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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 Fran—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. Nothing in the queue for Friday, though I will be posting a third pass at a first page for my vampire kitty story then--I hope you'll tune in. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Fran sends a first chapter of Low Flying Dirtbags. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

A coppery metallic smell roused him. He blinked, coughed and gagged. The contents of his stomach churned and rose up his throat. He swallowed the burning bile and willed himself not to vomit. He shivered. He was cold. He tried to lift a hand to his mouth but discovered he couldn't move his arms or legs. He looked down towards his feet. He was naked and appeared to be strapped to a metal table. His legs were raw and oozing a faintly pinkish liquid onto the table. He suddenly felt the pain. His nausea increased. He swallowed rapidly to calm his churning stomach. He closed watery eyes as the fear rose. He quickly wrestled it down. Now was not the time to panic. Was it the middle of the day or night, he couldn't tell? Where was he? What had happened? Think back. Where was he last?

He'd been at his birthday celebration. It had been a glittering, exciting affair, and he'd been happy. There'd been lots of alcohol – so much so, he'd lost count of the number of refills. How had he gone from such a magical moment to this cold, dark place that smelled of copper?

He marked off the evenings events.

Alcohol.

Music.

Singing.

A bite or two of food. Somebody had offered him cocaine, but he'd turned it down, (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Fran's first page?

A scary opening, at least for the protagonist, and story questions are raised. Yet I waffled, which leads to not turning the page. I think the problem is two-fold. First is the good old anonymous pronoun person—why not give a name, which tends to make him more of a human than an object? Secondly, I felt the narrative didn’t deliver the intensity of the moment that the character is experiencing. Terrible things have happened to him yet all is calm and thoughtful. Notes:

A coppery metallic smell roused him. He blinked, coughed and gagged. The contents of his stomach churned and rose up his throat. He swallowed the burning bile and willed himself not to vomit. He shivered. He was cold. He tried to lift a hand to his mouth but discovered he couldn't move his arms or legs. He looked down towards his feet. He was naked and appeared to be strapped to a metal table. His legs were raw and oozing a faintly pinkish liquid onto the table. He suddenly felt the pain. His nausea increased. He swallowed rapidly to calm his churning stomach. He closed watery eyes as the fear rose. He quickly wrestled it down. Now was not the time to panic. Was it the middle of the day or night, he couldn't tell? Where was he? What had happened? Think back. Where was he last? We learn later that his arms and legs have “long, deep cuts and blistered, seared skin.” I don’t find it credible that incredible pain wouldn’t be the first thing he’d feel. If fact, I think it would be the intense pain would be what roused him, not the smell of blood. If it did, I also don’t think thoughts of nausea and bile would then be the first thing on his mind. With the nature of the wounds, I think he would wake screaming. Nor do I think he’d settle right down. He later “tentatively” queries if anyone is there. I think he’d scream it.

He'd been at his birthday celebration. It had been a glittering, exciting affair, and he'd been happy. There'd been lots of alcohol – so much so, he'd lost count of the number of refills. How had he gone from such a magical moment to this cold, dark place that smelled of copper?

He marked off the evenings events.

Alcohol.

Music.

Singing.

A bite or two of food. Somebody had offered him cocaine, but he'd turned it down, (snip) I cut the remainder because a list is hardly compelling content for the first page. Get on with what’s happening, with him dealing with the NOW of what’s happening—I just don’t believe that, with the injuries and pain he has and awakening strapped to a table that he’d begin calmly reconstructing events. Writhing and screaming is mostly what I think he’d do. I’d have the bad guy interrupt the writhing and screaming on the first page and get on with that dialogue. I’d also like just a touch more scene-setting in the opening page as things aren’t clear as to the nature of where he is and what he sees. He can see injury to his legs, so there must be light. Yet later fluorescents are turned on to light the room. So what is it like, what does he see when he awakens?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

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

 

(continued)

knowing it'd keep him wired too tightly. Had someone slipped him something anyway?

Thoughts blurred. He couldn't cut through the misty memories. All he had was the party and then it was dark. Everything in the middle was gone.

It really didn't matter how he got here. What was important was escaping. If there was one thing he was good at, it was cutting his losses. He needed to get free!

As much as he strained against the straps holding him, he couldn't loosen them. He couldn't see anything either, he couldn't make out the room's details. It was quiet except for the sound of water trickling.

"Hello? Is anyone here?'" He tentatively queried.

No answer.

The panic returned. He turned his head, the room spun, and his stomach threatened to spew. He gulped and forced himself to calm down. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. It would be so easy to surrender. No! He'd never been a quitter. Ever!

Summoning his most arrogant tone, he said, "Answer me. I know someone is here."

The shadows remained mutinously silent and unmoved by his practiced sternness. His only answer was the soft trickle of water.

"I shouldn't be here," he said. "This is a mistake. People are expecting me. They'll call the cops if I don't show. I can pay you whatever you want. I'm rich. You don't need to do this. We can make a deal. I demand to know where I am."

A shadow shifted. He caught the slight movement from the corner of his eye.

 "You demand? If I were you, I wouldn't demand, I'd start begging." The whispered words echoed in the dark chamber. He couldn't tell if the voice was male or female.

"What do I need to beg for?"

"Your life would be a good start." The voice remained silky soft and gentle. For a moment, it sounded familiar. Where had he heard the voice before?

"I'm not afraid."

A soft chuckle snaked through the gloom, unsettling him more than a hurled threat.

"You really should be afraid."

"Why?"

"Why? Why are you here? Why what?"

"Why me?"

He heard the clip-clop of shoes on concrete as they moved away. He panicked. Was the person leaving him alone in this awful place strapped naked to this table?

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

"Do I know you?"

"Doesn't matter," the voice whispered.

The lightness of its voice told him it was truly enjoying this moment. "Well, we better get started. We've got work to do."

"Work, what work? Where are we?"

"We are far from anyone who might hear your screams of agony or your pleas for help."

He started to tremble. He couldn't control it.

"Where are we?" he stuttered.

"This is where I do some of my best work, my art."

"What kind of art?"

"Body art…look at you." The gloved hands came up holding a long-bladed straight razor with a bloody blade and a small portable table torch. He realized why his legs burned and looked filleted. Now, as he looked closer, his arms, though strapped down, had long, deep cuts and blistered, seared skin. His face burned too.

"You're demented."

The blue eyes blazed with anger. "To each his own."

"Please don't do this to me."

"Too late now."

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

"Shhh," it whispered. "This won't take long." As the pain scorched through his body, he embraced it. The pain was proof of life. Without the pain, he feared he'd be lost.

"I want to live."

Gently, it smoothed it's fingertips over his forehead. "Shhh…we can't do that." The gentle touch set off an explosion of tremors. His body shook uncontrollably. His tormentor quickly and efficiently duct taped his mouth shut. Daggett wondered why since it had mentioned no one would hear him if he yelled. Daggett struggled harder and watched as it laid the sharp blade against his genitals while lighting the portable torch.

His tormentor watched the panic grow in his eyes. "I wouldn't shake so much if I were you. I might burn more than your sac." It whispered as searing agony shot through his body while the smell of scorched flesh reached his nostrils. It continued, "My blade might accidently slide… like this… and slice right through your manhood. Oops! Look what you've made me do, Daggett!”

The pain was agonizing. Daggett tasted blood as he bit through his tongue. He couldn't scream. All he managed was a muffled sound of agony. It stared at him as if he was some kind of lab experiment to evaluate as it methodically snapped photos of his reaction.

"Almost done... It won't be long now. How are you feeling, Daggett? Can you relate at all to the agony you caused others all these years? Do you feel remorse, any regrets? Nope… doesn't look like it to me. All I see is anger, pleading for a chance to talk yourself out of your current situation. Too bad! So sad!"

Daggett’s tormentor dragged the sharp knife blade over the tender flesh of his neck. The pain was sudden and searing. Warm blood and a renewed coppery smell drained quickly from the wound. He inhaled, but his lungs refused to respond. He tried to pull in another breath. Nothing! Panic exploded as he directed his energy inward towards his lungs.

Breathe! Air!

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

His tormentor smoothed its fingers through his hair. "Don't fight this. Fighting only makes it worse. It won't be much longer, it'll be over soon."

Daggett’s vision blurred. His lungs and body burned while gentle fingers continued to stroke his brow.

"So pretty. I think you are my best work yet, Daggett." Delight danced in its blue eyes. The more Daggett struggled to breathe the greater his tormentors’ enjoyment. Blackness leaked into the edges of his vision, and as the seconds counted down, his constricting pupils seeped out more light, leaving only darkness behind. The darkness won.

It stared down at Daggett's empty shell. This killing was a treat, a well-deserved reward. Dirk Daggett had begged in the end. It was always enjoyable to bring the arrogant, know-it-all ones down a peg. It clicked on a portable light and studied Daggett's face. As it gazed at Daggett's remains, it felt no remorse, just unfulfilled. It was tired of living in the shadows, tired of hiding behind someone's protection, tired of wanting things and not being able to have them, weary of denying it's true self. It wanted the cops to know what it could do. It wanted to be feared and to be that terrifying bedtime story the kids told each other when they needed to feel dread.

Soon they would know. Daggett’s tormentor would alter the game and force them to pay attention. Maybe it was foolish to poke a stick at the cops. It had been quietly killing for many years…why the need for attention now? It paced its workroom while considering its sudden need for more. Why was the mutilation no longer satisfying? Why did it need to taunt authority and risk exposure?

The seconds ticked by as it contemplated its options. There was no sense of panic just a residue of excitement. As it paced and moved about the small room, anticipation grew and grew until it overwhelmed the killer completely.

Should it rethink this game plan? No. It needed this. It needed recognition. It had been hiding for too many years. It was always careful. There would be no trace of its presence on Daggett's body, no evidence to link his remains back to the killer. There would be no more hiding in the shadows, no more living in the background. It would forge new ground and become a household name.

The cops, once they found Daggett's empty shell, would eventually put a name and face to the remains. They'd learn what they could about him. They'd ask his family and friends who could have done such a horrible thing. But, in the end… they'd come up empty-handed. No one would link Daggett to its other self. No one had seen them together in a very long time. There were no emails, faxes, or texts exchanged.

It thought about the cops running around in circles like rabid dogs trying to figure out which end was up. They'd growl and foam at the mouth, but in the end they'd find nothing but their own tails. The notion that the detectives assigned would have another unsolved case – another blot on their records – had some appeal. It chuckled deeply while contemplating the consequences of moving forward with this new plan.

Later, it would add Daggett's pictures to the ever-growing album. The stories the album provided were something to reminisce about while sitting in a cozy chair, in front of a warm fire, sipping hot chocolate, on a cold winter's night.

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2. “a brilliant and entertaining resource book on the craft of writing”

Mastering front 100WshadowA new review from Amazon for my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling:

5 stars I'll Use It Every Time I Sit Down to Write

You WILL become a better writer by reading this book and implementing the suggestions made by Mr. Rhamey. And they’re not vague or theoretical suggestions, either—they are clear, definitive, concrete, and 100% useful. It’s a brilliant and entertaining resource book on the craft of writing.

In my opinion, the best way to use this book is to first read it cover to cover, pretending it’s an online course or weekend workshop. Gobble it up whole, so the cells of your writer’s brain absorb and integrate the information. Then, as you write and revise, you can go back to refresh yourself on specific skills or techniques as you need them.

Here are three reasons I like and recommend this book:

The style and voice are friendly, engaging, encouraging, and genuine. There’s no huge ego behind the scenes, bestowing rules and regimens. Ray Rhamey is an unassuming guy who really knows his stuff, and his warm teaching style comes through the text beautifully.

Examples abound! By far the best way to improve writing and revising is to see before and after samples, and Rhamey has included a truckload. At every step we’re shown ways to improve word choice, sentence structure, characterization, description, dialogue, opening pages, and more. He draws from published and unpublished novels, other books on the craft, agent blogs, and even his own fiction.

The final section of the book includes the opening paragraphs of eleven stories, submitted to his online critique blog, Flogging the Quill. After reading through the book, critique these excerpts yourself, and see how your comments compare to those Rhamey made. The results are dramatic: do just a few of these and you’ll realize how much you’ve learned. Better yet, you’ll be ready to apply these critical reading skills to the revision of your own work.

Rhamey suggests “there should never be a good place to put your book down.” If you want to write a book that readers can’t put down, then Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling is a resource you can’t afford to be without.!

Signed paperbacks are available on my website (discounted price, free shipping), both Kindle and the paperback are available on Amazon.com.

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3. How to write dystopian fiction

I came across an article from Writer’s Digest titled “Writing Dystopian Fiction: 7 Tips.” It’s by Brian Klems. As I’m interested in writing dystopian fiction for the YA market, I took a look. And the insights have generated new thoughts in me that I think will help when I get around to tackling it. Check it out.

Brian’s tips focus on:

  1. Extrapolation of current technology
  2. The central theme
  3. Taking things to an extreme
  4. A “burning fire” message
  5. Uncovering a present truth
  6. Using examples from the past
  7. Coming from current affairs

For what it's worth.

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

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

Add a Comment
4. Flogometer for Kevin—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Kevin sends a first chapter of Insomnia. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Warm blood ran down my fingers as I pressed the lump on the back of my head. I could feel the splinters of a wood floor on my cheek and taste sand in my mouth. Where am I? What just hit me? Eyes cracking open, I could see a black shadowy figure next to the bookcase on the far wall. “Who are you?” I stammered, grabbing hold of the desk and pulling myself to my feet. I seemed to be in some sort of dimly lit office. The shadow in the corner turned and disappeared through the books.

My stomach churned and before I knew what I was doing, my feet were moving, sprinting out the door, down the unfamiliar hallway and into the next room. I didn't know where I was, I didn't know why I was running. I stepped in a bedroom with a double bed and saw the shadow – shaped like a man, but with no face – just dark and transparent. It was standing over a man who had a knife in his chest.

“Chris,” it was my father's pained voice. He was laying on the floor, blood flowing from his chest. “Chris...” My father looked down at the knife inside him. The dark figure moved and I rushed to my father's side. Grabbing his hand I looked into his teary eyes. They looked so familiar, but I could not remember anything about this man. From across the room there was a flash by the dresser and the crackle of flames. I wanted to stay, but my feet started moving after the shadow man. My mind told me I would come back for my father. I jumped over the bed and after the figure.

As I passed the flaming dresser, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. I was younger than I expected – just a teenager. I don't know why I felt older. Long red hair clung to my sweaty face. Eyes (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Kevin's first page?

This opens with dramatic and mysterious action, which is good. The character is confused, which would be okay if the way the narrative spins out hadn't been a bit confusing to this reader. In terms of description and the flow of the narrative, I feel this needs more thought and work—you might try reading it aloud to experience how the narrative moves when you hear it. This does sound like an interesting story, and there are story questions raised but, for me, the writing could be more clear and more crisp. While it's okay for the character to feel disjointed because of his experiences, the narrative feels that way to me as well and it shouldn't.

I think you could slow down and give us more of what the character is experiencing and how he experiences it. What are his inner reactions to what is going on? What question does having sand in his mouth raise (I hope it affects the story later)? What's his reaction to not knowing anything about the man he recognizes as his father? Does he feel nothing for him? Notes:

Warm blood ran down my fingers as I pressed the lump on the back of my head. I could feel the splinters of a wood floor on my cheek and taste sand in my mouth. Where am was I? What had just hit me? Eyes cracking open, I could see a black shadowy figure next to the a bookcase on the far wall. “Who are you?” I stammered, grabbing hold of the desk and pulling myself to my feet. I seemed to be in some sort of a dimly lit office. The shadow in the corner turned and disappeared through the books. I had issues with the description in the second sentence. First, it uses “felt” and “taste” for description, which are filters that distance me from the character’s experience. Second, most wood floors don’t have splinters in them, especially an office. Lastly, I’m not convinced that he would taste the sand rather than feel it—what does sand taste like? Wouldn’t he spit it out? Can you make the description more of his experience than a report? Maybe open his eyes sooner? For example: My eyes cracked open, and I spat sand out of my mouth. I lay on a wood floor in a dimly lit office. On the far wall, a black shadowy figure stood next to a bookcase. More: he doesn’t actually stammer. If you want him to stammer and have the reader experience it, just have him stammer and not tell us. For example: “Wh-wh-who are you?” I grabbed hold of the desk and pulled myself to my feet.

My stomach churned and before I knew what I was doing, my feet were moving, sprinting out the door, down the an unfamiliar hallway and into the next room. I didn't know where I was, I didn't know why I was running. I stepped was in a bedroom with a double bed and saw the shadow was there – shaped like a man, but with no face,just dark and transparent. It was standing stood over a man on the floor who had a knife in his chest. With his feet making an independent choice to run, it sounds as though he isn’t in control of his body. Is that what you intend? And, literally, his feet ran out the door and apparently left him behind. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when I read what the words actually say. I cut the part about not knowing things because you’ve already made that clear, no need to tell us that.

“Chris,” it was my father's pained voice. He was laying lying on the floor, blood Blood flowed flowing from his chest. “Chris...” My father He looked down at the knife inside him. The dark figure moved away and I rushed to my father's side. Grabbing his hand, I looked into his teary eyes. They looked so familiar, but I could not remember anything about this man. From across Across the room there was a flash by the dresser and the crackle of flames. I wanted to stay, but my feet started moving after the shadow man. My mind told me I would come back for my father. I jumped over the bed and ran after the figure. So he has no control over his body? I find it confusing when parts of a person start doing things independently, here the feet moving and the mind telling him something. And I’m left not understanding what’s going on—is he in control of his body or not? Elements like these suggest a dream sequence, but it doesn’t seem to be one—or is it? Clarity would be nice.

As I passed the flaming dresser, I glimpsed caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. I was younger than I expected – just a teenager. I don't didn’t know why I felt older. Long red hair clung to my sweaty face. Eyes (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

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

 

(continued)

wide above a panting mouth, I looked scared and confused. At the end of the room a large bow window took up most of the wall. Through the glass I could see it was night outside.

“Stop!” My voice sounded commanding, not terrified like I really felt.

The shadow-man seemed to melt right through the window, and was on the other side. I wasn't so lucky. Shoulder down, I ploughed through the glass and found myself free falling from the second story of a brown brick townhouse. I pinched my eyes shut as glass shards cascaded around me and braced for the impact.

I landed on mulch between two tulip bulbs, a lot more lightly than I expected. My knee was bleeding from the glass, but I could see the shadow standing to his feet and beginning to move. I wanted to stay. I was scared. I didn't know what he was. But something inside my head caused me to take three steps forward and throw myself at his knees.  As my face drew closer I could see him more closely. He was made of what looked like a dense black fog, but inside I could see the twinkle of a million pin-prick sized stars. I wrapped my arms around his knees football style, but I never felt him come down. The moment my skin touched that fog, my mind was spinning through space and time at a thousand miles an hour.

Images flashed before me. Places, events, emotions. A hospital. Machine gun fire. Falling. Bodies everywhere. A helicopter crashing. Falling. Fire. New York was out of power. Falling. What were these? Memories? Visions? Dreams?

Nightmares.

My eyes flooded open. Smoke was billowing into the air. A lot of time had passed. The whole second story of the house was on fire, black shingles engulfed in the inferno. I could make out a chimney up there. Down below, the white front door with its three glass panes looked picturesque and untouched – an interesting contrast. I looked at the door. I had come in and out of this house a thousand times. This was my front door. I lay on my back in the grass another moment, as the fire made my legs feel like they were being sunburnt. There was our tree behind my head and – so much blood. Blood everywhere. My blood.

A girl's voice was shrieking, “Chris?! Chris?!” So that was my name. I could barely pull myself to my feet. There was a shard of glass in my arm. I hadn't noticed it before. “Where's Dad?” There was a hysteric teenager in my face with skinny jeans, knee high boots and a knit koala bear sweater.

“I think I had a nightmare,” I said.

“What? Have you called the fire department?”

“It got away.”

“Where's your phone?” She was ignoring me. “Give me your phone.”

“Is your name Rebekah?” I wondered out loud.

“What's wrong with you?” There were tears in here eyes. “Give me your phone. Mine is dead.”

It was my sister. She was my sister. “It isn't dead anymore,” I said. I had seen a little green figure slip around the outside of her jacket and sneak into her purse, sparks flying around its head.

She pulled out her phone just as the little sparking man slipped inside the end of it. “One percent,” she muttered, already dialling.

I turned and started stumbling away with nowhere to go. Neighbours were rushing from their homes, looking worried and shouting their concerns. I couldn't remember any of their names. I could remember mine though.

“Christopher Nightwing.” I muttered out loud and then collapsed, face down onto the lawn.

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

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Ronald sends a first chapter of The Unnamed Rune. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Everyone I know will die on the same day…at the same time…and that red-eyed demon said it will be my fault. Maybe I just won’t sleep again…ever! Maybe that’s the answer.

The thought had barely entered sixteen-year-old Rucker’s mind when the sword’s dulled edge opened a stinging cut on his neck. He leapt back with almost unnatural speed, stopping to retake a defensive stance only when well outside the sweeping arc of Brogan’s sword.

“Damn and bloody hell…what an idiot!” Rucker cursed, infuriated as well as embarrassed at his momentary ineptness.

The sighing of wind through the pines and the wild hammering of his heartbeat were lost to the fury of his own angry voice. Mortified more than surprised or hurt, he felt a warm trickle of blood flowing down the left side of his sweaty neck. He wanted to wipe at it with his free hand to determine the extent of the wound.

But under the cold critical gaze of his teacher, he didn’t dare.

“Just that quick and you’re a lifeless pile of twitching meat,” Brogan said, “a useless decapitated corpse with a sword in its hand.”

Rucker knew that his teacher’s soft tone and calm demeanor scarcely hinted at the true depth of his disapproval. They almost never did. Most often, it was only the menacing content of his words and the slight darkening of his gray eyes that suggested he was the least bit angry or (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Ronald's first page?

Good strong writing and voice here, plus an active scene and a small measure of conflict . . . but what’s the story question? There’s no real jeopardy here, Brogan is his teacher and he won’t kill his student. For me, this and the rest of the chapter is set-up, and I think the real beginning comes later when something happens to Rucker that makes him take action. Give that a try. Some notes:

Everyone I know will die on the same day…at the same time…and that red-eyed demon said it will be my fault. Maybe I just won’t sleep again…ever! Maybe that’s the answer. You introduce very interesting things in this opening and then abandon them for the rest of the chapter. I don’t think it’s good practice and is unfair to the reader. And it will be forgotten as the chapter goes on and on.

The thought had barely entered sixteen-year-old Rucker’s mind when the sword’s dulled edge opened a stinging cut on his neck. He leapt back with almost unnatural speed, stopping to retake a defensive stance only when well outside the sweeping arc of Brogan’s sword. I think the “sixteen-year-old” info is on the clumsy side and an authorial intrusion that breaks the spell of the narrative. Find a contextual way to include it.

“Damn and bloody hell…what an idiot!” Rucker cursed, infuriated as well as embarrassed at his momentary ineptness.

The sighing of wind through the pines and the wild hammering of his heartbeat were lost to the fury of his own angry voice. Mortified more than surprised or hurt, he felt a warm trickle of blood flowing down the left side of his sweaty neck. He wanted to wipe at it with his free hand to determine the extent of the wound.

But under the cold critical gaze of his teacher, he didn’t dare.

“Just that quick and you’re a lifeless pile of twitching meat,” Brogan said, “a useless decapitated corpse with a sword in its hand.”

Rucker knew that his teacher’s soft tone and calm demeanor scarcely hinted at the true depth of his disapproval. They almost never did. Most often, it was only the menacing content of his words and the slight darkening of his gray eyes that suggested he was the least bit angry or (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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

(continued) disgusted.

“You’d end up as a human roast on the spit of a Quiller’s campfire, and you’d bloody well deserve it. Damn it, Ruck…are you slow witted? Do you really want me to separate your head from your shoulders? Or should I just leave you with an ugly scar so big that you’ll never again forget to keep your full attention on your enemy?”

Rucker cursed himself once more for letting the horrible images from his recurrent nightmare distract him even for the span of one heartbeat. This time he berated himself in silent rage.

How many times had Brogan warned him that any distraction, no matter how fleeting, would be fatal in a real fight? “It’s the momentary loss of focus by young idiot swordsmen that helps keep far too many impoverished undertakers in business between wars.”

His teacher was right, and it aggravated Rucker to admit that he’d made a beginner’s mistake. But what angered him most was failing in his determination that today would be the day he’d finally force a victory from the village weapons-master.

Again, the problem was the same: Brogan didn’t make mistakes. He’d proven it in the thousands of wins he’d tallied against Rucker or anyone else brave enough — or more accurately, foolish enough — to face Brogan one-on-one. The man seemed truly magical with a sword in his hand.

Although Rucker’s beloved teacher had many impressive qualities, he was merciless in his disapproval when a student let him down.

Brogan stood there with the tip of his sword resting on the pine-needle strewn ground, the hilt held in a deceptively casual manner. His expression remained stoic.

“That was pathetic and you know it. Where’s your concentration?” Brogan demanded. “You’re too skilled for such a stupid miscalculation. Have you forgotten the five elements necessary in preventing an enemy from spilling your guts for a pack of back-alley mongrels to feast on?”

When Rucker didn’t respond in a timely manner, Brogan released a long sigh.

“Well I’ll be damned if I’m going to repeat them, because I know you understand what I’m saying. You’re not stupid. But if you want to live long enough to be a great swordmaster, you need to be smarter than this. It’s concentration, boy! Even a momentary distraction can create a dangerous opening an enemy can take great advantage of. How many times do I have to tell you?”

Rucker simply waited as Brogan stared at him in silence. In truth, his teacher’s angry words weren’t necessary. His obvious disappointment was punishment enough.

“It’s as simple as this,” Brogan continued. “Slow hands, slow feet, and a slow mind are responsible for far too many eventual piles of steaming dog shit. And that’s not meant as a joke, boy. It’s the bloody damned truth. By the hairy sack of an Aurocks bull, Rucker, where’s your brain? I might expect this kind of half-assed, daydreaming blunder from Eli or one of my other students, but not from you. What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Embarrassment and anger made it difficult for Rucker to talk. But knowing that Brogan expected an answer, he forced a response. With his head hung low and his gaze fixed on the ground at the tip of Brogan’s sword, he spoke.

“I’m not sure. I guess I focused for a second on what I’d do next, instead of on what I was doing at the moment. I know how stupid and dangerous it was, so it won’t happen again. I promise.”

Of course, he didn’t tell Brogan the real reason for his distraction. How could he? The truth sounded absolutely insane.

“So your excuse is…you’re still nothing more than a novice? How in the name of all the gods could you let yourself fall back into…?”

Then Brogan paused, his eyes narrowing as he stared at Rucker.

Finally, he shook his head. “No! That’s a heaping pile of bullshit and we both know it. You can’t possibly expect me to believe you were anticipating again after all this time. You broke that idiotic habit more than two years ago. It has to be something else. In fact, it better be something else. So, tell me what’s of such importance it could draw your mind away from your training. And you better not lie to me this time.”

Rucker decided that the truth, even a partial truth, was better than lying again. Brogan had an uncanny ability to sense when he was being lied to. Having disappointed his teacher twice in less than five minutes, Rucker knew better than to make a bad situation worse by lying again. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

Instead, he looked Brogan in the eye, took a deep breath, and asked, “Do you believe in demons?”

“What?”

“Demons,” Rucker repeated. “Do you think they’re real? Do you think they exist in the real world?”

“Before I answer…it would help if I knew what the hell you’re talking about.”

“A friend of mine had a nightmare with a monstrous demon in it, and he’s afraid it might have the power to enter the real world. I’m just wondering if such a thing is possible.”

“Who are we talking about…Eli or Selwyn?”

“Not them…it’s someone else.”

“Lilya then.”

“No.”

“Is that what cost you your head just now? Demons?”

Rucker’s brow knuckled at the sting of Brogan’s reproach. The problem was he deserved it. “Well…it’s that, and…” Rucker paused, wondering whether to bring up an older issue — one that had been eating at his soul for more than a year, one that most certainly would anger his teacher.

“And what?”

“And…” Rucker tried, but he couldn’t think of a gentler way to say it, so he cast caution to the wind and hoped for the best, “what’s the point of all this?”

Brogan’s steely gaze hardened. “All this, what…?”

“All this time spent practicing with swords, knives, and axes.” To illustrate his deep frustration, Rucker held up his sword, turning it this way and that as he gazed at it, pretending he didn’t understand its purpose or recognize the protection it provided a skilled user.

“What good is this to me? What good is there in being a true blademaster if I’ll never be able to leave this place? If I live to be ninety, I’ll still be here wasting away like everyone else I know. So what’s the bloody point?”

“Are you saying you want to quit…that you find no value in your lessons? Because if that’s the way you feel, we can stop right now and you can apprentice to the potter or blacksmith.”

This time there was unmistakable anger in Brogan’s voice, which made the hair on Rucker’s neck stand up. Rucker had learned to be very cautious whenever his teacher let the iron mask of his stoicism slip for even a moment. It didn’t happen often, but when Brogan did allow his temper to show, it was a clear sign that a storm was gathering and it was time to take cover. Over the years, Rucker had learned many things about the ways of nature from Edlin Hanafee, the village’s master-of-the-hunt. High on the list — when nature speaks, you listen.

“No…that’s not what I mean at all,” Rucker answered. “I guess I’m just not making myself clear. You know I love our sparring sessions and everything else you’ve taught me over the years. And despite all my grumbling and frustration, in truth, I’d rather be skinned alive, bled out, and hung up to cool like a butchered hog than end our practice. It’s just that…”

“Listen, Rucker. You know the rules…you know why we have them.”

“I do,” Rucker sighed as his shoulders slumped. “But it’s the boredom of this place and the idea it will never end. Don’t you ever long for excitement? Don’t you ever want to experience the rest of the world again? There has to be more to our existence than this, doesn’t there?”

Before continuing, Rucker shook his head and sighed again, exhaling much deeper this time.

“Maybe I’m just too stupid, but I don’t see the sense in hiding in a hole like a scared rabbit instead of fighting to change the law that condemns people like me. Even if I died trying, at least I’d get the chance to stand up and fight for myself and everyone I care about. I can’t help thinking that nothing will ever change if we don’t have the guts to make it happen.”

Rucker paused when he noticed a rare expression of concern on his teacher’s face. Then, holding up his hand to ward off a possible lecture, he pressed on.

“And no…you don’t have to say it…because I already know that challenging the law means the likelihood of a bloody war with the Quiller army. But isn’t it more honorable to face those spiny bastards and die fighting like warriors than to wait for them to come here and slaughter us like a flock of helpless sheep? I just can’t believe that cowardice is our only option. And if it’s not, then it seems we have only one ethical choice…we have to stop the murder of those born with a Blood-Rune. Those of us who were protected and have survived until adulthood can take steps to conceal our birthmarks. But what about all the defenseless babies who aren’t so lucky…those who die by the hundreds every day?”

“I know exactly how you feel, Ruck. Far better than you can imagine. It’s just that in defying the law, tens of thousands…perhaps hundreds of thousands…will die, who wouldn’t otherwise. The question is…is it worth it?”

“That’s impossible to know,” Rucker said, exasperated. “I understand that. Yet, how can we turn a blind eye to the murder of so many innocent babies? Don’t we have a moral obligation to protect the weak and put an end to this savage injustice? I know it sounds crazy, but to achieve that goal, I’d be willing to lay my life on the line a thousand times.

“Besides, if I was lucky enough not to be killed outright, I might even get the chance to test the true depth of my courage against a real enemy. It’s even possible that I could make some sort of difference in the world…maybe even show a little heroism in the process. But where’s the honor in being trapped here forever? There has to be another way, because I refuse to believe this is all there is to my life.”

“First of all, no one is questioning your bravery,” Brogan said. “That’s never been in doubt. Second, I applaud your strong sense of honor. But not all issues can be defined in such naïve and limited terms as good or evil, light or dark, right or wrong. Life is never that simple. It’s not a case of whether something is pure white or pure black. There are endless shades of gray between the two. I should know. Before I came to Bieldburg I lived in a world that was little more than a sooty landscape of vague, shifting grays, where each moral choice led me deeper into the shadowy realms…dark places I never intended to go.”

Brogan paused, his eyes narrowing. “At times, it felt like I might be lost in that darkness forever.”

“What do you mean?” Rucker’s mind whirled as he tried to cover his astonishment. Brogan seldom spoke of his past, and certainly never like this.

Brogan waved the question away while staring silently at the sword in his hand. Then he took a deep breath and sighed. “It’s about the decisions we make and the repercussions from those choices. Even when you try to do what’s right, the result can prove disastrous. I suppose that’s one of the sad cruelties of life…no one makes the right choice every time.”

“But whether we should or shouldn’t protect those who can’t protect themselves seems like an easy decision to make,” Rucker said as he strove to conceal his anger. “There’s no gray to it. It’s simple. If it’s within you’re power to help…you help.”

“It isn’t as if the kingdoms haven’t tried,” Brogan said. “It’s sheer terror that keeps this stinking Blood-Rune law in place. Until that fear subsides…until the kingdoms have hope of victory…until they have a hero to follow…they will not, and I repeat, not risk what happened the last time. Why would they?”

“I don’t really know. It just seems…”

Brogan continued as if he hadn’t heard Rucker. “And as to experiencing the rest of the world, I’ve seen more than my share of it. So I can promise you this…you’ll be sadly disappointed if you’re foolish enough to think you’ll gain vast fame and glory. You won’t. But even if you did achieve some small recognition for being honorable, most people don’t give a damn about that sort of thing. At least, they didn’t when I was part of their world. Unless attitudes have changed dramatically, they still don’t.

“The truth is…there’s rampant treachery damn near everywhere you go…extortion, thievery, rape, murder. And they’re usually perpetrated by the worst assortment of sellswords you could ever imagine, vile scum who are paid by a handful of secret organizations run by greedy, vindictive men who must’ve been born without souls.”

Brogan paused again. When he continued, his gray eyes had softened and the anger in his voice had dissipated. “I hate to admit it, but I’m far from being righteous enough to criticize others. Right or wrong, people can always find justification for what they do. I certainly did. Over the years, I’ve found that justifying one’s own need seems to be just one more dark but substantial part of basic human nature.

“I wish I could say otherwise, but having spent most of my life outside The Basin, I can describe the world only one way…it’s a dark and tragic place. Now…I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. But too often you’ll find yourself slogging knee-deep through a stinking cesspool of inhumanity. And it’s all because brutality rules where mercy is seen as weakness. It’s a cruel, hard fact to accept. Nevertheless, it’s nature’s way…the strong survive.”

Before continuing, he offered Rucker an uncharacteristic half-smile and a slight shrug that hinted at an apology for the way things were.

“I know you’ll never believe me, but you should be thankful for the peacefulness and safety Bieldburg offers. Not everyone is so fortunate.”

Rucker wondered why Brogan seemed so willing to accept the status quo. His teacher was unbeatable with any weapon he wielded, which meant he’d be the perfect person to lead a fight for change. The fact that he seemed disinterested in such a challenge suddenly angered Rucker. For an instant, he wanted to shout at Brogan for being too weak-willed and timid, and to accuse him of being a coward.

But Rucker knew better than that. His teacher always had good reasons for what he believed, what he said, and what he did. Besides, no one was braver than Brogan. That was a simple fact, and nothing — not even his own anger and frustration — could convince Rucker otherwise.

Even as his teacher stood there looking apathetic and distant, Rucker knew the image was a false one. He had once asked Brogan why he never seemed to care about anything, and his response came as a surprise.

“You have a lot to learn about me, boy. My problem has always been that I care too much. But in the business of swordplay, being foolish enough to show your true feelings to an enemy is the same as handing him an invisible weapon he can use against you. A true swordmaster can’t afford to give away such powerful gifts. To do so is a deadly weakness. So I’ve trained myself to keep my emotions hidden. And that training alone has saved my life more than once.”

That had been a lesson in swordsmanship that Rucker really couldn’t dispute. However, in everyday life, Brogan’s aloofness created ongoing problems. After all this time as his student, Rucker still found it all but impossible to plumb the depths of Brogan’s true mental or emotional involvement on most issues.

Despite the fact that Brogan was an enigma to everyone else in the village as well, what cut Rucker deepest was that even with him, Brogan wore stoicism like an emotional shield. And at times such as this — besides causing Rucker heartache — it was absolutely infuriating.

To someone who didn’t know him as well as Rucker did, it might appear that Brogan was focused on their conversation and oblivious to all else. Although he still held his sword, he looked as if he were unaware of it, unaware its tip still rested in the dirt, unaware that he hadn’t sheathed it. In fact, he appeared so distracted and inattentive that it seemed a sudden attack might catch him unprepared.

But Rucker wasn’t foolish enough to make that mistake again. After six years of sparring with Brogan, Rucker accepted one thing for a certainty: his teacher knew where his sword was at all times, and he could bring it into play in half the time it took to blink an eye.

Rucker had learned that truth very early in his training. There was no such thing as Brogan being distracted from his sword, or any other weapon for that matter. In his hands they were all instruments of death; tools of violence created for the specific purposes of breaking bones and spilling the blood of an enemy.

Sword, axe, knife, staff, pike, or bow — they were all the same. They became part of Brogan, almost living, breathing extensions of his arm.

“Hey! I’m still here, Rucker…are you?” Brogan’s abruptness jarred Rucker from his reverie.

“What?” Despite his pretended ignorance, Rucker knew exactly what his teacher was getting at. He wanted the truth — straight and simple. But for Rucker, there was nothing simple about it.

“You know how much I hate playing games. So if this is some sort of guessing game, you can put an end to it right now,” Brogan demanded. “There’s still something else bothering you. I can feel it.”

“I’ve already told you everything,” Rucker said, angry at himself for lying yet again.

For a moment, Brogan just stared at him. “There has to be more to this than your despair at facing a lifetime of boredom. And it’s hard for me to believe that a friend’s ridiculous dream can have you so worried and distracted. There’s something you’re not saying. So let’s hear it.”

“It’s just…I don’t really know. It’s everything, Brogan. It’s the boredom, the nightmare demon, the feeling that I’m destined for something more important than rotting away slowly with nothing to show for my life. Sometimes it’s almost enough to drive me insane.”

Rucker clenched his sword hilt until his knuckles turned white.

“I believe what you said. I do. I believe that the world outside The Basin is dangerous, and I know that the discovery and destruction of everyone here is a constant threat. I’ve heard it all my life. But if secrecy is all that keeps us safe, all that prevents a violent death from becoming a reality for everyone we know, isn’t it just a matter of time before tragedy strikes?”

Brogan shrugged. “All I know for certain is…we don’t ever want to find out the answer to that question. And that’s why we must always be ready. That’s why we practice.” He raised his eyebrows and tipped his head as if to ask…Now do you understand the point of all this?

With a deep sigh, Rucker nodded. There was little else to be said.

Although it was still early evening, it was late enough that most members of their village had retired peacefully to their cabins. But it was different for Rucker. He dreaded these last hours of daylight. They only reminded him of what was to come.

In fact, avoiding sleep had become a habit for him in the last few weeks. And to that end, he regularly sought any diversion offering a delay to that nightly inevitability. So tonight, despite being fatigued from his hard day’s labor, he had asked Brogan to spar with him until it was too dark to see.

His teacher accepted the invitation and Rucker hadn’t been the slightest bit surprised. He knew that Brogan was as obsessed with improving his sword skill as he was. Even more so, if that was possible. When it came to helping Rucker hone his swordsmanship, Brogan rarely refused one of Rucker’s requests to practice. If anything, he encouraged Rucker’s fanaticism.

Ultimately, it was the combined force of the two dynamics — Rucker’s obsession and Brogan’s constant support — that made Rucker the second best swordsman in the village, next only to Brogan.

“With all this talking, you haven’t answered my question. Do you believe in demons?” Knuckling his brow, Rucker stared at his teacher with a pleading yet determined look that he hoped would elicit a useful response. “I don’t want to sound like an idiot, it’s just that…”

“It’s just…nothing,” Brogan said, not offering the slightest hint of emotion. “Anything is possible, Ruck. I’ve found few absolutes in life. But I do believe a man has two choices…either he’s a warrior and he learns to fight, or he’s a victim and he waits to die. Which one are you?”

Then, without giving him the slightest chance to answer, Brogan’s sword flashed forward, forcing Rucker to defend himself or face a punishment worse than the shallow cut on his neck.

Rucker felt a sudden wash of nausea strike his solar plexus and flood every cell of his body like a massive wave of adrenalin. However, this sudden surge of energy was different from anything he’d experienced before. It was far more powerful.

Whatever it was, Rucker didn’t have time to analyze it. Instead, he reacted instinctively.His sword whipped out to deflect the unexpected attack, turning Brogan’s blade even as his teacher pressed the advantage of surprise.

It took less than a heartbeat for Rucker’s mind to focus completely on the challenge. Every muscle in his body tensed like a coiled mountain-viper preparing to strike. Even though Brogan forced him backward a few defensive steps, Rucker soon recovered from the onslaught enough to end his retreat and hold his ground.

After Rucker successfully parried more than half a dozen additional strokes, Brogan eased off and stepped back a pace. Although it was obvious his teacher remained vigilant, Rucker took advantage of the pause and launched his own attack.

For an instant, it almost seemed like Brogan was surprised by the sudden reversal. But that was absurd. It had to be. He’d never surprised Brogan before.

Stroke after stroke, Brogan parried Rucker’s attack. As always, his teacher remained intensely focused and fluid, not leaving the slightest opening. Even though he hadn’t beaten Brogan, Brogan hadn’t beaten him either. For the first time, their exchange was a tie, a concept Rucker couldn’t quite wrap his mind around. Such a balanced outcome just didn’t seem possible.

But Rucker knew something had changed. He was no longer just Brogan’s best student. Perhaps, after all these years of training, he had become a true swordsman. At the very least, he was now a fighter who must be taken seriously, even by Brogan.

Rucker felt different — larger somehow, more powerful — and the sheer oddness of the sensation left him perplexed.

Then Brogan gave a low whistle, and that subtle, uncharacteristic reaction told Rucker that his teacher hadn’t missed the difference either. Something important had taken place, even if Rucker had no idea what it was.

Unwilling to be distracted again, Rucker ended his attack and disengaged his teacher. But even then, he didn’t let his guard down for the slightest part of a second.

“Now that is why you practice,” Brogan said, surprising Rucker with a wide grin. “You’ve just proven my point.

“Talent is useless unless you hone it. It’s like a dull sword blade…only half of what it could be until the edge is sharp. I’m proud of you, boy. But don’t let a little well-earned praise go to your head. You still have a lot to learn. True swordsmanship is an art that takes long years of dedicated training to show even a modicum of proficiency, and a whole lifetime to master. I certainly haven’t discovered all of its shrouded complexities, and maybe I never will. Maybe it’s the will of the gods that no one person should become so powerful. But like you, all I can do is to continue learning and practicing.”

Rucker experienced a momentary rush of pride, but he didn’t allow it to show. Any display of cockiness or egotism resulted in swift punishment. Brogan never showed any signs of unmanaged ego, and he definitely didn’t tolerate it in his students. He said it was just one more weakness a true swordmaster couldn’t afford.

Nevertheless, Rucker couldn’t avoid the feeling that he had performed with unexpected proficiency, well beyond his already advanced skill level. And Brogan’s uncommon reaction — in both his wide grin and his complimentary words — only proved one thing: whatever had happened to Rucker was real.

In ways he couldn’t begin to explain, he was changing. He felt it viscerally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He just wished he knew where that change was leading.

Before either of them could resume the action, a voice sounded at the periphery of their sparring circle from a distance well outside any accidental entanglement. Brogan raised his hand in the common gesture used to cease further swordplay. When Rucker nodded, they both relaxed their defenses and turned to see who had interrupted them.

There stood Aldus, one of the older students who studied and practiced various disciplines of magic along with Selwyn and a dozen others in Master Talmage’s classes. “I have an important message, Master Brogan,” Aldus gasped, breathing deeply as if he’d run all the way.

He also seemed anxious as he moved closer. But Rucker couldn’t tell if the anxiety was because of the ferocity of the sparring he had just witnessed or because of the content of the message he brought.

“What is it, lad?”

“Master Talmage would like you to meet him at Orn’s cottage as soon as possible. Said it’s very important.”

Aldus paused, shot a glancing frown at Rucker, and quickly looked away. It happened so fast that Rucker didn’t get the chance to return a frown of his own. Still sounding winded, Aldus took a deep breath and released a long sigh. “He said the sooner the better, sir.”

“Thank you, Aldus. Tell him I’ll be right there.” Brogan sheathed his sword, and Rucker followed suit.

Aldus cast another brief and unfriendly look at Rucker before turning his gaze on the cabin door thirty feet directly behind Rucker.

On the other side of that door, Selwyn and Eli had already settled in for the night, since they no longer felt a rush of excitement while watching Rucker’s sparring matches with Brogan. The first few hundred times — yes. But that was a long time ago.

Unlike Selwyn, Eli still cared enough about improving his swordplay to practice at times, although his current active involvement was more occasional and a bit less fanatic. However, Eli confessed he was most interested when Brogan focused his training on the use of a bow, on the techniques of knife-throwing, or on hand-to-hand dagger-fighting. Over time, Eli’s ability with bow, throwing-knife, and dagger had improved greatly, but his skill rate as a swordsman had slowed. He was still talented with a long-blade, but he could’ve been better.

It pained Rucker to admit, but he missed Eli’s participation — his critique and his encouragement. And, unfairly or not, Eli’s disinterest felt like a betrayal somehow.

Angry and frustrated over the unexpected interruption, Rucker wanted to unleash a flurry of gibes and curses, but with an effort he held his tongue. Instead, he glared daggers at Aldus, who stood staring at the cabin door as if he was trying to decide something. A glance showed Rucker that Brogan was also watching the unwelcome intruder.

When Aldus made no move to leave or make further conversation, Brogan spoke up. “Is there something else, boy? If not, then I suggest you be on your way.”

Brogan’s question seemed to snap Aldus’ attention back to why he was there. Looking startled, Aldus answered in a tone that sounded sheepishly uncertain. “No, sir…that was all.” He nodded at Brogan, and then, with a final frown at Rucker, he turned and hurried away. For a second or two, they watched Aldus retreat into the thinning light of early evening.

“There’s something about that boy I just don’t like,” Brogan said. “I always get the feeling he’s hiding something.”

With that, Brogan walked over to a rough-hewn cedar bench and retrieved his forest cloak. Although it was halfway into the longer days of spring, there was still a definite bite to the night air.

“I guess it’s time to call it an evening anyway,” he said as he pulled the cloak around his shoulders. “But remember what I said. You’re either a warrior or a victim…the choice is yours.” Without another word, he turned and headed in the direction of Orn’s cottage.

“Thanks for the practice session, Brogan,” Rucker called after him, and then added, “and for the advice. I won’t forget it. I promise.”

Without looking back, Brogan waved over his shoulder and soon disappeared into the growing darkness. For a dozen heartbeats, Rucker just stood there frustrated, wishing the sparring session hadn’t ended. All that was left to do now was join Eli and Selwyn in the cabin they shared — then wait for sleep and the nightmare that tortured him.

“Maybe it won’t happen tonight,” he said in a near whisper, as if afraid someone would hear, even though he was the only one there. Then he spoke in his normal tone. “Stop being such a mule’s ass. You’re acting like a frightened child. It hasn’t happened in days…it’s not going to tonight.”

Despite his attempt to talk himself out of his fear, it persisted like a bad dose of poison-vine rash. He had suffered from this fear for weeks now, and it showed no signs of going away. The hideous nightmare had infected him completely and he had no idea how to rid himself of it. What terrified him the most was that it might plague him the rest of his life.

Rucker felt certain it would help ease his mind, at least a little, if he only knew why the bloody damned nightmare returned again and again.

But he didn’t — and he absolutely hated that.

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6. A terrific Christmas gift for a writer you know

3D cover250WYes, I’m plugging my new book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. But, if you believe the reviews by writers who’ve read it, it’s a gift that truly helps writers craft a strong story. And there’s time to order a paperback copy signed for the recipient if you order from my website.

Speaking of reviews, here’s a recent one from Amazon:

4 stars So MUCH great advice!

I've read a lot of books on the craft of writing, and I've come to judge these books based on how many passages I've highlighted or bookmarked. And man ... I marked up this book!

What I loved:

  1. This book contains SO MUCH great advice - from big ideas of storytelling down to little facets of word choice.
  2. His writing style is very easy to read.
  3. He's included practical tips and exercises for the reader to put into immediate practice.

Not only will I recommend this book to all of my writing friends, I will also read this book again and again to master the concepts presented within its pages.

Order now to get a copy in time. A Kindle edition is available on Amazon.

And Merry Storytelling to all!

Ray

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7. Flogometer for Ray--two first pages by me for you to flog

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

I’ve recently started writing a sequel to The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles and had crafted a first page that I felt worked the way it should.

Then I attended a workshop by Donald Maass, literary agent, at the Writer Unboxed Unconference. It was about where good manuscripts fall short, especially in the middle. Maass, a literary agent who has read and analyzed hundreds of novels, said that it’s engagement with the protagonist that matters the most in creating a narrative that keeps the pages turning, and a lack of that is usually the first way good manuscripts fail to do enough. He said that he feels engagement with a character is best begun on the first page.

That made sense to me. Since my WIP was much on my mind, that evening I wrote a new first page aimed at more strongly engaging the reader with the protagonist. But did I succeed?

So today I’m asking you to read the original, vote, then the new one, vote again, and then vote on which you prefer. I hope you’ll say why in the comments.

I’ll post the rest of the chapter after the break and would like to hear your thoughts on that, as well.

Here’s the original first page of The Hollywood Unmurders:

Hiding behind a scrub oak beneath the H in the HOLLYWOOD sign, I hadn’t heard any movement from the direction of the W where I’d spotted the coyote. Unluckily, he’d homed in on me when I ducked behind the bush, and the word around Los Angeles was that coyotes never met a cat they didn’t like. If it had been a dog, I wouldn’t have worried—who worries about a creature that has devoted eons of evolution to mastering tail-wagging and drooling?

The full moon I’d been enjoying on my outing now felt like a spotlight, and the scrub oak, three feet tall and about that wide, was no barrier to a determined coyote. Although being undead wasn’t much of a life, I preferred holding on to what little I had.

I’d have my revenge if he ate me—chewing on a vampire kitty-cat would give him a terminal case of indigestion. Unfortunately, by then I wouldn’t be in any condition to say gotcha.

After the vee virus in me turned him into a vampire as he masticated my poor little body, would I end up an immortal lump in his belly, giving “hairball” a whole new meaning? Disgusting. Not to mention really, really creepy.

I slunk low, belly to the ground, and peered beneath a branch.

He wasn’t under the W anymore.

Uh-oh.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

And here’s the new first page of The Hollywood Unmurders (except for one line from the original, it’s all new):

After Meg heated up a late-night snack of V1—the type O negative with the nicely nutty aftertaste—we fended off our looming bloodlust and then did what we had settled into doing just about every evening since we moved to Los Angeles. She sat on the living-room couch and, of course, created a lap into which I, of course, immediately curled up. I’m pretty sure that laps are the reason cats decided to hook up with human beings, you being the only place we can get them.

With the blood enlivening us, she scratched behind my ears. When my purr kicked in, a teensy smile curled the corners of her mouth up. Me, too. If you think a purr sounds good, on the inside it feels like what you hear only ten times stronger.

A coyote howled outside, but we get that a lot here at our Silver Lake apartment house.

Then, as always, her fingers lost their warmth until they were room temperature. I did the same, and my skin returned to numb. I still felt her stroking me, but it was as if from a distance.

Her little smile sank into no expression at all, her face chill and still. My purr died out and we were back to being forever undead. You might think that immortality would be compensation enough, but even if we were super-strong (we aren’t), able to fly (we can’t), or could turn into bats, which I could do without, anyway (we can’t), it wasn’t.

I went to the door and meowed. Meg got up and opened it. “Be careful.” She ruffled my fur. “They say a coyote never met a cat they didn’t like.” I slipped out.

Were you compelled turn the page with this opening?

Okay, now one more vote as to which of the two you prefer, whether or not you found it compelling. My attempt to form a connection with the reader calls upon the technique of showing the character in a relationship even though it was far less action-intensive. Please comment on why you voted for the one you preferred if you have a moment. The rest of the chapter follows the break—it takes up where this second first page leaves off and begins with, essentially, the former first page that gets into the action.

Which of the two openings did you prefer?

Like all the writers who submit to FtQ, I appreciate your time and your thoughts.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey

(continued)

An hour later, I hid behind a scrub oak beneath the H in the HOLLYWOOD sign. I hadn’t heard any movement from the direction of the W where I’d spotted the coyote. Unluckily, he’d homed in on me when I ducked behind the bush. I wouldn’t have worried if it had been a dog—who worries about a creature that has devoted eons of evolution to mastering tail-wagging and drooling?

The full moon I’d been enjoying on my outing now felt like a spotlight, and the scrub oak, three feet tall and about that wide, was no barrier to a determined coyote. Although being undead wasn’t much of a life, I preferred holding on to what little I had.

I’d have my revenge if he ate me—chewing on a vampire kitty-cat would give him a terminal case of indigestion. Unfortunately, by that time I wouldn’t be in any condition to say gotcha.

After the vee virus in me turned him into a vampire as he masticated my body, would I end up an immortal lump in his belly, thereby giving “hairball” a whole new meaning? Disgusting. Not to mention really, really creepy.

I slunk low, belly to the ground, and peered beneath a branch.

He wasn’t under the W anymore.

Uh-oh.

I scanned the rocky chaparral in front of me, a holdout of the old desert in the middle of L.A.’s artificial lushness, and wished a real, climbable tree had sprung up within the last few minutes. I wondered if my calico colors made as good a camouflage as I hoped they did.

Something crackled behind me, like a dry twig being stepped on. I whipped around and there he stood, gazing at me from four feet away.

So much for camouflage.

Hoping to look dangerous and too big to mess with, I arched my back and puffed up the fur on my spine and tail.

The coyote sat and licked his chops, no doubt considering what part of me to dine on first.

So much for puffery.

I throttled my fur back down and thought hard. Maybe the old slow-motion trick would work. You know, the one where a cat moves ve-e-e-e-ry slo-o-o-owly awa-a-a-y so as not to provoke an attack. It works if you’re facing a bigger and nastier cat, but I had serious doubts about a hungry coyote.

Before I could slow-move, though, he stretched his head forward and sniffed. I braced for a run, though I knew it was hopeless against his long legs. I might win the sprint but, with no tree to climb, he’d catch me in the marathon that stretched between me and the nearest palm tree on the way back to the apartment.

He stood and took a step closer. I was beyond tense, only seconds away from incoherent screeching and completely losing it to uncatlike panic. I took a deep breath and focused on looking cool and indifferent, thinking that maybe thinking that would calm me down.

He leaned toward me and sniffed again.

I wasn’t calming down.

I knew what he was picking up—my personal feline aroma plus the coppery scent of blood that we vees emanate. It’s a subtle perfume, the blood smell, but ,,,

Another lick of his chops, languid this time, as if he were relishing the dining experience to come. He tasted my scent again with a deep inhale.

I began to understand what food feels like.

Good-bye, Meg.

Good-bye, scratch behind the ears.

Good-bye purring.

Then his blue eyes twinkled, he winked, and he turned and walked away.

Blue?

Winked?

Walked away?

The wink brought on a severe case of jitters as I scrammed for home. Had he been toying with me? Was he skulking up ahead, ready to spring? I jumped at every sound and shied from every shadow.

Er, it wasn’t as if I was afraid, of course. Just a cat’s hyper vigilance in action.

The rustle of paws in dirt came from my left—there he was, pacing me. I veered a little away from him, and he stayed with me but came no closer all the way back home.

He followed me right into the courtyard and past the swimming pool. I was darned glad that Meg always left our door cracked open when I went out so I could nose my back way in. I was a little proud that I hadn’t panicked and run right at the last.

When I was safely inside, I looked out. Right on our doorstep, the coyote eyed me. Meg’s footsteps approached behind me, and he lifted his gaze to her. I crouched and braced myself, poised to spring. Despite those gleaming fangs, if he tried to mess with my associate I would—

He turned and trotted away, going around the pool and up the stairs to the second level on the other side. The animal knew no fear.

I, however, knew great relief.

“Patch!” Meg scooped me up and pushed the door shut with her foot. She stroked my head and said, “You’ve been gone a long time, and I was worried that you’d run into a coyote.”

As if on cue, a coyote howl sounded. Meg said, “See? That sounds like it’s right outside the door.”

Tell me about it.

The burn of bloodlust ignited in my belly—all that exercise and stress, no doubt. I wriggled and Meg set me down. I trotted into the kitchen and aimed myself at the refrigerator.

Meg said, “Good idea.” She opened the door and took out two bottles of V1. “We’ve got our delivery run to do.” She poured one into a bowl and the other into a mug, popped them into the microwave, and soon the metallic aroma of warm blood made my mouth want to water even though it couldn’t.

Meg set my bowl on the floor and then took a deep swallow from her mug. I can’t tell you how envious I am at times of the human ability to just drink stuff down. When your bloodlust is sending jagged spears of pain through your body, lapping with your tongue is entirely inadequate.

Still, I got the job done. Soon I plumped down on the loveseat and launched a major purr. But that coyote kept licking his chops in my mind—and winking—and my purr faded away. I needed a lap. Just as I hopped down to find my associate and get her to provide one, the doorbell rang.

Meg hurried from the bedroom and called, “Coming.” She snatched up the bowl and mug, and ran water into them at the kitchen sink. Even though the caller was probably one of the vampires we’ve met since we moved here, it was good to be careful. Vees were still underground in Hollywood, although actors talked about blood-sucking agents in ways that made me wonder.

She had changed into her delivery uniform, a crimson jumpsuit with “Meg” stitched above one pocket and the V1 logo on the other. I was pleased by the trim appearance my petite associate made. It’s good to have a companion that compliments one’s own lithe calico body.

When she opened the door, a twenty-something man about Meg’s age and dressed in a rumpled brown suit looked down at her. He smiled—I wondered if he would have done that if he’d known he stood just outside a vampire den. Lucky for him we’d just had our V1—there’s no stopping an attack when the bloodlust frenzy takes you over.

Thinking maybe he was here about the coyote, I joined Meg at the door. The man held out a badge and said, “Los Angeles police, Ma’am, homicide. I’m Detective Rick Champagne. Can I have a minute of your time?”

My hackles rose. Ever since I was tried for murder back in Illinois, I tensed up whenever a cop came calling. But I stifled a hiss. It wouldn’t be smart to draw attention to myself. Besides, I’d been found not guilty, so what did I have to worry about?

Meg said, “Homicide?” She gazed down at me and arched an eyebrow. “As in murder?”

Would she never let that go? It was self-defense, the judge said so.

Rick the cop looked down at me, too—with twinkly blue eyes that seemed to have a knowing smile behind them.

If he winked at me I would—

(end of chapter)

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8. Reviews are coming in for "Mastering the Craft"

Mastering front 100WshadowReviews are beginning to appear on Amazon for my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling The first one:

5 starsEngaging read to make you a better writer.

As a writer who is about to publish my first children's novel, Ray Rhamey's Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling is particularly useful as it gives you great insight on how to self-edit and make the story better.

The section on wordcraft was an excellent way to tackle the good, the bad and the ugly. The chapter on adverbs gave excellent advice on this often debated topic and the remaining chapters addressed those pesky words "without" and "as" that like to creep in and need to be weeded out.

Section 2 on the techniques of storytelling is a first class exercise in showing not telling. Throughout Rhamey uses examples which are illuminating and often humorous. Writers can be neurotic about having their work dissected but Rhamey shows us the humor in the exercise while always aiming to improve the reader's writing - to simply make us better.

My favorite chapter in the last section on storytelling is "Tension in your first sentence" - it made me rethink my opening lines and I believe I have made them better. Thanks Ray!

Signed paperbacks are available on my website (discounted price, free shipping), both Kindle and the paperback are available on Amazon.com.

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9. Flogometer for Anikó—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Anikó sends a first chapter of The Water Still Rules , a YA fantasy. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

I should have taken the signs seriously. The ache in my eyes as the streaks of sunshine found their way through the green blanket of tree leaves, the trembling of my hands, as I entwine them to pray, the numbness creeping up on the sides of my legs. By the time I feel my body jerk back, it’s too late. I hit the ground, my back cracking on a log. I’m having a vision, and I learned early on that visions meant trouble. The first time it happened was on the day I turned twelve. I spent the whole day curled up in fetal position, fighting the urge to vomit. Talk about a fun birthday gift.

I close my eyes, letting the power take over and my fingers clutch, scratching the earth under me. I feel coldness rushing inside of me, numbing the tip of my toes first and lurking its way along my spine, right up to my head.

The scent of the earth and trees is replaced by the smell of iron and wine, and the sound of rustling leaves blends into distant human voices. A heavy, wooden table stands in the middle of the room and behind it a man with his fists propped on it. He’s looking down, his dirty blond hair falling into his face. Sunlight floods in through the huge window, shining back from his torso. Judging by the sturdy, bronze breastplate he is a soldier, and not just a common one, but someone of high rank.

“We have to search the Orphan Forest again,” he says, his voice becoming clearer in (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Anikó's first page?

I definitely like the writing and voice here and we open with an immediate scene with something happening. But I think this opening could be stronger if, instead of reporting the vision, we could get more of a hint of jeopardy, of something the protagonist is going to need to do. Though the writing and voice tempted me to turn the page, I decided to give it an almost and hope that more tension can be created on this page. As it is, there’s not a lot in the way of story questions, especially what this vision means to the protagonist. Notes follow:

I should have taken the signs seriously. The ache in my eyes as the streaks of sunshine found their way through the green blanket of tree leaves, the trembling of my hands, as I entwine them to pray, the numbness creeping up on the sides of my legs. By the time I feel my body jerk back, it’s too late. I hit the ground, my back cracking on a log. I’m having a vision, and I learned early on that visions meant trouble. The first time it happened was on the day I turned twelve. I spent the whole day curled up in fetal position, fighting the urge to vomit. Talk about a fun birthday gift. This is an opportunity to easily let the reader know the age of the protagonist. For example: . . . first time it happened was six years ago, on the day I turned twelve. An opportunity to create some stakes was missed here in a couple of ways. Instead of visions meaning trouble, why not have them mean danger? “Trouble” could refer to a day of wanting to vomit, but I think more is needed here. Rather than the feeling of illness on that first vision, why not, instead, include the trouble/danger that was seen back then. We need a suggestion of jeopardy to come and, for my money, it isn’t on this first page.

I close my eyes, letting the power take over and my fingers clutch, scratching the earth under me. I feel coldness rushing inside of me, numbing the tip of my toes first and lurking its way along my spine, right up to my head.

The scent of the earth and trees is replaced by the smell of iron and wine, and the sound of rustling leaves blends into distant human voices. A heavy, wooden table stands in the middle of the room and behind it a man with his fists propped on it. He’s looking down, his dirty blond hair falling into his face. Sunlight floods in through the huge window, shining back from his torso. Judging by the sturdy, bronze breastplate he is a soldier, and not just a common one, but someone of high rank.

“We have to search the Orphan Forest again,” he says, his voice becoming clearer in (snip)  Later it seems as if these men are searching for the protagonist and her brother, but that isn’t included. Can we have more jeopardy here? Could the line about searching the forest again be more dire? For example: To find the girl and kill her, we have to search the Orphan Forest . . .etc. We need a connection between the vision and the protagonist.

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 Anikó

 

(continued)

my head with each word. He is pointing his fingers at the huge paper folded across the table .A map. His neatly kept beard has streaks of white in it, and it reminds me of my father. But my father didn’t have cold eyes like he does, and his skin was copper instead of pale. “Would I have a Soultree, this is where I would hide.”

“You heard the innkeeper, Gaillard,” a younger voice says. He seems a bit older than I am, but I don’t think he turned twenty yet. He sits in a massive, wooden chair, one leg dropped over the other, his brown dress is decorated with fine needlework. He must either be someone very important or someone very wealthy. With his dark hair combed back and those ruby green eyes he looks like a prince. His strong jaws are moving, chewing on something. “She knows the forest as well as her own palm. She hasn’t seen anything.” He leans on the table, reaches into a bowl and pops a grape in his mouth.

Impatience flickers in Gaillard’s eyes, but his voice is steady. “Yes, Saro. I don’t think we should give her words too much credit, though. As far as we know, she can be one of them. Skin color doesn’t mean much anymore.”

Saro knocks his cup twice on the table and waits as a young girl pours wine it. “Fine. Have it your way.” He takes a gulp. “But whatever you do, do not come back to me empty handed. I want at least one of them alive, and I want the tree.” He stands up from the table, and turns back before leaving the room. “I give you ten men. You are dismissed.”

 

My eyes fly open, and I gasp for air, breathing the familiar scent of the forest in again. For a second, I think I will be fine, that the quick rush of fresh air into my lungs helps. When the second is over, I bend and empty my stomach next to a fig tree. Tear gathers in my eyes at the bitter taste of vomit.

I get up, sweat trickling down the small of my back, as I put my back against a tree to catch my breath. My back is aching where the log hit it and I massage it to make the pain go away. It still feels hot and humid, even though the sky is low on the sky. Nightfall is close, and I don’t know where the soldiers are right now, but they cannot be far. Last time I had a vision, we had no time to spare, an hour later they broke our door down and only me and my brother managed to flee. We might only have seconds now, I have to get back to our hut to warn him.

Dizziness takes over, and a tree catches me as I stumble. The raspy surface of the trunk barks the skin on my shoulder. I inhale deeply, and risk a couple of steps. Afraid that I’m going to faint, I don’t dare going too fast. There might not be enough time though, and it’s at least thirty minutes to get to my cottage from here. I have to be faster than this.

I know a ginger bush not too far away, and I decide to risk the small detour. When I find it, I start digging deep with my fingers, taking the root out of the earth. Not bothering to clean it, I break it open with my shaky hands. Taking a bite, I get up and start walking again while chewing. It’s pinching my tongue and my throat, but I stuff it down anyway. It won’t help immediately, but it’s better than nothing. The forest is getting darker, and I know I don’t have much time left. I start into a pathetically slow run. I fall, get up and fall again, but I don’t stop. Forcing my body now can mean my life. Or my brother’s.

I finally get within sight of our cottage and hide. I can’t quite see inside from so far away, so I wait for any suspicious signs, but nothing. I feel the knot in my chest tighten up a little and make my way closer. I look inside the window and my blood freezes. They’ve found us.

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10. Sex and Soul, a new memoir

Front cover 200WI want to give a shout-out to my book-design client (cover and interior), Cristina L. White and her new memoir, Sex and Soul. Cristina was not only a delight to work with, she's a terrific writer. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

“I grew up in a world where it seemed that all women were meant to marry, and it was expected that every girl wanted to be a bride. I wanted to be Roy Rogers.”

Sex and Soul:  A Memoir of Salvation is about the quest to reconcile body and soul; it is an intimate look at a struggle between the dictates of a Catholic upbringing and the call to be true to one’s sense of self.  In a story of transition from compliance to nonconformity, Cristina L. White shares her sexual awakening, spiritual transformation, and her political affinities—a trinity that fueled her change from good Catholic girl to an out and open gay woman of color.

Sex and Soul is a frank and often funny account of how one woman’s road to damnation became her sole path to salvation.

Her website is here; check it out.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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11. Flogometer for Margaret—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Margaret sends a first chapter of The Lore Keepers.

A handful of dirt-encrusted fingers swatted irritably at the straggle of hair that undermined even a token tribute to tidiness. A tattered sleeve, threadbare along its edges, shifted to the more pressing task of suppressing a sneeze, which would have ended any hope for continued stealth and concealment. It was the disquieting sound of the stable's side door opening that held the boy to the upper rafter as effectively as any mortar could have.

The child balancing precariously on the rough beam was nondescript at best. Of an indeterminate age, and possessing an abundance of hair that overshadowed the features of his face, his small slender build could mislead many into mistaking him for a damsel – only, the stables were not typically the provinces of women.

In many respects his footing was little different from that of the stray dogs wandering in the yard in hopes of finding a forgotten morsel, and as such, he was often the recipient of clouts and kicks from those who considered themselves his superiors. To those who had the power to curb the abuse, his plight went unobserved. If it is true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it was not in this wisp of a boy's character to make a sound, not even a whimper. He was as easily brushed away and forgotten as the motes of dust that had been roused in response to his recent furtive movements in the upper reaches of the timber and stone stable.

He was called Paidyn, a designation assigned to him like the tunic upon his back. It was a (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Margaret's first page?

This elegant writing and distant point of view is consistent with what I think of as an earlier form of epic fantasy, though that’s not to say that fine stories are not still written and published in this vein—it’s just not the more active sort of narrative that many have become accustomed to. For readers who like a leisurely read, I think this story will work well. In considering the test put to first pages here at FtQ, this one doesn’t do much of raising a story question. The chapter that follows also takes its time with generous description of the area and the stables (I’ll confess to beginning to skip large parts of that). A story does seem to be in the offing later on, but the role of Paidyn isn’t clear at all—he serves as a way to overhear a plot against the king. For me, this was an “almost” where the voice was strong enough to interest me in a second page—perhaps.

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 Margaret

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12. Flogometer for Sherry—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Sherry sends a first chapter of Undefeated. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

By the time I hit 16 I'd been playing football for ten years. Two things kept me connected to football. My dad and my hope for a scholarship to a Division One school. Lately, those two things hadn't felt like enough. I'd had enough of football, and really, enough of my dad. And now I suspected my coach would risk anything to win this football season.

Dad had shown up unannounced, as usual, at Nan’s today. Nan is his mother, my grandmother, and I've lived with her most of my life. After Dad divorced Mom, he'd lived all over the place, leaving Mom behind in the cottage on the back of Nan’s property and me behind with Nan. Mom had been too sick with cancer to take care of me. He'd done me a huge favor when he'd left me behind. Today he just happened to be in Kentucky.

We always ended up outside tossing the ball around. Dad never stayed indoors any longer than he had to. Today was a balmy late summer day, just enough breeze to rustle the leaves and control the sweat of playing hard. Late summer in our neighborhood smelled like chlorinated pools and new-mown grass.

“Go out for a long one, Hunter,” Dad said as he threw the football. Blasting in the background was Dad’s latest CD from his band, not bad if you like pop rock in the nature of Maroon 5.

I caught that long throw and a few dozen more before Dad said, “I'm going on the road (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Sherry's first page?

Once again, we see good writing and a good voice, but no story question raised. There’s exposition and backstory here that, while some contributes to character, none seems to contribute to story. The actual story later in the chapter seems to be about the protagonist’s concern about doping on the football team. Here’s an alternative opening using material from the next page.

By the time I hit 16 I'd been playing football for ten years. Two things kept me connected to football. My dad and my hope for a scholarship to a Division One school. Lately, those two things hadn't felt like enough. I'd had enough of football, and really, enough of my dad. And now I suspected my coach would risk anything to win this football season.

Dad had shown up unannounced, as usual, at Nan’s today. Nan is his mother, my grandmother, and I've lived with her most of my life. After Dad divorced Mom, he'd lived all over the place, leaving Mom behind in the cottage on the back of Nan’s property and me behind with Nan. Mom had been too sick with cancer to take care of me. He'd done me a huge favor when he'd left me behind. Today he just happened to be in Kentucky.

We always ended up outside tossing the ball around. “Go out for a long one, Hunter,” Dad said.

“Did you ever get tired of football, Dad?”

“Hell no, best time of my life. Don't you let anything get in your way. College football is golden. You'll be big man on campus, all the women you want…”

“It's different now, they expect you…” I said, before he interrupted me. I wanted to tell him my suspicions about Coach dosing players.

“You just do whatever your coaches tell you to do, you hear me. Whatever they tell you, they're the boss, no questions asked.”

What do you think? For me, it introduces conflict on more than one level.Would the opening page be stronger with this content on it?

Would you turn the page with that as the opening?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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

(continued)

for at least two months.”

I wasn’t surprised that he'd leave for two months, but during football season, that shocked me.

“What's up with that?” I asked.

“The SkreeminDemons got a long-term gig in Chicago, in a decent bar. Good money,” he said, “But I know you'll do me proud this season. You're on the fast track to follow in my football footsteps, boy.”

“Did you ever get tired of football, Dad?”

“Hell no, best time of my life. Don't you let anything get in your way. College football is golden. You'll be big man on campus, all the women you want…”

“It's different now, they expect you…” I said, before he interrupted me. I wanted to tell him my suspicions about Coach dosing players.

“You just do whatever your coaches tell you to do, you hear me. Whatever they tell you, they're the boss, no questions asked.”

When one of the senior players I really liked ended up in the hospital right after football practice one day recently, I was afraid I knew why. He’d been hinting around that he was pumping up in a big way at his new gym. I'd thought he meant with weights, but maybe there was something pharmaceutical involved.

“Marcel is in the hospital. They think it was drugs,” I said.

“That’s what happens when college gets close. He's a senior right?”

“They say he's in bad shape,” I said.

“Nothing you can do about it. Keep your own nose clean and don't worry about it.”

“It just seems really dangerous if someone is hooking players up with drugs…” I wanted to tell him how scared I felt.

“Mind your own business. Things happen. Players use stuff sometimes. No big deal.”

Dad picked up the football and headed toward the house to say his good-byes.

“Will you be able to come home for any games?” Not sure why I even asked, I'd learned not to expect anything from Dad. His last remaining  thread of commitment to me had been football and now that was getting cut, too.

“Naw, we’re not getting paid enough to travel back and forth. But I'll come home for Thanksgiving for sure,” Dad said, “I'll be ready for some of your Nan’s turkey and dressing.”

And that quickly, Dad was gone again. I was left on my own to find out if Coach was playing fair, before someone else got hurt, or killed.

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13. Front matter sometimes takes the rear

In traditional print books there are usually pages of “front matter.” For Indie authors, here’s a useful article from PW Select, a publisher’s digital magazine, on what front matter consists of and where it goes.

On the other hand, I’ve heard some say that with ebooks they’re putting the front matter at the rear of the ebook in order to give their book the best chance of capturing a reader’s interest with the story, not book information. That makes sense to me—with a print book it’s easy to quickly flip to the first page of chapter one, but with ebooks that takes laborious scrolling.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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14. an interview with yours truly

Mabry coverAuthor Richard Mabry has posted an interview with me in two parts: the first is here, the second here. Many thanks, Richard. 

Add a Comment
15. Flogometer for Elizabeth—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Elizabeth sends a first chapter of Ace. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Winning was all that mattered now.

Fife kept her fingers busy. Flicking the pages would bring too much attention, so she traced the leather cover instead. If they stopped for a moment her fingers would hold her nose... or begin to shake uncontrollably. She wanted neither. 

They smelled like animals herded into a pen. Well, technically it was the Administration Room. It didn’t matter what you called it, though, the names all meant the same. Fife’s personal favourite was The Gauntlet. She was stuffed in the corner of a largish hallway with yelling students all around her. Calling them bloodthirsty might be taking it a little too far, but still, The Gauntlet’s name fitted rather nicely.

“Form two lines, in alphabetical order according to first name.”

Fife slammed A Collection of Fairytales closed. She jumped to her feet too fast and black dots swam into her eyes. She elbowed through the crowd, ignoring the glares shot from behind. She really didn’t need a headache now. It could sabotage everything.

She took her spot in the line. With arms folded she rocked on her heels and wished, not for the first time, that her name wasn’t so close to the top of the alphabet. Not only was there more shoving up here, but she’d have to perform first.

Headmaster Bullwarn faced the first student and Fife glanced to the entrance. Some of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Elizabeth's first page?

Good writing, and we’re starting with an immediate scene, which you know I prefer. I think I might have fared better if the scene had been set for me up front. And, for me, this narrative has clarity issues. Not least among them are what I call “information questions” (dealt with in the new book): they are references in the narrative to things that the reader doesn’t and can’t know but that knowledge is key to understanding what the narrative is saying. Lastly, the one kind of question I don’t see is a story question. Maybe it is whether or not she is going to win, but I don’t have a clue as what she’s going to have to do to win or what the consequences of losing are. Notes:

Winning was all that mattered now. Winning what? It would help the reader connect if she knew what was being referred to. I call this an “information question” that often leaves a reader in the dark. What happens to the character if she doesn’t win? What are the consequences, the stakes? What does she desire/fear?

Fife kept her fingers busy. Flicking the pages would bring too much attention, so she traced the leather cover instead. If they stopped for a moment her fingers would hold her nose... or begin to shake uncontrollably. She wanted neither.  Unclear as to the antecedent for “they.” It’s her fingers? And they could independently decide to hold her nose? I found this paragraph confusing.

They smelled like animals herded into a pen. Well, technically it was the Administration Room. It didn’t matter what you called it, though, the names all meant the same. Fife’s personal favourite was The Gauntlet. She was stuffed in the corner of a largish hallway with yelling students all around her. Calling them bloodthirsty might be taking it a little too far, but still, The Gauntlet’s name fitted rather nicely. Another antecedent issue: who is the they? I’m assuming it’s not the fingers, but who? And then there’s the “it,” which seems to be a room but she thinks of it as a gauntlet? I don’t think a room can be a gauntlet. The lack of a sense of the scene before we get to this point, of where we are, is limiting my understanding and involvement.

 “Form two lines, in alphabetical order according to first name.”

Fife slammed A Collection of Fairytales closed. She jumped to her feet too fast and black dots swam into her eyes. She elbowed through the crowd, ignoring the glares shot from behind. She really didn’t need a headache now. It could sabotage everything. What is “everything?” Is it important to Fife? It won’t be important to the reader unless she knows what “everything” refers to. Another “information question.” If the reader doesn’t know what the words refer to, then they are, essentially, meaningless. Why would you want to have meaningless narrative on your first page?

She took her spot in the line. With arms folded she rocked on her heels and wished, not for the first time, that her name wasn’t so close to the top of the alphabet. Not only was there more shoving up here, but she’d have to perform first.

Headmaster Bullwarn faced the first student and Fife glanced to the entrance. Some of (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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

 

(continued)

the late ones were arriving. The ones with more pluck than necessary. But Ella had none of that. Even Fife didn’t. She bit her lip, and the scab came clean away. She swore quietly and dabbed at it with the sleeve of her blazer. The blood slowed a little, but not before dripping onto her pants.  

“You seem bent on massacring you lips,” Fife started at the soft voice, “You will get marked down for that if you are not careful.” Ella stared at her, a box cradled in arms. Two thin brown plaits hung down her front, tied with red ribbons.

“Who do you think drove me to such insanity? You show up moments before you are kicked out for being late,” Fife said. She raised an eyebrow at the box, and her tone lowered, “Finally?”

“Yep. I was late finishing it. I’m sor-”

 “Forget it,” she said. Fife figured she’d been too harsh, but there wasn’t time for niceties.

Ella poked her arm beneath the lid and fumbled for a moment, “Here it is.” She passed a bundle of black fabric to Fife. She didn’t bother eying it over. If she stopped to take a look, Headmaster Bullwarn would too.

“Thank you,” she murmured, tucking the costume beneath her arm. Ella took her position in front of Fife and they both faced blankly ahead. Fife was in certain danger of smiling as she noticed the other girl’s head barely came to her shoulder. She was too young for this stuff. So it had been a fair deal.

“Do you think I’ll do ok?”

“Yeah, I taught you what I knew.”

“But what if I don’t dance right during the performance?”

Fife spoke so her lips barely moved. “You will be fine, Ella. You danced well during our morning practices.”

Those practices had been Fife’s only human contact during the last semester. She would have evaded people entirely had it not been for the gain she had got from her end of the bargain. Ella had no talent in performances whatsoever, just as Fife couldn’t raise a needle without pricking herself. Part of her felt concern for Ella’s safety, but she couldn’t allow that. She had enough issues to worry about now without someone else’s. The Electroines would punish them both if they were found to be helping each other.

Bullwarn drew level with Ella. Fife froze up at the gleam of light on the metal bones. His frame was a skeleton, really, save for the blank slab of curved metal that served as a head. But what always unnerved her most was the throbbing heart inside a cage of ribs.

Turned out they were just Controlare officials. But there were enough rumours to make Fife question her sanity about creeping into the Library to practice every night. She’d never gotten used to them.

Then Ella was walking away from her. Fife started forward, but stopped herself as the little girl glanced over her shoulder. The huge brown eyes brimmed with fear. Fife managed a smile.

“Name?” Bullwarn’s voice had risen in case she was deaf. Fife jerked and stared at him. He asked a third time. “Name?”

“Fife.”

“Age?”

“16.”

“Division?”

“Dance.”

“Right. You are admitted.”

“OK.”

Bullwarn had registered the next three students before she remembered she needed to move.

The next corridor ran in huge lengths on either side of her. A corridor before a line of cubicles. Few had been taken, but Fife jogged to its end before selecting the furthest. She slammed the door shut. The floor fell hard on her kneecaps as she buried her head in her lap.

She didn’t look at the black material she dragged it on. She rarely did. Ella had good taste, and a better hand at sewing. She trusted that. When she finally stood with trembling legs, there was a cloak attached to the costume’s wrists as Ella had promised. They draped on either side of her, like flightless wings.

Flightless.

Her stomach had given up flipping. It was too exhausted. It only throbbed now in an effort to keep the vomit from rising.

This wasn’t like before. She’d tried convincing herself otherwise, but now she saw the lies for what they were. Last year’s winner had been carted off to the Controlare. She had no idea what happened to the kid after that, but she didn’t care really. This time she could win. She could leave the Institution, and the Electroines and the others and Ella. She would see the Outside- and the stars she had read about so often.

Because this year she was first ranked.

But her Library would be left here, along with all her books. Fife flipped open A Collection of Fairytales. The inside cover was scrawled with her name. Swarming with it. The shaking hand that had inscribed the words with the ballpoint pen was long gone now. Four years gone.

Fife. My name is Fife.

That was when she remembered her name. But when she read the stories inside she remembered who she was. Until then, all she’d been was a bed full of feverish limbs. She couldn’t leave that book now. Not when it had most likely saved her life.

Even if the costume had no pockets, Fife always crept back a couple of days after her performance to retrieve it. And to mock her fear. But once she won this thing, she’d be taken immediately from the Institution.

Fife looked up from the leather cover. She secured the black mass of her hair with gold wire, and hoped no one would notice her incompetence at hair styling. All she saw now were her eyes. Her left eye blue, her right a searing yellow. She tried to train some form of confidence into them, but gave up with a huff.

They’d all notice. The million pairs of eyes that scrutinized every cell in her body would notice. They would type it all on their little black keypads.

She was about to restyle her hair when the opposite wall of the cubicle swung open. Soundlessly. No one had prompted it. At least, it had never seemed so. Fife stared at the space for a while. She should walk now before she snapped.

But then she saw the mask. It lay on the floor, fallen from the bundle of clothes. Its left side was gold wire. Its right side was blue wire. The opposite of her eyes. Ella had messed up the sides. Fife lifted it to her face, feeling it mould to the curves of her nose and too-stark cheekbones. The elastic fastened with a dull thwack

She looked forward. Always forward. Her feet were lumps of meat as she walked from the cubicle. The room was bare on all sides. All white. Her composure shattered and she glanced over her shoulder.

The door had already closed.

Fife’s bare feet froze on the white concrete. She only felt blank now. Perhaps that was worse. But she didn’t care as she reached for the Grand Theatre’s door. Her fingers moved in fractions, each strain of muscle another quiver, until she felt the smooth wood of a handle under the pads of her palm.

A mechanical voice. A voice incapable of feeling. A voice that knew nothing of this damned performance.

“Fife is summoned to the Grand Theatre.”

Fife lifted A Collection of Fairytales on impulse. She’d never kissed anything before, but the word came to her mind with its meaning. Unsummoned. As if she had known it all along.

She kissed the highest branch of the leather tree. Encased with fire. She let the book slip to the concrete. The reek of oldness made her grimace.

She twisted the knob. Every joint in her shoulder strained as she wrenched the door open.

Her world incinerated.

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16. Flogometer for Colleen—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Colleen sends a first page of Zondar Apocalypse.

I was hatched on the Planet Zondar in the year of our Lady, 39-trillion 12-billion and 6. (They're still on the Reagonomics Calendar.) Okay, I wasn't really hatched. I just tell that story because it's way less traumatic than my actual birth. I was supposed to arrive like most Zondarian babies do -- by stork. However, the stork got waylaid by an errant superhero flying well above the speed limit, causing an inter-celestial collision that necessitated the dreaded ethereal womb extraction with a fibre-optic chainsaw. Also, the Ob-Gyn was stoned on Kryptonite, and epidurals had been outlawed following the All-Natural She-Woman Revolution.

As harrowing as Zondarian obstetrics are, my birth wasn’t horrific enough to make Mom want to leave her home planet, but Dad was desperate to get the hell out ever since that run-in with the Bustyernards Clan. Good thing politics were shifting. Before I'd learned to change my own diapers, The Grand Lizardess of Zondar decreed that no sporting events shall be televised. Mom, a closet fan of sportshagging, simply couldn’t abide, so we became Earthlings.  

We fit in on Planet Earth, despite the sideways looks we got when people saw our pet. Thor was a neurotic rabbit who had the run of the house. Wasn’t weird to us because most Zondarian families have a pet Kangadile slither-hopping about. They're so cute with their beady reptilian eyes and scaly pockets with the beadier eyes of its young peeking out at you, just like a built-in purse dog. Thor wasn’t nearly as cuddly, but we loved him. Unfortunately, so did the gas man, who turned out to be Bustyernards kin.

Were you compelled to turn Colleen's first page?

Okay, here’s one of those first-person narratives that can ignore many of the guidelines for what works on a first page. A fine, tongue-in-cheek voice that romps through a parody of science-fiction worked for me. There is a stream-of-consciousness aspect to this that Colleen may have to be careful with as it can toss in some confusion now and then, as it did for me and the part about the pet. But carry on, this promises to be fun. Just one note:

I was hatched on the Planet Zondar in the year of our Lady, 39-trillion 12-billion and 6. (They're still on the Reagonomics Calendar.) Okay, I wasn't really hatched. I just tell that story because it's way less traumatic than my actual birth. I was supposed to arrive like most Zondarian babies do -- by stork. However, the stork got waylaid by an errant superhero flying well above the speed limit, causing an inter-celestial collision that necessitated the dreaded ethereal womb extraction with a fibre-optic chainsaw. Also, the Ob-Gyn was stoned on Kryptonite, and epidurals had been outlawed following the All-Natural She-Woman Revolution.

As harrowing as Zondarian obstetrics are, my birth wasn’t horrific enough to make Mom want to leave her home planet, but Dad was desperate to get the hell out ever since that run-in with the Bustyernards Clan. Good thing politics were shifting. Before I'd learned to change my own diapers, The Grand Lizardess of Zondar decreed that no sporting events shall be televised. Mom, a closet fan of sportshagging, simply couldn’t abide, so we became Earthlings.  

We fit in on Planet Earth, despite the sideways looks we got when people saw our pet. Thor was a neurotic rabbit who had the run of the house. Wasn’t weird to us because most Zondarian families have a pet Kangadile slither-hopping about. They're so cute with their beady reptilian eyes and scaly pockets with the beadier eyes of its young peeking out at you, just like a built-in purse dog. Thor wasn’t nearly as cuddly, but we loved him. Unfortunately, so did the gas man, who turned out to be Bustyernards kin. I became confused here. Is Thor a rabbit or the Kangadile? Thor wasn’t as cuddly as what? A Kangadile? If Thor is a rabbit, why fill us in on what most Zondarians have?

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 Colleen

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17. A shout-out for an extremely talented video guy

Adam photo cropped-captionedI had the great luck and pleasure of working with a young man named Adam Ratliff on creating a host of award-winning videos when I was with Washington State  University. Adam is moving on from the university and I want to broadcast that good news to anyone who can profit from employing him, who describes himself as an “adventurous videographer, a tenacious editor, and a creative problem solver.” I can testify that he is all of those things, and more.

I strongly recommend Adam to anyone seeking the highest caliber for their creative team. You simply cannot do better. He has a profound understanding of the marketing and communications job that a video has to do and the talent to shape a video to do it. That talent is enhanced by his high intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge and interests.

So if you know of any company that would gain from putting Adam’s talent to work, please pass this on. His portfolio website is here, and you can download his resume when you click here.

Good luck, Adam. Someone is going to be very glad they found you.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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18. Flogometer for Carolyn—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Carolyn sends a first chapter of Bellinger Beauty. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Images of my husband’s dead body flooded my mind as I drove down Placida Road that Florida morning on my way to meet Howard Bellinger,

Throat tight and tears burning in my eyes, I pulled to the side of the road. Shockwaves tore through me as if I’d just received the news.

Two campers found Brett in the woods not far from here. The police had given up looking for his killer. I hadn’t.

A few quick glances out my window showed me Flamingo Mist looked pretty much the same, For every stucco palace with a tile roof, swimming pool and two-acre plot, dozens of trailer parks and cracker box houses sprouted like yard mushrooms after the summer rains. For some reason, the scenery calmed me and I drove back onto the road.

Flamingo Boulevard loomed ahead. I parked at the Elk's Lodge next to a sign listing Square Five and Lulu's Crew, the bands that would be playing for the dinner dances that week. When I stepped inside the two-story stucco building, the smell of fried chicken and French fries reminded me I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

The leather-faced man behind the desk stared at my business card before he stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans. “How can I help you Miss Gale or should I call you Zoe?”

“Ms. Gale’s fine. Which way to Howard Bellinger's home?"

Were you compelled to turn Carolyn's first page?

Good stuff here, I like the descriptions that give values to what we’re seeing, the voice, and a good story question. Well, it seems like the story question is who murdered her husband. It may still be, but that’s not clear in the chapter that follows, where it turns out that she’s a private investigator being hired to look for a missing college student. Suggestion to Carolyn: let the reader know on page one that she’s a PI. And, if the husband’s death is not the point of the story, then you might want to consider starting later when the current case is begun and if there are any consequences to Zoe for taking the case, etc. Nice work.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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

 

(continued)

"Just turn left, you can't miss it. Stucco house next to the golf course. I heard Mr. Bellinger just flew in from Hawaii yesterday."

"Which island?"

"The big one. He spends a couple of months a year there. Myself, I like the Bahamas but Mr. Bellinger says Hawaii has better weather even if it is pricey. You know Mr. Bellinger?"

"Not yet."

"I know him pretty well. He comes here every Sunday for dinner and dancing when he's in town." The man gave me a quick once over. I wasn't a youngster and neither was he. "If you're selling something, I wouldn't knock on his door. He'll sic his dog on you."

"Dogs usually like me."

The man grinned. "Not this one. Sorry, have to go. Time to make up the menu for Sunday."

I left the lodge and drove in the direction he'd indicated. Flamingo Mist, the two county town on Florida's West Coast, was settled by my distant relatives who opened a trail from El Jobean to Vineyard and set up a store to serve area fishermen, or so my grandmother told me. She and my grandfather bought a lot of property, some on the posh Manasota Key where a master carpenter built them a beach house. She told me Howard Bellinger swindled most of it away from her after my grandfather died, including the Majestic Casino and Lemon Bay Guest House, where rich folks from the north spent their winters.

I drove by Lemon Bay, remembering. Brett and I had grown up in Flamingo Mist and skipped stones across this water when we were little. Looking across the bay, I once again heard the sound of stones skipping cachou, cachou, cachou and saw his freckled face and the NY Giants cap on his head.

“Did you hear that?” His words echoed in my head as if he’d just spoken them.

Yes, I still hear it and wish you were here.

We’d sneaked into the Majestic Casino in middle school, and sneaked in the window of the Lemon Bay Guest House wedding suite in high school. It was there we gave each other our first kiss. The memories of those times were bittersweet in my mind and even more hurtful than seeing my husband’s dead body. Maybe because they’d never come again or maybe because it was a more innocent, trusting time.

My birthplace stretched out on the edge of this sweltering wasteland like a sleeping beauty. From a distance, this typical Florida subdivision appeared perfect, thrown down amid well-manicured lawns, garnished with golf courses and creeks born of retention ditches.

It was all a lie.

Bellinger's abode stood high above Pebble Beach Creek. My Tracer could barely negotiate the sandy road, and the trip sent the bag of clothes I'd meant to give Goodwill sliding around in the back seat.

The house's forbidding stucco face stood out gray and domineering. The windows reminded me of angry eyes. They seemed to be watching as I drove up to the entrance, or was that someone peeking out of an upstairs window? Standing on the porch I stared down over the golf course and caught a glimpse of a restless creek.

A big-boned, well-fleshed man in an expensive, but rumpled business suit opened the door. Behind him growled a large dog that reminded me of the Hound of the Baskervilles. "Don't mind Homer, he's harmless," the man said, but I held my doubts.

At the sight of Bellinger, a sick feeling crawled up my stomach, the kind I got after eating too much spicy food or when I felt like I needed to avenge a crime. I warned myself to get a grip and stay with being a PI, even though I wanted to flat-out punch the guy in the face.

Too uniformly gray, his hair had to be a toupee. That told me he wasn't entirely pleased with his own. Big creases ran down the sides of his hatchet face and his eyebrows sprang up above eyes of piercing blue, culminating in a look of disgust and suspicion.

"Howard Bellinger. You must be Miss Gale." His expression didn't change much, just loosened a bit about the mouth and eyes. Bellinger's half-smile came from a man who wanted to be liked but hadn't had much practice.

"As advertised." I handed him a card so new, the ink had barely dried. He didn't act as if he recognized me, but then why would he? We'd never met and my grandmother's last name was Winslow.

"You made good time from the beach. Didn't think you'd get here 'til later."

"I started out right after you called. You said the matter was urgent."

"Very urgent. Come in." The dog escaped onto the porch, and Mr. Bellinger led me along a musty hallway under creaky ceiling fans. He walked like a man who had once had a lot, but lost most of it. I wondered if my grandmother's property was part of what he'd lost.

We stepped into a living room while he kept up a constant chatter about his visit to Hawaii. "Can't even offer you a drink. I just got back to reopen the place and my housekeeper is sick. I wasn't even going to come back this time, but I thought Wanda might have come home." He sniffed. I suspected that meant he thought Wanda may never wander back.

The living room had a closed in feeling of old furniture and older secrets. Sheets hung over a chair and two huge objects I thought must be couches. Heavy drapes kept out the light. Bellinger clicked on a floor lamp, looked around in confusion and went to the window. The violence with which he yanked open the drapes surprised me.

Sunlight drifted in as if it didn't want to come inside, roaming across the room to a vivid painting above a stone fireplace composed of raw splotches of color and angles. Bellinger stared at the painting as if it had analyzed him and found him lacking.

"My wife's work." He mumbled to himself, "Should have taken it down years ago."

"Is your wife Wanda?"

"Wanda is my only daughter. Sit down, Miss Gale, and I'll tell you all about it." He slumped into a chair and pointed me into another. "The school called me yesterday. I've been away you know. They said she'd left the premises and they were trying to locate her. Can you imagine? She hasn't been to classes since December. No one has even seen her. I've been so worried about her."

"Is that the University of South Florida?"

"No, Bonaventure College. You've got to find her, Miss Gale. She's so young, so naïve."

"How old is Wanda?"

Protective grilling on the windows reminded me of bars. I wondered if he installed it to keep Wanda in or keep trespassers out.

"Twenty, but she has been protected from the world."

I suspected he’d been doing most of the protecting. "Is this the first time she's done this?"

"It certainly is. Wanda has always been a good girl, doing what we expected of her. She's had the problems any adolescent faces, but she came through it beautifully."

"Who did she have problems with?"

"Not with me. Her mother, mostly." He glanced at the painting and his face took on a darker, more desperate cast. "I don't want to go into that."

He had a whiny, grating quality in his voice, but I cautioned myself not to react. "Okay, maybe I can talk to her mother then."

"She's not available. She's never available. I don't even know where she is and frankly, I don't care. We separated last fall. No point in going over the gruesome details. Our divorce doesn't have anything to do with Wanda."

"Could she possibly be with her mother?"

"After the way her mother carried on, I doubt Wanda ever wants to see her again." He compressed his mouth as if he wanted to swallow the words he'd just spoken.

"When did Wanda disappear? You mentioned she left college in December. Do you recall the date?"

He sniffed the air as if it had suddenly gone bad. "Early December, the school said. They didn't really give me a date. That's your job to find out. I did speak to Wanda's roommate on the phone last night, but I couldn't get a straight story from her."

"It's been two months. Have you tried to contact your daughter during that time?"

"I was in Hawaii. They didn't notify me there, just left several messages on this phone. It's not my fault she left school."

He rose and looked as if he might pounce on me. Instead, he paced back and forth liked a caged animal that remembered the jungle, but had no idea how to get back there. "You've got to understand this. I wasn't home. I didn't even find out she'd been missing until last night. God only knows what's been going on here."

"When did you last see her?"

"The day I left for Hawaii. She came to the airport to say goodbye. If her roommate can be trusted, Wanda never went back to school."

He stopped in his tracks and looked at me with something fragile glinting in his eyes. "I'm terribly afraid that something very bad has happened to her. I blame myself. I should have paid more attention to her, but all I could think about was getting on that plane and enjoying myself in Hawaii. I wanted to put the divorce behind me and maybe Wanda, too. I deserted her just when she'd reached out for help."

Every time he said her name, it came out shrill and self-deprecating. I aimed to soften it a bit to get some useable information from the man."Young women disappear all the time. They grow up, leave home and start their own lives."

"Without telling their parents?"

"Some do. You were away. She might have tried to contact you."

"I left her my phone number in Hawaii. She could have called me."

"Maybe she didn't think it was important enough. Maybe she thought you deserved a holiday after your divorce."

He fell back down in his chair as if the effort had seeped all the energy out of his body. "I can only hope she's all right. I just don't understand it. She’s so bright and had so many opportunities."

"Maybe she took one of them." I gazed around the prison-like room and felt like leaving myself. "Was Wanda happy here?"

He looked at me with layers of defensiveness lurking in his eyes. "She hasn't been here much lately. We always went to Maine for the summer and then she was in school the rest of the time."

"How were her grades?"

"She was doing okay, not up to her ability, but okay. She had a little trouble at school last year, but she worked it out."

"What kind of trouble?"

"She had to leave Columbia. Not because of grades or anything. It was suggested that she might do better at a smaller school closer to home. That's why she transferred to Bonaventure. It didn't please her mother or me for that matter. We both graduated with honors from Columbia."

"Did it please Wanda?"

He shrugged. "It seemed to. She even found herself a young man."

"What's his name?"

"She called him Dirk, I believe. I'm not expert on these matters, but I think she really liked this boy."

"Was he a student at Bonaventure?"

"Yes. I never met him. She hadn't dated much in high school, so I was pleased that she finally got interested in the opposite sex."

"Young women can fall hard the first time." I pictured my husband and my heart started to pound. I'd been a prime example of that adage. "What does Wanda look like?"

"She's very attractive. She has the good looks her mother used to have." He produced a leather wallet and showed me her picture, holding it far enough away so I couldn't touch it.

Wanda stared up at me through a clear plastic holder, attractive with a casual carelessness about her Howard Bellinger didn't display.  Her blonde hair agitated around the edge of her face and her eyes stared back at me, dewy and lavender. She had her father's mouth, except hers held the promise of sensuality. An excitable type, Wanda could become a great beauty or a cold-hearted woman when and if she grew up.

"I'll need her picture. Can I have this one?"

He gawked at me as if I'd just insulted him. "No! This one looks the most like her. I have some others. You can have those."

"Good. I may need several."

"I'll go get them before I forget."

He left the room without another word. His steps pounded up the stairs, taking them as if he was in a race. He banged around above me until something heavy and metal crashed onto the floor and made the ceiling shake.

I'd gone along on cases with my husband before he was murdered, looking for lost relatives, but Howard Bellinger bothered me more than most. He sounded the perfect gentleman, but underneath his semi-polite outer covering, rage ruled. I couldn’t tell if his reactions were part of his grief for his missing daughter or the hostility he held for his ex-wife.

A minute later he boomed down the stairs and smacked his fist against the wall of the living room with such force, I thought his hand might break through the plaster. "Damn it! Someone's taken every blasted picture."

"Who?"

He glared at me and rubbed his hand as if it were a trophy he was polishing. "Probably Monica. My ex-wife's stolen things from me before."

"If she wanted the pictures of your daughter, she must be fond of Wanda."

"I don't think so. Monica never showed any affection for our daughter. She took the pictures to irritate me."

"How long have they been gone?"

He glared at the painting. "I don't know, but she hasn't been here since we got divorced. I haven't seen or heard from her since. She couldn't wait to get out of here and get back to her beloved East Palm."

"Is she still there?"

"Probably, but I have no idea where."

"You must have her address."

"All that's handled by the lawyers."

"Can you give me their names?"

Bellinger's eyes flared into balls of fury. "Yes, but I won't. I don't want you talking to Monica, and I don't want you trying to contact her, either. She'll just lie to you. You can't get a straight answer out of her. You wouldn't want to speak with her anyway. She has the vilest tongue I've ever heard."

He licked his lips and swallowed before he lifted his mouth into a menacing, sarcastic smile. The lines that broke out on his face told me that he didn't like the taste of his words.  "I don't want anyone exposed to her language. She said the most dreadful things to me."

"When?"

"She came to the airport the day I left for Hawaii, too. She forced her way through the crowd and attacked me. I had to call for security."

"She hit you?"

"She swung her bag at me and verbally attacked me in the most vicious way, accusing me of taking all the money and leaving her without a cent. I was very generous. She got the house in Aspen and the cabin in Maine."

"When was the divorce final?"

"The end of November."

"Has Wanda visited her mother since then?"

"Never. Her mother hurt us both when she left."

"Monica divorced you."

"Exactly. She's hated me for years, but we tried to keep up appearances. She hated it here, too. She considered herself a young woman, somebody with the energy to go out night clubbing every night. I'm certain the two of them hadn't seen each other for months, maybe longer, until that terrible moment at the airport."

"Wanda was there when your ex-wife was?"

"Yes. I wish I could have shielded her from that scene."

"How did Wanda react?"

"Very well. She looked shocked and horrified when she heard her mother, but she behaved exceedingly well. She even tried to calm her mother down. I was proud of the way she acted except I thought she was too nice to Monica. She deserved much worse."

Rage came up in his eyes and I wondered what his ex-wife could have done to him. "Did they leave the airport together?"

"Of course not. On second thought, I didn't see them leave. I just slipped onto the plane and took my seat when they called for passengers. It's unthinkable that Wanda would want to go with her mother. Not after the way Monica carried on."

"Did Wanda have money enough that she could have taken a plane somewhere?"

"She does have some money from her grandfather, but I believe that's still in trust. I gave her more to help her out. She told me school expenses had gone up and her new car needed repairs. I gave her a couple of thousand to tide her over."

"Check?"

"No, cash. I had been carrying around a lot of money for my trip, but I decided my credit card would do fine."

"Do you know where she was planning to go right after she left you at the airport?"

He gazed out the window and I wondered if he was trying to remember or spent the time making up a plausible answer. Finally, he said, "Back to the hotel. I had a suite at the Sandpiper. The flight was early in the morning and I didn't want to drive for two hours to get there. It was paid up for another night so she didn't have to go back down here right away."

"Was she driving her new car?"

His eyes gravitated back to the painting as if it had a mystical hold on him. "I don't think so. She said she left it with a mechanic to get it fixed. She wanted to drive to the airport, but I told her it was dangerous to drive a car that didn't work correctly. I ended up taking a limousine to the hotel and a taxi to the airport."

"Did she drive herself or take a taxi back to the hotel?"

"I'm not sure. She mentioned that she asked the driver to wait, but that could have been for her mother."

"What did the driver look like?"

"Oh, dark-skinned and tall, maybe. I didn't pay much attention. I was thinking of Hawaii and Wanda."

"Was it a yellow cab?"

Bellinger crossed and uncrossed his arms over his belly. "I'm not very good at things like that. I just don't pay attention to what people look like."

"What about Wanda's car? What does it look like?"

"I never saw it. She said she bought a sports car from some student at Bonaventure."

"I'll ask around the college. What was she wearing that day?"

He looked up at the chandelier that hung from the high ceiling as if it might hold the answer. "A blue suit with a scandalously short skirt. At least she had the decency to dress up. Usually she wears jeans, and tee-shirts. She has much better clothes, but she told me that's how college students dress these days. It seems pretty shabby, but Wanda always had a mind of her own."

I took out my spiral notebook and a pen and started to write.

"What are you doing?" He leaned toward me and stared at the page, a look of anger on his face. "I told you not to talk to Mrs. Bellinger. Why have you written down her name?"

"Just practicing my writing skills." The words slipped out. Bellinger had been getting on my nerves for some time.

"What are you talking about?"

"Just kidding."

"How dare you kid about something this serious?"

"I know it's serious, but you've been putting restrictions on me, making it hard to conduct my business. I can't take your case when you close whole lines of information to investigation. I have to be free to follow where the evidence leads me."

"You have to remember that you're working for me."

"I haven't agreed to that yet."

He opened the leather wallet again and grinned at me through clenched teeth as though it gave him great pain to discuss money. "How much to hire you?"

"It depends on how extensive you want this investigation to be. I usually work alone, but if the case crosses state lines, I can call in colleagues from all over the country."

"I want whatever you find to stay with you. No sense letting a lot of people know. There is my family reputation to think about."

"It's your daughter and you know best, but you might want to call the police and have them do the investigation."

"I spoke to Sheriff Buxton last night. He's a friend of the family and used to work for my father. The sheriff thinks that just filing a missing person's report won't bring much unless there's a crime. Without it, those cretins won't lift a finger." His voice carried a tone of depression that stayed with his words when he added, "Sheriff Buxton recommended I employ you."

"I won't exactly be an employee."

"Investigator, then. He said you and your husband were discreet. I hope he was right. I can't have any newspaper coverage of this matter. I've had a few bad experiences with private detectives in the past."

"What kind of bad experiences?"

He held his wallet between us like some kind of magical protector. "I don't want to go into it. It has nothing to do with Wanda having gone missing. How much of a retainer do you want?"

I doubled the usual amount because I believed Bellinger was going to be trouble. That, and I wanted to pay him back for whatever he'd done to my grandmother.

He opened his wallet and counted crisp one hundreds into my hand. The expression on his face told me he didn't part with the green easily.

"It's a deal, but I have to be free to follow the facts."

He grinned at me but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "As long as you stay discrete and open to the possibility that Monica may try to spread noxious lies about me or Wanda."

"Has she spread lies about you in the past?"

He held up a hand and his eyes fixed me in a venomous glare. "I don't care to talk about Monica anymore. Wanda is the one on my mind and the one who should be on yours, too."

"Fair enough. You said Wanda came to the plane to see you off, and that's the last time you saw her. What was that date?"

"My flight to Hawaii was November 24th. I flew back yesterday. I tried to telephone Wanda from the airport because I hadn't heard from her. No mail, no telephone messages, not even an e-mail. She's never been very good at communicating her whereabouts, but I was shocked when her roommate told me on the phone that Wanda hadn't been at school for two months."

"Did your daughter's roommate sound upset?"

"I think she was very upset, but she managed to convince herself, or was convinced, that Wanda was with me. She told me she thought that Wanda had flown to Hawaii with me at the last minute."

"Was that something you'd discussed with Wanda?"

"I asked her come along, but she was just getting used to her new school and she wanted to stick it out. Wanda is a serious student."

"Where does the boyfriend come in?"

"I'm not sure."

"What did Wanda tell you about him?"

"Not much. All she said was that she'd met him in September. That was about the time she started at Bonaventure."

"I'll talk to the roommate and see what information she has. Maybe she knows the boyfriend. What's the roommate's name?"

"Amelia Wilson." I talked to her on the phone, but she didn't seem to have the faintest idea of what's going on in the world."

"What's the landlord's name?"

"She never told me. No doubt you'll find him at the apartment building. The address is 601 Osprey Drive. I think it's very near campus. While you're there, please talk to Wanda's teachers and her adviser." He took out a road map and squinted at the intersections. "The best way to get to the school is to follow this road."

He gave me directions in a frantic and authoritative tempo while I waited for him to finish. I figured him for a retired business man who was better at giving instructions to his sales staff than at doing anything himself.

When he stopped talking, he gazed at me for a reaction, so I gave it to him. "I will drive over there because I think this should be done face-to-face, but you'd get more information if you talk to Wanda's college professors yourself. Sometimes people clam up when they hear the words 'private investigator'." 

"I'm not driving anywhere. I just got back from a trip. You don't have to tell them you're a private detective, but I'm paying you to do the investigating and I expect you to do the work."

"All right. I'll drive, but you have to come with me." We sat in silence and stared at each other. A wall of resistance had built up on both sides. On some level I realized that our last words might sum up our attitude toward life.

There was something chilling about Mr. Bellinger. Although I didn't like the man for what he’d done to my grandmother, I hoped he hadn't had anything to do with his daughter's disappearance.

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

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

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

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

Yvonne sends a first chapter of Fugue The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Lakeview Neighborhood, Chicago

Even the rain was just a broken thing in her screwed up mind; Lake Michigan transmogrified into suicidal shards. The deluge coated her picture window at dawn, materializing in Viola Collier’s dream as syncopated percussion gone wrong. 

No!

The nightmare music had felt so real that Viola was certain she had been working still. She massaged her neck, cranked at an unnatural angle from sleeping in her chair as a bombastic measure of thunder rattled her studio apartment, assuring her she was awake now to deal with her real nightmare.

Ugly peg stubs. Nasty skin comb-over. Disgusting.

Viola surveyed her legs, never getting used to the fact that they ended at her knees now. Three years and she still woke each morning believing she was whole, phantom feet ready to bolt for a quick shower before rehearsal. But everything had ended with her accident: Her career, her ease of life, her bourgeoning relationship with Andrew… everything.

The train: She needed more from the horns to bring it to life. And the rhythm that had seemed so perfect last night was all wrong this morning. The rain had shown her that.

 Courtyard light cast shadows of fat raindrops onto her bedroom walls. The light was murky, as if coffee tracked down her windows in continuous rivulets, but it was just bright (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Yvonne's first page?

Very nice writing and voice, and you introduce a hugely sympathetic character. Yet there’s no story question raised, nothing happening other than waking up. If you can do without the dream reference and just get into something happening that raises a story question about what’s going to happen to her next, this would be a winner. I gave it an Almost tending to Yes. Notes:

Even the rain was just a broken thing in her screwed up mind; Lake Michigan transmogrified into suicidal shards. The deluge coated her picture window at dawn, materializing in Viola Collier’s dream as syncopated percussion gone wrong. 

No!

The nightmare music had felt so real that Viola was certain she had been working still. She massaged her neck, cranked at an unnatural angle from sleeping in her chair as a bombastic measure of thunder rattled her studio apartment, assuring her she was awake now to deal with her real nightmare.

Ugly peg stubs. Nasty skin comb-over. Disgusting. This briefly took me out of the story. Yes, the next line fills in the gap, but I still had to stop and think about it. I suggest you try preceding this paragraph with the first sentence of the next one, then return to the “three years…”

Viola surveyed her legs, never getting used to the fact that they ended at her knees now. Three years and she still woke each morning believing she was whole, phantom feet ready to bolt for a quick shower before rehearsal. But everything had ended with her accident: Her career, her ease of life, her bourgeoning relationship with Andrew… everything.

The train: She needed more from the horns to bring it to life. And the rhythm that had seemed so perfect last night was all wrong this morning. The rain had shown her that.

Courtyard light cast shadows of fat raindrops onto her bedroom walls. The light was murky, as if coffee tracked down her windows in continuous rivulets, but it was just bright (snip) I would cut these two lines to get the reader more imbedded into what’s going on by going directly to this from the next page:

She needed to hurry before the lines of the last movement dissipated into smoke. The distorted rhythm of her dreams presented her with what was lacking: The adagio was too harsh. A softer reticence to act as portent, that’s what Viola needed.

 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 Yvonne

 

(contined)

enough for her to work.  She needed to hurry before the lines of the last movement dissipated into smoke. The distorted rhythm of her dreams presented her with what was lacking: The adagio was too harsh. A softer reticence to act as portent, that’s what Viola needed. 

Time to summon Andrew back to her.

Viola inhaled a deep breath, taking in the same air that Andrew too breathed somewhere else in the city. It was the only connection they shared now, across neighborhoods and skyscrapers and trains and Chicago’s thriving pulse that continued to beat without her, somewhere he breathed her air. Loving a ghost is what it was.  His absence was present in every note but her music returned him to her too, an irony she could never explain:  The slight hollow beneath his cheek bones commissioned by the spot light, the wild halo his hair formed in mid-pirouette, the soft rage emanating from him when he danced, when he approached her. These were her worst moments, when Andrew was so real again. They created her most inspired work.

They say you’re Balanchine’s grandson. Is it true?

The pen was still in her hand, a relic from last night’s furious pace. Her fingers ached when she stretched them.  Wheeling herself to the back corner where the wall met the window, Viola allowed a cool draft gusting through the closed window to dry her sweaty face. Wall space was running out and soon she would need to shimmy to the floor to work from there.  But for now, she remained seated, last night’s work pleading with her to be completed. Again, she lost herself to her music.

More intensity. Impending ruin…grinding. Just more. The wall as her pallet was no longer before her.  Viola waited at the Diversey Street Station now, standing on the platform with ichor and blood running through her legs, the hinge of her ankles neatly propelling her upright. She smiled into the warm air of the arriving El train as it blew back her hair on the day she was going to rehearse with Andrew, but instead, never saw him again.

Outside, the wind blew and the courtyard trees danced a tribal dance and the sky boiled in the dark, but Viola was elsewhere as the room sobbed and sobbed and sobbed around her.

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20. 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling

In a fun, graphic way, Pixar—a notably successful storyteller—gives us their notion of the 22 rules to utilize for telling a phenomenal story.

Story structureMy favorite is one I’ve seen before, the basic structure of any store boiled down to 6 sentences.

Meanwhile, I’m in Salem, MA for the Writer Unboxed Unconference, about to go down to register and mingle. Had supper last night with the force behind the Unconference, Therese Walsh, her husband Sean, and other conference-goers I’ve only “met” on the Internet. I read Therese’s latest novel, The Moon Sisters, on the flight here and, once again, she made me cry. I’ll be writing a review later, but I’ll recommend it right now.

WUConference logo

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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21. Flogometer for Stacie—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for Friday. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

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

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

Stacie sends a first chapter of Dark Places The rest of the chapter follows the break.

“She wants me to spy?” Vivienne said. She gripped Adona’s wrinkled arm.

“I don’t think it’s quite that. She just wants you to ask around.” Adona clicked her tongue. “Traitor trouble. What a shame.”

Vivienne nodded, envisioning Adona pouring over Vivienne’s letter, and grinned.

“Vi?” Adona said.

“Please don’t think I’m awful. I’m not happy about the strained relations, it’s just,” Vivienne bit her lip. “Tahna thinks I can do something. Lorelai too. I mean, they think that I can do something.” She stood up and whooped.

Adona hummed.

Vivienne felt around for her seat with her foot and then sat down. She smoothed her skirts and put out her hand for the letter. “My thanks for reading it to me Adona.”

“What did you come all this way to have me read your letter? What about your fancy companion. What are you paying her for if not to read your letters?”

Vivienne put all her attention into dusting her skirts, as if she could see any dust- as if she could see anything. “Janessa and I have quarreled.”

“Oh?” Adona said.

“Yes. Besides, I wanted to see you. I always want to see you.”

Were you compelled to turn Stacie's first page?

The voice is good and the writing clean, but for me there were some things missing, including setting the scene. Where are these women having their conversation? And when—on the next page Vivienne gets into a carriage, so this is a period piece of some kind, though there’s no hint. More than that, there’s no story question here, it’s all set-up. I think this needs to start later with an eye to clarity. Keep at it, a blind woman spying in older times is an interesting concept, just get to the story.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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

 

(continued)

“Hmm.” Vivienne loved the sound of Adona’s voice. It was deep and strong and had not yet matched her age.

Vivienne expected that Adona was leaning her cheek toward her for a peck so she leaned forward until Adona’s cheek hit her lips. “Well, Adona.”

“Well.” Adona stood next to Vivienne. Vivienne placed her hand on Adona’s arm and walked with her to the door. They stopped in front of her carriage. Garth handed her up into the carriage.

“See that that new cook of yours doesn’t burn down my kitchen,” Adona said.

Vivienne smiled and blew a kiss. “Oh.” She pushed the letter forward again. “What am I thinking? Will you burn this for me?”

“What?”

“I, that is-,”

“You’re always in for the dramatics.”

Vivienne smiled, “Yes, exactly.” Though she didn’t think so at all.

Adona sighed and took the letter. “I haven’t had a warmth fire in weeks, but I’ll do it just for you.”

“Don’t be silly, you can just throw it into one of your cook fires when Jakey comes to help you with your meals tonight or tomorrow.”

“Very well.”

Vivienne felt Garth close the door, “Ready miss?”

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22. UnBoxed Unconference

WUConference logo150WI'm still at (and loving) the Writer Unboxed Unconference. This conference, which feels more like a gathering of a huge extended family, could spoil other conferences for the writers here. The sense of community is like no other I've experienced. Below is a photo of me doing my first-page workshop. It was great fun.

WUU workshop photo350W

Flogometer Submissions Needed

There are none in the queue, so please send a prologue or first chapter if you'd like fresh eyes to tell you what they see in your work.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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23. The middle

At the Writer Unboxed Unconference last week—what a treat!—in one of agent Donald Maass’s workshops he talked about how good novel manuscripts fall short. The place they primarily fall short is in the middle. Too often editors report back to him that it just “lost steam.” He had excellent approaches to avoiding that, including engaging the reader with a character starting on the first page.

A writer at the conference posted the photo below, and it does such a fine job of showing the importance of the middle I just had to share it.

Submissions still needed for flogging. I have just one for this week.

The middle450W

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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24. A first-page checklist & free review ebook

First at workshop I did for the Idaho Writers League conference a month or so ago and then for the Writer Unboxed Writer’s conference, I created a “first-page checklist.” This has grown out of seeing and working with more than 825 submissions to FtQ and the manuscripts I edit. I offer it below for your consideration and use. If you want to download a PDF version, click here. The checklist also appears in my new writing book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, one of the content additions to the old Flogging a Quill book that is now out of print.

Let me focus for a moment on the first thing a first page should be doing:

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist.

This notion grew out of a workshop by literary agent and fiction analyst Donald Maass. He reported that, in his agenting business, editors will often reject a novel saying, “It ran out of steam.” The reasons most manuscripts fall short are that not enough is happening in the middle and that the editor is not truly engaged with the protagonist, there has been no strong connection made. Maass suggests, and I agree, that you’re in a stronger position if you begin making that connection on the first page. I went in and revised the first page of my WIP after learning this. I like it better.

A couple of caveats go with this checklist: first, they are not rules, they are guidelines. No writer should feel that their first-page narrative checks off every box—although it can, and if it does it has a better chance of being compelling.

Secondly, I’ve seen where a strong first-person narrative can ignore many of these items and still compel. Part of what the outliers do is have a strong voice, the one ingredient besides story questions that can compel a page turn. Another part is that a first-person narration can raise strong story questions even without action, a scene, etc.

3D cover250WBefore I post the list, let me offer once again a FREE ebook copy (Kindle, epub/Nook, PDF) of my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling in return for reviews. Just email me and I can send you a copy.

The paperback is now for sale on my website--it's signed, free shipping, and discounted $16.99 $15. It's also at Amazon, but not signed. The Kindle edition is available here. And here's a free PDF sample.

And now here’s a first-page checklist, though it wouldn’t hurt to hold all of your pages up to these criteria. The checklist can be a good tool for spotting shortcomings where a narrative sags. PDF here.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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25. Flogometer for Kelsey—are you compelled to turn the 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—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

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

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page elements from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. PDF copy available here.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Kelsey sends a first chapter of Blood Walkers The rest of the chapter follows the break.

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

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room.

“By the goddess!”

The clock above her bed chimed a dozen times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders with smile since she never had one anyways.

She perched on a stool at the end of a table in the hall and ate her meal in silence.

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

Bryn sat across from her mother. She would never be as graceful. Fair skin, dark red hair, such a contrast to Bryn. She imitated the crossed ankles with her own thick ones and folded her hands in her lap, waiting to reach for tea once her mother had.

Were you compelled to turn Kelsey's first page?

Nice clear voice and good writing, the scene is set nicely . . . yet there’s little tension on this page and I don’t see a story question. It’s pretty much set-up, as is the rest of the chapter. While you do need to establish the world quickly, do that and raise a story question on the page, hopefully one with jeopardy for Bryn. Maybe give some thought to the First-page Checklist (PDF copy available here.)

By the way, later in the chapter it appears that she runs away, but that is not motivated at all and left me confused. Might give some thought to that. Notes:

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

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room.

“By the goddess!”

The clock above her bed chimed a dozen times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders with smile since she never had one anyways.

She perched on a stool at the end of a table in the hall and ate her meal in silence. Suggest switching things around to transition the reader immediately: In the hall, she perched on a stool at the end of a table and ate her meal in silence. Is she alone? Might add that.

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

Bryn sat across from her mother. She would never be as graceful. Fair skin, dark red hair, such a contrast to Bryn. She imitated the crossed ankles with her own thick ones and folded her hands in her lap, waiting to reach for tea once her mother had.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

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

(continued)

“Are you practicing today?” Her mother asked.

“No I was supposed to fix some of the water supply tanks,” Bryn said. Only the worst witches did manual labour.

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

“You want me to try more difficult spells?” Bryn asked with excitement.

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

Bryn’s shoulders slumped.

“Use what you have Bryn,” her mother said as she handed Bryn a slim volume.

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

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

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

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

She packed her small wooden bowls and some spare clothes into a pack. She added her onyx crystal and various animal bones, necessary for some spells.

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

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

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