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

Submissions needed—only a couple left in the queue after this 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

Stephanie sends the first chapter of The End. The rest of the chapter continues below the fold.

As I walk down the beach on the last day of the Columbus Day weekend, I wonder if am the only one who feels it. Maybe I’m just crazy, but then I see the fear in the eyes of those I pass. Even if they are smiling, it is there, the fear. We all feel it, every person on this planet, but if we don’t talk about it maybe it will just go away. Who would want to be the first to mention it? People would call you crazy, even if in their hearts they know you are right. So we all just keep working and going on as if nothing is wrong, but waiting for it to begin and wondering what will happen when it does.

We are all preparing in our own ways. Some have built bunkers and gathered supplies, some have a contingency plan on paper or maybe just in their head but nothing concrete. Then there are those of us who are in the middle, we don’t have a well supplied bunker but we have a…..stash of things we might need when that day comes and a sort of plan to go with it. We think about how much we will miss things like chocolate bars, wine and coffee and brainstorm about ways to preserve the things we will miss the most. We decide where to go, if leaving is possible and consider the pros and cons of each possible location and what to take with us and what to leave behind. The more pessimistic at heart are checking things off their bucket lists before it’s too late and maybe even devising an exit strategy.

It’s sad really, this thing that should be uniting us is not. It is driving us more and more (snip)

Would you turn Stephanie's first page?

I do like the voice and the writing in this narrative, but I didn’t respond to simply a character musing about two “it”s, the second of which is only implied. The first “it” is the fear that the character says she sees in everyone’s eyes. The second “it” is what they fear—only it is never really defined other than a range of possibilities. This narrative seems more like a prologue to me, and I would like to see, instead, the actual story, the part where something happens to this character that makes her struggle and deal with things. See what you think if you read the rest after the fold.

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 Stephanie

Design-NobodyKnows

 

(continued) inward, making us keep secrets even from those we have rarely kept them before. We tell ourselves that our fear is irrational, but we know it is not. When the lights blink, we wonder has it begun. Every storm, or drought or sinkhole or earthquake could be the tipping point, so we silently go over our plans and gather those we love around us under the guise of movie night or dinner or painting the den. Whatever it takes to have those we want with us near, just in case.

Some days, I am so tired of my job and my life that I wish for it to begin, most Mondays as a matter of fact. Maybe it will be a good thing, a time to hit reset. A chance to make things better. Sometimes out of the rubble something beautiful emerges, something wonderful. But, then again, it could just be a slow painful death.

We can’t stop it. The signs are there to see if we only look, but we don’t like to look. There are too many of us living too well for the Earth to sustain and the Earth seeks balance. It will come one way or another, the Earth will get her way and we are powerless to stop her. She’s done it before and she will do it again, the black plague, the ice age, tsunamis, floods and droughts. Which tool will she choose this time?

Everyone scoffed about the ending of the Mayan calendar and made fun of those who were ready for the end that day, but we were secretly relieved when that day came and went without incident. We patted ourselves on the back for not holing up in a shelter, or stockpiling food, water and ammo while at the same time, we knew we had dodged a bullet.

There will likely be no warning. It will probably begin innocently enough. Some people will get sick and we will think that the epidemic is contained but it won’t be, or a drought will make our already overtaxed water supply insufficient. We will be encouraged to conserve and told it will be okay, but it won’t. Things that we thought we had conquered will return to exact revenge, things like cholera, dysentery, smallpox and the plague. Or maybe it will be a large catastrophic event that will change everything in a moment.

I didn’t realize how long I had been walking, as I turned to head back I saw the sun was just about to set. I stood still and watched until that magical moment when dusk began, then I hurried back up the beach before it got dark. Tomorrow I was going back and it made me sad because I felt more at peace somehow at the beach, more alive.

My clients talk about the editing I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"Ray has been the most influential part of my writing process. I don't know what I would have done without him! His advice has taken my writing to a new level and I can't believe the growth I've seen in my own processes! I would recommend Ray to anyone looking for a professional, yet personal editing approach. I can't say enough about how happy I am that I've had him to work with or about the turn my writing has taken because of his help!"    Jennifer Bush

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2. ebook poll and free Donald Maass book

There’s a poll below regarding your use of ebooks, please respond.

12st century writingBefore that, though, I discovered that Kindle users who are enrolled in Amazon Prime can borrow for free most of literary agent Donald Maass’s highly insightful books on writing—Writing 21st Century Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Breakout Novelist through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library program. This only works for books read on “Kindle devices,” but it’s a good deal for Amazon Prime members who have them. How to borrow from the program is here.

Now for the poll, please. For my purposes, "ebook reader" includes reading .mobi (Kindle) or .epub (Nook, Kobo, iBook, etc.) ebooks on the devices and/or computer software. Thanks for your help. I may repeat this to sample as many readers as possible.

For what it's worth,

Ray

Do you use an ebook reader (device or computer software) and, if so, which type?

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
3. Flogometer for Jared: would you turn the first page?

Submissions needed—only one in the queue after this 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

Jared sends the first chapter of novel, Death Texts. The rest of the chapter continues below the fold.

Bree choked the worn steering wheel of the rusted out ’76 Impala as it shimmied down the fast lane of I-70. Her father snored in the passenger seat. Behind him, lay three briefcases, each with a million dollars stashed inside. Next to them, a shiny insulated canister adorned with yellow and black striped letters that read, “LIQUID NITROGEN.” In her rearview mirror…a cop.

She checked her speedometer. Sixty-seven.

Stay calm.

The cars in the right lane had slowed and bunched—a typical response with a cop nearby. Her turn signal ticked like a grandfather clock as she twisted her face towards the drivers next to her. They ignored her pleas, refusing eye contact.

C’mon, let me over.

Her hands maintained her vice grip, except her thumb. As though it had a will of its own, her left thumb wiggled, bent, then straightened. She shot a glance at her father, Dr. Grant Watkins, and didn’t know whether to be frustrated or relieved he wasn’t awake to see.

Her thumb danced again. No. Not now. Please. Bree stared at it. Be still!  It froze momentarily, then lurched to the side and honked the horn.

Her dad jerked awake. “Wha— What is it?”

Would you turn Jared's first page?

Nice clean writing, an immediate scene, a clear character all work in this opening. This came close to being an “almost” for me, but I decided that there was enough of a story question or two to turn the page for more—but a little more. I wasn’t convinced yet. I think that if there could be a greater sense of the stakes the page could be stronger.

For example, if the briefcases were “each with a million dollars of stolen mob cash stashed inside” there would be an increase in possible tension. The presence of the cop behind her could be more fraught, too. There’s little danger she will be pulled over for doing 67, and there’s no reason she can’t slow to 65 even if she can’t get into the right lane. And he doesn’t have his lights on. But the stakes could be increased in a couple of places. For example: Stay calm. In this car, there was no reason the cop would know they were on the run.

And then, perhaps, after she honks the horn have the cop car turn on his lights.

Whatever is done, I think it would be a good idea to find ways to increase the sense of jeopardy in this first page. There is a certain mystery about the thumb, and that’s what probably got me to turn the page, but it doesn’t seem very consequential. A hint of trouble with her body and why she has it would be nice. To make room, the explicit description of the insulated canister could be trimmed down considerably.

The rest of the chapter below the fold.

For what it’s worth.

Comments, please?

Ray

Design-allahs revenge

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 Jared

 

(continued)

Bree squashed her thumb under her leg, keeping her other hand on the wheel. “There’s a cop behind us.” She looked in the mirror fearing the sirens would turn on at any moment.

He looked straight ahead, his body stiff. “You thought honking was a good idea?”

“I slipped.”

Her dad eyed her. “You fell asleep?”

“No!” She raised her voice. He wasn’t helping her nerves. “I told you, I didn’t mean to do it.”

After a deep breath, her dad spoke more calmly. “Well, let him pass you. We don’t want him getting suspicious.”

“I’m trying,” she replied louder than she intended. Her thumb flexed annoyingly underneath her denim jeans.

A large overhanging sign warned that the interstate became a toll road in a mile. Her dad opened his mouth.

Bree cut him off before he could begin. “I see it.” She floored the gas petal. Rusty, as she’d come to call the car, grumbled and trembled as it accelerated. The cop kept pace.

The last toll-free exit quickly approached. Bree found an opening barely big enough for Rusty. She slid over, then wrenched the car across solid white lines, over gravel, and onto the exit ramp.

Her dad reached behind and settled the canister. “Is he following us?”

She glanced up, then sighed. “No.”

“That was close.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“You did good.” He clasped her shoulder. “I’m proud of you.” After looking over his shoulder he added, “That cop had enough time to check our plates. Take us into the side streets in case he doubles back.”

Bree could feel sirens bearing down on them. She rolled through the stop sign and turned left, accelerated, ran through a yellow light, raced another half mile, and then struggled to turn one-handed into a residential street. Only then did her thumb calm down. She kept it hidden under her leg, just in case.

Once the main road was out of sight, Bree slowed to fifteen miles per hour as she zig-zagged through the neighborhood of rundown homes with ill-kept lawns.

Grant stretched and yawned. “Where are we?”

“Kansas.”

“I’m not impressed.”

Bree nodded.

“I didn’t think they had toll roads out in the west?” her dad asked.

“Me neither,” Bree said. “If I had my cell phone we’d have known it was coming, and we’d have no trouble finding a way around it.”

He shifted in his seat, then spoke the moment she paused. “I’ve told you, no cell phones.”

“Or TV or internet. I know. I’m just saying this would be easier if we could.” She trailed off. Bree didn’t understand why her dad had forbidden such things, but she wasn’t going to make too big of a deal. It was the least she could do for causing this whole mess.

“I need to take a leak.”

“Dad!”

“Sorry. I need to use the lavatory,” he said in a distinguished tone.

She laughed. For the briefest moment, she felt like everything was back to normal. When the run down homes gave way to rundown businesses, the feeling that a cop could be around any corner returned.

 “There weren’t any restaurants on this exit.” She nodded to their right. A dilapidated Chevron had a busted sign and four pumps—the kind with scrolling numbers and no place for a credit card. “You willing to risk using a gas station?”

 “It looks old enough. Pass it and see if the bathroom is outdoors.”

Bree rolled past the gas station. A sign in the window read, “Bathrooms for paying customers only. Key available inside.”

“Yeah. This’ll work,” Grant said. He reached for a ball cap on the floorboard and lowered it over his eyes.

She couldn’t pull a U-turn one handed, so she balled up her left hand into a fist with her thumb between her fingers. After turning, she hid her hand again and stopped at one of the pumps.

“Here’s yours,” her dad offered her a ball cap from the floor. “Just keep your head down and it’ll be fine.”

Gladly. Even if she wasn’t avoiding the security cameras, she wouldn’t want to be seen around Rusty. Not that anyone in Kansas would recognize her, but some things are just too embarrassing…even among strangers.

Bree used her right hand to take the cap and lower it onto her head, then she reached across her body to unlock and open the door. It felt awkward, but her dad didn’t say anything. She stepped out with her head tilted to the ground and slid her left hand into her pocket. A blast of muggy air assaulted her.

Her dad leaned toward her door. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah. You coming?”

He shook his head. “Not inside. Could you get the bathroom key for me?” He reached in his pocket, then handed her a wadded hundred dollar bill.

They’d shredded their credit cards—had to stay off the grid.

The cracked asphalt was littered with crushed beer cans and broken glass. It smelled of poverty. Bree entered the gas station, keeping her head lowered, and approached the counter. She unwrinkled the money and pushed it toward the clerk. “Need to prepay on pump…” she looked back, uncertain which one they’d stopped at. No other cars were at the station.

“Three,” the clerk finished for her. “Haven’t seen a car like that in a long time.”

Bree looked up far enough to see his name tag, “Marvin”, and the bottom of his prickly goatee. “It’s my dad’s. Wish he’d sell the puke-bucket.” Why’d she care what Marvin thought of her? She knew she shouldn’t. It wasn’t like she was attracted to him or anything like that. “Can I have the bathroom key?”

The clerk plonked a foot-long chunk of 4x4 wood with a chained key attached. The word “Women’s” had been carved into the side and burned black.

“Actually, I need the men’s…for my dad.”

Marvin grinned. His crooked teeth were stained a yellowish brown. Definitely not attracted to him.

He replaced the women’s block with the men’s.

“Thank you.” Bree turned, never having made eye contact with Marvin. The store, despite flickering overhead lights, had a decent selection. The chocolate covered donuts in particular called to her, but they could have been on the shelf for several months. She walked past the Tracfone display and headed back to the car. Her left hand remained in her pocket.

“You feeling alright?” Grant asked.

Bree tensed. Had he noticed her thumb? “I’m good. Why?”

“I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”

“Here.” She handed him the bathroom key. “I’ll take care of Rusty.”

Grant pretended to blow his nose into a tissue as he walked out from under the overhang, then disappeared around the far side of the building.

Bree put the pump on automatic and stepped away from Rusty. The repair shop across the way had a skewed garage door which couldn’t fully shut. It’s windows were shattered. Her thoughts drifted.

She should have been keeping an eye in case the cop was roaming the area. Or she should have been shaking from nearly being caught. Instead, it was her unruly thumb that occupied her thoughts as she stared at the closed repair shop.

She felt guilty for hiding it from her dad, but he’d done so much for her, given up so much. How could she worry him about something as insignificant as a twitchy thumb? After all her body had been through, there had to be some things malfunctioning, right? She should be thankful it was only a finger. As much as she wanted to believe it wasn’t anything major, the risks were too high. She needed to know.

The pump clunked to a stop. Bree returned the nozzle. She kept her eye on the corner of the station as she walked back to the store, making certain her dad wasn’t returning yet.

She pulled the door open and looked straight into Marvin’s brown, droopy eyes. “I think I’ll take that women’s key.” She reached for one of the Tracfones as well as a 200 minutes phone card. “And these too.”

“Sure. You want a receipt?”

“No.” Bree shredded the phone’s packaging, then handed it to Marvin. “Could you throw this away for me?”

Marvin nodded. “Looks like I owe you $38.71.”

“Keep it,” Bree said with a wink, “but let’s keep this whole thing our little secret.”

She pocketed the phone and charger, then smiled to herself as she walked outside. Clerks weren’t allowed to accept tips. No way Marvin would mention meeting them now. Not if it would cost him his job. She hoped he’d erase the security tape the moment they drove away. Her dad nearly ran into her when she turned the corner near the bathrooms. The wooden block dangled at his side.

“You want me to take that back for you?” she asked him.

“Thank you.” He handed it to her, but kept his hand extended, palm up. “Give me the car keys.”

“Rusty is unlocked,” she said, then realized how stupid it was to walk away from the car full of valuables.

“I’m driving,” Grant said dryly.

“What, because I honked the horn? I told you I didn’t fall asleep. Or is this because you don’t trust my driving?”

“I’m not blaming you for the accident…”

Whatever he said after that didn’t register in Bree’s mind. She’d been thinking about the abrupt exit off the interstate, not the accident. The fact he brought it up, made her think he did blame her for it. Why else would it be on the forefront of his mind?

She handed him the key ring with one key on it, then placed her right hand over her stomach. “I’m not feeling very good. This might take me a while.” She unlocked the bathroom door, still using the right hand. Her left hand remained firmly in her pocket. “I told the clerk he could keep the change if he forgot we were here.”

“Good thinking.” He said with a funny expression. She’d seen it before in old photographs—the ones where he first held her as a baby. He hadn’t changed much other than streaks of grey in his hair and deeper smile lines.

She watched him watching her. “What is it?” she asked. His stare pierced her, making her feel guilty for buying the phone, but also more resolved that it was the right thing to do.

“I was just thinking how glad I am that you’re doing so well.”

The guilt swelled inside her. She faked a smile, then replied, “Me too.” She stepped into the darkness. With a flip of the switch the light flickered to life. The fan sounded like a dying cat. Bree closed the bathroom door. The stench hit her strongest followed by the buzzing of flies. She’d used outhouses nicer than this.

The mirror had been etched with names, phone numbers, and random lines. Only a small section, about the size of her hand, reflected anything. She stared at her 19 year old face. Deep red hair. Crystal blue eyes. Normally she avoided mirrors. She was used to looking hideous. Where most red heads had freckles, she used to have zits so large and numerous her face looked like a close up of a red andromeda galaxy. But now…her skin looked amazing. Smooth with a vibrant glow. She smiled, then remembered the lack of zits was minor in comparison to what else her dad had managed to do for her.

Bree took the phone out of her pocket. This is a phone? The screen was barely over an inch tal,l and it didn’t respond to her touch. Each number on the backlit pad represented three or more letters. Texting would be awful. No internet access. She turned it over. No round lens…she checked twice. How old was this thing? It belonged in a museum. She half expected to find a place for a curled wire to connect it to clunky base. Good thing I didn’t try the donuts.

After scratching the back of the phone card, she activated the phone and added the minutes. All her stored contacts were on her old phone and she didn’t have anyone’s numbers memorized. She dialed 411.

After listening to an advertisement about bankruptcy solutions she tried to find a phone number for Doctor David Chargaff. The automated operator couldn’t understand that last name. She repeated herself several times then gave up and asked for the business phone numbers. The operator asked her to spell M.I.T., twice, then finally gave her a phone number she could use and offered to dial it for her, but first, a message from this phone call’s sponsor, Progressive insurance.

Seriously?

The call connected.  “MIT biology,” a pleasant female voice said, “how may I help you.”

Yeah, get me a real phone. Bree manipulated her voice to sound like a man, at least, that’s what she was aiming for. She sounded more like a munchkin with a cold. “Professor Chargaff’s office please.”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

Bree froze. She didn’t dare say her name to the secretary. Her eyes dashed around the bathroom for a pseudonym. “This is, uh.” She spotted the blow dryer, an airmax. “Max.”

“Max?” the secretary asked drawing the name out, searching for more.

“Pee…body.”

“One moment.”

The phone clicked over to elevator music.

“He’s not in at the moment, may I take a message?”

Bree doubted that was true, but why would David take a moment away from his crazy schedule to talk to a Max Peabody he’d never heard of before? “I thought for sure he’d be in. Could you check again and if he’s there tell him it’s urgent about his niece.” David was an only child, but Bree had spent so much time around him that she came to call him Uncle Dave, even though he was old enough to be her grandfather.

“One moment.” The elevator music returned.

A minute later David spoke in a hushed tone, “Is this really my niece?”

“It’s me.”

“Are you insane? Does your dad know you’re calling me?”

Bree had to yank the phone from her hear, he was so loud. “He doesn’t even know I have a phone. I had to talk to someone, and you know how much he freaks out over the littlest things about me.”

“What’s wrong?”

At this moment, it suddenly seemed ludicrous to disobey her dad, buy a phone, and risk calling an operator just to talk about an unruly finger. “It’s my finger.”

“Your… what about your finger?”

“My thumb isn’t behaving right. It’s moving when I’m not telling it to. A few mornings ago my index finger was doing the same thing. I’m worried…” Tears swelled. “That my organs are failing.”

“Calm down. There could be a lot of explanations for shaky fingers. Diabetes, Parkinson’s—”

“Parkinson’s?” Bree shouted, alarmed.

“Let me finish.” He said sternly. “Or just some minor muscle damage. Are you having any other symptoms?”

“Just the fingers.”

“You’ve been on the road. Have you been squeezing the steering wheel too tightly?”

“Maybe.”

“Well there you go! It should go away on its own in a few days. Nothing to worry about.” He spoke cheerfully, but changed to a softer tone. “Tell you what…as a precaution, keep alert for anything else out of the ordinary. Call me if something else comes up or if the fingers are still jittery in a week.”

She relaxed. “Thanks, Uncle Dave.”

“You were right to not tell your dad. He’s under enough stress. Keep the phone hidden and only use it to call me. Otherwise, keep it off. You don’t want it accidentally ringing or vibrating.”

“Right.”

“I know you can’t tell your dad this, but he needs to keep his head low. The Feds have interviewed me twice this week asking where he might have run off to. They weren’t the only ones. I got a visit from some thugs threatening to break my bones if I didn’t tell them where your dad has gone with their money. These guys aren’t going to quit looking for you two anytime soon.”

Her heart leapt into her throat. She quivered. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Make sure neither of you gets caught.” He lowered his voice. “Someone’s coming. Thanks for calling Max.”

The call ended.

Bree turned off her phone and put it in her pocket. David hadn’t made her feel better. The FBI? Thugs? Would she ever be able to live a normal life?

Loud, rapid honks outside the bathroom made her jump. Then she heard sirens.

She opened the door. A cop car with lights flashing was making a U-turn. Grant had backed the car into view, but was too far away from the bathroom. She couldn’t make it.

Her dad’s head swiveled towards her. They made eye contact. With tears in his eyes he nodded, then yelled, “Hide!”

Rusty squealed away from the gas station pursued closely by the cop.

Writers talk about the editing I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"When I finished writing my novel, I knew there were problems, but I couldn't pin them down. Like most writers, I had become too close to my writing to see objectively. My friends were more concerned about my feelings than being helpful. Realizing I needed a pair of experienced eyes, I sent my manuscript to Ray Rhamey. When I received it back, I was simply amazed.

Apart from his fantastic editing work, Ray gave me an intensive and comprehensive lesson on writing. He improved the pace of my story, pointed out errors in grammar, plot, and point of view. His critique was honest, encouraging, and straightforward. Ray does not hold back.

I recommend Ray to all serious writers in search of keen eyes to dissect their manuscripts and make them the best they can be."    David Junior

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

Add a Comment
4. Flogometer for Ed: would you turn the first page?

Submissions needed—no more in the queue after this 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

Ed sends the prologue and first chapter of a mystery/suspense novel, The Invisibles. The rest of the submission continues below the fold.

Prologue

On a perfect summer morning like this, neither Bette Brandmeier nor her twin sister Bertha (known to everyone as Berty) would have changed a thing, except of course the outcome. The sisters, who were both spinsters, had retired together from their teaching positions at the university. Berty held a yellow Melmac bowl while Bette scoured the garden for a few ripe tomatoes. They both wore dresses as their mother and her mother had done. They each sported Wellingtons although it hadn’t rained in over a week. The boots would be taken off at the door and traded in for indoor flats.

“What about that one down there?” Berty pointed hopefully at a particularly large tomato.

“It’s still a little green, Berty. We can do better.”

“They’re only going to be used in the salad.”

“For our friends, Berty. Do you want our friends biting into green tomatoes? What if it was an apple for one of your…?” She stopped in mid sentence as she noticed what she had just stepped in. “Oh, my,” she said, giggling. “At least I know nothing worse can happen today.”

“Oh, no,” said Berty, ignoring her sister. “I have less than seven minutes. Please hurry.”

“You have plenty of time. You have never burned a pie in your life, and as we both know, that’s a very long time.” She looked back toward the house as she scraped her boot on a clump of weeds. A delicate hint of cinnamon and apple floated out to them on the morning breeze, only (snip)

Good voice, good writing—but, for me, too much focus on information and not enough on something happening. The first paragraph dumps information from the author’s point of view, not all of it necessary. For example, if Bertha is known to everyone as Berty, then why not just refer to her as that? What happens here? Two senior ladies are gardening and chatting, one of them steps into something unpleasant, but we don’t know what. I would not have moved on—spoiler alert: something does indeed happen to the ladies, but too late for a first-page hook.

Would you turn Ed's first page?

Chapter One

The moment I crested the hill and saw the two guys blocking the bike path, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This was my first time riding in over a week. The wheels of what my friends affectionately call ‘The Torpedo’ burred across the asphalt in a comforting monotone. The bike was an ancient Schwinn Cruiser that I’d snagged at a yard sale a few years back. It had taken work, but I finally had it the way I wanted it; large soft leather seat and saddlebags, chrome springs on the front and a vintage goose horn on the handlebars to scare frogs. The only thing missing was a baseball card in the spokes.

At this time of the morning, I was usually the only one out here. I heard wild turkeys off in the distance and shortly I’d come upon the frogs croaking in the marsh. I love to glide up to them and then squeeze the bulb on my horn. Shuts them up every time. I’m easily amused.

I’d started the day the way I start most days; coffee to kick-start the old gray matter and some sort of exercise to fight through my arthritis. Some days it was worse than others, but today wasn’t bad. There was a tightness in my left shoulder that I couldn’t seem to work out, but at my age it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I have pain on any given day, it was just a matter of where it would show up. I’d slept fitfully again.

The two guys stood there, lost in conversation, their bikes stretched across both lanes. I was creeping along, which was my normal pace, but I slowed down even more. Any slower and (snip)

Same story here—I do like the voice, but not much in the way of story questions. There’s no hint that the two guys ahead with their bikes are trouble (they are). Some satisfying action comes later, but too late to engage this reader. For me, the first page is primarily set-up with nothing happening except for a guy with arthritis riding a bike. For me, not engaging.

For both of these, Ed, I suggest you start them much closer to the inciting incident, the place where trouble happens. Unless the young woman in the prologue figures in the rest of the story, she could be left out. Start with story, not with set-up, and you will have something here.

Would you turn the chapter's first page?

(prologue continued, chapter one follows)

Design-MotherDaughter

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 Ed

. . . slightly tainted by the gift she had just received. “Did you hear Paige moving about this morning? Do you have any idea what time she got in last night?”

“Well, I know it was after 8:30…when we went to bed. She just rents a room, she doesn’t answer to us, Bette.”

“I know that.” She moved down the row. “It’s just that she doesn’t get enough sleep and I worry about her.”

“She’s a student. They aren’t supposed to sleep.”

“Who’s not supposed to sleep?” asked the tall blond woman striding down the path from their back door. She was wearing khaki shorts, a white tee shirt and running shoes. She had a backpack slung over her right shoulder and a mug of coffee in her left hand.

“We were just saying you don’t get enough sleep, dear,” said Bette.

“I’ll have plenty of time to sleep after I finish my paper. Was that apple pie I smelled when I came downstairs or am I still dreaming?”

“Oh, you,” said Berty, barely suppressing a smile. “If you wait a little bit you can have a slice. I baked two of them and they’re about ready to come out of the oven.”

“It’s tempting but I really need to be at the library when it opens. Are your lady friends coming over today?”

“The ‘Girl’s-Club’ will be here later this morning for cards, gossip and early lunch. Sure you can’t stick around for a bit and have some coffee and pie with us? It would be nice to have some new blood to liven up our conversations, although, truth be told, most of us can’t remember which of our stories we’ve told before anyway.” Both sisters nodded.

“I wish I could, but unfortunately I’m on a deadline. Save me a piece of pie,” she said as she headed to her car.

“I will honey. Now don’t work too hard. Remember, life is short. Your pie will be waiting for you when you get home.”

They watched her back out of the driveway and head toward the university. Bette immediately returned to her quest for the perfect tomato. Berty sighed heavily, twice, and when her sister didn’t respond, handed her the bowl. “Here, Bette, hold this. I have to get those pies out of the oven before they turn to charcoal. I’ll be back.” She bustled up the path as fast as her thick legs could take her.

Bette almost immediately found a plant with three ripe tomatoes and quickly separated them from their vines. She left the bowl on the ground, stood up and dusted the skirt of her dress. She didn’t mind doing more of the physical work, although she did occasionally wonder if Berty was taking advantage of her. She decided to leave the bowl on the ground and tell Berty that her knees were bothering her. Which at her age wasn’t much of a lie.

Her gaze drifted over to their neighbor’s house and once again she wondered about the ‘stranger’ who had lived next door for the last ten years. They knew his name was John Nathan, but not much else. For years they had speculated about his background, but with no success. That was why, shortly after Paige had moved in with them, they had asked her to do a search for him on the Internet. Not that they were nosey people, heavens no, but there was something, if not unsavory, at least peculiar about their neighbor.

She and Berty had called on him shortly after he had moved in. They wanted to welcome him to the neighborhood and what better way than with one of Berty’s pies? He had been polite enough, although he had not invited them inside. He mumbled something about having work done to the place, thanked them for the pie, and closed the door in their faces. The next day they found the pie dish on the back porch, washed but with no note. After that, he nodded if he saw them outside, but he never came over to their house again. They occasionally bumped into him when they were out and about. He would smile and comment about the weather or something equally innocuous, but it never went beyond that. He was a good-looking older man; polite and friendly enough on the surface, but guarded.

Berty thought he was around their age, but Bette said he was in too good a shape to be that old. He was around six feet in height, with close-cropped gray hair. Berty would sometimes spy on him from behind the dusty sheers in the parlor while he did yard work. He carried himself well when no one was around, but she noticed he tended to slouch in the company of other people. He moved at a measured pace, like most of their peers, but she always felt he was holding something back.

If they had still been teaching they probably wouldn’t have given him another thought, but with time on their hands and, as Berty said, “you can only bake so many pies,” they had gone to Paige with their request. One of their friends thought he was a retired professor from the east coast, while another thought he had been in the construction business in Chicago. Martha Holzbauer, whose cousin worked in the Social Security Office, said that there was no record of him. Her cousin also swore that Elvis had stopped by to put in an address change.

Bette looked back to their house. Where was Berty? They had work to do before the girls arrived. She bent down to pick up the bowl when something popped in her left knee and for a moment she didn’t think she would be able to get back up. When she did she ripped the hem of her dress. Although the air was still cool, she was perspiring. She was going to give her sister a piece of her mind. Tomorrow, if Berty wanted anything from the garden, she was picking it herself.

Bette smelled the pies as she neared the house and her anger dissipated. She carefully removed her boots, making a mental note to wash them before putting them back on. As she opened the door she was wrapped in the aroma of baked apples. Apple pie was her favorite, although with Berty as baker, there were no bad pies. She hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps into the kitchen when she froze. Sitting at the table, with her back to the door, was Berty, with the pies in front of her. And a piece was missing from one of them. A large piece! Bette was livid. She knew that it was going to be a large group today, and she had promised Paige she would save a piece for her. But the real reason Bette was angry was because Berty had left her standing in the garden while she sat here eating pie.

“What are you thinking of, Berty?” It was at that moment that she realized there was something sticking out of the side of Berty’s head.

“She’s not thinking of anything, I’m afraid,” said a voice behind the door, startling her. Before she could respond, a muscular arm clamped around her neck, locking her in place. Bette didn’t notice the bowl of tomatoes tumble to the floor.

“Tasty pie, Bette. I just might have to have another piece. I’d ask you to join me, but you don’t really have the time.”

Bette reached up with both hands, her stubby fingers frantically trying to loosen the grip on her neck, thinking that this didn’t make sense. Her eyes filled with tears and her nose ran. “Why?” she whispered. With that, she felt a sudden bolt of pain in her temple. “Sorry, dear, but that’s on a need to know basis. And you didn’t need to know.” The killer released her, letting her body sag to the tile floor with a muffled thud, squashing the ripest of the tomatoes. Her dress bunched mid way up her right thigh while her left leg twisted awkwardly under her body. “That can’t be comfortable. I’ll take care of you in a minute.” The killer stepped over her and sat down at the table across from Berty’s slumped body. “Berty, honey, you do make a killer pie.” As the sun filtered into the kitchen, the killer shook open a napkin and cut another slice.

A bird trilled softly outside the window. The killer took a bite and smiled.

 ONE

 The moment I crested the hill and saw the two guys blocking the bike path, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This was my first time riding in over a week. The wheels of what my friends affectionately call ‘The Torpedo’ burred across the asphalt in a comforting monotone. The bike was an ancient Schwinn Cruiser that I’d snagged at a yard sale a few years back. It had taken work, but I finally had it the way I wanted it; large soft leather seat and saddlebags, chrome springs on the front and a vintage goose horn on the handlebars to scare frogs. The only thing missing was a baseball card in the spokes.

At this time of the morning, I was usually the only one out here. I heard wild turkeys off in the distance and shortly I’d come upon the frogs croaking in the marsh. I love to glide up to them and then squeeze the bulb on my horn. Shuts them up every time. I’m easily amused.

I’d started the day the way I start most days; coffee to kick-start the old gray matter and some sort of exercise to fight through my arthritis. Some days it was worse than others, but today wasn’t bad. There was a tightness in my left shoulder that I couldn’t seem to work out, but at my age it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I have pain on any given day, it was just a matter of where it would show up. I’d slept fitfully again.

The two guys stood there, lost in conversation, their bikes stretched across both lanes. I was creeping along, which was my normal pace, but I slowed down even more. Any slower and

I’d be walking.

“On your left,” I called out. They stared at me without moving. I stopped five yards from them. “Everything all right?” They looked to be in their teens or, at the most, early twenties. They both smiled, although not in a warm and fuzzy way, and shook their heads. The one on the left was wearing a large flat brimmed cap, resting at an angle. He had a lazy eye. The other guy wore a fur lined winter hat with the flaps covering his ears. Maybe he didn’t know it was summer. His pants rode low while his boxers rode high.

“Not really, Grandpa. We have a serious problem,” said the one with the fur-lined hat.

“What’s that, son?”

“We seem to be short of cash. My friend thought maybe you could fix that.”

“I’m afraid not, boys, although I do appreciate you asking.”

They looked at each other, obviously having a hard time processing my response. “You mean you ain’t got any money on you?”

“I didn’t say that. I just meant I’m not interested in giving any away. Now as much as I’ve enjoyed our conversation, I’m afraid I must continue on my ride. My doctor says I have to keep my heart rate up. So if you and your friend will just step aside, I’ll be on my way.”

They lowered their bikes. I heard movement behind me as two more of their friends emerged from the woods. “You got balls, old man. I like that. So I’m gonna give you one more chance. Please give us your money and your bike.” His pants slid down another inch. His buddy grinned and stared at me with his good eye. The other one followed the bill of his cap.

Fur hat widened his stance. Probably needed to keep his pants up. “If you don’t do what I say, I’m gonna hurt you. Bad.”

“Well, son, I appreciate your concern, and I am glad to see that your generation hasn’t completely lost all manners. I’m sure your parents are proud of you. But full disclosure, I don’t plan on giving you anything. I’ve put a lot of work into this bike, and I’m quite fond of it. It’s got a nice cushy seat, unlike those narrow ones you boys have on your bikes, which would be murder on my hemorrhoids. And it’s got this great horn.” I squeezed the bulb. “See?”

Both guys took a few steps away from their bikes, closing the distance between us. “Okay, old man. If that’s the way you want it, fine with me. You have now pissed me off, and that’s something you didn’t want to do.” He reached into his pocket and removed a switchblade, which he opened in one fluid movement. “Now I’m gonna take everything; your money, your bike and your clothes. You and your naked, wrinkled old ass can crawl on home, for all I care. And say another word and that ain’t all I’m taking.”

“Young man, you have greatly disappointed me, which makes me sad. And on a beautiful morning like this, I hate being sad.” I laid the bike down gently in the grass. I straightened up slowly, holding my shoulder. “You boys will have to give me a moment. My arthritis flares up in the morning. The ironic thing is that about the time I can finally move around comfortably, it’s time for bed.”

The two guys looked at each other and in that second I took two quick steps forward and planted my foot upward into the crotch of fur hat. The knife immediately dropped from his hand as he crumbled to the ground, followed by the sound of retching. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as he lost consciousness. I reached down, picked up the knife, closed and pocketed it. Cap guy’s good eye got real wide as he stared at his buddy. The one on the ground was obviously the leader, and with him incapacitated, he was at a loss.

I heard movement behind me and spun around just in time to see another of the group lower his head and charge. He was big but not particularly agile. I stepped to the side, grabbed his ears and pulled his head down, while bringing my knee up. His nose relocated to the right side of his face while simultaneously gushing blood. He curled up in the fetal position and then joined his buddy in dreamland. Cap guy looked at his friends and then picked up a tree limb. The other guy sprinted off into the woods.

“Well, son, it looks like it’s just the two of us. Now I’m going to make you an offer, which you can obviously decline. The first thing you need to do is put down the stick. You might think it gives you an advantage, but the truth is, it’s not going to help. As a matter of fact, you will probably spend an embarrassing couple of hours in the ER having it removed.

“Now I assume you boys have some sort of vehicle parked nearby, provided your fleet-footed friend doesn’t take off in it. After you put that stick down, go get it. I’m guessing it’s in the parking lot I just passed. They should be awake by then. This young man here should probably see an ENT. The other one should be fine in a day or two, although he probably won’t ride his bike for a while. I recommend a cushy seat.”

The kid dropped the stick. “Anything you say, mister.”

“Good. Now go see to your friends”

As he took off to get their vehicle I took care of a few things myself and then got back on my bike. As I started down the path I heard a high-pitched groan followed by, “Where are my pants?”

I smiled to myself and realized that my shoulder didn’t hurt anymore. Time to head over to Rosie’s for more coffee.

Writers talk about the editing I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"When I finished writing my novel, I knew there were problems, but I couldn't pin them down. Like most writers, I had become too close to my writing to see objectively. My friends were more concerned about my feelings than being helpful. Realizing I needed a pair of experienced eyes, I sent my manuscript to Ray Rhamey. When I received it back, I was simply amazed.

Apart from his fantastic editing work, Ray gave me an intensive and comprehensive lesson on writing. He improved the pace of my story, pointed out errors in grammar, plot, and point of view. His critique was honest, encouraging, and straightforward. Ray does not hold back.

I recommend Ray to all serious writers in search of keen eyes to dissect their manuscripts and make them the best they can be."    David Junior

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

Add a Comment
5. New books from Indie publishers

Hey, if you buy one of these books, let us know how it was--I haven't read them, the information is provided by the authors.

Indie-bookself-200W

LeRoy cover200W

The Fountain of the Earth by H. L. LeRoy

After witnessing the horrific murder of her mother, fifteen-year-old Terra Vonn has a singular focus—exacting revenge on the killers. But before she can complete her plan, savagery intervenes, and she is cast alone into a brutal post-apocalyptic world. As she trails the murderers south—through a land filled with cannibalistic criminals, slave traders, and lunatics—the hunter becomes the hunted. Terra quickly learns that she is not as tough or as brave as she thought she was. Worse, she may be the only one who stands between what little remains of civilization and destruction.

Cohen cover200W

FUTURE TENSE by LJ Cohen

Ten years ago his parents died in a fire he predicted but couldn't prevent. Now seventeen year old Matt tries to stay out of trouble until he ages out of foster care. All he wants is to be left alone so he won't be tortured by someone's future he's powerless to change. But his plans fail when he interrupts an attack on Amara, a girl from his school. Despite his attempts to push her away, he can't ignore their connection. That's when Amara's dangerous future invades the present, giving Matt something to lose again . . . and something to fight for.

 

 

Want your book or featured on FtQ? If you'd like your independently published book featured on the FtQ Indie Bookshelf, email as attachments:

  1. a 100-word summary
  2. a graphic of the book cover
  3. a link where you'd like readers to go

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
6. Flogometer for Kelsey: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Kelsey sends the first chapter of Shadows.

Bryndis swept the loose hay off the hard packed dirt of the entrance to her family’s home. The sun shone meekly through the clouds like the little rabbit she saw in the bushes in front of the hay stacks. The world was silent.

“Bryn!” Her neighbour Alrik grabbed her waist behind her and she swatted his legs with her broom.

“Have you been down to the village today,” she asked to distract herself from much stronger his arms looked. If she only spoke of mundane things she didn’t get quite so flustered.

Her childhood friend picked up the second broom to help her sweep. “Yes, I brought fish to sell but more importantly,” he paused for effect and raised his eyebrows, “there are traders coming from the south in less than a week’s time.”

“Do we know what they’re bringing? I don’t know why they would come here, the village provides for itself.”

Alrik leaned against a wooden beam and sighed. “Trade isn’t just about need. Don’t you want to see how other people live? There must be so much out there that is more wonderful and beautiful that our little farms and village.”

Bryn tapped her fingers on her broom. “I have to get back to work. I will be at the village in a day or two for some fish.” She reached out her other hand and took Alrik’s broom. A large (snip)

Would you turn Kelsey's first page?

It’s good to open with something happening, and there’s a firm grasp of the world and characters. But what does happen? A woman/girl sweeps a floor and her neighbor comes over—set-up. For me, there were no story questions raised. While there are traders coming, that’s days away. For my money, start later, after the traders have come and she sneaks out of her home to run away with Alrik to go with the traders. That’s when the story begins. Notes:

Bryndis swept the loose hay off the hard-packed dirt of the entrance to her family’s home. The sun shone meekly through the clouds like the little rabbit she saw in the bushes in front of the hay stacks. The world was silent. “she saw” is a little filter that distances the reader, not needed

“Bryn!” Her neighbour Alrik grabbed her waist from behind her and she swatted her neighbor’s his legs with her broom. proofread before submtting works to avoid missing words

“Have you been down to the village today?” she asked to distract herself from how much stronger his arms looked. If she only spoke of mundane things she didn’t get quite so flustered. stronger than what? her arms? proofread before submtting works to avoid missing words and incorrect punctuation (the missing "?")

Her childhood friend picked up the second broom to help her sweep. “Yes, I brought fish to sell but more importantly,” he paused for effect and raised his eyebrows, “there are traders coming from the south in less than a week’s time.” the reference to a childhood friend is a bit forced. Look for a place later to weave in more naturally. Note that there's no need to tell the reader that there's a pause when just showing the raised eyebrows creates a natural pause.

“Do we know what they’re bringing? I don’t know why they would come here, the village provides for itself.”

Alrik leaned against a wooden beam and sighed. “Trade isn’t just about need. Don’t you want to see how other people live? There must be so much out there that is more wonderful and beautiful that our little farms and village.”

Bryn tapped her fingers on her broom. “I have to get back to work. I will be at the village in a day or two for some fish.” She reached out her other hand and took Alrik’s broom. A large (snip) Why would she go to the village for fish when Alrick, right next door, has fish to sell? A logic problem.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-black wings

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

Add a Comment
7. Flogometer for Theresa: would you turn the first page?


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

Submissions wanted.

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.

Theresa sends the first chapter of She Slid Off Her Cracker. No permission to share the full chapter.

John bolted up the stairs to the lobby of The Lakes Condominiums. His hands were shaking badly as he reached the lobby door to insert the key. He ran up the three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator to the condominium. Louise had asked him to meet her at their rental property because she wanted to show him something. Her voice sounded shaky and strange on the phone when he spoke to her and it made him feel uneasy during the drive over. “What if she knew?” However, he dismissed the thought by the time he arrived at the building. He reached into his pocket for the keys to the door, pulled out the ring then curses. The door key is missing. He starts patting the pockets on his jacket and pants for the missing key, thinking it may have fallen off.

He begins knocking on the door but no one answers. “Maybe she’s not here yet,” he muttered to himself aloud. He puts his ear to the door and detects the faint sound of music coming from inside. He starts pounding hard on the door shouting, “Louise I know you’re in there open this damn door!” What the hell is the matter with her? Is she deaf or just playing with his head, John thought? He listens at the door again, waiting to hear if his wife is coming to the door, but all he hears is the muffled sound of the music playing in the background.

He raised his leg thinking he will kick the door down, as he saw done on Cops. He leans back a little to brace himself for the impact, and then midway he realizes the door is made of (snip)

Would you turn Theresa's first page?

Well, this does open with action and tension in the character. There’s a little bit of a story question in “What if she knew?” but, since we don’t know what he’s thinking of, it doesn’t have much power. If the narrative revealed that he’s thinking of an affair he had, the tension level would br stronger. For me, there's not enough in the story. The writing needs work, too—there’s some overwriting, change of tenses, and things that need to be worked on. I read on and, while things do get interesting, the writing stays the same—not ready for submission yet. But there’s a story here, so keep working on it. Notes:

John bolted up the stairs to the lobby of The Lakes Condominiums. His hands were shaking badly as he reached the lobby door to insert the key. He ran up the three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator to the condominium. Louise had asked him to meet her at their rental property because she wanted to show him something. Her voice had sounded shaky and strange on the phone when he spoke to her and it had made him feel uneasy during the drive over. “What if she knew?” However, he dismissed the thought by the time he arrived at the building. He reached into his pocket for the keys to the door, pulled out the his key ring and then curses. The door key is missing. He starts patting the pockets on his jacket and pants for the missing key, thinking it may have fallen off.  Running up stairs and then running up stairs seems repetitive to me—cut to the chase. Telling us he reaches into his pocket is overwriting—just have him pull the keys out. I cut the part about patting for the key as I’ve never had a key come off of a key ring and it doesn’t seem plausible that he would think that.

He begins knocking knocks on the door but no one answers. “Maybe she’s not here yet,” he mutters muttered to himself aloud. He puts his ear to the door and hears detects the faint sound of music coming from inside. He starts pounding hard pounds on the door and shouts shouting, “Louise, I know you’re in there, open this damn door!” What the hell is the matter with her? Is she deaf or just playing with his head, John thought? He listens at the door again, waiting to hear if his wife is coming to the door, but all he hears is the muffled sound of the music playing in the background.There’s no point in having him listen again—since nothing happens, it just slows the story.

He raised raises his leg, thinking he will kick the door down, as he saw done on Cops. He leans back a little to brace himself for the impact, and then midway he realizes the door is made of (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-Blue-Stone

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 Theresa

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8. New YA books look good

Over at Huffpost is an article on “This Spring’s Hottest Teen Books.” There are a number of YA writers who submit to FtQ and, I suspect, a number who also read YA novels—I’m one of them. I enjoyed The Hunger Games and then the Divergent series.

These new books are not all dystopian fiction—the range is wide, from dragons to humor, from sports to dystopian worlds. To quote from the article:

A devastating tale of greed and secrets, a weirdly compelling novel about the end of the world (and voracious giant praying mantises) and a novel about a brutal game called Panic that teens play for a chance to escape their dead-end town. They are all among the most talked-about teen novels being released this spring (and they’re all really well-written, to boot—most of these books have received the coveted Kirkus star).

I, for one, will be checking out the reviews that are linked from the slide show.

CALL FOR INDIE BOOKS

Indie-bookself-200WWant to promote your book or books on FtQ? I'd like to start a new Monday FtQ feature, the FtQ Indie Bookshelf--ebooks and print books welcome. If you'd like your independently published book featured, email as attachments:

  1. a 100-word summary
  2. a graphic of the book cover
  3. a link where you'd like readers to go

For what it’s worth,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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9. Flogometer for Nishita: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Nishita sends the first chapter of Perfect Mate. No permission to share the full chapter.

‘He is not coming beta….it is time to go home’ said Mrs. Shah. Neha heard her mother’s soothing voice but couldn’t believe the words. She sat hunched on a chair with a red velvet cushion; the makeup painstakingly applied by the ladies at Heena Salon so resilient to hours of sweat had ultimately lost its battle to a constant stream of tears. Most of the guests had left after some internal wrangling over the protocols of dining at a wedding that didn’t happen. It had started pouring outside now. The rain hit the roof with a sharp rat-tat-tat. Like a bunker under attack.

Earlier that day, Neha and her parents sat cross-legged around a pious fire on a wooden mandap supported by four pillars draped in red chiffon at the center of ShreeJee Hall for the pooja ceremony. This was the fifth pooja of the morning by her last estimation. Neha’s father had proposed an abbreviated version, but Mrs. Shah wouldn’t hear any of it. So they listened dutifully as the pandit recited chants to appease the planets. Most people had a family doctor; the Shah’s had a family priest. Mahesh Bhai had officiated at the weddings of the previous three generations of their clan. Her husband’s suggestions of procuring someone with a cheaper rate were vehemently opposed by Mrs. Shah. ‘His presence is so lucky for us. See how everyone in our family has had successful marriages. My sister tried to act smart by getting a new fellow for her daughter and see what happened… divorce in a year!’ Now as Neha watched the elderly Mahesh Bhai wheeze from the smoke and cover his coughs with a trembling hand, she hoped enough of his luck would rub off on him to not leave in a stretcher.

Would you turn Nishita's first page?

Yes, the narrative slips into backstory in the second paragraph, but a couple of things balance that ordinarily not-effective practice. The first is the—for this American reader—exotic world and culture that I was being invited into. The second was the last line on the page, the one about luck rubbing off so he would not leave in a stretcher—it promised a voice and an underlying sense of humor. So I was willing to give it a little more time. Notes:

‘He is not coming beta….it is time to go home’ said Mrs. Shah. Neha heard her mother’s soothing voice but couldn’t believe the words. She sat hunched on a chair with a red velvet cushion; the makeup painstakingly applied by the ladies at Heena Salon so resilient to hours of sweat had ultimately lost its battle to a constant stream of tears. Most of the guests had left after some internal wrangling over the protocols of dining at a wedding that didn’t happen. It had started pouring outside now. The rain hit the roof with a sharp rat-tat-tat. Like a bunker under attack. I didn’t know what to make of “beta.” Didn’t communicate anything to me. I think you mean “resistant” rather than “resilient.”

Earlier that day, Neha and her parents had sat cross-legged around a pious fire on a wooden mandap supported by four pillars draped in red chiffon at the center of ShreeJee Hall for the pooja ceremony. This was the fifth pooja of the morning by her last estimation. Neha’s father had proposed an abbreviated version, but Mrs. Shah wouldn’t hear any of it. So they listened dutifully as the pandit recited chants to appease the planets. Most people had a family doctor; the Shahs had a family priest. Mahesh Bhai had officiated at the weddings of the previous three generations of their clan. Her husband’s suggestions of procuring someone with a cheaper rate were vehemently opposed by Mrs. Shah. ‘His presence is so lucky for us. See how everyone in our family has had successful marriages. My sister tried to act smart by getting a new fellow for her daughter and see what happened… divorce in a year!’ Now, as Neha watched the elderly Mahesh Bhai wheeze from the smoke and cover his coughs with a trembling hand, she hoped enough of his luck would rub off on him to not leave in a stretcher.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-NobodyKnows

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 Nishita

Add a Comment
10. Flogometer for Holly: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Holly sends a short story, The Decapitation of Roxy Wolff. The story continues after the fold.

The piano bar was a few blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard, on Fairfax and Fountain. Dark and intimate, with overstuffed dark green booths and a mahogany bar, it was the favorite of movie mucky-mucks. Those who wanted to show off, the Flynn’s, Ava’s, and Lana’s were all down on Sunset at the Mocambo. The ones who wanted a quiet drink were here. As I stepped through the door, a short man with gray hair combed straight back and wire framed glasses brushed past me.

“Louie,” I said.

He nodded. “Krag.”

It was Louie of the MGM Louie’s. I’d helped one of his major female stars out of more than a sticky situation. Most of us don’t mind waking up on top of a starlet once in a while. But his star had awakened on top of one of the dead kind. Then she ran naked out of the Chateau Marmont onto Sunset Boulevard. Since movie stars, lesbians, and the scandal magazines could be career ending, I was the one Louie called after the police picked her up. After fixing it, I felt he owed me one for sure. Eventually, I was going to collect.

Me? I was there to meet an old friend. An executive at Fox, she had been accused of murdering a screenwriter in a particularly gruesome fashion. Unfortunately, the news I had to give her was bad, very bad.

Would you turn Holly's first page?

Okay, with a last line on the page like that, how could you not turn the page? Nicely done, Holly. I might tinker with punctuation and the opening chapter a little, but it’s nit-picky stuff. The story continues after the break. Comments help the writer.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-allahs revenge

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 Holly

She was standing near the almost empty dance floor in a tight, red satin dress. I took a breath. Everything about Roxy fit together just right and all the parts worked in perfect unison.

 “Hi Krag.”

“Roxy. I was worried you wouldn’t show.”

“You know I’ll show for you. This is a date?”

“It is.”

“Bullshit,” Roxy said, gently moving her hips to the riffs on the piano. “Honestly. You’re so full of shit, you know?”

Green eyes sparkling under thick, black lashes, she reached for my hand. “Dance with me.”

I shook my head but she pulled me out onto the parquet anyway. Slipping into my arms, her waves of raven hair brushed my cheek as her No. 5 started to knot me up inside. I could feel the slickness of her skin under the satin.

“See? Easy.”

The Chanel continued to curl around me, ruining my composure.

I looked at her and started to say something but clamped my mouth shut instead.

“Yes, I know,” she said.

We had moved slowly against each other on the dance floor for a few minutes when she leaned close to me and put her lips against my ear.

“What do you want?” she whispered.

“You.”

“I know.” She twirled her tongue on the edge of my earlobe. “Besides that.”

“I don’t have good news.”

Roxy stopped moving and I saw her eyes start to glisten as she stepped back from me.

“I don’t want to hear it. It’s all bullshit.” She turned away, and then turned back to me, tears running down her cheeks. “Why did you have to spoil it?”

“I’m sorry.”

“You ought to be.”

She stood looking at me for a moment. “Bastard.”

Brushing past me, she walked through the crowd and out into the night.

I never saw her again.

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11. Writing from character

I came across an interesting Huffpost post by Karen Dionne titled "When Characters Talk, Writers Listen." What was interesting about is that Karen wrote her first two novels by plotting first, and then creating chracters to fit the situation.

But then a character came to her, appearing in her mind, talking to her, telling her a story. Now Karen is writing a new novel that begins with the character and discovers the story from there. She quotes from Sandra Kring, author of five novels including the bestselling The Book of Bright Ideas:

I really do believe that when we hear our characters speaking to us... when we sit down and the story comes in an effortless flow, it simply means that our right brain has taken over the task completely. I can always tell which books have been written by someone's right brain, or left brain, or if it was a co-effort. Those written from the subconscious have a different feel to them. A flow that feels organic. Effortless.

I call this the "writer's mind" -- that magical place in the subconscious where our creative ideas, our stories, come from.

There's more food for thought. I recommend a visit.

For what it's worth,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
12. Flogometer for Patricia: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Patricia sends the first chapter of a novel, Moon Over Alcatraz. The chapter continues after the fold.

Coulter’s footsteps barely made a sound on the hardwood floor. Diana heard him pull back the sheet and felt the bed tilt downward. She turned over, spooned her body around him, and draped her arm over his waist, breathing in his freshly showered scent of Axe body gel. She slid her fingers through the thick hair on his chest, then caressed him just below the navel, moving her hand slowly downward.

His exhalation of breath was loud enough to tell her what she didn’t want to hear - again.

“Hard night, honey?” Diana slid her hand a few inches lower, just in case. Maybe she’d read him wrong. Maybe she’d heard him sigh. Maybe it was a sexual moan, a release of tension. She could hope, couldn’t she? That today would be different. That this morning he’d turn over and look at her the way he used to. How long had it been since that had happened?

“Don’t,” he mumbled.

One hurtful word that hung in the air like a sour description of their current sex life.

 “Ohhh,” she breathed out in one elongated syllable.

She kept telling herself he was tired. But every single time?

That she should stop trying. But he was her husband.

That she should just wait for him to initiate sex. But it had been months.

She’d been shrugging it off and shrugging it off. Chalking it up to exhaustion, bad timing, (snip)

Would you turn Patricia's first page?

Clean writing, good voice, an immediate scene, immediate conflict, immediate problems in a relationship—all good. I think the opening paragraph could be crisper, but the page worked to get me to turn it. A few notes:

Coulter’s footsteps barely made a sound on the hardwood floor. Diana turned over when he pulled back the sheet and then felt the bed tilted downward. She turned over, spooned her body around him and draped her arm over his waist, breathing in his freshly showered scent of Axe body gel. She slid her fingers through the thick hair on his chest, then caressed him just below the navel, moving her hand slowly downward. A wee bit of filtering (heard, felt). It always distracts me when a brand name is mentioned—why?

His exhalation of breath was loud enough to tell her what she didn’t want to hear - again. I wonder if "sigh" would give a quicker, clearer sense of what's happening than "exhalation"

“Hard night, honey?” Diana slid her hand a few inches lower, just in case. Maybe she’d read him wrong. Maybe she’d heard him sigh. Maybe it was a sexual moan, a release of tension. She could hope, couldn’t she? That today would be different. That this morning he’d turn over and look at her the way he used to. How long had it been since that had happened?

“Don’t,” he mumbled.

One hurtful word that hung in the air like a sour description of their current sex life.

 “Ohhh,” she breathed out in one elongated syllable.

She kept telling herself he was tired. But every single time?

That she should stop trying. But he was her husband.

That she should just wait for him to initiate sex. But it had been months.

She’d been shrugging it off and shrugging it off. Chalking it up to exhaustion, bad timing, (snip)

The rest of the chapter follows the break.  If you read it, remember that comments help the writer.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-MotherDaughter

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 Patricia

(continued) too early in the morning, too late at night.

But it was getting harder and harder to fool herself.

She unfurled her body from his, sat up and stared at the back of his head. It used to be Coulter’s avid sex drive that kept their lovemaking active. Exactly when had that stopped? Had something precipitated her husband’s “cold shoulder”?

She threaded her fingers through the soft dark hair at the nape of his neck. “Honey?’

 He rolled over and looked up at her.

 “Is something wrong?” she whispered.

He let out a deep breath and shifted his eyes to the ceiling.

“We used to make love all the time, Coult.”

“I’m dead tired.”

“I understand that but--”

He moved his body into an upright position like a film in slow motion and turned toward her. “No, Diana, I don’t think you do. I just got off a three-day shift. I haven’t slept. Could you cut me a break?”

Diana held his gaze, tears edging toward the corners of her eyes.

“Jesus. Don’t start crying. Enough with the drama already.”

Her bottom lip dropped, leaving her mouth part-way open. His words, stuffed with sarcasm, stung her heart like a taser. She couldn’t believe how cold-hearted he was being. “Not everyone’s as stoic as you, Coulter. Not everyone hides their emotions behind a mask of indifference. I understand you don’t like to analyze or get all ‘touchy-feely’. But I don’t even know who you are anymore. What happened to you?”

His left eyebrow quirked upward. “Life happened. Work. Kids. Bills. Whatever.”

“I feel like there’s an elephant in the room.”

He tilted his head upward and let out an exaggerated groan. “What’re you talking about?”

“You say you’re tired but I think that’s just an excuse not to make love to me.”

He opened his mouth to speak.

“Please, Coult. Let me finish.”

He dropped his gaze and fiddled with the edge of the blanket.

“I don’t expect us to have the same active sex life we had when we were newlyweds. That was almost twenty years ago. But sometime, I don’t know when, last year maybe...” She shrugged. “You lost interest in making love. I was never the one who initiated sex, but I started to, and I still try. But you reject me most of the time. You say you’re too tired, but that never stopped you in the past. Is there something I can do to make you want me again?”

Coulter shook his head slowly side to side, his concentration focused on wrapping the edge of the sheet around his thumb then unwrapping it. “Last summer the county changed our schedule to three-days on, two days off, remember?”

“Of course I remember. You voted for it, didn’t you?”

He looked up at her. “Yeah. Because it lets me have a second job.”

“You’re a hard worker, Coulter, and a great provider. Thank you for that.”

“Every night it’s something. Like last night. Three in the morning. We had to cut this guy out of his Ferrari. The CHP said he was probably going over a hundred miles an hour. Lost control. Smashed into an SUV. Totaled his Ferrari.”

“What about the SUV?”

“Mom dead. Eight year old girl dead.”

“Did you have to use the Jaws of Life?”

“Yeah, on the guy in the Ferrari. But there wasn’t anything we could do for him. He was a goner before we got there.”

Diana reached out and cupped his chin in her hand. “I could never do what you do every day, baby.”

He sat up straight, edging backward a bit, and Diana’s hand slipped off his face onto the bed.

“I take extra shifts, build cabinets. To make ends meet. Jesus, Diana, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water.”

“I’m working too, Coult. I bring in more than half of what you make.”

“And we’re barely making it.”

Diana made a sweeping gesture with her hands. “I’ve told you a million times, we don’t need all this.”

“It’s expensive to live in Piedmont.”

“I never wanted to move here.”

“What did you want then? To live in a one-bedroom apartment with two screaming kids?”

She shook her head. “I never said that. But we didn’t have to move to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the Bay Area either.”

“All the guys live around here. We can afford it, but I’ve gotta work my ass off. I’m doing it for our family. So our kids can go to good schools, have a better life than I did growing up.”

“We don’t need this huge house or the Lexus or your huge truck or the private schools or the swimming pool, gardener, hand-crafted furniture. No one asked for all this.”

His eyes widened, blazing. “But you sure as hell enjoy all of it!”

She touched the back of his hand with her fingertips and he pulled away.

Rebuffed. Again.

She wanted to cry but dammit, she didn’t want to hear him tell her to knock off the “drama”, and she was determined to finish this conversation and come to a mutual understanding. “I need you. The kids need you. More than we need all the shit your money can buy. Don’t you get it?”

Silence blared between them. Birds chirped outside. A dog barked then a cat screeched in the distance. The clock at the side of the bed ticked away the seconds while she waited.

“What do you want from me? I’m doing the best I can to give you and the kids the kind of life you deserve.”

His job as a firefighter in Oakland, at one of the busiest stations in the Bay Area, was backbreaking work, physically, mind-fracturing work, emotionally. People died. Firefighters got injured, sometimes killed, battling the ferocious infernos. They all fought their damnedest to save human lives but it wasn’t without its downside.

“I want to spend more time with you. Go out on dates like we used to. Have Sunday dinners together as a family. Remember how it was when the kids were younger?”

“Of course I remember. Wet diapers, vomit, diarrhea, colds, spit-up, crying. How could I forget?”

“Unbelievable.” She shook her head side to side. “That’s all you remember?”

“Was it any different for you? You’re the one who stayed home with ‘em. What’s your list of fond memories?”

“I remember on your day off we’d take the kids to Tilden Park, ride the miniature train. Or we’d go to Ocean Beach and collect shells. We had lots of good times, and I still love those kinds of spontaneous things. Just get out, do something different and fun, you know?”

“That was years ago.”

“Exactly my point. Everyday life got in the way. Years flew by. I can’t believe our son is eighteen years old. I want that emotional connection back, Coult. The one we had before life got in the way.”

“Maybe in a couple of years things will even out.”

“No. We have to make time now. I can take on more clients. We don’t need a gardener. I don’t need a brand-new Lexus. The kids can go to public schools. We hardly ever use the pool anyway.” She paused, tried to get centered, focused. “You and I have drifted apart. I want us to be close again. And you need to get to know your kids. They feel alienated from you.”

Diana was well aware how lucky she was to be able to work from home. Each precious day she got to listen to the snippets of personal information dropped like chocolate chips by her two kids, like Hansel and Gretel, along their path to adulthood. They told her about their classes, tests, friends, movies, whatever.

Every day she read in the newspaper about teens running away from home, hooked on drugs, moving out right after high school to get away from their parents. So, although Shayne and Meg were both busy with school and friends, at the end of the day they came home, slept in their own beds, safe and sound. For that Diana was grateful. And she sincerely believed Coulter’s relationship with his children would benefit from the extra time he’d have with them if she worked a little bit more and he gave up his second job.

His mouth worked side to side, his face pulled into a frown.

“Please listen to me, Coulter. At fourteen, Meg needs your attention. More than Shayne does at eighteen, for sure. If you continue down this same road, year after year, arguing with Shayne, trying to get him to acquiesce to your demands, you’re going to lose her. Your relationship with Meg is tenuous at best. It’s been months since you two spent time together. She’s probably given up hope things will ever change, and I hate to see that happening.”

He looked up at her, his expression inscrutable. Had she gotten through to him at all?

“I miss you so much,” she whispered. “Make love to me. Let’s make a baby.”

He reached out, quicker than a viper, grabbed her just above the wrist, his fingers pressed against her gold bracelet.

Coulter had given her that precious piece of jewelry for their tenth anniversary and a flashback clouded her vision - of the night he clasped it around her wrist. They’d been giddy in love back then. During dinner at Petronico’s Restaurant,he’d reached across the table, took her left hand, pulled it to his lips, and kissed the back of her fingers. Shivers ran up and down her spine and the tiny hairs on her arms stood straight up. Years ago he could make her want him at the drop of a hat and all she had to do was nip his earlobe. When had that stopped? She couldn’t even remember.

His hand squeezed tighter, the bracelet biting the tender skin of the underside of her arm.

“You’re still on the pill, right?”

She pulled back as if she’d been slapped. Did he actually think she would try to conceive a baby without talking to him first?

His grip tightened.

“You’re hurting me.”

“Tell me the truth!”

She tried to wrench her arm out of his grasp but the pressure of his fingers increased.

He’d never acted this way before and he was scaring her. “Of course I’m on the pill. What the hell’s wrong with you?” She tugged again, and he opened his hand, releasing her.

She scrambled backward toward the head board, rubbed her arm, and looked down. Dark pink streaks in the shape of his fingers stained her forearm, reminding her of Freddy Krueger’s victims. This was becoming her personal Nightmare on Elm Street.

Diana ever so slowly slid her gaze away from the already puffy stripes on her arm. She looked into Coulter’s staring-right-through-her hazel eyes. “Now that you’ve brought up the subject, I’ve been on the pill for years. It makes me swell up like a whale. I’ve gained more than twenty pounds since Shayne was born. It’s about time I went off it.”

Throwing back the covers like they were burning his flesh, he jumped out of bed, turned and planted his fists on the edge of the mattress and leaned toward her.

She cringed. The look on his face at that moment--she could swear he hated her guts. And that hurt. A lot.

“Didn’t we just have a discussion about how much I have to work? How you need me. The kids need me,” he spit out, the words spewing out like venom.

He reached for his jeans on the floor and stuffed one leg in, then the other, and wrenched up the zipper. “I want to retire at fifty. That’s eleven years from now. I don’t want to be working my ass off to send a third kid to college when I’m seventy years old, for Christ sake.”

Diana chewed on her bottom lip. She needed to tell him about the last conversation she had with her mother. Her parents wanted the four of them to sit down over dinner the next time they were in California to discuss the matter, but now Diana didn’t want to wait. This would surely change his mind.

“My mom called me the other day. They want to disburse most of my inheritance before they pass away. They’d like to discuss the details next time they come for a visit.”

Coulter didn’t blink. He stood motionless for several seconds while that same left eyebrow crept toward his hairline. “And?”

“The money I’d get would more than pay for the kids’ college education. Meg’s and Shayne’s and . . . a third child’s. And you could retire whenever you want.” She smiled but he was no longer looking in her direction.

His gaze had slid to the window at the other side of the room and he shook his head. “No.”

Whoa! He’d just dumped a huge bucket of water on her wishful flame, extinguishing her dream forever. “I don’t understand. I only have one sister. All my life I dreamed of having a big family. We talked about this before we got married. You said you wanted to have lots of kids too. If this is all about money then my parents just solved the problem.”

Diana closed her eyes for a second, trying to make sense of their conversation. Did Coulter’s response truly have anything to do with having a third child? Her parents were offering them a way to have more time to share together as husband and wife, as well as a family, and he showed no interest at all in discussing how that might change their lives for the better.

Given his tenuous relationship with Shayne and Meg, maybe that was the reason he didn’t want any more children, though he’d never mentioned it. He wasn’t the most sensitive person in the world. After the kids reached their teen years, communication with their father was infrequent at best and most times would be defined as altercations as opposed to interactions. But was Coulter perceptive enough to have noticed?

Maybe he just wasn’t attracted to her anymore.

She had to be totally honest with herself. Her dull brown hair hung like a lackluster sheet, parted in the middle, no bangs, making her forehead appear too long. She’d gained twenty pounds since giving birth to Meg fourteen years ago. Add to that the extra pounds after she had Shayne eighteen years ago. Almost twenty-five pounds!

Maybe it was just her. Period. Maybe Coulter was just making up excuses for not wanting to have sex with her.

She laid on her side and watched her husband of almost twenty years lace up his sneakers. She stared at the back of his head as he ignored her. Acted as if she wasn’t there. Invisible.

She was envious that his dark brown hair had no gray amongst the thick strands waving toward the nape of his neck. Unlike her hair. Maybe she could have several inches cut off, spiff it up a little with highlights, get rid of the few (hah!) gray hairs wending through the muddy brown strands.

Taryn could give her the name of her “body re-constructionist” as well. Diana couldn’t believe that was what her sister called the young, buff, good-looking-as-hell fitness guru she paid to come to her apartment five days a week in the city. What was his name? Something totally corny. Oh yeah, Bruno.

When Diana thought of the name Bruno she didn’t conjure up a beefy hunk. She summoned an image of Bruno Mars singing “Locked Out of Heaven.” She pictured Mars crooning to her while forcing her to lift weights or running at her side for three miles.

Yeah, right. She had a hard time jogging one mile without hyperventilating. Then she’d collapse on the couch with a Coke, which voided the calories she’d burned off from exercise.

But Coulter? He kept himself in tip-top shape. Talk about “abs of steel”. His arms and legs were firm and muscled. His waist cut in, his butt was taut. All the guys at Engine 9 treated their bodies like temples, working out on the top-of-the-line gym equipment provided by the city of Oakland; pumping iron, running laps around the wide expanse of property surrounding the firehouse. Coulter was a stone-cold fox. Ever since she’d first set eyes on him at her parents’ house when their kitchen caught fire way back when, his looks hadn’t changed much.

However, she sure didn’t look anything like his budding bride.

Coulter stood and grabbed the keys off the night table.

“You just got home. I thought you were tired. Why don’t you lie down and I’ll give you a back rub?”

He bowed his head and fiddled with his keys, turned, and walked to the bedroom door. Didn’t turn around. Wouldn’t face her. Just stood there while she stared at his back. She felt like a little kid in trouble with Daddy. But she’d done nothing wrong.

“Can’t we talk, Coult? You seem so angry.”

“Be happy with the kids you have, Diana, ’cause this is it.”

“When did you decide that two kids was the limit?”

He took another step.

“Wait! Coult, I want to understand. I need to understand. What changed your mind?”

“We’ll talk about this later,” he mumbled as he walked out of the room.

Crap! Sometimes she felt her life sucked the big egg. On the outside most people would be envious, but on the inside? Misunderstood by her husband, two kids who never talked to their dad about anything but chores.

She sighed. She missed the days when Coulter would come home from the firehouse early in the morning. They’d snuggle or make love before he took a nap. He’d tell her stories about his work. She’d talk about the kids. Plus she missed the days when Shayne and Meg were young and the focal point of her existence. She wanted something more exciting than editing her client’s novels.

At this stage of the game, when Shayne and Meg and Coulter were going every which way but home, where was the zing? It didn’t appear Coulter thought it was his job to bring any zing back into her life. They were no longer on the same page.

But was “zing” a misnomer?

Did she really mean “love?”

After she told him she loved him this morning, had he said it back? She couldn’t recall every word of their conversation but she didn’t think so.

Something was wrong with this picture.

Something had tainted the picture last year.

What had happened?

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13. Flogometer for Deborah: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Deborah sends a prologue & first chapter of a YA  novel, Vision.

Prologue

Eight Years Ago

The weary moan of an ancient floorboard jolted us awake. We rushed to our daughter, hopefully snoozing soundly and not perilously sleepwalking as she had so often before. When we reached her doorway and saw the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face we relaxed-until noise stabbed through the brief quiet of a lull in the raging storm. An intruder was stealthily opening drawers and cabinets downstairs.

“I’m getting my gun”, I declared to my wife Lara who was huddled next to me with our daughter Shelby, now awake and taking cover behind the legion of fluffy stuffed animals shielding her bed. My Glock 17 sidearm was, as usual when I was home, locked in my biometric gun safe in the master bedroom. Jackhammer heavy rain pounded the concrete moat surrounding our normally safe brownstone.

I knew from experience, someone brazen enough to come into an occupied house in the middle of the night would have no difficulty killing. I silently berated myself for not having the foresight to grab my weapon when we first heard the noise. I should’ve known better.

“Jack, please don’t”, Lara said clutching my pajama shirt sleeve. “What if they hear you? Maybe they think we aren’t home and they’ll take what they want and leave.” Lara was sitting on her knees, her pale bare feet tucked under her small frame, her long, silky, chocolate colored hair pulled back into a ponytail for sleeping.

Would you turn Deborah's first page?

First Chapter

“Shelby, can you come down here please? We have some news!” My mother’s soprano voice vibrated with unconcealed excitement as she summoned me. I apathetically tossed my trigonometry homework down on my bed, and ambled down the steep, wooden stairs to where she and her boyfriend Michael were standing as one in the living room, shoulders touching, their fingers tightly intertwined. My mother wasn’t generally prone to theatrics, so I didn’t know what to expect.

“So, how was your day?” she practically sang as I reached the last step. Her blue eyes twinkled with a percolating secret about to bubble over.

“Seriously? I thought you had something to tell me?” I said as I assumed my most unaffected pose, leaning against the creaky old walnut banister. Both my hands were tucked into the front pocket of the fuzzy purple fleece that was working hard to keep me warm on this blustery January day.

Rather than roll her eyes at my teenage nonchalance as she normally would, she looked up at Michael, her junior by eleven years and flashed a toothy white smile. She turned back to me, holding her breath for effect for just a moment before thrusting her polished hand at me like a queen waiting for a kiss. On her delicate finger, she wore a beautiful square cut diamond ring, guarded with an army of glistening, blood-red rubies. 

Would you turn the chapter's first page?

In terms of story questions, I thought that the prologue had a chance—it’s an active scene, there is jeopardy ahead, and a nice family. The chapter opening, in terms of story, didn’t rise to the level of compelling—or, really, very interesting. We can deduce what is happening, but there’s no reason to think that an engagement ring creates a problem for the protagonist.

While there’s promise here, I felt that the writing hasn’t reached a publishable level yet, and that stayed my hand. There is overwriting and a lack of crispness that foreshadows an uneven read that will bog down now and then. I felt that there was an overuse of adjectives to describe, and that continued in the narrative that followed.

So keep at it, Deborah, but trim it down to the essence and keep the story moving. You do that well in the rest of the prologue, but the chapter soon became a lot of exposition and set-up. Get to the story.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-black wings

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 Deborah

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14. A DON'T

In a comment on a recent flogging, someone wrote "I hated the first sentence."

DON'T DO THAT!

I posted the following reply to this person's comment, but I feel that I need to share it to remind folks and tell newcomers what the "rules" are.

The basic rule is to never say these words: "I don't like (or, worse, hate) . . . " when critiquing. As I said in my reply to the commenter, that makes it personal and isn't helpful. Instead, say something like "That doesn't work for me because . . ."

Tell the truth, but constructively, and keep in mind that you're talking to a person, a stranger, who has invested time and talent and courage to create and submit their work.

Ray

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15. San Miguel Writers' Conference, the movie

Well, sort of a movie. A slide show from the Conference put together by photographer Charlotte Bell. You should visit her website--nice stuff.

You'll see the many keynote speakers, the opening night party, classes in session, the Fiesta party with its dancers and fireworks, and shots of the experience of the conference on the lovely grounds. I'm in this at about 4:54, a brief moment of a consultation session with a writer.

I recommend viewing it full screen. Enjoy.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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16. Flogometer for Bethany: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Bethany sends a revised first chapter of a YA  novel, Beauty, the Beast, and the Brother. The chapter continues after the fold.

If you had the misfortune of being the second born son of a king, life held very little promise of being interesting.

Everyone knew it was your brother, destined by fate to be king, who would play the leading role in all future tales. If there was a dragon threatening the realm, he would be the one to slay it. If a damsel needed rescuing, he would fly to her aid. Should evil forces loom, he would selflessly sacrifice himself for the good of people—and come out looking all the better for it.

Despite all this, Sebastian had always felt he had a pretty fair chance at an interesting life, being the youngest son and an orphan on top of that, until Lumpin pointed out that younger brothers only led interesting lives so long as their older brothers led dull ones and Anton had already gotten himself cursed and that pretty much ruined whatever chance Sebastian’s being an orphan had given him.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the world had not gotten considerably less interesting in the years since Anton’s curse. No one was speaking of wizards with any frequency—and the ones that did get dragged into conversation were almost always in conjecture with Medicinal Remedies for Warts. The Gilded Fairy who had been so keen on cursing the prince and ruining the lives of everyone else in the vicinity had apparently traded her wand for knitting needles, as she regularly failed to turn up in any of the most popular posts. And magic—real, useful (snip)

Would you turn Bethany's first page?

The writing is good and the voice strong and interesting, and this is clearly a world of magic that will be explored with a wry, tongue-in-cheek tone . . . on the other hand, this is also clearly an info-dump, the writer giving us a fairly complete telling of the world of the story. It continues, too, as the chapter goes on. There is an encounter with ruffians that contains conflict, but none of it seems related to the story, though I’m not sure of that because I ended the chapter approximately 4000 words later not knowing what the story was about. It follows the fold, and you’ll find humor, voice, and fun writing. I suggest that Bethany start her story much closer to the inciting incident and weave in all this world-building stuff while something meaningful and troublesome happens to the protagonist. No page turn from me, but I would like to see an opening that drops me into the story.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

The rest of the chapter follows--comments help the writer.

Design-Blue-Stone

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 Bethany

(Chapter continued)

magic—was a thing of the past.

Sebastian had just about resigned himself to believe the only interesting thing that would ever occur in his lifetime had taken place when his brother had been cursed and he had been too young to appreciate it.

Of course, to hear Lumpin, the faithful brownie who had served as butler at Arlington palace for generations, tell it, even the cursing had not been that interesting. Sebastian had no real first-hand knowledge, as he had been in his room at the time. At seven, he was considered too young to play dress-up and gorge himself on sweets with the party-goers. But according to Lumpin it was a quiet affair wherein Anton had spurned the love of some great and terrible fairy and she had cursed him and that was that. None of the dinner guest even missed dessert on account of it. Of course, as a brownie, Lumpin was inclined to be rather depressing, which might have subdued the narrative slightly.

There had been, recently, some floating rumors of a new wizard in the vicinity—one powerful enough, even, to bring the Lord and Lady of Draming home early from their trip across the sea. It was widely known just how much the Lady Draming feared wizardry of any kind (and from Sebastian’s limited experience, he couldn’t really blame her), so they had returned to their palace in the city, because everyone also knew there was a powerful enchantment on it that protected its occupants. The story had piqued Sebastian’s interest for a short time, until he mentioned it to Rudy, the shady pawnbroker who knew every rumor before it started.

Rudy snorted in derision. “If it’s magic my friend is interested in, I can find you much more interesting wizardry than that. Why, take for example this letter opener—a spell of the most delightful kind! Whoever uses it is guaranteed to never open a poisoned letter with their own hand! Or consider this powerful love potion, in the form of an ordinary key. Plain it seems, but as long as a young lady holds it, she will possess the deepest desires of at least one man’s heart. Or…or this ball!” Rudy held high a saggy, off-color blue lump about the size of child’s fist. He hesitated, then thrust it higher. “A cursed ball!” His arm sagged again, and he fumbled, “Said to…uh…”

Even Rudy couldn’t come up with a story for that one. Sebastian tactfully cleared his throat. “So…the wizard?”

Rudy sulked, but eventually admitted with a sniff, “The Lady fears this supposed wizard because he has been breaking into her gardens.”

After that, Sebastian stopped listening.

Not because he didn’t care for gardens. As it went, the Lady Draming had beautiful gardens, exactly the kind wizards would be interested in if they were interested in things like they. They weren’t quite as impressive as the ones Anton kept, with his glass houses that bloomed roses even when the snow kissed the frozen ground, but then the Lady didn’t have the luxury of being cursed, and her time was divided between various politics, which only left so many spare moments for planning her gardens.

There were about seven or eight of them throughout the city, each filled to the top of their stony walls mostly with roses, but also other exotic specimens that only the Lady of Draming was permitted to grow. Sebastian was well acquainted with them because he was the one breaking into them.

As far as he could tell, there was nothing worth any wizard breaking into the gardens for, but he supposed that some of the exotic flowers might provide rare ingredients in sinisterly powerful spells. To tell the truth, he didn’t much care. His interest in the gardens was purely coincidental. He went there because that was where all the young ladies wanted to go.

Which was what he tried to explain to the rather large, rather rough looking gentlemen who currently had him by the ankles against the pawnshop wall. They, however, did not seem overly inclined to listen.

This wasn’t the first group of wizard-finders Sebastian had encountered. Usually they were packs of thieves hoping to get a pardon from the Lord of Draming for finding the culprit behind his wife’s fear; the past week especially had been swarming with small clots of them, self-tasked with ensuring all the festivities for the Lord and Lady’s return went smoothly. This was, however, the first group of wizard-finders who had decided their duty extended to hanging him by his ankles like a pair of shabby winter underwear in the spring.

These consisted of a motley group of around seven, ranging from half a head to three heads taller than him, and, unlike most vigilante groups, boasted one of the smaller, civilized giants usually employed at gristmills to turn the wheels. If Sebastian rolled his eyes all the way back in his head, he could just make out the fellow’s enormous toes behind his head.

Sebastian took a deep breath and held it. Most giants, as a rule, weren’t known for their pleasing odor, but this one smelled as though he wanted to be known specifically for the way little plants around him died. He thought about plugging his nose, but something told him that would not be polite, and, as the second son of a duke, he figured at the very least his duty was to be polite.

Of course, if he didn’t plug his nose, that left the annoying question of what in the world he was going to do with his arms…

“So where does a little scrap like you come by an enchanted rose?”

The question caught him off-guard, and Sebastian stared at the vigilante, arms dangling below his head, cocked at right angles. “Huh?”

He grinned wryly and leaned against his staff. “Well, it obviously wasn’t through cunning. But really, this isn’t the time to mess around with answers. Is there a real reason you’ve found yourself in a place you so obviously shouldn’t be?”

Sebastian’s mind scrambled for an explanation that didn’t directly translate into “not really”, which he could already see would not be a satisfactory reply for this group.

“Er…”

His train of thought hit a tree as the giant gave him a rather vigorous shake, rattling his teeth around in his head.

“Now, now, Brius,” the leader cautioned, “we mustn’t be rough.”

“Heard him tell ‘er the rose was enchanted, Cooper,” the thick fists wrapped around his ankles droned.

Sebastian was starting to get the hang of his arms, in an upside-down sort of way. He dragged them up towards his legs and shoved each deep into its respective pocket, giving his shoulders what he hoped was an innocent looking curl that said, “Who, me? No, officer, I was just standing here when it happened…”

It didn’t seem to fool the vigilantes. The dumpy one to his left prodded him in the face with his staff. The closest one—Cooper—leaned forward a little more and asked casually, “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve stumbled into?”

Sebastian considered this and decided it might be a good idea to tell the truth. “I’m not a wizard.”

The leader’s hands spread wide in mock surprise. “Who said anything about wizards? I remember asking about a rose. Enchanted, is it?”

Sebastian shrugged, which is painful wrong-side-up, and practiced his expressionless expression. Not that it really mattered. His mouth was gaping like a fish just to get air into his lungs, all the blood in his body was sloshing between his ears, and his tongue was having a hard time finding footing on the roof of his mouth.

This earned him another shake, and the amusement turned down into a pointed frown on Cooper’s face. “Only roses around here belong to the Lady Draming—and she keeps them all in private gardens.” He paused. “Much like the one we just dragged you out of. But with roses in them.”

“Look, I bought it from…” He paused to force another lungful of air up into his chest to fuel his lie. “…some peddlers on my way into town. Maybe you should be interrogating them. I can even give you directions if you’d like. You take a left at the ugly deer statue just before the—”

The giant holding his ankles swung him around towards the end of the group, giving him a good jerk like snapping a piece of laundry out to dry. “Well?” Cooper snapped.

As his vision slowly sorted itself back out, he brought into focus what had to be the saddest looking vigilante he had ever imagined. Behind two of the other members, a tiny, black haired man with a stringy mustache that fell all the way up to his chin fidgeted, like some unstable potion about to explode. “Definitely a wizard. Look at his eyes! Look at his eyes!”

Cooper turned a black eye on the man, making him cower back. “You’d better be certain this time, Beedle. You said that old lady selling the charms was a wizard too.”

“Of course she was! Who else would possess charms that could actually keep the wearer from harm? I sampled her wares myself—they were authentic!”

“That didn’t stop that kid from hitting you with a rock,” he pointed out blandly.

The greasy man sniffed. “I didn’t say she was a good wizard…”

Sebastian cleared his throat, nearly popping his eyeballs out of their sockets. “Alright, well, I think that pretty much clears up any lingering doubt about my wizarding abilities. So if you could just set me down over there by my jacket, I’d be much oblig—”

What do you think you’re doing?”

And that was when Sebastian officially gave up. He head bumped back against the stone wall and he closed his eyes, completely defeated.

“If it isn’t Karis…

Now aside from Anton, Sebastian was an only child. He had limited experience with older siblings. He had heard they could be bossy, demanding, commanding, irritating, interfering, and a tad overly protective. He had never realized exactly how infuriating those qualities could be until he met Karis.

Sebastian opened his eyes, letting gravity roll them down towards his eyebrows. “Don’t you have some bread to burn?”

Karis blinked twice. “Aren’t you letting some burn right now?”

The giant dropped him.

“This kid ain’t a wizard!” Cooper’s voice couldn’t have held more disgust if Sebastian had been a chamber pot full of rotting peaches. “He’s just some baker’s apprentice!

“That doesn’t mean he’s not a wizard!”

“Oh, get over yourself,” Cooper snarled. “He clearly found this broken hole in the wall and sneaks his sweethearts in on his break. That doesn’t make him magical—it makes him stupid.”

Sebastian’s eyesight was having a hard time sorting itself out after his forehead’s unceremonious collision with the ground, and little explosions of blackness kept popping up right when he’d thought he’d got it, but he could hear Beedle’s frantic sandals skittering over the cobblestones. “You, girl—I know you! Your father owns that bakery by the docks!”

Someone stepped over Sebastian and another someone stepped on his arm. Beedle’s voice squawked, “Your cakes are said to be the finest in Draming—the entire city of Draming! That’s clearly a bewitching spell, at the very least!”

“Forget it! No, forget the rose too.” Sebastian watch the leader stomp over to the flower the girl had dropped in the alley in her haste to end their date and grind it under his boot. “I never want to see your face again, you little weasel.” He jerked his head at the giant. “Come on, Brius. I’ve seen enough.”

Sebastian squirmed right side up and managed to get his knees under him just in time for Beedle to shove him into the wall as he rushed after the group. “Wait! How will you find wizards without the great Beedle?”

The rush of celebrating crowds swallowed the last of his protests with him. Dropping his head back against the cold stone behind him, Sebastian squeezed his eyes shut and groaned. “That could’ve gone worse,” he said to no one in particular. But despite using his most authoritative tone, it seemed to beg a question nonetheless, so he added, slightly less authoritatively, “It…could be raining?”

There was a motherly kind of sigh, and then Sebastian heard the crunch of gravel under Karis’s shoe as she squatted down beside him. He cracked one eye open. Stretching her arms behind her head, she managed to give her shoulders a slight shrug and tried to be sympathetic.

“She was probably out of your league.”

Probably? She had definitely been out of his league, just like all the other girls Sebastian had slipped into the garden—immaculate hair, perfectly large eyes, and noble enough to at least make all the commoners feel sick. But it wasn’t his fault Anton’s type was high-and-mighty—sometimes too high-and-mighty to follow some hapless ragamuffin with patches on his jacket and an uncontrollable cowlick through a rough hole in a stone wall into a mysterious and mostly dead at this time of year garden.

Daphne, daughter of Count Xavier, had been his latest attempt to find a balance between pretty and refined enough to interest Anton but stupid and romantic enough to run off to a mystical castle with him. As usual, the date had ended with a laugh—at least until he’d sudden been yanked out of the garden by a giant. She hadn’t even looked over her shoulder as she dropped the rose and fled.

“A countess?” Karis sat back a moment, eyebrows shot, then shrugged. “What would you want with a countess anyway? You’d have nothing to talk about.”

“You’re right, of course. How could a countess possibly have as much to lecture me about as a… as someone like you?” He was going to say baker, but then changed his mind as the last minute. Karis was the daughter of a man who owned a shop where baked goods were produced, and on a daily basis she mixed things in bowls, formed them into shapes, and inserted and removed them from ovens. Some people called her a baker. If only the remains that emerged from the ovens weren’t usually black on the outside with runny lumps on the inside, he might have been more amiable to the phrase. But despite her miraculous ability to somehow scavenge the most amazing cakes Sebastian had ever tasted from among the charred casualties of bread and scones, he was sure there had to be some law against calling people like Karis bakers—and if there wasn’t, there should have been.

Karis rocked on her heels, flicking one eye up to the crowd pushing through the streets. “This is, what, the third one? Or fourth? I’m losing count.” She noticed his eyes glaring out through the gap in his arms and rolled her shoulders back. “I’m running out of things to say, Seb. Would you like me to pat you on the shoulder? Maybe it would make you feel better to tell me the story you drag those girls in the garden for, and I could pretend to be interested and wooed by it.”

Sebastian stuck out his tongue at her.

“Oh come on.” Karis leaned back on the heels of her palms. “How does it go? You’ve never been lacking in some hopelessly brilliant answer up until now. Go on: I’m sure it’ll make you feel better. If not, I can tell you where to change it to make it more interesting. Tell me. I’m sure you’ve got the whole speech worked out.”

Of course he did, and it was killing him not to tell Karis. It involved a handsome young man—the Duke—who lived an—unfortunately, of course—cursed life in his beautiful golden palace, waiting for the escape from his despicable fate that could only be brought about by true love.

And, naturally, the whole thing was complete hogwash.

Anton might have been handsome as far as eternally young dukes went, but Sebastian had seen roses whose thorns were more charming than him. The castle—whose welfare was apparently not one of the things accounted for in the curse—was anything but dazzling after years of general neglect. And Sebastian had no idea whatsoever how to break the curse. None of Lumpin’s stories concerning that fateful night included a detailed description of the fairy’s choice of curse and when Sebastian—many years before—had dared broach the subject with Anton, all he had got was a snorted, “It wouldn’t be a problem if I could just fall hopelessly in love like an idiot.” In the end, Sebastian had settled on true love for this tale because, as trite as it sounded, it fit well in the fairy tale ambiance and put the antidote to the duke’s problem within the girl’s grasp.

Unfortunately, he was not overly inclined to share any of this with Karis. For one, he felt certain she would laugh at him, and he had had quite enough embarrassment for one day.

The other reason he didn’t tell Karis was because as satisfying as it would have been to rattle off a wonderfully prepared and hopelessly enchanting answer, it was even more satisfying to stick out his tongue and snap, “I don’t waste it on kitchen maids.”

Karis leapt to her feet, jerking the dirt off her skirt and onto his face. “After I used my most comforting phrases! Why you little—”

“Karis!”

“Horace!” Sebastian sprang to his feet in exultation.

Karis’s outrage tripped and fell down a flight of stairs into a cesspit in front of all the kings and queens on earth. Her smug, haughty expression suddenly quirked sideways, and her mouth went crooked in an awkward pause.

“Ur, uh, hello, Horace.”

Now, Sebastian didn’t consider himself much of a people person. He would much rather spend his time wandering the acres of Arlington than make small talk with the kinds of people that populated Draming. Unfortunately for Horace, he was the epitome of those people. He talked about interesting things in the most boring ways, was so polite you felt irritated that he wasn’t mocking you, pretended to be daring by doing things conventional people did not do—not because they were scared, but because it had simply never occurred to them—and was altogether too proud to be exactly the way he was. Karis, when she was being defensive, called it “Draming pride”. Sebastian interpreted this the same way he did when Anton spoke of “Arlington pride”—a washed up excuse to act exactly the way they always had.

Horace smiled brightly, but his eyes stayed wide, leaving an off feeling that lingered in your mind the way licorice lingers in your mouth. “I, uh, stopped by the bakery, but they said you hadn’t been in. Did—Did your father give you the day off for the celebration?”

Karis’s mouth quirked again. “Huh? Oh, uh, yes…Yes, of course he did. It was very—” She stomped on Sebastian’s toes as an enormous grin of understanding jumped onto his face. “—generous of him, don’t you think?”

“It might be more generous if they couldn’t manage even better without you.” Sebastian shouldn’t have been able to swagger just pulling himself to his feet, but somehow he pulled it off. Always—always—it was her catching him. Now, for the first time in his entire life, here was Karis skipping work, without even telling her father. And here was her punishment, right on schedule.

“That’s great!” Horace beamed. “The investments all came in with Lord Duncan’s fleet, so I decided to take the day off myself.”

Sebastian grinned. “Are you sure you should risk it? That mill isn’t going to turn itself.”

Horace frowned, ever so slightly. “Actually, it’s a waterwheel, so it will turn itself. But without anyone there to feed grain through it, it’s not going to—”

“Anyone want to get some chestnuts?” Karis scowled at Sebastian, who squeezed his eyes shut and smiled as broadly as he knew how.

“That sounds perfect.” Horace beamed, completely distracted.

“Seb? Join us?”

This was more a threat than an invitation. Sebastian raised his eyebrows all the way up, pressed his lips together, and smiled, squinching his eyes shut. “You know I’d love to. But!” He scooped his jacket off the ground and spun into it. “You know me. Things to do. Always busy. The public needs me, and so forth.” He fished around through the hole in the garden wall until he found his pack. Slinging it over one shoulder, he leaned into Karis’s face, enormous grin just inches away from her, and snapped cheerfully, “Have fun spending the rest of the day with Horace.”

If Horace hadn’t been standing so close, Karis’s fist would have been in his stomach. He could sense it from her. As it was, he could write off the chance of free cakes any time in the near future. But it was worth it. The look on her face alone spoke of so much hogtied rage just below the surface.

Absolutely worth it.

“I think they’re roasting chestnuts in the square,” Horace offered.

“I think so, too.” Sebastian felt a little bad. Horace was nice. Too nice, maybe, but nice. He had never said a single cross, much less sarcastic, thing to Sebastian in their entire acquaintance. But it was so hard to keep his mouth shut when the man was so obviously enamored with Karis, who was so obviously not enamored with him. “I hope you get a good return on your investment, Horace.”

Horace raised his eyebrows with a little smirk. “Oh, I think I will.”

Behind him, Karis had her mouth open, wanting to yell at Sebastian but unable to pick any hidden barb out of his last sentence. Sebastian gave her one last smirk, saluted Horace, and slipped his way into the crowd. He caught a glimpse of the crushed rose behind Karis as he was turning, and suddenly wondered if he should go retrieve it. Who knew what kind of trouble it could cause, if the wrong people found it lying, discarded, in the alley?

No, never mind. It couldn’t possibly get him in any more trouble than it already had.

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17. Flogometer for Christina: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Christina sends a revised first chapter of aYA  novel, Aftermath: The Last Ginger. The first round is here (scroll down, there's a prologue). There was no permission to continue the chapter, so this is it.

Erica and I are already hiding in the bushes when the States attack the City.

I swear I didn't know it was going to happen. We aren't hiding from the States on purpose; we aren't even hiding from the policer. Although he might have some other impression of the situation.

She's so upset after the exam she starts hyperventilating on our walk home. It's ugly and I want to ditch her, but that’s against the Law of Courtesy. Instead I pull her into our elderberry bushes, which we claim when there's something to talk about. We can sit next to where the river disappears down a long tunnel under the south wall without being seen; the bushes stay tall and leafy until at least October.

I kneel in the mulch, not caring that my skirt rides up to my thighs, not checking for dirt or insects.

“I – That was stressful,” she stammers, red-faced.

I almost hug her – anything to get the frail look off her face – but catch myself. Once I picked a leaf from her hair without asking permission and she smacked my hand. “It sucked.”

“City help me if I get a laborer,” Erica bursts, then claps her hand over her mouth to contain any further incriminating words. “If I don’t get Cameron I don’t know what I’ll do.”

She could tell me she wanted to fly for the reaction I’d give her, except maybe to slip her a thermometer. Maybe I should check for a fever, because no one should want to marry Cameron, (snip)

Would you turn Christina's first page?

Well, I did appreciate starting with an immediate scene, and the voice and writing (except for tense) is fine. But we start with something happening in the now and then,  in the second paragraph, go to then. The flashback is used to set up the world instead of giving us the story, though I appreciate that a character is distressed—but we don’t know the consequences of failing whatever the “exam” is. And slipping into a flashback necessitates switching to past tense, the way I see it. As mentioned below, I think it would have been stronger to continue with what happens with the attack and then weave this part in later. I voted no, though this world was interesting. Notes:

Erica and I are already hiding in the bushes when the States attack the City. Good teaser opening line. But I think it might have been better to continue with the attack than flash back in time a little bit to set things up.

I swear I didn't know hadn’t known it was going to happen. We aren't weren’t hiding from the States on purpose; we aren't weren’t even hiding from the policer. Although he might have had some other impression of the situation. Clarity issue: who/what is the “policer?” He appears on the scene on the next page, but he isn’t there yet and she can’t know about him because she’s hiding. Technically, since this paragraph and what follows is a flashback to the time before the attack, they should be in past tense.

She's was so upset after the exam she starts started hyperventilating on our walk home. It's was ugly and I wanted to ditch her, but that’s was against the Law of Courtesy. Instead I pulled her into our elderberry bushes, which we claimed when there's was something to talk about. We can sit next to where the river disappears down a long tunnel under the south wall without being seen; the bushes stay tall and leafy until at least October. Information issue: what is “the exam?” This is so generic it doesn’t mean anything. Is it a school subject exam? Then say “math” or whatever it is. If it’s a social exam of some sort that categorizes young women or evaluates their position or worth in this society, give us a clue. Otherwise we have no idea why she might be upset. Let us know why, too. What are the consequences if she/they don’t do well on “the exam?” Did the narrator also take the exam? Is she worried? I do like the reference to the “Law of Courtesy” to help set up the world. 

I kneel knelt in the mulch, not caring that my skirt rides rode up to my thighs, not checking for dirt or insects.

“I – That was stressful,” she stammers stammered, red-faced.

I almost hugged her – anything to get the frail look off her face – but catch caught myself. Once I picked a leaf from her hair without asking permission and she smacked my hand. “It sucked.”

“City help me if I get a laborer,” Erica bursts burst, then claps clapped her hand over her mouth to contain any further incriminating words. “If I don’t get Cameron I don’t know what I’ll do.” The notion of “getting a laborer” hints at what the exam was. While I think it’s a good thing to weave the nature of the world into the story, I think a clue earlier would give this more meaning and impact.

She could tell me she wanted to fly for the reaction I’d thought to give her, except maybe to slip her a thermometer. Maybe I should have checked for a fever, because no one should want to marry Cameron, (snip) Clarity issue: I’m sorry, but I have no idea what is meant by “tell me she wanted to fly”. Flee? And I don’t know what the reaction the narrator would, but apparently doesn’t, give her.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-NobodyKnows

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 Christina

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18. Some questions, some answers, some opinions

Recently an FtQ reader named Stephen wrote me a note that raised questions of technique. I thought I’d share my answers with you.


Dear Ray,

I've been reading the guidance you provide in Flogging the Quill. It's very good, and it's very easy to see what some of the writers have done and the effect it has.

I've finished the first draft of a novel, and along the way, I've read dozens of novels in my genre and instructional tomes on how to write.

I seem to see a disconnect--maybe it's just me. At the risk of boring you, I'd like to address a few points that confuse me.

1.  Stephen King, certainly a first class writer, hates adverbs. Want's 'em abolished. But every writer I read uses them to a greater or lesser degree.

My view is that much of the time—though not all of the time—adverbs used with verbs, eg. “walked slowly,” are a weak effort at giving description. They are, in my view, “telling” rather than “showing.” Every writer uses them because, well, when you’re writing it may well seem like that’s a good description—after all, the writer knows what he/she is visualizing or hearing inside their head. In that case, it’s just being too close to your own writing to see that a. it’s weak and b. it could be better.

But I think there is a terrific time to use adverbs, and that’s in conjunction with adjectives. I discovered this in one of my novels when I was on an adverb hunt, my notion being to get rid of them. But I found several instances where adverbs plus adjectives gave a much more nuanced description than the adjective alone. It my case, it added the character’s inner experience. I discuss this in my book, Flogging the Quill, but it’s also online in this post. Here’s an example of what I mean. The way it was written, using adverbs:

He found Emmaline to be annoyingly cheerful but pleasingly proficient.

Here it is without the adverbs.

He found Emmaline to be cheerful but proficient.

Delete the adverbs and I think the descriptin loses a lot, especially in regard to characterization of the person thinking about Emmaline. With the adverbs, you understand that he resents an aspect of her personality (he’s a crabby guy) but respects her capabilities. Without the adverbs, that’s all gone.

2.  Hemingway doesn't like adjectives, but Faulkner strings five or six of them together. Both Nobel Prize winners. And everybody uses them.

First of all, my feeling is that to use classic writers from decades ago as models for reaching a contemporary audience, at least as far as commercial fiction is concerned, is a mistake.

I have no problem with appropriate use of adjectives. For example, how effective is it if you leave “poisonous” out of “There’s a poisonous snake!” That would be dumb. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of submissions to FtQ that have clear cases of adjectivitis, a morbid condition that can cause mind’s-eye diabetes.

Here’s my rule regarding fiction techniques: there are no rules. If what you do creates a compelling narrative, it doesn’t matter whether or not you use adjectives. But, in terms of technique, just as with the adverb example, there are good craft guidelines that can help you create a stronger narrative. My advice: be miserly in your use of adjectives.

3. Instructional texts are always imploring us to write in a fresh, new way. Given that there are thousands of new manuscripts produced every year, how can one follow that direction?

You follow it by developing your own voice as a writer. That will, by definition, make it unique and fresh. That doesn’t mean it will also be salable, but it will be your own. Go for what works for you.

4. The 'active voice' is praised, the 'passive voice' is decried. But every major writer I can find uses both in varying proportions.

In any story, I think there are times when both approaches are the best for a particular part of the narrative. They are tools, and they can make your story stronger when used appropriately and judiciously. That said, the passive voice can sap energy from prose and make for sluggish reading.

5. Trying to constantly come up with new descriptions drives me crazy. Mountains 'skitter', trees 'whoosh', houses 'sashay'. Focus on this seems way overboard.

Listen for the way your voice wants to say it. I’ll give you an example. In one of my novels I wanted to give the reader a feeling for an old apartment building in Evanston, Illinois, in the midst of a very cold winter. I could have simply described the windows as loose, perhaps, or warped and drafty, or whatever. Instead, this is the description:

Goosebumps prickle on her arms, and she hugs herself to ward off the chill. The drawback of a charming old apartment in Evanston is that the windows can’t say no to the cold. By morning they’ll be decorated with crystalline art painted by thick coats of frost.

6. To cap it all, I've been reading the first pages of a lot of new releases. Not one in fifty actually follows the excellent guidance you give, yet they are published to rapturous applause.

Despite the fact that few seem to be following all of the writing instructions and manuals, books are published and sold every day. The agents and publishers have told us if we don't follow the guidelines, we'll never make it out of the slush pile. What gives?

What gives is a number of things. First is subjectivity—no agent or publisher will read manuscripts the same way. Published authors happened to have found an agent or publisher with whom their manuscript resonated. There are agents who automatically skip prologues, and then there are those who are fine with them.

Secondly, I think they say “follow the guidelines” because, if you do, there’s a better chance that you’ll send them a viable manuscript. Or they could be simply saying follow my submission guidelines.

Thirdly, I wonder if what you’re reading are debut novels or novels by already-published authors. There’s a difference in how they are received by agents, publishers, and even readers. I do a monthly “Flog a Pro” article on Writer Unboxed that shows the first page of a bestseller. As often as not readers reject it when they don’t know who the famous author is. A recent Flog a Pro post is here—see what you think.

Bottom line, just write the best story in the best way you can. It will either appeal to a reader, or it won’t. But at least you’ll have a shot.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Keep up the good work. I'll have a first page for you shortly.

I look forward to it.

For what it's worth,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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19. Flogometer for Deborah: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Deborah sends a first chapter of a fantasy novel, Riddle of the Ten Kingdoms. The rest of the chapter is after the fold.

Renn circled Leo on the packed dirt of the clearing among Father’s grapevines, her wooden sword poised to strike. Villagers arriving to pick grapes shouted encouragement, but Renn kept her eyes on Leo’s confident smile, which she intended to knock off his face. She aimed for his heart and lunged. Leo’s wooden sword parried, forcing her blade to the side.

She scuffled forward a quick step and sliced with her sword, but he leapt back and the wooden point just brushed his padded vest.

Leo laughed. “Too bad you don’t have a battle charm.”

“I don’t need magic.” Renn tried to imagine what one of the king’s soldiers would say. She boomed, “I only need my strength and my sword.”

“Your twig, you mean.” Leo attacked, but she parried the blow and jabbed his shoulder. He winced. She danced back with a smile and lowered her wooden sword.

Leo stared into the distance, shading his eyes from the rising sun. “Do you see that?” Renn looked beyond the village, toward the road that twisted away into yellow-brown hills. She shook her head. “Riders coming.”

Then she saw it: a cloud of dust between hills. She slid her wooden sword into her belt and ran to Father, who stood still in the vineyard, his hand on the hilt of his sword and his eyes on the road.

Would you turn Deborah's first page?

The writing and voice are very good, we start with an immediate scene that includes a little conflict, and a vague story question is raised (who are the riders). All that said, I’m giving this an “Almost.” I realize that in agent-query land that’s the same as a no, but this is stronger than a “No.” The rest of the chapter (included after the fold) is equally well written and introduces more of the world and the characters. But it’s all nicely done setup. No actual stakes or jeopardy for Renn or any of the other characters. I urge Deborah to look later for the start of the story, the inciting incident that throws Renn’s life out of kilter and forces her to take action. Well done.

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 Deborah

(the rest of the chapter follows—comments are helpful to the writer)

“Who is it?” she asked.

“We’ll know soon enough.” His mouth smiled, but his forehead wrinkled with worry.

Renn lingered at his side, trailing her fingers over the large, soft grapeleaves and spiraling vines. She lifted some leaves to find a cluster of grapes hiding beneath, then picked a few and popped them into her mouth.

“They’re not as sweet as last year’s,” she said, chewing.

“Every year, there’s less sugar in the fruit, though we waited till the end of summer to pick. This year’s harvest is the smallest I’ve seen.” Father looked up at the sky, then across his land. Their house with its gray stone walls stood tall and strong, and beyond it stretched the rest of the village. All around were rows of grapevines tied onto crooked wooden fences, the plants weighed down by heavy clusters of fruit.

Renn looked at the villagers picking, and at Father standing tall among them, and didn’t know what to say. Everyone whispered about the sickening of the land: summers too hot and winters too cold, crops failing and animals dying. But no one knew what to do about it.

Hagga shuffled toward them from the house clutching a bundle of cloth, her long skirts trailing in the dirt behind her. The old housekeeper had helped take care of Renn since her mother died giving birth to her, thirteen years ago.

“It may be a small harvest, Lord Rowntree, but we’ll make enough wine for pleasure and plenty.”

Father nodded. “What do you have there, Hagga?”

She smiled, a wreath of wrinkles surrounding her eyes and mouth. “Lovely and round, I shine with pale light, grown in the darkness, a lady’s delight.”

Father sighed. He didn’t have patience for Hagga’s riddles, but Renn had been raised on them and liked to get them right.

“Let me think,” Renn said. “It sounds a bit like a new baby, but that can’t be, as they’re not round and not always pale. Wait, I know.” She smiled. “A pearl.”

“Right, then.” Hagga shook out the bundle of cloth, which tumbled down into a long dress of soft brown wool, with a row of pearls sewn along the neckline. The dress was exactly Renn’s size.

She scowled. Trousers and linen shirts suited her fine, same as they did Leo and the other village boys who tended the vineyards, worked in the winecaves, and learned swordplay from Father. The girls might laugh at Renn for her boyish clothes, but Renn didn’t have patience for their sewing and cooking and endless gossiping, anyway.

“Go on then, hold it up for all to see,” Hagga said. Renn bunched the dress in her hands and held it high over her head. The villagers nearby smiled and nodded approval.

“Thank you, Hagga,” Renn said. “The dress is lovely.” Hagga raised one eyebrow to show she wasn’t fooled before taking the dress back.

“Look!” One of the village women was pointing at the sky. “Sylphs.”

Renn looked up at the winged people flying above, swirling around one another in an elaborate pattern. She had been taught about the four elementals, magical creatures who had power over the elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Sylphs could control wind and shape clouds, but they didn’t seem to interact much with the rest of the Ten Kingdoms. At least, they hardly ever flew where the people of Rowntree Village could see them.

“Beautiful,” Renn said. “They look like they’re each a different color.”

“Their clothing is made of silk and bird feathers,” Hagga said.

The sylphs flew higher, nearly disappearing into clouds. Then they spread out and beat their wings in unison, blowing a cloud into the center of their formation.

“What are they doing?” Renn asked.

“Giving a sign,” Hagga said.

“The sylphs haven’t given a sign here since the Great War,” Father said. “Twenty years or more, it’s been.”

The cloud split to form ten tall lines, each tipped with an arrow point. They looked like spears. The sylphs beat their wings again, and the spears merged.

Renn recognized the shape of an oak tree. She glanced toward the woods bordering the village, which was filled with the oaks they used for wine barrels, wagons, and furniture.

The cloud tree grew more dense, until it looked like it was carved from snow or unblemished marble. The sylphs circled the tree, flying faster and faster, then formed a line and flew out of sight. As they did, the cloud tree burst into countless points of white, which faded into the sky. Renn looked around and saw her own confusion on every face.

Leo came up, reaching out as if to take her hand, but he stopped short and looked at Father. “Lord Rowntree, is it a sign of war coming?”

The woman who’d pointed at the sylphs looked worried. “Could it mean famine?”

Father’s brow wrinkled, and Renn could tell he was choosing his words carefully. “The sylphs don’t give signs often. I’d say it was meant for the entire Ten Kingdoms, not just us. As for famine--no, we’ll not starve this winter. We have enough stored to see us through the cold months, and good hunting in the woods.”

Renn touched Father’s arm. “But then, what did the sylphs mean?”

“It’s a prophecy,” Hagga said. Father held up a finger as if to hush her, but Hagga didn’t see, or pretended not to see. “Ten into one, and one must give all. It’s the same with the gnomes, shown in the artwork they craft in their tunnels.”

Renn looked down at her boots, thinking hard. The gnomes were another of the elementals, with the power to move the earth. Ten into one, and one must give all. It sounded like a riddle, but she couldn’t begin to puzzle it out.

“Old Hagga, do you have some of that gnome art in your dugout? I suppose your husband makes it for you.” Leo’s smile was broad and grew only wider when Renn poked him in the side. Hagga chuckled and turned to go. It was an old joke in the village, that Hagga was secretly married to a gnome. Renn thought the rumor must have started because Hagga lived in a house carved out of a hillside in the woods.

“You’re the one we should ask,” Renn said. “Are you trying to grow a gnome-beard with these four-and-a-half whiskers?”

She reached up to yank his chin, but Leo grabbed her hand and twisted it behind her back. It was a familiar move from Father’s lessons in hand fighting. She stamped hard on his foot and used her other hand to hit his nose with the base of her palm.

“Ow! That almost hurt.” He sniffed and wiped his bleeding nose on his sleeve.

“Leo,” she said quietly. She gave him a look and started down a row of grapevines, knowing he would follow. They stopped at some vines that hadn’t been picked clean yet, and he handed her a knife with a short, curved blade.

“I wager I’ll pick twice what you do,” he said. Renn sat back on her heels and watched. His every movement was perfect, his hands working without pause as he grabbed, cut, and lowered each cluster of grapes into the oak pail at his feet.

In the past year, Leo had gone from being about the same height as Renn, to much taller. He was only fourteen, but he almost looked like a man. Renn smoothed down the front of her shirt and tugged on the hem that stuck out below her belt. At thirteen, she still didn’t look much like a woman.

He must have been wondering why she was staring, because he finally glanced over at her with raised eyebrows.

Renn rolled the handle of the field knife between her palms. “Father says it’s the smallest harvest ever, and people say it’s the same all over the kingdom. Do you think famine is coming? I’ve heard whispers that we’ll be hungry by spring.”

“My mother says things are worse in some places, but we have plenty of grain and wine stored here. Plus, we can hunt the woods all winter long for fresh meat.”

Renn nodded. “You’ll hunt with me?”

“Little white rabbits to make you a little fur hat?”

She stuck her tongue out. “I’ve hunted rabbits before with Father. This winter I want a nice, fat bear.”

“I believe you’d try. You, your twig, and a field knife against a bear.”

Renn reached for a cluster of grapes, but looked up when she heard horse hooves on the road and a voice calling a greeting. The riders wore matching scarlet tunics and chain mail armor, and their horses were draped in red cloth, too. One of them carried a banner, scarlet with a gold lion’s head. The king’s emblem.

Leo’s face lit up with excitement. “Soldiers from Whitestone Castle.”

He used his foot to nudge the bucket of grapes deeper into the shade before jogging toward the road. Last year, soldiers had visited at the end of summer to recruit boys for the king’s army. Leo had been desperate for it, but his parents said no, and Father backed them up. Renn watched Leo run toward the men, and her stomach tightened with worry.

The soldiers reined in their horses at the edge of the vineyard. One of them dismounted and headed toward Father, his palms up in the sign of peace.

“Good morning, Lord Rowntree. We’re here to recruit boys, strong and smart, for King Leonhart’s army. With your permission.”

Father frowned. “Does my permission matter? I remember you well, Captain. Last year you took the cooper’s son, and the year before that, two of my farmhands.”

“The boys volunteered.”

“The king needs his people to grow crops,” Father said, “not gallop around his castle playing at war.”

“The king needs many things,” said one of the other soldiers, dismounting his horse and pulling off a chain mail hood. He shook out his hair and grinned. “The king even has need of you, Rowntree.”

“Leonhart,” Father said, staring. “Your Majesty. I didn’t expect you.”

The villagers murmured to one another in low, surprised voices. They put their heads down, chin to chest, but many of them stole glances, this being the only time they’d ever seen a king, or likely ever would. Renn’s chin was down, but she turned to the side so she could watch the king from the corner of her eye. He was smiling around at everyone.

“Be at your ease, good people,” King Leonhart called.

Father chuckled. “You’re dressed as a common soldier.”

“The better to travel my lands and speak with my friends.” Leonhart grabbed Father’s arms, then caught him in an embrace. “How are you, Rowntree?”

“I am well, Majesty, though you have surprised me. Did you think you could take more of my villagers because you came yourself to ask? I can’t spare many if you want your favorite wine to keep arriving by the barrel to your castle.”

“I came to ask something else,” Leonhart said. “But first, let the boys come forward to demonstrate their skills and strength. It’s not every day villagers get to show off to their king. My captain here will take only the boys you agree to.”

Father nodded, and word spread quickly. In a matter of minutes, most of the older boys of the village, including Leo, had gathered in the dusty clearing near the road. They brought their blunted steel and wooden practice swords. A few of them put on chain mail armor, but others wore only padded vests or nothing but their ordinary working clothes. Under the captain’s direction, the boys began sparring in pairs.

Renn tried to catch Leo’s eye, but he was concentrating on his opponent, a heavy boy who was strong but slow with his sword. Renn clenched her fists. She could beat that boy in a heartbeat, along with every other village boy near her age. She could even hold her own against Leo, though he’d never admit it.

The village girls who had been picking grapes lined up at the edge of the clearing, cheering for their brothers and friends. Renn looked from their long skirts and aprons, to the boys dueling, and didn’t know where to go.

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20. Flogometer for Rebecca: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Rebecca sends a first chapter of a fantasy novel, Bloodsworn. The rest of the chapter is after the fold.

I didn’t know what a portal jump would feel like, but that wasn’t what I expected. And this rutted wagon road surrounded by creepy dense forest wasn’t the sunlit cottage I thought I was headed toward either. Besides, shouldn’t someone be here to greet me?

My pounding heart and sweaty palms made me question why I was stupid enough to step into a different world, but the gate was gone, committing me to my decision. I scanned the forest with my senses. Most of the birds and mammals were similar to Earth’s fauna, their dark auras indicating animals that rely on instinct for survival. Others, like a family of canines, had a brighter glow. They were intelligent. Not human intelligent, but probably smarter than a dog at home.

The trees and plants were mainly green and normal. I stepped closer—but not too close—to a pink bush with two inch thorns. Its energy spiked as if anticipating lunch. I skittered sideways almost tripping. Dammit. Why couldn’t Lizzi call for help from someplace normal, like Safeway or the Apple store?

My sister’s fear and despondent misery leached across a thousand miles through our birthbond. How could I find her—and rescue her when survival might override my best intentions? I had to try, even though it would take me months to reach her. I shuddered, what had brought my free-spirited sister to such depths?

Would you turn Rebecca's first page?

I liked the voice, and the narrative does introduce an interesting character and world. There are some clarity issues, though, and, as you’ll see, the narrative strays from story in the last graph. But I turned the page. The rest of the chapter follows after the directions for submitting. Your comments can help the writer. Notes:

I didn’t know what a portal jump would feel like, but that wasn’t what I expected. And this rutted wagon road surrounded by creepy dense forest wasn’t the sunlit cottage I thought I was headed toward either. Besides, shouldn’t someone be here to greet me? The “that” has no antecedent, so the reader can’t know what it means. It would help to show the arrival that she refers to so the reader understands. Either that or get rid of it—the feeling of a portal jump isn’t important, but the fact that it happened is. The portal jump could just land her on the rutted road, etc.

My pounding heart and sweaty palms made me question why I was stupid enough to step into a different world, but the gate was gone, committing me to my decision. I scanned the forest with my senses. Most of the birds and mammals were similar to Earth’s fauna, their dark auras indicating animals that rely on instinct for survival. Others, like a family of canines, had a brighter glow. They were intelligent. Not human intelligent, but probably smarter than a dog at home. She refers to “my senses” more than once, but the reader never knows what they are. If they are other than the 5 senses we normally utilize, then show us so we’ll know what’s happening. Without that, it doesn’t mean much.

The trees and plants were mainly green and normal. I stepped closer—but not too close—to a pink bush with two-inch thorns. Its energy spiked as if anticipating lunch. I skittered sideways almost tripping. Dammit. Why couldn’t Lizzi call for help from someplace normal, like Safeway or the Apple store? Nice. I like the voice, and citing familiar things is interesting.

My sister’s fear and despondent misery leached across a thousand miles through our birthbond. How could I find her—and rescue her when survival might override my best intentions? I had to try, even though it would take me months to reach her. I shuddered; what had brought my free-spirited sister to such depths? A little too much musing and statement of story questions for me. I’d delete the questions and get on with the story, with what’s  happening NOW.

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 Rebecca

I'd have to use my senses judiciously. If I used them too much, I'd exhaust myself and be completely defenseless. Lizzi’s birthbond led roughly in the same direction as the road. Hopefully it reached some semblance of civilization, soon too, because I’d never sleep if I had to spend the night alone in these woods.

After hiking for an hour, I topped a granite ridge that broke through the canopy of the forest. Greenery spread into the distance on all sides. No civilization in sight. Who had opened the gate for me, and why into the middle of freaking nowhere? In Colorado, I’d feel perfectly at home in such isolated country, here my fear stank through my clothes. When the gate opened in my office this morning, I’d thought Lizzi was finally coming home, or at least visiting. Then I felt her despair—could still feel her despair.

The road angled down the opposite side of the hill, wove through truck and house-sized boulders that reminded me of my favorite rock climbing area. The trail leveled out through an open glade with tall grass.

My senses picked up two people. A man and a woman—human, by the tight, sine wave pattern their lifeforce’s projected—rode toward me about a mile behind on large animals. I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe they could help me. Then again, sometimes people could be pretty horrible, especially to strangers. I slipped off the trail and hid behind a rock. If they felt dangerous, I’d let them pass without showing myself.

Soon the riders rode into view. The music of the woman’s laugh reached my ears. Both wore white shirts and red vests with an insignia on the left shoulder. The four-legged animals resembled horses except for two spiral horns protruding from their wide foreheads. Brass balls covered the tips.

They felt like normal people, attracted to each other according to the waves of energy that flowed between them. He smiled at the woman, while she threw her white-blonde hair over her shoulder in an I-hope-he-notices kind of way. She was dressed in a tan split skirt and sat astride.

Indecision gnawed at my nerves. I doubted they knew English, so communication would be near impossible. Would they help a visitor from another world? The man wore a sword. Would he attack me? I recalled my last conversation with Lizzi. The five years seemed like eons ago when she told me about this other world. “There’re people there with talents like ours. We won’t be outcasts any longer. Maybe you can find someone to love and share your life with. I think I have,” she’d said. “Come with me, please.” I’d tried to humor her, but didn’t believe her, until she proved it to me the next morning when she leapt through a worldgate with an armed security guard hot on her heels.

Damn, I missed her.

I hated meeting new people too. Hopefully the local customs didn’t require shaking hands. I’d have to take a chance. The thought of spending the night alone out here scared me silly.

The riders were thirty feet away when I stepped from behind the rock.

“Hello,” I called.

Both animals stopped, ears perked.

“Hello, stranger,” said the man. His brown hair fell across his eyes, and he swept it back with his fingers.

“I—I.” I understood him and it wasn’t English he spoke.

“Are you alright?” he asked, swinging down from his mount.

Unable to trust my voice, I nodded. What was going on? When did I learn another language? Cold chills flushed down my spine. The man approached, but I backed away.

He stopped midway through a step. “We won’t hurt you. I’m Sir Bron McGreggor, truthsayer of first rank under the Warlord’s command, and this is Lady Ara Finde, a storm mage of second rank.” He performed a quick, deep bow, while keeping an eye on me.

His lifeforce remained a steady brown without the red stain of a lie. Truthsayers and storm mages could be the talented people Lizzi told me about. Reassured, I found my voice, but the words felt unnatural on my tongue. “I’m shorry.” I tried again. “Sorry. I fiddn’t, I mean didn’t think I’d be able to understand you. I shouldn’t be able to. Yet I do…speak your language.”

“What else would you speak?” His gaze caught my mangled right hand and a horrified look crossed his face. “Skouldian? Are you an escaped slave?”

My stomach jolted in a knot. My senses told me both of them were instantly sympathetic. Definitely not slavers. But why would he think that by looking at my hand? Most people either acted like there was nothing wrong or directly asked how I lost my fingers.

"No. I..." I hid my hand behind my leg. How much should I tell them? That I'm here from another world looking for my sister? That I'm following her birthbond to rescue her? I didn't think so. But what to say? If truthsaying was a talent, what did that mean? It didn’t matter, I’d never been a good liar, and it probably wasn’t a good time to start.

“I'm lost.” I adhered strictly to the truth on that one.

“We can help you,” Sir Bron said. "This road leads to Serenidy." He pointed the way they were headed and Lizzi’s birthbond led. “And to Laftland in the other.”

“I'm going to Serenidy then. Do you know how far it is?” They seemed nice enough. The lady's expression was concerned with a little frown. She was puzzled by something, but nothing antagonistic came from her.

Sir Bron laughed. “Too far for a young woman to be walking alone. There's an inn a day's ride from here. Why don't you join us?”

“I hate to be a burden,” I said, “but I'd like that very much.” The problem was, what then? I had a Swiss Army knife, my keys, and the clothes on my back, no money, no food, no tent, and nothing to barter with. I hated freeloaders, and it looked like I might’ve turned into one. What was I thinking this morning? Not that I had time to gather anything, including my thoughts, before the gate had started to close. My sister needed me now.

“Red here can carry both of us. What's your name, miss?”

“Liana Carnelly,” I said.

“That's an odd name.” Sir Bron mounted, and reached a hand to me.

I put my foot in his vacated stirrup and grasped his arm near the elbow. That way he wouldn't touch my skin and receive a jolt of my emotions. I settled behind him and grabbed the cantle of the saddle for balance. My senses felt a twinge of jealousy from Lady Finde and I hoped she’d forgive me a short ride with her beau.

Sir Bron nudged the animal with his heels to make it go forward just like a horse. That little motion reassured me some things would be the same as back home.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“A long way from here. What do you call these animals?” I asked. Growing up on a horse ranch had made me a good rider, but I hadn't ridden since Dad sold most everything after Mom died.

Sir Bron leaned sideways and turned until he could see my face. “Serdaths. Where did you say you were from? Serdaths are everywhere.”

“I didn’t. I’m from Colorado.”

“Never heard of it.” Sir Bron faced forward.

“Miss Liana.” Lady Finde spoke for the first time. “How did you come to be out here? Laftland is fifty resmen behind us. There’s nothing but a few scattered inns along the road. You have no belongings and you’re dressed in strange clothes.”

The ultimate question, one I’d thought about a lot over the past two hours. “I’d rather not say.” They might lock me in the looney bin if I told the truth. Maybe. Wariness and curiosity flowed from her. I didn’t get the caution from him, but he seemed to absorb every word I said.

“Are you talented?” she asked.

“I don’t really know what talented means.” I squirmed, thankful that the saddle and a layer of clothing protected the serdath from me, otherwise the animal would be squirming too and might dump us.

“Can you do things that normal people can’t, even with all the proper teaching?”

I never admitted to the ability to do strange things. When people found out, they avoided me. Sir Bron and Lady Finde already suspected me to be talented. What could it hurt?

“I suppose with that definition, I’d say yes, although I don’t call it a talent. More like a curse.”

“You’ve not been trained?” Lady Finde’s indignation flared in my defense.

“Not formally.” Training. Wow, I’d never thought that possible. I shoved that hope down. Training would be nice, but out of the question. Transferring emotions was an affliction, but I loved my ability to see energy lines of the planet and life forces of people and creatures. Unfortunately, it would be in demand by every government and spy organization back on Earth. I imagined it would be the same here, unless everyone here could. Maybe I’d check it out—after I found Lizzi.

Lady Finde sucked in her breath. “The Guild must be notified. You could be a danger to yourself or others.”

It wasn’t if I never touched anyone. “I have it under control.” Lady Finde didn’t seem like a person who would let the matter drop, so I made ready to jump from the Serdath’s back and split into the woods someplace where the serdath’s couldn’t follow. We rode through an open glade, so I’d have to wait.

“What do you do with your talent?” Sir Bron asked.

Suddenly a ripple of energy expanded then split like a barn door slamming open in a gale. A man appeared from a flash of light.

I gasped. The serdath danced sideways, as sensitive to my emotions as a horse would be.

“Easy, Red. Easy,” Sir Bron crooned. “It’s only a teleport, what’s the matter with you?”

The teleport was a scar-faced man whose clothes fit skin tight like a professional bicyclist. Anticipation radiated from him, even though his smile was casual and disarming.

I instantly disliked him.

The serdaths stopped.

“Hello,” said the teleport.

 “Good morning,” Sir Bron said in a bold voice. He introduced himself and Lady Finde like he had to me. “The young lady behind me is Liana Carnelly. Are you carrying a message?”

The teleport sauntered toward Lady Finde’s side until he stood a few feet away. “My name is Jras. My Lady, I’m in need of a storm mage.” He glanced into the woods beyond, over the Serdath’s withers.

I sent my senses into the woods following his glance. A man waited there with an expectant air, hiding just out of sight. Damn. I’d been concentrating on Sir Bron and Lady Finde so much that I hadn’t ranged my senses to know he was there. I sensed closer. He held something in his hands.

 “I’m sorry.” Lady Finde shook her head. “My orders come from the Guild House. The Warlord has requested my services until further notice.”

Malicious energy spiked from Jras. He raised his hand and stepped nearer to Lady Finde.

The man in the woods moved. I recognized his body position, before my senses distinguished the rifle.

“It’s a trap,” I yelled. “They’re going to kill us.” My panic made both serdath’s jump forward. I scrambled for a grip around Sir Bron’s waist.

Jras snarled and leapt at Lady Finde. His fingers scrambled for purchase on her clothing, but he fell to the ground.

A gunshot echoed through the forest. Sir Bron jolted. Blood spurted from his shoulder inches from my face. Oh no. Don’t touch me! Please don’t touch me!

“Go! Go!” I shoved my insistence into the animals. They surged to a gallop. Lady Finde clutched her saddle and leaned into the wind, taking the lead.

Two more shots missed. Then we were into the trees. Sir Bron started to slip, but I grabbed the saddle in front of him with both hands. Unless he balanced himself I wouldn’t be able to hold him for long. Luckily we followed Lady Finde, and I didn’t have to use the reins too. Sir Bron’s hands flopped at his sides making it easier to avoid skin contact.

My arms ached. We’d fled a mile and the serdaths still ran hard. I couldn’t wait until they tired.

“Lady Finde,” I called. “Slow down, I can’t hold him anymore.”

She glanced back. Her mouth opened in an “o”. She pulled her mount to a stop. Sir Bron’s Serdath followed suit.

“Help me,” I said. “He’s too heavy.”

“Dear Certa.” Lady Finde swung down. “I didn’t realize he was wounded.” She braced against Sir Bron, holding him in the saddle until I could get off, then we lowered him as gently as possible to the ground.

“Bron, Bron. Can you hear me?” Lady Finde brushed his hair out of his face. She leaned down with her cheek over his mouth. “He still breathes.”

“Go for help,” I said. “I’ll stay with him.”

“What if the teleport finds you?” she asked.

I swore. We should have stopped off the road, but now it might hurt Sir Bron worse to move him again. “I’ll hide in the woods. Hopefully they’ll think we left Sir Bron for dead.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Lady Carnelly. Many talents have disappeared lately. I think you saved me from an awful demise. Use Sir Bron’s sword to protect yourself.”

“I will…why did you call me Lady?”

She rose to her feet and strode to her serdath. “Because you’re talented. And unless it’s a minor talent, you deserve a title.” She hesitated. “For some reason, I don’t think you have a minor talent.”

Lady Finde mounted and was gone.

            I didn’t want a title. I didn’t want to be noticed for my talent. People didn’t like it when they realized I knew their feelings. Thoughts can be fabricated, but emotions are raw, exposing the truth a person most desperately wants to hide. I doubted that would be different here. Although, I didn’t want to change, or be rid of my talent, I just wanted people to accept me for who and what I was. So far they hadn’t.

The urge to run and hide hit me hard, but I said I’d stay, and I’d be true to my word. It wouldn’t be right to leave Sir Bron defenseless, even though warding off a gun with a sword was close to stupidity.

Sir Bron groaned. I took off my long-sleeved shirt, despite feeling naked in a tank top. With my hands in the sleeves to protect myself from touching his skin, I placed the shirt under Sir Bron’s head. If I touched him, it would be me lying there mostly dead and Sir Bron healthy. My right hand tingled with remembered pain from twelve years ago when I was fourteen. My dad had cut his ring finger and pinky off in a chain saw accident. I had hugged him, only to comfort him, yet his wound had transferred to me.

Sir Bron’s sword felt balanced in my grip. I paced, my senses strained in all directions. The surge of energy when the teleport arrived was unmistakable. I’d know if he returned. Unfortunately, using my senses as much as I had today, drained my strength, but I couldn’t relax my vigil.

Writers talk about the editing I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"When I finished writing my novel, I knew there were problems, but I couldn't pin them down. Like most writers, I had become too close to my writing to see objectively. My friends were more concerned about my feelings than being helpful. Realizing I needed a pair of experienced eyes, I sent my manuscript to Ray Rhamey. When I received it back, I was simply amazed.

Apart from his fantastic editing work, Ray gave me an intensive and comprehensive lesson on writing. He improved the pace of my story, pointed out errors in grammar, plot, and point of view. His critique was honest, encouraging, and straightforward. Ray does not hold back.

I recommend Ray to all serious writers in search of keen eyes to dissect their manuscripts and make them the best they can be."    David Junior

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

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21. Floggless again

LogoI'm still traveling back from the San Miguel Writers' Conference--you really should check it out. I heard that they were sold out in November for a February conference, so stay tuned.

As my Monday blog tried to show, it's a marvelous venue, the presenters are highly qualified, and there were 7 keynote speakers, all authors and poets at the top of the game. Marvelous.

In addition to the fun of the conference, the Mexican people we met and interacted with were wonderfully warm, ready to share a laugh and an "Hola" or "Buenas dias." And the 17th century town is such a different experience from the U.S., and a fascinating one.

Also, my wife and I came back with a little color in our faces after a long cold winter here in Washington State. It was sunny and in the 80s the whole time.

Book Cover Design

In case you missed it, my Writer Unboxed post that appeared this week was on How to Avoid Cover Design Pitfalls for Indie Publishers. It's a look at covers as they appear on the Internet and what works, what doesn't.

I'll be back to the regular program next Monday, and I hope to "see" you then.

Ray

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22. Flogometer for Juliet: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Juliet sends a first chapter of a YA novel, Satyrs. (No permission to post rest of chapter.)

My foster parents lock everything. Doors, windows, fridge, computer, knives, the marijuana stash they think we don’t know about . . . and at night, they lock my roomies and me in our bedroom.

What would happen if there was a fire?

Well, I guess we’d  be toasted orphan crispies.

Where everything is locked, your job is to find the key. A key isn’t always key-shaped, though. Sometimes it’s just a twist of copper wire.

I go to bed at the usual time, set my internal alarm clock, and sleep exactly four hours. Then my eyes flutter open in the dark and I sit up, brain already ticking away. I fish out the swimsuit I’ve wadded inside my pillow, the only place safe from Foster Mom’s prying eyes. The suit is an old-fashioned one piecer with wide straps and a bottom that sags under the butt, made of some static-crazed fabric that attracts gobbets of pillow foam. A scratchy label on the back chafes my knobbly spine, but I don’t rip it off because that’s where I’ve written my name in waterproof Sharpie: Rowan Malone. So I don’t forget who I am.

I wriggle into the swimsuit, pull jeans and hoodie on over it, then tiptoe to the window. Melanie’s snoring like a rooting pig and Amanda’s doped up on cough syrup, but I can’t risk waking them. If I get caught, their only defense will be: didn’t know a thing. I schmoozle the (snip)

Would you turn Juliet's first page?

Good, clean writing and a likeable voice here, and something is happening . . . but how serious, in terms of tension and drama, is someone sneaking out to go swimming? The chapter that follows uses the swim to lay out a few pages of backstory. Tension and story questions do arise when she is caught by police for swimming in a mansion’s pool, but that happens 7 pages after the opening--too late to get me to turn that first page. I suggest forgoing the set-up and getting right into trouble. There's good stuff here, just get to the story asap.

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.

My editing clients talk about the work I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"I'm quite stunned really because your edit and advice are so utterly fantastic! I paid for an edit of a different novel a few years ago and was thoroughly disappointed, but you really hit the mark with everything you said (and you spotted straight away one of my main weaknesses: scene-setting - I can see it in my head and struggle to get it onto the page!). I was really blown away."    Keris Stainton

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

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

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23. Authonomy and Avon First Lines Contest

AuthonomyThere’s a “first line” contest that could get writers a meeting with Avon editors in the HarperCollins offices—just go here. 

That’s a blog, and you post your line(s) in the comments.

The rules:

Entries can be a maximum of three sentences but no more than 100 words.

The competition will run from now until midnight BST the night of Sunday 23rd March. A shortlist of 10 will be announced 4th April and the shortlisted authors will be asked to submit a 1000 word synopsis by 22nd April. The final winner announced 5th May

The winning entry will be selected by a panel of readers at HarperCollins.

  • As well as the opening line, authors must post: their Authonomy screen name and the title of the book (in ‘quotation marks’).
  • The full or partial manuscript does not have to be on Authonomy to qualify for the competition, and new members are welcome to enter. If you want to enter and are not currently an Authonomy member then click here to open a free account.
  • All genres welcome.
  • We encourage authors to post just the opening line of their novel. However, to allow for the varied nature of opening lines, we will accept up to three sentences or 100 words (whichever is smallest). We reserve the right to remove entries that exceed this or are deemed ‘off topic’.
  • One entry per book. However, authors may submit multiple entries.
  • The competition is aimed at authors with either complete manuscripts or partial manuscripts with a full synopsis.

I’ve posted the openings from three of my novels. Just for fun, here’s what I used (a poll follows):

The air was as still as it was hot—only the whir of a grasshopper’s flight troubled the quiet. Jesse felt like an overcooked chicken, his meat darn near ready to fall off his bones. Mouth so dry he didn’t have enough spit left to swallow, Jesse croaked, “That guy tryin’ to kill us?”  The Summer Boy

The winter wind, called the Hawk by the people of this city, whips my long coat and thrusts icy talons under my dress, greedy for my warmth. Last I was here it was a lively summer breeze; now it’s a harbinger of death.  Finding Magic

Just after dark, death grabbed me by the tail. The moon was full, and the earthy scent of fall flavored a cool September breeze. My mind on a svelte little Siamese who was coming into heat, I trotted over a mound of fresh dirt, not an uncommon thing in a graveyard―and a hand shot up and grabbed my rear extremity.  The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles

Were any of these inviting enough for reading more? Please do the poll (you can choose more than one entry). Thanks.

Which opening(s) would lead you to read on? Multiple choices OK.

For what it's worth,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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24. Flogometer for Karen: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Karen sends a first chapter of a women’s fiction novel, Precious in His Sight.

It was still dark when Sugar finished dressing. Out her bedroom window, the moon, blurry behind thin clouds, cast a sliver of gray across an inky sky. She stuffed another jacket in her suitcase and scolded herself, wondering what possessed her to do something so rash. It was all Clay’s fault. She should be going about her day, meeting with friends, volunteering at the church, working in her garden, doing what happily married women do. Instead, thanks to him, her life was in total disarray.

She hurried from their bedroom, reminding herself that she needed this trip, needed to distance herself—to try and make sense of it all—and to figure out what to do next. She clenched her teeth, seething at Clay, who seemed as relaxed as an old dog on a warm porch. How could he just sit there, smiling at her as if nothing were out of the ordinary? She rushed around, taking care of a thousand last-minute details while Clay, hunched over the morning paper at the kitchen counter, casually sipped his coffee. She stormed past him, rustling his newspaper, sending advertisements off the counter’s edge to the floor in her wake.

Clay bent down and picked up the papers, the corners of his mouth turned in a mischievous grin that accentuated his dimples. Sugar whished past him again, grabbed the coffee pot, overfilling her cup and gasping as brown drops expanded into quarter-sized circles on the cuff of her sleeve. She reached under the sink for a spray bottle and vigorously scrubbed the stain (snip)

Are you compelled to turn Karen's first page?

I do like to read clean writing and a good voice. The character is clearly upset and tense . . . but why? There’s a reference to doing “something so rash,” but what is it? If the reader doesn’t know, then how to interpret the character’s state of mind? This is what I call an “information question” rather than a “story question”—information withheld in hopes of creating tension and achieving the opposite result. What happens here? A woman is packing. She knocks some papers off the table and spills come coffee. None of these things contribute to creating story questions or a problem with stakes for the protagonist. Later in the chapter there are more information questions—she says to her husband, “I know about her.” But what she knows, and who “her” is, and how “her” impacts her life isn’t included. So, for the reader, knowing about “her” can’t mean much. In reading the rest of the chapter, I still didn’t know where she was going, why she was upset, what her problem was, or what the story was about. I like the writing and think you should look later, to the inciting incident, for the place to start this story.

Read on and see what you think.

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 Karen

The rest of the chapter continues . . .

 away, tisking at herself.

“Nervous?” he asked.

“‘Course not.” They both knew that was a lie. She was always a wreck before flights. She sensed he was watching her as she leaned over the sink, wolfing down a piece of toast with the last sip of coffee. “We should get going,” she said.

He got up and set his own cup in the sink, kissed her cheek. “Last night was amazing, ” he said softly in her ear.

 The forty-five minute drive to the airport was excruciating. Sugar rearranged her purse, checked her itinerary, filed her bare nails again, slathered on hand cream.Clay didn’t take his eyes off the road.

Last night. Last night had been a colossal mistake. Sure, her nerves had been a factor—she never enjoyed flying, and the thought of landing more than five thousand miles from home, not knowing a soul, was grounds for the jitters. But, something else—something desperate—had risen from deep inside her when Clay folded his arm around her waist and whispered goodnight. What followed was ravenous and pure, like when they were young.

 Afterward, she’d sat in the bathroom and cried for a good half-hour.  

Clay fiddled with the radio, landing on a twangy pop star-turned-country, who was butchering a Loretta Lynne classic.

“Turn it off, please.” The muscles in her jaw twitched.

“Sure,” he said, clicking the button to OFF. 

He followed the signs for the international terminal and pulled up to the curb, shifted the car into park and adjusted the air conditioner to a soft purr. 

“Sugar, sweetheart…are you sure you’re all right? I mean, if you’re not totally comfortable about this…there’s no one forcing you to go.” He reached for her hand. “I’m a little worried about you.”

Maybe it was the exhaustion and lack of sleep, or maybe she was over all the pretending, but the boiling combination of shock, betrayal and pain she had managed to contain was about to erupt—there was no stopping it. She looked into her husband’s grey-green eyes—eyes that had wooed her and loved her and captivated her for nearly three decades.

“I know,” she said with steely calmness.

“You know what?” He raised his eyebrows and waited for her to continue. He looked like he was waiting for the punch line of a knock-knock joke. This was no joke.

She was breathing hard, feeling lightheaded. Neither spoke for an eternally long moment. Her eyes bored into his with a fierceness. His expression wilted. She fought to stay in control.  

“I know about her.” She stared at him, unflinching, unblinking, heart pounding.

 Outside the car, an airport security officer blew his whistle, directing cars through the departure lanes. Muffled speakers blared announcements as passengers dragged their baggage toward the ticket counters. Sugar forced her eyes away from Clay’s blank expression, swooped up her things from the floor of the seat, and got out. On the sidewalk, she hoisted her overstuffed purse to one shoulder, her Louis Vuitton tote over the other, resisting the urge to look back. She took one deep breath and moved toward the gate clerk who was waving her over to the curbside counter to check her bags and issue her a boarding pass. Behind her, she heard the back hatch of her SUV open. Clay pulled her two bulging suitcases to the counter and stood close enough behind her that she could hear him breathing—hard and raspy. Her first instinct—to reach in her purse for his inhaler—thwarted. If only she could rewind the days, go back to being happy and blissfully unaware. If only…

“Sugar, please,” he whispered, touching her arm. Without looking at him, she swiped his hand away with shocking force. She continued to focus on the uniformed man tapping his computer keyboard. Her face held a thin, tight smile, as she pulled her dark sunglasses from their perch on her head and covered her reddening eyes.

"Thank you, ma'am and have a great flight."

Unable to speak, Sugar nodded. Her lips trembled, but her chin remained level and upright as the attendant handed her the passport and boarding pass.

Hurrying towards the tinted revolving doors, she heard his desperate, pleading shout and was struck by his uninhibitedness—allowing his emotions to be heard by the small crowd who lingered at the sidewalk check-in.

“Sugar, please—I’m begging you—don’t leave like this. Please talk to me!”

It took all her strength to keep walking.

My editing clients talk about the work I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"Some editors try to impose their own style and taste upon a writer's work. Ray doesn't. His job is to make you the best writer you can be. He has an eagle eye for plot inconsistencies--the minor (and sometimes, major) goofs that make a reader stumble. His suggestions were invariably helpful in polishing my manuscript. I recommend Ray to any writer who wants a professional, sharp, and considerate editor."    Lynn Knight

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

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25. Flogometer for Bill: would you turn the first page?

Submissions wanted.

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

Bill sends a first chapter of a novel, Just Another Gringo.

A gringo lay naked on the ground in front of the tent. He was only partially conscious. The welts from Senior Chacon’s belt were raised like cords across his face, arms, and back. Weeping red sores dotted his hands and cheeks, the result of the men using him to put out their cigarettes. It was raining hard and the heavy droplets battered the canvas, pooled in the fabric, and poured off onto his body.

Ramon stood under the awning and watched the gringo breathe. He could just see the man’s chest rise and fall amid the spattering rain drops. A cigarette hung limp from his mouth, its tip adding a wisp of smoke to the moist air. Ramon was technically on guard duty, though everyone knew the gringo was not going to jump up and run off into the jungle. In reality, Ramon was just marking time. Other men were out in the wet making a hole for the prisoner.

Inside the tent Senior Chacon sat at the table drinking wine. He always drank while the men worked. He said it helped him think. Between sips at his glass he would glance over at the gringo. He seemed happy and relaxed, laughing at the stories his men told, but his eyes held no mirth. They looked at the gringo with benign neglect, like a man looks at a cockroach before dropping his shoe.

The afternoon wore on and the laughter from the tent died down. As the men got drunk they sobered to the task that lay ahead. Everyone knew what would happen. Senior Chacon (snip)

Are you compelled to turn Bill's first page?

Pretty clean prose and an immediate scene in an interesting environment along with clear jeopardy ahead for the gringo raised enough story questions for me to turn the page. The narrative could be crisper, though—there’s some description that verges on overwriting with excessive detail that doesn’t really contribute to story or character. And there’s a clarity issue. Notes:

A gringo lay naked on the ground in front of the tent. He was only partially conscious. The welts from Senior Chacon’s belt were raised like cords across his face, arms, and back. Weeping red sores dotted his hands and cheeks, the result of the men using him to put out their cigarettes. It was raining hard and the heavy droplets battered the canvas, pooled in the fabric, and poured off onto his body.

Ramon stood under the awning and watched the gringo breathe. He could just see the man’s chest rise and fall amid the spattering rain drops. A cigarette hung limp from his mouth, its tip adding a wisp of smoke to the moist air. Ramon was technically on guard duty, though everyone knew the gringo was not going to jump up and run off into the jungle. In reality, Ramon was just marking time. Other men were out in the wet making a hole for the prisoner.

Inside the tent, Senior Chacon sat at the table drinking wine. He always drank while the men worked. He said it helped him think. Between sips at his glass he would glance over at the gringo. He seemed happy and relaxed, laughing at the stories his men told, but his eyes held no mirth. They looked at the gringo with benign neglect, like a man looks at a cockroach before dropping his shoe. Clarity issue: The antecedent for the “He” in “He seemed happy and relaxed” is the gringo, who hardly seems happy and relaxed. Use a name to keep it straight.

The afternoon wore on and the laughter from the tent died down. As the men got drunk they sobered to the task that lay ahead. Everyone knew what would happen. Senior Chacon (snip)

The chapter continues beyond the fold.

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 Bill

would get angry, he’d yell a little bit, then he’d shoot the gringo.

And so it went. Around three o’clock Senior Chacon stood from the table and walked to the door. The rain had slacked. Though it was hot the gringo shivered. His skin looked translucent. His blue veins stood out against the pale white of the rest of his body. He looked like the lifeless corpse he was soon to become. The paleness of his skin made the red of the cigarette burns all the more prominent.

Senior Chacon opened his fly and pissed on the ground next to the gringo. He put himself away and said “Let’s go.”

Ramon and his closest friend, Luis, moved to each side of the gringo. They grabbed the man underneath his arms and heaved him to his feet. The gringo couldn’t hold himself up. His head lolled on his neck like a child’s bobble toy. Luis and Ramon had to bear his weight while they dragged him toward the trees.

As they half-walked, half-stumbled toward the forest Ramon examined the man. He was a typical gringo. Thin light brown hair, a nose that was too narrow, and the pale white skin that was common among the norte americanos. He’d seen many gringos just like this one, but this one’s ice-blue eyes were mesmerizing. Ramon could not look away. The man returned the stare. No words were spoken.

Eventually the men made it to the cover of the trees. An occasional raindrop penetrated the thick canopy overhead, but after being in the open it was like the rain had stopped. They stood at the edge of a shallow hole. The gringo looked down but showed no reaction. He had been beaten too much, had felt too much pain, to even care that he stared into his own grave.

Ramon and Luis were tired, and Senior Chacon was taking his time about getting this job done. They kept heaving the gringo up as he would sag against them. The man’s blue eyes had found Ramon’s face again, and throughout the constant shifting and heaving his head would roll from side to side, but his eyes never wavered. Ramon wanted to be done with it. The man was heavy and he hated being part of the executions.

Senior Chacon walked up and said “On your knees, pig.”

Ramon and Luis dropped the man down to his knees. Senior Chacon stood in front of him but the gringo’s eyes still held Ramon’s face.

“Look at me, I want to see your eyes when I kill you,” Senior Chacon said, as he pressed the barrel of his pistol under the man’s chin.

The pressure of the gun under his chin pushed the man’s head all the way back, forcing Ramon and Luis to hold him upright. Still, the gringo held Ramon’s gaze, his breathe steady.

“I said look at me, you fuck!” Senior Chacon said, following his command with a vicious backhand that snapped the gringo’s head to the side. His snarled expression was almost a smile. Still the man held Ramon’s gaze. A narrow line of blood appeared on the man’s brow and began to drip down over his eye. The gringo slowly brought his head back up to face Ramon.

“Suit yourself, puta,” Senior Chacon said, as he raised his pistol to the man’s face. He fired without hesitation.

Ramon saw the hole appear on the man’s forehead and watched in horror as the gringo’s head was snapped back by the force of the blast. Through it all, the man’s blue eyes stayed locked onto Ramon. As the shot’s echo died away among the trees, the man’s body slumped, his legs folding under him. His body spasmed a few times then lay still in a growing pool of blood. Senior Chacon turned on his heel and walked back toward the tent.

Luis wasted no time. He grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him toward the shallow hole. “Help me, Ramon,” he said, “this gringo’s heavy.”

Ramon had seen death before, but he did not want to touch the gringo’s body. Instead, he busied himself with the man’s feet. Grabbing first one, then the other shoe, by the laces, he moved each of the gringo’s legs a few inches at a time toward the waiting grave.

“Jesus Christ, Ramon! Help! This will take forever. Grab his other arm,” Luis said.

“Si, Luis.” Ramon muttered. He grabbed the man’s other arm as if it would snap off in his hand. He gently pulled against the man’s weight. They slowly dragged the corpse into the hole.

The two men worked in silence for the next half hour, shoveling dirt back into the hole and covering the body. The strenuous work made them both tired. When finished Ramon took a long drink from his canteen then passed it to Luis. “Gracias, amigo,” Luis said.

Luis reached into his shirt and pulled out a pack of Marlboro’s. He tapped one out, laid it between his lips and lit it. After drawing deeply he offered the pack to his friend. Ramon took one, pulled out his lighter, and with a shaking hand, lit it.

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