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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. Meet me in Salem?

WUConference logoI have the privilege of conducting my Crafting a Killer First Page workshop at the very first Writer Unboxed Unconference this coming week in Salem, MA. The unconference is from November 3 through November 7 and features luminaries such as Donald Maass and other writing pros.

Get more information about the workshops and sessions being offered here.

This one should be even more fun than the others I do since I’ve been a contributor to the Writer Unboxed blog for, egads, 10 years, and WU has become quite a community. Many of the attendees will have seen my posts there over the years, and I theirs. I’m excited about meeting in person the people behind all the good writing I’ve read.

There are 11 seats left! There’s still room, and right now you have a chance for a $100 discount. Go here for the conference schedule and to register.

I hope to see you there. Be sure to say hey.

Ray

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

Submissions Needed. Nothing in the queue. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Stanley sends a first chapter of The Tapping I believe it’s intended for middle grade readers. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all.

Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home  in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep.

Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .

Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream?

She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.

Were you compelled to turn Stanley's first page?

This opening page (and the chapter) has storytelling issues that need to be worked on. It opens with a good deal of backstory and exposition and then leads into a dream, all things that tend to defuse tension. Then the character wakes up, and that’s about all that happens. There’s no real story question raised other than the wet pajamas, which, if true, could have been the start of something interesting—but the character ignores it. Later in the chapter she recounts her dream to her friends but doesn’t mention waking up wet. I passed. Notes:

Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all. The unattributed pronoun “it” at the beginning refers to something the reader doesn’t know, so it’s basically meaningless. And this opens with backstory instead of the “now” of what’s happening.

Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home  in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep. A lot of “telling” and info dumping in this paragraph. What happens tomorrow doesn’t matter now. The list of names doesn’t add, either.

Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 fifteen of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .

Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream? Her pajamas are wet but she doesn’t react other than to notice it? If I woke up in bed with my pajamas wet, I’d get out of bed. Seems like the bed would be wet, too, but in the chapter she just stays in bed and goes back to sleep. Not credible to this reader.

She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken awakened by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Stanley

(continued)

Kathy laid her head down on the pillow and again started to drift into sleep. It was not long before she heard it again, the tapping sound. Was she back in the same dream? "No," she thought, "I am still awake." She listened closely. The tapping was coming from under her bed. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to go to sleep again. The tapping soon stopped, but she kept her head under the covers for the rest of the night, and vowed she would not listen to ghost stories ever again.

Suddenly, there was knocking, this time at the door. Kathy still had the covers over her head. Kathy's mother was saying, "Wake up, Kathy. Dawnese is on the phone." Kathy, blurry eyed, noticed it was morning. The sun was shining through the window.

Kathy's mother knocked again and said, "Kathy! Dawnese is on the phone."

"Yes, mom," Kathy responded sleepily, "tell her I'm coming." What a night it had been! She was sure it had just been a bad dream, but the tapping noise had sounded so real. She was still very sleepy. "What time is it?" she thought. "Seven thirty! I'm late!" They had planned to get everything ready at seven for an early start on the hike. Dawnese was probably calling to find out why she wasn't ready yet. Kathy threw on a robe and headed upstairs to the answer the phone.

Kathy was a happy girl of 14 with a long slender build, brown hair and eyes.  Dawnese was just slightly younger. They had been friends for a long time and had just discovered fun things to do with boys. It was summer time and they didn't want to waste any of it.

"Yes, Dawnese," Kathy said with an apologetic tone, "I overslept. Those ghost stories last night at the campfire kept me from sleeping very well."

"You'll have to tell us all about it on the hike, but we late getting started already."

"Okay," said Kathy, "I'll hurry. Come on over. We can leave in about 10 minutes."

Kathy hung up the phone and quickly ran to the bathroom. Over her shoulder, she shouted to her mother, "Mom, can you make my sack lunch right away?"

Kathy quickly showered, unusual for her, and hurried off to her room. Her room was in the basement of the house built almost 50 years ago. It was dark and gloomy in some parts of the basement, but Kathy had painted her walls a lively yellow color and plastered pictures of mountain scenes and movie stars throughout the room. Linoleum squares covered the floor, but she had a large throw rug in the center of the room to add some warmth. Her bed was a big old fashion four-poster painted white. Kathy's bedspread was a lively plaid and gave the room a comfortable feeling.

Kathy turned on the radio as she picked out light blue shorts and blouse to wear. She would wear her sneakers and take a daypack with her. She and her friends planned to spend about three hours walking up Emery Gulch to the old mining camp. The area had a swimming hole with a hot spring feeding it. Living in the mountains at about 5000 feet elevation made many of the swimming areas too cold in early June. The hot springs made the water very comfortable this time of year.

Kathy picked out a white swimming suit and said to herself, "I hope this doesn't get too dirty at the Emery swimming hole." She finished dressing and made one more quick glance at the mirror to see how she looked. She heard the knock on the front door upstairs, and quickly left her room; bed unmade, and slammed her door as she darted up the stairs to her waiting friend.

"Hi, Kathy," said Dawnese, "I see you are ready."

"Yes. How is my lunch coming, Mom?"

"It’s ready. I packed you two tuna sandwiches, a granola bar, an apple, and soda. Anything else you want, dear?"

"No, Mom, the lunch is just fine."

There was a knock at the door. Kathy said, "Come on in Bill."

As he opened the door, Jeff said, "Do I look like Bill? Of course, I am better looking!"

"Not so fast, Jeff," said Bill as he pushed his way inside. "Are you girls ready to go yet?"

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and just cool enough to make the walking enjoyable. Kathy look at Bill. He was tall, thin and muscular. At 16 he had hint of a mustache, brown hair and brown eyes.  Her mother said she was too young to date so these group activities gave her time to spend with Bill, even if they were not alone.

"I wonder how the Emery swimming hole fared this last winter," Bill wondered aloud.

"I am sure the hot water will feel just fine," Kathy said. "I can't wait to go swimming again."

"Did you learn any new strokes in school last year, Kathy?" asked Jeff.

"I sure did," said Kathy. "I learned to do the breaststroke. I also did a few backflips, but they are still a little scary."

"I can give you a few instructions," said Bill.

"Thanks,” said Kathy as she smiled at him.

They walked in silence for a few minutes as they opened the gate through Olsen's yard and started walking towards the Gulch. Emeryville had been a coal mining town in early 1900's but several mining accidents had closed down the mines. It had been just too expensive to reopen them, although there had been recent talk about opening up the mines using newly available extraction methods. Kathy's grandfather had been a miner, but he had died several years ago. Kathy's father was an engineer and felt it might be possible to make money on the mines again. He believed there were gold and other valuable minerals still present in the mine.

There were many superstitious people in this old mining town. There were some who said they had heard the cries of the dead when the mine collapsed in 1917. They were afraid of the ghost of the dead men from the mine. Times were changing and less of the people believed old tale.

"Kathy," said Dawnese, "you were going to tell about your dream last night."

"What dream?" asked Jeff.

"Well," said Kathy, "you know we told ghost stories around the campfire last night. Some of those stories seem just too real to me, especially with the old timers still talk about the night of the mine collapse. When I went to bed last night, I must have still been thinking about the Emeryville Ghosts because I woke up last night about midnight."

"Yes, go on!" said Bill.

"It is hard to describe. Spooky! My room was dark. The moon must have gone behind a cloud. The room was deathly quiet. I felt as if I was in a cave and there was no way out. Now, you know I am not afraid of caves, but this was different. I heard the tapping of the miners’hammers and the distance sound of those trying to reach us.  I could feel the water getting higher and higher, and I struggled to breath. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't!"

"Scary," said Dawnese.

"Strange," said Bill, "we have told those stories many times before and nobody had those types of dreams.

"What did you do, Kathy?" asked Jeff.

"I covered my head and tried to go back to sleep. I was even too scared to try to turn on my light."

"I would be too," said Dawnese. "Could you get any sleep?"

"No, it was strange. Occasionally I heard a tapping noise again. It seemed to be under my bed."

"Were you asleep?" asked Bill.

"I must have been because there couldn't be a real noise under my bed," said Kathy slowly, but she was not sure herself. "Let's talk about something else, please."

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3. I’m excited!

Mastering front 250WI’m only a proof and a couple of weeks away from publishing Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, a sorta-new writing craft book.

My original book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, is now out of print. I’ve gone through it to polish the content, reorganized it completely, and added new content and examples. It still feels good to me, and it seems I’m in good company: a couple of quotes from Amazon reviewers on the original about what's in my book(s):

“This is one of the outstanding 'how-to' books about writing. I keep it right beside two other favorites, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne and On Writing by Stephen King.”

“Ray’s . . . advice on experiential description is on par with Donald Maass's 'micro tension' advice—critical to delivering top-shelf writing.”

Why a new version with a new title and new cover?

By going from 8.5” by 11” to a 5.5” by 8.5” trade paperback, the new size lowers the price—$16.99 versus $21.95—and may make it more convenient for writers to have in their bookshelves. At 320 pages, it should look something like the 3D image at the bottom of this post.

The change in print format also enabled conversion to ebooks, too, so there will be a Kindle edition published at the same time. Maybe an epub too, but I’m focused on Kindle for now.

By the way, did you know that you can get a free Kindle reader for a PC or a Mac that enables you to read a Kindle book on your computer? Same goes for epub (Nook) ebooks, too, with Adobe Digital Editions.

New title? I’m hoping that a more benefit-oriented title will attract more readers.

New cover? I felt the original wasn’t all that good and needed refreshing.

And I’m hoping the new ebook formats will also reach more readers.

Want to receive a free Kindle ebook in return for a review?

On Amazon, the new version won’t be able to bring to its pages all the amazingly positive reviews of the original. While it can point to the old FtQ page, it would be good to have fresh reviews—if, of course, they’re positive. But that’s the chance all authors take.

If you want a free beta Kindle version to read for review purposes, please email me. I’ll let you know when the book is officially published and has a page on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Pass this on?

More anon.

Thanks for your time and consideration,

Ray

3D cover400W

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

Submissions Needed. Nothing 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

George sends the first chapter of Guardians.

The City lay in darkness under a full moon and a cloudless sky. A thousand armored vehicles of the Guardians of Peoples’ Rights patrolled a city so vast that it was sectioned off into forty eight self-sustaining districts. Equal in every respect to the armored ground vehicles, a thousand drones flew above the rooftops of the high-rise apartment buildings. Together they assured the citizens a safe and peaceful slumber.

Corporal Joe Higgins sat behind the wheel of Ground Patrol Vehicle 688, District 9 (GPV688D9), trying to keep his eyes focused on the wide and deserted avenue before him. On top of the armored vehicle a camera slowly rotated 360 degrees. Accompanying its wide-angle rotating lens were three-sensor pods; one detecting sound, another heat and a third, motion. Should any of these sensors go active, the camera would stop and its lens would focus on the direction of the disturbance. Activation of any sensor also armed the machine guns mounted on a turret atop the rear compartment of the vehicle. He glanced

at the clock on the dashboard and smiled. This part of his watch was coming to an end. He neared an intersection, shifted gears and slowed his vehicle to a stop in the center. Higgins unbuckled and shifted to the passenger seat.

Sergeant Wells emerged from the rear compartment, dropped onto the driver’s seat and buckled in.

Were you compelled to turn George's first page?

Good clear writing but where’s the tension? A story question? In this opening page all is well. There’s no problem for the characters to deal with. All the world-building, while necessary in science fiction to some extent, could wait until something happens to start the story moving. As you’ll see in my notes, I think most of it should go, at least from this page. They are attacked; why not begin that on the first page? The rest of the chapter follows the break.Notes:

The City lay in darkness under a full moon and a cloudless sky. A thousand armored vehicles of the Guardians of Peoples’ Rights patrolled a city so vast that it was sectioned off into forty eight self-sustaining districts. Equal in every respect to the armored ground vehicles, a thousand drones flew above the rooftops of the high-rise apartment buildings. Together they assured the citizens a safe and peaceful slumber. Good use of shallow POV to set the scene.

Corporal Joe Higgins sat behind the wheel of Ground Patrol Vehicle 688, District 9 (GPV688D9), trying to keep his eyes focused on the wide and deserted avenue before him. On top of the armored vehicle a camera slowly rotated 360 degrees,. Accompanying its wide-angle rotating lens were three-sensor pods; one detecting sound, another heat and a third, motion.Should any of these sensors go active, the camera would stop and its lens would focus on the direction of the disturbance. Activation of any sensor also armed the machine guns were mounted on a turret atop the rear compartment of the vehicle.He glanced at the clock on the dashboard and smiled. This part of his watch was coming to an end. He neared an intersection, shifted gears and slowed his vehicle to a stop in the center. Higgins unbuckled and shifted to the passenger seat.

Sergeant Wells emerged from the rear compartment, dropped onto the driver’s seat and buckled in. I would cut most of the above—it’s detail that’s not needed now or, really, later. The sensors mentioned do come into play, but when it happens they are a natural part of the machine and don’t really need explanation or set-up, in my view. I suggest that George get to the place where they’re attacked, and do it on the first page. The world-building that takes the place of something happening can wait—get to the story.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 George

(continued)

“Have a good nap?” greeted Higgins, stretching his arms toward the roof of the cab.

Wells smiled and reached for the thermos of coffee in the warming compartment. “Your turn now,” he said. He then shifted the vehicle into drive.

The maneuver sent Higgins off his seat and out of the cab. While he was adjusting to the red light that illuminated the rear compartment, Higgins dropped onto the operator’s chair. He logged himself in and took a quick glanced at the monitors. He only half saw the empty street and darkened buildings that were projected on the screen, or the steady green line crossing the three scopes. He stretched himself into a comfortable position, lifted his feet onto the counter top and closed his tired eyes. Four more hours and then he would have two days off. He smiled, because the next shift was the day shift. Three months of night duty cut into his social life. Higgins sighed and drifted off.

“Contact!” announced the speaker. “DPV756D45; contact at Avenue East 210, 200 block. Hovering at 1500 feet. Return!”

Higgins was a blur of action, his feet hit the floor and he was sitting upright in his chair. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and focused on the monitors. He scanned his instruments to determine his location. “DP756D45, this is GPV688D9, we are at Avenue East 214, 800 blocks and responding. Return! Wells?”

“I hear you!” Wells yelled back as he slowed the vehicle down in preparation for a maneuver.

“This is GPV360D16, we are at Avenue North 206, 100 block, responding,” came another voice over the radio.

“Wells, we got ourselves a race!”

“Strap in. We’re going to get there first,” declared Wells as he started turning the vehicle. Having completed his u-turn, Wells activated the vehicle’s turbines.

“Man oh man” Higgins said being pushed back into his seat by the acceleration. “When was the last time we caught a citizen breaking curfew?” he asked.

“Too long to remember,” answered Wells, steering the speeding vehicle through the deserted streets, its seldom used turbines reverberating through the concrete canyons of the City.

“How’s your contact 756? Return!” asked Higgins.

“Slow and steady,” came the human reply. The drone’s controls and senses were now under human control. “I read three persons. Over.”

“Right 56, we’re now in the 600 block. Over.”

“I see you. Contacts are leaving East 210 onto North 30, 900 block. Over.”

“We’re six blocks away G688, we’ll back you up,” came the voice of the operator from Ground Patrol Vehicle 533, District 16.

You can watch, Higgins murmured to a silent microphone. No need to torment them, he thought.

When GPV688D9 turned onto Avenue North 30 its sensors came alive. The camera stopped turning and all the sensors locked onto the targets two blocks away.

Wells killed the turbines.

“We have them in our sights 56, over.” informed Higgins.

“Roger!”

The distant closed quickly. The spot light, mounted on top of the cab switched on and evaporated the darkness. Three citizens in the middle of the 900 block found themselves enveloped in white light. Blinded, the two men covered their eyes and relinquished their hold on the man between them. Free from their grasp, the man in the center dropped to the pavement. Free from their burden the two men standing bolted.

Higgins’ reaction was instantaneous and the twin machine guns burst into life. The bullets hit the concrete walls above the fleeing men, showering debris over them. The two men stopped running fifty yards from the armored vehicle that was screeching to a halt.

 “You are under arrest for breaking curfew, “ said Higgins over the loud speaker. “Any further activity on your part will only add to your infractions.”

Higgins watched the two men squinting in the direction of the patrol vehicle. He watched them looking toward each other for guidance. They had only one choice, thought Higgins, the next burst from the machine guns would be the last they would hear. The two men placed one hand in front of their eyes and approached the patrol vehicle. Higgins was disappointed. He had secretly hoped for more defiance from these citizens. Well, at least these two men offered a diversion. It did end a dull tour of duty. Higgins relaxed his observation. He failed to notice that the other hand the citizens hadn’t raised were inside their tunic. When their hands reappeared, they were holding machine pistols. They started firing at the patrol truck’s spot light as they darted away in opposite directions. The guns could only follow one person. Which one was left to Higgins to decide and he had to decide quickly because suddenly both citizens had changed direction and were attacking.

“Get those bastards,” shouted Wells, “They’re trying to shoot through the window shield. It’s working!”

Inconceivably, Higgins realized that these citizens were suicidal. The machine guns came to life, its bullets sending one attacker careening against the concrete building. Higgins turned toward the second attacker and at point blank range reduced the man to a ragged doll.

“Contact!” warned the voice controlling the drone through the fading echoes of gun fire. “We have a contact behind you.”

Higgins quickly disengaged the visual scanner from the machine guns and turned it 180 degrees and looked at an empty street. “I don’t see anything?”

“It’s there and coming right at you,” said the controller.

The gun turret whined 180 degrees. The other two scanners followed. The motion scanner reacted instantly, but the visual and heat scanners remained flat lined. Higgins stared in bewilderment. The scanners were giving him different messages. “56, I have motion but no visual or heat.”

“Same here 88,” came the answer, equally baffled.

Higgins saw it before it disappeared under the vehicle; a small canister that suddenly appeared out of thin air and dropped under the truck.

“Wells. Brace yourself!” shouted Higgins. The explosion jarred the truck and the sound was surprisingly faint.

“Wells?”

“Whatever it was, it was too small to hurt this baby,” answered Wells. “Everything is checking out A-Okay.”

Suddenly the heat sensor began bleeping a warning and the scope began registering an increase in heat within the compartment. Higgins could feel his body heating up as the interior of the compartment temperature gauge sounding out a warning. He could feel heat penetrating the soles of his boots. He reached for the rear door handle and quickly pulled back as the hot metal burned his hand. He started to sweat. His throat was starting to dry up as he began breathing the super heated air inside the compartment. When he touched the hot console, he knew he was in trouble. “Wells scramble!” he yelled. He burned his other hand opening the rear door and dove out through the open doorway.

The drone’s controller was shouting. “Mayday! Mayday! Sector Control Eight. This is DP756D45. GPV688D9 is experiencing abnormal readings at Avenue North 30, 900 block. What the?...Correction 688 just exploded.”

“This is Control Sector Eight command. Can you get closer?”

“Negative.” answered the controller wondering who was at the other end. What could a drone do?

“This is GPV533D16. We are two blocks away and running at high speed.”

“One contact going away from the scene, going South on North 30,” informed the drone’s controller.

“What’s happening to 688?” asked Control Sector Eight commander.

“I see four bodies and a hunk of metal,” came the sober reply.

“756 guide 533 toward that contact you have going away from the scene.” instructed Control Center Watch Commander, Major Bernard Norris.

Norris following protocol had activated all transmissions between the ground vehicles, the drone, and his department to the WCRC (World Control Records Center) where it would be analyzed to determine if the incident was a local disturbance or a global threat. Norris also knew it would analyze the performances of all persons involved. He cursed his luck. This was not his watch. He was on duty as a favor to a comrade who had a heavy date, but he would be responsible for all the reports. “Damned Terrorists! Why couldn’t they wait ‘til I’m off duty?” he grumbled to no one in particular.

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5. Flogometer for Iziah—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Iziah sends a first chapter, title unknown.

PETER LOOKED UP from his office area as he heard approaching footsteps. The unfamiliar man caught his eye and hefted a package forward.

“It’s a heavy one, Peter.” He placed the box on the desk. Peter thanked the delivery man as he walked away. An occasional thank you letter or financial report made its way into his mailbox, but this package was too big to be either. He lifted the box and moved it up and down to note its weight. He moved it closer to read the sticker.

To:       Peter Winecrest

            Kane/Goldstein Tech Co.

            San Fernando, CA

 

From: The Time Traveler

Hmm. Peters' coworkers knew of his addiction to the more unknowable things in life, and of his impractical interests. His drawers were filled with Science magazines, and the more fantastic fiction.

He ran to the door and looked down the hallway.

“Hey Jane, did you see that delivery man come through?”

“He left already—kinda funny fella,” she screeched. He grunted and shut his door.

What a joke. A time traveler, Peter thought, as he plopped down in his chair. A (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Iziah's first page?

This opening works at injecting some tension here with the mysterious appearance of the delivery man and the curious “From” part of the address label but, for me, it didn’t get the job done. The story questions raised are pretty minor, to me, and there’s no suggestion of a problem ahead for Peter. And there were writing craft issues that foreshadow more to come. It seems to me that there’s an interesting story, judging from some of the elements in the chapter, but the storyline wandered and spent valuable words on set-up that didn’t impact the NOW of the story. Having introduced the mysterious package, it seems to me that the story needs to stay with that. The contents are briefly set up to be intriguing, but then they are left behind for other events that aren’t related. Notes on the opening page:

PETER LOOKED UP from his office area desk as he heard approaching footsteps approached. The An unfamiliar man caught his eye and hefted a package forward. “office area” was unclear, and it turns out he’s in an office (has a door). “he heard” is a filter that distances readers from what’s happening. And there was some overwriting.

“It’s a heavy one, Peter.” He placed the box on the desk.

Peter thanked the delivery man as he walked away. An occasional thank you letter or financial report made its way into his mailbox, but this package was too big to be either. He lifted the box and moved it up and down to note its weight. He moved it closer to read the sticker. This is overwriting, the inclusion of detail that really doesn’t matter to the story.

To:       Peter Winecrest

            Kane/Goldstein Tech Co.

            San Fernando, CA using valuable lines for an address sees a waste to me. look for another way to get to the “From.” It could be as simple as simply saying, Peter read the sticker. It said the package was from “The Time Traveler.”

 

From: The Time Traveler

Hmm. Peters' coworkers knew of his addiction to the more unknowable things in life, and of his impractical interests. His drawers were filled with Science science magazines, and the more fantastic fiction. Feels like it’s missing a conclusion—is he thinking it’s a prank?

He ran to the door and looked down the hallway.

“Hey Jane, did you see that delivery man come through?”

“He left already—kinda funny fella., she screeched. He grunted and shut his door. I see no reason to have her screech, and a dialogue tag isn’t needed as we know who says this. Since the man is gone and Jane doesn’t really reveal much about him, this isn’t necessary. Get on with what’s in the mysterious package.

What a joke. A time traveler, Peter thought, as he plopped down in his chair. A (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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Iziah

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6. Announcing a sorta new FtQ book

Outofprint

Yep, I've sold out the first printing of Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells and, rather than reprint, I'm coming out with a new-and-improved version.

In November, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling updates and expands the content of the old FtQ. The book is completely reorganized, the original content polished and expanded, and new material has been added.

But wait, there's more!

  • Print format: 5.5" x 8.5" trade paperback, 320 pages (not the 8.5" x 11" of FtQ)
  • Ebook formats: will be available in Kindle and epub

Insterested in pre-ordering for a discounted price? Tell me if you're interested in pre-ordering the print edition--I would set up discounted prices for books purchased through my website. I'm not sure about the ebooks yet as I'm considering doing the Amazon Select program for promotional reasons and couldn't sell ebooks myself for 90 days.

To refresh yourself as to the nature and quality of this book, review the reviews for the original FtQ here.

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

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Jack sends the prologue and first chapter of Amethyst: Stocks & Mods Book One. The full narrative follows the break.

The story of how my sister took over the world probably starts with a brawl in a bar, eighty years ago. Not a brawl my sister was involved in, naturally, for she was only nine years old at the time. But Moira was the reason I was there, in that bar, and my being there is why Yvonne Lambert was there.

To tell you about Moira, I have to tell you Yvonne’s story, too. And not just because it was Yvonne who started the brawl. And not just because Yvonne and I fell in love.

This meeting in the bar, followed by the brawl, was my and Yvonne’s first date. We called it that after we were together, anyway, both appreciating the irony of a “first date” that resulted in minor injuries, a night in jail and my banishment from civilization.

It was on Aldrin, specifically its inland mountain resort town Montessecchi. Yvonne had a spacecraft she was willing to hire out for twelve months. So were a lot of other people with spacecraft, but this trip would be hell and gone from anyplace else, and would also be illegal. From what little I knew of her before we met -- reputation algorithm, her vid advertising her ship for hire -- Yvonne seemed like she would be open to the idea. In fact, I half expected her to be enthusiastic about it. The illegal part, at least.

Aldrin back then was a lot like it is now: a vacation destination for the filthy rich. Its reason for being was its four spectacular resorts, attracting a wealthy transient population.

Were you compelled to turn Jack's first page?

This opening page promises a lot of fun to me. The voice is strong and inviting, the prose is clear and clean, and the story suggested by the very first line sounds like one I want to read. While it “breaks” many of the guidelines for an opening page, does that matter if it’s compelling? It doesn't.

The narrative does slip into a little backstory and set-up that I think could be pruned somewhat, and I would find a way to avoid a clear signal of set-up happening on the first page as it is. There’s a lot of conversation regarding the protagonist’s plan, and I think it could also be trimmed, but it’s interesting stuff that drew me deeper and deeper into the story. Other than a tiny comma issue here and there, I don’t have any notes on this one, but I do recommend that you read on. Thanks, Jack, for some fun on a Friday.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Jack

 

(continued)

Permanent residents were blue collar workers, most of whose livelihood involved supporting the resorts and their customers. My parents, my sister and I -- we were in the “wealthy transient” category -- spent a few months every other year at Montessecchi. Truthfully, before age nineteen I had never given any thought to the natives on Aldrin. If you’ve never been to one, you would be surprised at how smoothly a resort can run without anybody doing any visible work.

To give you an idea of how well-off my parents were: I had no idea where they got or how they made money. To this day, I can’t tell you concisely what it was that Padraig and Melissa Galvin did.

We were Stock, of course. Back then, if you were Stock, it almost went without saying that you were wealthy. That’s something that has changed since eighty years ago.

I had never been to Montessecchi -- the town, as opposed to the resort -- and Yvonne had never been to the resort. Rigidly self-reliant, constantly agitated, with no patience for leisure, I don’t know what she would have done with herself in a resort. Or what the resort would have done with her. So in a way, by meeting in Pat’s, the bar, we were meeting on her turf.

It was a lot darker on the inside than out, and when I came in out of the low evening sun my eyes (being Stock) had to adjust. The place was brimming with loud, rough people just off work, most of them only just down off the mountain. Voices were raised to be heard over other voices, the ones that weren’t raised because the speaker was half drunk already. The place smelled like peanut shells and body odor. You couldn’t have walked five feet without having to maneuver around somebody.

Growing up, a roomful of off-the-shelf Mods always looked to me like copy after copy of the same person. Not that I was in a roomful of Mods all that often.

Off-the-shelf Mods back then, in general, and in Pat’s, in particular, were right around the same height, weight and body type as others of their gender -- and you had to squint to see the difference between the genders. Their complexions ran the gamut from coffee with one cream to coffee with three creams. Dark hair. Bland, unremarkable facial structure and features. Amethyst-purple eyes -- that was the law. All of it came in the same box with disease resistance, improved cardio and pulmonary, 20/5 vision, all the in utero improvements the Government picked up the tab for.

The upshot of all this was that in a working-class bar at happy hour, I was conspicuous. I was gawky, pasty, and I was the wrong size and shape, on top of being obviously nervous.

I didn’t know if I had arrived before or after Yvonne, but I soon spotted her. She stood out, too, for very different reasons. Yvonne was a Mod, but not like the seventy-five percent of humanity that nineteen-year-old me couldn’t tell apart.

Yvonne was military grade.

She had been engineered thirty years earlier to serve as a Marine on Tereshkova once she was old enough. Tereshkova: a huge, mostly water world, baked by lethal radiation.

Her hair was blond enough to pass as white, and she had a bluish tint to her skin, spattered with thousands (I could much later confirm) of lighter flecks, which she called her “reverse freckles.” It was coloring that meant Tereshkova’s radiation didn’t cook her. She was shorter than off-the-shelf Mods, and thicker, for a lower center of gravity – dimensions that meant Tereshkova’s gravity didn’t crush her.

Despite her size she didn’t seem shrunken, compared to everybody else. Right away you could see she had unusual physical strength, and the potential for the surprise violence of a coiled spring. It was like she had been packed into too small a container.

Today, it might take some effort to spot her in a crowded tap room. Back then, she was like a flash reflection of sunlight off ice.

She was seated at a tiny, two-person table closer to the entrance than the back, facing me, watching me look for her. She smiled a pudgy smile as I approached.

I had rehearsed our entire conversation a dozen times -- I’m not the extemporaneous type. But I realized to my horror that I hadn’t decided what the very first words I would say to her would be: “Ms. Lambert?” “Corporal Lambert?” “Yvonne?” I blurted out the first one. One side of her mouth curled upwards and she said, “Mr. Galvin.” I told her just Galvin -- everybody called me Galvin, unless their last name was also Galvin.

I pulled out the chair opposite her, but froze halfway down. I’m sure I looked like somebody who suddenly remembered something I’d almost forgotten. That’s what I was. Yvonne was puzzled, and cocked her head a little. I extended my right arm toward her, stiffly formally, as for a handshake. She smiled and extended her own.

I gripped her hand firmly and said, “Shepard, pension, research, resort, disinter, fairy godmother, agency, bank, obstacle, refund, Morrisonite.” Yvonne mimed a solemn frown and nodded, as though I’d introduced myself as the Prince of Whatever.

My ears were hot and I’m sure red as beets, for I had not only almost forgotten to do that, but I had also neglected to explain in advance. I pawed around for a piece of paper in my breast pocket, one that I was supposed to have shown her before the handshake/nonsense words bit. I found it, took it out, and with conspicuous inconspicuousness I pushed it toward her on the table. It said,

 WE NEED TO EXCHANGE CIPHERS

 Which we had done, and so the tense was wrong. Believe me, I was keenly aware of each little thing that wasn’t going as well as rehearsal. Yvonne glanced at the note, fished a pen out of her bag, wrote on a paper napkin and pushed it to my side. (I had finally sat down.)

 I KNOW

 I was thrown off; of course, it wouldn’t have taken much. The important thing was that we could talk, and what we said would be recorded, analyzed, synthesized -- it was a public place, and back then, that’s what happened in public places -- but certain words that would have flagged a Government techie to take a closer listen would be replaced by Shepard, pension, research and so on. The physical exchange, through our “handshake,” meant that our Cereboosts would make us say, out loud, the replacement words instead of the ones I wanted replaced, but we would understand one another.

Yvonne’s nonchalance was startling because nobody I knew had ever used that kind of tech, besides myself. I would learn to appreciate more and more in the years to come that I didn’t know that wide a variety of people at nineteen.

“How did you --” I had to ask, sputtering before I could get it out.

She smiled again. Yvonne didn’t have a disarming smile, and never a smug one. Her smile was utilitarian, almost always used solely for the purposes smiles were invented. For instance, at that moment it was involuntary, and reflected amusement. “Not my first…” she said, and pointed back and forth to the words on my note, CIPHER and EXCHANGE.

The more ill-at-ease and out of my element I seemed, the better chance Yvonne would take me seriously. I told myself that, anyway. Would I go through all this for something that wasn’t important?

“Nice place,” she said, making a show of looking around. “We’re in Stock vacationland, and you pick a bar that’s lousy with Mods.”

“No one here is likely to run to the Government [agency, is what my Cereboost made me say out loud] with what they overhear,” I said.

I always felt guilty when I met a Mod for the first time, being part of a family that had a ridiculous amount of money and plenty of influence, including with the Government. The thought embarrassed me, and my ears bloomed again. Yvonne rescued me by getting right down to business.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Laika.” Shepard, is what I said out loud.

“What’s there?”

“Nothing, right now. In a year or so there will be three thousand settlers [pensioners] living there.”

“Including you?”

I did need her to take me seriously, that was true. I had thought about saying “yes” to this question, was I going to Laika myself. But I thought I had a better chance of getting her to trust me if I told her the truth. “No.”

“So you’re some kind of broker?”

In time I would explain to Yvonne why I got involved with the “Laika 3000” project -- because of Moira -- and Yvonne, being Yvonne, would understand that that was half the truth, that what I was really doing was sticking it to my parents, like most late-teens do, and in such a way as to not actually jeopardize all the goodies I got for being a Stock in a Stock family. This being our “first date,” I dodged. I had to raise my voice over an adjacent table of six that had gotten boisterous. “This has been planned for more than two years, and I’ve been involved since the beginning.” A little defensive.

“What’s been planned? I mean, right, three thousand settlers, but why them, and why there?”

This part, I had rehearsed over and over. “It’s a wildcat colony. [Fairy godmother.] People who would rather be out from under the Government’s thumb than live off its scraps.”

“Wildcat colonies don’t work.” Yvonne had helped clean one up as a Marine: it involved letting the colonists clear the land, build a rudimentary infrastructure, and just start to get comfortable, then arresting and imprisoning them all. Then the Government settled new people there, subject to its rules, and under its watchful eye, and stamp of approval.

That was the clinical description, anyway. Yvonne’s experience “cleaning up” a wildcat colony on Tereshkova was not clinical. She herself had been directly guilty of no more than indifference to the dignity of the wildcat colonists. But it was the kind of indifference that when you’re older makes you wonder how you were ever at peace with who you were, and makes you worried that somewhere inside, you’re still that person.

“This one will work. No one’s been to Laika in seventy-five years.”

“They haven’t had a wildcat colony to go arrest.” Disinter.

I was in a groove. “It’s weeks out of the way from anywhere. It’s not even useful for military purposes.”

Yvonne was not yet convinced that I was an expert on military matters. “Until you clean the place up and make it presentable.”

“Three thousand people. We’re keeping it that small on purpose. If it were twenty or thirty thousand, then the Government might find some use for it. They won’t bother.”

“How big do you think wildcat colonies usually are?”

I bloomed, and shrugged.

“What kind of people?”

“I’m sorry?”

“These settlers. Who are they?”

“Mods. Off-the-shelf, government subsidized.”

“That’s ninety-five percent of humanity.”

“Ninety-one and a half are Mods, that’s what you’re thinking of. Only seventy-five percent are Government subsidized. Three thousand of them want to go live on Laika.”

“Just Mods, huh? Nothing else in common?”

“Mods who don’t think they gave up their basic human rights when their parents decided to make them healthier, stronger and smarter.”

“How many criminals?”

Jesus, I thought, having slipped out of this groove as quickly as I always seemed to. This conversation was ten times easier when it was just me having it with myself. “None.”

A raised eyebrow.

“None! None are... violent criminals.”

An eye roll.

“Look, there are a lot more than three thousand people interested in going. If you have done anything that physically harmed another person, you don’t make the cut. Period.”

“I’ve killed people, and you want to pay me to be involved.”

“Not...” I made a frustrated sound. “Not military. Criminals. Military gets you to the front of the list.”

“Is that a good idea for a bunch of people who don’t like authority?”

“You have to have -- you have to be serious about what we’re doing. To be considered at all. If you are, and if you have military or relevant civilian experience with, you know, survival, infrastructure, organization, then you... ”

“Can kill as many people as you want?”

Here I ground my teeth and shook my head. Maybe I ground my teeth and shook my head the last time and made a frustrated sound here. I don’t remember. But Yvonne started to feel sorry for me at that point. And I didn’t only learn that well after the fact, I could tell then and there. When Yvonne smelled your blood, she was ruthless, and mine was all over the place. Yet I could see her face soften. She strategically retreated.

She only felt a little sorry for me, though -- she wasn’t going to spend a year of her life being an accessory to the crime of establishing a wildcat colony on a forbidden planet if we weren’t serious. Nevertheless, she called off the dogs.

“When do you want to leave?”

“September.”

“Laika is...” She looked up, figuring. “... five months....”

“Twenty weeks, but yeah.”

She glared at me. Not for the last time. “Twenty weeks, then. I can carry forty people for twenty weeks, not including me and two or three crew. That’s not a huge bite out of three thousand.”

“We’re looking at forty- to fifty-person ships now because we’ve got a bunch of Watson carriers and one-hundred- to two-hundred-person craft committed already. We’ll be about fifteen to twenty spacecraft, all told.”

This was good news, in Yvonne’s effort to decide if we were -- if I was -- serious. Still: “A bunch and about? How do you do math with numbers like that?”

Now I glared. For close to the last time. “Three Watsons, four-fifty apiece. Six other craft that average one-eighty. One hundred fifty on three other smaller craft, like yours. That’s two thousand, five hundred eighty. Working on three other one-fifty-some-person ships, at least one of which we’ll get. We’re buying another, for which we may need to hire a pilot, who can then keep you company on the ride home, if you want. And four other people are having conversations right now similar to this one with other captains of ships your size. Then we’ll have more of them if we need to. The math works out.”

That it did. “I pick the forty.”

As she said this, my chair was violently jostled, and I almost spilled onto the floor. The noise the table of six was making was getting louder, and one of the six had rammed his chair into mine whilst getting up.

“What was that?”

“I pick the forty people that go on my spacecraft.”

“No.”

My refusal impressed her, I think. She would have to insist on some form of vetting, but that wouldn’t hold anything up, at this point. “My contract will have the number 40 in it, bold and in bright red.” She was having to shout, now. “Person number 41 does not board.”

“Not a problem.”

“Under any circumstances. Forty will be crowded, but comfortable. I’m not spending five months of my life elbowing my way through fifty people stacked one on top of the other.”

At this I nodded solemnly, looking her square in the eye. It would end up being fifty, we both anticipated, when this or that ship fell through at the last minute. Yvonne was so certain of it that her cost analysis of this proposal would include the 50 percent increase in her fee for the 25 percent increase in people right off the bat. So, about that fee…

My chair was rammed again, this time by an arm. The Mod who did it loomed over me, a little unsteadily but none the smaller for it, and shouted a faux apology in a mocking, sing-song voice: “Sorry, Stock boy. Am I ruining your date?” He was drunk (already!), and leveled a menacing stare at Yvonne, whom he likely took for Stock, too, on account of her unusual shape and color.

So she showed him her eyes. Mods back then, as I’ve said, were required to have eyes colored an amethyst shade of purple, and this was no less true for custom Mods like Yvonne. Hers were a little lighter than normal, a sort of pastel shade, in kind with the rest of her coloring, but there was no mistaking their purpleness.

Showing the drunk she was a Mod may or may not have diffused the situation, but Yvonne had decided to do so by pointing to her eye with her middle finger, the other three curled down. There was no mistaking that, either.

A couple of the drunk’s friends were up now, too, and one grabbed my chair and shook it. This time, I did tumble out of it.

Yvonne stood, almost casually. It was my turn to strategically retreat, by which I mean I remained on the greasy floor of Pat’s.

“You don’t like Stocks? Aren’t you on kind of the wrong planet?” She addressed none of the three in particular.

One replied, sizing her up, “Aren’t you kind of a freak?”

“That’s what we called ourselves, in the 11th Artillery Regiment.” This was not true: they called themselves Bluebirds. But be that as it may. I was frozen on the floor, my arm comically (it seems to me now) up to block anything coming at my head. I gawked at Yvonne, and it occurred to me to wonder whether letting someone who didn’t back down from potential bar brawls fly forty people to Laika was wise.

“They let you in the Army?” one of the drunk Mods (there were now five, at least, up and hovering) spat. “For what, Fun Size? 'Cause you could blow the soldiers standing up?”

Yvonne’s expression never wavered. “Marines.”

The drunk started to blurt what was sure to be another hilarious put-down, but he never got it out, because Yvonne punched him in the face, hard enough to loosen at least two teeth.

The din of the tavern had died right before that, as everybody’s attention was pulled toward the disagreement. Now it erupted, and Yvonne was set upon by at least three drunks, but only temporarily: they were off her, and sprawled on the floor, almost before they could make fists. I scrabbled away, still on the floor, backwards. Like a crab, I remember thinking.

One of the drunks Yvonne had set down had put a shoulder into someone at another table on his way to the floor. That table (of three), likely predisposed to take the side of the “normal” Mods, all things being equal, nonetheless picked out the drunks to pair off with and start beating. Yvonne had made it obvious that all things weren’t equal.

Maybe a dozen others surged toward the brawl from behind me, and I was thumped and battered by knees and shins. I finally worked my way upright and behind a post supporting the ceiling, where I could peek around to watch. Yvonne already had a bruise blooming under her right eye– with her pigment, she liked to say, she bruised if somebody sneezed on her. But she was far from the worst for wear. She pounded anybody who found themselves in front of her with such dispatch that for a few moments, she actually ran out of people to beat.

Around her, forearms and fists pushed their way at and around heads. Silverware and plates and glasses clattered to the floor as tables were shoved and upended. Waiters and waitresses cowered behind the bar, but someone who might have been a manager was trying to shout everybody calm. It wasn’t working. This went on for maybe five minutes.

Then all at once the surge of people seemed to reverse and come back towards me, and I ducked behind the post out of its way. Brawlers who were ambulatory and not tangled with anybody made haste for a rear exit, as were those few patrons who had been uninvolved in the melee. I soon saw why: three Justice cops in combat gear had arrived at the entrance and were pulling brawlers apart, occasionally zapping them with stunners, though they seemed to prefer using their armored limbs and legal impunity to subdue.

As I tried to shrink all the way behind my post more cops arrived, and more customers, brawlers and otherwise, tried to escape out the back. One such fell sideways as he went by me, and knocked me back down to the floor. There I decided to stay, again, this time covering my head with both arms.

The cops hadn’t quite subdued everybody when I was yanked up by my arm to stand. It was one of the cops, who got a look at me, realized I was Stock, and roughly escorted me toward the front entrance, shouldering a colleague and a couple of restrained brawlers out of our way. As I was propelled forward I was able to look back to see Yvonne bent over a table by a policeman, who had wrenched her arms behind her back. Her face was to me, and she grinned when she caught my eye. She shouted something I couldn’t hear or lip-read -- later, she told me it was “nine hundred credits per person per light year!”-- and the cop restraining her jostled her to shut her up.

Then I and the policeman were outside. The cop let go of me, and even held up his hands, palms forward, as if to apologize and say he meant no harm. He jerked his head the other direction, away from the tavern. “You ought to get out of here,” he said. He hesitated, seeming to hope I wouldn’t argue or, worse, yell at him for treating me roughly, then he turned and loped back in to the tap room.

I stood staring at the entrance for a bit. I was as convinced as I ever had been that 3,000 Laika settlers had the right idea, getting away from all this.

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

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Kelsey sends the prologue and first chapter of Blood Walkers, which reads like a YA fantasy to me. The full narrative follows the break.

The young witch skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it into another bowl filled with flowers. The petals withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room. She grabbed at the crown of her tangled hair, swearing under her breath.

“By the goddess!”

The crystal clock above her bed tinkled twelve times.  It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to put on a smile to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders since she had never before had a reason to be cheerful in her life.

She sat down on a worn, backless bench at a long wooden table with other witches her age. She grabbed a piece of grainy bread and ladled thick soup into her bowl. She dipped her bread in. The seedy taste mingled with the sweet and smoky flavour of the soup. 

“Did you hear the news today?” Syam asked. She was an acquaintance of everyone in the coven, even Bryn.

“No.” Bryn said, staring at her soup.

Syam turned to eye her; she clearly hadn’t been talking to Bryn.

Were you compelled to turn Kelsey's first page?

We’re introduced to a likeable character in an effective way, but the tension quickly fades to having lunch for what’s happening in the now of the story. There was a level of overwriting—the use of micro-detail that doesn’t bear on story—that foreshadows problems with the narrative craft ahead. The rest of the chapter, except for the very last paragraph which launches a cliffhanger, is set-up and world-building, but there’s no real jeopardy for Bryn nor are story questions with consequences raised. I suggest starting as close to the incident as you can, which I suspect happens in the next chapter. I think Kelsey also need to take pains to make sure that she differentiates this world with that of Harry Potter, which is also a school for witches and has a great hall with benches, etc. My notes:

The young witch Bryn skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it into another bowl filled with flowers. The petals withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust. Good opening in many ways, characterizes the protagonist and lets us in on the magic. “Young” is a relative word and, since we don’t know young compared to what, it’s essentially meaningless. In the world of witches, forty could be young. Look for another way to suggest her age. Also, this stops short of setting the scene in terms of letting us know where she is. It could be as simple as an opening phrase such as: In the coven laboratory, Bryn skimmed her fingertips . . . etc. Also, since her actions pretty much shows her witchiness, I’d start with her name.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room. She grabbed at the crown of her tangled hair, swearing swore under her breath. Grabbing at the crown of her hair is excess detail that doesn’t move the story. Keep it simple on the opening page. We don’t need to know the state of her hair, and it doesn’t affect the story.

“By the goddess!”

The crystal clock above her bed tinkled twelve times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to put on a smile to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders since she had never before had a reason to be cheerful in her life.

She In the hall, she sat down on a worn, backless bench at a long wooden table with other witches her age. She grabbed a piece of grainy bread and ladled thick soup into her bowl. She dipped her bread in. The seedy taste mingled with the sweet and smoky flavour of the soup.  I see this description of her food as overwriting. Description should have something to do with characterization or the story, even in setting the scene. This doesn’t clear that hurdle. Needed a little transition at the opening of the paragraph.

“Did you hear the news today?” Syam asked. She was an acquaintance of everyone in the coven, even Bryn. Rather than use precious words asking, why not just state the news—if, that it, it advances the story. Syam’s level of knowing people doesn’t seem relevant to any kind of story issue at this point. If you want to characterize her, find another way. For example, what if Bryn is jealous of Syam’s popularity with the other witch and warlock students?

“No.” Bryn said, staring at her soup.

Syam turned to eye her; she clearly hadn’t been talking to Bryn.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Kelsey

 

(continued)

“I did,” Maven said, leaning toward Syam. “It’s just plain rude is what it is! They’re practically in our territory now.”

“I know,” Syam replied. “I don’t know what the Mistress is thinking, not reinforcing our borders or even sending word to the next coven.”

“Shh! Don’t talking like that,” Maven whispered. “You never know who’s listening.”

Bryn smirked into her soup. She ate in silence while listening to the other girls prattle on.

After lunch Bryn went to her mother’s chambers for their afternoon tea. Her mother was already waiting by a pot and two steaming cups on delicate saucers. The thin cups were spider-webbed with cracks.

Bryn sat across from her mother in a heavy oak chair desperately in need of a cushion. She would never be the graceful one. The fair skin, dark red hair, and deep blue eyes that seemed to touch her soul were a stark contrast. Bryn crossed her ankles and folded her hands in her lap like her mother, waiting to reach for tea once she had.

“Are you going to practice outside today?” Her mother asked.

“No I was supposed to work with Maven today on fixing some of the water supply tanks.”

Her mother waved her hand through the air as if gently dispersing unfavorable perfume. “I’ve had that cancelled.” She re-crossed her ankles. “I actually have you working on some lessons for the next two days. There are some new things I want you to practice.”

“You want me to try more difficult spells?” Bryn asked, sitting straighter in her chair.

“Not necessarily more difficult,” replied her mother. “But different.”

Bryn slumped.

“Use what you have Bryn,” her mother said. “I have confidence in you.”

Bryn looked up in surprise.

“These spells must be done under the cover of a willow forest.” She handed Bryn a thin volume.

Bryn turned the odd leather bound book over in her hands.  A faint willow was scratched into the cover.

“Take as much time as you need,” her mother said softly. “Two days should be enough time to discover where you stand with these spells.”

Her mother stood with arms outstretched. Bryn stood and was drawn into a tight hug. “Always take what is precious to you, but let go of what means the most.”

Bryn thought she saw her mother’s eyes get misty. Her mother waved her away and Bryn left for her own room. She picked up speed as she made her way down the hallway and was nearly running when she threw herself through the doorway.

She packed her small wooden bowl and some spare clothes into a pack. She added some crystals in a rainbow of colours and various animal bones, necessary for some spells.

She crept out of the confines of her coven’s caves in the dead of night, cloaked by a moonless sky. At first she meandered down the main path through the forest but soon thought better of it. She wandered in and out of trees, hopefully toward the less travelled heart of the forest.

As she walked through the trees at the peak of midnight, the start of the witching hours, she heard a rustle in the undergrowth. Bryn looked over her shoulder and saw two glowing, yellow-amber eyes. The sound of the soft padding of paws on the earth moved toward her.

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9. Remember sentence diagramming?

DiagramMaybe you weren’t taught to diagram sentences when you were a kid, but I was. And I suspect that, in addition to an inherent knack for language, those structural lessons became imbedded and are still very useful today.

For those who did experience diagramming, or for those who didn’t but are interested in sharpening your grasp of the language—or have children who could use some insights—here’s an article on good old-fashioned sentence diagramming: This Old Grammar Trick Still Works! How To Diagram A Sentence.

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

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Carolyn sends the prologue and first chapter of Dangerous, YA thriller. The full narrative follows the break.

It’s hot as blazes and we’re out picking berries in the woods out by Donner Woods Road when my older sister confesses the worst possible news ever about her love life.

"I'm dating Geoffrey Whittington, the Third, one of the richest men in town," Cort, short for Cortland, pushes her straw hat down over her golden curls and gives me a look of pride.

She’s got to be kidding. Not again. I pull my shirt off and tie it around the waist of my two-piece bathing suit with a determined yank. I hold myself back from shouting, and say in as normal of a voice as I can manage, "Are you crazy? Didn't you learn anything from the fiasco with that thief you were dating last month?"

“He only took the jewels his aunt had promised him in her will. Stop being so melodramatic. He wasn’t a thief.”

I take a deep breath and force myself to say in a calm voice, “You have to stop choosing boyfriends based on their bank accounts. Besides, the rich guy’s got to be too old for you.”

“He is not. I’m almost eighteen and he’s only twenty-five. Mom and Dad have at least that many years difference between them.”

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people.” I bang on the side of my berry bucket in a rhythm to the Jaws theme.

She drops a berry into my pail as if she’s giving to the poor. “Come on. When are you (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Carolyn's first page?

I definitely like the voice and the writing is good and clean. But there’s little tension for me in this page. There was something on page 2 that, if the cuts shown in the notes below are done, could increase the stakes a little. It would insert into this paragraph:

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people. Rumor is your new boyfriend set fire to Parson Johnson’s barn and he has a lab in his basement where he experiments with animals."

That would help. So would the info, also on page 2, that the protagonist thinks of herself as a detective. Let me add that I would try to get the character’s name on the first page, too. It can be as easy as: “Oh, Cameo, he only took the jewels his aunt . . . etc.

There’s a good bit of set-up here that I suspect could wait until later. Carolyn tries to hook us with the “worst possible news” notion, but that’s not all that powerful. On the next page, Cameo jumps in the river and something grabs her ankle--now that begins to sound like a thriller. That piqued my interest. Maybe try starting a little later and cut the set-up. Notes:

 It’s hot as blazes and we’re out picking berries in the woods out by Donner Woods Road when my older sister confesses the worst possible news ever about her love life.

"I'm dating Geoffrey Whittington, the Third, one of the richest men in town," Cort, short for Cortland, pushes her straw hat down over her golden curls and gives me a look of pride. You can work in the source of the nickname later, perhaps by having the protagonist use it. She wouldn’t ordinarily be thinking of something like this at this time, it’s the author, not the character tossing this bit of info in.

She’s got to be kidding. Not again. I pull my shirt off and tie it around the waist of my two-piece bathing suit with a determined yank. I hold myself back from shouting, and say in as normal of a voice as I can manage, "Are you crazy? Didn't you learn anything from the fiasco with that thief you were dating last month?"

“He only took the jewels his aunt had promised him in her will. Stop being so melodramatic. He wasn’t a thief.

I take a deep breath and force myself to say in a calm voice, “You have to stop choosing boyfriends based on their bank accounts. Besides, the rich guy’s got to be too old for you.” You’ve already told us she’s using a normal voice.

“He is not. I’m almost eighteen and he’s only twenty-five. Mom and Dad have at least that many years difference between them.”

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people.” I bang on the side of my berry bucket in a rhythm to the Jaws theme. The reference to killing people comes out of the blue—unmotivated, it seems like an accusation, but Cort doesn’t even react to the “kill” part, so it must not mean anything. But it could have. I didn’t think the bucket banging contributed, and there’s better stuff to get on the first page.

She drops a berry into my pail as if she’s giving to the poor. “Come on. When are you (snip) Seems to me humming the Jaws theme would be more appropriate--what it its rhythm?

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Carolyn

 

Continued:

going to give up this childhood dream that you’re some kind of detective?”

“Never. Check out their criminal records first, I say. Rumor is your new boyfriend set fire to Parson Johnson’s barn and he has a lab in his basement where he experiments with animals."

Cort stops picking berries and pulls her full lips into a pout. "Rumors. Who believes them? If you had one ounce of romance in your soul, you wouldn't say such things about a wonderful man like Geoff." Her sappy smile and dewy eyes tell me she's a goner again.

She poses in the shade of a cottonwood tree like a movie star. In that white sundress, with the late afternoon sun shining down through the leaves, she looks almost angelic.

Something snaps in the brush near the path and I turn to see who it is.

Goose bumps jump up my arms. Nobody there—just high bushes and forty-foot trees shrouding our path and leaves crunching under my feet. It's creepy to think somebody could be watching us.

Before I can rush to the edge of our tiny South Carolina river and kick off my flip flops, Cort calls to me: "Cameo! Don't jump."

So like my older sister to get everything totally wrong.

After squirming out of my jean cutoffs, I push back my messy brown hair, suck in my gut, and pretend my sixteen-year-old figure's as good as my sister's. It's depressing that she's like a size zero, when I'm the one who's always dieting.

"It's okay," I tell her. "I know where the rocks are."

I can almost taste that cool water and feel it washing over my parched body. Without another word, I dive deep into the river, anxious to get away from Cort and her take on the finer points of Geoffrey Whittington—at least for a few minutes.

 A luscious wetness covers and soothes me until something large swims in my direction. The pitch black underwater makes it impossible to see what it is. Something in my gut warns me whatever it is isn't friendly, and I swing into a fast breast stroke in the other direction.

The water below my feet sends chills up my body. A rough current tumbles me along the river bottom into a sunken tree. Something large bumps into my leg.

Oh God, alligators live here.

My inner compass is totally screwed up now, giving me no idea of which way to swim to find Cort. Adrenaline rushes through my body and I battle up from the muddy river bottom.

Something grabs my legs from behind.

This is not a fish.

For sure, this is not an alligator.

Water fills my nose and burns in my eyes. Lungs nearly exploding, I twist one leg free, kick against solid muscle, and am released. Up out of the water I leap and find myself next to shore, gasping for air.

Hanging onto a tree by the river bank, Cort stretches her free hand toward me.

Choking and kicking my legs, I grab her wrist and she pulls me up onto shore.

I flop on my back on the rocky ground and snort in some breaths.

She yanks my hair out of my eyes, and stares at me, brows down, lips up in a why-do-you-keep-doing-crazy-things? look. "You were down there forever. I didn't think you'd ever come up. What happened?"

 I gulp for air, not sure I know what happened. I could have dreamed being held down until I nearly drowned, but I doubt it.

"You shouldn't go swimming here. The tides are too dangerous." Cort puckers her face into a disparaging squint. If Cort has one thing down, it's being disparaging, but even then, she's got that blonde pretty thing going for her.

When I finally get enough air to speak, I sit up and stare into her corn-flower-blue eyes. "Somebody was down there. A guy. He tried to—"

She places one hand on the waist of her sundress, and stamps her sandaled foot. "Don't start with your fantasies. You're always dreaming up some kind of adventure."

I grab my jean cut-offs and don't argue because I'm always on the losing end with her. Instead, I bang on the side of my head with the palm of my hand to get the water out of my ear, and wonder if my parents would notice she was missing if I pushed her into the water and walked home. I shove my legs into my shorts. Nah, I couldn't do that, no matter how mad she makes me.

She is my sister, and we've been raised to protect each other from all outside-of-the-family forces. Inside family forces—well, that's an entirely different thing."Come on, let's go. Mom will have a cow if we're not home in time for supper."

She grabs the bucket of berries we'd been picking for dessert and we start off.

On the walk home, I try to tell her what happened underwater, but she keeps interrupting me with questions. "Should I wear my pink or my yellow dress tonight? I mean, the yellow one fits me better, but the pink, well, Geoff says that favors my beautiful skin."

I could care less if she wears a clown suit as long as she doesn't tell our parents what happened. If she does, I'll get grounded or worse, just because I dove into the river. According to them, well-bred young ladies don't dive into rivers.

The image of Cort's boyfriend forces its way into my brain. Now I remember him. I've seen the guy downtown, driving around in a red convertible, laughing in that sadistic way he has. For some reason, I think he could have been the one under the water, trying to drown me.

Of course, that's totally silly. Maybe I'm just suffering from post traumatic stress or something from half-drowning. Still, Cort's boyfriend's always around when barns burn down mysteriously or pet animals disappear. I even get an image of him torturing a tiny terrier in his basement laboratory. That makes me totally sick to my stomach.

                                                         ***

Thank God, Cort doesn't breathe a word to our parents when we get home. Of course, she wouldn't, she's all about Geoffrey, the Great.

Mom greets us at the door, perfect blonde hair framing her smiling face. Cort got her looks; I got Dad's. She grabs the berries I push in her direction. "You girls did good, but you're a little late for me to make pie." She ushers us into the kitchen to help set the table and serve oven-baked BBQ ribs and biscuits with gravy.

At dinner, Daddy with his white shirt sleeves rolled up and tie loosened raises a bushy eyebrow after Cort goes on and on about her new beau. I give him a secret smile, knowing he's not totally taken in.

After we've cleared the table and I do the dishes, I make a point of peering out from the kitchen when Geoffrey, the Great, appears at the front door. He is handsome in a dangerous kind of way with black hair brushed back, intense brown eyes, and a tall, muscular body. 

I help Mom with the dishes and then try to read, but my mind keeps circling back to what happened under the water in the river today. There was a man. I’m certain.

Cort comes home late all breathless and wide-eyed. She’s got her lipstick on, so maybe he didn’t kiss her. That, or she reapplied it to pass Mom’s scrutiny at the door.

I figure Geoff’s bamboozled her totally, but I have to make another attempt to get her to break it off. I try to put as much sisterly concern in my voice as I can. “So, how was your date?”

She kicks off her shoes and nearly swoons while she’s taking off her dress. “Fantastic. Better than that. He is so polite, so gallant, so wonderful. And the restaurant he took me to. Fabulous French food served by waiters who actually speak French. Divine.”

“Umm hmm. I’m sure it was fantabulous, but what about his lab and guns? Did he show them to you?”

She scowls at me, and stomps over to her bed. “Of course not. A gentleman never brings a lady to his house so early in a relationship.”

Whew! I’m glad she’s still thinking it’s early in the relationship, but a little nauseated that he’s being so normal. How am I ever going to convince her he’s a murderer unless she sees him for what he is?

According to her he’s nothing but charming, polite, and oh-so-sexy.

When I make another attempt to tell her to break it off, she lies down in her bed and falls asleep. I pull the covers over her and go back to my bed.

I spend most of the night trying to come up with a plan, but nothing jells. What am I going to do about my sister? It feels as if the clock is ticking.

 

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11. A shout-out to the Idaho Writer’s League

Idaho logoI just returned from doing two workshops at the Idaho Writers’ League 2014 conference in Idaho Falls, ID, and want to express my thanks and appreciation for being a part of the event.

I did my Crafting a Killer First Page and 3 Keys to Killer Storytelling workshops, and the writers who attended were sharp and talented. I had a great time talking writing with them—these events are always stimulating to me and I came away with ideas for the writing craft book I’m working on.

The conference was well-organized and featured professional speakers—I was very well cared for and felt quite welcome. I was lucky enough to be asked to come back next year, and I gladly said yes.

So, if you’re in the Idaho area, check out the Idaho Writer’s League—good folks.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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12. Advice for Indie writers from Indie publishers

If you’re considering going the self-publishing route, go to this article full of insights from writers who have been there. And then go to my website for how I can help writers publish strong books. Here’s an excerpt from Self-Publishing Stars Speak Out by Betty Kelly Sargent:

“Before you do it, take time to understand why you’re doing it, to research your opinions, and to hire experts if needed to help you achieve your goals. Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth your reader’s time and money.” Jane Friedman

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

RM sends the prologue and first chapter of The Descent of Brigid , YA suspense/historical fantasy. The rest of the narrative follows the break.

Prologue

Brigid’s instincts screamed run, but her feet refused to obey. Standing in the courtyard, she could do little more than watch as her older sister squeezed through the broken window four stories above. “No, no, Fiola, please don’t,” she chanted. Only nine-years-old, Brigid couldn’t conjure the words to calm her older sister. Fiola staggered onto the ledge, inching across the roof of the Victorian house. Oh god… Brigid opened her mouth to scream, but only managed a whisper.

 Fiola skidded past the chimney, landing with a smack onto the cupola balcony. Her singsong voice drifted across the backyard. “You deserve the truth, little one.” Unkempt hair billowing in blonde clumps and a manic grin stretched across her face, Fiola stepped over the balcony’s guardrail. “We live among a coven of deceitful vipers, kept here against our will.” She teetered on the ledge, nothing but stagnant ocean air between her and the stone terrace below.

Though drenched in sweat from the mid-day sun, Brigid shivered. I can’t get to her in time. She gulped for breath, stumbling into the overgrown bushes crowding the backyard. The pungent stench of blooming hawthorns filled her mouth. She fought the urge to vomit.

“Fiola, no!” Erin sprinted up the hill, staring at her twin perched high on the roof. Brigid crumpled to her knees. She’ll know what to do. Erin, twelve years older and the most levelheaded of the three sisters, knelt beside Brigid and squeezed her hand. Never taking her eyes off of Fiola, she directed the man hobbling onto the porch, “Mac, she’s on the roof! Find Gran or Inneen.”

Were you compelled to turn RM's first page?

There are good story questions raised here and plenty of jeopardy served up, so I turned the page. However, there are clarity issues in the last paragraph. At first it looked like we had shifted to Fiola’s point of view due to the unattributed dialogue, which rightfully should have been Brigid’s as she was last person mentioned in the previous paragraph. A transition is needed. And then there’s a pronoun with an unclear antecedent—it seems as if “her twin” should refer to Erin as she is the one sprinting up the hill and the only person in the sentence. But then we’re told that she’s twelve years older. Since one can’t be twelve years older than one’s twin, the twin reference is to Fiola—but that’s lost for me.

Chapter 1, nine years later

Morgana soared high above the shores of the Black Ocean. Without warning, she careened into the cliff side, hurtling through branches of the menacing rowan tree. Gnarled treetops tore at her flesh. She plummeted to the ground, landing with a thud amidst a flurry of her dusky feathers.

Brigid jolted from sleep, struggling for breath. The dream again…Stories Fiola always told about Morgana and ancient Delbaeth. Wait, not a dream… Her heart raced. Holy Hell…I’m actually falling. Unlike the dream, she didn’t plummet from the night sky, just the fifth floor of their Manhattan townhouse. The treetops ripping her skin were not those of a mighty rowan tree, but the branches of the neighbor’s overgrown shrubs. What is going on?

“Oomph.” She landed on the neighbor’s roof deck, one floor directly below her room and looked up. I know I closed it earlier. Her bedroom window was wide open. How did I not break any bones? Rubbing her backside, she gasped. Where in god’s name are my clothes? She glanced across the Newman’s deck. Empty. One hand over her chest, the other over her backside, she crept to the far corner and tested the terrace doors. Please, please… Unlocked. Yes. She slipped inside. The house was still. Without turning on a light, she inched across the room to a set of stairs and stepped carefully down one flight then another. Moonlight streamed through a partially open door. Tiptoeing down the hall, she peeked in. A bathroom. She searched the cabinets for something – anything – to cover herself. Hand towels…too small…bath matt…no…

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Hmm. More good story questions—but more lack of clarity again, and more of it. I can buy that the actual falling was reflected in a dream,  but I can’t buy that the dream came first and then Brigid came awake during the fall. After she lands, yes, but to have all this quite coherent thought while falling from a fifth-floor balcony strained my credibility beyond the breaking point. And what kind of “shrubs” are four stories tall? There’s good writing and the promise of a fun story here, but I think RM needs an editor. I gave it an almost, with regret. The narrative that follows the prologue portion above is below the fold. Worth a read and your input for RM.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 RM

 

(continued from the prologue's first page)

Without hesitation, Mac walked into the house.

“Take care of her while you still can, Erin. After today, she will hate you more than I do,” Fiola said, her mouth twisting into a scowl. “You and Gran plotted against me, but I know everything you’ve been hiding.” Her arms floated above her head in a perfect pirouette. “Now, Brigid will know too.”

“We’ll tell her everything, I promise,” Erin pleaded. “Please Fiola, just go back inside.”

Fiola leaned back and spoke to someone through the cupola window. Brigid exhaled. Gran has reached her. Fiola listened intently, but remained on the ledge, turning away from the open window. Why isn’t she going inside?

“Are you ready, Brigid?” Fiola asked, smiling defiantly.

Terrified of what might happen next, Brigid dragged her eyes from Fiola and gazed at the cupola. Spellbound, she stared at an unfamiliar face peering through the window. A young woman observed Fiola from behind the gauzy curtains, her dark hair fluttering in the breeze. The hypnotic pattering of a summer shower filled the air. The chaos dimmed. Smiling, the lovely brunette backed away from the window. Lightening flashed, then a crack of thunder. Brigid shuddered. It can’t be…Morgana? The sky darkened. Gentle rain strengthened to a pounding deluge and the woman was gone. Screeching tires in the driveway startled Brigid from her stupor. First, one car door slammed, then another. Gran and Inneen raced into the backyard. Rain pelting her face, Brigid’s stomach churned. No one is in the cupola to save Fiola.

“My darling girl, I’ll be right up,” Gran yelled.

 “Stay where you are!” Fiola screamed, her eyes darting wildly. Smoothing her disheveled dress, she stretched her arms wide and extended a pointed toe. “I’ll come down now. Brigid, watch.” She gracefully arched her back, and with complete certainty, she stepped from the ledge.

“No Fiola,” Erin sobbed, running to her twin, arms outstretched, as if to catch her. Brigid gagged, pitching forward. Soggy ground rushed toward her. Damp grass pressed against her face and dirt filled her mouth, muffling her soft cries. The snap of splintering branches was followed by a desolate thud. Gran’s screams filled the courtyard. Brigid’s world descended into darkness.

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14. Flogometer for Adan—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Adan sends the first chapter of One Night in the Hill Country . The full chapter follows the break.

Parked in the shadows of a line of one and two story western style wood buildings, Tara spied the young girl, barely a teen, if that, start and stop to cross the small border town's roughly paved street.

Hesitant. Fearful. Hearing the protestors down the street like a funeral procession.

Yet, hiding it well, thought Tara. Remembering to flick her hair, gaze upward, as if unfazed, walking about. Definitely a girl with her bearings about her. Definitely someone the right age her brother would want. Rolf will be proud of me, Tara smiled.

Down the flat street, dusty as a barren riverbed, just a few blocks down, the immigration rally picked up momentum. In a spurt, bullhorns chanting, it began heading their way.

Tara stepped out and shoved the old pickup truck's door closed. Just loud enough to catch the young girl's attention, yet not alarm her.

Sharp dark eyes, wary, yet unafraid, peered back at Tara. The little girl looked like a Mexican version of a young Shirley Temple. Pixie, full head of curls softening the wide bright eyes. Stretching slightly, Tara mimicked the young girl's practiced motion, also glancing upward, feeling the hot blue sky, unwavering as ice, above them. Peripherally, she saw this set the young girl somewhat at ease. Like a bluster, settling into a breeze.

The child grinned, then hid it, hearing the marchers, a slow motion flood of bodies, now half (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Adan's first page?

For me, there just wasn’t enough tension to either earn a page turn—although it came close in that department—and to overlook the craft needs. There’s what is to me overwriting, breaks in point of view, and clarity issues. I do think there’s good stuff here and in the rest of the chapter, but the narrative needs to worked with to be more crisp and clear. The rest of the chapter follows--and it suggests a good story might come along. Here are notes on the first page:

Parked in the shadows of a line of one and two story western style weathered wood buildings, Tara spied the young girl, barely a teen, if that, start and stop to cross the small border town's roughly paved street. Not sure what a “western style” building is. Are you thinking of the old buildings we see in Western movies? This bit of over-description, including the texture of the street, slows the action. And part of that is unclear—how does the girl start and stop to cross a street? Do you mean started to cross and then stopped? That would be clear. Words such as “young”  and "small" are conclusion words and are relative—a 40-year-is young compared to an 80-something. The “barely a teen” did the job, the reference to young just isn’t needed.

Hesitant. Fearful. Hearing the protestors down the street like a funeral procession. Break in POV—Tara can’t know if the girl is actually fearful and is hearing the protesters. You can use expressions such as an unhappy frown to suggest fear, but don’t tell us. And what kind of a funeral procession is a protest like? I associate protests with shouts and chanting, and funeral processions are silent unless they’re in Louisiana or Mexico, where they can be noisy. The simile didn’t work for me as it is.

Yet, hiding it well, thought Tara. Remembering to flick her hair, gaze upward, as if unfazed, walking about. Definitely a girl with her bearings about her. Definitely someone the right age her brother would want. Rolf will be proud of me, Tara smiled. Hiding what well? If Tara thinks she’s an illegal immigrant and hiding that, then we need more of a clue than a pronoun with no antecedent. The reader needs to know what’s going on. The detail about her brother was tantalizing, but unclear. If there were a little more, something such as “would want her to bring to him,” would strengthen the suggestion of jeopardy or troubles ahead for the girl.

Down the flat street, dusty as a barren riverbed, just a few blocks down, the immigration rally picked up momentum. In a spurt, bullhorns chanting, it began heading their way. The description is trying too hard for this reader. Keep it simple. We know this is a border town, and if it’s hot and dry, it doesn’t make much to signal that. Once again, keep it simple and easy to see/grasp. I’m not wild about “in a spurt” and suggest deleting it and starting with the bullhorns chanting.

Tara stepped out and shoved the old pickup truck's door closed. Just loud enough to catch the young girl's attention, yet not alarm her.

Sharp dark eyes, wary, yet unafraid, peered back at Tara. The little girl looked like a Mexican version of a young Shirley Temple. Pixie, full head of curls softening the wide bright eyes. Stretching slightly, Tara mimicked the young girl's practiced motion, also glancing upward, feeling the hot blue sky, unwavering as ice, above them. Peripherally, she saw this set the young girl somewhat at ease. Like a bluster, settling into a breeze. For me, the description is getting in the way, similes and metaphors all over the place. And saying a hot sky is like ice took me out of the story to deal with the contradictions--I know you're going for stillness, but "hot" and "ice" are the strongest words and lead the reader's thoughts.

The child grinned, then hid it, hearing the marchers, a slow motion flood of bodies, now half (snip) “hearing the marchers” is another break in pov, she can’t know what the girl is hearing. the way to do this is something like: The child grinned, then hid it when a burst of cheers came from the marchers. That shows the girl hearing something, and doesn’t tell us that she has inappropriately.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Felpe Adan Lerma

 

(continued)

the distance from where they stood - the street, otherwise, nearly deserted.

Tara grabbed the kitten through the truck's open window, its eyes wide below the striking white on black starburst on its forehead. Walked directly to the child. Looked back to the crowd approaching the next block, the chorus of protest becoming strident voices, abrupt shouts – Tara giving the young girl the hint she was afraid also – and thrust the wiggling kitten into the small girl's hands, the protestors crossing the intersection into their block.

“Smile,” Tara smiled to the little girl.

She smiled.

“Wave if anyone looks at us.”

Both girls waved. Big sister, little sister, it must have seemed, to the passersby intent in shouting their meaning. Like thunderclaps rumbling away, the marchers passed. The dust settled back where it'd always been. The young girl choked a sob, and flicked a tear, as if clearing an errant strand of hair from her vision.

Silently, she offered the kitten back to Tara.

Tara began walking. “Keep smiling. Talk to me, pretend I am your sister.”

The child reached for and grasped Tara's hand, tugging it.

“Your kitty -”

“You like him?” asked Tara.

“Oh, si -”

“It's yours. If you take care of him.”

The girl nodded.

Tara felt relief. Yes, her brother will be proud of her. Another illegal for them.

Tara gazed down at the girl - staring at Tara's childhood whelp on her arm. Dry and gnarled as the land around them.

“No matter how hard. Or, how much..it hurts...” Tara said, eyeing the wiggly kitten.

But Tara already knew the girl's answer. It was in her gait.

Child-like, she'd pressed the kitten to her chest.

“Si. Con todo mi corazon.”

 

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15. Beautiful words from banned books

It’s Banned Books Week, focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, and the American Library Association makes it quite clear what we lose with this brief photo essay on 10 books that have been and are banned in American communities. The first is below.

Banned books

Ray

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

Submissions Needed. 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Joanne sends the prologue and first chapter of Re-homing Pigeon. The full chapter follows the break.

If it weren’t for the Voo-Doo curse, she would have been a terrific mother. Cecile Lafayette Boudreaux stroked the Gris-Gris amulet around her neck. Born in the Louisiana bayou, she wasn’t supposed to scare easily. The weatherman drew spaghetti lines that snaked through the Gulf of Mexico, all heading right toward the mouth of the Mississippi. Mayor Nagin advised people to evacuate, while the die-hards of New Orleans planned their hurricane parties. Fire up the outdoor cooker; them mud bugs were waiting for cayenne pepper, hot sauce and 'taters. Laissez les bons temps rouler (Let the good times roll.) At 9:30 a.m., Sunday, Mayor Ray Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation. Governor Blanco told anyone refusing to leave to write their names and social security number on their arms in magic marker so they could identify the bodies. They named her Katrina.

Cecile told herself that she'd be safe in their sturdy home in Saint Bernard Parish on the east side of the Mississippi River and New Orleans proper. Her husband, Armand, had made preparations ahead of time, boarding the house so not a sliver of daylight peeked through the plywood sheets. This wasn’t the first hurricane she'd witnessed in her thirty years, and it wouldn't be the last. No matter the warnings, she couldn't leave without Armand. He had responsibilities as drilling manager for Murphy Oil Refinery and hadn't been home in three days.

She opened the door and stared at ominous dark clouds and things that had no business (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Joanne's first page?

Right away the subject matter of Katrina creates interest, and the first paragraph does a good job of setting that scene. But the tension falls off considerably in the second paragraph as we do a little info-dumping and set-up. I ended up not turning the page.

I recommend eliminating much of that second paragraph and starting with ominous things happening, and include the fact that she’s pregnant. I think the stakes need to be raised right away. Here’s a rough draft of material from later that I’d replace that paragraph with. With the edits to the first paragraph, this would take you through 17 lines on the first page:

She opened the door and stared at ominous dark clouds. Thousands of mosquito hawks (dragonflies) flew in a frenzy, forming a gossamer purple and green funnel. Grey sky that turned black pelted rain in straight arrows, and then suddenly whipped sideways, almost knocking her over, sending loose shingles and garden tools rolling across yards and down the center of streets. She staggered inside and locked the door.

The baby kicked hard against her rib cage. “Agh. Whoa there Junior.” Straightening, she rubbed her swollen belly, soothing her son that wouldn't arrive for another ten weeks. Through the boarded windows, she heard large objects slam against the house. She prayed they wouldn’t (snip)

What do you think? For me, I get much more involved with the character and the trouble that’s coming, and I would have turned the page with this as an opening. Here are notes on the pages as it is:

If it weren’t for the Voo-Doo voodoo curse, she would have been a terrific mother. Cecile Lafayette Boudreaux stroked the Gris-Gris amulet around her neck. Born in the Louisiana bayou, she wasn’t supposed to scare easily. The weatherman drew had drawn spaghetti lines that snaked through the Gulf of Mexico, all heading right toward the mouth of the Mississippi. They named her Katrina. Mayor Nagin advised people to evacuate, while the The die-hards of New Orleans planned their hurricane parties. Fire up the outdoor cooker; them mud bugs were waiting for cayenne pepper, hot sauce and 'taters. Laissez les bons temps rouler (Let the good times roll.) At 9:30 a.m., Sunday, Mayor Ray Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation. Governor Blanco told anyone refusing to leave to write their names and social security number on their arms in magic marker so they could identify the bodies. They named her Katrina. I realize that the spelling of voodoo might be charactercentric, so keep it if that’s the case. Otherwise, my dictionary says it’s “voodoo.” The rest of that sentence, though, didn’t work for me because there’s no clue as to her being a bad mother—no sign of children, anything. In other words, the reader has no idea what this refers to with no expansion and so it is, in essence, meaningless. Either give it meaning or delete it. I eliminated the first mayor reference because there’s another that’s stronger, and one seems like enough. The magic marker is a terrific detail. I moved the naming of the hurricane up to seat the information and end the paragraph with the deadly bit about magic markers and bodies.

Cecile told herself that she'd be safe in their sturdy home in Saint Bernard Parish on the east side of the Mississippi River and New Orleans proper. Her husband, Armand, had made preparations ahead of time, boarding boarded the house so not a sliver of daylight peeked through the plywood sheets. This wasn’t the first hurricane she'd witnessed in her thirty years, and it wouldn't be the last. No matter the warnings, she couldn't leave without her husband Armand. He Armi had responsibilities as drilling manager for Murphy Oil Refinery and hadn't been home in three days. I felt the overly detailed location wouldn’t mean much to a lot of people, and it clogs up the story. It’s a little awkward when you’re in close third person to use something like “her husband, Armand,” so I made little changes that will let the reader know who he is without having to state it directly.

She opened the door and stared at ominous dark clouds and things that had no business (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Tweet

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Joanne

 

(continued)

being airborne. Thousands of mosquito hawks (dragonflies) flew in a frenzy, forming a gossamer purple and green funnel. It's coming . . . please let it pass over like all the others. Those news people always blew things out of proportion, right? Grey sky that turned black pelted rain in straight arrows, and then suddenly whipped sideways, almost knocking her over, sending loose shingles and small garden tools rolling across yards and down the center of streets. She staggered back inside and locked the door.

She phoned her father to ease his mind. Maybe it would ease hers as well. It was times like this she really missed her mother’s soothing voice.

“Come home, CeCe. There's still time,” her father said. Butte La Rose was one hundred and nineteen miles northwest, along the Atchafalaya River, safely out of the eye of the storm.

“I'm fine Daddy, really.” She forced her voice to sound steady. “Armi will be here soon.” She could hear grandmother, Mamère Le Bieu, chanting in the background. “What's Mamère doing?”

Her father snorted. “You know Mamère. She's beckoning spirits to keep you safe. You should'a seen her chasing dat gecko 'round the house to use in her potion. It was hysterical.”

Cecile's laugh came out jagged and raw. “Well, tell her I 'preciate her Voo-Doo and I'll sleep safer know'in the spirit of Evangeline is protecting me. Talk atcha later. Kiss Kiss.” She tugged on the small leather amulet tied around her neck.

They were prepared. The bathtub was filled with water, they had fresh batteries and flashlights, the cupboard had enough canned goods to last three days. The news warned those that had not evacuated to stay inside. Interstate 10, Highway 39 and Route 61 were deadlocked. Automobiles and gas stations were running out of gas. Babies were crying, cars engines were running hot. She glanced at the packed suitcases by the front door. They couldn't leave now if they wanted to.

By 11:00 a.m., winds reached 175 miles per hour. The sound of a train barreling down tracks rattled the rafters. The power went out. Oh God. She felt her way through the darkness for the edge of the kitchen table and slid into a chair. This is all normal, she placated herself. We're okay. She stooped to pick up a flashlight that rolled to the floor.

“Agh. Whoa there Junior.” The baby kicked hard against her rib cage. Straightening, she rubbed her swollen belly, soothing her son that wouldn't arrive for another ten weeks. Through the boarded windows, she heard large objects slam against the house. She prayed they wouldn’t break through.

She padded barefoot down the hall and stepped in water. She aimed the flashlight at the floor. “Shit.” A small stream weaved through grout lines in the tile foyer toward the thick padding under the front room carpet. Water pooled on concave window sills and seeped down the wall.

She dialed Armi's cell. Pick up, pick up, she pleaded to herself. Stay calm. The stilted voice of the machine kicked on, and she groaned as a second pain doubled her over. “Babe, are you coming home soon? Things are getting kinda scary here. Water's coming in under the doors and windows. There's no power. Oh . . . and your son's kicking up a fuss too. He mustn’t like the storm either.” Beep. The line went dead.

She rolled bath towels and shoved them under crevices. The flashlights standing upright on the table cast eerie round circles on the ceiling.

Okay Cecile, stay calm. He'll be here soon. There was nothing else she could do. She propped her legs up on the sofa, practicing her Lamaze breathing techniques. Deep cleansing breaths. In and out, in and out. She concentrated on her breathing as the howling of the wind faded into humming. A familiar cloud settled in around heras she started to nod off, No, no, please go away.

 

Armand listened to the voice mail from his wife. He made the decision to leave and send everyonehome. The CEO and operations managers had been in a dead-end debate on what to do with the oil tanks for three hours. One wanted to empty the tanks into huge storage containers and let them float in place tethered to docks. Another wanted to fill them with water so they were too heavy to float away. Armand made a decision to fill the empty tanks. What to do with tanks containing crude oil? Either decision would turn him against the opposing side. “Tie them down,” he ordered. “Then everyone get the hell out of here. I've got to get to my wife.”

Armand patted the dashboard of the high SUV, glad that it maneuvered through the rising water as he made his way home. Rain water had nowhere to go in below-sea-level New Orleans and most of the streets were already flooded. The levees would hold back the overflow of Lake Ponchatrain and the MRGO, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, as long as water didn't breach their tops.

Wind and rain beat against the windshield and rocked the heavy vehicle, sometimes tipping it onto two wheels. By the time he reached their home on Ventura Drive in Chalmette, the garage had four inches of water. The front lawn was strewn with debris.

“CeCe, where are you?” He bellowed as he pushed hard on the door blocked with rolled towels.

“In here,” Cecile said.

Armand sloshed through the kitchen to the front room. Two inches of water covered the thick beige carpet. “CeCe, look!”

She pulled herself into a sitting position, swung her legs onto the floor, and then jerked her bare feet out of the cold water.

“Are you all right? And Junior?” Armand stroked her stomach.

She managed a smile. “Better . . . now that you're home. He's not liking this storm. I can tell you that. The curse, Armi . . . I saw the cloud.”

“Nonsense, there’s no curse. We had better stack as much as we can.” Armand started piling things; dining chairs atop the table, ottoman and magazine racks on the kitchen counter.

Cecile followed behind him, lifting smaller items out of harm’s way as a sense of dread folded around her. Why won’t he believe? He blasted the battery-operated radio and she cringed. It offered nothing but pending doom. “Please, turn that off.”

He flipped it off. “If you're sure you are okay.” He kissed her cheek. “I guess we already know what to expect. The storm will pass, it'll get quiet when we're in the eye, then we'll get hit again as it comes around the other side.” He rubbed her back. “Want to curl up on the bed until it's over? . . . Unless you want to do something else to take your mind off the storm,” he said with a twinkle in his chocolate eyes.

“Oh, no you don't.” She laughed nervously. “Snuggle only Mr. Boudreaux. Junior is so active you're liable to give him a black eye.”

Their nap was short lived. The water kept rising.

The water reached knee-high, almost even with the mattress. “CeCe,” Armand said with alarm. “We've got to go higher.”

“Where?” She asked, staring at the rising water. “It's not like we have a second story? Should we leave?”

Armand forced open the door and peeked through the crack as water gushed in. The entire street was a river and the storm had not let up. “Up,” he said. “Into the attic. You go, and I'll gather flashlights and batteries.”

“Omigod! Don't forget bottled water.” said Cecile. “And whatever food you can. And pillows and blankets from the bed.”

Armand steadied the ladder as she crawled through the trap door of the attic, her wide girth squeezing through the hole.

He pushed water bottles, the battery-operated radio and as many other supplies that he could think of through the hole before he pulled himself to safety.

Cecile tried to adjust her eyes to the filtered light in the small attic. The air was stifling. The temperature had to be one hundred degrees. She tried to get comfortable on the thin blankets and pillows, amidst boxes of Christmas decorations and old college memorabilia.

“Armi, my back is killing me.” she moaned.

“You've done too much. And it's hotter than hell in here. Try to be still. Practice your breathing.” He pushed boxes farther into the eaves, giving at least the illusion of more space. He patted an old electric fan with large black blades in a round metal cage. “Why didn’t I buy that generator I’ve looked at a dozen times in the hardware store?”

“It’s okay. The storm won’t last long.” Cecile wanted to sound optimistic as she laid her head on the pillow, twisting and turning, trying to get comfortable. The back pain circled around to the front. “I think I'm going into labor.”

A loud crash pummeled the roof. Armand threw his body over hers to protect her from whatever came through. When the roof held, he responded. “No, no. it's too early. It's the stress causing Braxton Hicks contractions. They'll stop.”

A wet spot spread across the blanket. Cecile saw it, even if Armand didn’t. An ethereal cloud settled around her in a grey shroud. Her water broke and she let out a primal scream. Omigod! I can't have the baby here, in this attic.”

Cecile noticed Armand's ruddy complexion pale.

“I'll get help,” He said as he punched numbers into his cell phone. No service. Frantically, he dug through boxes. He found a small ball-peen hammer. He pounded on a metal vent as she watched. Without too much effort, the aluminum vent gave way as the wind grabbed and tossed it away. The opening was about twelve inches wide. He reached his arm through but it was too small to fit his head and shoulders. Rain poured through the opening and he choked as he pressed his face as close as possible.

“Help! Somebody,” he sputtered. “Can you hear me? Help! We're in here.”

Only the screaming sound of Katrina answered back.

His arm waved frantically through the small opening.

Cecile knew there would be no one to witness his plea for help. “Armi, Armi.” Sweat poured down her face as the cloud circled around her. “It’s taking our baby again. Why is this happening to us again?”

He shook his head, spraying water over her. He gave up the futile call for help and looked around for something to plug the hole. Not finding anything, he tore off his shirt, exposing the dark furry chest she loved to run her fingers over. But not now. She moaned, watching him roll the shirt into a ball and stuff it into the opening. Too small, it dropped onto the plywood floor. Worry lines crossed his brow. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm. “I'm here for you Baby. What can I do?”

Cecile sobbed. “I don't know. He's coming. I can't stop him.”

Pains continued every three minutes through the night. Barely conscious from exhaustion and pain, Cecile sipped from the water bottle Armand held to her lips. The lack of air, screaming wind and constant bombardment of flying projectiles hitting the roof drove them into a near state of delirium. Transformers exploded not far away and a strange creaking sound strained against the storm.

Barely conscious, Cecile heard Armand’s prayer for God to spare their child. He knelt between her legs as she pushed their child through into the world. It was 10:56 a.m., Monday, August 29, 2005. They were in the eye of the storm.

So relieved to have the pain stop, at first she didn't notice the sudden eerie silence. She closed her eyes and let the pain ease from her body. The cloud around her dissipated. After her breathing returned to normal, she asked for her son.

“Don't CeCe. You don't want to see.”

“Please,” she whispered. “Let me hold him.” She saw the tears that streamed down his face. He was trying to stay strong for her, but she knew his heart was ripping in two. All those dreams he talked about —of tossing a ball with his son, teaching him to fish, sharing “guy” stuff, dissolved in his tears. “No, no, no.” Cecile clutched their third stillborn child to her chest. “Did you see it? It took our baby again. It’s my fault. I’m so sorry. It’s the curse.” The Gris-Gris made by her grandmother did nothing to protect her. Cecile knew they wouldn’t. The curse was too strong.

Defeated, he stroked her damp forehead. “No CeCe. There is no curse. It’s not your fault.”

When the back side of the storm hit, she expected the house to collapse. They lay on the thin blankets on plywood floors, their child swaddled between them in a beach towel. If the curse took her too, she was resigned to it. She prayed Armand would be spared.

 

By morning, the house was still standing and the storm had passed, but the danger had not. With bare hands and the small hammer, Armand ripped at roof shingles and studs until he had a large enough opening to fit his entire body.

For as far as he could see, there was nothing but rooftops and devastation. Along with trees and street signs, bodies of small animals floated by along with bits and pieces of people's lives; a wooden cane, a curly haired doll, a soccer ball.

Armand shouted until his voice gave out. Silence loomed as deafening as the roaring Katrina. He flipped on the radio. It told of total devastation. Levees had given way and over ninety percent of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish were under ten to twenty feet of snake infested water. He made a flag out of his shirt, tied by its arms to the end of a broom handle and affixed it to the chimney with bungee cords found in college boxes. Cecile moved in and out of consciousness, calling for Armand and her Mama and mumbling about the curse.

Armand sat on the roof in a hundred degree heat, his back blistered by the sun, waiting for someone to find them. Where was everybody? Why were there no rescue boats? Once, he spotted a helicopter fly over. It flew off into the distance as he stood, waving his hands and shouting for help.

Cockroaches came next, in swarms, swooping in through every hole and crevice, landing on any surface, arms, faces, into their hair. He watched Cecile fight to keep them off the bundle she hugged close to her chest.

By Wednesday, Armand forced the last swallow of water down Cecile's throat. All of the food was gone as well. He gagged on the overpowering stench emitting from the rigid bundle Cecile rocked in her arms.

Finally, two men appeared in a small flat-bottomed fishing trawler. On the roof, Armand waved them toward him. “Help, please. My wife is inside.”

The men threw him a rope and tied up. Armand gently took the bundle from Cecile’s arms and helped her through the hole and into the boat, promising that he would hand the infant back the second she was settled.

Bloated animal carcasses floated by. The men didn't even ask what the atrocious smell was coming from the beach towel. The boat owner agreed to take them to St. Bernard Parish Hospital. It was also under water, but rescue helicopters were expected soon. That turned out to be an inaccurate time line.

They weaved through flotsam and around snakes knotted together hanging from low-hanging tree branches. Cecile spotted a little dog paddling furiously, his eyes bulging with fear. Twice he slipped under the water, unable to find a foot hold.

“Help him.” Cecile cried. “You can't let him drown.”

“There's no room for him in the boat, and no place at the hospital,” said the boatman. He looked numb.

Cecile screamed with all her strength. “No, NO, HELP HIM! Armi, please, you can't let him die too.”

At that, Armand jumped into the black, rancid water and swam toward the little dog. At least he could save someone. He grabbed the pup by the scruff of the neck and hauled him back to the boat. Tossing the canine over the side of the boat, Armand clung to the hull. “He can have my space.”

“Oh for Christ sake. Get in the boat before you get bit by a copperhead and we have to save your ass . . . again!” The man pulled on Armand's belt and heaved him over the side, nearly capsizing the small vessel.

The trembling little dog curled up beside Cecile. “It's okay Neptune, your safe now.” Cecile purred.

“Neptune?” Armand lifted an eyebrow.

“Because you pulled him from the sea.”

They arrived at the hospital and Armand was surprised to find Cecile's OBGYN tending to patients on the roof of Saint Bernard Hospital. The doctor briefly examined Cecile, shaking his head. He sedated her before prying the child from her arms. He spoke quietly to Armand, who strained to hear over the white noise rushing around in his head.

“Armand, that's three stillbirths,” the doctor said. “The drastic drop in barometric pressure caused women all over the area into premature labor. He was too young. If he would have had a few more weeks . . . and Cecile's body is weak. Next time you'll lose her too. There can't be any more babies.”

Armand reached inside the bundle and stroked the tiny cheek of his son one last time before handing him to the staff. The body would stay with the other corpses at the flooded hospital to be retrieved later. He knew the doctor was right. This had to be their last child.

Cecile mumbled incoherently, “The potion, drink the potion.”

“What’s she babbling about?” Armand asked the doctor.

“You need to talk to Cecile about that when she’s stronger.” said Dr. Teekell.

“If you know something . . .”

Dr. Teekeel shook his head. “HEPA laws. It’s past history and irrelevant to what’s happening today. It can wait until she can speak for herself.”

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17. Flogometer for Sarah—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—none in the queue for tomorrow! 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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Sarah sends the prologue and first chapter of Guardian . The full prologue and chapter follow the break.

Prologue

I sat on the edge of the gravel road, my knees bent in front of me as I stared at my boots. It seemed the most terrible moments in my life were spent looking at my shoes. Other people might have a beautiful slide-show tribute documenting their memories of joy. My life felt like a collage of the shoes I wore as I stared down at them trying to make sense of the next horrible change in my life.

For as long as I could remember, when my adults gossiped or talked about things they didn’t want me to know, they used phrases like “not in front of the children.” Once, in the hospital waiting room, a great aunt who was speaking with my grandmother, looked over at me and said, “Bless her heart, do you think she knows?”

The thing is, children do know. Grownups don’t always whisper and secrets don’t keep in small houses and small towns. If I did cry, or show emotion, adults always tried to swoop in and fix it. Their soothing words weren’t to make me feel better; they were to make everyone else more comfortable. I learned that looking down and trying to disappear was my role in times of trouble. I had become an expert at melting into the background.

In third grade, I was wearing brown leather Mary Janes when I learned that my father's parents had been in a terrible accident. I remembered those shoes distinctly and the sound they made on the linoleum as an adult led me through the halls of the hospital.

Were you compelled to turn Sarah's first page?

The writing is smooth and seductive, the voice clear and attractive. But there was little in the way of story questions or tension for me here. As you’ll see if you read on, the shoes meme continues to bring up past events until we get to the present with, finally, a significant detail:

Now, chocolate suede snow boots as I sat atop the hill across from the fresh dirt on my father's frozen grave.

In the end, all we’ve learned from this prologue is that her father has died. Doesn’t seem to me that it was necessary despite the writing.

Chapter 1

The cold from the single pane windows interrupted my dreams. I rolled over in my bed and groaned, trying to wake up. Last night we completed the final stage of our move back to my parents' hometown. My mom said it was like coming full circle, whatever that's supposed to mean. We were officially living with my grandparents.

I stretched and became instantly alert from the cold sheet's frosty assault against my toes. Reflexively, I drew my legs to my chest, trying to regain my warm spot. My bedroom back home had always been my hideaway, my safe place. I opened my eye a crack, to see if all the sadness and change from the last few months had been a dream. Reality hit as I looked around the room.

Usually when I woke up at my grandparent's house, it was fun and exciting. It meant summer vacation or the holidays. Today, I didn't know what it meant. My surroundings were foreign and familiar at the same time. My down comforter from home sprawled across my bed, and intermingled with Grandma’s patchwork quilt. The scent from my mother's fabric softener collided with the smells of a wood-burning stove and the aroma of pancakes wafting up the stairs. It was everything great combined, but in a new and uncertain way.

Not yet able to take on the day, I sucked in a deep breath and blew it out heavily, letting my head drop to the pillow. I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself change would be good.

It had been painful to drive away from our home--my normal. Leaving my school and (snip)

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Once again, voice and writing are just fine. It’s the kind of writing and voice that might draw you in . . . but the lack of story could easily leave the page unturned, which it did for me. This chapter is pretty much introduction and set-up: it’s the character in her new home, living with grandparents after her father’s death. Once again, very nicely written, but you end the chapter still not knowing what the story is about as it affects this character. No story questions have been raised, and there’s no particular jeopardy in the future for this girl.

I think Sarah has started too soon. This reminds me of the time I took chapter 3 of one of my novels in to my critique group and one member said, “The story starts here.” I didn’t accept that for a few months, then I realized that he was right. I rewrote and started there with a much stronger opening. I encourage Sarah to take a tough look at her narrative and start it where the story starts. That I’d like to read.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Sarah

 

 Full Prologue and Chapter:

Prologue

I sat on the edge of the gravel road, my knees bent in front of me as I stared at my boots. It seemed the most terrible moments in my life were spent looking at my shoes. Other people might have a beautiful slide-show tribute documenting their memories of joy. My life felt like a collage of the shoes I wore as I stared down at them trying to make sense of the next horrible change in my life.

For as long as I could remember, when my adults gossiped or talked about things they didn’t want me to know, they used phrases like “not in front of the children.” Once, in the hospital waiting room, a great aunt who was speaking with my grandmother, looked over at me and said, “Bless her heart, do you think she knows?”

The thing is, children do know. Grownups don’t always whisper and secrets don’t keep in small houses and small towns. If I did cry, or show emotion, adults always tried to swoop in and fix it. Their soothing words weren’t to make me feel better; they were to make everyone else more comfortable. I learned that looking down and trying to disappear was my role in times of trouble. I had become an expert at melting into the background.

In third grade, I was wearing brown leather Mary Janes when I learned that my father's parents had been in a terrible accident. I remembered those shoes distinctly and the sound they made on the linoleum as an adult led me through the halls of the hospital.

Black ballet flats when I attended their funeral.

Blue Keds with white laces the day my mother and father gathered me and my sister to talk about cancer.

Wool-lined slippers the night my father collapsed and was taken to the hospital.

Sketchers the day he passed.

Now, chocolate suede snow boots as I sat atop the hill across from the fresh dirt on my father's frozen grave.

I barely heard the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel road as they came behind me. He coughed a little as he got closer, hoping I guess, to give me some warning without having to break my reverie. He draped a folded quilt across my shoulders, and I reached to pull the corners into me.

"Your Grandpa sent me," he said simply, his voice a deep soothing baritone.

Instinctively, I reached to wipe the tears, and likely mascara, from my swollen eyes. Before I looked up to see who this mystery Samaritan was, habit drew my eyes to his shoes. He was wearing the biggest boots I have ever seen. When he offered his hand to help me from my crouched position, I saw his eyes. They were a startling shade of blue that held me -- his gaze so intense, it felt as though he could see right into my soul. Today it was too much. Without thought, I averted my gaze and we walked away from the headstone towards my Grandpa's ancient Dodge.

As he opened the door, he said, "Your Grandpa asked me to warm up the truck for him. I saw you up here in the cold. It should help to thaw you out."

"Um, thanks," I said, hoarsely. The last few days were full of little sleep and a lot of crying. My throat was sore. All this unexpected kindness from a stranger somehow made me feel even more vulnerable and self-conscious.

In silence, we drove down the hill from the cemetery to the church in town. As he got out of the truck, he looked back at me and in that same deep voice said, "I'm sorry."

 

 

Chapter One

The cold from the single pane windows interrupted my dreams. I rolled over in my bed and groaned, trying to wake up. Last night we completed the final stage of our move back to my parents' hometown. My mom said it was like coming full circle, whatever that's supposed to mean. We were officially living with my grandparents.

I stretched and became instantly alert from the cold sheet's frosty assault against my toes. Reflexively, I drew my legs to my chest, trying to regain my warm spot. My bedroom back home had always been my hideaway, my safe place. I opened my eye a crack, to see if all the sadness and change from the last few months had been a dream. Reality hit as I looked around the room.

Usually when I woke up at my grandparent's house, it was fun and exciting. It meant summer vacation or the holidays. Today, I didn't know what it meant. My surroundings were foreign and familiar at the same time. My down comforter from home sprawled across my bed, and intermingled with Grandma’s patchwork quilt. The scent from my mother's fabric softener collided with the smells of a wood-burning stove and the aroma of pancakes wafting up the stairs. It was everything great combined, but in a new and uncertain way.

Not yet able to take on the day, I sucked in a deep breath and blew it out heavily, letting my head drop to the pillow. I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself change would be good.

It had been painful to drive away from our home--my normal. Leaving my school and friends behind had been hard, but, closing and locking the garage door made it final. My life would never be the same.

I tried to look at the bright side. Starting over did have its advantages. At home, everyone gave me sympathetic stares and silence. No one knew what to say to the girl who lost her dad to cancer. It seems that just when it's the most important to say something, everyone stays quiet. There are no words to fix a broken heart and the emptiness it leaves. When people did speak, it was almost worse. Each time I saw someone I knew, we would have awkward conversation until they brought up my dad. I hated sharing my personal feelings, but social rules meant I had to be nice. So, for the sake of manners and to avoid my mother’s wrath, I found myself comforting and reassuring them I was fine after losing my dad. There was no safe place.

My mom didn’t talk about it, but maybe it was like that for her too. In her typical clinical nursing style, she had laid out the brochures from her hometown, and listed all the pros and cons of the move to me and my sister. The information she provided wasn't anything we didn't already know. It was just Mom's way. She operated in facts, because it made it easier to subtract the feeling. Long before she met with us, it was a foregone conclusion we would be moving to Phillipsburg. A hundred years ago, it had been one of the first booming mining towns in Montana. Now, Phillipsburg was all that remained of a time passed. It was literally encircled by ghost towns. In some ways, it seemed like the perfect place for us. We were the haunted left-overs of a complete family.

Tired of the depressing direction my mind wandered, I launched myself out of bed. The balls of my feet slapped against the frigid, wooden floor boards and instantly changed my mind. I flew back onto the mattress and landed directly on my little sister, Eugenie.

"Ouch! Stop it, Maggie!" she whined, trying to wriggle out of the blankets.

"Scoot over." I pushed her closer to the wall, and crawled back under the covers. "It's cold!" When did you get in my bed anyway?"

"You’re kind of a baby," she said. "You cry in your sleep."

"Whatever, Nene, you came in here because you were cold. It's time to get up!"

"Why?" She whined in her little girl voice. She couldn’t pronounce her name right when she was little, earning her the nickname, Nene.

"Can't you smell the pancakes? Those aren't mom's pancakes down there. Grandma's cooking. GET UP!" I ordered, laughing as I threw a pillow at her.

She jumped out of bed, dragging her blanket, and yelled, "You’re a jerk!"

I shouldn’t tease her. Secretly, I liked it when she snuggled with me at night. In this drafty old house, there were definite advantages to sharing a bed with someone who wears fuzzy pjs.  Plus, everything was better when she was with me. Even if she got up and left before I woke, I could always tell when she'd slept in my bed--and not just because of the stuffed animals trailing behind.

Grandpa interrupted the momentary silence, his voice thundering up from the base of the stairs. "Daylight's a wastin'. Nothin' better for the soul than a little bit of work."

Grandpa had warned he would be taking me with him to work today. I thought he was kidding. What I really needed was alone time. I ached for a long run. I wanted my muscles to hurt more than my heart and for the wind to burn my lungs and race through my hair. But that dream would have to wait. It was January in Montana; Snow and ice made running an impossibility.

Grandpa was a semi-retired veterinarian. I had fun going to work with him as a little girl. Now, I worried that helping Gramps at the clinic would mean I got to be in charge of "poop patrol". It was still a good compromise though. If I didn't go to work with Grandpa, I would be expected to go to church with Grandma, and I wasn't ready to take on the sympathy brigade just yet. All those religious women in dress suits and pearls would want to hug me and give me sad looks. Grandma's friends were emotional kryptonite, and I still wasn't strong enough to keep it together.

I looked momentarily at the girl staring back from the mirror before putting in my contacts. As I blinked, waiting for them to come into focus, I peered into my almond-shaped eyes. They are a blend of my mother's green and my father's blue--a true marriage of the bits and pieces that made me. I smiled knowing part of Dad was always with me.

With no need to glam-up for the animals, I pulled on some old jeans, a generous sweatshirt and thick socks. Then I threw my long brown hair in a ponytail, did a quick swipe of mascara, and stuffed the iPod on my dresser into my pocket. Hard work required mood music. Out of habit, I fastened the chain of my necklace and tucked it into my shirt before going downstairs.

In the kitchen, I was greeted by the smell of bacon, maple syrup and the sound of Grandma's voice. "Good morning, Baby."

"Morning, Grams," I smiled and loaded pancakes and eggs onto my plate.

"It's so nice to have you here." Everything about Grandma soothed, including her voice. "I was hoping to spend a little more time with you, but your grandpa called dibs. She smiled at me, a glimmer of mischief dancing in her eyes.

In a conspiratorial tone, I whispered back, "You know I'd rather be with you, but I don't want to hurt Grandpa's feelings." I grinned and gave her a half-hug.

I found Grandpa in the foyer waiting, dressed in his usual flannel shirt, work gloves and rubber-toed boots. Laughter colored his voice. "That was real nice, you lying to your Grandma to make her feel good, when everybody knows I'm the one you want to be with."

"Yeah, you're the one Gramps. The company is good and the fashion is amazing."

"Don't get much better than this, Girl." Grandpa handed me a fuzzy wool hat complete with ear flaps, and a pair of fingerless gloves with pull-over mitten tops. Before I put them on, I strung the laces on a pair of my own fleece-lined boots and tied a neat bow at the top. He grinned at the girly flourish and said. "Fashion don't mean nothin' round here. It's function that counts."

Grandpa opened the door against the morning wind. The sting of it bit my cheeks, and I pulled my hat down tighter. Steam from the exhaust curled in the arctic breeze as I rushed to get inside the warm truck. We made the short drive down the private lane and Grandpa turned right onto the high-way leading to town. I loved the Flint Creek Valley. From the south end where we were, it looked like a bowl carved out in the middle of the mountains. On the right, the Pintlar Mountain Range guarded the valley, while the Sapphire Peaks closed in from the other side. The view framed in the windshield looked like heaven. I stared out at the fog lowering down from the mountain where it almost merged with the mist rising from the creek. The sun broke over the rugged horizon and a tingle of hope grew in my chest.

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18. How about a little Seuss this morning?

I came across a post about a tribute to Dr. Seuss that includes pages done comic-book style that illustrate and tell his history and story. I found it fascinating to read about the man whose words I've said so often to my children. Tidbit: I learned that the original correct pronunciation is "soice" as in "voice," but that changed. The article is here. Below is a clip from the art.

Suess

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19. Flogometer for Elaine—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Elaine sends a first chapter for In the Beginning Was the Word, an historical novel. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

The tramping of Roman boots, as their owners marched along cobbled streets, was eerily muffled by the overpowering sounds of wailing, crackling flames, and shouted orders. Jonathan, peering under a slab of broken wall, watched the boots go past, moving like disembodied spirit feet through the swirl of dust and smoke.

How did I get here? All he could remember were endless days of fighting amidst fires and bodies…hunger…sleep…wake up…fight.… His head hurt.

He sat up slowly, the pounding in his head increasing as he did so, but it settled down to a tolerable throb when he leaned back and felt the support of a smooth surface behind him. He started to take a deep breath, but the acrid smell of smoke clogged his throat, and he coughed it away. Slowly, he remembered. A section of Temple wall had broken and crashed onto the street.

My shield—my bow—where are they? A good bow…would it help me now? Must find out where I am…

He stretched his long legs, and his feet touched the piece of wall that had given way, its fall apparently stopped when it hit the street and tilted onto the wall behind him. Lifting his gaze, he saw chunks of stone filling in the gaps between the walls except for a small space at the upper right where a bit of light came in. There was also a small opening at the bottom of the front wall; that’s what he had looked through to see the marching soldiers.

Were you compelled to turn Elaine's first page?

The writing is solid and clean and, while Roman soldiers and what is clearly a war scene is good stuff, I’m afraid that overwriting stopped this reader—the promise of more micro description is something I didn’t want to see fulfilled. Notes and edits follow, and the rest of the chapter is after the break.

The tramping of Roman boots, as their owners marched marching along cobbled streets, was eerily muffled by the overpowering sounds of wailing, crackling flames, and shouted orders. Jonathan, peering under a slab of broken wall, watched the boots go past, moving like disembodied spirit feet through in the swirl of dust and smoke. This first paragraph, edited to be crisper, is a good opening. There's action, the scene is being set, and there's a promise of jeopardy for Jonathan.

How did I get here? All he could remember were endless days of fighting amidst fires and bodies…hunger…sleep…wake up…fight.… His head hurt.

He sat up slowly, the pounding in his head increased increasing as he did so, but it settled down to a tolerable throb when he leaned back against and felt the support of a smooth surface behind him. He started to take a deep breath, but the acrid smell of smoke clogged his throat, and he coughed it away. Slowly, he remembered. A section of Temple wall had broken and crashed onto the street. “felt the support” is a filter that backs the reader away from the character’s experience. Not necessary. Also, rather than a "smooth surface," why not something more specific such as "a wall"? I don’t see how a smell could clog a throat—smelling usually happens in the nose. I’m not sure “clog” is the right verb, either—neither a small nor smoke have the substance it would take to clog something. “Choked him” instead?

My shield—my bow—where are they? A good bow…would it help me now? Must find out where I am…

He stretched his long legs, and his feet touched the piece of wall that had given way, its fall apparently stopped when it hit the street and tilted onto the wall behind him. Lifting his gaze, he saw chunks of stone filling in the gaps between the walls except for a small space at the upper right where a bit of light came in. There was also a small opening at the bottom of the front wall; that’s what he had looked through to see the marching soldiers. All this micro detail description is overwriting with stuff that doesn’t impact the story. All that matters was that he could see under a broken slab of wall, and that was established in the first paragraph. Oh, describing his “long” legs is a small break in point of view—he wouldn’t be thinking about the length of his legs, and it doesn’t matter to the story.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Elaine

 

(continued)

Above the general noise, he heard a loud squealing nearby. He stood, found that he could look through the upper hole, and he saw where the sound was coming from. Only a couple of paces away, a horse lay on its stomach, legs sprawled, and screaming in terrified agony as it struggled to right itself from under a chunk of stone fallen onto its back. Poor horse. It had no choice at all; it’s a worse victim of this than I am.

He lifted his gaze and saw an even more dreadful sight. Towering tongues of flame licked insatiably at wooden beams and golden spires and whatever else was in that mountain of burning debris. What had been the most beautiful structure in the most beautiful city in the entire land was being devoured. It was incomprehensible. The Temple cannot be destroyed; surely it cannot be. This must be a terrible dream.

He sank to his knees as the dreadful realization registered in his brain. The Temple is burning, and no one is trying to save it anymore. It’s beyond saving; there’s nothing more to fight for. Oh, Yahweh, how can this be? The anger, the hope, the defiance, and the dogged determination that kept him going through the grueling days of battle drained away. He knelt there until a perverse curiosity commanded him to look out again.

He rose and willed himself to survey the entire scene. As he did so, another odor, foul and sickening, mingled with the smell of smoke to assail his nostrils. He was used to the smell of rotting flesh, but this was different. Oh, Yahweh, can it be the open intestines? I mustn’t think about it. He covered his nose and watched survivors staggering through heaps of carcasses on the street. Looking onward to the stone steps approaching the Temple, he saw bodies strewn like mangled sacrifices waiting for the conflagration to consume them. All around were congealing pools of blood.

“Line up! Over there!” came a gruff voice to his right.

The victors were herding surviving Jews, soldiers and civilians alike, into groups. The frightened and dazed prisoners stood with hands in the air, heads moving side to side, as though searching for a rescuer late in coming. A young boy attempted to run away, and a Roman quickly and cleanly sliced off his head. As the legs of the boy’s body continued to run, the head dropped and rolled, coming to rest nearby when one of the horse’s forelegs stopped it. A fresh puddle of blood formed around the severed head. Jonathan pushed away from the opening and vomited.

When the spasms abated, his head was clearer, and he grasped more fully the peril he was in. Will I be able to get out of here? Am I trapped? I’m scared. I wasn’t scared before; why wasn’t I scared? I knew what happened in other cities, but certainly Yahweh would save Jerusalem. Why didn’t He? I want to die and get this over with….

No! Don’t think like that. Maybe I can get away. But what can I do? If I call out, they’ll take me along with the others. I’ll be a prisoner, a slave! That hole at the bottom; is it big enough to crawl through? Maybe. But they’ll see me; they’ll know I’m a Jew!

He lay down and looked through the opening at the bottom. The dust was settling, and he noticed something he hadn’t seen before. To his left, two Roman boots lay on their sides. Are they attached to feet? How can I tell? He stood again and looked out; no one was looking toward him; the soldiers were intent on their prisoners. He bent down, reached for the feet and pulled. There was resistance, but they moved. He pulled more and was able to get them inside, along with legs covered by leather protectors. The rest of the body wouldn’t come through. I guess it isn’t big enough for me to crawl out after all.

Is this going to help? I have to try. If I can get out of Jerusalem, I might be able to get to Uncle Rueben’s farm. Surely the Romans won’t march back into Galilee. Surely they can go home and leave the countryside in peace since they’ve clearly won the war.

 He untied the sheathed dagger strapped to his waist; that could still come in handy, so he must remember to keep it with him. He slipped his long woolen tunic over his head and took off his sandals. Removing the leggings and heavy boots from the dead man was awkward, but the purposeful activity calmed him; he took his time and clumsily donned the alien garb. Besides these coverings for his legs and feet, he now wore only a sleeveless linen tunic and loincloth, and he was unable to get any more of the soldier’s uniform. It would have to do.

Jonathan stood and looked out into the street. The horse was still writhing, but weaker, and it had ceased screaming. Flies were crawling about its eyes and tormenting it further while their companions feasted on the raw flesh of the boy’s head. Resisting the impulse to retch again, he quickly looked away at the throng of prisoners still alive. As he hoped, it wasn’t long before a Roman was within hearing distance. Jonathan’s command of Latin, drilled into him by the best tutors his father could find, might be his savior.

“Friend, friend,” he called as loudly as he could over the din, “can you help me out of here?”

“What? Where?” the surprised Roman exclaimed as he turned toward the voice.

“A wall fell on us. My companion is dead; can you rescue me?”

“By Hercules, you are fucked up. But I can’t help you. I have orders.”

“I implore you! Think of yourself in this position. It can’t take long.”

The soldier paused, assessed the situation, and said resignedly, “If I can get a guy to help me.”

The ill-fated horse, lying near the soldier’s feet, gave a weak whinny that drew his attention. He dispassionately lifted his club and gave it a mighty blow to the head. Jonathan winced at the sound before he saw the soldier motion to someone out of his sight.

“Can two of you move this wall?” Jonathan asked.

“Are you out of your mind? It took 200 men to topple it!”

The first man addressed the one approaching and said, “Let’s see if we can get rid of enough junk here so this poor fool can get out.”

Turning back toward Jonathan, he said, “You start pulling whatever you can onto your side, and we’ll work out here.”

Jonathan did as he was told, but he wasn’t able to do much; apparently most of it had to be removed from the outside. As the gap widened, he feared the soldiers would look in and see the exchange he had made with the dead man.

“I’m afraid I’m going to faint,” he called out and sank down to sit on the exposed legs of his unfortunate companion.

The first soldier poked his helmeted head and his shoulders through the opening and said, “If you’re going to die on us…Hey, what happened to your armor?”

Jonathan held his head and said, as though in a daze, “I think…I don’t know…got hit…don’t remember.”

“Well, stand up, and we’ll pull you out of there!” the rescuer said impatiently.

“I…I can’t.”

Dare I ask him to take the uniform off the dead man and give it to me? No—he might see his bare legs!

“Go on…I’ll climb out…I have to sit a little.”

“Well, Jupiter help you then. You’ve taken up enough of our time.”

Jonathan waited several minutes before rising again. The dust had settled, and he could see better, but it was evening, and it would soon be dark. A huge tower of smoke rose above flames that had diminished in size and intensity, but continued to steadily and determinedly reduce the Temple to charred remains. The prisoners were gone, and there were only a few Romans walking about among the bodies. They slashed at wounded Jews and bent toward fallen Romans, pulling a few to their feet but giving most of them the same treatment that was given to the horse. More flies gathered, indiscriminately gorging on all victims of the fight.

After a while, when it was dark, he didn’t hear any more movement. He stood on one of the rocks he had brought into his hiding place and carefully crawled out and over the mound of rubble. Still nothing. He rolled over the dead Roman and donned the rest of his uniform. He slipped easily into the knee-length tunic, and the helmet fit exactly, but the armor was more difficult. It was heavier than he expected, and he deduced the need of a second person to get it fastened correctly. He hung it from the shoulders of his tall lean frame as best he could. It felt awkward, but he was strong, and he would make do. I must act like I wear this getup all the time. He picked up a spear that had lain under the body.

The moon was rising, and he could see well enough to thread his way among the dead. As he strode through the city, he encountered clusters of Romans, most of them drinking and laughing. He assumed his haughtiest expression, saluted them, and tried to look as though he was hurrying to perform a vital task.

He found what remained of Herod’s Gate, and he felt confident enough to demand of the guard, “You there; I need my armor secured,” and the man complied without hesitation.

He doggedly continued northward, but all of the bravado quickly slipped away. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, and he was extremely tired. He must eat and rest before he could go much farther. He neared a village and approached a tiny hut.

The woman who answered his knock staggered back and gave a clumsy curtsy.

“Sir, how can I…what can I do for you?”

“Water—then food and a bed,” was all Jonathan could muster, and he sank down onto the cool dirt floor.

When he had devoured the cheese and bread the frightened female brought him, Jonathan demanded to know who else lived there. She swore there was no one else and that she was expecting no visitors.

“Get me a sleeping mat and put it right here in front of the door so I’ll know if you try to leave. I’m a light sleeper,” he lied.

When he awoke, it was morning. The woman was sitting on a stool against the far wall watching him. She still looked terrified, and he felt sorry for her. He considered telling her that he was really a lowly insignificant civilian like her, and she needn’t be afraid of him, but he decided it was safest to continue playing the part.

“Put more food into something I can carry.”

She rushed to stuff a cloth bag with dried fruit and more bread.

“I’ll need water, too,” he demanded, and she found a sheep’s bladder to offer him.

“I’ll fill it for you at the well,” she said, moving swiftly toward the door, “and you can be on your way.”

As they walked down the path, villagers stepped aside, clearly in deference to him. So this is what it’s like to be a Roman, Jonathan thought. He was used to being identified as Galilean with his fair skin, sandy hair and beard, and distinctive aqua-blue eyes, characteristics his people inherited from their Amorite ancestors. Now, wearing the helmet and armor, it was only his clothing that mattered. He might have been flattered by the submissive attention if it hadn’t disgusted him.

When, a few days later, he walked into the outer courtyard of his uncle’s house, he was so relieved to be there, and to see that the war had not touched this place, that he momentarily forgot what he was wearing. He paid no attention to the servants who shrank back against the walls, and he swatted away two barking dogs. He went through to the main room where servants were laying the evening meal on a spotless white cloth on the floor. Family members, clad in everyday sleeveless tunics of undyed linen, were gathering. There was a cry of fright, and everyone froze when they saw him. A tall muscular man slowly rose from a cushion, thick flaxen-colored hair dropping over a sunbaked face as he bowed to this honored, though unexpected, guest.

 Instantly embarrassed, Jonathan quickly removed the helmet and exclaimed, “Uncle Rueben, look, it’s me, Jonathan! Don’t let the uniform scare you.”

A tiny woman, her own light brown hair braided into a long rope trailing nearly to her hips, exclaimed, “Oh, my love, my love!” and hurried toward him, taking his hands but stopping short of an embrace.

“But why…?” she questioned.

“It’s all right, Mama, it’s a disguise,” he explained. “I’m sure you all find it repulsive, and so do I. Please bring me a robe, and I’ll get out of it.”

Reuben ushered Jonathan into an adjoining room where he helped to strip him of the offensive uniform and into a tunic hastily obtained by a servant. They returned to the main room, a beaming uncle with an arm over his nephew’s shoulders.

 “Here you are, Joanna,” he said. “Your son is ready for a proper greeting.”

After his mother held him for a long moment, she relinquished him to his 12-year-old brother, Luke. His two sisters, their lovely aqua eyes sparkling beneath cream-colored foreheads, stood on tiptoes to hug and kiss him.

Aunt Sarah, Rueben’s wife, gathered her four children and stepped back slightly. She stood erect and impassive, a regal presence in mindful cognizance of her exceptional beauty. Aware that the expression on her perfectly sculpted features did not invite closer contact, Jonathan acknowledged her with a polite bow. Apart from this less than enthusiastic reception from his aunt, it seemed a glorious homecoming until Reuben reminded the family from whence their young relative had come.

“You were in the war,” he said flatly.

“Yes, Uncle. Have you heard the news?”

“We heard news of a great battle with the Romans. How goes it?”

“It went…badly for us, I’m afraid. I’m…extremely lucky to get away with my life and only a few scratches.”

How can I tell them? The Temple…

“Sarah,” Reuben directed, “you must take the little ones and the girls. I will tell you later what is needed for you to know.”

Sarah tightened her lips, but she complied without a word. When they were gone, Reuben said, “Nephew, please tell us about it. Rumors have been running through Galilee like fleet-footed gazelles.”

Jonathan, along with his mother, his brother Luke, and his two teen-age male cousins, settled onto cushions, and he braced himself to tell the story. Before he could begin, Joanna intervened to ask her returned son if he were not hungry. He said he would like wine now but would wait until later to eat; a servant immediately poured wine into a cup, diluted it with water, and handed it to Jonathan.

Two servants entered with lights burning in small olive oil lamps, set them on the cloth among the stone vessels of food, and withdrew into the shadows. Jonathan followed his uncle’s gaze as he squinted to observe the half dozen or so servants lining the plastered walls. They apparently were eager to hear the news first hand. Rueben started to wave them all away, but he stopped, shrugged his shoulders and nodded permission for them to stay.

Jonathan took a long draught of his wine and stared into it for a moment like one attempting to read from prepared notes and finding them lacking.

“It was…bad,” hebegan. “The Judeans, as you know, were trying to gain their independence from Rome. Any sensible person should have known better… and there were those who tried to persuade the people not to incite a war, but the rebels would not listen…and I sort of got caught up in it.”

His mother held his left hand, and he spoke mostly to her. She was looking at him with a mixture of relief and admonishment.

“I know,” he answered her expression, “I should have left when I had the chance. Quite a few did when we heard the Romans were coming, but most of us didn’t think it would get as bad as it did.”

“And your work was there!” Luke interjected, as though trying to sound like a knowing colleague.

“Of course,” Jonathan said, with an affectionate glance at his brother’s smooth freckled face, resisting the impulse to tousle his unruly sun-bleached hair.

Dear little Luke. You still look about 9 years old; one of these days your body will catch up. When I was 12, I was nearly as tall as I am now.

“My apprenticeship definitely was part of it,” he went on, “in the beginning. I didn’t want to leave. Euandros stopped getting orders for sculptures, but he said he would keep the studio open and continue teaching as long as he had a single student.”

“We heard,” Rueben commented, “that Titus barred people from leaving.”

“When Titus brought his army—that was nearly 6 months ago…”

“Six months ago!” his mother exclaimed. “That was before the Passover.”

“Yes, and a lot of country people came in for it, just like usual. They didn’t really understand what was going on, but once they got there, they felt trapped, so there were a lot more people in Jerusalem than there should have been.”

Eating our food…which we would have had enough of if Simon and John hadn’t burned it fighting each other….

Jonathan took another large gulp of wine.

“Anyway, yes; Titus closed the gates, but he did it at first mostly to keep supplies out. He tried to get men to desert and come over to the Romans, but naturally nobody wanted to do that, and whenever he said people could leave, we didn’t know whether we could trust him because….”

No point in telling them how Titus crucified hundreds of people who were just trying to get out and find food, and other times he let people go…what were we supposed to think?.... No point in telling them the shameful things our own people did…how the rebels tortured and killed people trying to leave…how mobs broke into homes stealing from one another…how we gave up burying the dead and left them to rot…

“Jonathan!”

He started, realizing Joanna had asked him a question.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“Did you fight?”

“Yes. I wanted to fight…for Yahweh, and our people…it seemed right…at the time.”

“It was right!” Rueben declared. “We’ve let the Romans cow us long enough. We have to start standing up for ourselves, even if we do have a defeat now and then.”

“Uncle…you don’t know…”

“What? Know what?”

“The Temple…”

He couldn’t go on, and finally Joanna echoed, “The Temple?”

“You’d think, wouldn’t you…”Jonathan choked, “if it was the right thing to do…Yahweh would save the Temple!”

There was total silence. Luke looked like he was about to say something, but a glance from his elders stopped him.

“The Temple is gone…burned by those rotten, heathen monsters!” He let that sink before he added, “Oh, I left before it was totally burned to the ground, but the way it was going….”

“I can’t believe it,” Rueben said, a mixture of incredulity, anger and sadness in his tone.

“But you’re alive—they let you out,” Joanna said, apparently forgetting momentarily about the disguise.

Jonathan didn’t remind her. He finished his wine, took up the flask for a refill, and drank again without even adding water. He noticed his mother’s shocked expression as he did so. When he lived with her, he had drunk diluted wine only to quench his thirst, usually preferring the taste of the more expensive goat’s milk. He hoped she understood his own expression when he looked back at her: I’m not the same as I was; war changes you.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve told you the worst.”

No one had touched the dishes of food.

“Of course,” Joanna said, her voice trembling. She rose to her feet. “We can talk more in the morning when you’ve rested.”

Jonathan’s cousins were starting to help themselves to cheese and fruit when a loud rap at the door startled them. Jonathan froze, an icy chill stabbing his chest.

What’s the matter with me? It’s probably just a friend.

It was not a friend. A beak-nosed balding Roman, clothed in a flowing blue toga draped over his shoulder, entered swiftly and haughtily, closely followed by two armored soldiers and a fearful looking servant who must have gone to answer the knock. Everyone who was still seated scrambled to his feet. There were no formalities other than the respectful bows of the family.

The official demanded, “Where is the soldier? It was reported that a soldier came into this house.”

The uniform! Jonathan dared not look at the expressions on the faces of the others. He could only hope his own was blank.

“Luke,” Rueben said firmly, “go to bed.”

“Yes, Uncle,” the boy said, but he hesitated.

Jonathan understood. Would Luke?

When Luke turned toward the room where Jonathan had changed, he could breathe.

“We have had no visitors today,” Rueben said to the official, “and there is certainly no soldier here. Is one missing?”

“I will ask the questions,” he said curtly to Rueben, then called to the soldiers who were striding through a door leading to Rueben’s office, “Take the servants. Question them all!”

Turning back to the family, he said almost politely, “Everyone be seated; this could take a while. I’ll have a cup of that wine while we wait.”

“I have always been loyal to the Empire,” Rueben said humbly, “and I supply a great deal of food to the cities.”

“Yes, yes, that will do,” the official said.

Jonathan couldn’t estimate how long they sat there while the Roman sipped wine. They heard a few cries of surprise, either from servants or female relatives. He hoped none of them protested the search; it was never wise to argue with the Romans. The sounds of goats bleating and dogs barking drifted in from the open-shuttered windows.

“Our dogs are upset,” Rueben apologized. “Company makes them nervous.”

A look from the official silenced him again.

Returning at last, one of the soldiers announced, “All seems in order.”

Their leader looked disappointed, but he signaled for them to go.

As the Romans left, Jonathan saw his uncle’s expression change to intense hatred. He was relieved the men didn’t turn around before they were out of sight.

“He wasn’t entirely satisfied,” Rueben announced. “I’m afraid they’ll be back.”

Add a Comment
20. Flogometer for Jo—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Jo sends a first chapter for Wolfborn, an historical novel. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

Jennifer squeezed the steering wheel as she drove through Springville. It was late enough that the streets were nearly deserted; making it easy for her to make sure no one was following her. Brandy whimpered in the passenger seat and Jennifer reached over to squeeze her arm gently in reassurance. There had been enough death, most of it violent and bloody, that she wasn’t surprised her sixteen year old sister was having nightmares.

They’d driven straight through from the place they both still called home, Jennifer cautiously allowing Brandy to drive on the long stretches of empty road. Neither of them wanted to stop for longer than it took to eat and get gas, the floorboards were littered with the debris of energy drinks a testament to Jennifer’s determination to get them as far away from the ghosts of their family. Now, they were here, in the city that Jennifer had made her home before the mark on her shoulder had begun to darken and twinge with pain. They were far from Stone Falls and far from the curse that had killed their family.

Jennifer pulled into the gated driveway that would lead to her apartment, watching the head lights flash over the familiar parked cars. Something in the back of her mind relaxed as the gate rattled closed behind her. Two months gone, and she was finally back in her home of ten years, finally the closest she’d ever felt to safe. She glanced in the rear view mirror at the boxes on the back seat and considered whether they were necessary for the night, and whether her (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Jo's first page?

Other than a few little punctuation slips, the writing is solid but, when you think about it, there’s not much tension here. Yes, we’re told about violence and death and curses, but by the end of the page they are at a place of safety. All that actually happens is that they arrive somewhere after a long drive, which is not story-question-inducing for me. I should add that this is a story about werewolves, and there’s no hint of that on this page. I think Jo needs to start much later—this chapter is pretty much all set-up, IMO, with no actual hint of jeopardy to come for either of the sisters. Get to the inciting incident that kicks the story off and start as close to that as you can.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Jo

 

(continued)

neighbors would be tempted at the sight of them, then decided that she was too tired and her neighbors were decent enough to leave them alone for a day.

“Brandy,” Jennifer said, reaching over to shake her sister. “We’re here.”

“Where?” Brandy asked.

“At my apartment,” Jennifer said. “We need to go inside.” She carefully brushed some of Brandy’s blond hair from her face, as Brandy’s eyes reflected the streetlights outside for a moment before she closed them with a moan. “There’s a really comfy bed too.”

Brandy yawned as she unfastened her seatbelt. “You better not be lying,” she muttered as she slid out of the car.

“I’m not; I wouldn’t lie to you about that.” Jennifer slid out of the car, “Let me grab the bags. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Ok,” Brandy said.

Jennifer grabbed the duffels with their clothes in them and hurried to steer Brandy up the stairs to the apartment. They were crossing the walkway to the door when a door down the way opened and a young man in a maid’s costume stumbled out the door, laughing. He stopped when he saw them. “Hey Jenny,” he said, leaning against the door.

“Nick,” Jennifer said with a sigh, “I wish you wouldn’t call me that. This is my little sister Brandy, by the way. She’s staying with me now. Brandy, this is Nick.” A tall black man with a bright smile appeared in the door, “This is Eric. Eric, this is Brandy.”

“That’s nice,” Brandy said around a yawn, “can I go back to sleep?”

“Go on,” Eric said as he looped his arm around Nick’s waist, “we’ll see you in the morning.”

“You too,” Jennifer said as she unlocked her door and pushed Brandy inside. “There’s only one bedroom, but I thought we could share tonight without a problem.”

“Sure,” Brandy yawned.

Jennifer locked the door back and dropped the duffels before pushing Brandy into the bedroom. “Here,” she said, grabbing a clean nightgown from her basket, “sleep in that.”

“Smells like you,” Brandy said as she held it up to her nose.

“I know,” Jennifer said. “I’ve got a few days before they expect me back at work. I’ll start looking for a new place.”

“I’d like a pack house,” Brandy said as she pulled her shirt off and kicked off her shoes.

“Yeah,” Jennifer replied as she picked up her own nightgown, “me too.”

 

Jennifer woke up the next morning curled around her sister, who was poking her in the arm. “What?” Jennifer asked, wrinkling her nose at the way her mouth felt.

“Nature’s calling,” Brandy said as she wiggled, “and you’re holding on too tight.”

“And?” Jennifer asked as she poked Brandy in the stomach. “You are sixteen; you should already know how to deal with that.”

“I need to pee.”

“Right,” Jennifer said and let Brandy go, “Sorry. Bathroom’s through the closet.”

“Okay,” Brandy said as she rolled out of bed.

Jennifer sighed as she shifted around on her back, trying to get comfortable enough to go back to sleep. Her to-do list started up, highlighting her need to check in with the others, the need for a larger place for her and Brandy, how she would help her sister cope with going from life in the middle of the forests and mountains of Stone Fall to life in Springville. With her brain refusing to fall back asleep, Jennifer knew that she wouldn’t be sleeping for a while, so she sighed and rolled out of bed.

She slid along the side of the queen-sized bed that dominated her bedroom to the door, reflecting that the battle to get the larger bed in the room had been worth the loss of space. Then she was in the living room, and she smiled reflexively at the strategically placed papasan chair that dominated the square foot of living room before taking three steps to her kitchen and set to work making coffee. She opened the fridge to find the creamer only to wrinkle her nose at the smell of food gone off.

“Gross,” Brandy called as Jennifer shut the door.

“Sorry,” Jennifer replied, “I left in a hurry. How do you feel about eating out?”

“Better than smelling that. Did you bring my bag in last night or did I dream that?”

“It’s by the door, you weren’t dreaming,” Jennifer said.

“Then you do have a neighbor in a sexy maid outfit?” Brandy asked as she wandered out of the bedroom.

“At least it was covering all the important parts,” Jennifer said as she put two mugs on the counter. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Do you have cocoa powder?” Brandy asked, “Do you mind if I take a shower?”

“Go ahead; just don’t use all the hot water. I’ll have your abomination ready when you get out.” Jennifer said as she dug the cocoa out of the cabinet. She liked that her kitchen was small; she could find everything, even if the storage was limited. Setting the cocoa on the cabinet, Jennifer stared at the designs she’d painted and repainted over the past ten years when staring at white walls had been threatening to drive her mad. “I’m going to have to hire painters,” Jennifer said.

“What?”

Jennifer turned and smiled at Brandy, “I was just thinking that I need to hire painters to change the walls. If we’re moving out, and we will be, then I have to make the walls white again.”

Brandy slung her duffle over her shoulder, “They’re beautiful though. You’ve always been a talented painter.”

“Thanks,” Jennifer said.

“Bathroom door’s a bit unsettling though,” Brandy said as she headed back to the bathroom.

“It was a bad break up,” Jennifer said, turning back to the fridge and its noxious contents. She lit a scented candle, took a deep breath of the apple cinnamon scent, and opened the fridge, quickly pulling out the things that smelled off and dumping them in her trashcan. Then she grabbed a scent neutralizer and sprayed it into the can. Finally, she tied the bag up and hauled it outside.

“Morning Jenny.”

Jennifer straightened up, “Hi Nick,” she said with a smile. “How are you this morning?”

“Suffering from embarrassment,” Nick said. “We didn’t traumatize your sister too badly did we?”

Jennifer shook her head, “No, she mostly thought it was a dream. I’m just grateful you weren’t naked this time. Working today?”

Nick glanced down at his suit and absently adjusted his tie before looking up, “Yeah, I’ve got to interview people about Soundwave’s new radio.”

Jennifer shrugged knowing that Nick wouldn’t repeat anything she said from other experiences with the reporter. “All I know is that people are excited about it. I hope you get some good quotes for your story.”

“Thanks Jenny,” Nick said, “I appreciate it. Hey, how’s your cousin doing? It was your cousin right?”

Jennifer swallowed. For a moment, the medicinal smell of the morgue filled her nose. “They found her- her body.” She said slowly, remembering the ripping pain that had cut through her at the sight of Tiffany lying on the slab. She’d known her cousin was dead, but seeing her had made it real in a way nothing else could. “That’s why Brandy’s here. We’re all we’ve got now.”

“Hey,” Nick said, reaching out, “You’ve got me and Eric too. You need anything, I do mean anything at all, and we’ll be there. You know that right?”

“Yeah,” Jennifer sighed. She let Nick give her a quick, one-armed hug. “Thanks Nick. I appreciate that.”

“No problem,” Nick said, “I do have to get going though. I’ll let Eric know what happened.”

“Thank you,” Jennifer said as she stepped back inside her apartment. “Bye Nick.”

“Bye Jenny,” Nick said before Jennifer could close the door. Jennifer sighed and leaned back against the door, thinking about her cousin and wondering what would happen to her family now.

“Why do you let him call you Jenny? Last time I tried, you broke my arm.” Brandy said, startling Jennifer out of her thoughts, again.

Jennifer chuckled, “It was the forfeit on a bet. Out of the shower then?”

“Getting dressed as we speak,” Brandy said.

Jennifer shook her head and headed into the kitchen, where her two-cup coffeemaker was busy brewing, “Coffee’s not quite ready, but I got out the cocoa powder and cleaned out the fridge. I need to get dressed and we can go as soon as we’ve had coffee and unloaded the car. Remember to leave me half the pot, okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” Brandy said as she came out of the bedroom.

Jennifer smiled and hugged her little sister, holding her close and burying her nose in her damp, blond curls. “I love you,” she said, breathing in the hints of pumpkin and spices. “You used my shampoo.”

“I liked the smell,” Brandy said as she hugged Jennifer back. Jennifer heard what Brandy wouldn’t say; I wanted to smell like you.

“Do I sound mad?” Jennifer asked. “I like the way you smell.” Why wouldn’t she, it made Brandy smell like her. It helped her feel calmer, as if her claim were more obvious if they smelled the same way. Then she remembered what they needed to do today and just hugged her sister even tighter.

“You smell like rotten milk and cinnamon apples,” Brandy said, “you go get cleaned up.”

Jennifer laughed and gave Brandy a final hug, “I’ll be out in a bit. My car keys are on the table by the door if you want to get started bringing things up.”

“Sure,” Brandy said.

Showered, dressed, and the car unloaded, Jennifer drove them to her favorite dinner, a small one that had opened her first year of college, open twenty-four hours with enough caffeine and good food to keep any college student happy, much less a young Beta away from home for the first time in her life. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised Jennifer to learn that one of the local pack’s Betas ran the diner, but she’d been young, with little experience at detecting werewolves that blended into the human world.

“Hey,” Jennifer said as she parked the car, “the diner’s a pack business, but not all the staff is aware of that. Be careful about what you say, I’d hate to have to visit you in the nuthouse.”

“Nobody calls it the nuthouse anymore,” Brandy said with a sigh, “I’ll be careful.” She undid her seatbelt and slid out of the car, “Now come on, I’m starving.”

“Coming,” Jennifer said. She locked up and followed her sister into the diner.

“Jen!” Mandy said as she came up to the host’s stand, “Welcome back.”

“Hey Mandy,” Jennifer replied, “thanks. This is my little sister Brandy; can we get a booth, please?”

“Sure no problem,” Mandy said, “Welcome to Springville, Brandy. Here for college?”

“No,” Brandy said, “I’m still in high school. I’m transferring down here this year.”

“That’s rough, sweetie. Don’t you worry though, just come by here whenever you need to, I make the best chocolate milk shakes. Come on, let me get you settled and I can take your orders.”

Brandy glanced at Jennifer who shrugged. Mandy was human as far as Jennifer had ever figured out, and didn’t seem to be aware of the supernatural, but Jennifer had always wondered. There was something about the white haired woman affectionately referred to as “granny-lady” that made Jennifer wonder if she didn’t know more than she let on.

“We’re going to need a minute,” Jennifer said as they took their seats, “but I’d like some coffee, please.”

“Chocolate milk,” Brandy said with a smile as she opened her menu.

“I’ll be right back with those,” Mandy said and vanished into the kitchen.

“Brandy,” Jennifer said, “you know what we need to do today, right?”

“Not really,” Brandy said after a moment as she glanced over her menu at Jennifer.

Jennifer leaned closer, “We need to go speak with Michael Red, the Alpha of the local Pack. I had permission to stay while an Alpha-elect, but now that I’m- I’m a full Alpha; I need to speak with him again, not to mention that we need permission for you to stay too. I know Tiff thought that the… issue was spiritual, and I’m inclined to agree. Once the rest of the inheritance is straightened out, I’m planning to hire someone to go up there and see what they can find.” She glanced up and smiled as Mandy brought the drinks over, “I know what I want,” she said, “Brandy?”

Brandy glanced at the menu and closed it, “The meat lover’s breakfast, please. Eggs sunny-side up, and hashbrowns.”

Mandy nodded as she wrote it down, “And for you, Jennifer?”

“Meat lover’s breakfast, scrambled eggs with cheese, and biscuits,” Jennifer said.

“I’ll just go put those in, they’ll be ready in just a moment,” Mandy said with a smile.

Jennifer watched her leave before turning back to Brandy, “Mike Red’s a good man, and a good Alpha. He’s been here for almost twenty years along with most of his pack. The thing to remember about him is this; Mike was a soldier in the Berain War before the bite. His squad was on a mission when an Alpha started stalking them. Three of the men died, the other five and Mike were turned. Mike killed the Alpha when it bit him, making him the new Alpha. Mike and the rest of his squad were stationed at McKlellan after they were shipped back and have held this territory ever since. Mike’s the one who set up the system at the university for other werewolves even.”

“Wow,” Brandy said, “I mean, I’ve heard about him from Mom and Tiff, but hearing it again, he must really be something.”

“He is,” Jennifer said, “I’ve learned a lot from him. If he lets us stay, we’ll both learn a lot. He’s not very traditional, but he knows how to lead people.” She sipped her coffee and tilted her head slightly, “Of course, if we stay, we’re going to have to find a new place.”

“Yes please,” Brandy said.

“I’ll let you know what I find,” Jennifer said, “I have some ideas of what we’ll both be happy with and what’s practical for the next ten years, but if there’s something you desperately want, let me know.”

“My own bathroom, and my own bedroom, but definitely a private bathroom please. That’s about the only thing I really would want in a new home.” Brandy said after a moment.

“I think I can accommodate that,” Jennifer said, “hopefully we can get all of this settled before high school starts in three weeks. I still have to get you transferred here, after all.”

Brandy sighed, “While I’m kind of looking forward to actually going to a school, it’ll be hard not knowing anyone.”

“Mike and I will introduce you to MJ, Mike’s son. He’s you’re age at least.” Jennifer said.

“He goes to real school?” Brandy said, “Weren’t they worried?”

Jennifer shrugged, “They might have homeschooled him for elementary, I don’t remember, but he’s been going for the past two or three years. Mike and his wife, Penny, had a fight about it. Penny wanted to look into an academy, but while Mike could have gotten MJ into the Army’s academy, they didn’t think it wise to ask a teenage werewolf to go away to boarding school even if he had good control.”

“I wish I could go to the Army Academy,” Brandy said, “I’ve always kind of wanted to go into the military.”

Jennifer nodded, “Tell you what, if things with Mike go well, I’ll see if Tony or one of the others will give you advice on being a soldier. If you want to be in the military, I’ll do what I can to help.”

“Thanks,” Brandy said with a big grin, “that would be so cool. I mean, I might decide to do something else, but I really feel like going in the Army or something is a good choice for me.”

“Like I said, I’ll do what I can to help. A military trained Legates is a valuable asset to any Pack, if it’s in my power and it’s really what you want, I’ll make it happen.” Jennifer said, and then she cleared her throat as she saw Mandy headed their way with a tray. Brandy just smiled; it was the first happy smile Jennifer had seen from her sister in months.

Add a Comment
21. Flogometer for Mike—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Mike sends a first chapter for The Key to Okenwode , a YA fantasy. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

Jack Straw never thought of himself as lucky. For one thing, he’d been born with a birthmark on his chest in the most unfortunate of shapes—that of a heart. His mother told him it was a sign that he’d been blessed, but Jack knew better. It was a curse, pure and simple—the curse of the unlucky, which was the worst curse of all. A line ran up through the birthmark at a forty-five degree angle, exiting the top of the heart and ending in a triangular point just below his collarbone.

It was no wonder, then, that they called him Cupid. The first time he heard that word was at the Dooley Lake municipal pool. He was four. He had removed his shirt, baring his skinny four-year-old chest for all the world to see, along with the birthmark like a vivid purple stain. Someone called him Cupid, which quickly turned into Stupid Cupid, a nickname that stuck. Whenever his mother was out of earshot, the other children would chant those two little words in that sing-songy, thoughtless manner particular to cruel children throughout history.

One day his mom bought him a cherry sno-cone at the concession stand. It was a typical summer afternoon, hot and sunny, the blue water dazzling in the sun. The clean scent of chlorine hung in the air, along with the high, bright sounds of children splashing and playing. He was wandering along near the kiddie pool, slurping away when an older boy grabbed the sno-cone from his hand.

Were you compelled to turn Mike's first page?

Once again we have solid writing technique, but I’m reminded of literary agent Kristin Nelson’s words: “I think writers assume that good writing is enough. Well, it’s not.” She was talking about telling a story in a fresh way, but it applies to the narrative you put on the first page as well. This page—and, in fact, the chapter—is backstory and set-up. As for the conflict presented on this first page, the only story question is what happens to the sno-cone.

Later in the chapter there is a fight, so technically there is conflict and jeopardy. But it’s not what the story is about—according to Mike, it’s about a boy who travels to another world to find a cure for his dying father. Well, this story starts way-y-y-y too early for me. His unfortunate birthmark, if it actually bears on the story of his quest, can be woven in later. Get to the inciting incident—which, I’ll offer, is not when he learns that his father has cancer. It’s after that, it’s when something happens that he has to struggle against. The rest of the chapter follows the break. While it portrays a likeable character dealing with a challenge, it’s not the challenge of the story. If there’s fantasy/science fiction, seems like that flavor should also be on the first page.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Mike

 

(continued)

“Hey! Give it back!” Jack said.

The boy laughed. “I just want a lick.” He gave Jack a mean smirk, then stood there and ate the entire thing.

Jack started bawling. “I told you to give it back!”

“Okay, okay. Quit crying, you little baby. Here.” The bully poured the remaining syrupy red liquid down Jack’s bare chest—right along his birthmark. The sticky syrup soaked into the top of his swim trunks.

“You’re mean!” Jack said. “I’m telling my mom!”

The boy stuck his finger in the center of Jack’s birthmark. “I thought it might wash off. Then I wouldn’t have to call you Cupid anymore, would I, stupid?”

Despite being only half the other boy’s size, Jack charged, swinging his tiny scrunched-up fists at the bigger kid’s chubby legs, which was all he could reach. He got one good punch into the kid’s groin before the mothers stopped chatting and broke up the fight.

They never went back to the Dooley Lake municipal pool again.

As he grew older, Jack refused to take off his shirt in public. Even in summer he wore shirts with collars and kept his chin tucked down, all in an effort to disguise the tip of his Cupid’s arrow. This gave the impression he was sullen, and appearing sullen so much of the time actually made him sullen. That sullenness turned to a zealousness to defend himself, especially when it concerned his birthmark. The humiliation he’d suffered as a toddler fueled a slow-burning anger that would erupt in his later years, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

The first near-disaster occurred six years after the incident at the pool, when as luck would have it—bad luck in Jack’s case—he ran into the same boy who had stolen his sno-cone. Only this time things turned out different. This time, Jack learned how to fight back. It was a lesson he would never forget.

It was right after the first day of school. Jack and his friends were playing in a small meadow in the strip of woods next to his house. He was still in his school clothes, wearing a brand-new blue shirt. His best friend Joe Honess had torn apart an old wooden accordion-style baby gate and made collapsible swords from the pieces. It was comical how the swords would shoot out to three or four times their length with a thrust of the arm.

They were deep in sword play when three older boys came walking up out of the woods. Jack recognized one of them as the same kid who had stolen his sno-cone that day at the pool. His name was Frank Martino, and he had a bad reputation.

Frank looked at Jack. “Well if it isn’t Cupid and his little buddies. I can’t tell you how stupid you guys look, playing like a bunch of little kids.”

Jack said nothing. His friends fell silent, sensing a dangerous shift in the afternoon’s mood.

“You punched me in the nuts that one time, remember? Did you think I’d forget?”

“Leave ‘em be, Frank,” one of the other older boys said. “I gotta get home.”

“Shut up Jimmy.” Frank tilted his head back and eyed the boys holding the swords. “So these are your friends, Cupid?” He spat on the ground. “Wow.”

Jack remained silent. Frank pulled a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it. “This is our spot. So how about you and your wimpy friends go play your little games someplace else?”

Jack’s stomach was doing flip-flops. He wished somebody would do something—say something, but all his friends were looking at him, their faces sheepish. “It isn’t anybody’s spot,” he muttered. “Besides, we were here first.”

“You really are stupid.” Frank took a drag of his cigarette. “I don’t want to have to beat your little ass, but I will. Now clear out.”

“C’mon Frank,” Jimmy said. “They’re not hurting anybody.”

Frank turned and poked Jimmy in the chest, nearly burning him with the cigarette. “Maybe I should beat your ass instead. Whose side are you on, anyway?”

“Take it easy Frank.”

“I don’t see why we can’t all hang out right here,” Jack said. “You don’t bother us, and we won’t bother you.”

Frank cracked his knuckles. “Nothing doing, Cupid. Like I said, this is our spot—all of it. And if you want our spot, you’re gonna have to fight for it.”

“What are you guys, like thirteen?” Joe Honess said. “Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size?”

Frank moved to within inches of Joe’s face. “Like you, dipshit?” Joe didn’t say anything. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

“I got me an idea,” Frank’s other friend said with a slight southern drawl. “Let’s make it fair.” He grinned at Jack, revealing small, crooked teeth. “How’s about you and me, bub? We’re about the same size.”

“Dirty Al’s right about that Cupid,” Frank said. “In fact, he’s smaller than you.”

Dirty Al might have been the smallest member of Frank’s gang, but he sure looked the meanest. He had gray eyes, like a wolf’s. Jack gulped. “That’s okay.”

“Really?” Dirty Al said.  “That’s too bad. A real shame.”

For a moment nobody spoke. Overhead, a plane droned past in the clear blue sky. Jack’s friends shuffled and fidgeted, but none of them dared moved, lest they be drug into what was quickly turning into an ugly situation.

It was Joe Honess who finally broke the silence. “Leave Jack alone,” he said. Joe was tall for his age, nearly as tall as Frank, but he’d been born with a crippled left hand, the fingers entwined into a tangled clump. The hand was small, with nothing more than a nub of flesh for a thumb. It looked like a twisted little claw.

“What’re you gonna do about it, Honess?” Frank said. “Your hand looks like you stuck it in a deep fryer.”

“I think it looks like a chicken’s foot,” Dirty Al said. “A pickled chicken’s foot.”

“Maybe it’s some kinda birth defect,” Frank said. “His mama musta been taking drugs.” He looked at Joe. “Is that it, crack baby? Your mama’s a crackhead?”

 “Shut up!” Joe rushed at Frank, his good hand balled into a fist. He took a wild swing and missed, then Dirty Al tackled him to the ground, face-first. He put a knee in Joe’s back and twisted his arm up behind his neck. With his other hand he shoved Joe’s face into the dirt.

“Hold this one down,” Al said to Jimmy, then he stood up and walked straight towards Jack, his mouth closed and breathing through his nostrils hard, like a bull. His whole face seemed to be grinning. He gave Jack a hard shove, forcing him to take a step back. Jack just stood there, staring at the ground. He didn't want this.

“Fight, Cupid,” Frank said. “You can’t just stand there.”

Jack could feel Dirty Al’s eyes on him, but he wouldn't look up. “I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Can I hit him anyways?” Al said.

“I got a better idea,” Frank said. “Grab his arms.”

Al was deadly quick, slipping behind Jack and yanking his arms back painfully. Frank had a knife in his hand. He looked over at Jack’s friends huddled silently near the side of the tiny meadow. “You guys stay out of this.”

He grabbed Jack’s shirt and pulled, popping off all the buttons at once. “Let’s just see what Cupid’s got under there.” He slipped the blade under the shirt collar and sliced it clean through to the sleeve, then ripped the shirt free and held it up in triumph. Al let Jack go.

Frank pointed at Jack’s chest. “Somebody spilled ink on that boy!”

He and Dirty Al were pointing at Jack’s chest and laughing. Jack thought he heard a pitter of laughter even from his own friends, who were standing well back. It was the all too familiar sting of humiliation.

“Maybe it was the devil,” Dirty Al said. He grabbed two of the baby-gate swords from the meek, quiet boys and handed one to Frank. They started circling Jack, pointing the swords at him.

“Nah. Musta been an angel,” Frank said. “He looks too much like Cupid. Don’t you, stupid?” Frank poked Jack in the chest. Dirty Al swung his sword sideways, opening a deep scratch in Jack’s side. The two of them circled like tigers, jabbing and slicing at Jack’s chest and back while chanting Stupid Cupid, Stupid Cupid in unison. A trickle of blood ran down Jack’s ribs. His friends were looking at the ground like they wanted to crawl into it.

“He’s bleeding,” Dirty Al said. “Ain't that pretty?”

“Sure is,” Frank said. “That reminds me. Happy Valentine’s day!”

He leaned forward and spat in Jack’s face.

Something snapped inside. Jack batted away the swords and charged at Frank, who stepped out of the way, laughing. Al tripped him as he ran past, sending Jack sprawling onto a pile of rocks that marked an old Indian grave. Luckily, he managed to land without cracking his head open.

Frank advanced on Jack, his eyes already gloating with victory. Jack picked up a rock the size of an apple and threw it at Frank’s head, missing by mere inches.

“What the hell!” Frank yelled, but Jack already had another rock in his hands. He took aim and let it fly, and for the second time in six years hit Frank in the crotch with a sickening whump.

The sound froze everyone present. Frank stood still for a long second, then fell over like he’d been tased. His face was the color of a dirty bed sheet. Al coiled like a snake ready to strike, then Jack saw him hesitate. He turned to see his friends standing behind the Indian grave with rocks in their hands. Al and Jimmy began backing up towards the woods, then they turned around and ran as rocks volleyed through the air, some dangerously close to doing serious damage.

“You’d better run, jerkwads!” Joe yelled.

The day was ruined. Everyone except Jack and Joe Honess drifted away, muttering excuses about homework and chores and making it home for dinner. Frank was in a fetal position, moaning, his hands clutched around his groin.

“You okay?” Jack asked Joe.

Joe looked down at Frank. “I've never been better, dude. That’s heck of an arm you've got.”

“You’ll pay for this,” Frank mumbled.

Joe grinned at Jack. “Did you hear something?”

Jack cupped his hand to his ear and looked around the meadow with exaggerated puzzlement. “Nope.”

Jack picked up what was left of his shirt and they both went home.

***

That night Frank’s parents came over for a not-so-friendly chat. Mr. Martino banged on the front door, and the instant Jack’s mom opened it came clomping into the middle of their living room, tracking mud on the carpet. Jack smelled booze on his breath.

His dad moved forward as if to shake hands, but Martino never gave him the chance. Immediately he launched into a tirade; threatening to press charges, hire lawyers and investigators. He kept right on ranting until Jack’s dad told him to go ahead and do it, press all the charges you want. Maybe then people would know their son was a bully. He demanded Martino pay for Jack’s shirt. Only then could they talk about what came next.

Martino refused, so Jack’s dad told him to leave. Halfway to the door, Mr. Martino turned to Jack. “You tried to hit Frank in the head with a rock, is what he told me, and—”

“Don’t you speak to my son,” Jack’s dad said. “Ever. Now get out.” There was heat in his voice.

Martino stormed out towards his car. Mrs. Martino had stood just inside the doorway the entire time, not saying a word. “I’m sorry about all this,” she said after her husband was out of earshot. It seemed like she wanted say more, but she got in their car and they left.

Jack was proud of his dad for standing up to Mr. Martino, yet he got grounded for fighting, which didn’t seem fair. He’d told his parents everything—except about throwing that first rock. Although he hadn’t lied—technically—his parents suspected there was more to the story. The truth was something more than survival instinct had aimed that rock at Frank’s head: it was pure rage, and its destructive power was frightening. He might have split Frank’s skull wide open, maybe even killed him. It was a good thing he missed.

It wasn’t long before Jack gained a reputation as being quick to anger, a reputation that was well-deserved. Not that it bothered him. When it came to smart remarks about his birthmark or Joe’s crippled hand, he refused to take any crap from anybody. He got into fights both in and out of school—lots of fights. It didn’t matter if he was outclassed or outnumbered, and it didn’t matter if he won or not. What mattered was the act itself, the willingness to stand up to the bullies and taunters, to send them a message. Being slight, he lost more than half of the time, but the winners almost never tested him twice.

By the time he was twelve he was prone to dark moods, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. Joe called it his ‘dark cloud’. It worried his parents, leading to long talks that did little to change Jack’s mind about the way the world worked. And in every one of those talks his dad would tell him the same thing, that a fight had no real winners.

But that was a lie, one of those bits of wisdom adults said to children but didn’t believe themselves. The truth was the strong picked on the weak, the many on the few.

It was up to the victims to stand up for themselves.

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22. How’s your author website content?

Publishing expert and Digital Book World 2015 conference chairman Mike Shatzkin offers a list of what an author’s website should include. There aren’t any surprises, but it’s helpful to see what mine doesn’t have—I have a little more work to do, it seems. Check it out here.

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23. Flogometer for Rob—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed--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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Rob sends the opening for an unfinished short story titled Nell.

Jeremy was at work the day Nell’s headaches began. His mother was the first to notice that something was wrong. She understood Nell in a way that only an old mother can, and spent most days with her while Jeremy worked. Little Nell adored her. Jeremy hesitated to take her to a doctor right away though; money was tight enough as it was and he would have to take a day off to bring her into the city.

“She’s been like that all day again today, never stops, the poor thing” Jeremy’s mother had said.

“She’s made it this far, she’ll make it through to the weekend don’t you think?”

Jeremy was tired and frustrated, this being the third day he’d come home to a screaming child and a nagging mother. He brushed her off as he searched the fridge for the beer he’d left himself the night before.

“You were never like this when you were a boy Jeremy, never this bad. Something’s wrong. You know, I can’t explain it. I just… it feels wrong when I pick her up. She is just… inconsolable. Call it mother’s intuition.”

Jeremy turned from the cupboard, placed the beer on the table, and smiled as he looked at his mother’s worried expression.

“I would never dream of doubting your intuition. You’re by far the smartest, most amazingly intuitive woman I have ever met. And you’re beautiful… and an amazing cook as well.”

Were you compelled to turn Rob's first page?

Except for a couple of comma faults, the writing is clean and clear. But there were two issues for me: clarity and lack of tension. The clarity issues had to do references to mother and “old mother.” Are they different? I think “grandmother” would have been much more clear.

The second issue is tension—this is pretty much all setup and not much in the way of story questions is raised. A child has headaches and cries, the grandmother is tired. Later in the manuscript was something I thought was a better opening paragraph:

It was two-thirteen in the morning when Jeremy awoke to Nell’s screams. His head was still foggy, and registering his surroundings was his first priority as he realized he wasn’t in bed. The screams seemed to come from another world. It was instead his mother’s abrupt cry that shocked him into consciousness.

What do you think?

Was that a stronger opening for you?

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Rob

 

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24. Love Poison could be good for you

Love-poison-coverI'm giving a shout-out for a client/friend, Pete Barber, who has a new book out--I didn't have anything to do with this one, but I guarantee he's a very good writer and storyteller. Here's a blurb, cover, and a link:

Lab assistant and avid climber Amber Wilson is no stranger to risk. But she feels invisible around her handsome boss, Mark, until she accidentally doses him with an irresistible aphrodisiac that leaves him with a suicidal hangover. Abruptly fired, Amber and Mark partner up to research the source of the drug—a rare New Zealand mushroom—in hopes of refining it for safe use.

On their way to New Zealand to collect fungi samples, Amber is blindsided by a deep and intense romantic connection with Mark. Their new business plan is endangered by ruthless Maori mobsters who control a mushroom scheme they’re killing to protect. As the body count rises, Amber struggles to salvage her and Mark’s dreams, but when she risks her heart and acts alone, both of them could end up paying the ultimate price.

Check it out.

Best,

Ray

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25. Flogometer for Aleena—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—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.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. 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.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Aleena sends the opening chapter of Fraven Ends , which looks like a YA fantasy to me.

There were seven of us, at first. All young, late teens or early twenties. Long enough past schooling age to be called men when the elders were pleased with our contribution to the tribe, young enough to be called boys when they were not. And we knew what they would call us if they saw us meeting together in the clearing just over four miles out from the encampment-- passing flasks of ale among us and a spread of various maps between us as we sat near a fire that crackled into the crisp autumn air-- boys. But we thought we were men.

Our people were quiet. Peace was our golden rule, one we learned as soon as we could talk. Do not bother others and they will not bother you. Do not treat others with contempt. Do not retaliate any evil and your enemy will lose interest. Do not engage in violence of any kind. Do not live for selfish gain. Do not use your gifts for your own advantage. Do not feel jealousy. Do not hate. Do not disrespect. Do not. Do not...

This was not peace. This was enablement.

That is what I told my friends. First Oakley, whom I found had been silently harboring the same sentiment. Encouraged by his reaction, I confided in Cyrus, receiving a positive response. Soon, our little group grew with the addition of Elan, Rinnal, Jacob, and Morvan.

Each agreed—in Morvan’s case, only after a full-blown and, ironically, nearly violent argument—that our druid people were being taken advantage of and oppressed by the humans of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Aleena's first page?

The writing is strong, and I like the voice. Aleena is approaching this fantasy story in a fairly traditional way—introducing the world. However, nothing much is happening, nor does it in the rest of the chapter. She spells out an interesting world with Druids who are not human, apparently, but have magic, and oppressive humans.

But it’s all set-up, and no actual jeopardy or story questions arise in the opening page or the chapter. I suggest you start much closer to the inciting event, the place the actual story starts happening to the character. The background material can be woven in as the protagonist deals with what happens. One caution: this first page introduces a lot of uncommon names. In my view, the reader will not be able to absorb them. And introducing a flood of characters can overwhelm. If you can trim it down to one or two, that would be better. It sounds like there’s a good story ahead, and I’d turn the page if we started with that—story.

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.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Aleena

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