing. Notes:

Guillaume crossed the street and shuffled forward. Just a little bit farther, around the next bend.

The chanteur touched his scar, the edge damp with seepage. He wiped his eye with his handkerchief and shuddered. The sensation still filled him with revulsion. He considered donning his patch. No— papa might be more sympathetic if he sees my disfigurement. This description needs work—it should be clear to the reader that it refers to his eye. As it is, the reader has to figure that out, and she should not have to.

The image of his childhood home filled his thoughts. His step became livelier as he turned the corner and passed the neighboring gable and timbered houses. He scowled at when he noticed the flower boxes overflowing with weeds and the roses beside the front door overgrown and unkempt. He tried the door, but found it locked. He heard talking around back and circled the house. “Mama? Papa?” Not sure what is meant by “gable and timbered houses.” Is it “gabeled?” “When he noticed” is a filter that can distance the reader from the character’s experience.

In the courtyard behind the house, where his mother kept a small vegetable patch, several children whom he did not recognize played in an untended garden. The biggest boy ran toward him and abruptly stopped, screaming, “Mama, come quickly!”

A woman appeared at the back door, her dress shabby, her hair, stringy and (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Juliette

 

Continued

. . .  matted. The boy shouted something inaudible and rushed to his mother, hid behind her skirts, and pointed toward Guillaume. The woman wiped the child’s face on her apron and pushed him toward the house. “Gather the children and go inside, hurry!”

She picked up a broom and advanced toward Guillaume. “Get out of here!” she shouted.

Shocked, Guillaume shouted back, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“What do you mean what am I doing here?” the woman replied, raising the broom as a weapon. “This is my house, and you are scaring my children. Now go away!”

“Your house?” Guillaume laughed. “This is my parents’ house.”

“We bought this house four years ago.” The woman slowed her step but continued to hold the broom in front of her. When she neared Guillaume, she flinched and then stared indignantly at his face.

Guillaume’s laugh transformed into a grimace. “What do you mean, you bought this house? My parents would never have sold their house!”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “If this wasyour parents’ house, they sold it to me a long time ago. Now, should I have my son fetch my husband, or are you going to leave on your own?”

“But…” Guillaume scanned the courtyard, which looked very different than it did when he left. His mother would never allow such disarray. He muttered, “I have been gone a while…” His heart began pounding in his chest, and he glared at the woman. Suddenly conscious of her stare, he asked, “Why would they sell?”

“I have no idea,” she replied. Her back stiffened, and she raised her chin defiantly. “But I would appreciate it if you would leave.”

Guillaume exhaled. He glanced around his childhood home reminiscing about the big tree in the corner, and playing hide-and-seek with his sister in this courtyard. He peered in the window and saw the children gawking at him. They turned to each other, all talking at the same time, and pointing at him with terrified looks on their faces. “I am… sorry.” He lowered his head and slowly backed away.

He breathed deeply to calm himself, the way he had before each performance. When he reached the street corner, he stopped and absently dabbed his eye again. What should I do now? He scanned the street, which appeared out of focus. Where could my parents have gone? They would not have sold their home unless…

He leaned against the fence until his dizziness passed. He thought of Monsieur Cuny, who lived just up the street on the main thoroughfare. Surely, he would know where they had gone.

He turned to take one last look at the house and shook his head. That woman had some nerve, staring at him so rudely. He had once stood in the presence of nobility!

He touched his eye socket and felt the indentation. Not donning the patch had not been such a good idea after all, but it itched and gave him a headache.

He pulled the leather patch from his bag, slipped it over his head, and made his way up the street. After his last meeting, he was almost afraid to knock on his mentor’s door. “Monsieur Cuny?” he called.

A frail old man answered. His face bore the wisdom of his age. A black coif covered the man’s thin gray hair and his full beard, peppered with white. His doublet, though new and of good quality, appeared ill fitting on his stooped shoulders.

Immediately upon recognizing Guillaume, the man’s face brightened with a smile and widening eyes. “Guillaume? Is that you? Come in, come in!” Monsieur Cuny grabbed Guillaume’s sleeve and pulled him into his embrace. “Are you all right? Your eye!”

 “Monsieur Cuny, I went by my parents’ house and —”

“What happened to you, son?” the older man interrupted. “I hired a deputy to find you, but he found you no longer traveled with your troupe. He searched everywhere, but no one knew where to find you.”

“Monsieur Cuny. Did my parents sell our house? Where are they?”

A look of sadness crossed his friend’s face, and Guillaume inhaled sharply and held his breath, waiting.

 The old man hesitated and replied, “Terrible things happened while you were away. Terrible things…” he added quietly, shaking his head.

Guillaume could not breathe. His head began to pound. “What sort of terrible things?”

“Come in and sit down, Guillaume.” He gestured to the young man and reached behind him to close the door.

 Instead of obeying, Guillaume grabbed the old man’s arms and shook him. “What has happened to my parents and my sister?”

 “Guillaume, you had a betrothal contract. You should not have left that way. There were consequences. There are always consequences…”

 “Monsieur Cuny, please! Where are my parents?”

Monsieur Cuny’s face became stern. He exhaled and said, “Quirienne’s papa demanded the dowry back, but you know your parents used the money for your sister’s dowry. I offered to cover the expense, and Monsieur Feldtrauer offered to give your sister’s dowry back, but your papa refused our offer. He was a proud man.”

Guillaume paled. His chest hurt as if someone punched him. “Was?” He grabbed the wall to keep from falling. Monsieur Cuny helped him to a chair and sat beside him, put a hand on his shoulder, and spoke softly.

“Son, your papa is dead. He died about two weeks after you left.”

A sob broke from Guillaume. “No! He cannot be dead. It is not true!” He buried his face in his hands, his fingers catching in the strap of his patch. He ripped it off and threw it against the wall.

Monsieur Cuny patted Guillaume’s back until he began to calm. “Let me get you a drink of ale.”

 After a long while, Guillaume raised his head and searched his mentor’s face with a pleading expression. “My mama?”

“I saw her several weeks ago, and she was fine, as beautiful as ever.”

Guillaume sighed in relief. “Where is she? I have to see her!”

“She lives with your sister —”

Before he could finish, Guillaume started to stand. “Thank you, Monsieur Cuny. I will speak with you later.”

“Guillaume, wait! You cannot go now. By the time you get there —”

“But —”

The older man grabbed his arm. “Son, you cannot go running through the streets. It will be getting dark soon.”

“Mama will not care!”

Monsieur Cuny shook his head. “But Monsieur Feldtrauer might care. He is a very important man. You cannot just pound on his door in the middle of the night.” He hesitated a moment and continued, “And you need a bath, son. You are a mess.”

“But…” Guillaume absent-mindedly touched his eye.

The older man softened his voice. “Stay here tonight, mon gars. Get a bath and have dinner with me. You can visit your mama and sister in the brightness of the morning.”

Guillaume breathed loudly, hesitating, “But I —”

“Come, son. I think Edmond left some clothes in his trunk that should fit you. You have been gone for four years. One more night will not matter.”

Guillaume studied his threadbare doublet. All of a sudden, he ached for a bath and agreed to stay the night.

As he lay in the sheet lined wooden tub, his thoughts drifted back to the day he left Strasbourg. He had been betrothed to a sweet girl, Quirienne and had a good job in Monsieur Cuny’s music shop repairing instruments and giving lessons on the lute. He loved to sing and often sang to himself while he worked around the house. One day, a musician hired to play at a wedding celebration happened by and heard him singing. He convinced Guillaume to come to the celebration and sing, and perhaps join the troupe. Sweet Quirienne helped him select the perfect clothes to wear, kissed his cheek, and offered him good luck.

All those people staring at him made him nervous, but to his surprise, everyone loved him, especially the women. They could not take their eyes off him. His tenor voice had flowed so smoothly. After a while, he became emboldened and began walking around the room, singing to the women individually. He noticed the lust in their eyes. After the performance, several women introduced themselves. Several others offered more than just an introduction. All the attention went to his head, so when the musicians asked him to join their troupe, he eagerly accepted. He never even went back to tell his parents or Quirienne goodbye. He sighed and dunked his head under the water.

After his bath, he raked through Edmond’s trunk. He pulled out a simple white linen shirt with a starched collar, a red doublet with long sleeves, matching slops, and hose, and a black leather jerkin with a v-shaped front. The clothes were plain with no added adornments. Typical, plain, boring Edmond.

Monsieur Cuny’s son, Edmond, had grown up with Guillaume and had been his best friend. After Edmond’s mother died, Guillaume’s mama took the job as his governess, and Monsieur Cuny came to love her as his daughter. The boys spent many days happily, playing with wooden swords, pretending to be knights, or playing with clay marbles in this old house. About the same time that Guillaume had asked Quirienne to marry him, Edmond began courting a lovely girl named Barbe. They must be married by now.

Lying on the table in Edmond’s room, Guillaume found a small looking glass and gazed at his reflection. He gasped. He touched his eye socket with the towel, his fingers lingering on the indentation.

From the time he was a child, people commented on his beautiful olive green eyes and the way they stood out against his “golden skin,” as his papa used to say. He resembled his mama – used to resemble her. Now, people look at him with disgust. For a moment, he felt a twinge of guilt. This was his fault, hanging around with those drunken, no-good friends of his. However, when he glanced a second time, he saw Catherine’s face and relived the day she stabbed him with the thorn. Hate filled his heart.

This happened because that fat old greedy barkeep, Bastien, kicked him out of the auberge. He could have been happy there, singing and playing the lute. He did not make enough money to pay the rent simply by passing around a hat to those cheap peasants of Vacquenoux, but he entertained the customers from the coach. They enjoyed his songs and drank more ale, and that pig should have been paying him for his services.

The familiarity of the house where he had spent so much time as a child lifted his spirits a little. Other than the older man losing even more of his hair, everything appeared the same. Everyone in town knew the jolly music man, Monsieur Cuny but more than that, he knew everyone by name. When someone bought an instrument from his shop, Monsieur Cuny offered free lessons. His calm, supportive character encouraged even the least musical to enjoy the pleasure of melody. All of his children learned to play, and so did Guillaume and his sister, Eve. The lute was Guillaume’s favorite. He remembered many happy hours playing and singing together.

When he arrived in the dining room, the table where he had eaten with the extended family was set for just the two of them. Monsieur Cuny met him with a compassionate smile and handed him his patch. “What happened to your eye, son?”

Guillaume pouted. “Someone stabbed me with a thorn. I had never felt such pain.”

“I believe it. I cannot imagine,” the old man said, shaking his head.

The servant brought steaming bowls of soup, and Monsieur Cuny motioned for Guillaume to sit while she served them.

Guillaume continued. “My eye constantly watered. Once I finally got the thorn out, I thought it would heal so I started home. After a couple of days, it started to hurt worse. I could not stand the pain and stopped at a farm for help. The old woman allowed me to spend the night. She put a drop of something in my eye that she said would help. I believed her! The next day, it had swollen to twice its size, and she made me a drink for the pain. The next thing I knew, I woke up tied to the table, and that witch had removed my eye! She said it would have popped, or it would have killed me!” Guillaume’s lips quivered. He lowered his head and dabbed his eye with his napkin.

The old man’s face grew troubled. “Oh, Guillaume!” He took the young man’s hand and they sat in silence for several moments. “Who stabbed you?”

“I would prefer not talk about it, Monsieur Cuny.”

After a moment of silence, the old man continued. “When the deputy I had hired said he found you had joined the troop, we were relieved. Although we were shocked when you ran off, I have to admit, I secretly felt proud of your success as a chanteur. I heard you sang for the Duke of Lorraine!”

“Yes, Monsieur. We lived in the castle for a couple of months.” He glanced toward his soup, but his expression was far away. A smile crept over his face, and slowly his focus returned. “It was wonderful, almost like a dream. Everyone wanted to be near me, merely to be seen near me. They bought me dinner, drinks. They treated me so well.”

Monsieur Cuny dipped his bread into the bowl, sopped up the broth, and took a bite. “What happened? Why did you leave them? We thought you were murdered!”

Guillaume sighed and stared absently at the old man. “I seduced the Duke’s daughter. When he found out, he would have killed me, but she begged him to spare my life. He warned me never to return to Nancy, and forced her to join a Benedictine Abbey in Remiremont. I was so ashamed I could not come home. I have just been traveling and performing in fairs or celebrations for money. Occasionally, I sang in an auberge or bistro and passed my hat around the crowd, but when I… injured… my eye, I had to come home. Nobody will want to watch me sing now.”

After a moment of hesitation, Monsieur Cuny said, “You are talented, Guillaume. Give yourself a chance. If you are still the same person as you were when you left, everyone will welcome you back, and listen to you sing.”

“Do you think my mama and sister will forgive me?”

“Your mama loves you, son. Everyone thought you were dead. She will be happy to see you.”

“What about Quirienne?”                          

The old man shook his head, and his face grew critical. “You broke her heart, as I am sure you can imagine. She did not deserve to be treated so badly.”

 “I did not mean to hurt her.”

Monsieur Cuny raised his voice and smacked his hand on the table. “You never considered her feelings.”

Guillaume flinched and lowered his head, dabbing his eye again. “No. I just —”

“You just what?”

Guillaume exhaled and stared at the table. Neither spoke for several moments. The old man calmed and took another bite of soup. “Well, she married and I believe she has a child. I am sorry that I shouted. Eat your dinner.”

Guillaume took a bite of soup. The knots in his stomach loosened and he realized how hungry he was, famished in fact, and he ate hungrily. He expected this type of reception, but he thought his father would be the one chastising him. He could not believe that he would never see his father again. His heart ached. “What happened to papa?”

“He slipped and fell off the roof. It happened so suddenly.” The older man’s voice cracked as he recalled the incident. 

Guillaume shook his head and fought to hold back the tears. He put down his spoon.

“Your mama heard him fall. He did not suffer.” After another long pause, he continued. “Guillaume, I have to tell you something before you visit your mother. Your sister will be there and …” He hesitated as if deciding whether to continue. “Rita, uh, your mother confided in me that Eve thinks your father jumped because of the shame you caused him, but I cannot believe —”

Guillaume jerked his head up and stiffened. He inhaled and stammered, “My fault? Oh God, it was my fault!” He stood and rushed out the back door, unable to breathe. The image of his father’s smiling face transformed into the image of his mangled body on the ground, his mama running to him, embracing him as he breathed his last.

 “No, son! Your sister was wrong. It was an accident,” the old man said, following him. “Your papa never would have.” He exhaled sharply. “He loved her too much.”

Guillaume gazed vacantly into the darkness as a million stars twinkled above them. He took a deep breath. “Yes, it had to be an accident.”

“Your mama knows it was an accident, Guillaume. Maybe I should not have told you, but I wanted you to be prepared.”

Still staring into the distance, Guillaume replied, “How is mama getting along?”

“When I saw her last week, she said she felt happier than she had in a long, long time, though she refused to tell me the reason for her happiness. She is all right, Guillaume.” Monsieur Cuny laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and stood with him in silence. After a while, he continued, “Have you considered what you will do?”

“No, I had not thought that far ahead.”

“Would you like your old job at the shop? I have never found anyone as talented to take your place. The shop is getting to be too much for this old man. I could use your help.” 

“Thank you, Monsieur,” he replied. “I would like that very much.”

 “Go to bed now, son. Get some sleep. Tomorrow you will see your mother.”

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20. Book clubbing

Book clubs are terrific in many ways, most especially in that they buy and read books. I've sat in on a book club meeting that discussed one of my novels, and they were all intelligent and insightful--I had a good time, perhaps mostly because they liked the novel.

And that none of them were the women portrayed in a post I came across titled "The 7 People in Every Book Club." It's tongue-in-cheek, but I suspect there's a lot of truth in this.

I also think that some of these same people appear in writers' critique groups. What do you think?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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21. Flogometer for Bill—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 connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Bill sends first chapter of All About the Money. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Ah, freedom.

Reid Middleton lifted his face. Sleet collided with his hair, a stinging frozen shower. His skin tingled, the pelting rain anything but torture. The guards in the Monroe exercise yard would never have let him stand by himself during a hard rain without being suspicious. Five minutes outside and back to work.

He squinted. Ice pellets rode the gale through bubbles of light haloing the tri-lamp poles across the street. His smile widened. Edges of ice scoured the skin on his face, the burn cleansing, invigorating.

“You stupid, young man?”

Reid shielded his eyes with a hand and glanced back at the sidewalk fronting the South Puget Sound’s largest homeless shelter. The hoarse voice belonged to one of their regulars. “Lot of people think I am, Ma'am.”

“Worse night we had.” The old woman tested the water with the rubber tip of her cane before putting her foot forward. “We still got room?”

“Yes, we do.” Reid pivoted. He strode toward the entrance door and cupped her elbow.

Glancing at his fingers on her stained coat, she paused.

“Been a little slippery out here,” he said, waiting until she settled her weight against him. (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Bill's first page?

A likeable voice and good writing here, but it’s devoted to set-up, pretty much. What happens here? A man muses about the past, likes the rain, and greets a woman. Not much in the way of story questions raised here for me, thus little in the way of tension. The voice and world just didn’t add up to compelling for me. Notes:

Ah, freedom.

Reid Middleton lifted his face. Sleet collided with his hair, a stinging frozen shower. His skin tingled, the pelting rain anything but torture. The guards in the Monroe exercise yard would never have let him stand by himself during a hard rain without being suspicious. Five minutes outside and back to work. The reference to the guards ended up confusing me. In an opening, set the current scene quickly and try to get to story as soon as possible.

He squinted. Ice pellets rode the gale through bubbles of light haloing the tri-lamp poles across the street. His smile widened. Edges of ice scoured the skin on his face, the burn cleansing, invigorating. I think a little too much time is spent on this. It has already been shown that he, for some reason, likes this.

“You stupid, young man?”

Reid shielded his eyes with a hand and glanced back at the sidewalk fronting the South Puget Sound’s largest homeless shelter. The hoarse voice belonged to one of their regulars. “Lot of people think I am, Ma'am.”

“Worse night we had.” The old woman tested the water with the rubber tip of her cane before putting her foot forward. “We still got room?”

“Yes, we do.” Reid pivoted. He strode toward the entrance door and cupped her elbow.

Glancing at his fingers on her stained coat, she paused.

“Been a little slippery out here,” he said, waiting until she settled her weight against him. (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Bill

Continued

The last four steps came quicker. When she negotiated the ramp, he opened the door. “Don't want anyone to fall.”

“Duh.” She rolled her eyes. Stepping through the doorway, she turned to him, shook her head, and smiled. “You ain't stupid, but... Get outta the rain before you catch real trouble.”

She passed the intake cage and walked toward the staircase down to the day room.

Reid waved at Oliver, the shelter’s entrance monitor, brushed the water off his staff parka, and eased into the chapel by the door on the left. Near the back of the room, he settled on a staff chair. Closing his eyes, he let the preacher’s familiar cadence surround him.

He had not preached, in twelve years of wasted ministry, one sermon with the power that his new boss displayed every night: Matthew Paul Leitner spoke with the voice of God.

Healing words flowed in Leitner's sweet baritone, like the oak-aged single malt Scottish whiskeys he once favored. Each syllable vibrated through the crowded sanctuary with authority and warmth. The voice had become famous. Then infamous.

During Reid’s seminary years, Leitner’s halo cracked in a drunken and promiscuous stupor. Leitner lost his pulpit. But, he never lost the Word.

The ticking wall heaters punctuated Leitner’s pauses like a Greek chorus. Reid caught the dank smell of rain-soaked coats and filthy blankets in the refurbished nineteenth century warehouse. The chapel, packed with old man Leitner’s flock, blended accents of Victorian-aged mildew with the scent of unwashed bodies.

Leitner was unlike most evangelists who rained harsh and accusatory shouts onto the souls of would-be penitents. Reid heard his boss wash the congregation of the broken with the sustaining promise of a Christ who had walked the dark streets where they now lived.

Hellfire evangelists withheld the salve of hope until tears of submission flowed. Leitner fed his wretched, abandoned souls the grace of God from the first sentence. The wounds of the homeless, the hiding, and the hopeless were visible to anyone who would see. Leitner’s Jesus needed no additional blood-letting; his Jesus came with open hands.

He had preached sixteen times since Reid assumed the night supervisor's duty. Burning to believe the old man’s winning witness, he could not. Thirty nine months, four days in the prison at Monroe bleached the remaining marks of faith from his body.

Not that Reid was immune from the executive’s electricity. Despite the overheated shelter’s chapel, he fought a prickling cold rising from bone to skin. He might as well be standing back outside, unshielded from the November storm.

Reid scanned one packed row to the next. The regulars squeezed into the eleven ranks of castoff pews from early twentieth century churches. Most were there good weather or bad. He knew others bypassed the chapel and found spots in the dayroom, awaiting their late call for dinner.

Tonight, irregulars filled all the rows of plastic chairs toward the back of the room, escaping the worst storm of the year. Reid recognized several of the fifty or so from earlier nights in November.

Four weeks into his parole-required work, he had nothing positive to add to these lives numbed to the diffidence of the world. Leitner brought food to their table. And, from what he had seen, the old man's words worked.

When the preacher launched his sermon, the room quieted.

Reid was amazed at Leitner’s originality, the gift of reading scripture in unexplored ways, and the shaping of words into verbal armor to protect individual lives. The Reverend lifted each gospel theme until it shone like new. He rode the passion but loathed the theatricality of his evangelical peers.

 “I’ve endured storms that flail the soul. I’ve survived hurricanes that bruised the mind. Yet, the worst I’ve suffered was silence.” Leitner stopped. “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Thou art with me.” Another pause. “You are not alone. Listen for His voice—however faint. He is with you.” His cadence, trimmed with a mid-Southern accent, he spoke as a wounded man. So easy to believe, so easy to trust. 

Reid allowed his head to lower. If you don't hear it, don't feel it, or can't subscribe to it, salvation fades. Just like love. 

Stretching against the back of the staff chair, he watched Leitner flick his concentration from one guest to another, a great preacher building intimacy with his congregation, eye to eye.

Leitner’s sermon came in rushes of images lit with truth then slowed with words squeezed through experience and regret. His empathetic struggle in life pointed at hope, the being of a gracious God.

Reid considered the unusually quiet crowd. During his tenure on the shelter’s staff, he had learned the names of a number of regular guests. While some lived in the Shelter of Hope’s in-house programs, most remained permanent residents of the streets.

In the front row, Leo Halloran, wrapped in his new Salvation Army winter blanket, sat next to his constant friend, Cadillac Charlie. Indifferent to the increasing stuffiness of the room, both wore or had under their chairs the few possessions they owned. Other regulars from the streets filled the first pews far from the chilly outer walls of the brick-faced building. They claimed this reward for having lined up in the rain an hour before the doors of the chapel opened.

Leitner’s voice never trembled but flowed rich with expectation. Unlike the screamers, he, white hair slick with sweat, floated words throughout the room in tones as sweet as a Puccini melody.

No one from Reid’s past would look for him in such a congregation as this. For certain, he would not be in the first rows, sitting with Leo and Cadillac. Those who remembered him fondly—how few would there be—would be surprised to see him in church at all.

Reid smiled. After these weeks listening to Leitner, he would choose to perch in the last two rows. Almost comfortable in a plastic chair, he’d sit with one eye on the preacher, hoping to spy the bridge back into the land of faith, the other eye on the door to rain-swept freedom.

For the second time in tonight’s sermon, Leitner turned his face and stared at Reid, the preacher’s promises of new life eliciting an unexpected emotional echo in him. Reid shivered. Glancing around to make sure no one had seen his reaction, he leaned forward. From the day he first heard the lies his exe told on the stand, Reid knew emptiness. Now, he protected what mattered. Do your job, nothing more. Commitment will kill you.

The beefy smell of simmering food added to the thick atmosphere. Something else? An added twinge tweaked his nose. The smell hit him like a charcoal broiler burning away lighter fluid. What were they serving?

 “I'm sorry, ma'am. We full up in the chapel tonight. You...”

The voice came from the back, over his left shoulder.

Rubbing a hand down his face, Middleton turned toward the entry doors. His smile faded.

A young woman, a rain-saturated baseball cap dripping onto shoulder-length hair matted against her face, clutched a preteen girl to her chest with one arm and waved off the chapel door manager with the other. The woman glared as though she was staring down a yelping security dog.

“Ma'am, you got to wait out here. We got room downstairs.”

“We don't got to go anywhere.” The woman drew the girl closer. Reaching out, she swatted the manager’s arm pointing at the exit door. “Keep your fucking hands off me and don't point.” Turning her head, she said to the older woman just behind her, “Come on, Gerrie.”

Reid rose and walked to the threesome. Leitner had stopped preaching and worshippers began to speak.

The woman pushed the girl toward the hot water radiator fronting the curtained window on the street-side wall. Sarge, a man wrapped in a faded fatigue jacket, eyes closed, legs bowed over the heat source, covered half the window sill.

“Move.” The woman, keeping the girl in front of her, planted her hand onto Sarge’s fatigue covered elbow and shoved him. The man jumped off the sill. His eyes flared open. Placing herself on the spot he had occupied, she left enough room for Gerrie, to sit atop the warm metal and lean against the buffered window.

Sarge, a non-commissioned officer from a Ranger unit deployed in the early days of Iraq, growled and pulled into a crouch, his hands drawn up, his nose sniffing for the enemy.

Reid closed the last few feet to the back of the room. “Hold on, Sarge,” he whispered.

The veteran, his holey camouflage jacket hanging open, a weathered black watch cap pulled low on ragged brows, turned back to the woman holding the child. His eyes grew wide. Fear and anger played across his face.

Reid rushed between Sarge and the three females. Gerrie Lancaster, the older of the two women, was a resident and one of the cooks in the Women's House. She knew better than to rattle Sarge who had a reputation for unpredictability.

Sarge, his face contorted, rose out of a crouch, squared his body to the younger woman and moaned. The sound quieted the room.

Presenting his back to Sarge, Reid moved in front of Gerrie, careful not to crowd the soldier. He whispered loud enough for Sarge to hear, “I’m going to find a place for you to sit down, Ma’am.”

“She’s fine. Back off,” said the woman beside Gerrie. “If your friend has a problem, maybe he shouldn't hog so much room on such a shitty night.”

“You may be right, Ma’am,” he said, “However, Ms. Lancaster looks pretty tired tonight. She’ll feel better if we can get her off her feet.”

“Just a minute, Sarge,” Reid said. “I need to help Ms. Lancaster to a seat.”

Slipping a hand around Gerrie’s waist, Reid waited until she was stabilized before they started in the direction of his seat on the side wall. He glanced back at Sarge, whose eyes remained wide, feral, ready to ward off the insurgents should they halt their retreat.

The younger woman, steering the girl, followed.

Before they had made it to Reid’s seat, Leo and Cadillac grabbed their belongings and sidled past others in the front row. The jawing back and forth in the row started again.

Gerrie Lancaster shuffled forward, Reid lifted his arm around her shoulders.

Something was very wrong. Cadillac looked frightened. The room smelled worse. Sharp, acrid?

Cadillac stopped in front of Gerrie Lancaster.

“What’s the matter?” Reid whispered.

The little old man’s glance darted around the room. Turning, he pointed toward the ceiling. “Smoke?” To Gerrie, his bearded face nodding, Cadillac continued. “You gotta leave, Ms. Lancaster.”

Leo reached a hand to his shoulder and pulled at him. “Now, Caddy. Go, now.”

Reid looked at the corner above Leitner’s head. No smoke. He sniffed. No tang of wood. Still that sharp odor.

Electrical.

Others rose from their seats, cradled their belongings, and pushed past those still seated.

Leitner leaned into the microphone and spoke slowly, “Calm down, calm down. If there’s a problem, we’ll get all of you out safely.” Pointing at Reid, he continued, “Our new Reverend will check on the situation and come right back with his report. There’s been no alarm sounded. He’ll check it out. Everyone calm down.”

Gerrie Lancaster shook off Reid’s hands and turned around to escape. The younger woman pulled her lagging girl toward the filling exit.

Reid darted for the doorway to the lobby. The hall manager pushed into the room, crashing into him. “We got smoke in the computer lab.”

A muffled alarm wailed.

Reid pushed into the frightened at the chapel door. “Call nine-one-one.”

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22. Myths about romance readers

HeartIf you write romance novels, do you know who your reader is? What are the demographics of romance readers? All women? All love-starved? Author Maya Rodale addresses a list of common “understandings” about who and what romance readers are and corrects them in “Who Is the Romance Novel Reader?” It’s a fun and enlightening read.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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23. Flogometer for Elizabeth—are you compelled to turn the page?

Oops, I got caught up in working on an edit and forgot to post yesterday. Enjoy.

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 connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Elizabeth sends a revised first chapter of Masquerade, (formerly Ace, a YA novel. The original is here. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

Two years ago I made a promise to myself. I would get out of this academy. I would die without its roof over my head.

I hop around my dorm, pulling on the leotard Ella sewed for me. There’s only two ways this morning will end. If I come first, I’ll be allowed to escape into the city outside. If I don’t, I’m stuck inside this prison for another year. I’m dancing for my freedom.

I throw on the cloak and the material falls silken over my shoulders. Ella did a good job with it.  She’s only ten and rubbish at performances, but a wonder with sewing. I can’t pick up a needle without pricking myself, so having her make costumes in return for dance lessons has been a good deal.

But I’ve always known Ella would’ve helped me, whether I gave her lessons or not. She used to have the dorm beside mine. I can’t count the nights she came in to hold my hand, while I screamed my head off about some nightmare or another. But these days the nightmares have faded, and Ella knows me better than anyone in the Institution. It isn’t something I’m proud of. Some of the students would kill their opponents for a chance of winning, so I don’t make a habit of trusting them.

I pull the hood low enough that my opponents won’t catch a look at me. To win (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Elizabeth's first page?

I do like Elizabeth’s voice for this character, and the writing flows nicely for the most part. But, for me, two things held back a page turn.  The first was a lack of tension caused by a lack of stakes. It’s clear that she wants desperately to get out of the academy/prison, but there are no troublesome consequences to failing. On the craft side, a pronoun without  its true antecedent caused total confusion in one paragraph, a real clarity issue. In reading on, there is a unique and interesting world here, and the promise of a good story. Keep working, you’ll get there.

Two years ago I made a promise to myself. I would get out of this academy. I would die without its roof over my head.

I hop around my dorm, pulling on the leotard Ella sewed for me. There’s only two ways this morning will end. If I come first, I’ll be allowed to escape into the city outside. If I don’t, I’m stuck inside this prison for another year. I’m dancing for my freedom. Not sure how to interpret “prison” here. First it’s an academy, then a prison. Is this just teenage angst, or is it a real prison, or is it an academy that is like a prison? What is she in the prison/academy for? Most importantly, what are the stakes for being stuck there for another year? If her problem is being kept in a school for a year, it doesn’t sound like a big problem. Need to include some stakes here.

I throw on the cloak and the material falls silken over my shoulders. Ella did a good job with it.  She’s only ten and rubbish at performances, but a wonder with sewing. I can’t pick up a needle without pricking myself, so having her make costumes in return for dance lessons has been a good deal.

But I’ve always known Ella would’ve helped me, whether I gave her lessons or not. She used to have the dorm beside mine. I can’t count the nights she came in to hold my hand, while I screamed my head off about some nightmare or another. But these days the nightmares have faded, and Ella knows me better than anyone in the Institution. It isn’t something I’m proud of. Some of the students would kill their opponents for a chance of winning, so I don’t make a habit of trusting them. The last two sentences didn’t make sense for me. Why is she not proud of Ella knowing her better than anyone? And the last sentence was a real non sequitur for me—what does her not being proud of knowing Ella have to do with students killing opponents? Is what she’s not  proud of trusting Ella? Not clear at all. The problem lies with the use of “It” at the beginning of the sentence—its antecedent lies in the sentence before it, but that, apparently, isn’t what was meant.

I pull the hood low enough that my opponents won’t catch a look at me. To win (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Elizabeth

 

Continued

. . . my freedom, I’ll have to dance so well I’m ranked above hundreds in the annual Student Ability Review this morning.

I check my reflection in the mirror. Where my face should be is just the shadow of the hood. I don’t bother trying to work my black hair into something. If I’m bad at sewing, my hair styling skills would be classed as apocalyptic.

I cross to my bed and pick up the mask. It fastens over my skull with a dull thwack, and takes a little adjusting to get it to mould to my face. It fits, but it should after all the hours Ella spent poking at my head. In the mirror you can see the faint glimmer of the blue and gold but nothing more.

I slip out of my dorm and hover at the entrance. The hallways and staircases of the Institution are dim but there’s enough light to see by. To my left is the path that leads to the Library. It’s forbidden, of course, but that doesn’t stop me sneaking down there every night to practice and read. But the danger’s worth it to read the books. I’m the only student that knows of the world outside the Institution.

I turn away from the library and set off. The coarse carpet nearly muffles my footsteps, but what it doesn’t, I do from habit. Not having the impending fear of capture is a nice change from my nightly routine of creeping around after curfew. I even pass a couple of the patrolling Electroines, but they don’t even look up. I’ve been chased by those machines through pitch-dark hallways before, and I’ve been lucky to escape. No one really knows what happens if you get caught after curfew, except that you disappear.

A pair of huge oak doors spit me into the Dining Hall. The first things I see are the patterns in the stained glass windows- patterns of moons and stars and trees- patterns of things that only exist in the Library’s books.

Maybe I’ll see them for real soon.

The Electroines line us up in front of the breakfast tables. The other students are in all forms of showy attire but Ella falls into place beside me wearing a simple white dress. She only stands to my shoulder, looking like a finch among birds of prey.

She elbows me, “Did you like the costume?” Before I can respond an Electroine calls her name.

“Here!” she says.

“Fife?”

“Here,” I say. The Electroine glances up from its clipboard and Ella withers a little beneath its blank face. It continues with the list, looking bloody in the light from the windows.

I turn to Ella, “Yeah, it’s great. Thanks.” I would have said more but my stomach’s performing its own dance routine. I think she understands though, because she falls quiet for a little while. The Electroine begins calling people to their performances.

I look down and see her hands trembling. I take them in mine and don’t say a word. I feel her gaze on me, but if I meet it I’m scared my hands will shake too, “Ella, I taught you everything I know. You’ll be fine.”

She nods and her little plaits bob, “Okay.”

She doesn’t sound okay. She looks even worse when an Electroine says, “Ella is summoned to the Grand Theatre.”

I let her hands go, but they flit beside mine for a fraction longer than they should. I gather myself and smile.

“Bye-bye,”she whispers. She doesn’t take her eyes off me until she’s swallowed by a door.

The next few minutes are agony. I don’t have Ella’s warm little hands to be brave for. I fiddle with the hood of my cloak, pulling it lower and lower as if I could retreat from everything. Now I don’t have my Library to hide in. Now I don’t have the towering bookcases to shelter me.

All I have is me and my mask.

The Electroine calls and I stumble after it, cloak fluttering on either side of me like flightless wings. I promised myself I would win this. But I’m a liar. I lied to Ella when I told her she would be fine, when I knew she was a terrible performer. I never told her, that while the winner of the Student Ability Review is freed, the loser disappears completely.

“It’s showtime,” the Electroine says behind me. I turn around and the door slams shut.

Add a Comment
24. 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 connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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.


Daniel sends a first chapter of a middle-grade novel, Hidden Treasure. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

“Venezuela?”

Mum was trying to have a serious chat with my grandparents.

“Don’t worry, Noah,” she’d assured me. “We’re not ignoring you.”

Then they turned around to ignore me. Whilst pretending to watch TV, I listened to every single word of the amazing conversation that followed. Mum whispered at my grandparents through gritted teeth. “Are you insane? Why would you want to go to Venezuela?”

Grandpa Joe’s white beard was thick and bushy but he was completely bald. It looked like he’d put his head on upside-down. His yellow Hawaiian-style shirt was covered with parrots and palm trees while his shorts revealed a pair of wrinkled, veiny legs and the anchor tattoo on his right calf.

“Angel Falls,” he grinned, showing off his piano mouth, a few teeth missing. “The world’s tallest waterfall.”

Mum pouted in confusion. “You want to see Angel Falls?”

“No,” Granny Annie interrupted. Her white hair contrasted with her rosy cheeks and black sunglasses. Granny Annie always wore sunglasses (even at night). “We want to go down Angel Falls!” she smiled.

Mum turned around to send me psychic messages with her eyes. They’ve finally lost the (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Daniel's first page?

I definitely like the voice and the writing in this opening chapter, and there are interesting characters--but the opening narrative isn’t about the protagonist, which I assume is the unnamed kid. The story, at this point, is not about him/her, it’s about setting something up. I think you’ve started the story too soon. Get closer to the inciting event, the place where a problem for the protagonist first appears. Notes:

“Venezuela?”

Mum was trying to have a serious chat with my grandparents.

“Don’t worry, Noah,” she’d assured me. “We’re not ignoring you.”

Then they turned around to ignore me. Whilst pretending to watch TV, I listened to every single word of the amazing conversation that followed. Mum whispered at my grandparents through gritted teeth. “Are you insane? Why would you want to go to Venezuela?” Try whispering anything intelligible through gritted teeth. You won’t get something anyone would actually do. It’s obvious he/she keeps listening, so no need to tell us. If you did some basic, quick scene-setting, we would know where we are and that the television is on. So where are they? All in the TV room?

Grandpa Joe’s white beard was thick and bushy but he was completely bald. It looked like he’d put his head on upside-down. His yellow Hawaiian-style shirt was covered with parrots and palm trees while his shorts revealed a pair of wrinkled, veiny legs and the anchor tattoo on his right calf. A nice description of Grandpa, but is he going to be a continuing character (I hope so, I like him)? If not, I wouldn’t take up this much of first-page narrative with description.

“Angel Falls,” he grinned, showing off his piano mouth, a few teeth missing. “The world’s tallest waterfall.”

Mum pouted in confusion. “You want to see Angel Falls?”

“No,” Granny Annie interrupted. Her white hair contrasted with her rosy cheeks and black sunglasses. Granny Annie always wore sunglasses (even at night). “We want to go down Angel Falls!” she smiled.

Mum turned around to send me psychic messages with her eyes. They’ve finally lost the (snip)

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Daniel

 

Continued

. . . plot, Noah! Time to send them to the nuthouse! I nodded. Message received loud and clear.

“If you jump down Angel Falls,” Mum barked. “You will die! Game over! Full stop. The End.”

Grandpa Joe grinned one of his cheeky, toothless grins. The wrinkles around his eyes gave him a permanently happy face. “We’ll be perfectly safe,” he smiled. “Because... we’ll be… in a barrell!”

Mum’s mouth opened wide, confusion slapped across her face. “This is ridiculous! It’s worse than when you wanted to bungee off Big Ben! Why would you want to go down Angel Falls in a barrel?”

Granny Annie, wearing a long, red dress, smiled before speaking.

“Life is an adventure. We should create special stories and magical memories. If we were meant to do the same things over and over again, we’d have been born as sheep. Sleep, eat grass, repeat. We’re sixty seven years old and we still haven’t been on a blinkin’ aeroplane. We don’t have long left and we want to fill our time with amazing experiences.”

Life is an adventure? I liked the sound of that!

Mum frowned, spreading her hands wide. “Okay, you want to go on an aeroplane because you’ve never done it before. I accept that. But why Venezuela? Why do you need to go down the world’s biggest waterfall in a barrel? Why can’t you just go to… Benidorm?”

My grandparents then exchanged a quick glance. A hidden message.

“We can go wherever we want,” said Granny Annie. “And we want to go to Angel Falls.”

“You’re not going to Venezuela!” Mum yelled.

“It’s going to happen,” said Granny Annie softly. She tapped the side of her sunglasses. “I’ve seen it in the meat!”

Mum sighed heavily. “Not this again!”

Granny Annie was an eccentric lady who believed in the mystical world of fortune telling, trickery and voodoo. Her particular talent - so she claimed - was that she could see the future by looking into joints of red meat. Many times, I’d arrived at their bungalow and found her in the kitchen, staring into a slice of frying steak.

“How can you afford it?” Mum asked anxiously. “You can barely pay your bills with those measly pensions. You can’t afford return flights to Venezuela.”

Grandpa Joe’s stubborn grin never budged an inch. “We have a plan.”

Add a Comment
25. Flogometer for Gary—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—Protagonist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist 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—what happens next? or why did that happen?

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. Obviously, some items may not apply if you’re opening with an antagonist such as, let’s say, a serial killer.


Gary sends a first chapter of a sequel to This Book Sucks, This Book Sucks Way Worse. The first book critique is here. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote. It helps the writer.

A rock fell out of the sky and landed on Thirteen-fifty Dixie Road, Cayman Islands. Headquarters for the biggest company on earth had been a mailbox, and the room’s secretary had been the only person who knew how the pieces fit together; may she rest in peace.

Mostly my twin sister and I just cashed our CEO checks and lived in an obscure Ohio mansion that took twenty minutes on a scooter to get from the Corinthian columns on the front porch to the back pool oasis. There, marble statues of naked women held fruit baskets and spouted water out of their finger tips.

A setup like ours took constant attention. Natalia thinks a pool plumber is still in the west wing somewhere, lost, maybe living off the mints that one of the maids keeps putting in bowls strategically placed in every room.

Anyway, the whole world had to sit around wearing respirators for three months, following the cosmic event. Sometimes I’d just stop in whatever room I’d gotten lost in, take a seat on a French chair and start yelling, “Oh my god, oh my god,” with the respirator off, breathing in tiny pieces of Caribbean sand. I’m pretty claustrophobic. Thank god the air cleared up and I could finally fix my makeup. My hair had always been black, so that didn’t change a whole lot.

Our next check came soon as the mailman visited on month four. It was from Tokyo and (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Gary's first page?

The voice is fun and the writing fine (except “finger tips” should be one word). I think you have to be in the mood to go for this kind of tongue-through-cheek whimsy on voice alone if there isn’t a strong story hook in the beginning, and there wasn’t one for me. The world-shaking calamity mentioned seems to have passed and the negative consequences of not being able to do make-up are over, so the narrator doesn’t have a problem for the reader to watch her wrestle with.

Comments, please?

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 © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Gary


 Continued

. . . in yen. It didn’t have any zeros behind the seventeen. Usually there’d been at least seven or eight and it had been in normal money.

“We should have opened a savings account at the’a Ohio and State Savings,” my Italian sister, Natalia, suggested with an accent, three months late.

“We have seventeen yen. Let’s take the plastic cover off one of the limousines in the garage and make a run for an ice cream at the McDonalds drive through. We can beg for strawberries on top,” I suggested. “Everything’s probably open. Look at the junk mail! I bet we have a coupon.” The mailman had left a sixteen wheeler full of useless junk mail in the circular driveway, right next to the statue of the jockey holding the lantern. Three gardeners were out there trimming hedges, acting like four of the truck’s rear wheels weren’t in the boxwoods.

“We can’t. We are the, what you say… broke.”

“How’s that possible?”

“The party.”

“I don’t even remember it.”

“We messed up and did put it on the schedule for’a two o’clock.”

“Really?” We both passed out for a half hour every day, starting at exactly two o’clock. Usually that worked at parties because they were long and people passed out at those anyway, though later. “It seems like it was pretty short.”

“The comet interrupted. Everyone went home, but we did, what you say, pay the bands and catering in advance.”

“How much is seventeen yen?”

“Fifteen cents.”

My twin sister was prettier than me—even though we were the same—and I just hated it. We had an old, wrinkled picture of our mother, and she was the spitting image, curly hair, pouting lips, dimples, huge eyes, only a couple pimples, great teeth. Very Italian.

Incidentally, Natalia had lived there her whole life. I’d lived in Ohio with my fake mom and dad, not even knowing I’d been adopted, which sucked.

At the same identical moment that I was confusing my jealousy issues with the idea that I’d just had to live in a respirator for three months—and still didn’t have enough money for a cheap ice cream cone—the head maid walked in.

She curtsied. “Madam…” She made a grimace. “…Morticia.” She curtsied again to my sister. “Madam Natalia, I quit.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Why?” Natalia asked.

“Everyone else quit. You have no money.”

“How did you know?” I asked. “We just found out, three minutes ago.” I started hyperventilating. Who was going to set out the mints? We’d run completely out of all the pink ones within walking distance.

It was two o’clock, so I didn’t hear her answer. We faded in the foyer.

The last thing I saw after my back hit the floor was the crystal chandelier sparkling in my eyes. God dammit, we were going to have to start waking up before noon, or we’d never get anything accomplished.

###

When I woke, the chandelier was missing. I sat up. The chairs and drapes were gone, too. Somehow, they’d rolled up and absconded with the twenty-thousand-dollar rug that had been under me. Foot marks covered my pink Miu Miu blouse and skirt.

People tended to like Natalia better than me. They’d stood her up in the corner, keeping her safely out of the way while they stole everything. She was still half asleep and fell like a board onto her face, landing on the scattered pins that had once held the front door to the frame.

Sometimes we forgot when it was approaching two o’clock, but we never missed out on two thirty.

“Alright,” I said. “Now’d be a good time to have a boyfriend.”

Atom ran in. He was an Ohio State offensive tackle and had been trying for a half year to work up past a jog. “We can take the respirators off, now.” He removed his. “What did you do with those marvelous fuchsia drapes?”

Natalia got up and went to visit one of the bathrooms tucked away behind a false wall papered in hand-painted Tuscan lace.

“Where’s Alice?” I asked.

“They did’a even steal the toilet paper.” Natalia’s voice came muffled.

“She dumped me. Me! Can you believe it?” Atom pointed to his chest with a pinky finger.

“Why?”

“I have no idea.” He threw up his hands and spun around in the foyer, almost hitting the wall with his My Little Pony suitcase. “One minute I was shaving my leg in the sink, the next she’s all, ‘Get out of here!’”

Natalia exited the bathroom and pushed the door back into place so it once-again blended with the wall. I’d never figured out where the handles were for those doors, so her closing the door all the way troubled me a little. “Alice be the, what you call, impulsive,” my sister said.

“No, the impulsive one is me,” I said.

“That’s why I’m so glad to have my very own sister back,” Natalia said.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

Atom interrupted. “Since they closed down the university because they thought the world was coming to an end, I get to move in with you, girlfriend!”

No way. Then again, he was big. Big could be handy. His head would have likely tinkled the bottom crystals on the chandelier, had it not been stolen by the help on their rush out. “Good. You can help me pack.”

My rooms were up the stairs and about a half mile to the left. Every so often I yelled, “Hey!” just to hear the echo. All the little vases and the scroll-legged stands were gone. Puddles of water and spilt flowers needed going around. There came a place where a couple hundred feet of wallpaper had been stripped and carted off. We didn’t have any paintings of dead relatives, so the faded rectangles in the hall remained the same.

I went through the door to my bedroom suite. About ten minutes later I stopped screaming, “Somebody stole my entire Dolce & Gabrana collection.”

Atom took his fingers out of his ears and said, “It looks like they took everything.”

I spun in place. “Oh! Yeah. They stole everything!”

He casually kicked over an empty water bottle, no doubt pretending like he wasn’t relieved that he no longer had to carry my luggage.

The walk-in closet was also empty. “Even the outfit that looked mostly like a bra and panties with a slip.” That theft was actually both a good thing and a bad thing, depending upon whether I ever figured out where I’d wear it. The outfit had just hung there on that hanger, tempting me without mercy.

“You have a safe,” Atom said, now that he was standing right in front of it and now that my stack of bathrobes no longer hid the little tumbler wheel.

I skipped over to the wall safe and shooed him away. “Don’t watch my secret combination.” I dialed left to one, right to one, left to one. It opened. “Thank God!”

“Did you find your money?” he asked from the bedroom.

“Way better than that.”

Atom returned. He glaring over my shoulder while I plucked my poor deceased mother’s rubber fishing boots out of the safe. They were yellow and came up past my knees when I stepped in. They didn’t match my pink Miu Miu blouse and skirt masterpiece, but I was preserving family history. In fact, the fact that the skirt was short and the blouse partially see-through even helped the boots stick out. My sister would notice that I’d saved our momma’s boots. That’s the most important thing on the planet.

I handed my slippers to Atom and said, “All packed. Let’s go.” On the way out, I grabbed some mints that were sprinkled across the carpet padding: baby blue and white; they were barely edible colors in an emergency.

While we walked back toward the stairwell, I tried to avoid the puddles. Atom picked up all the lavender flowers. He probably meant to find a jar. I noticed that he’d put his left foot right into the water, two puddles in a row, making left footprints over and over again.

I started stomping my right foot extra hard, hoping to compensate, which was impossible because my boot wasn’t wet and it wasn’t half his size and it wasn’t even on his body. “Dammit! Put those flowers down, you’re killing me.”

He moped behind me the rest of the way to the door, where my sister waited. Somehow, she’d found two suitcases full of clothing and a scarlet folding chair. “Mama Mia, you saved our momma’s boots. Can I wear them?”

“It’s all I’ve got. They stole my socks, and it’s winter.”

“Alright, but tomorrow’s my turn.” She kept reordering a stack of three Franciscan hats on her head while looking in the mirror, settling on leaving the red one on top of the trifecta. She noticed the desire on my face and made a diversion by pointing at me and saying, “I always liked that outfit.”

Speaking of outfits, in addition to having packed two suitcases, she was wearing Emilio Cavallini sportswear, covered by a kimono to keep warm in the brittle weather. Michael Kos ankle boots made her a couple inches taller than me. Everything was black, white, grey or sheer, but the kimono liners were radioactive red, which reflected off the Emilio Cavallini blouse like a magical aura.

“Did the thieves leave you any protection?” I asked.”

“Si.”

“We should use it right way, before going outside.”

Atom’s attention perked up.

“Let me check my purse.”

We all hovered close while she stuck her hand in there and scrounged around for five or ten minutes.

“Oh, shoot.” She dumped it on the floor. “Here you go.” She handed me the only foundation she’d stuffed in there. Peach. I started dabbing it on. About the perfect time, she found the little mirror and held it up for me so I could finish around my eyes and a spot I’d missed on the side of my nose.

We reversed holding the mirror so she could put on her protection.

“Oh my God, you have Nxy Bloody Mary!” I was actually partial to Day-Glo Fire Truck, but in a pinch…. I snatched the lipstick off the floor and put on a couple coats.

“Bloody Mary’s my favorite. Just the name, it be what you call… special,” Natalia said when I gave it back to her with fingers trembling with excitement. I held the mirror up and admired my lips a lot, thinking the color was maybe my favorite, now, too.

“Hat!” I stuck my hand out, begging with twitching fingers, mostly because I didn’t have one. Obvious—duh.

She took her stack of Franciscan hats off, and handed me the green one.

“It’s not even close to red.”

She had the brown one and the red one on top, naturally. My sister was generous, but not an idiot. She said, “You got the boots.”

“Alright. I stomped out the door and into the cold February chill. I had my yellow boots, green hat and pink skirt; thanking God they’d stolen the bigger hallway mirror because I didn’t have time to dye everything. “I appreciate the hat,” I finally said a half hour later, after we’d checked the ten car garage and found it empty. Even the net on the basketball hoop had gone missing.

“Did you bring a car?” I asked Atom.

He didn’t say anything. It might have been some kind of passive-aggressive thing, suggesting that our relationship had matured almost to marriage since the last breakup. And, here I was, not having gotten past the first quarter of college before they’d had to close the university down because of an inconvenient near-species-ending catastrophe. Everything in my life seemed barely started. No way was I ready for marriage to a four-hundred-pound homosexual. I decided to find him a bar full of men and introduce him to the seemingly foreign notion of sexual orientation… but later. Right now a girl has needs.

On the other hand, he might have been quiet because we were walking kind of fast, and he had to carry Natalia’s chair and bags. And my slippers. Atom wasn’t very good at moving. If it got fast he was even worse.

About an hour later we arrived at the front lawn gate. The thing automatically closed between cars and nobody was in the little guard shack. They’d even taken the microscopic television and fan. The electric company had shut off the electric, which we could tell by how all the cupid fountains had stopped tinkling before we’d gotten halfway down the drive.

“We can just jump’a the fence,” Natalia said. She was right; it was only seven or eight feet tall, piece of cake.

Then Atom had to make it all about him: “What about me?”

So, we had to start looking around for a sneaking hole in the stone fence that stretched past the horizon to either side.

“I know. Let’s call for pizza. When pizza shows up, the fence opens,” I said.

“That’s because the guard, he does open it up,” Natalia explained, which was no help at all. We kept kicking around in the bushes beside the wall for a gopher hole or actually something closer to a tunnel made by human traffic smugglers. “Besides, my phone does be the disconnected.” She shook her phone then tossed it back into her bag. They’d stolen mine, which was just as good because nobody ever called me. Well, my sister did, but we tended to frequent the same rooms in the house. The novelty of calling each other from the same room wore off weeks ago.

Okay, my fake mother called me, every so often, but that was a problem the maid who’d stolen my phone now had to deal with.

I stood chest deep in the bushes, planted my fists on my hips and screamed at Atom, “We’d already have jumped over, if it wasn’t for you!”

He started crying. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Natalia scrounged around in her purse, and after ten minutes or so of looking, handed him a hanky.

He blew his nose in it and handed it back.

She waited until he turned back toward me before tossing it over the fence.

“I was just saying that we need a miracle to get past the fence.”

Roughly at exactly that same moment, I heard a truck engine coming down the main road beyond the rock fence. Tires squealed, indicating it was turning in toward our gate, which was now a hundred yards away. A grey dump truck plowed right through the heavy-metal and up our drive toward the distant mansion.

A black Cadillac followed behind. Both stopped at a canter in front of the south wing of our house. That was pretty far away, so the men who rushed out of the truck and car appeared like fuzzy ants. Gunfire erupted, that also distant but unmistakable.

They tossed a sink out of a window.

“I didn’t know anyone was still home,” I said. This, of course, was explainable, given I’d not even seen half the rooms in the place—and I even tended to roam like a cat some nights because sleeping in the dark was almost impossible.

“That would be the business offices,” Natalia explained from where she’d unfolded her chair and was sitting with her legs crossed, drinking a pink Pina Colada—God only knows where she got it.

“We had a business office?” I asked.

“Daisy May Clampett, she does run the finances in our business office, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right. So that’s where she disappears to every day.”

Sure enough, the thugs came out. Two men carried a set of legs and another man had hold upon her bound arms. The young woman squirmed in the middle of all that, wiggling like a worm.

“That’s her,” Natalia said. “They’re absconding with poor Daisy May.”

“She’s in her bathrobe. They didn’t even give her time to change,” I noticed right away.

They tossed her into the Cadillac trunk. Soon, the truck and car were both barreling toward the front gate.

“Everyone down,” Natalia advised.

We all crouched in the bushes. A few minutes later, the truck and car turned down the highway. All that remained of the intruders was a cloud of dust over the fence cap.

“Hey, I have an idea how we might be able to get out of the yard.” Atom minced off toward the main gate.

“He has your luggage,” I told my sister.

We weren’t that far from downtown Columbus, Ohio, and it was a good thing, actually, because my outfit was freezing. It’s amazing how they can sometimes tuck those mansions into eight-hundred acres that nobody seems able to find. I think it’s all in how they make the roads. In fact, I felt pretty sure we’d not be able to figure out how to get back home without our driver, so we didn’t have much choice other than to keep going once we turned left past the Speedway.

First stop, Greenlawn Cemetery. The place was huge, teeming in old oaks, but ironically next to the smelly part of nearby downtown. Broad, rust and ochre leaves smothered the dulling winter grass. Acorns seemed to have gathers only in the muddy patches. Squirrels scrambled about, busily stealing them from one another. They scratched away the leaves and burying them seemingly at random.

We’d had our father’s tomb built close to WWI ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, because it was fun walking by Eddie’s grave and seeing the swagger pouring off his bronze stare. Daddy had swagger, too, but it was different, and if he flew it was probably because he sometimes thought he was a bat.

Natalia beat me to a marble edifice with its brass door and stone-backed windows laced by fake purple curtains. There were Doric columns holding up an arching rock canopy in front of the doorway. The main roof consisted of a dome of red and blue porcelain that tended to reflect all over the oaks. At certain times of the day I couldn’t bear to look at it. We’d gone for a mixture of Italian, Greek and the Moors, but the architect had been Jewish, from Bexley, Ohio, so we weren’t too sure about its authenticity.

Daddy’s crypt had been built over a couple dozen graves. We’d paid millions to have them exhumed because we needed him close. Then we’d paid a couple million extra to have it built in less than a month. Leaving daddy lying around any old place was hazardous in ways that made landing comets seem like child’s play.

Atom fell over next to a ten-foot needle headstone. Natalia settled in front of daddy’s tomb in her chair. “So, what is the plan, my beloved sister?” Natalia asked me.

“Well, we should go in and see if he has any money in his pocket, so we can rent a hotel.”

“Oh, my God!” Atom said. “Do you mean, rob the dead?”

“I prefer tomb raiders.”

In the meantime, Natalia had a stick in her hand and was whittling a fine point on the end with her pen knife. She stood. “I’m ready, now.”

We lined up in front of the giant brass door. It had a security keypad lock. I punched in the code. One, enter, one, enter, one, enter. It snicked. I yanked it open and stale air came billowing out in wavering fumes.

“Alright!” I led us inside to the wide and mostly pointless foyer. On one end Natalia had suggested an eight-foot statue of Our Lady of Fatima, only without the gaudy crown, which didn’t fit the original at all and didn’t made sense anyway. And, someone was sure to break in and steal a twenty-million-dollar jewel-strewn crown, so we left it off. That way she was prettier and not so pretentious, and reminded us of our mother. Guarding daddy’s tomb with a statue of our mother was the most important thing, actually, given the circumstances. I need add that she’d been an honest fisherwoman, not a queen. Natalia and I both stood looking up at her for about an hour, until Atom got impatient and said, “Ahum.”

“What!”

“It’s getting late,” he badgered. “Well, I’ve not had anything to eat since lunch.”

Because we had to hurry before the grinding in Atom’s stomach got too loud, we quit smiling at our mother and went to the other extreme of the foyer. That’s where we’d placed the Etruscan She-Wolf replica.

The original She-Wolf included two baby boys with their faces bent upward, trying to get at the teats under a wolf. It had been a couple feet tall and cast in ugly bronze. We’d had ours carved six feet high out of dazzling Carrara marble. The tidbits had been left off so the babies were girls, naturally. The wolf symbolized Uncle Julius, to us, but we’d never told him that because he was a man and might get upset about being depicted with eight drooping nipples. Nobody could talk to Uncle Julius when he got upset… particularly if we said, “Hey, we made a ten-million-dollar statue of you with eight boobs.”

“You could sell those and make a lot of money,” Atom said, proving he was way more of a freshman than us. More than likely it had just been a tactful way to make us hurry before the sky turned dark and we had to find a torch. After we glared at him a little, he added, “Or not.”

“He is right,” My sister said. “We should not be so long in this place.” She made ready with her stick and stood in front of the next security panel beside a slightly mismatched limestone rectangle in the wall.

I hovered my fingers over the panel. “Turn around, and don’t look,” I said to Atom. Once he did that, I started punching in numbers. They were bogus because the panel really was voice activated, in case some genius figured out my code for the other one. I screamed, “You dirty rotten bastard!”

The massive limestone slab swung inward with the sound of stone scraping stone across the floor. Two emergency lights glowed amber, illuminating the actual crypt.

We stepped inside. This room was also shallow, but without the cool statues or fake windows. There in front of us sat the ends of three coffins that had been securely pressed into the wall. Only the bronze ends were visible, complete with nameplates.

Natalia stood in front of King-god of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar II. She was wrenching both fists on that stick.

Atom casually leaned on the end of Helena’s coffin, likely forgetting how nasty of a shrew she’d been last time they’d met. Then again, it’d been mostly me she’d been stabling with the fork and smashing with the platter.

I took the middle, frozen in contemplation as I squinted me some loathing upon Daddy’s plate, which read: Vlad III, Crowned Prince of Wallachia. We should have added, the man who killed our momma.

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