What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(from Flogging the Quill)

Recent Comments

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Tag

In the past 30 days

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing Blog: Flogging the Quill, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 1,157
Visit This Blog | Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
Blog Banner
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.
Statistics for Flogging the Quill

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 13
1. Flogometer for Christopher—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Christopher sends a revision of the first chapter of an untitled YA fantasy. The remainder of the chapter is after the break.

The front door crashed open, waking me up way before it was time to get ready for my morning lessons.

“Bring him in,” my mother yelled from outside.

Footfalls rushed into the house and from the handful of hurried voices, I only recognized two: my mother’s and Daylan’s. My parents had been above ground defending two supply shipments from Tormelin. The villages waiting for these supplies had already lost their first wagons of goods to thieves. A group calling themselves the Underground claimed responsibility for the thefts and my parents had gone personally to make sure the supplies safely reached their destinations.

I sat up, listening for my father’s voice, but I couldn’t hear him amongst the others. Since my father didn’t send his generals to defend the shipments, I knew the Underground was a bigger threat than they were telling me.

I still couldn’t hear him. Something was wrong. Footsteps raced past my door toward my parents’ bedchamber. Guessing he’d been attacked, I jumped out of bed. My clothes from yesterday were still on the floor. I threw them on and ran out.

My mother wrenched her chamber doors open and two people I’d never seen carried my father into the room. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.

Were you compelled to turn Christopher's first page?

This opening cooks up good story questions with a good voice. I’m going to turn the page, but first a few notes—I think the narrative could be a little crisper. We do, however, get a good deal of information woven in with what’s happening in an economical way. Caution, Christopher—there are typos and errors in the chapter such as “firs” instead of “furs” and “you’re” instead of “your” that should not have been sent out.

The front door crashed open, waking me up way before it was time to get ready for my morning lessons.

“Bring him in,” my mother yelled from outside.

Footfalls rushed into the house and, from the handful of the hurried voices, I only recognized two: my mother’s and Daylan’s. My parents had been above ground defending two supply shipments from Tormelin. The villages waiting for these supplies them had already lost their first wagons of goods to thieves. A group calling themselves the Underground claimed responsibility for the thefts and my parents had gone personally to make sure the supplies safely reached their destinations.

I sat up, listening listened for my father’s voice, but I couldn’t hear him amongst the others. Since he my father didn’t send hadn’t sent his generals to defend the shipments, I knew the Underground was a bigger threat than they were telling me.

I still couldn’t hear him. Something was wrong. Footsteps raced past my door toward my parents’ bedchamber. Guessing he’d been attacked, I jumped out of bed. My clothes from yesterday were still on the floor--I threw them on and ran out. You’re doing a little “telling” here (something was wrong). You don’t have to include speculation and getting out of bed, just stay with the action and show the reader that something is wrong—he clearly thinks that or he wouldn’t dress and run out the door.

My mother wrenched her chamber doors open and two people I’d never seen carried my father into the room. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. Good strong hook. Trimming the above will allow more of the action on the first page.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Christopher

Continued

“What’s wrong?” I said racing toward my mother. I scanned my father for wounds, blood on his clothes—any clue that would tell what happened—but I couldn’t find anything. My mother held her hand out in front of me and I stopped.

“Sarella,” she said behind her back to the two carrying my father, “please, lay him on the bed. Daylan,” she called toward the front door, “bring all of the healers in Al’Shar. I don’t care about their reputations, just get them here now!”

So my father was still alive. If she wanted the healers, he was probably poisoned, and if she wanted them all, it must have been bad. I wanted to push past her, but watched and waited.

Daylan bowed and disappeared.

My mother walked into the bedroom and I followed while the two rushed my father into the bed. The woman was tall and muscular like my mother, except she had dark skin like my father and me; her hair was twisted into long, coarse braids. The man had a dark olive complexion, he wasn’t as tall, and had a shaved head. I ran over to pull the firs away. When they laid him on the bed, I covered him.

Once my father was under the furs, I could see him breathe. He started moaning and my mother led us out of the room and closed the door.

“Sarella and Trian, we’re forever in your debt,” she said, hugging them both before taking my hand. “I meant what I said about living in Al’Shar. If you wish, you’re family is welcome.”

The two looked at each other, nodding in unison. “We’re sorry about your husband,” Sarella said, “and we don’t mean to be so happy at a time like this, but we gratefully accept your offer. We only have one daughter,” she looked at me and smiled, “the same age as your son. Thank you.”

The two bowed before my mother and me. I watched quietly, wanting them to leave so my mother could explain what happened.

“I’ll have our Blood-Guard escort you home to collect your daughter. Don’t bring anything that isn’t personal; everything you could possibly want is provided in Al’Shar. By the time you return your home will be ready.”

“Galtoria, thank you,” Sarella said, kissing her on the cheek.

“Thank you,” Trian repeated, shaking my mother’s hand and then mine. 

“Your daughter will have the same lessons as my son,” my mother said, squeezing my shoulder. She’ll train alongside him and the children of the oldest, most powerful families in the Kraelmar kingdom. You saved your king and are one of us now. Welcome.” My mother gave them a slight bow, “I would speak to my son alone, and then I’ll send for the guard to take you above ground.”

The two bowed once more and left.

“Fenon,” my mother said wrapping her arm around my shoulder, “come with me.”

We returned to my parents’ bedchamber, a room much larger than anything they’d ever needed—to the left was their bed, large enough to sleep four, was surrounded by tall, wooden posts, and loosely wrapped around those posts was a large draping of white, crystal-silk, the softest fabric in our kingdom. It’s glittering weave hung loosely and at the ends, tassels of sparkling gems glittered on the floor. The rest of the room was sparsely filled for its size: wooden dressers, one for each of them, and a few sitting chairs and sofas never used in my time. Sweat beaded on my father’s head and my mother hurried to the doorway at the back of the chamber, leading to a washroom. I grabbed two the chairs and hurried them over to my father’s bedside while my mother came out with a bowl of cool water and a rag. We sat. She rested the bowl on the bed next to him and placed her hand on his forehead.

“He’s burning up,” she said.

“What happened?”

Holding the side of his face with one hand, she squeezed the rag and laid it across his brow. “After getting the wagons safely to Grem and Fedrin,” she said, “your father and I met up with our warriors in Holdingar to reassign them before returning to Al’Shar. On our way home, with only a few guards, we were attacked. Your father and I had to split up because strategically, we’re not to be in the same place during a battle. Your father raced after a group of the Underground deep into the forest and when he caught up with them, but there were more waiting. It was a trap,” My mother gently wiped his sweat away before dipping the rag back into the water. She smiled briefly. “You know your father. They didn’t stand a chance against him.”

I did know my father. When he was a few years older than me he took the Rite of Ghem’Rel, a rite everyone in my bloodline takes at the age of thirteen to determine what special trait they’d inherited. When my father passed the rite, he discovered he had hearing more sensitive than any human in these lands. My father sword trains by fighting a small army of our best warriors all at once. He uses his Rite-ability to hear every sword swing, footstep, and breath of a warrior that comes near. He always knew what was going on around him whether he could see it or not. A handful of thieves wouldn’t stand a chance against him. “If they didn’t attack him, how did he get sick?” I asked.

“It was the blight that poisoned your father,” she said. “Until now we thought it only diseased plants, but we were wrong about a lot of things. This blight hasn’t died off on its own as Nordan and The Council predicted. In fact it has spread well beyond the cursed wood of the Velryn and is now sickening the forests outside of Holdingar. During his fight with the Underground, your father touched the blight and succumbed to its poison. Sarella said that although he writhed in terrible pain, he stayed conscious long enough to hold off his attackers until she and Trian found him. Because of your father’s bravery,” she clasped her hand with my father’s, raising it and resting the back of his hand against her cheek, “we were able to capture a few members of the Underground, but your father’s sickness,” she sighed heavily, setting his hand on top of the furs, “was the sacrifice he paid.”

The blight was described to me as a shiny, tar-like ooze that seeped out from the Velryn Forest—a cursed place where evil creatures roamed the twisted branches and spidery brush, where those who walked in never came out—no one dared to go near that forest. Until my father, I hadn’t heard of anyone touching the blight or anything that came from the Velryn. “There’s no cure is there?” I asked my mother. 

She shook her head as my father mumbled incoherently, stirring in a poisoned dream. She dipped the rag in the water and blotted the sweat off of his arms. “If I’d had known this was a blight to humans as well, I’d have taken the army and burned the Velryn Forest to the ground myself, Nordan and his Council be damned.”

Although I knew my mother didn’t like Nordan and The Council, I’d never heard her speak out against them like that before. I was in the Hall of Thrones with my parents the day Nordan came to warn us about the blight. It was the first time I’d met him: a short, older man with piercing green eyes and frosted blond hair that looked as if it could turn white at any moment. He told us that nothing like this had ever survived outside of the Velryn before. At that time it hadn’t spread to our outermost farmlands. I remember my mother telling him to burn any diseased plants and the Velryn along with it. She wanted to act swift before the blight had a chance to root itself into our lands. Nordan politely dismissed my mother’s suggestion, telling us The Council believed that the blight would die out on its own.  When he spoke however, he only looked at my father and me. He wasn’t outright rude to my mother, but his ignoring her made me uncomfortable. When he’d look at me, I would turn my head to watch her, hoping he would notice and address her as well. He didn’t. I was curious what had happened between the two of them, but finding a way to heal my father was more important at the moment.

“So what are we going to do now? Is he going to die?” I said.

“Just because The Council says there’s no cure doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” my mother said, trying to reassure me. “We just have to find it.”

I didn’t have much hope though. It was The Council’s responsibility to make sure we had enough food and other supplies in our lands, and that included medicines—everything. If they didn’t have a cure for our king, who would?

 “I won’t leave your father’s side until every healer in Al’Shar has had their chance to cure him. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go above ground and find it myself. Fenon, look at me,” for the first time she moved away from my father and grabbed my hands, hers were still hot from attending to my father. “I will find his cure.”

I watched my father’s chest rise and fall as he struggled to breathe, a hypnotic movement somewhere between survival and nightmares. I was with him right before he and my mother went above ground. We were in the Emril Caverns. It was just the two of us and we were sparring in the pool beneath the only waterfall in Al’Shar. Waist deep in water, we drew our swords and fought while he told me the great legends of humans fighting for their freedom against Wood Witches. His eyes were so deep and excited; he always smiled when he told those stories. Of course neither one of us believed them, but they made what could have been tedious sparring lessons, fun. The times I’d spent in those caverns with him were the best of my life.

My father erupted into a fit of sleeping cough, waking me out of my daydream. Now, all I could see of my father’s eyes were white slits beneath trembling lids. What if he never woke up? What if this was the way I’d remember him from now on? Sniffing, I looked away, wiping my nose on my shoulder.  

I caught my mother watching me and I tried to toughen up, but my eyes burned red from the tears that gave me away.

She set the rag down and reached for my hand. “It’s not time to worry yet,” she said, “We don’t know enough about the blight or its poison. Your father could wake up and be fine tomorrow.”

I nodded, afraid that if I said anything I’d cry. I knew she was trying to keep me hopeful, but she was wrong.There was a lot to worry about. For example, why did the Underground go after my father? What did they want if they left the supplies alone? And the biggest question on my mind: why hadn’t she already told me what they wanted. There was one thing about my mother I could always depend on: like all Kraelmar warriors, she respected acts of strength and bravery. If I could show her that I was strong, that I could handle my father lying there with the possibility of never waking up, she would tell me what she knew. “If my father dies,” I said, forcing myself not to choke on the words, “then I’ll be the last of my line. I need to know what’s going on with the Underground. Why did they attack him instead of stealing the supplies?”

My mother’s face turned grey and ashen. She looked away and I knew there was something she didn’t want me to know.

“Fenon, our ability to divert food and supplies across our lands is what keeps the peace and it’s what makes us so powerful. If a blizzard destroyed the food supplies in the northern lands, we could easily send them grain and livestock from the South. Until now, we’ve been able to keep everyone in our kingdom fed and satiated because of our supply system. Of course not everyone is happy with it, but there’s no such thing as a perfect system.”

My father started moaning and struggling again; he was sweating so much my mother took the firs off. I got up and grabbed a lightly woven sheet from a wooden shelf. I helped her drape it over him. His sweat soaked it almost instantly and I had to replace it with another. He quieted and my mother grabbed a fresh rag and bowl of water. We both sat down. This time she placed the soaked rag over his lips, hoping he would drink. His mouth remained closed.

I watched my father twisting and turning beneath the sheet as if he were fighting for his life. That’s when I began to understand the complexity and danger of this disease. “If this blight spreads throughout the lands,” I said watching him with focused eyes, “we’ll lose our ability to divert food. Everyone will starve, or end up like...” I couldn’t finish saying the words.

She set the bowl on the bed, and turned, moving closer toward me. “When your father and I first heard about the Underground, we thought they were nothing more than a common group of unorganized thieves. But they’re not. They’re using the blight to create fear throughout the kingdom and are using that fear to recruit our people to their cause.”

She paused for a moment, turning to attend to my father again, but he seemed to be cooling off, calming down. “When we fought against the Underground,” she continued, “I saw some of their weapons. They weren’t just fashioned bows and arrows, or spears made from sharpened rocks and metal. Some of them had Kraelmar swords. They knew when we’d be in Holdingar and they knew that if they attacked the supplies of important cities, cities where families of the Council lived, your father would come to protect those cities personally.Fenon,” she said, grabbing my hands and staring right into my eyes. In that brief moment I forgot my father was in the room. “The Underground wasn’t after the supplies. They wanted to draw your father out of Al’Shar so they could kill him. I’m certain they have spies in Tormelin and maybe even Trel’Nor. They’re not a bunch of disgruntled people using the blight to try and get more supplies. They’re well organized, have Kraelmar warriors joined to their cause, and live in small factions in the forests and even high in the Storgekull Mountains. They’re after the Royal Line and they’re trying to destroy the kingdom. What we don’t know is why.”

I stared at her, my mouth agape. If they were after my line, not only were they trying to kill my father, they wanted me dead too. I felt my chest turn to ice as if my heart had been covered by cold steel. I looked at my father; was this the Underground’s first attempt? Did he really successfully fight them off or was it their intention to poison him with the blight all along? They almost succeeded by the look of him: eyes closed, barely breathing now except for his once in a while gasps.

My mother must have seen the worry on my face. “Right now both you and your father are safe. If the Underground had spies in Al’Shar, they wouldn’t have tried drawing your father to Holdingar, they would have gone after him here. Daylan and the Blood-Guard are from families sworn to die for the Royal Line—It’s a bond more sacred than loyalty. They are trained to protect you wherever you go, and they know about the Underground. You and your father are safer in Al’Shar than the Council members are in Trel’Nor.”        

I could tell my mother thought she was reassuring me, but with the Blood-Guard shadowing me all the time, how was I supposed to know who was guarding me and who was trying to kill me? There were more things spinning through my mind than I could handle: My father dying and if he did, what would that mean? Not only would I grow up without him, I’d be expected to become him at the age of thirteen. Would I have to take the Rite of Ghem’Rel? It was the responsibility of the Royal Line to administer the Rite. If my father died, I’d have no one to test me. Would that mean I was no longer the next leader? What if I never figured out what my Rite-Ability was? Some of my ancestors knew their ability before they even took the Rite, so the test didn’t matter for them, but I was already ten years old and I had no clue what I was good at.

And what would happen if I did pass and become the next king? I would be expected to lead a starving and blight-sickened kingdom where an Underground force was trying to kill me just like they tried to, and maybe succeeded, in killing my father? All of a sudden the room felt like it was getting smaller. The ceiling was slowly moving down, the walls were closing in on me. I started breathing faster and faster but couldn’t get enough air. The room was stale and moist, full of sick. “I have to go,” I told my mother. “I’ll be in the Emril.” I jumped up, unable to look at either of them. Right now I couldn’t be in this house of sickness.

Without protest from my mother, I ran out and didn’t stop until I heard the echoing crash of water from the falls in the Emril caverns. I sat at the bank, threw my shoes off and stuck my feet in the cool water. Elbows resting on my thighs and hands cupping my chin, I watched the endless ripples as they tumbled into my shins on their way toward the bank.

I lied back, my feet still in the water. How was I supposed to think about life without my father? What kind of life would that be for me? I stared up at the stalactite ceiling, with a slit of blue light in the center, my only porthole to the outside world. I tried to numb my racing mind by listening to the falls and watching as the small piece of sky turned gold, to purple, and finally black. I tried imagining what it would be like, actually laying on a field of green grass and seeing nothing above me but the sky. Although I couldn’t go above ground, we studied it in our lessons. The sky seemed a lot like a vast ocean, spanning into an endless beyond—nothing but blue, and when the sun went down, both sky and water turned black. The thought of something so open, so reflective, was scary, like I’d fall into it and lose myself, drowning into a vast nothing. It wasn’t until I saw a single star shine through the mouth above that I finally stood up and walked home.

Add a Comment
2. Flogometer for Anikó—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Anikó sends a revision of the first chapter of The Water Still Rules . The first version is here. The remainder of the chapter is after the break.

Sweaty hands catch my wrist, and I curse myself for taking the easy way and coming to the market. The crowd is ideal for getting lost in after bumping into my victims, and vanishing with whatever their pockets hold, but the merchants - like the one holding on to me - do tend to get nosy. A man passes me by, carrying an ugly-faced barracuda bigger than my upper body thrown over his shoulder and waves at the merchant holding on to me. I flinch as the smell of the fish reaches my nostrils.

A raspy voice calls from behind, “What’s the hurry, girl?”

I sigh, one last look at the forest that I was going to vanish into, and pull the hood of my cape lower into my face to turn back towards the merchant. I can barely see for a second with the sun right behind him, but I narrow my eyes, so I can make out his perfectly pale face. He smiles, revealing his yellow teeth, and I tug on my hand one last time in vain. His meaty fingers hold me tight. My eyes fall on the girl standing behind him with chains on her neck and wrists. Her copper skin stained with sweat and dirt is identical to mine. One look at her reminds me why I have to hide day after day, and I pull my cape with my free hand even tighter.

I painted my face and hands white, but my craft leaves something to be desired, and with the sun burning through my dark cape, I must have sweated most of it off. I don’t want to (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Anikó's first page?

Once again I like the writing and voice here. For me, this opening page is considerably stronger than Anikó’s first version. While there is enough of a hint of trouble to come for me to turn the page, it was a close call—for me, there was too much time spent on ambiance and not enough on things happening to the character. To that end, following the notes that follow is an alternate opening crafted from the initial narrative with some editorial work. See what you think—there’s another poll, and your comments are welcome.

One note of advice to Anikó: after reading through the chapter, I think you should take a look at my post on filters; you have a habit of using them, and they slow your narrative and distance the reader. That post is here, and it’s based on a chapter from Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling.

Sweaty hands catch my wrist, and I curse myself for taking the easy way and coming to the market. The crowd is ideal for getting lost in after bumping into my victims, and vanishing with whatever their pockets hold, but the merchants - like the one holding on to me - do tend to get nosy. A man passes me by, carrying an ugly-faced barracuda bigger than my upper body thrown over his shoulder and waves at the merchant holding on to me. I flinch as the smell of the fish reaches my nostrils. The fish etc. just isn’t needed and has no impact on the story.

A raspy voice calls from behind, “What’s the hurry, girl?”

I sigh, one last look at the forest that I was going to vanish into, and pull the hood of my cape lower into my face to turn back towards to the merchant. I can barely see for a second with the sun right behind him, but I narrow my eyes, so I can make out his perfectly pale face. He smiles, revealing his yellow teeth in a perfectly pale face, and I tug on my hand one last time in vain. His meaty fingers hold me tight. My eyes fall on the girl standing A girl stands behind him with chains on her neck and wrists. Her copper skin, stained with sweat and dirt, is identical to mine. One look at her reminds me why I have to hide day after day, and I pull the hood of my cape tighter with my free hand even tighter. The use of “my eyes” in this way is what I call a “body part” filter that not only has a body part getting in the way of showing the character’s experience.

I had painted my face and hands white, but, my craft leaves something to be desired, and with the sun burning through my dark cape, I must have sweated most of it off. I don’t want to (snip)

Here’s an alternative, followed by a new poll:

Sweaty hands catch my wrist, and I curse myself for taking the easy way and coming to the market. The crowd is ideal for getting lost in after bumping into my victims and vanishing with whatever their pockets hold, but the merchants do tend to get nosy.

A raspy voice calls from behind, “What’s the hurry, girl?”

I sigh, one last look at the forest that I was going to vanish into, and turn to the merchant. He smiles, revealing yellow teeth in a perfectly pale face. His meaty fingers hold me tight. A girl stands behind him with chains on her neck and wrists. Her copper skin, stained with sweat and dirt, is identical to mine. One look at her reminds me why I have to hide day after day, and I pull the hood of my cape tighter with my free hand. I had painted my face and hands white but, with the sun burning through my dark cape, I must have sweated most of it off.

 “Please let me go, sir,” I plead in a small voice. I don’t have much experience in sounding like a desperate little girl, but I hope he’ll buy my act. “My mother is sick, she needs her medicine.” I show the small bag in my right hand containing the harvest of today’s pickpocket spree, and hope for his sake that he doesn’t insist on opening it. He narrows his eyes at me, and I put the bag back into my pocket to have a hand free to slide over the small knife strapped onto my thigh.

Were you more likely to turn the page with this 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.

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Anikó

Continued

cause a scene with so many people around, but if he tugs on my cape a little longer, I’ll have no other choice.

“Please let me go, sir,” I plead in a small voice. I don’t have much experience in sounding like a desperate little girl, but I hope he’ll buy my act. “My mother is sick, she needs her medicine.” I show up the small bag in my right hand containing the harvest of today’s pickpocket spree, and hope for his sake that he doesn’t insist on opening it. He narrows his eyes at me, and I put the bag back into my pocket to have a free hand to slide over the small knife strapped onto my thigh.

My fingers clench around the tilt of it, and I feel the vein throbbing in my neck, but just before I could act, the merchant lets go of my arm, and a stone rolls off my shoulder. “Just a half-wit,” he mumbles to the slave girl, and my palm awfully itches after my knife again. I force a smile though, and turn back towards the forest.

The temperature drops, and I sigh in relief as I reach the trees, casting a shadow over my heated body. I feel the merchant’s eyes following me when the ground slips from under my feet. My cape twists around my body, trapping me inside, and my fingers curve, scratching the earth under me.

Coldness rushes inside me despite the heat, and the scent of spices and fish is replaced by the smell of iron and wine. I slip into my vision, losing contact with the market, and the sound of the market’s bustle 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. He’s looking down, his dirty blond hair falling into his face. Judging by the sturdy, bronze breastplate and the long, shiny sword by his side, he is a soldier. And not just a common one, but someone of high rank.

“We need to find them. It’s an embarrassment to all Marasans that they managed to escape as long as they have.” he says, and his voice becomes clearer with each word. My heart rate picks up as he points his fingers at a huge map folded across the table right at the area where our hut is located. His neatly kept beard has streaks of white in it, and his eyes are so cold, he could freeze me with his glance. “We need to search the forest again. They’re hiding there, I can feel it.”

“Your…assumptions have cost me more so far than keeping my slaves fed for a month,” a younger voice says. He seems a bit older than I am, but he must not have seen twenty floods yet. One leg dropped over the other, he looks comfortable in his massive, wooden chair. His brown dress is decorated with fine needlework. Something I could never pay for unless I rob the whole market. His strong jaw, covered in a neatly kept short beard, moves as he’s chewing something, and with his dark hair combed back and those ruby green eyes, he reminds me of a prince. Royalty is a thing of the past, though, and since this man is pale, free and young, he probably only heard tales of the Verasian era. Not like I’ve been alive back then, unfortunately. I was still in my mother’s belly when our whole world has been turned upside down, and the Marasans took over. No Verasian escaped free, except for my family. Part of it, anyway.

“I hope you don’t expect me to pay for this trip just based on your feelings.” The younger man leans on the table, reaches into a bowl and pops a grape in his mouth.

Impatience flickers in Gaillar’s eyes, but his voice is steady. “Yes, Saro.” He taps his fingers on the map. “But I know they’re here. There are just too many rumors. And where else could they be hiding a tree huge like that if not in a forest?”

I snort, not even trying to hold it back, knowing that they can’t see or hear me. If only it was true that my Soultree is so huge I needed a whole forest to cover it.

Saro knocks his cup twice on the table and waits as a young girl pours wine it. “Rumors…” He snorts, and gulps into his cup. Lifting his eyes back on Gaillar again, he smiles. “Fine. Have it your way. But if you come back to me empty handed again, I’ll make sure to make space for you among my slaves. We all know how fond they are in the arena of such fine soldiers as yourself. Bring one of them alive.” He stands, considering something. “No, bring the girl. And I want the tree. I give you ten men. You are dismissed.”

My eyes fly open, and I gasp for air, breathing the scents of the market again. Two pairs of surprised eyes look back at me, and I realize that my hood has fallen off. The bottom of my cape slipped up reveals the dark skin on my legs. For a second, it looks like no one will say anything, but then the merchant opens his mouth, and yells for guards, grabbing my ankle. I tear the knife off my leg, and bury it in his hand. He screams and lets go, and I look back into the confused face of the slave girl. Surprise drops from her face, and she motions me to run. I freeze, but she nudges me with her elbow, while bending over the merchant, inspecting the injured hand. I’m stunned for a second that she would risk her life for me, but I have no time to thank her. I get up, and break into a sprint before the guards could get a good look at me.

I finally reach the forest, but I can’t slow down. I know how to lose the guards that decide to follow me, and I need to get back to the hut to warn my brother. Last time I had a vision, it took them an hour to find us, and only my brother and I managed to flee. The rest of my family died that night. I might only have seconds now. Sweat trickles down the small of my back, and humidity pushes down on me like a thick blanket making it hard to breathe.

I stumble in a huge root, and a tree catches me as I stumble. The raspy surface of the trunk barks the skin on my shoulder as I hit it. I run until I’m out of breath, and then I run some more.

I finally get within sight of our cottage and hide. I can’t see inside from so far away, so I wait for any suspicious signs, but everything is silent and calm. I feel the knot in my chest tighten up a little and make my way closer until I can see inside. I look through the window and my blood freezes. I am late. They’ve found us.

Add a Comment
3. What makes a story “high-concept?”

In an article titled Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories, Jeff Lyons, a story editor, outlines the aspects that help a story fit the notion of “high-concept” whether for film or a book. The qualities he lists are:

  1. High level of entertainment value
  2. High degree of originality
  3. Born from a “what if” question
  4. Highly visual
  5. Clear emotional focus
  6. Inclusion of some truly unique element
  7. Mass audience appeal

Check out what he means with each of these things here.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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

Submissions Wanted. Only one in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Joe sends the first chapter of The Door in the River , a middle grade fantasy. The remainder of the chapter is after the break.

The dark storage loft on the top floor of the old apartment building didn’t want him there, and it was doing everything it could to betray him. A loose floorboard groaned under his foot. Oscar cringed. Any louder would wake the dead. And if Aunt Lill found out where he was, he would probably be joining them. He didn’t want to go behind her back, but he had to find the small cloth bag that had belonged to his mom. Maybe then the dreams would finally stop.

He kept the flashlight clamped between his teeth, silently prying open each cardboard moving box. He stopped when he came to one labeled: Diane’s things – do not throw away. The bag would be in there. But there would be memories too. Memories he didn’t want. He bit his lip. It didn’t matter. He had come too far.

The bag was wedged between his mom’s jewelry case and the photos she had kept on her dresser. He made sure he didn’t look at the pictures.

“Who’s up there?” a voice shouted from below.

Oscar froze. He fumbled for the flashlight button. The voice sounded like Mr. McToabert, the building supervisor.

Oscar waited in the dark, holding his breath. Getting caught now would be worse than if he hadn’t found the courage to come up here in the first place.

Were you compelled to turn Joe's first page?

Good writing, clear voice, and story questions raised. But do they rise to the level of compelling? Not being a middle-grade reader, I’m not sure if it would be for him or her. For me it was an “almost.” Perhaps it’s the lack of stakes or lack of a clear problem—but I’m sure that can be dealt with. Later in the chapter a boy’s face appears through an unusual window, and then something threatening appears. If possible, I’d get to that sooner. Perhaps right after he finds the bag he sees the window and things start happening. Trim a little of this opening page and see if it’s possible—you can skip a lot of the later description about the floor in the storage space, etc. Notes:

The dark storage loft on the top floor of the old apartment building didn’t want him there, and it was doing everything it could to betray him. A loose floorboard groaned under his foot. Oscar cringed. Any louder would wake the dead. And if Aunt Lill found out where he was, he would probably be joining them. He didn’t want to go behind her back, but But he had to find the small cloth bag that had belonged to his mom. Maybe then the dreams would finally stop. It’s implied that the dreams are not pleasant, otherwise why would he want them to stop. But, as it is, this vague reference is a waste of words—knowing nothing about the dreams renders the reference meaningless. I suggest you add something that clues us in as to either the nature of the dreams or the effect they have on Oscar. Give us a little character meat to chew on.

He kept the flashlight clamped between his teeth, silently prying open each cardboard moving box. He stopped when he came to one labeled: Diane’s things – do not throw away. The bag would be in there. But there would be memories, too. Memories he didn’t want. He bit his lip. It didn’t matter. He had come too far.

The bag was wedged between his mom’s jewelry case and the photos she had kept on her dresser. He made sure he didn’t look at the pictures.

“Who’s up there?” a voice shouted from below.

Oscar froze. He fumbled for the flashlight button. The voice sounded like Mr. McToabert, the building supervisor.

Oscar waited in the dark, holding his breath. Getting caught now would be worse than if he hadn’t found the courage to come up here in the first place. Why would it be worse? This is an opportunity to add some consequences to his actions and increase tension. What would happen to him? Is it bad? Or just some form of punishment?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Joe

Continued

 The old man muttered something about calling an exterminator in the morning. Then came the sound of the lower stairwell door swinging shut. 

Oscar’s heart started back up. He thumbed the flashlight. His breath drifted past the beam of light, but despite the cold, he had to wipe a thin layer of sweat from his forehead. His ball cap accidently shifted.

He quickly pulled it back down.

No one else was around but experience had taught him it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to keeping his hair under wraps.

He held up the small cloth bag, twirling it in his hand. It was about the size of a marble pouch, tied at the top with a simple leather strap.

“Why did you want me to find this, Mom?”

Did he really think asking the question out loud would help him make sense of the dreams? Or that it would somehow change what he already knew was in the bag? But his mom had seemed so real and she had been so insistent. It had to mean something. What if there was more in the bag than he remembered? What it held answers?

He set the flashlight down and pulled open the drawstring.

A couple ounces of dull grey dust looked back at him. He shook his head. Who was he kidding. His answers weren’t in here. He was an idiot for thinking this would change anything. Dreams were just dreams. And his hair was just his hair.

He was about to close the bag back up, when he caught the light scent of lilac. That, more than anything, was her. Memories rushed up to greet him. He was five years old again and curled up in her arms. He had felt so safe. His knee was hurt. He couldn’t remember how he hurt it or even which knee. But the lilac. He closed his eyes. The lilac was her.

He knew it was wrong to blame her for dying; for leaving him alone. But deep down he couldn’t let go of the feeling that somehow it was all her fault. Or maybe it was all his fault.

He sniffled and then pulled the drawstring shut. That was eight years ago. Everything was different now. But it felt good to be connected to his mom, even in a small way. He shoved the bag in his front pants pocket. If nothing else, hopefully having it would at least get him a decent night’s sleep.

He began the process of picking his way out of the debris-strewn storage loft. It was a minefield of rusty nails and torn up boards. In many places, there were large gaps in the floor that a thirteen-year-old boy could easily slip through. Mr. McToabert was still in the early stages of refinishing it. All of the tenant’s belongings were shoved into one corner and covered with a giant plastic sheet. Everywhere else though, dust and bits of plaster blanketed the room.

He was so focused on navigating a safe path, he didn’t see the triangular window until it was right in front of him. He narrowed his eyes. He hadn’t noticed it when he came in. Even in the dark, the oddly shaped window should have stood out. The smooth glass was spotless, not a single streak anywhere. But it was impossible to see anything on the other side, the pane acting like a glossy black mirror, reflecting the star-shaped beam of Oscar’s flashlight back at him. He leaned in closer, peering into the darkness.

A boy’s face suddenly popped into the widow.

Oscar stifled a scream as he lurched back, tripping over a loose board. “You almost gave me a heart attack,” he said, still trying to catch his breath.

If the boy heard him, he didn’t show it. Bright red hair framed the pale skin of his freckled face. A pair of light green eyes sat on either side of his thin flat tipped nose. He looked like he was about Oscar’s age.

The boy tilted his head and craned his neck, his face screwed up into a puzzled expression.

Oscar held up his flashlight, waving it over the window. “Hey? Did you hear me?” he asked, a little louder this time.

Again, no response. Instead, the red-haired boy furrowed his brow. He tapped his finger on the window. The glass must have been pretty thick because Oscar didn’t hear any sound. He didn’t recognize the boy, although that wasn’t really a surprise since they hadn’t been in the area for long.  

Oscar tried to remember if there was a balcony or exterior stairway on that side of the building. He was sure there was a balcony, but he couldn’t decide where.

He was about to try tapping on the window himself, but pulled up short. The glass wasn’t as clear as before. A thick, black smoke rolled across the flawless surface, swallowing the image of the red-haired boy. The smoke churned violently, curling in and around on itself like it was a living thing. The air in the storage attic was suddenly frigid against Oscar’s skin.

The boy was completely blotted out now, lost somewhere in the dark smoke. Oscar took a step backward; something else was in there. Something he could feel, but couldn’t see.

It was watching him.

Fear gripped his chest. Smoke didn’t act like that. And whatever was hiding in there was dangerous. And it was angry. It wanted something. Oscar shuddered.

It wanted him. 

From deep within the black smoke, a pair of burning white eyes flashed to life. There were no pupils, just cold, hard whiteness. Oscar’s throat tightened.

He wasn’t alone anymore.

He stumbled backward. “Who’s there?”

A deep, gravelly voice reached out from the darkness. “You belong to me.”

Terror stabbed at him. He wrenched himself away and darted for the doorway.

He didn’t care about the loud complaining of the boards under his feet or the crashing of the boxes as he shoved them out of the way. The only thing that mattered was escaping from those burning white eyes.

He jumped two open gaps in the floor, his foot slipping as he cleared the second one. He nearly toppled into the open space.

Breathlessly, he recovered himself and burst through the doorway.

He was shocked to be outside the building. The balcony. Too late, he realized his mistake.

“No, no, no….” He crashed into the stack of paint cans and tarps piled up along the railing. He took part of the rail with him as he went cartwheeling over the edge.

He clawed desperately for a handhold; for anything.

A small bunch of tarp balled up in his grasp. He jerked to a stop, his whole body dangling in open air.

Panic shot through him.

His whole world became that tiny handful of tarp clutched in his fist.

Then it shifted. Oscar shrieked.

The tarp was wrapped around a pile of lumber. But his weight was pulling on it, sliding it closer to the edge. He imagined what it would be like lying on the cold ground, buried under all those boards.

It shifted again.

The lumber teetered on the brink now. He stared up at it. Was it ash or oak?

Then the tarp slipped loose from the pile of boards.

In a single terrifying instant Oscar’s entire body seized into a knot. He plummeted downward, every nerve in his being vibrating with fear at once. His eyes went wide as the concrete walkway rushed up at him. He found his voice and screamed.

Surprisingly though, all he could think about was how mad Aunt Lill was going to be. She had warned him over and over. He winced his eyes shut against the inevitable impact and prepared for the glowing light at the end of the tunnel, or the singing angels, or whatever else was supposed to happen in the afterlife.

But it never came. No jarring crash. No painful concrete face-plant. Nothing. Maybe this whole being dead thing wasn't going to be that bad after all. He cautiously opened one eye.

He was hanging upside down. That made even less sense than glowing lights and singing angels. His left leg was caught firmly in the gnarled branches of an old oak tree. The oak grew in the small park that bordered the back of the apartment building. He was breathing hard, but otherwise seemed to be very much alive.

“I’m not dead.” Oscar said it like he was trying to convince himself more than anything else. He patted his chest and sides, checking to make sure he was really all there. “A tree. I fell into a tree.” He had the sudden urge to shout out loud, but didn’t. He stared at the ugly twisted limbs of the oak, bent almost to the point of breaking under his weight. At that moment, he had never seen anything so beautiful as those gnarled branches. “I could kiss you, you gorgeous old thing.”

Then he remembered Aunt Lill. His eyes darted from one corner of the park to the other. He didn’t see anyone. He didn’t hear anyone. It was late and at this time of night, no one would be out walking. And it would be impossible for anyone to have seen him from the blackened apartment windows. True, he had been screaming his head off, but even that might be mistaken for teenagers out messing around.

Maybe the whole thing had gone unnoticed. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He might have just caught the break he needed.

A loud crash, followed by what sounded like a tree house exploding, tore through the silence of the night. Oscar winced. The pile of lumber must have finally toppled over the edge.

Lights flicked on in several windows and there were a few startled shouts.

Hanging upside down, he searched for his apartment window. He held his breath, praying it was far enough up.

The light in the window winked to life. Oscar groaned. He closed his eyes and silently began wishing the old oak tree hadn’t been there after all.

  •  

“Don’t think that just because he’s a kid, I won’t have the police down here. Boys like that could use a little jail time to straighten them up.”

Oscar nudged his bedroom door open a little further. He could see Mr. McToabert standing in their kitchen, one hand planted firmly on his hip. He wasn’t a tall man, but even so he had to look down at Aunt Lill as he waggled a finger at her. His bald head and round face were already a beet red. He looked like an angry toad, holding his breath. 

“When I was growing up,” he said, “I knew better than to pull something like this. And if I ever did, the police were the least of my worries. I had respect for other people’s property. And if I forgot that, my father and his leather belt were around as a reminder. A dad makes all the difference. That’s a big part of that boy’s problem right there if you ask me.”

Oscar’s shoulders tightened. It wasn’t his fault his dad was gone. People die. It happens.

Aunt Lill calmly ran her fingers through her grey hair. “I’m sure your father was a fine man. And I’m just as upset with Oscar as you are. I’ll deal with his punishment. He won’t be going up to the storage room and disturbing your things again, Mr. McToabert.”

“Well who’s going to pay for all the damages? Do you have any idea how much lumber I’ve got laying all over the ground now?”

“You can add a few dollars to our rent until it’s paid off. But not too much though. I’m afraid we’re just scraping by as it is. And you said yourself a lot of the boards were still fine.”

Mr. McToabert snorted. “I can maybe save some. But they’re five stories down from where I need them. Do you know what it costs to have lumber like that hauled up steps? Most of it won’t fit in the elevator. The labor alone is going to be more than your rent.”

“I’m sure we can work out some kind of payment plan. I’ll pay for it all, no matter how long as it takes.”

“Winter’s coming. I don’t have that kind of time. I could have you evicted for something like this. The lease clearly states that damages to the facilities are grounds for eviction.”

Oscar didn’t want to move again. They had moved enough already. Usually it wasn’t for something like this though. Usually it was the other reason. He pulled his red ball cap down further.

Mr. McToabert’s voice was rising. “You’ve only been here two weeks. And I told you when you moved in I won’t put up with vandals and hoodlums. That boy’s trouble. Always wandering around in the woods over by Cullvert creek. What’s he up to back there anyway? I don’t trust kids with too much time on their hands. And that nonsense he told us tonight about some magic window. We all went up and looked. You saw for yourself; there’s nothing there. He’s a liar and a bad egg. Plain and simple.”

Aunt Lill rocked back on her stumpy legs. She was a short woman with narrow shoulders and a rather round body; not exactly an imposing figure. But when her neck went stiff like that Oscar knew what was coming.

“He made a mistake, Mr. McToabert. I already told you, I’ll take care of the damages and his grounding. He doesn’t need to be in jail and he certainly doesn’t need a leather belt. He could have been seriously injured tonight. Or worse. Did you ever think about that?”

Oscar pursed his lips. Sure Aunt Lill could be tough on him sometimes, but he knew how much she really cared. He was lucky to have her in his life.

Mr. McToabert took a step back. Apparently, he hadn’t expected to have a fight on his hands. But his face was redder than ever. “The storage loft is clearly marked with construction signs and a barrier. Everything is right up to letter of the city safety code. There’s no negligence on my part, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m the victim here. If you can’t pay, I’m perfectly within my rights to have you both out on the street.”

Aunt Lill leaned back, widening her stance. A sure sign she was digging in for round two.

Oscar pushed the door open. “It was my fault. I’ll help clean it up.”

His aunt sucked in a breath. “That’s nonsense, Oscar. You’re not old enough for that kind of work. And besides, school starts tomorrow.”

“I can carry lumber up steps. And it’s just the first week of school. They never give us much in the beginning anyway. I’ll get my homework done before.”

Mr. McToabert pulled his hand over his bald head. “I was paying my nephew, Butchy to help. He’s about your age. Course he’s not all spindly like you. But he’s as lazy as they come. His mother babies him too much.”

“I’m not lazy, sir. And you don’t have to pay me anything.”

“I don’t know about this,” Aunt Lill said.

Mr. McToabert rubbed his fat chin “Little hard work might be just the thing for him.”

Oscar could see the man figuring out in his head how much money he would save with a worker who couldn’t complain and never got paid.

“Okay, then,” Mr. McToabert said. “I’ll even let him wait until this weekend to get started. It’ll take that long for the new drywall to come in anyway. But you’ll work whatever hours I tell you to. No belly-aching.”

Oscar nodded.

Mr. McToabert grunted a final time. He even sounded like a toad. He left without saying another word.

Aunt Lill folded her hands in front of her. “You didn’t have to do that, Oscar. We could have paid.”

Oscar knew that was a lie.

“You told me to stay out of the loft. I should have listened.”

“What were you doing up there anyway?”

“Nothing. Just curious I guess.” He didn’t want to tell her about the small cloth bag. Especially after the disappearance of the strange window. It was impossible, but it was gone when they went back and looked.

 His aunt rolled her shoulders. “Well, you’ve set yourself up for a tough week.”

“A little hard work will be good for me, right? Old McToady even said so?”

Aunt Lill frowned. “Oscar Whitowick. You of all people should know better than to make fun of people’s appearances. Mr. McToabert is not a toad. He’s just a little upset right now. And besides, it’s not the peel of the fruit that counts –”

“I know, I know. It’s what’s inside that matters most. Mom used to say the same corny thing to me all the time.”

“Yeah, well don’t think volunteering for lumber duty gets you off the hook. You really scared me, tonight. What would have happened if you didn’t get caught up in that tree?” She held out a stubby finger. “One week. No TV and no electronics.”

Oscar closed his eyes and nodded. It was a light sentence. She was taking pity on him.

“All right,” Aunt Lill said. “It’s late. Get to bed before I come to my senses and realize a leather belt really is the best thing for you.” She tried to make it sound serious, but Oscar caught the small smile on her face as she turned away.

“Thanks, Aunt Lill. Love you. Good night.”

A window at the end of the hall looked out over the courtyard. He stared at the gnarled old oak tree. It had to be at least 25 feet to the nearest branches. It was hard to believe he fell that far out.

He shook his head.

One thing was for sure though. It would be a big day for him tomorrow. He had plenty of experience with first days at new schools. They could either make you or break you. He sat down on his bed and pulled open the nightstand drawer. Inside lay the small cloth bag of dust.

He missed her so much.

He fell asleep that night wondering if he would dream about his mom and the bag of dust again. But he didn’t. Instead, he dreamed he was standing in the middle of his new classroom wearing nothing but his underwear and his red ball cap. As it turned out though, things would actually be much worse than that.

Add a Comment
5. Flogometer for Christine—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Christine sends the first chapter of Echoes in the Rain. The remainder of the chapter is after the break.

"Do you hate him; do you sometimes wish he was dead?” At first, my daughter’s eyes were elusive, but then her eyes locked in and she looked deeply into mine, waiting for a response.

 Those words kept playing in my head. How am I supposed to respond to that question? Yes, I wanted to scream out loud, "Yes! I wish he was out of my life and that we had never met. I knew better than to unload on my daughter like that.

Why did she ask that question today - of all days? Every February, we take a day off to attend the Québec City Winter Carnival, Carnaval D ’hiver de Québec. This would be our last time because Céleste would be graduating from high school this year.

“Céleste, be careful,” I cautioned. The streets in the Old Champlain quarter were covered with ice. In my thirty-nine years living here I never tired of the old city and its ambiance which always transported me back in time. Echoes of old Europe, or at least my image of it. Québec is one of the few cities in North America that still boasts of the old wall fortifications that originally surrounded the city. “Ma chérie, you are going too fast! It is slippery” I warned again. Visions of her 5’2” frame falling flat on the ice haunted me. Being a hovering mother was my downfall; one in which I would probably never overcome. I’ll would never stop protecting her.

Were you compelled to turn Christine's first page?

For this reader, the first page is not the place to narrate feelings about a city (unless they bear on what happens, and it doesn’t). While this opening does establish the characters and their relationship, what it doesn’t do is make me wonder what will  happen next. The opening paragraph is a pretty good hook, but then we detour off into musing. No real story question, no jeopardy ahead. One little note—it’s not a good idea to send your work out into the world with a grammatical error such as “I’ll would” in it. Proofread mercilessly.

Much of what follows in the chapter is setup. We finally get to a violent scene and the story picks up. But still there’s a lot of setup. So I took what I felt was truly dramatic, story-raising stuff toward the end of the chapter and edited it down to create what might be a stronger opening page. It needs work, but see what you think and give a vote. The rest of the original chapter follows the fold.

Celeste was curled up in a fetal position at the corner of her bed. It broke my heart to see my child in such anguish. “Céleste! Get those suitcases out and fill them as quick as you can. We are going to leave tonight.”

Her expression was a collage of fear, hurt and anger. She opened the closet door and pulled out the suitcases.

 “Going somewhere?” I froze when I heard his voice behind me.

 I straightened and faced him. “We are leaving you! You are an animal. What kind of a savage behaves the way you do? It will be over my dead body that you hurt Céleste again.”

He pounded his fist against the wall. “I call the shots around here.” His voice filled with splinters. “You don’t leave unless I say so…and I don’t say so. You belong to me!”

He had something in his other hand. How pathetic was he, not able to bear being without his precious beer. But it was not a beer. I wanted so desperately for it to be a beer. It was a gun!

A scream choked in my throat. All I could think was that I had to get Céleste out of there. I spread my arms to shield her. I edged her towards the door.

“Get out of here!” I begged Céleste. “Just get out of here.”

Her father wrapped his fingers around the trigger of the gun and took aim at me. “If I can’t have you, no one will.” The gun went off.

Were you compelled turn the page with this 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.

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Christine

Continued

I had to laugh at Céleste. She did not let the 20°F (6° C) weather stop her from enjoying this day. Her pace did not slow as we climbed the mounds of snow that had accumulated from the snowstorm the night before. Undaunted by the ice that slicked the alleyways, Céleste saw them as her personal dance floor. She twirled around as her crazy black mane of hair danced in the air. Her lack of inhibition was my envy. Self-conscious of my own lackluster locks, I tucked some grey strands into my bun. My hair was wild and curly like hers years ago. I was quite attractive in my younger years. Time and stress have not treated me favourably, my looks have eroded. I’m still the same person, just downgraded. We continued our trek towards Rue Grande Allée to grab something to eat.

 Walking to the pastry shop, we entered the arched entrance of the walled in city.

 “Butter and cinnamon and don’t hold back on the maple syrup s’il vous plaît.” She ordered one the famous French Canadien pastries – the Beaver Tail.

“You know that is my favourite” Céleste said.

“Want one, maman? Céleste yelled. “You know you do, come on maman, live a little.”

 I had to chuckle to myself. Papa and I started that tradition. We came to this very same shop to buy pastries. My favourite was the strawberry and whipped cream.

 Céleste already knew how I would respond. It is the same every year. “Non, ma chérie, none for me” I yelled back. Even though these pastries were delicious, I could not afford the calories. Ever since her father commented on my weight gain, desire for those pastries eluded me.

 Céleste had a strength that I used to know. She ignored what others thought, or at least that was the persona she projected. She licked the maple syrup running down her face like an eager child, paying testimony to my theory.

 “Shh maman, be quiet” Céleste ordered as we sat at the café table. “There is that golden oldie song you love on the radio, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Isn’t that from the 60’s something about raining, gardens and roses or whatever?”

 “Yes, I smirked,” that is one of those ancient songs.”

“What’s up with that? Why do you love it? Every time that song plays, which isn’t often thank God, it reminds me of you.”

Hesitation set in as I tried to formulate an acceptable reply. “It is not really that I love the song so much; it is more that it was relatable.” Pausing, I struggled for an adequate response. Then another side of me poured out, the part of me that wanted to be understood.

 “I thought when I met your father we’d have the perfect life, complete with the white picket fence and a beautiful rose garden”. I regretted saying it. The words sounded immature, desperate but it was the truth. Still my daughter didn’t have to hear her mother complain about a life unfulfilled. I paused, reminding myself to choose my next words carefully.

Sometimes I feel a little cheated - no roses just rain.” “Things happen to us that we are not in control of. Life is like a garden, weeds grow, our hands become dirty and plants die. So, the song reminds me that no one promised me roses and I better get used to the rain.”

 “That’s it - that is why you like that song?” Céleste mocked. “Maman, you’re such a downer,” she patted my head with a patronizing tap. “Not on my watch,” she directed. “We have to pick another song, something more positive. What about ‘I Don't Want To Miss A Thing’ by Aerosmith?”

 “Arrowroot”, I queried, “don’t they make cookies?”

 “Argg, you really need to get with the times. No, they don’t make cookies. They are a band.” She grabbed the maple syrup bottle mimicking a microphone and started to sing the words.

 “Okay, ma chérie” I said with an inward smile, not sure if Céleste could see the crinkle in the corner of my eyes. Of course I knew Aerosmith was a band; I was just perpetuating the archaic maman role.

Grabbing her hand I stared into her eyes. “Céleste, I hope you know you’re ma chérie, my reason for living.”

Céleste stopped singing and paused for a moment, recognizing the external punctuation in my eyes. She clutched my hands in hers. “Maman there is something I want to ask you…. Do you hate him?” her eyes searched for an answer “Do you sometimes wish he was dead?”

I tucked her locks behind her one ear. “I love it when you wear your hair back, it shows your beautiful eyes, each one a different colour, accentuating your pretty face”

“Mom, you are avoiding my question.” she accused while unhooking the hair from behind her ear.

“Non, ma chérie, it is not hate, it is pity. Why are you asking?”

“Maman, I know something is going on. Suitcases are hidden in the back of my closet. I know you have something set up because yesterday some guy called saying the security system you asked to have installed could not be done for a few weeks.”

“Merde!” I swore, angered at my sloppiness. Suddenly forgetting how to breathe, fear gripped me.

 Céleste continued, “He said not to worry and assured me that it would be ready in time for when we moved in.”

You I-d-i-o-t I chanted to myself. What if her father had answered that call?

“What did you say to your father?” I pleaded.

 “Chill mom, dad doesn’t know. I wanted to talk to you first. Maman, what was he talking about? Are we moving?”

She paused. It all clicked - she understood. Her rhetorical question hung in the air, but she wanted an answer anyway.

“Maman, don’t lie to me, whatever you’re doing, affects me too”.

I knew this day would come. Wiping my glasses, I stalled, not trusting my voice. My words carefully curated. I believed that if my words were well manicured they could withstand the tightrope, the delicate balance between telling the truth and still acknowledging he was her father. I wanted to respect the fact that she loved him.

 “When two people fall out of love….”

Céleste hushed me, “the truth….” Her injured eyes convinced me to abandon my practiced spiel. Truth was spoken with a few omissions and compressions.

 “Your father and I are not right for each other.” My voice tightened as I twisted my ring around my finger. “He has some demons in his life, demons that are bigger than him. Bigger than you and me. He needs help before…” I did not want to articulate the words that screamed in my head. “Instead of facing his fears, he has chosen different ways of coping. Alcohol and drugs are his love. You should know, your father’s drunken rage has been a part of our daily life. Your father has abused me for years, which I allowed to happen, thinking I deserved it. I tried to hide as much as possible. I know now you saw too much. His abuse is worsening. I’m afraid it will extend to you. We need to get out of that house. For the past year, I have been secretly putting money aside for an apartment. I finally put a deposit down for one the other day.”

Céleste leaned forward and rested her chin on her hand, understanding the seriousness of my words.

 “The apartment is near the Université. It should be ready in a few weeks. I stayed this long, petrified to be on my own and poor, like my maman.” My hands were shaking; I was like a nervous seamstress stitching my words together without a pattern. “I wanted to love your father and make it work. How can one love someone they fear?” I felt so exposed, shifting my thoughts into words. “Sometimes we have to give up on people, not because we don’t care, but because they don’t. Céleste, you have always been my reason to stay, now you are my reason to leave.” She sat quietly processing my words.

Her despondency revealed she already knew all this, and had for a while. My silence helped her deny its existence. Now it was real. I was prepared for a long discussion. Whatever Céleste felt was distilled to this question, “I sort of know what you mean” her lips quivered, “Is it possible to love and hate someone at the same time?"

I was silent. I did not know the answer. I wish I had been stronger for my daughter.

The silence was broken as we neared the cemetery. “Ready ma chérie?’” I asked. It was tradition to visit my papa’s tombstone on the way home on our special day. “Put your hood up, the rain is coming down.” Quickening our pace we walked up Taché Boulevard. The rusted gate was wide open. Céleste had never met my papa. He died in a motorcycle accident long before she was born. Papa’s memory lived on in my stories. She knew papa had been my rock, my best friend.

Céleste had the sensitivity to give me a few private moments with my papa, sensing my inward journey. The gravel bit at my knees as I knelt down by his headstone. Pain was inconsequential and I was numb and soaked with failure. “Je t’amie papa. I love you”, I whispered as my hand caressed the top of his tombstone. Touching his memorial somehow made me feel closer to him. Here today, love had a way of bringing us together even if death kept us apart. I surveyed the sky desperately wanting to believe that he had found a way to see me, to listen, love and still protect me.

“Don’t know if you can hear me papa,” I whispered. “My heart aches for you and I miss you. I find it hard trying to navigate this life, to understand it. Give me the strength to do what is right for Céleste; to offer her a life that holds promise and security. I want to give Céleste the life I always wanted”.

After a while I motioned for Céleste to join me. Resting her hand on my shoulder, she gently brushed some tears from my face. The enormity of the moment revealed itself in the tiniest of gestures. Then suddenly out of the corner of my I eye I saw a hummingbird. I was in complete awe of the intangible, ephemeral blur; this tiny creature hovered over papa’s tombstone.

“What is that hummingbird doing here?” Céleste asked. “It is too cold hummingbirds to be flitting at this time of the year.”

An inward smiled formed as I remembered in my younger years when papa shared the legend of the hummingbird. Papa told me, when a person dies a part of them continues to live on earth in the hearts of those that love them. The other part becomes a hummingbird. In the afterlife, the hummingbird feeds on the nectar of the flowers in the gardens of paradise. The hummingbird angel watches over their loved one on earth and if the loved one seems troubled, the hummingbird sneaks back to earth, like a messenger. Then it injects sweet nectar from the afterlife, into their hearts, reminding them they are loved. That is why the hummingbird is so small and its wings flap so fast. So they can fly between the afterlife and earth so easily.

Skepticism filled me when I first heard the legend. Glancing upward now; I knew why that beautiful wisp of a creature was here. Papa was sending me a message. He was with me.

“Céleste, I could try to give you a scientific answer that would probably not be correct. I will give you the answer in my heart. Céleste turned in my direction, her face hungry with curiosity.

 “The hummingbird is considered a messenger, and symbol of devotion and protection. Papa is sending me a message. I believe he is here with us now and somehow everything will work out.” Uncertainty filled me as I did not know if Celeste understood the power of the moment. I did. “‘Merci papa,” I whispered as the hummingbird flew away.

Rain poured down hard but I was undaunted because I felt a comforting warmth at this moment. We headed back home.

 Turning a corner Céleste noticed a kitty near a garbage can wet and shivering. “Look maman, a kitty. It looks lost. Can we bring it home?” Céleste pleaded.

“No, Céleste. Your father does not do well with animals. He would not approve and it would upset him.”

 Her eyes begged.

“Its fur is all tattered and it is skin and bones. You can tell the kitty has not eaten for a while. Please… What if we just take the kitty home for tonight and in the morning take it to a shelter?”

“Okay, but your father must not see the animal. You’ll have to hide it in your room until morning. Then we take it to the shelter first thing – agreed?”

 “Yes, sweet victory” she sang, pumping her fist in the air.

 She cuddled the little kitty in her arms. She was already in love. We headed home.

♦♦♦

“Where the fuck were you?” her father demanded, his large hockey hands gripping the door frame. Her father had the looks of Brad Pitt but the heart of O.J.Simpson.

 “We were out for our mother/daughter day. I left you a note.” I stammered. “Sorry if you did not see it.”

“Your note said you would be home in time for supper. You’re late,” he slurred. He could hardly keep his six foot, husky athletic frame upright.

 “Sorry, it was raining hard and we stopped by the cemetery to see papa.”

 “It has been more than twenty years for fucks sake, you should be over him by now.” I cringed at his callousness. “I come home after working all day and there is no dinner,” he complained even though we both knew he had been at the bar for hours.

 I immediately realized this was a warm up to a fight and I did not want to get into the second act. I waved Céleste past me and motioned for her to hide the kitty in her room.

“Sorry.” I left some spaghetti in the fridge. I’ll get it for you.” I pacified.

“This is shit,” he bellowed, and flipped his hand up in the air knocking the dish out of my hand causing spaghetti to spill all over the floor. “You know I hate leftovers.”

I manufactured a smile. “I’ll make something else. What would you like?” His usual liquid appetizer of choice had already been consumed.

Awaiting his response, I noticed he froze mid-sentence, concentrating on something in the hallway. My insides twisted. I knew what held his attention, even before turning around. Céleste didn’t close the door of her room, the kitty was now wobbling into the kitchen.

“What the hell is that?” he demanded, his voice threaded with hooks.

 “It is a kitty,” Céleste responded as she mouthed to me that she was sorry the kitten escaped from her room.

 “Who gave you permission to have a kitty?” he demanded.

 “Maman”… Céleste started to say but her father did not give her a chance to finish.

“Who the hell are you to give her permission to have a kitty?” he spit moving closer to me, pinning me up against the cupboard. “It is me who makes the decisions around here. I bring home the money,” he hissed in my ear. You live a sweet life. Do you know how many women would love a piece of this?” he crooned slicking back his full head of blond hair while pointing at himself.

 Zero, ran through my head, actually negative zero. I did not have the courage to correct him. It was my salary that paid the bills now. He has not held a steady job since his own father fired him from the company. I just glared at him with a blank state, loathing the sight of him. His mouth twitched and I could see the frustration seeping through his pores. His grip tightened as he started to twist my arm. Céleste’s father hated that I was not being the obedient wife he had cultivated. His grip twisted my arm further. Was he trying to break me again? Does he not see that I’m already broken? I felt detached from his threatening violence, knowing I would soon be free of him. My escape plan was set in place. Céleste and I would soon leave this house, and never return. He would not be able to hurt me anymore. His nails dug into me, but did not get the desired reaction. He became more agitated. Yanking the kitty out of Céleste’s arms, he gripped it tightly, his frenetic energy intense.

Céleste cried out, “Dad, you are hurting the kitty!”

 Her father held the kitten high in the air, as if an offering to the gods and then flung the kitty with all his might, hard against the wall. The tiny body crushed on impact and its lifeless frame slid down the side of the wall.

I felt raw and my eyes were spiked with shock. Blindsided, how could I have known he was capable of hurting - no killing an innocent kitten. I started to hyperventilate. For all these years I was his punching bag, but now his locus of control had ruptured. I knew what had to be done, for remaining in this house was no longer an option. We had to leave tonight!

“I hate you!” Céleste’s words came out like thunder. “How could you do that? You’re evil.” Her revulsion ricocheted around the room as her lips trembled.

There was an eeriness in her father’s eyes. A potential I could not decipher. Placating the barbarian was my next move. Then I could retreat to the bedroom and sneak Céleste out.

 “Let me get your supper, I offered meekly. “I know how much you love French toast. What if I make that?”

Céleste’s eyes furrowed as she sneered at me; disgusted at my groveling. She could not understand how I could kowtow to such a monster. She headed to her room feeling betrayed.

“See what you did? Filling her with lies about me and turning her against me.” He rationalized and twisted the version of events. A greasy sheen on his face gleaned as he leaned into me. He kissed me hard; and seemed turned on by this nightmare. Finally, his heavy breathing stopped and he pushed me aside.

 “Sorry she spoke to you like that,” I placated while refilling his beer. “Eat your dinner. I will go speak to her about it.” Backing away from him as one backs away from a poisonous snake, I quickly turned and ran to Céleste.

“Céleste!” I ordered in a frantic voice. She was curled up in a fetal position at the corner of her bed. It broke my heart to see her in such anguish. “Get those suitcases out and fill them as quick as you can. We are going to leave tonight.”

Céleste’s expression was a collage of fear, hurt and anger. She opened the closet door and pulled out the suitcases.

We wildly grabbed whatever we could and shoved it into the suitcase. “I refreshed your father’s beer, so that should occupy him for a little time. This is our chance to leave.”

“Going somewhere?” My body froze with fear when I heard his voice behind me.

 “Just straightening up,” I whimpered as my eyes moved slowly trying to locate Céleste.

“Doesn’t appear that way to me,” his neck veins throbbed.

 At that very moment in time I knew that this was the point of no return. The smell of fear darted back and forth between me and Céleste. I knew we could not go through anymore of this. Courage pierced my spine and there was shift in the air.

 I straightened my body, repositioned my shoulders and faced him eye to eye. “We are leaving you! You are an animal who needs help. What kind of a savage behaves the way you do? For too long abuse has been your tool of persuasion. You’ve worsened and now cannot be contained. It will be over my dead body that you hurt Céleste again. We are leaving you, for our own safety!”

In one quick explosive thud he pounded his fist against the wall. “I call the shots around here,” his voice filled with splinters. “You don’t leave unless I say so…and I don’t say so. You’re not going anywhere. You belong to me!”

The room pulsated. I noticed he had something in his other hand. How pathetic is he not able to bear being without his precious drink in his hand. My body shuddered upon closer examination I could see it was not a beer. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I wanted so desperately for it to be a beer. It was not a beer. It was a gun!

The reality of the moment swirled around me and a scream choked in my throat. All I could think was that I had to get Céleste out of there. Cautiously, I made my way to Céleste and spread my arms in an attempt to shield her. Slowly I edged her towards the door.

“Get out of here!” I begged Céleste. “Just get out of here.”

“….But maman…” Céleste cried.

“DO as I say…get out N-O-W!”

I turned back to look at her father. As if possessed, his face had a melded look of hate and conquest. I could see a fire in his eyes as they pierced mine. Slowly, he raised his hands, wrapped his fingers around the trigger of the gun and took aim at me. “If I can’t have you, no one will.” The gun went off.

In his drunken state he missed and shattered a framed handprint picture Céleste and I made in her preschool class. I finally realized it. He won; I was never going to get out of this nightmare. This whole marriage was a slow death with painful interruptions. My courage left me. One would think I would have bolted out of the room, but I didn’t. I could never escape. Resignation took over. I watched with submission as he steadied himself again, took aim and shot. This time he did not miss his target - me.

 A stillness surrounded me as a few last thoughts made their final escape. If only I had made better choices. If only I had the strength sooner. If only I could rewrite my past…

As my heart started to gasp, I think I heard another gun shot. I could feel a shallowness in my breath and knew it was fading in a slow steady sequence. Please God, tell me Céleste got out in time. Breath… then pause…breath… then pause… then just pause…

Add a Comment
6. A communication question for you

The other day I was listening to a news item on the radio and this number was cited: 500 million. It struck me that “1/2 billion” was the same.

But is it? Do they communicate the same thing?

For me, one expression “feels” like a larger amount even though, mathematically speaking, they are identical. What about you? Give your answer in the poll.

Do you have a similar communication issue that you can mention in comments?

Which feels larger, if either?

My answer: because a “billion” is a hugely larger number than a “million,” for some reason ½ billion feels like the larger of the two.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
7. Flogometer for A.J.—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


A.J. sends the first chapter of The Aurora . The remainder of the chapter is after the break. Note: British spelling/world.

The slums of N’Kori City were all but abandoned. A few months ago, a particularly nasty strain of the Qintom Flu had killed most of the residents that hadn’t been able to flee and those that remained didn’t seem much better off than the dead. Kyros hated to see it. N’Qaen had been one of the first worlds his people had colonized after they left the home-world. Traces of ornate Albyrian architecture could still be spotted under the clumsy repairs on the buildings. They kept them standing - mostly - but they did nothing to improve the scenery. The rest of N’Qaen wasn’t this bad, of course. Some of the planet was downright opulent and even the outlying parts of N’Kori City were pleasant, but Kyros rarely seemed to find himself in those sorts of places.

To his left, Dr. Ila Tesni shivered and moved closer to him. “I’m cold,” she whispered, glaring up at him with her vibrant gold and green eyes. As a Syadyr, Ila had difficulty regulating her body temperature in colder climates, and late autumn nights in N’Kori got very cold.

“Sorry,” Kyros murmured, letting her lean on him and attempt to steal his warmth. “Do you want my jacket?”

Ila glanced at his worn leather jacket with a thoughtful look on her face. “No thanks,” she said after a moment. “If I wanted a coat, I’d have worn my own. Just gets in the way of my work.”

“Then stop whining,” Caeto said from Ila’s left. The small hacker glanced at Ila and (snip)

Were you compelled to turn A.J.'s first page?

The writing is sound enough but, for me, not much in the way of a story question came up. While science fiction does need to build a world, spending so much time on it in the first paragraph didn’t help me--and I'm a science fiction fan. Set the scene, sure, but just letting us know that we were in a slum on a non-Earth world would have done it. I also had a problem with so many names and terms being thrown at me—N’Kori City, Qintom Flu, Kyros, N’Qaen, Albyrian, Ila Tesni, Syadyr, and Caeto. Too much too soon. Simplify. Keep the story focused on what’s happening to the primary character. You have a team of people, but slow down the introduction of the members. And, if it’s possible, get rid of some of them. How many do you need?

There is some cool stuff that happens later, but I wouldn’t have gotten to it because, in this opening, the only thing that happens is that a character muses on the state of the city and another character is cold. I am reading a book about storytelling right now and the author said this: you don’t have a story until something goes wrong. In this opening, there’s no hint of the possibility of a problem ahead.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 A.J.

 

Continued

offered her a small half-smile.

“Why do I have to be here anyway?” Ila asked, Kyros, ignoring Caeto in favor of glancing around the small alley they were waiting in. Piles of garbage littered the ground; junk that even the impoverished that had once lived in the tenements on either side of the alley couldn’t be bothered with. “Caeto’s your hacker.”

“Yes,” Kyros said, his focus returning to the only lit window on the building in front of him. “But Caeto and I would have to clear the building from the ground up to reach that light on the seventh floor. You can take a more direct route.”

Ila scoffed and Kyros glanced down at her. The flickering light from the streetlamp at the end of the alley cast a blue tinge on her silvery hair and made her naturally pale-green skin seem almost turquoise.

“Hey, if I could scale walls like you, I would,” Caeto grumbled from Ila’s left.

“Your species should have thought of that when you were evolving,” Ila teased, waving her long-fingered hands at Caeto.

“Um, don’t think evolution works that way,” Caeto responded.

“You don’t say? Huh, you’d think, as a biologist, I would know that,” Ila shot back.

“You are cold, aren’t you?” Caeto said, another small smile on his thin lips. “You always get testy when you’re cold.”

Ila shrugged and went back to scanning the alley. Her “w” shaped pupils contracting and expanding as she searched the shadows. Syadyr couldn’t see color - a fact that Kyros always thought was a shame, considering their vibrant coloring – but they could perceive contrasts that humans couldn’t even begin to imagine. It was just another reason that Kyros had insisted she come with him tonight. Waiting in a rubbish-filled alley in one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden areas on N’Qaen was a very stupid idea if you didn’t have a Syadyr on watch.

Kyros,” Xylia’s voice crackled in his ear, they really should update their transmitters soon. “Anzo and I are in position, are you ready?

Kyros glanced to the left, arching an eyebrow at his companions to see if they’d heard. Caeto’s dark eyes widened and he nodded, biting at the ring in his lower lip as his fingers began dancing over the tattoos on his right forearm. The tattoos, thin lines that paralleled each other in an elegant mockery of a circuit board, were connected to a tiny device in Caeto's skin that transmitted signals to the H-FPCs imbedded in the left eye of every member of Kyros' crew. Kyros blinked rapidly as his Hands-Free Perception Changer flickered to life; the first few seconds were always difficult. The Human mind was simply not designed to compile images from so many different viewpoints. For a moment, Kyros was treated to flashes of scenes from the other four members of his crew until Caeto finished his command and the H-FPC focused on Ila's viewpoint.

Damnit, Caeto,” Xylia's voice crackled trough their transmitters. “Anzo and I need both our eyes to play lookout right now.

Caeto grimaced, altering the motions of his fingers even as he apologized. “Force of habit.”

A half-laugh, half-sigh was Xylia's only reply and Caeto shrugged, his left eye squeezed shut. For some people, Caeto included, it took a lot of effort to focus on one image or the other but Kyros had been lucky, adapting quickly to switch between views as needed.

Ila sighed as she removed her shoes and let her long toes unwind. Syadyr feet were weird. There was no other way that Kyros could think to describe them, though he had the common sense not to say that aloud. They reminded him of the feet of some of the tropical bird species back on the home-world, with two toes pointed forward and two pointed back. Each toe had an extra joint, just like the fingers on her hands and the bones in her hands and feet were immensely strong.

“Do not lose these,” Ila said, handing him her shoes. “They’re my favorite pair.”

Kyros nodded, taking the platforms without a word. They were lighter than he expected; the majority of the platform was hollow, allowing Ila to curl her toes comfortably inside.

“Okay, Xyl, we’re ready here,” Kyros said tapping the small tattoo on his wrist to activate his transmitter to his sister.

About time,” Xylia said.

“Hey, if everything goes well, you just get to sit there watching for reinforcements, so stop whining.”

Nothing ever just ‘goes well’,” Xylia said.

“Yeah, well, at least you’re not surrounded by trash.”

Xylia laughed. “Don’t talk about our crew-mates like that!

Kyros rolled his eyes but couldn’t suppress a laugh of his own. “Just stay focused.”

Aye, aye, Captain.

“Okay Ila,” Kyros said, turning to the doctor. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Ila smiled slightly and Kyros felt a chill run up his spine. Ila was a biologist, when they’d found her she’d been working at an animal reserve; she loved fluffy things and sugar and got manicures every chance she got. But every once in a while, she’d smile like that and all Kyros could see was a predator, more dangerous than any of the animals she’d ever worked with.

Without a word, Ila used the shredded remains of a couch to launch herself into the air, just managing to catch the rail of a broken fire-escape on the building behind Kyros. She pulled herself up easily, fingers and toes wrapping around each rung until she was a story higher. Caeto gasped as she flung herself away from the fire-escape, turning in midair and latching on to the iron bars of a window. She peered inside, and thanks to the H-FPC, Kyros could see a darkened room littered with broken bottles and a battered mattress. A body was sprawled over the bed, arms and legs spread-eagled. Thanks to Ila’s polarized vision, Kyros could clearly make out the dark stain under the corpse and his jaw clenched. Ila moved away before Kyros could tell anything else about the scene but he made a mental note of which apartment it was. There wasn’t likely anything he could do about it, the dead were past caring anyway, but it was something to note, regardless.

Ila continued up the wall, catching the ragged edges of metal patches or the crumbling remains of cinderblock that hadn’t yet been reinforced. How she managed to hold on to the often jagged ends without cutting herself, Kyros wasn’t sure but she continued upwards without pause. The next three windows she passed were broken, shards of glass littering the floors of the rooms within. There were no other corpses, though there was a pile of rubbish in the far corner of the second room that was large enough to hide a couple of bodies.

“Circuits,” Caeto cursed as Ila peeked into another window and found the interior charred. “This is horrible.”

“I wish I could say it was probably better before the flu but I doubt it was,” Kyros responded, his eyes focused on Ila.

“I hate slums,” Caeto murmured.

Kyros nodded, not bothering to ask whether Caeto hated that slums existed of if he just hated being reminded of them. Caeto was a good man but like most of the good men that Kyros had ever met, they didn’t worry about problems until they were forced to face them.

Above them, Ila had reached her destination and was hanging from the broken window by her fingertips. She stayed there a moment, looking toward the light and letting her – and Kyros and Caeto’s – eyes adjust before slowly pulling herself up and peeking into the room. For a moment, Kyros was stunned. He had expected the room to be similar to the rest of the tenement; probably a bit cleaner, and obviously with working lights, but he wasn’t at all expecting to see the mass of technology lining the walls. It looked like one of the higher-budget war rooms he’d seen. In one chair, a tall Human sat watching a bank of monitors; each displaying what looked like a different room in the building. There were people in some of the rooms, milling around aimlessly or sitting against a wall, staring at the camera. By the door was another Human and Kyros felt his breath catch in his throat as he realized the man was staring directly at Ila; his mouth slightly ajar in surprise. As Caeto cursed beside him, Ila pulled herself fully onto the windowsill and drew the small pistol from her belt; aiming and firing a shot into his throat before the man had a chance to get over his surprise. The Human at the console jumped from his chair and spun to face the window just in time to get a bullet lodged in his right eye.

“Does that ever worry you?” Caeto asked as Ila slid into the room and walked calmly toward the dying man by the door.

“No,” Kyros said with a shrug. “The gun has a silencer; I doubt anyone outside the room heard it.”

“I meant how simple all that just was for her. That doesn’t make you at all uneasy?”

“As long as I keep her shoes safe, no,” Kyros responded with a small smile. Beside him, Caeto jerked as Ila shot the dying man in the head. Now that she was closer, Kyros could see the signs of Tsodo habitation. Thin lines covered the whites of the man’s eyes and the blood that poured from his neck and head was darker than Kyros would expect, more dull.

“I’m just saying,” Caeto continued as Ila walked back to the window and threw down a length of rope. “It’s kind of creepy how good she is at that.”

“All Syadyr are skilled acrobats,” Kyros said with another shrug.

“But they aren’t all assassins.”

“Neither is she.” Kyros tied Ila’s shoes to the end of the rope before grabbing the line and pulling himself toward the window, using his feet against the wall to steady himself.

“Right,” Caeto muttered behind him. “We don’t get paid to kill people; she just does it for fun.”

“Drop it, Caeto,” Kyro said, glancing over his shoulder at the wiry young man climbing awkwardly after him.

“Sorry, I don’t mean anything by it.”

“I know.” Kyros shot him a half-grin as they continued climbing. “If you did, she’d kill you.”

Caeto made a choking sound behind him and Kyros laughed softly.

“Something funny?” Ila asked as Kyros pulled himself through the window and turned around to help Caeto.

“Just looking forward to collecting the bounty on this information,” Kyros answered, nodding Caeto toward the servers as he moved toward the body by the door. After she’d cleared the room, Ila had deactivated her H-FPC and now Kyros did the same. It was different seeing the room in color; the burnt-orange blood gathering under the body made Kyros’ stomach turn.

“This one is Tsodo No’le too,” Ila said, crouching over the other body. “I just don’t understand why someone would volunteer for something like this.”

“Not everyone makes the same decisions as you,” Caeto said as he transferred the data on the servers to one of his personal drives.

“Clearly,” Ila said, moving away from the body and toward Kyros. “This entire building is filled with them,” she nodded from the body at his feet to the screens on the wall.

“Good thing we had you come up first,” Kyros said. “Do you think they’re all controlled by the same Tsodo?”

“I doubt it,” Caeto said, glancing toward the monitors. “It’d take way too much effort to control that many subjects. And it wouldn’t make sense to keep them all in this building anyway.”

Kyros nodded, moving away from the body and toward Caeto, his attention focused on the images. “Something seems wrong about this.”

“More wrong than people letting themselves be used as puppets for another species?” Ila asked, a look of contempt on her face as she looked down at the corpse at her feet.

Kyros shot her a warning look and she shrugged, looking away. “Get that data as quickly as you can, Caeto, I want to take a look around the building.”

“Wait, didn’t we bring Ila specifically so we didn’t have to run around shooting things?” Caeto asked, not bothering to glance up from his work.

“Yes,” Kyros said. “But now I’m curious.”

“And we’re all to die for your curiosity?” Ila asked, the smile on her lips betraying her willingness to follow him.

“Or you could stay with Caeto,” Kyros said with a shrug.

“And let one of these creatures turn you into one of them?” Ila asked, arching a pale-gold eyebrow at him. “Your sister would kill me.”

“It’s illegal for a Tsodo to take an unwilling host,” Caeto muttered.

“Plenty of things are illegal, Caeto,” Ila said as she glanced over the monitors. “That just tends to make them more tempting.”

“Didn’t you used to work for the government?” Caeto asked, exasperation clear in his voice.

“Only technically,” Ila responded. “And don’t even try to tell me that government officials never break-”

“Okay,” Kyros interrupted. “You two can finish this debate on your own time; we’ve got things to do.” He tapped the tattoo on his inner-wrist before the two could respond and opened the connection to his sister’s transmitter. “Xylia? Caeto is extracting the data. Ila and I are going to do a quick sweep of the building, something isn’t right here.”

Seriously?” Xylia’s voice crackled in his ear. “Why can’t we just have one easy job?

“Your part’s still easy, bring the MTV around and have Anzo meet us in front of the building.”

Fine.” Kyros could easily picture the look of irritation on his sister’s face, the way her dark eyes would look skyward as if seeking divine intervention. “But at least make sure that we get the data the client wants.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

Xylia didn’t respond and Kyros grinned; as much as she was complaining now, Xylia complicated things just as often – if not more often – than Kyros did.

“All right, Caeto, the room’s yours. Get the data then get back to the alley. Anzo will be waiting out front.” Kyros nodded to the hacker before turning to Ila with a smile. “Shall we?”

Ila nodded, moving past him to open the door to the room.

“Have fun storming the building,” Caeto muttered over his shoulder as Kyros and Ila disappeared into the hall and shut the door behind them.

Add a Comment
8. Flogometer for Daniel—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Daniel sends the first chapter of I Am Not a Jellyfish!, a middle grade story. The remainder of the chapter is after the break. Note: British spelling/world.

Why don’t you just run, Trent? I asked myself.Somewhere, anywhere! The boys toilet seemed like the best destination. Heavens knows, I needed it! There had been a sickly churning in my gut ever since I arrived at school that morning. The butterflies in my tummy must have been earning excellent money because they were certainly working overtime. I didn’t want to go into Mr Graham’s class. I couldn’t face it. Why couldn’t it be the weekend already? If it had been a Saturday, I would still be in my Superman pyjamas with a bowl of Chocco Pops, staring in amazement as the milk turned all brown and chocolatey. And I wouldn’t have had to face the torture of a morning in Mr Graham’s class.

I knew that everyone else was there, waiting outside class, but I kept to myself. My head was going fuzzy and the lights were beginning to blur. I could feel my skin getting clammy. It started with the palms of my hands - moist but cold. Then it was the armpits. I silently prayed that none of the girls would notice my damp shirt. It was only 8:57 and my armpits were wet through already. I also prayed that the sweat wouldn’t stink. The last thing I needed was a reputation as the smelly kid in school. My back was sweaty too… and my bum! As if Mr Graham’s class wasn’t going to be bad enough - I now had wet pants!

“Good morning, Trent!” said Kayden Oliver, disturbing my train of panic. “You ok, squire?”

Were you compelled to turn Daniel's first page?

The writing is clean and the voice fine. There is certainly tension in the character, sweaty gobs of it—but, at the end of the page, there wasn’t much in me. There’s a story question—why does he not want to go to class, and I there are consequences and stakes (looking foolish) but I didn’t find learning what he feared from a class wasn’t a compelling question for me. It might be for a child, but I wonder.

It turns out that he fears being called upon to read aloud from a Harry Potter novel, which he hates. Now, if that had been on the first page, I think I would have been more motivated. I would be curious why a school boy would hate Harry Potter. I would spend less time with the sweating and getting to a good story question.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Daniel

Continued

Kayden was my second best friend in the whole world and I sat next to him in every lesson. He may not have been the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree - he’d once thought that a profiterole was a kind of move in gymnastics - but I could actually have conversations with Kayden about interesting topics. And I loved how he called everyone “squire”.

“Not talking this morning, squire?” he asked, as we waited outside Mr Graham’s classroom.

“Sorry,” I squeaked, my voice trembling. “Got sweaty butterflies in my armpits.”

My mind was all over the place before I realised that my sentence hadn’t come out properly.

“Sweaty butterflies?” said Kayden. “In your armpits? Are you alright, squire? You look a bit peaky.”

I felt more than a bit peaky. Mr Graham was going to show up at any minute and stomach was flipping. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be sick or make a mess in my pants. Just as I was about to rush off to the little boys’ room, I saw the sight that made my heart change from beating mode to rapid vibration. I thought I was having a heart attack! Waltzing around the corner, with a stupid grin on his face, was Mr Graham. My breath had shortened and my heart continued to race. This was the moment I’d been dreading.

“Have no fear,” smirked Mr Graham. “Your superstar teacher is here.”

I weighed up my options. Could I still run? The problem was that everyone had seen me so if I ran away now, I’d be in a heap of trouble. Pretend to be ill? I was feeling sick after all. I was a terrible actor though. I’d probably just say something that made me look like a liar. I should’ve skipped school and spent the day in the park.

As I took my seat next to Kayden, I spotted the dreaded books on Mr Graham’s desk. Once Mr Graham had taken the register, he passed the horrible, evil books around the class. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.We’d started reading the book about a week ago and I’d quickly grown to hate it. Harry Potter had become my living nightmare. Before he’d even spoken, I knew precisely what Mr Graham was going to say. It made me want to vomit.

“Trent, it’s your turn to read today. We’re at the top of page twenty eight.”

Nothing sent an icy shiver down my spine quite like the idea of having to read in front of the entire class. As soon as I saw the page - filled with a dancing jig of words - in front of me, a fog seemed to fill my eyes, clouding my vision. I could see the words but they’d stopped making any sense to me. As I looked at the page, it felt like some of the words were moving, dancing around. Honestly. The words would split themselves in half or squeeze themselves together (depending on how the little critters felt).

The top of page twenty eight. I looked at the first line. I found out later that the sentence read: It was not a mistake.But that was not how it looked to me. Like I said, the words moved around, I swear. The end of the word was squeezed itself closer to word not.

I started to read aloud. “It was... snot?”

Snot? I knew that snot wasn’t correct but snot was all I could see. I heard a few people on another table sniggering. I tried again.

“It was.. snot?”

All I could see was snot! Everyone in the class was giggling now. Then, trying to figure it out, I just kept stupidly repeating the word.

“Snot,” I said. “Snot… snot… snot…”

Everyone was now pointing at me and cackling their little heads off. Even Mr Graham thought it was hilarious. My face was burning so hot with embarrassment, you could have fried an egg on my cheeks.

“Perhaps somebody else should read instead of Trent,” laughed Mr Graham. And that made me feel even worse. He didn’t even trust me to finish one lousy sentence.

In Mr Graham’s class, we were made to sit on tables that showed how clever we were (according to Mr Graham). Each table was named after a creature in the sea. The supposedly smart kids, like Felicity Smith and Jeremiah Sitwell, sat on the “Dolphin” table, named after one of the most intelligent animals on Earth. Then there was the “Turtle” table and the “Clownfish” table. But I didn’t sit on any of those. I was stuck (like always had been) alongside Kayden Oliver on the “Jellyfish” table. Yes, that’s right, our table was named after a creature that DOESN’T HAVE A BRAIN! I suppose it was quite appropriate for the rest of the table. There was Nora Stanley (who ate her own bogies), Kyle McAllister (who ate glue sticks), Jacob Buntin (who ate dog food) and Kayden Oliver (who thought that Michael Jackson was the first president of the USA). 

I didn’t belong on that table! I knew that I was actually smarter than everyone in that class - even the Dolphins - but on occasions like this, Mr Graham always made me look stupid. Well, I’d had enough! Things didn’t always need to stay the same and it was time to make a change! I am not a Jellyfish, I told myself. Before the summer holidays arrived, I vowed to escape the Jellyfish table, torpedo past the Clownfish and the Turtles and, by July, I would be sitting on that Dolphin table. The question was; HOW? Mr Graham had always said that I couldn’t read and I’d just proved him right. Some way, somehow, I was going to make everyone see how smart I was. I just needed a plan.

Add a Comment
9. The book categories that grew and shrank in 2014

While it is true that we should not write for the market but for ourselves, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to know what readers want to see these days. If you’re in a hot-selling category, that could be reassuring. If not, it just means make your story the best it can be—books sell even in declining categories.

An article titled “The Hottest (and Coldest) Book Categories of 2014" reports that the self-help and graphic novels categories had the fastest print growth among adults. The juvenile segment performed much better overall than adult, and the winning category there was science fiction/fantasy/magic category.

It’s enlightening. check it out.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
10. Flogometer for Dai—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Dai sends the first chapter of Goblin Realm, a science fiction story. As the first chapter is just a few lines long, we’ll carry on into chapter two for the rest of the “first” pate. The remainder of the second chapter is after the break.

Chapter 00 — Eyeballs

Topping a rise, they took their guide from a plume of light smoke, possibly a fire set by the ship's propulsion. They were well down the incline when…

"Hey! People there."

"I think they're women!"

"You hope!"

But didn't they all hope that?

A bit closer, and…

"They're Girl Scouts, for crying out loud. Girl Scouts!"

Chapter 01 — Indoctrination

Two days previous:

They kept track with a pencil on the jeep's fender, the point merely skidding on the walls of the spaceship's barren compartment.

Half asleep in the unchanging environment, they were roused by the BS screen, as they chose to call it, coming back into action—the view swooping down toward a small group standing in a sparsely-treed savannah. Women—voluptuous, scantily clad, almost identifiable.

The scene altered to show the horizon as the women looked over their shoulders. Over the peak of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Dai's first page?

I do enjoy Dai’s writing—colorful with a strong voice. And, though I would have liked more scene-setting, especially in the first “chapter,” there were enough story questions raised to keep me going. Things I’d look at working with, however, including changing the anonymous “they” to whoever it actually is. It’s hard to imagine an abstract “they.” How many is it? Two? Five? Forty?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Dai

 

Continued

a low hill figures appeared—scrambling down the slope, leaping and capering, waving… could it be weapons? The women began to run, the spindly figures to pursue—gaining rapidly as the women became frantic.

The view pulled back to reveal three new figures in the foreground—men wearing green clothes and helmets, carrying weapons that blasted gouts of flame from the muzzles. The pursuing figures began to fall but many came on, approaching closely enough to show some features before the remnant turned and fled.

The women embraced their saviors, and the final scene showed the six paired off, disappearing beneath the camera's view.

Reardon was the first to speak.

"What in hell was that?"

Baugher and Reardon went at it together. "The way they were dressed!" "That sarong—looked like Lamour, didn't she?" "The redhead's Lucille Ball, I'll bet." "Rhonda Fleming." "And Grable—Lana Turner?" "Nah! They're past it—Kelly."

"Wait a minute," Kemp broke in. "How could either of you tell any of that?"

True. The figures had a cartoonish quality to them. But before the discussion went further the film played again. And continued to play every few minutes for several performances.

Hours later another film was shown. This time the women, still in sarong and bathing suits, were captured—the three rescuers arriving after the captives had been led beyond sight. Not too late, however, to slaughter a few dozen of the… Of the what—savages, perhaps? They were again subjected to several repetitions.

The third film won their personal Oscar.

It opened with themselves—for they had decoded the theme on initial viewing—slipping through a heavily-wooded area. A large clearing appeared, flanked on two sides by what might have been thatched long-houses. A vast number of the same almost naked and poorly-delineated wretches—all seemingly of one indeterminate sex— filled the central portion of the clearing, surrounding three large stakes against which were tied the women, now naked.

The shooting commenced, with grayish bodies soon strewing the open area. The three in green advanced, firing with weapons containing unlimited ammunition—never missing, never reloading. As they passed the stakes one stayed to succor the women, the other two continuing to shoot their way to the far end. Back they came, somehow managing to avoid tripping over a multitude of corpses, shooting inside each of the houses.

The last scene showed them paired again, the women now back in beach attire. Behind rose billows of smoke, the long-houses leveled to the ground.

Reardon looked to Kemp after the initial viewing of the epic.

"Well, now we know what we're supposed to do."

"Great training films, huh?"

"Propaganda," Baugher said. "We're being conditioned to hate the aborigines."

Reardon said,"Looked like monkeys, didn't they? Those spider monks."

"Apes." Baugher had noticed a lack of tails.

"Goblins."

Kemp's description was accepted as definitive.

"I dunno, though—people who've been subjected to the amount of advertising we have—how can they think we're so stupid, so easy to convince? Maybe they're hinting at how we appear to them—like lesser animals." He nodded toward Baugher. "Kinda shoots down your idea they can read minds, or they'd never try this on us."

Reardon saw an opening. "Maybe we're gonna be actors, and they've snagged those babes to star with us."

The other two guffawed.

"Keep dreaming, Jack," Kemp said.

But Reardon turned thoughtful.

"Didja notice, though? They had no hair—the women." He gestured. "Down here, I mean."

Add a Comment
11. Flogometer for Tara—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Tara sends the first chapter of The Lonely Town of Mez, a science fiction story. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

“I can feel it moving...underneath the ground.” Vas said, looking up as Penny put pressure on the puncture wound under his rib cage.

“Shut up.” Penny urged between clenched teeth, her eyes darting back in fourth in the dark.

“They’re going to come back, we’re all going to die.” Vas continued.

“Shut up.”

“We’re all going to die here.”

“Shut up!” She said, her voice trembling as Vas’s blood seeped into the cuffs of her shirt. She looked down at him, the reflection of the moons highlighting the tears welling in his eyes. “We are going to get out of here, you just need to keep quiet.” Her tone softened.

As the others came back, she felt the ground violently shake beneath them, and became blinded by two bright white lights quickly traveling towards them. 

But that was later.

Earlier that week, Penny woke up face down in a patch of dewy grass. She raised herself slowly up onto her elbows and looked around to find she was alone, and in a cemetery. Growing up, there was a cemetery that backed up to the edge of the woods in the house where she grew up. She used to take friends back there and act out stories and investigate the grounds for clues of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Tara's first page?

Starting with action and danger to one of the characters was good . . . but then we slipped into backstory (that might have been the place to start). That, along with some writing hiccups, kept me from turning the page. The chapter, however, goes on to an interesting scenario that could work with some rewriting and editing. There's a promising story there to be told. Notes;

“I can feel it moving...underneath the ground.” Vas said, looking up as Penny put pressure on the puncture wound under his rib cage. Set the scene. We don’t know where we are.

“Shut up,” Penny urged between clenched teeth, her eyes darting back and forth in fourth in the dark. Eyes don’t dart around, gazes do. And give the action to the person. More simply, for example: Penny urge as she searched the darkness for danger. Also, try saying words through clenched teeth—while it’s possible, no normal person would do that.

“They’re going to come back, we’re all going to die.” Vas continued.

“Shut up.”

“We’re all going to die here.”

“Shut up!” She said, her voice trembling as Vas’s blood seeped into the cuffs of her shirt. She looked down at him, the reflection of the moons highlighting the tears welling in his eyes. “We are going to get out of here, you just need to keep quiet.” Her tone softened. Your use of “moons” was a good way to help set the scene as otherworldly.

As the others came back, she felt the ground shook violently shake beneath them, and became blinded by two bright white lights quickly traveling towards them blinded her Use of “felt” is a filter, just go with the action as she experiences it. and the second half was pretty passive. Keep action active. Use of the adverb (quickly traveling) is weak, look for a strong verb; for example, zoomed, or flashed, etc.

But that was later.

Earlier that week, Penny woke up face down in a patch of dewy grass. She raised herself slowly up onto her elbows and looked around to find she was alone, and in a cemetery. Growing up, there had been was a cemetery that backed up to the edge of the woods in the house where she grew up. She used to take friends back there and act out stories and investigate the grounds for clues of (snip) The first page is NEVER a good time to slip into a flashback, in my view. More than that, this awakening in the cemetery seems to be the inciting incident. I’d look for a way to start there but build more tension into the scene.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Tara

Continued

. . . ghosts or monsters. Yet the one she was waking up in was unlike any cemetery she had seen. The grass was a mixture of green and bright yellow like it had been over watered. Instead of gravestones, there were various human sized cement boxes placed on top of the lawn, some stacked sloppily on top of each other. And instead of the treeline being pushed to the horizon, there were a few dozen leafless trees shadowing the lawn with their anemic branches.

“I have got to lay off the sauce.” Penny sighed as she pressed her hands into the wet lawn and pushed herself upright, wiping her hands on her jeans. It wasn't unheard of that Penny woke in a strange place without any recollection of how she got there. She loved Jack Daniels, she loved red wine, she loved Vodka. There was a time in her life when Penny had goals, she insisted, but figured that part of her was washed away a long time ago. In the past, Penny had woken up in a myriad of places- studio apartments, broom closets in 24 hour diners, strange cars, and on the rare occasion- warm in her own bed on 8th street. Usually, she had some clue as to where she was. There were always some clues- some blurry flashbacks to the events of the night prior, or a friendly face to let her know she was a few towns over. But this time- she was concerned. Did someone slip something in her drink this time? Why couldn't she remember anything about what had happened the night prior. The last thing that she could remember was falling asleep on her sofa watching a rerun of The Office.

And what was up with the gravestones? She had spent a weekend at a small town in Virginia and took a tour of a cemetery that had similar type of tombstones. It had something to do with the sea level, or how it was difficult to dig in the wintertime so they would just stick them in a big box. But the ones that were there had something peculiar about them- they didn't have lids. She began to wonder if they weren't just giant cement blocks until she walked over and knocked on one to find it hollow inside. And written on the side was the epitaph. It was in a language that she couldn't understand. In fact, it was a language that she couldn't even recognize.

Her heart began to beat faster as she became more aware of her situation, and she raised a loose fist to her lips- something Penny did when she became afraid. Why did this cemetery look so foreign and strange? The only thing she could understand on the markers was a set on numbers: “45 – 22”. But what could those numbers possibly mean?

There was a narrow brick path that seemed to lead out, and without hesitation, Penny left the strange cemetery. She needed to see something she recognized. Anything.

There was a road at the end of that brick path, appropriately named “Infirmary Street”. At first, Penny walked down the side of the street in case a car drove past. But the longer she walked, she realized that no one was driving on the streets. The first house that she had approached looked like an abandoned farm house- the paint was peeling and the front porch was empty. The second house looked exactly the same as the first house. As the houses became closer and closer spaced, she realized that every house that was on this street was abandoned. On an ordinary day, when faced with such a peculiar situation, Penny would have taken advantage of it. Whenever she saw an abandoned house along the side of the road, she would stop to riffle through their things. She wasn't looking for anything of value- that was never her intention. What she wanted was a peek into someone's life. The pieces that she could draw from the contents of a drawer, or the mail that was left on the floor, or the things that were taped to the refrigerator told a far better story than any book she could pick up. Once she found a box of letters a man in prison sent to his mother. She spent hours on the floor of the old colonial examining the elementary penmanship, and the promises that he would make to his elderly, and now presumably dead, mother. Penny just wanted to be an audience member when it came to society- she was never interested in being an active participant.

But her current situation demanded action. As much as she wanted to set up in one of the many abandoned houses and read through old newspapers, she couldn't. And this filled her with anxiety and despair- none of which could have been read through the scowl on her face.

At the end of Infirmary Road was a town, and Infirmary was eventually intersected by Main street. For the first time, Penny saw cars- but they were parked along the side of the road and covered in dust and moss to the point that she couldn't see inside the windows. There were lines of brick building stretching down in both directions. There were no signs differentiating the stores, and the doors were all boarded. The windows, however, were not boarded. When Penny pressed her forehead against the glass in hope of finding the poetic remains of a diner- with the chairs stacked on the tables and the menu still on the chalkboard- she was disappointed to find four walls and a turned over paint bucket. Each and every window portrayed a slightly different version of the first.

She turned the corner on to main street, and decided to follow the signs that directed to the library. It was expected that an unmarked building housed nothing but walls and buckets- but the library had to have something. A library had to have a phone. And when she got to that phone, she'd call Cole.

As her mind began to drift to Cole, and lingered on the the creases next to his eyes, she was abruptly pushed down by a manic force. Shocked by the sudden burst of movement after a long morning of uncomfortable stillness, she instinctively threw her arms up around her head as she fell to the ground. After the shock has left her, she opened her eyes to see the back end of a man running away from her. He appeared to be carrying something in his hands.

She opened her mouth to yell after him, but stopped herself. It was still unclear where she was, why the town looked the way that it did... it was not the time to gain the attention to the one person who looked as if he was fleeing a crime.

Once she had reached the library, the enormity of it made her take pause. Why was it so much larger than any other building in the town? Most of the doors and windows were boarded except for the rear door. She peered inside, prepared to find nothing more than empty walls and miscellaneous garbage, and she wasn't disappointed. There was a solid door directly across from her, a school desk and an empty bottle of water.

Another dead end. It seemed everywhere was leading her no where. She turned around, defeated, and leaned against the door. Digging her palms into her eyes, she tried desperately to push out any remaining ounce of light and escape.

“Turn around.” A muffled voice said on the other side of the glass.

Her hand shot down to her sides and she turned around.

“Do you remember what happened?” He asked, his eyes affixed firmly on hers.

“No- do you?” She immediately regretted how snotty her tone came across.

“Do you remember who you are?”

“Uh- yeah. This is a weird library, dude. Can I just come inside?”

He nodded approvingly as he opened the door. “Welcome to The End.”

Add a Comment
12. 13 Tips for Writing a Novel

War childI came across a post titled "13 Tips for Writing a Novel" by Chaker Khazaai, author of the Confessions of a War Child trilogy. Several resonated with me, so I pass it along for your consideration.

An abbreviated sampling:

4. Write as if your readers are beside you, listening to the story unfold.
I found when I got hung up on a passage of the story it would help to step back and just explain it, simply, out loud.

6. Your characters should remind you of the people you have met in your life.
Use writing to heal past wounds of those who have harmed you, or to celebrate the wonderful people who would never.

12. If you don't feel like it, don't write.
Do something else you enjoy or, like me, take a nap!

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
13. Flogometer for Stacie—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Stacie sends the first chapter of Royals Revolution. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

The dungeon door closed behind Lorelai. The room reeked of human filth and unclean  bodies. That was a relief. Pain smelled like blood and fire.

Lorelai straightened her gown and pushed her hair over her shoulders. It was distracting to see a flash of red hair every time she turned her head, but she had to have some of it down because she was suppose to be a merchant’s daughter.

First the machines. They didn’t look like they’d been used in a while—a few days or even a few weeks. Hope flared. The blood on the floor was dried nearly to the same color of the stone. The hammers and spikes were quiet. It was too clean to have been used recently. Then again, of the queen’s torturers Kaiank was cleaner and the greater of the two to be feared.

Lorelai pivoted to face the prisoners. Their fingers were round and healthy and their limbs normal length. Kaiank favored the leg screw. She briefly glanced down. Their legs hung normally. Lorelai breathed out in slight victory.

Three prisoners were chained to the walls. Two shackled close to the entrance and one farther back of the room. The two closest kept their eyes averted. Their clothing, though they likely use to fit, hung loose. Each wore smudged shirts and faded trousers.

With all the machines in the room, the third prisoner’s dark hair was all that was visible at the other end of the room. Lorelai glanced away, so he wouldn’t know he was the reason she (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Stacie's first page?

Though the writing could be a little tighter, it’s good, and so is the voice. And the situation, which sparks questions of why is she there. There are small glitches in the rest of the chapter, but it’s a good opening chapter, IMO. Gets a page-turn from me. Notes:

The dungeon door closed behind Lorelai. The room reeked of human filth and unclean bodies. That was a relief. Pain smelled like blood and fire.

Lorelai straightened her gown and pushed her hair over her shoulders. It was distracting to see a flash of red hair every time she turned her head, but she had to have some of it down because she was suppose supposed to be a merchant’s daughter.

First, the machines. They didn’t look like they’d been used in a while—a few days or even a few weeks. Hope flared. The blood on the floor was dried nearly to the same color of the stone. The hammers and spikes were quiet. It was too clean to have been used recently. Then again, of the queen’s torturers Kaiank was cleaner and the greater of the two to be feared. I deleted the line about hammers and spikes being quiet because I didn’t have any idea of what it meant and the topic was cleanliness, which was also the subject of the following sentence. How can hammers and spikes not be quiet?

Lorelai pivoted to face faced the three prisoners chained to the walls. Their fingers were round and healthy and their limbs normal length. Kaiank favored the leg screw. She briefly glanced down. Their legs hung normally. Lorelai breathed out in slight victory. the first edit is for a bit of overwriting—no need to mention pivoting. the second is because a glance is already a brief thing, excess use of adverb. Moved the image of the prisoners here so the reader can "see" right away where they are.

Three prisoners were chained to the walls. Two of them were shackled close to the entrance and one farther back of the room. The two closest kept their eyes averted. Their clothing, though they likely use to once fit, hung loose. Each wore smudged shirts and faded trousers. I’m sure you meant “used to,” but I think “once” is a better choice.

With all the machines in the room, the The third prisoner’s dark hair was all that was visible at the other end of the room. Lorelai glanced away, so he wouldn’t know he was the reason she (snip) I don’t see how machines in the room would affect the visibility of his hair, or do you mean they blocked it? If so, say so. But it’s still overwriting. Just get to him, and soon. The end of the sentence that was cut off for length would have meant a stronger first page.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Stacie

 

Continued

was there.

The two prisoners near her kept their eyes averted. One was more father age and the other more of an age for trouble.They had chains on every limb. One arm was extended above them painfully with no give in the chain. Poor souls.

Other than the older man’s racking cough, they were healthy. And likely hungry. Drawing aside her cloak she pulled out two of the biscuits she’d saved from her tray.

She extended one in each hand to the men. They refused to look up.

“How long have you been here?”

Nothing. “Your names?” She kept the biscuits extended. “Your crimes?” she said.

They were likely even innocent. Lorelai closed her eyes slowly.

Since her hands were still extended and they made no move to take the food or even meet her gaze, she brought the biscuits close until they brushed the men’s hands. The older man closed his hand around the biscuit first and nodded his thanks. He had one eye that didn’t follow the other. The younger man had a thin frame and thick eyebrows. After seeing his companion take one, he yanked the other biscuit away and stuffed it in his mouth.

Lorelai turned and made a show of examining the lift and then moved slowly down the room looking at evil’s tools. She forced herself to keep her face expressionless.

At last she allowed herself to turn to the prisoner at the back. A quick survey revealed all parts were intact and unmaimed. He was observing her closely. The man was about the same height as Aydrik, but much larger with darker hair. His nose had been broken. His eyes were brown not hazel like Aydrik’s.

What was he doing in Aydrik’s place? Did he know anything of Damien’s death? Could she help him? Dared she?

Lorelai took the last biscuit from inside her sash. He lifted his eyebrows and slowly took it. “My thanks lady.” His words were clear.

She smiled briefly at him and nodded. “The others do not speak.”

“They’re scared,” he said.

“But you speak.”

He shrugged, “I’m curious.”

“How long have you been here?”

“This is the second day,” he said.

“Where are you from?”

“South.”

“What is your name?” Lorelai said.

“Denorin,” he said without hesitation.

“Indeed.” This time Lorelai allowed a real smile. He did not speak like a man with the poor name Denorin. He was educated. “Indeed.”

His looked away and bit into the biscuit.

“Why are you here?”

He met her eyes. “I don’t know.”

Lorelai tilted her head to one side. “No inkling? Truly?” When he didn’t answer she pressed, “Perhaps you were fighting. Fought a man too powerful?” She eyed the dark bruise over his eye.

He shook his head. “I was not brought here for fighting.”

Lorelai nodded. “Of course. Perhaps you’re friends got you into some trouble?”

He didn’t answer.

Lorelai had just calculated her next question when the banging started. She whirled around to face the only door in the room. It was the warning signal. Soldiers were coming. It was too soon for them to be coming around with dinner slop or whatever they fed prisoners.

She considered possible reasons she could give for being there and ways she could have got in and the people that were going to be hurt by her miscalculation.

“What’s wrong?” Denorin said.

Lorelai looked at him. Glared at him, as if he were the reason people were going to die. Glared at him as she wanted to glare at the soldiers, but she was shaking.

Denorin pointed. “Hide there. The soldiers always come around that way last. I’ll cover for  you.” He shook his head.

It was what she needed, but it would be terrible for him. She had to salvage this as best she could. “Do this and I will help you Denorin,” Lorelai said as she hurried toward the rack. She’d figure out the details later.

“My name is Gregory,” the prisoner said.

Perhaps he thought he was going to die and wanted to do so by his own name. He could be right.

The soldiers came in vulgar and loud. Lorelai scooted as far under the rack as she could. Holding a wheel with one hand she balanced in a squat.

The soldiers poured some slop into a bowl and gave it to the two prisoners near the door. One of the soldiers, the shorter one, slapped the older man. “Think you’ll live through tomorrow?”

The other soldier had darker olive colored skin. He spat into the young man’s bowl. “Not if the torturers visit them first.”

“But give the men a little hope,” the shorter soldier said. “I’ve heard strange things are happening at the castle though. Quiet things. Maybe you’ll get a miracle too and live through the week.”

They rounded toward Gregory. One of the soldiers dumped the slop on the floor next to the bowl.

“Want to start something again?” the olive colored soldier said.

“I didn’t start it,” Gregory said.

The shorter soldier hit Gregory. He had crooked teeth. “That eye almost makes you look tough.”

The darker soldier whistled.

The prisoner’s teeth were clenched. He didn’t look at the soldiers.      

Then the prisoner, Gregory, flicked his arm sending one soldier flying into the other as he extended his shackled leg as far as he could. Both soldiers tripped. The soldiers scrambled up howling and laid into the man.

Lorelai used the noise as cover as she scrambled from under the machines. She bent low to scape open the door. It groaned loudly. The noise from across the room ceased except for heavy breathing. Lorelai swept out the room and ran knowing the soldiers would be coming to investigate the movement. That was no concern. She only had to make it a few more steps without being seen.

She turned deftly in the dark and pushed open the stone wall. A small door opened where none should be and smoothly shut behind her, Now the prisoner. That was a problem. The soldiers would be back to take care of him because of her. That would be ugly.

And now, whether she liked it or not, Gregory was a part of this too.

Add a Comment
14. Flogometer for Roo—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Roo sends the first chapter of No More Heros. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

At 3pm the clock on the town hall of Ostere struck four times. No one seemed to notice. The folk present in the town square at the time were battering down against the first chill wind blown directly from the frozen North. Snow had been predicted and people were dreaming of a white Christmas. Bugger their white Christmas. Me and my tatty coat stood no chance of surviving December if snow was dumped on our town.

It was the same icy breath that swept Marvin into the square. Two years, at a guess, since he married the love of my life. I was huddled on my seat, giving the clock on the town hall a dismissive, contemptuous glare when he approached my seat, dragging a long black carry all behind him. I remember looking at the bag and cursing, knowing the luggage was a bag of trouble and I didn’t need it being dumped in my life.

The wind flapped at his grubby trousers. It swept down Smelly Alley sharing the aroma of fish gone past its sell by date. Stall covers flapped, napkins skipped up into the air as a whirlwind of grit invited me to dance. Marvin wore a suit jacket, thinner than my useless summer coat. His hands looked raw and there were issues with mucous leaking from his nose.

I grabbed my bottle of vodka from my bag and took a quick slug.

Walk on by.

Were you compelled to turn Roo's first page?

Some nice phrasing and a voice I liked were inviting, but there was no story question raised on this page. Well, I guess you could say there were a couple—what’s in the bag and why is it trouble for him—but for this reader they didn’t approach compelling. If we had been told the nature of the trouble he anticipated, that might have worked. As it is, there’s no serious hint of jeopardy or a problem for the narrator, at least none with any serious consequences. And he doesn’t seem overly concerned about the trouble the bag brings. Gets an almost from me. Oh, and the plural of "hero" is "heroes." Notes:

At 3pm the clock on the town hall of Ostere struck four times. No one seemed to notice. The folk present in the town square at the time were battering down against the first chill wind blown directly from the frozen North. Snow had been predicted and people were dreaming of a white Christmas. Bugger their white Christmas. Me and my tatty coat stood no chance of surviving December if snow was dumped on our town.

It was the same icy breath that swept Marvin into the square. Two years, at a guess, since he married the love of my life. I was huddled on my seat, giving the clock on the town hall a dismissive, contemptuous glare when he approached my seat, dragging a long black carry all behind him. I remember looking at the bag and cursing, knowing the luggage was a bag of trouble and I didn’t need it being dumped in my life. How does he know it’s trouble? What kind of trouble? This is a chance to add some tension with a specific threat to the character. Also echo/repetition of “my seat.”

The wind flapped at his grubby trousers. It swept down Smelly Alley sharing the aroma of fish gone past its sell by date. Stall covers flapped, napkins skipped up into the air as a whirlwind of grit invited me to dance. Marvin wore a suit jacket, thinner than my useless summer coat. His hands looked raw and there were issues with mucous leaking from his nose. Couple of things: the echo of “flapped” from the first sentence, look for another word. And, while nicely written, the description of the wind’s effect on Smelly Alley could be cut in half or deleted—it takes up space that could be used to create a story question.

I grabbed my bottle of vodka from my bag and took a quick slug.

Walk on by.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Tweet

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Roo

Continued

But Marvin wasn’t hearing my thoughts.

‘What do you want?’ I said, wiping the dribble of alcohol from my chin.

He wasn’t offended by my greeting. He released his grip on the canvas bag and kicked it beneath the bench I was warming. He went to sit next to me, but I refused to move my backpack. Instead he turned and pointed at the large screen dominating the town square. ‘Penguins are cool,’ he said.

‘What?’ I said, shaking my head as if I hadn’t heard him right. Two years as number one on my hate list and he opens with a line about penguins. He’d gone mad. She’d kicked him out and he’d gone mad. For sure. Maybe it was going to be a good Christmas.

‘They can fight, penguins can.’ The damn fool was pointing with his arm fully extended. People, vendors, punters and god knows who else had begun to notice our presence in the square. I couldn’t have people notice me. Next thing you know the army are involved and guns are drawn, your hands are shackled, and you’re never seen again.

I replaced my vodka and pushed my backpack to the ground. ‘Sit down. No one cares about the bloody penguins.’

He sat to the side of the wooden seat, his long, thin legs crossed away from me and stared at a short dark man sprinkling strands of saffron into his large flat pan. A rich aroma of chicken and chorizo had banished the smell of rotten fish from my nostrils and my stomach was beginning to grumble. The man looked up from his work and scowled at Marvin as he wiped his hands on a cloth strung from his apron cord.

‘What a grump,’ Marvin said, he said turning away, his eyes looking for a new target.

Sam the snake charmer sat against the pale trunk of a naked tree to our far right. I nodded to Sam as he retrieved a battered flute from his pocket. He smiled, waved and pointed the flute at the large cane basket sat in the cold dirt. He began to play a lively, but flat tune. I cringed at the off notes fearing his snake might not be happy to sway to the syncopated song.

‘They steal from each other,’ Marvin said. He was talking about Sam, but was looking back at the screen and the damn penguins. ‘Oh yeah, they’re right old thieves penguins are. And if one of the eggs roll free from their pebbled nest no one’s bothered. I mean you’d expect uproar, but penguins don’t give a damn. Except the parent, obviously, who’s meant to be nursing the damn thing? And they can’t pick it up because they haven’t got hands so they have to watch it freeze and die. And have you seen what they do to a lost penguin. A baby one, I mean.’

He looked at me waiting for an answer, but I couldn’t help him. I didn’t care. To be honest I was only half listening. Sam and his inept efforts on the flute were making me feel uneasy. I turned my back on Marvin and watched a group of old boy’s huddled by the betting shack wondering why Bob the bookie hadn’t opened. I’d never known him to close. If there was a horse or a dog circling a track anywhere in the world Bob wanted to offer odds on which number crossed the line first.

‘It’s not like the other penguins point out the way back home,’ he said, nudging my back. ‘No way. They peck at the wee tyke and kick and ruck and give the fluffy fellow right old grief.’

All afternoon they’d been stood there waiting for Bob to open. Every so often a hunched figure deserted the group, pulled his coat tight about his body and approached the rickety wooden door to the shack. Hands and face were pressed to the small dark window before the handle was tugged then pushed and tugged again. The shop remained closed and the body returned to the group, worming deep inside the tight mass.

‘But when it’s cold,’ Marvin continued, turning to face me. ‘They take turns suffering the full force of the cold blizzard. Blizzards are bad where penguins live.’ He looked at me like he’d made a point of importance. I was beginning to tire of his intrusion on my day.

‘Who are those blokes?’ Marvin was pulling at his tie, rolling the end up and letting it fall down all curled up. ‘Why are they standing there?’ Again he pointed. ‘And what is it with that wreck of a shop?’ He wanted an answer from me but I wasn’t interested in getting deep with what was wrong with the day. The hour was ticking by and I was fearful the town hall clock was going to get it wrong again. And no one was going to care. ‘It’s obviously closed, so why do they keep trying to get in?’

‘They’re gamblers.’ I sighed as I said the words. Marvin come from Upper Ostere and had no right to be asking questions of folk in Ostere town centre. People didn’t like questions. ‘They want to lay a bet. Or play the machines. Or just get out of the cold.’

‘But it’s fucking closed.’

‘What are the odds on that, eh?’

Marvin was pacing again. He couldn’t help himself. And he’d started to scratch. Like all over. At least he’d stopped pointing.

‘So why don’t they move on?’ He stopped in front of me and stared at them.

‘Where?’ I asked.

He looked at me as if I was daft. He body flopped down on the seat, pushing his hands beneath his thighs for warmth. He looked at me shaking his head. ‘What is going on with today?’ he said. His voice was whiny and every word over-emphasized. ‘Everything’s closed.’

We both looked about the square where close on thirty food vendors were in the process of prepping and cooking for the nights trade. The big screen, the penguins and their traumas were replaced by still pictures of missing children and the tearful pleas from their parents. Marvin was up off the seat again horrified at the plight of the wee brats. I pulled my thin coat tight about my body and attempted to concentrate on the small band to our left warming up with a slow ponderous tune.

Another man joined the group by the betting shop. He had a limp. Lots of blokes had limps or walked with sticks or worse. The war was taking the piss out of able bodied folk. The man had to swing his right leg. His right hand aided the process by gripping his trousers and pulling with each step. His ginger hair was buzz cut short. He wore a mid-length, aged, black leather jacket and faded combat trousers of campaigns long forgotten. His old boots were polished to reflect the grey day. He accepted a cigarette and turned to look at the betting shop.

Up on the screen a journalist was reporting on the recent casualties in a war far, far away. Soldiers pushed their faces onto the screen with ‘V’ signs before the cameras panned across children in rags huddled amongst the rubble, hiding from the guns and the bombs.

‘There was trouble earlier,’ I said.

Marvin wasn’t listening. He’d forgotten about his question and was focusing on the group of men by the betting shack. He’d gone quiet on me.

‘The man in the Hi-Vis yellow jacket didn’t show,’ I continued. ‘He doles out the day’s work to the lad’s on community service. No yellow jacket meant zero work and that was a disaster ‘cause the lad’s in their orange overalls had a day to fill without adult supervision. Vodka, dope and desperation and the day went tits up in a hurry.’

I looked up at the video screen as images of war had turned to a lecture on the vibrant state of our economy. ‘Good Times’ was the refrain.

‘The screen went live,’ I said. ‘Camera’s zoomed onto the lads giving attitude to the day time vendors and their customers.’

‘What?’ Marvin said. He pushed his hand through the thin brown hair on his head before he turned back to the men by the shed. ‘What did you say?’ he muttered.

‘The screen showed the lads pissing about, nicking stuff and pissing off the vendors. The weed had been smoked and the vodka guzzled and they didn’t like the screen showing them at play.’

‘I don’t think I’d like it myself.’

‘The ‘Man’ likes to remind us he’s watching. Me,’ I laughed. ‘Couldn’t get away quick enough. I didn’t need my mug up on the screen. I decided my grandmother’s grave needed attention and got out before the army were called.’

Marvin was back up and pacing. Twice he’d stumbled blindly into the vendor setting up his pork spit for the evening’s trade. Twice I’d watched the half roasted pig dive for the ground before the vendor caught and repositioned the beast on the rotisserie.

‘As I left the square chaos had erupted. The vendors were abusing the guys in the orange community service garb. The punters were running about screaming as they were pelted with stolen veg and fruit and slapped with the odd skinned rabbit. The screen was all over the place trying to track the mayhem. Squashed veg as far as you could see. It was bizarre. And then the stall holders struck back. Don’t ever take on a man with a paring knife or a meat cleaver or a supply of fruit to launch. It isn’t pretty.

‘And then the army arrived. I was well gone.’

The screen changed to a weather map with animated dark clouds covering our part of the small island. Yellow lighting flashes promised a storm. An advertisement for umbrellas followed before the screen went local, zooming down on the square with images of the vendors setting up and citizens strolling about with drinks waiting for a feed.

‘I’ve heard,’ I said kicking at Marvin’s leg to get his attention. ‘The cameras have got facial recognition, eh?’

‘Jesus no,’ Marvin said. ‘That’s definitely wrong. You got to be wrong about that.’

He pulled his jacket collar up about his ears and hunched his shoulders. We both looked about the square noting the many cameras craning outward from their high vantage points on several of the buildings. ‘Yeah, but we’re okay here. We like this seat.’

Marvin sat down, lit up a cigarette and sighed. I failed to mention the drones. He didn’t need to know there were drones up there above the clouds making sure we were all behaving.

‘What do you care, eh?’ I said. He shrugged and began to look about him, staring up at the closest camera. ‘I’ve got the bloody army chasing me. You did your time.’

Marvin turned to face me. His hand touched my arm. It felt creepy having him touch me. ‘Stuff’s going down, Ben.’

Like that was news. The army, a rag, tag bunch of conscripts including the long-term unemployed and the serial criminal, ruled our streets. And the ‘Man’ had grown tired of the unrest. He was desperate to stop the rioting and the looting. The Scarlet Scum were being shot on sight and he’d increased the price on the heads of the urban guerrillas from the Projects to a tidy sum. ‘Wanted’ posters for Jackie John, the leader of the Projects had replaced the posters of missing children plastered all over our town. ‘Dead or Alive,’ they said. The ‘Man’ was getting tough on his rebellious citizens and he wasn’t keen on taking prisoners.

I grabbed my backpack and fished my bottle of vodka from its depths. A large serrated bread knife clattered to the pavement.

‘Jesus Ben, that’s a serious knife.’

I pulled two switchblades from my right leg trouser pocket and a rusty cutthroat and a hunting knife from my left, smiling as Marvin sat back and edged away from me. I held the flick knife up as an exhibit. ‘I took this off a child,’ I said. ‘Seriously he was wee, and tried to take me for a fool. He was playing this stupid card trick, ripping the tourists off down Smelly Alley, but I showed up and got it right like five times in a row and was holding his money in my hand when he pulled this knife on me. I thought taking money off him was easy, but I had the knife to his neck before he realized I’d moved. I should’ve gutted him, but he started crying, eh?’

I fingered the rusty cut throat and smiled. ‘This nasty mother,’ I said pointing the knife at Marvin. ‘Had been held to my throat while I was robbed. By a bloody wino from the back lots near Blacky’s shed by the overpass. He thought we were asleep. A bloke called Billy Two Guns smacked him over the head with the pointy end of a half brick. He’s small, is Billy, but he can employ a brick better than most.’

I returned the knives to their hiding places in my black combat trousers. He was looking at the bread knife sitting on my lap.

‘And that one?’

It had massive serrations and chips out of the blade. ‘This one’s just for bread, but it cuts good.’ I put it back in my bag. ‘Well armed, eh?’

‘Against what?’

I showed him the half loaf of bread wrapped in brown paper and the pack of ham. ‘Folk are hungry. You live up in the posh clouds in Upper Ostere. And you’ve been away, haven’t you? If you haven’t got the coins then you have to fight for the crumbs. And if you don’t fight you die.’

Marvin sat back, wrapping his jacket tight to his body. People were arriving for the night-times trade. A couple had sat down on our seat pushing Marvin closer to me. ‘You’ve changed,’ he said. ‘You’re all cynical and bitter.’

‘Fuck you.’

He turned away from me as the man led his lady from our seat. I still didn’t know why Marvin was sitting with me in the square. He looked like shit. His dark woollen trousers had a cut across the knees and his shoes were scuffed and muddy. The jacket was dusty, the left breast pocket ripped and his white shirt was creased and grubby. A tie clung to his throat and he appeared to have lost weight. I mean he was a skinny kid when we hung out, but now he was like a hunger victim with a wasting disease.

I knew he was no rebel or criminal. Marvin fought for his country. He probably received medals. I’d heard he’d finished his tour and been offered a serious job. But something was bothering the boy and when you lived the dirty life on the streets you weren’t so keen on dealing with other folks ‘bother.’

‘I need a favour,’ he said.

‘After two years out of my life, you ask me for a favour.’

‘I need you to look after this bag.’

I grabbed the vodka and drank long and hard. I wanted to get drunk. Something felt wrong. A clock who that can’t tell the time. Betting shop closed. No work. And a childhood mate turning up had me shackles up and itching. Marvin’s arrival in my life after two years missing didn’t feel right. He had no business dumping his baggage on me.

 

Add a Comment
15. “Ray Rhamey's book stands head and shoulders above”

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

5 stars A Must Read

As a fiction writer, I'm always searching for craft-related books, always trying to glean something useful for my next story. I would say Ray Rhamey's book stands head and shoulders above many such books I've read.

Among many topics presented here, the author discusses POV shifts, elements of story, description techniques, and, of course, language. The beauty of it is that the reader is not expected to grasp such concepts based on definitions alone, as we have a multitude of examples resulting in ease of flow and many aha moments.

For anyone who wants to improve and make his/her writing compelling, there is no better guide than Rhamey's Mastering the Craft.

This is not a dry, pedantic `how to' book on writing. It is an entertainingly easy to follow guide on not only what to do, but just as importantly, what not to do.

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

Add a Comment
16. Flogometer for Marty—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.

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

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

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.


Marty sends the first chapter of Second Life . The rest of the chapter is after the break.

Either her hometown was a cliché or her life was. Erica Mathews feared it was both. She was within months of becoming a partner in her law firm, a position she had nearly killed herself working to obtain. She embodied those stories about associates whose only life was billable hours. She networked at every opportunity. She was on course to be voted the newest partner. Then the phone call came that morning. Now she was headed for Plainton, the town she wanted to escape.

Erica was so focused on the motion she was drafting when her father's doctor called that she barely took in what he was trying to tell her. Her father, the anchor in her life, had suffered a heart attack at his office that morning and did not survive. Stunned by the news, Erica tried to hold her emotions in check as she spent the next hour rescheduling her appointments and assigning work to junior associates. Focusing on everything that needed to be done before she left town was the only way she made it through the morning. She parceled cases out to associates, along with explanations as to immediate matters that needed to be dealt with and client idiosyncrasies.  She then went to her apartment, threw some clothes in a bag, and headed for Plainton, the small town where her father lived and she grew up.

The rush of activity in preparing to leave preempted any thoughts about her father and what she needed to do when she arrived in Plainton.  Once she safely escaped the city traffic, (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Marty's first page?

The writing is straightforward and clean for the most part, though there is a clarity issue: she’s heading for Plainton, so clearly she isn’t there, but it’s the town she wants to escape, and it turns out she lives in another city. Can’t be both. But what really happens here? She received some sad news, but, as far as the narrative shows, that doesn’t hint at trouble ahead for her. And believing her life could be a cliché isn’t a real problem. So, no tension, no page turn. I think you’re starting your story too early, Marty. The rest of the chapter is mostly backstory and setup, and we end it without knowing what the story is about or what kind of problem Erica has to deal with or be hurt in some way. Look for the inciting incident that causes a problem for her.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Marty

 

Continued:

however, she could not avoid thinking about him. He had practiced law in Plainton for 40 years. The law was his first love particularly after his wife, Erica's mother, died from cancer. Erica was not surprised he died at his desk, but she had not expected it to happen so soon.

Plainton was a small town of  almost 40,000 people set in rolling plains surrounded by farmland and cattle ranches. The town worked hard to maintain the status quo, avoiding change. Outsiders had difficulty fitting in.  During her teen years Erica could not wait to leave.  After she finished law school she accepted a position with a growing plaintiff's law firm in Kansas City, a couple of hours from Plainton, even though her father wanted her to practice with him. Erica was not interested in living in Plainton, and even if she were, she was not sure she could work with her father.  Their relationship was always touch and go when she was a teenager even though she knew her father cared deeply for her. The tension between them had eased in recent years, time making them both more tolerant. Erica feared, however, that proximity might exacerbate their differences. For one thing, she was more aggressive in her practice of law, loving litigation, while her father believed conciliation was the best approach.

Erica was 32 years old and ready to move into partnership at her firm. She had worked to develop the skills necessary for litigating large product liability cases, her favorite area of practice. Products liability cases allowed her to hold companies responsible for the safety and quality of their products. Occasionally she was able to create new law in the field raising the standards for products.

Erica was always strong-willed and competitive. After Erica's mother died her father was at a loss as to how to raise a young girl. Erica's father did not fall easily into the role of nurturer. With no mother to help Erica develop social skills or pave the way with other parents, Erica rarely mingled with other children. As a teenager she had no interest in those activities that seemed to dominate teenage girls - clothes, boys, dating and marriage. Erica loved books and sports. Erica was tall, lean, and athletic and enjoyed playing games. She loved debating legal issues and the latest political affair with her father when he made it home in time to have dinner with her. He expected her to be tough and defend her views. He taught her to think through her position and prepare for counterattacks.  The years of debate with him prepared her for law school where she often bested her fellow students in arguing case law.

Erica drove to her father's house after arriving in Plainton. The sight of the two-story white Victorian rekindled the shock she felt at the news of her father's death. She pulled into the driveway but did not get out of the car. She could not imagine never again seeing her father mowing the yard or coming out the front door. She could feel the emptiness of the house from where she sat. A few scraggly tulips edged the front porch, only making the yard look more ragged. Her father was never a gardener, unlike her mother who loved designing flowerbeds and planting new flowers each year. The few flowers scattered about the yard, remnants of those years, only reinforced Erica’s feelings of loss.

Erica chided herself for her sentimentality.  She grabbed the few belongings she had managed to pack and headed up the front steps. When she opened the front door the sight of her father's old sweater on the sofa, the newspapers and law journals strewn about, along with the lingering smell of his pipe tobacco battered her. She sat down on the sofa unable to prevent the tears from flowing.  It took her several minutes to get her emotions under control before she went in search of a phone book to find the phone number for the funeral home which conducted her mother's funeral. 

After arranging for the funeral home to pick up the body once the autopsy was finished, she called her father's office. She was unsurprised that Mrs. Shelby, her father's secretary of many years, answered.  Mrs. Shelby would be stoical in the face of a tornado bearing down on her. Her life was taking care of the office and Erica’s father or so it seemed to Erica. Erica always tread carefully around her, knowing that she could never gain her full approval.

"Erica, where are you?  I am so sorry about your father. It was awful. I went to take him the mail and he was lying there motionless on his desk. I never heard anything. He never called for help. I don't know what happened. It was always so hard to hear anything going on in that office. I called the ambulance but he was gone before they got here."

"How are you doing, Mrs. Shelby?" Erica asked. Mrs. Shelby intimidated her, but then Mrs. Shelby intimidated most of her father's clients. When Erica was young, Erica felt she was besting the troll guarding the bridge to her father's office every time she came for a visit.  Mrs. Shelby did not always agree with Erica’s parenting, a fact that both her father and Erica knew.  Mrs. Shelby believed that young ladies should act like young ladies and not be allowed to wander the town, playing ball with the guys, or raising her voice if she disagreed with an adult.

"I did not know what to do after they took John away. I couldn't leave the office," Mrs. Shelby continued. "I have been trying all afternoon to cancel his appointments and let his clients know what happened and notify the court in the cases where hearings are scheduled. I am not sure what to tell the clients, particularly those he was working with on some project."

"I am sure you handled it just fine," Erica responded.  "I plan to be at the office in the morning.  If you could come in for a few hours, maybe, we could sort through some things, that is if you are feeling up to it. I know this must be a real shock for you. I don't know my way around dad's office and will need your help."

 "I planned to come in anyway. There is so much to deal with, and I know it isn't easy for you either."

"Okay, I should be there by nine tomorrow morning. I need to go by the funeral home and make arrangements, but I will come to the office first," Erica said.

After hanging up Erica sat numbly staring out the window.  Her father had few remaining relatives, leaving her to handle everything. She dreaded the funeral and all the trappings that came with it. Her father was well known, having represented at least half the people in town in some kind of matter over the years, at least it seemed that way to her. There would be a large crowd at the funeral, both old clients and fellow lawyers.  Once people realized Erica was in town she would be bombarded with sympathy calls and casseroles. It would take all of her will power to be civil to some of the more patronizing citizenry.

The chiming of the front doorbell startled her. She dreaded answering it, but finally forced herself to respond when the caller continued ringing the bell. To her surprise Jason Sterling was standing on the front porch. She and Jason grew up together and had remained friends through the years even though they often had different views of life. Jason worked in his father's bank in Plainton, basking in the camaraderie of small town life.  Jason, who knew almost everyone in town by now, was affable and low-key, the opposite of Erica. When they got together these days Erica pointed out that he had become a full-fledged member of the old boys' club. She also pointed out that it was unlikely that club would admit any professional woman.

"Hey Speed. I saw your car in the driveway so I figured you must be here. I heard about your father this afternoon. I am sorry."  Jason started calling her "Speed" in high school because she did her best to pass him in whatever they were doing. She was always more competitive than he was. While he enjoyed athletics, he had no special abilities and always played backup to the star players.  Although he was now approaching middle age, he worked out to stay fit and was as trim as in his younger days. His auburn curly hair was always in need of grooming, but he worked hard to look business-like.

"Jason, you did not need to stop.  I just got here a few minutes ago and I am still overwhelmed by it all. I can't deal with anyone right now."

"Well, I am not just anyone. Besides I want to help. I know you don't have any family in town. I always admired your father. Sometimes I got along with him better than my own father."

Erica sighed and allowed Jason into the house. He followed her into the living room where she slumped on the sofa

"Have you eaten anything today? I can get some take out," Jason offered.

"Still haven't learned to cook?  I'm not hungry right now, although a bottle of wine sounds good."

"How about if I run out for pizza and wine? You can't drink without eating."

"Okay, if you want to do that.  I certainly don't want to go out to eat tonight and I don't know if there is any food in the house.  Why don’t you call ahead and pick up some wine on the way? I need to pick up around here and see if there is anything that needs dealt with immediately."

Add a Comment
17. maybe

I'm out of town with very limited access to the Internet, so don't know when or if I will get a flogging done today, so talk among yourselves.

While we're at it, though, how about using comments to let me know of any writing craft topics that you'd like to see addressed on FtQ.

Thanks,

Ray

Add a Comment
18. Flogometer for Heidi—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the 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?

Heidi sends the prologue and first chapter of Absence of Memory. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Prologue

I never wanted to be a social worker. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint ethereal watercolors, drink French wine, and smoke little cigars. I wanted to live near the ocean, make love to mysterious bearded men, grow lavender and roses, and never, never set foot in Othello again.

At least I got out of town, thanks to Jason. We left the moment we married. I was 18. We made it all the way to Calgary. He was going to be a hotshot hockey player and I was going to be his number one fan. We were going to tour the world, and then build a big house and have a bunch of kids. And a dog. Jason wanted the dog. I wanted the big house. Too bad I killed him.

Were you compelled to turn Heidi's first page?

Chapter 1

The first thing on my agenda that Monday morning was a trip to Baxter Street to see Kelly Kincaid. Kelly was well-practiced at avoiding troublesome people in her life, like bill collectors and social workers. All I wanted was for her to lay off the drugs and parent her kid. It seemed simple enough, but she was an elusive little minx, that one.

Before I could I could go anywhere, I had to get past Maggie Battle. This was not a new experience. I’d been tiptoeing past Maggie since childhood. This morning she was in her yard, grey hair bound up in yellow curlers, in a pink flannel nightgown that covered her arms but not her knees, plucking frozen tea towels from her clothesline. I waved to her.

“Hiya,” she chirped. A clothespin bounced between her teeth. “Goin’ ta work?”

It was too early in the day to lie. “Yes,” I said. “Did you forget your laundry last night?”

She spit the clothespin into her basket. “Yep. Must be getting old.” She was old –close to 80. She had a timeless quality about her, a halo of grey hair, when not in curlers, and ice blue eyes that that could pierce armor, and a look that could knock the wind out of an overly enthusiastic kid. She’d been a teacher, as had her mother and grandmother before her. She couldn’t help it. It was genetic. She’d lived next to my parents for 35 years, monitoring my family’s comings and goings with eerie meticulousness.

“You might as well leave it out,” I said, as I picked up a broken rake that had fallen (snip)

Would you turn the page with that as the opening?

Very good writing and voice in both pieces. For me, the story question in the prologue (and its brevity) definitely got me to turn the page. But the chapter opening . . . not so much. No tension there for me. The chapter is equally well written, and I think I know what the story is about, but there was no personal jeopardy for the main character.

The question on this submission is whether or not the tension created with the prologue was enough to carry on to the chapter opening and reading on. For me, it was, but without the prologue I would not have turned the page.

I urge Heidi to start the story closer to the inciting incident, the thing that happens to the protagonist that makes her take action—I don’t think that moment is in the first chapter, though there is good, involving stuff there. I hope you’ll read the chapter and give some

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Heidi

 

(continued)

across my path and tossed it to one side. It landed in my mother’s favorite rosebush. Yard work, my father’s domain, had not been a priority this year. I left the rake where it fell, ignoring the bent branches and the tiny frozen rose bud well past its prime.

Maggie shook her head, curlers clacking. “It’s supposed to start snowing by noon.”

“Great.” I had to drive to Woodstock in the afternoon. That would take me twenty miles down an icy back road and back on old tires. I shifted my briefcase into the other hand, shaking out a cramp. I had to stop bringing work home.

“How’s your dad?” Maggie asked.

“The doctor says he’s doing better.” My father’s stroke was my reason for returning to Othello. My mother couldn’t take care of him by herself. My sister tried to help, but she had a house full of children and a husband whose flights of fancy took precedence over the necessities of family life. Since I had neither husband nor children and was able to transfer my job, it only seemed logical that I should drop what I was doing and return to Othello because I am the queen of self-sacrifice. Just ask my sister.

“Well, you tell him I’m thinking of him.” Maggie pulled the rest of her laundry off the line. “You have a good day, dear. Don’t let the buggers get you down.”

“Never,” I said. They could torture me, stab me, cut out my tongue, but get me down? Never. I’d been down. I’d sworn I’d never go there again.

I pushed on the back gate only to have if fall off the hinge and land with a dull thud in front of me. It lay there in the dirt, looking up at me, taunting me in a dead wood sort of way. I stepped over it, got to my car, and then went back and propped it up against the fence. I saluted. One dead thing to another.

#

Baxter Street was Othello’s “inner city,” even though it was only four blocks. People didn’t go there unless they lived there, or were interested in a little action – you know, the kind of stuff that far too many people insist never happen in their community.

A hundred years ago, back when the coalmine was active, a string of bordellos and gambling hall had lined the street. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the elaborate monsters became rooming houses and apartments until they started to crumble. Throughout my childhood, they sat empty and eerie, a beacon to every kid who longed for a little adventure into dark and unnatural realms. Then about 30 years ago, after Lucy Coil was found murdered in one of them, the old houses were torn down and replaced by a dozen two-story beige duplexes, which supplied the town with its requisite social housing.

 Many of my clients live on Baxter Street. That’s because they’re poor, drug addicted or drug addled, or so dispirited you could hand them the key to Buckingham Palace and they wouldn’t know what to do it or themselves. Most are content to just hunker down. They figure they’ve gone about as far in the world as they were capable. This makes them protective of their domain and not very friendly toward anyone who might threaten the status quo. Like a child welfare worker.

Kelly had a six-year-old daughter, a tiny thing with curly brown hair and weighty brown eyes. Ava had spoken less than a dozen words to me in the month since I’d taken over her file. But those eyes – I saw them at night, staring at me, as I tried to sleep. Haunting. Reproachful. I worried about her and her mother. Kelly was supposedly “in recovery” from an addiction to painkillers and alcohol. On the best of days, she was silent and moody, and disconnected from the rest of the world, including her daughter. She wouldn’t talk about her past, or her present, and that made me nervous. I had no idea where she had come from, or how she ended up in Othello. She held on to her secrets so tightly, they festered inside her, oozing contempt and silent anger.

On this particular morning, nothing seemed unusual as I parked in front of Kelly’s unit. Just another chilly morning in November like all the rest – better spent in bed, with coffee and a good book.

I paused before I rang the doorbell and listened for sounds – voices, televisions, the swishing of switchblades, the cocking of guns. I heard nothing. A cold wind circled my legs and I caught a glimpse of a makeshift curtain rippling across the window in the unit next to Kelly’s. Baxter Street was full of disembodied eyes.

Next, I resorted to pounding. Neighbors and door-to-door peddlers ring the doorbell. Social workers and cops pound. I hate pounding. It’s hard on the knuckles, but it gets the adrenaline running, which is a good alternative to caffeine.

I gave it a rest and shook out my hand. Loose flecks of puke brown paint caught the wind and sailed away, taking a bit of myself with each flake. I wrote a terse “CALL ME” across the top of yet another business card. This time I left out the “please.”

As I turned to leave, the door cracked open. My card fluttered to the ground and tumbled across the dead grass. A woman peered out the opening, her eyes dark and sheltered.

“You’ve missed two appointments,” I said.

“I’ve been busy.” Her voice was hoarse, as if she had spent the night yelling. She didn’t look all that great, not that she ever did. Kelly was only 23, but she looked 50. A hard 50. Like she’d served a life of hard time with no parole.

“Is Ava in school?” I already knew the answer, but I had to ask the question. It was a job expectation.

“No,” she said, thrusting out her bony chest, as if that alone should be enough to get me off her doorstep. “What are you going to do about it? She’s sick.”

“She’s been sick a lot.” Two to three times a week since school started. A kid like Ava needed school. For one thing, they fed her, which kept her alive for one more day.

“Flu season.”

“Can I see her?”

“No. Like I said, she’s sick. You might catch something.” She coughed. She didn’t bother to cover her mouth.

“I suppose you’re sick too?”

“Yeah.” She coughed again, harder. “I’m sick, too.”

“I have to talk to you, Kelly. I need to come in.” I placed a toe in the doorway and leaned against the door.

“Can’t you find someone else to harass?”

 “Nope. Today’s your lucky day.”

She made a great production of sighing – and coughing – and then stepped back. “Fine. Whatever.”

I slid passed her rail thin body, and stepped over a pile of garbage as I shuffled through the narrow hallway. “Where’s Ava?”

“The living room.” Kelly trailed behind me.

I glanced into the kitchen as I passed. Dishes were stacked in the sink and on the counter. Bags of garbage leaned against the wall. Food droppings and bits of stray, greasy paper covered the floor. I was acutely aware of a variety of smells, ranging from rotting meat to stale sweat. I wanted to throw open the windows and pull off the dingy blankets that covered them. Air and sunshine – two essential ingredients of life, according to my mother and our neighbor, Maggie Battle. For once, I agreed with them.

“I was going to clean,” Kelly said, “but then we got sick.”

I didn’t say anything. I had already said everything I could say. I had tried encouragement. I had tried threats. Neither had worked. Kelly was fighting hard to keep her own little corner of status quo. I understood that. I was waging a similar war.

“Sometimes I get so overwhelmed.” Tears ran down her cheeks, which she quickly wiped away. “I feel like putting a match to it.”

“It’s not easy with a child and no help,” I said, which was social-worker speak for “Blah, blah, blah.” Kelly shrugged. She’d heard it before – the fake concern meant to manipulate. She was immune to it.

I tried a different angle. “How’s the job going?” I had persuaded Fran to hire her for a few hours a week at the Café.

“Okay.”

“Just okay?” I guess it was too much to expect her to be overly enthusiastic about clearing tables and washing dishes.

I turned my attention to Ava, who was laying on a lopsided sofa, covered in a threadbare baby blanket that might once have been bright pink. Her head rested on a wad of towels, and she was staring at a tiny television. A soap opera. Lots of static. No sound. No cable in this house. At least the electricity worked.

When Ava saw me, she rolled over, and faced the back of the sofa. Her blanket slid to the floor, landing in a heap. Kelly picked it up, shook it out and laid it over her again, tucking it around her. Ava quivered as her mother’s hand brushed across her shoulder. They reminded me of two little bulls in a tiny china shop, floundering and flailing; demolishing whatever good was around them. How I wished I had something that mattered to give them, but I had nothing. I couldn’t even give them hope because I couldn’t lie to them.

I crouched beside Ava. “Hey,” I said. She wouldn’t look at me. “How are you feeling?” One shoulder gave a slight twitch. “Are you sick?” Another twitch. I put my hand on her forehead. She was hot and dry. She really was sick. I didn’t know much about sick kids, but she clearly was not well.

I turned to Kelly. “How long has she been like this?”

“A couple of days.”

 “Have you taken her to the doctor?”

Her gaze drifted to the spot over Ava’s head. “No.”

“Kelly! You have to take her to the doctor.”

“What for? So he can give her medication that she don’t need? It’s the flu. She’ll get better on her own.” She kicked a plastic lid under the couch.

I stood up sharply. “She might not. You don’t know what’s making her sick. You need to take her to the doctor.” Unbelievable. I didn’t understand this woman at all. Medical care cost her nothing, so it couldn’t be a lack of money. What was holding her back? Sheer laziness? Or had she stopped caring?

“Yeah, fine. Whatever.” She turned away from me.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Something’s bothering you.”

“You’re bothering me.” She walked away from me and went into the kitchen. She banged a few pots and then shoved them into the sink. “I’ll take her this afternoon.”

“You shouldn’t wait. She should go this morning.”

“The clinic is too busy in the morning. I’ll take her after lunch.”

I rocked on my heels. I wanted to believe her. I was sweating in my winter coat, my nose itched, and I really needed coffee. “Fine. Promise me you will take her this afternoon.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I put my hand on her arm. “Promise me.” Her eyes met mine. There was fear in them, tingled with resentment.

“I promise,” she said, and in that moment, I believed her. I felt the sting of tears crowding my eyes. As a child I had been very ill. An entire year of my childhood vanished, and when it returned, my first memory was of my mother, sitting beside my bed, holding my hand. I saw in Kelly’s eyes what I saw in my mother’s – a protective fierceness that made up for a lot of sins. Kelly loved her daughter. It was me she hated. Me, and my social-worker, do-gooder kin who didn’t have a clue what her life was really like, but felt perfectly justified to tell her how to live it.

And yet, as I watched Ava sleep, clutching her limp stuffed rabbit, her dark hair spread across her pale face, I fought the urge to scoop her up and run. I bolted for the door before I did something stupid. “You will take her to the doctor today, won’t you?”

Kelly folded her arms across her bony chest. “I said I would.” She closed the door behind me. A gust of arctic air picked up a page of an advertising flyer and plastered it against my legs. I stumbled, and then kicked it free. I felt a cold hand on my back, pushing me along. Time to go. Nothing more I could do here.

Liar.

                                                             #

I needed coffee. My head was starting to fold in on itself, so I stopped at Fran’s. I sat at the counter on a red vinyl stool and glanced around to see who else was there. The early morning crowd had cleared out, but a few people remained. In the far corner, two RCMP officers were exchanging war stories.

At the table next to them was Sam Wyatt. Sam had taken over the newspaper when my father got sick. He grew up here, too. He was a year or two older, and I remembered him as quiet and bookish. He was single, as far as I knew, kept to himself, and was good at maneuvering around the politics of a small town. His writing was decent and he took better photographs than my father ever did. He noticed me when I walked and nodded, but otherwise he left me alone, which suited me fine.

Across from him, a couple of middle aged men in overalls sat next to the window, recalling the good ol’ days when you could drink coffee and smoke a cigarette at Fran’s. They looked up when I walked in and turned their backs on me. One of them was Jason’s uncle.

Fran had shown up every day for 40 years, pouring coffee and flirting with the farmers. When we were kids, this was the place my mother took my sister and me for ice cream every Saturday after a morning of grocery shopping. This was the place where Jason and I had our first date. This is where we had hung out with our friends. This was where he had proposed and I, in a rush of girlish fantasy, had said yes. Sometimes, when someone walked in, my pulse would quicken and I’d look up, half expecting to see him.

It didn’t help that Jason’s picture still hung on the wall among all the other hometown mementos. Here, it was easy to remember the Jason in that picture, young, healthy, and whole; decked out in his hockey jersey, full of smiles and promise, bound for the NHL. It didn’t seem to matter that he had injured himself in an accident during training and never played hockey again. You’d have thought he was Wayne Gretsky to the good folks of Othello. I didn’t look at that picture anymore, if I could help it, but I knew it was there, right next to James Baker, mayor (1960-1983), both of them staring down at me, watching me; condemning me.

I ordered one coffee to drink on the spot and one to go, plus one of Fran’s cinnamon buns. The thing was the size of a salad plate. It would last me until supper.

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” Fran asked, as she topped off my coffee.

“Coffee crisis,” I said.

Fran nodded, grinning. “Thought as much. You have that look.” She wiped the counter the around me and paused to fill the sugar container. “How’s your dad?”

“Better.” I eyed the sugar with longing. I’d given up sugar and cream in my coffee when I hit 37 and the pounds had started to creep up.

Fran turned her attention to the two RCMP officers who came to the counter to pay their bill. One was short, a little paunchy around the middle, maybe 50ish. He had the cop swagger when he walked, the one where the knees flare out and every step bounced. I dismissed him as a city cop doing penance in the sticks. The other one was younger, but not too young. The lines around his eyes crinkled as he traded mild barbs with Fran while the other guy rocked on his heels.

She came back to me when they had left. “Nice,” she said. Fran hadn’t lost her appreciation of fine male anatomy.

I shrugged. “I didn’t really notice.” A slight lie. I’d noticed. I just wasn’t interested.

“Bull hockey,” she said, laughing. “I watched you eyeing them.” She leaned in to whisper. “The short one is Chet Hart. He’s married. His wife works at Anderson’s Insurance. The other one is Jack Elias. Nice guy. And single.”

“Um.” It was hard to be noncommittal with Fran measuring my every breath.

She leaned in closure. “Sam Wyatt is single, but I guess you know that, although I think he has a thing going on with Betsy Fetters.”

“Who?”

“Betsy Ralston. She married John Fetters. Must have been after you left town.”

I remembered Betsy. Not all the bright, a bit of a bully, and blond curls that were the envy of every girl in school. Her father is a judge. I remembered John Fetters, too. Arrogant little prick. He was chief of police now. How he got the job was a mystery. My father said his main qualification was that he could hold his own in bar fight.

I compared him to Jack Elias and wondered how the two managed. The town had its own police force, while the RCMP covered the county. It made for some interesting jurisdiction squabbles now and then. I grinned thinking about it because I was almost certain who would come out on top and I hadn’t even met him yet.

I held out my cup for a refill and changed the subject. “So how is Kelly Kincaid working out?”

Fran’s smile faded. “She’s not.”

The smell of bacon grease and eggs was overwhelming. My stomach turned sideways. “What do you mean?”

 “I don’t want to –“

“I need to know. Besides, I got you to hire her.”

“I don’t want to get her in trouble.” She polished a spot on the counter she had already cleaned. “She’s a nice girl and I really wanted to give her a shot.”

“But?”

“I caught her stealing from the till.” Her voice cracked. A clock with a rooster on its face hung askew behind her. It was four minutes fast. I checked. Two ticks forward. One tock back.

“When was this?”

“Friday.”

Of all the people in town she could steal from, Kelly had to choose the one decent person in town willing to take a chance on her, and I had made it possible for her to do it.

I gave up and added cream to my coffee, and then sugar. I stirred until the liquid in my cup was a caramel colored whirlpool. I watched it spin faster and faster until it sloped over the side of the cup and left a puddle on the counter. I blotted the spilled coffee with my napkin, then wadded it up and cast it aside. Fran topped up my cup again.

 “She said she was going to pay it back,” Fran said quickly. “She said she needed the money for medication for her daughter so I didn’t call the police, but I had to fire her. I haven’t been in business all these years to see everything I’ve worked for trickle out the door, but …I gave her some money. I didn’t want the child to suffer.”

Nobody wants a child to suffer. Not even me. I wasn’t going to tell Fran that Kelly got her medications free. I also wasn’t going to tell her that the money more than likely went for a totally different kind of drug. I couldn’t do that to her. Damn. I was sure Kelly had kicked the drugs. I thought she was doing better. “You have a good heart,” I said.

Add a Comment
19. Flogometer for Chelle—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?

Chelle sends the first chapter of The Ladysmiths. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

“No one is allowed to wear jewelry in the forges,” the Fire Emyete told us in the open area between the buildings a ten-day after I arrived. “Firewylfs love metal. Unless you fancy burning loops in your ears or around your arms, leave it all outside.”

I pulled the protective amulet my father had made me over my neck. It warmed comfortingly in my hand and the taste of iron momentarily overwhelmed that of heat and dust.

“Holding it is as bad as wearing it, Shennafi.”

I flushed. She nodded towards the row of bowls where a collection of rings, necklaces and bracelets glittered in the sun. I set my amulet on top of someone’s bracelet. It sparked green, and a blaze of light surged up my arm. I jerked back as the light swirled and faded.

“What was that, Emyete?”

The Fire Emyete glanced at the jewelry. “The bowls are near enough for the firewylfs to taste the metal, but not to fully possess it.” As if that explained anything.

“I don’t … “I started to say, but she was eyeing Kebbe who wore a betrothal stud in her nose.

“Take it out.”

Kebbe’s eyes widened. "I can’t! Deste won't marry me!"

“What will your Deste think if you come to him with your nose burnt half off? Leave it (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Chelle's first page?

A clear, strong voice, good writing, and an enticing world were just enough to get me to turn the page even though there’s not a lot of tension here. I could have done with a little more scene-setting—what time of day is it, what are the buildings referred to like. There is a hint of danger ahead from the firewylfs, I suppose. Anyway, I wanted to know what happens next. The rest of the chapter introduces us to an interesting and magical fantasy world—but it doesn’t, IMO, introduce any kind of a problem facing Shennafi or raise strong story questions. Rather than spend a chapter on exposition that just sets up the character and world, try for a chapter in which something happens to the protagonist that compels her to take action, risky action, and set up the world while that happens.

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 Chelle

continued

there beside Shennafi’s amulet.”

Kebbe scowled, but unscrewed the stud. When the other girls were ready, we followed the Fire Emyete into the forge building.

The outer walls were cut away into wide, low arches. Inside was a honeycomb of smaller rooms. Hammers clanged in the fire-washed darkness beyond us. Huge bellows dangled from the ceilings and smaller ones stuck out from the backs of the forges. The roar of wind-fed fires made it sound like the building itself was breathing.

The Fire Emyete stopped by a small brick fire-pit and sprinkled something over the coals. Thin, aromatic smoke curled into the air, tickling the back of my throat.

I edged closer as she murmured something under her breath and began to pump the bellows. The coals brightened, flared, and burst into flame. The air shivered. Fire leapt up, reaching nearly to the low roof. Kebbe’s breath hissed between her teeth and she bent forward a little.

In the flames, shapes curled and danced, changing into form after graceful form. A yearning for something I couldn’t explain tugged me inside out. I couldn’t breathe. The air popped, and the firewylfs dwindled into the coals and vanished. I cried out, then clapped my hand over my mouth, but no one said anything.

The Fire Emyete led us back outside. “You will be taught the prayers and rituals for the summoning when the rains come,” she said. “Until then, attend to your classes well. Now, as it is Mistday, you may do as you wish until Sunset Vigil. Don’t be late.”

“There’s a waterfall over there,” Kebbe said to me. “Have you seen it?” Her voice sounded strained.

“No, I haven’t.” As we turned, I noticed the last of our class - Hetta, I remembered her name was - standing uncertainly by herself. The two girls I hadn’t met were walking away towards the building where we slept and ate.

“Come with us,” I invited.

A shy smile brightened Hetta’s thin face, easing the wariness in her black eyes, and she nodded. We had to hurry to keep up with Kebbe, who was walking fast, hunched over herself. When we got to the waterfall, she yanked her shemma over her head and ran straight into the pool at its base.

Hetta and I looked at each other. I shrugged and pulled my own shemma off, dropping it on the grassy bank. Kebbe was squatting down in the water, holding something on a cord away from her body.

“What are you … Kebbe!” Gold glinted at the end of the cord.

She looked up at me, her eyes laughing. “Don’t wear jewelry around firewylfs.” She stood up, thigh-deep in the pool, and pointed at a spot between her breasts where an angry circle showed in her skin.

Despite the burn, Kebbe was beautiful. I didn’t want to be married. I was going to be the best Ladysmith since Herria called the first firewylfs down from the Sun Queen, and men had no part in my plans. But I wouldn’t have minded looking just a little more like Kebbe. She was plump and curvy, her skin the color of smooth ebony-wood. Her hair fell in glossy black ringlets, the spray from the waterfall adorning it like diamonds. I looked down at myself - frizzy-haired, brown and bony - and sighed.

“You should have told someone!” Hetta said. “What if it doesn’t heal properly?”

“Oh, it will be fine,” Kebbe said. “It didn’t burn very badly.” She grinned at us. “It’s my marriage ring, do you want to see?”

I bent over the ring. It was made of thin wires intertwined, in varying colors of gold, and I could feel the betrothal blessing even without touching it. “It’s beautiful,” I said.

Hetta finally waded into the pool to see, though she didn’t take her shemma off. “Is it a Ladysmith working?” she asked. “It’s lovely.”

Kebbe beamed and began to babble about Deste and how long it had taken him to save up enough money to buy the ring and find a Ladysmith to bless it, and how they would be married as soon as she finished here.

I stopped listening and looked out at the school. I’d never seen anything like it. The cliffs had been carved away, so that walls grew seamlessly from the ground and arched into roofs. Stairways rose as if they had blossomed in place. All the buildings except the temple were round, and the whole was laid out in a circle as was proper for a place dedicated to the Sun Queen. High rock walls curved protectingly around it all.

The sun dipped behind a point of rock, and I shivered. Splashing out of the pool, I grabbed up my shemma and yanked it over my head. “Come on. You can tell us about Deste the Divine and your sixty-three children-to-be later. If we’re late for Vigil, the Fire Emyete will slaughter us.”

We ran to get our white shemmam. I made it to my place just before the sun touched the horizon. Hetta’s spot beside me was still empty. We stood facing N’kete, watching the city’s walls and towers become a silhouette as the sun sank into the desert beyond. The instructors, and those of the students who had learned to imbue light, held tiny, glowing orbs.

Just as Emyete Taeche stepped onto the stone anvil and started to sing, Hetta came running up, but any hope that the slap of her sandals would be masked by the high, sweet song was doomed. The Fire Emyete turned her head, directing a withering glare our direction.

When the sun was fully set, we scurried through the lamp-lit darkness to our rooms to change before eating. I hung my white shemma on its peg and pulled on my every-day one. Until we became Ladysmiths, we could only wear the white ones at Vigil. As I ran downstairs to the dining room, I wondered what the Fire Emyete would do to Hetta for being late.

But when I asked Hetta the next day, she only shrugged. “Nothing. She said to be on time or she might decide I didn’t really want to be a Ladysmith and send me home. That’s all.”

“But don’t you care?”

Hetta looked away. “It doesn’t matter.”

I stared at her. I’d been six years old when I’d first seen a Ladysmith. As tall as the trees, dressed all in white, with tiny flames hissing in her black hair, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. People flowed away from her path like water parting. Being here, becoming a Ladysmith myself, was the best thing in my life. How could Hetta not care? But no matter how I asked, she refused to say anything more.

We went to the outdoor forges this time. We were learning to make brass lamps. That meant making the brass as well as the lamp itself. The bowl for the bottom was easy, thanks to all the hours I’d spent practicing under Papa’s watchful eyes. But the chimney had to flare in the middle, and I was having trouble with the reflector.

“No,” Emyete Konti said again. She lifted my latest attempt from the mold. “It needs to be smooth and flat. Look.” She turned it so it caught the light.

With shadows lying across the brass, I could see where it dimpled instead of laying perfectly flat. “Yes, but I don’t see what I’m doing wrong.”

She frowned at me. “You are impatient and hasty. What is the first rule of the forge?”

“Know your materials, Emyete.”

“And?”

“Brass is the wedding of copper and zinc,” I recited.

She just looked at me, waiting. I searched my memory. “Um, copper is the Sun Queen’s second favorite metal because of its color, even though it’s more sympathetic to the Mist King. And zinc is the color of mist, but its sympathy is air, which is nearer to fire. So they are opposite, but balanced. It should work!”

“Your fire needs to be cooler. The zinc is melting too quickly and weakening the marriage. And the color is too pale. The Sun Queen won’t bless something that is nearer her sister, the Moon Princess, than herself.”

I sighed. The Sun Queen sounded like Elkite who thought she was the prettiest girl in Abhoi, and got mad if anyone admired another girl more.

Emyete Konti laid the reflector back into the crucible. “Add more copper,” she said as she left.

I shut the furnace, and started pumping the hand bellows. The muted roar from air streaming through burning coals made me smile despite my frustration. I loved smithing. I loved the fires, the colors that bled and flared, the moment when metal yielded under my hammer. I even loved the tiny burn speckles anointing my face and forearms where slivers of over-stressed metal had buried themselves when unready workings burst apart.

When the brass was completely melted, I wedded more copper in, then skimmed the dross off into the sand. Pouring the rest into the mold, I set it to cool. Tomorrow, I would see if I had finally gotten it right. Pulling my sweaty shemma away from my skin, I stretched and looked at the sky. There was time still - I could go look at the forges again.

Through a doorway, her figure wavering with the heat-shimmer between us, I recognized Femnnal. She was working the double bellows, using both hands and feet to get the hottest fire possible. Her face was set into a grimace of concentration. Excitement tingled in my stomach. She was calling her firewylfs, I knew it.

I stood very still, but after a few minutes, Femnnal stopped pumping and glared at me.

“They were almost here, and then you made them leave. Go away!”

I slunk out of the forge, confused and ashamed. I made them leave? I couldn’t have. Could I?

Later, I sought her out in her room.

“Yes?” She looked up smiling when I clapped outside her door, but her expression soured at once. “What do you want?”

“I want to apologize. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

She sniffed. “Very well. But stay away from me when I’m smithing, do you hear? I don’t want you messing things up again.”

I flushed. “I said I was sorry.”

“Just keep yourself and your bad spirits away from me!”

I whirled and ran down the hall. Fury at Femmnal’s rudeness mingled with a longing so deep it ached. Why did we have to wait until Sene before learning to summon firewylfs? I didn’t think I could bear it.

The sandstone floor was cold and uneven beneath my bare feet. The walls were several feet thick, even here on the upper floor where the students’ rooms were. On the ground floor, the doors were nearly tunnels. I ran through them, bursting outside into the heat of late afternoon.

What if she was right? What if it wasn’t just that someone was there, distracting her - what if it was me especially that the firewylfs didn’t like?

It was my father’s forge I had always gone to when I was upset at home. It was the forges I found myself outside now. I stopped beneath the archway leading into red-glowing darkness, and took a deep breath. Emotions bled into metal and could ruin a working. A smith should always be calm and serene. I wasn’t very calm, but I went inside anyways. I hadn’t come to work.

I wandered aimlessly, anger fading as awe grew. One room had tiny, delicate knives, and small glass discs I didn’t recognize. Another had bronze hammers with round heads, small enough to hold two or three in one hand. I picked one up. It was no longer than the palm of my hand and balanced easily on a single finger.

By the time I reached the rooms where the most advanced students worked, the stranglehold on my chest had loosened. I stopped to listen to one of the teachers explaining how to set gems into a finger-ring. Nearby, the Fire Emyete herself was teaching two girls to imbue a blessing of love into a marriage ring. As I watched, she finished her explanation and turned away. I snatched at my opportunity.

“Emyete… “

“Yes, Shennafi?” She turned, waiting.

“Um. Ah - the firewylfs - “

“No, you cannot learn to call them now. You will be taught in Sene, when the rains come.”

“I know. I didn’t mean that. It’s just - I was watching Femnnal earlier, and the firewylfs didn’t come for her. She said I … it was because …” I couldn’t say it, as if speaking the words might make them true.

Her face was sympathetic. “You’re worried that there is something in you that repelled the wylfs,” she said.

I nodded, sudden tears stinging my eyes.

She patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s merely a matter of concentration. I daresay Femnnal wasn’t focusing properly, and blamed you for her own failing. You will do fine.”

I closed my eyes and drew in a great breath of hot, metallic air, before smiling at her. “Thank you.” I didn’t tell her how badly I wanted to be a Ladysmith, but she smiled back as if she knew, and left.

Relief made me giddy. Papa hadn’t wanted me to come. “I don’t want you messing around with that sun magic,” he’d said. “It’s frippery stuff. Unreliable. I can teach you all the smithing you need to know.”

It had taken me a long time to convince him to let me go. I couldn’t fail.

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

Submissions Wanted. Just one in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the 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?

Sue sends the prologue and first chapter of Falling Down the Rabbit Hole, women’s fiction. The two parts (complete) are after the break.

Prologue

By the age of seventeen, I’d planned my wedding in such exquisite detail that the event itself might have been disappointing if not redundant. If I’d managed to pull it off, I expect my wedding pictures would seem comical now---Brian, the groom, looking handsome but ridiculous in a rented baby-blue tux; and me, the bride, looking equally foolish in a dress festooned with daisy appliqués, my stomach the size of a watermelon.

In each of these photographs, I suspect you would have spotted Mother scowling in the background---hiding behind a potted plant or lurking somewhere in the shadows. She’d never approved of Brian Taylor. I imagine she celebrated in private the day he decided he’d rather kill himself than marry me.

To her credit, Mother has tastefully avoided the subject for over a decade. She prefers to keep her eyes fixed on the horizon rather than dwell on ancient history. Ever on the lookout, she’s determined to marry me off while I’m still young enough to be worth the trouble. Over the telephone on Sunday evenings, she’ll drop the name of a potential husband, a rich bachelor on the prowl, or a soon-to-be divorcee who’s coming on the market. It’s difficult to accuse her of meddling; she’s far too craftyfor that.

 “Have you run into Ronald Edmonston lately, darling?” she asked, last time we spoke.

“No,” I told her. Where on earth would I run into Ronald Edmonston?

Were you compelled to turn Sue's first page?

Chapter 1

The first time Brian Taylor pulled up to our house---horn blaring, radio blasting Grand Funk----Mother hid behind our living room drapes and peered out as if  he might be dangerous. “That boy is going to ruin your life,” she predicted. “I know trouble when I see it.” 

“But you haven’t even met him yet! You don’t know anything about him!”

“He’s not going to come in? He’s just going to sit there?”

“No one comes in anymore,” I assured her. It was 1975 not 1875.

When Brian laid on the horn again, she closed her eyes in defeat. “Honestly, Catherine. I give up. I give up. I give up.”

(She’d nevergive up, of course, she was relentless. She’d keep up with her dire predictions, and look smug when one of them happened to come true. But hey, I could have told her, when you worry about everything under the sun, you’re bound to get lucky sooner or later).

I climbed into Brian’s pride and joy----a primer-spotted, 1969 yellow Charger he’d nicknamed Marilyn Monroe. (“Because she’s fast and blonde,” he’d said, when I failed to get the joke). The car had black leather bucket seats, an 8-track player, and a St. Christopher’s medal dangling from the rear view mirror. On the inside, it smelled like a mixture of aftershave and gasoline----an odor so singular it still wafts through my dreams at night.

 “Who loves you baby,” he said, and I about melted. I’d never been a steady girlfriend (snip)

Were you compelled turn the page with this opening?

Let me start with liking the voice, the good, clear writing, and a character I'm interested in. But I’m finding these opening pages a little difficult to evaluate because, well, I’m  of the male persuasion and this is “womens’ fiction.” What I mean by that is that there may be appeals here that don’t work for me but do for women—I hope you women readers will chime in.

As always, I’m looking for tension, story questions, trouble ahead for the protagonist, you know the drill. Trouble is, what may be a powerful story question for a woman reader might not even cause a blip on my radar. In the prologue, the reference to he bridegroom’s suicide might be enough of a story question to compel a page turn for some—but not for me. What does this character want? What happens that causes her to need something in the NOW of the story?

Same goes for the first chapter. I suppose the mother’s prediction of doom ahead could be considered foreshadowing, but it’s not the sort of thing the character should take seriously. The rest of the page launches a date, but no story questions.

For this reader, I would like a sense of what’s at stake for this character in her life if she does . . . what? Or doesn’t do . . . what? There doesn’t seem to be much at stake for this character in terms of how the events and happenings in these pages affect her in her current life. I was about to say “no real trouble,” but then I run into being a male reader again—maybe there’s trouble here that I don’t see but a woman would. In the absence of that, I voted no. But I would definitely like to see a beginning that does give us a hint of trouble ahead for Catherine.

I'm currently editing a novel that the author labels as women's fiction, and it does have a lot more narrative about relationships than I'm accustomed to, but it also has strong story issues and trouble for the women involved, and both add up to a page-turner. I'd love to see a strong, trouble-causing event to start this story off.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Sue

 

All of the two parts:

PROLOGUE

By the age of seventeen, I’d planned my wedding in such exquisite detail that the event itself might have been disappointing if not redundant. If I’d managed to pull it off, I expect my wedding pictures would seem comical now---Brian, the groom, looking handsome but ridiculous in a rented baby-blue tux; and me, the bride, looking equally foolish in a dress festooned with daisy appliqués, my stomach the size of a watermelon.

In each of these photographs, I suspect you would have spotted Mother scowling in the background---hiding behind a potted plant or lurking somewhere in the shadows. She’d never approved of Brian Taylor. I imagine she celebrated in private the day he decided he’d rather kill himself than marry me.

To her credit, Mother has tastefully avoided the subject for over a decade. She prefers to keep her eyes fixed on the horizon rather than dwell on ancient history. Ever on the lookout, she’s determined to marry me off while I’m still young enough to be worth the trouble. Over the telephone on Sunday evenings, she’ll drop the name of a potential husband, a rich bachelor on the prowl, or a soon-to-be divorcee who’s coming on the market. It’s difficult to accuse her of meddling; she’s far too craftyfor that.

 “Have you run into Ronald Edmonston lately, darling?” she asked, last time we spoke.

“No,” I told her. Where on earth would I run into Ronald Edmonston?

“Well according to Jane Crooker, his wife left him for a....”

“Who’s Jane Crooker?”

“You remember Jane, darling, we used to sail with her and Fred on their boat The Golden Scarab…”

I didn’t remember Jane or the boat, but I had a dim memory of Ronald. Some pencil-necked geek who grew up across the street from us, a self-proclaimed genius who used to spy on me from his bedroom window. The moment any of these captains of industry becomes available, Mother is sure to know about it. She and Daddy retired to Florida long ago now, but she’s kept up relations with the San Diego Junior League and the Soledad Mountain Ladies’ Bridge Club.

 “A girl your age could do a lot worse than Ronald Edmonston,” she insisted.

If you’re not too hung up on looks, is what I thought, but would never dare say out loud. She’s already convinced I say horrible things just to punish her, because I refuse to let go of the past. That was once Dr. Bright’s diagnosis, and Mother’s not the sort of woman to question a doctor, not even a psychiatrist.

“Are you still drinking Catherine?” she asked repeatedly. “Still smoking those filthy cigarettes?”

“Marlboro Ultra-Lights,” I reminded her. You can hardly call it smoking. Sucking air through a Marlboro Ultra-Light is probably no more dangerous than breathing regular air. These days, just about everything halfway enjoyable causes cancer. It seems to me that unless you’re willing to live in a biodome, you’re going to die a little earlier than you’d like.

I tell her I’m not drinking whether I am or not. If she has to ask, I reason, then I can’t be drunk, can I? Besides, she’s no teetotaler herself. She and Daddy haven’t missed a cocktail hour since they invented gin and tonic.

During these Sunday night phone calls, I’m tempted to shout “Brian Taylor!” right out of the clear blue as if I’m suffering from Tourette’s---just to see how she’d react. Would she hang up? Keel over in a dead faint? More than likely, she’d politely change the subject.

I have no idea what I’d do if she called me on it. I don’t trust myself enough to risk it. “You effing bitch,” is an accusation I’ve been holding back for years. When it’s midnight and I’m contemplating another glass of Chardonnay, beating her senseless seems almost reasonable. I’ll feel contrite on Monday morning. Hung over and slightly nauseous, I’ll stand under a scalding shower and recall Dr. Bright’s advice the day I was finally released from Mountain View.

“Learn to forgive, Catherine” he said.

I consider this advice, and wonder once again if there’s a ten-year-old girl out there who blames me the way I blame my own mother. I named her Brianna, Bree for short, although I have no idea what she goes by now.

 

CHAPTER ONE  

The first time Brian Taylor pulled up to our house---horn blaring, radio blasting Grand Funk----Mother hid behind our living room drapes and peered out as if  he might be dangerous. “That boy is going to ruin your life,” she predicted. “I know trouble when I see it.” 

“But you haven’t even met him yet! You don’t know anything about him!”

“He’s not going to come in? He’s just going to sit there?”

“No one comes in anymore,” I assured her. It was 1975 not 1875.

When Brian laid on the horn again, she closed her eyes in defeat. “Honestly, Catherine. I give up. I give up. I give up.”

(She’d nevergive up, of course, she was relentless. She’d keep up with her dire predictions, and look smug when one of them happened to come true. But hey, I could have told her, when you worry about everything under the sun, you’re bound to get lucky sooner or later).

I climbed into Brian’s pride and joy----a primer-spotted, 1969 yellow Charger he’d nicknamed Marilyn Monroe. (“Because she’s fast and blonde,” he’d said, when I failed to get the joke). The car had black leather bucket seats, an 8-track player, and a St. Christopher’s medal dangling from the rear view mirror. On the inside, it smelled like a mixture of aftershave and gasoline----an odor so singular it still wafts through my dreams at night.

 “Who loves you baby,” he said, and I about melted. I’d never been a steady girlfriend before, let alone somebody’s baby. “Hey Gear Head,” I said, and then gave me one of his lop-sided grins before he peeled off in a cloud of black exhaust and burnt rubber. I took one backward glance at my mother’s anxious silhouette in the living-room window, and waved like Queen Elizabeth at my creaky next-door neighbor, Mrs. Vogler. Loud cars with primer spots were as rare as mobile homes up on Mt. Soledad. 

At the bottom of the hill, I lit one of Brian’s Marlboro’s, proving that smoking gave us something in common, and that lung cancer was a small price to pay for the privilege of his company. Daddy smoked, but according to Mother, Daddy was old enough to kill himself if he wanted to. At seventeen, I wasn’t.

 

Brian parked away from the street lights down at Mission Bay, and we shared a lukewarm six-pack of Budweiser. The beer and cigarettes made me light-headed, like I could float through air and walk across water. After I kissed him, Brian cleared his throat, suggested we make ourselves more comfortable in the back seat.

“Sure, yeah,” I said. This was our routine. The way we eased into doing it. It was still awkward though; I still couldn’t look at his thing without blushing.

Not long after zipping up his blue jeans, Brian got behind the wheel and fiddled with the 8-track player. “Better get going before Old Doom and Gloom calls out the National Guard,” he said. I crawled into the passenger seat, snickering over “Old Doom and Gloom”. Brian had cleverly avoided meeting either of my parents, but he had a real talent for nicknames. He referred to his own, myopic mother as “Four Eyes”, called Daddy-the-dentist “Old Drill and Bill”. I adored Daddy, but since Brian didn’t have a father of his own to poke fun at, it seemed only fair to let him poke fun at mine.

 On the drive home, I snuck glances at his profile, impressed and terrified by what a hunk he was. I figured it was only a matter of time before he woke up one morning with the sudden realization that a great-looking guy like him could do a lot better than a girl like me. He’d be polite about it, I knew. He’d call to assure me we could still be friends and then I’d have to hang up and strangle myself with the telephone cord. As a teenager, I was no raving beauty.

 

I waved from the curb as Marilyn Monroe peeled off down our street---Credence Clearwater blasting Proud Mary, dual tail pipes belching clouds of black smoke. When the taillights disappeared, I tiptoed up to my front door, praying to God my mother had taken one of her sleeping pills.

She hadn’t. Before I could finish rinsing my panties in the upstairs bathroom, she called out from behind her bedroom door. “Is that you Catherine?”

Yesss,” I answered. Who did she think it was for heaven’s sake? What sort of burglar would break in to do their laundry in the middle of the night?

Old Doom and Gloom could hear an ash floating down our chimney. She could hear a leaf falling off our avocado tree. Part blessing, part curse; between her nerves and her sensitive ears, she barely slept a wink.

 I hung my panties from the shower rod, prepared to explain that a period had caught me off guard again. Mother expected me to keep track on the calendar she gave me every Christmas, but even this small task had proven too much for me.

I laid awake for hours worrying about letting Brian put it all the way in. A few months back, he’d quit asking if I was taking care of things, so I’d quit bullshitting about an appointment with Planned Parenthood.  If I’d had the courage, I would’ve explained how I’d called dozensof times, but every time the lady said, “Welcome to Planned Parenthood, how may I help you?” I’d get a case of the jitters and hang up. My best friend Gorgeous Lily was on the pill, but between the two of us, Lily has always been the brave one. She was the first one to French kiss a boy; the first one to get her period and use a Tampon. In my experience, it’s always the knock-outs like Lily who can afford to be absolutely fearless.

 

The Saturday night Brian drove me over to meet his mother, I was so nauseous I had to hang my head out of the passenger window. I attributed the nausea to a combination of nerves, and the neighborhood itself. Sagging couches sat abandoned on curbs, corroded Christmas lights drooped from eaves, and rusted wrought iron cages protected windows and doors.

Brian’s house was the nicest on the block. It had newish brown paint, and a rose garden even Mother would have appreciated.

Evelyn met us at the screen door. Took her time looking me over. “You know you ain’t exactly what I was expecting,” she said.

Brian introduced us. “Ma, this is Cat,” he said. “Cat, this is Ma.”

Evelyn invited me in, tugged me down a hallway to an eat-in kitchen and poured three glasses of Tang. I gazed around the room like a tourist visiting Graceland.

“Your Avon bottle collection,” I said, pointing at the windowsill. “It makes it all so homey.”

Evelyn snickered. “Oh it’s homey, alright.”

When it came time for the grand tour, I followed her from room to room as obediently as a dog, willing to say or do whatever it took to make her love me. She was the sort of down-to-earth mother I’d always longed for, a cross between the wise-cracking housekeeper on the Brady Bunch and the country singer, Tammy Wynette. The tour ended in the living room, where Evelyn turned on the TV and plunked down in a plaid recliner.

“Time for my program,” she said. “You two lovebirds behave yourselves.”

Brian couldn’t wait to show me what he and his father had done with the downstairs. The year before Roger died in a car wreck, father and son converted the two-car garage into a combination bedroom/rec-room with a half-bath and laundry nook. The construction project----Brian’s “bachelor pad”---came second only to his pride in Marilyn Monroe.

  He pointed out how he and the old man had installed the dark wood paneling, the red shag carpet that crept part way up the walls, and the narrow rectangular window with the built-in window seat below. It was the view that struck me funny. Even with your nose smooshed up against the glass, all you could see was a portion of the house across the street and a few clumps of crab grass.

I gushed over his carpentry skills. My father couldn’t change a light bulb, I joked. My mother had to hire a housekeeper just to operate our washing machine. In my family, the closest my parents came to fixing anything was fiddling with the rabbit ears on our television set whenever lines of static interrupted Wild Kingdom.

While Evelyn sat upstairs shouting out answers to Jeopardy! Brian and I sprawled across his creaky twin bed and listened to records on his stereo system. Grand Funk Railroad was our number one favorite, followed by Golden Earring and Deep Purple. In between dancing to a few of the slow ones, Brian wandered over to the window seat and stared out at the darkness as if he was expecting a taxi.

“Is someone out there?” I kept asking him, but he’d just shake his head and grope for the box of Marlboros in his shirt pocket. An hour later, he lay down on the bed, crossed his ankles, closed his eyes, and acted like I’d already gone home. 

Add a Comment
21. Info on paid book reviews

Book life logoBookLife, a website by Publisher’s Weekly, has an article titled "The Indie Author's Guide to Paid Reviews" that might be useful to you. It includes advice on Pros and Cons, How to Prepare, and The Major Players.

Speaking of reviews, here’s a new unpaid one from Amazon for Mastering the  Craft of Compelling Storytelling:

A new review from Amazon for my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling:

5 stars A Writer’s Must Read

Mastering front 100Wshadow

"Thank you Ray Rhamey for putting into one book so much of what we need to know as writers. This book, unlike a number of craft books, is an easy and entertaining read. More importantly, it captures in one place so much great stuff to take your writing from 'meh' to powerful. I found so many answers in my first reading and you can bet I'll be using it as reference in the future."

Signed print copies available here, Kindle edition available here.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
22. Flogometer for Roz—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the 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?

Roz sends the first chapter of The Devil’s Dice from the UK. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

A fun note: Roz did several revisions before deciding to go ahead, and she wrote that she now has a new book idea about a writer who becomes obsessed to the point of madness by trying to craft a perfect first page. Love it!

I accelerated up the rutted lane, tyres skidding in the mud, and prayed to the gods of murder investigations. Please bestow on me the competence to avoid screwing up in my new job, and don't let my phobia kick off.

The gods were silent, but my boss's voice boomed from the hands-free phone. "Meg, can you hear me? ...body found in a cave-house in the woods... smells of almonds." Richard's monologue style of conversation meant he didn't notice the bad phone signal. I wished he wouldn't do this when I was driving to the crime scene – I needed all my brain-power for worrying. I was no multi-tasker. 

"... philosophy book in his arms...suspicious..." The line went dead.

I snapped out of my phone-trance, flicked on the wipers and pictured the autumn drizzle destroying our evidence. The case sounded unnervingly odd. An almond-scented corpse in a cave-house, clutching a philosophy book? Our usual murders were chaotic and drunken, with absolutely no philosophy involved.

The windscreen had steamed up. I was too hot. What if I couldn't do this? I should have been there by now. Why had I pandered to the cat's demands for a second breakfast? I swerved to avoid a pot-hole and knocked my bad hand against the gear lever. Pain shot up my arm. Idiot. It would hurt all day now.

After another bone-shaking half mile, my sat nav announced I'd (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Roz's first page?

Good job on connecting me with an interesting  character through a very likeable voice. I like her already, and her point of view promises some fun. As it goes with mysteries, there are good story questions related to the crime sufficient to get a page turn from me, but the voice and character might well have been enough. Nicely done. Some notes:

I accelerated up the rutted lane, tyres skidding in the mud, and prayed to the gods of murder investigations. Please bestow on me the competence to avoid screwing up in my new job, and don't let my phobia kick off. good story questions raised along with a human connection with the character

The gods were silent, but my boss's voice boomed from the hands-free phone. "Meg, can you hear me? ...body found in a cave-house in the woods... smells of almonds." Richard's monologue style of conversation meant he didn't notice the bad phone signal. I wished he wouldn't do this when I was driving to the crime scene – I needed all my brain-power for worrying. I was no multi-tasker.  like the line about brain power for worrying

"... philosophy book in his arms...suspicious..." The line went dead.

I snapped out of my phone-trance, flicked on the wipers and pictured the autumn drizzle destroying our evidence. The case sounded unnervingly odd. An almond-scented corpse in a cave-house, clutching a philosophy book? Our usual murders were chaotic and drunken, with absolutely no philosophy involved. you don’t need to tell us what is perfectly clear in the next sentence. Might want to include what the scent of almonds means—cyanide poison, right?

The windscreen had steamed up. I was too hot. What if I couldn't do this? I should have been there by now. Why had I pandered to the cat's demands for a second breakfast? I swerved to avoid a pot-hole and knocked my bad hand against the gear lever. Pain shot up my arm. Idiot. It would hurt all day now.

After another bone-shaking half mile, my sat nav announced I'd arrived at my destination. I'd (snip) don’t need the distance she’s driving, just get us there.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Roz

 

(continued)

arrived at my destination. I'd been following the directions mindlessly but now the geography clunked into place in my head. These woods were within the base of the quarry. Uh-oh. A muscle above my eye twitched as I squeezed the car onto the verge next to a police van, uncomfortably close to a ditch.

Blue and white tape stretched between trees, marking a corridor leading into the woods. I levered myself out of the passenger door, slithered into my protective clothing, flashed my card at the uniformed officer and set off. I blocked images of the quarry from my mind. It would probably be fine – an easy body in a shady clearing in the flat bit. 

The day was cool and rain dripped from the trees in fat globules onto my face, but sweat prickled under my armpits as I trudged up the muddy path. My fitness regime clearly needed extending beyond reading articles in New Scientist about the benefits of exercise.  But it wasn't just that. It was becoming increasingly clear this path led to the cliffs. 

The crime scene swarmed with police. The duty sergeant marched over and introduced himself as Gordon Morris.

"DI Meg Dalton," I said, still breathing heavily, and held out my hand. His handshake was cool and dry, but abrupt – Oh God, was I clammy? I recovered my breath as he started explaining the details. But when he told me where the body was, the shot of adrenaline in my stomach reminded me of the time I knocked my sharpest kitchen knife off the counter when I was wearing flip-flops.

I'd thought the cave-house would be underground or at least at ground level, not something hewn into the side of a cliff. I cursed myself. I should have told Richard, even if it had meant piling a phobia on top of the multiple crimes of being female and a psychology graduate on the fast track scheme. Pretending to be normal wasn't working anyway – my new colleagues scuttled out of the tea-room when I showed up, like cockroaches when you switch the light on.

We stood in the shadow of the rock face, surrounded by stunted trees struggling to thrive in the deep shade. The drizzle had turned to rain and SOCO were gathering evidence before the surroundings turned to Derbyshire swampland. Morris enthused about the discovery of the corpse, in a way which was borderline disturbing.

"Fascinating location for a body," he said, squinting upwards and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "We'd never have found it if it wasn't for the dog. Amazing how it navigated those steps. And their sense of smell is truly a marvel." 

Not in the mood to get all dreamy about a Labrador's nose, I nodded and pulled my damp hair out of my eyes while my brain chugged and whirred trying to figure out a way to stay at ground level.

The dog had vomited, which was what I now wanted to do. I felt simultaneously hot and cold and my diaphragm was clenching. I contemplated sneaking into the trees to throw up, but our diligent crime scene team would no doubt discover the evidence later, and that would mark a low point in my career.

"So, the corpse smells of almonds? Cyanide almonds?" I swallowed. Took a slow breath.

"The smell's on the crumbs of cake and the wrapper next to him, although it's very faint. I think you generally only smell it on a corpse when you open up the stomach."

Saliva pooled in my mouth.

"Is the dog OK?" I wasn't sure if it had eaten the suspicious cake or just tucked into a maggoty corpse.           

"I think so. It's at the vet. But you'd be surprised what a Labrador can eat without coming to harm." Morris licked his lips. There was something of the lizard about him – hooded eyes and quick tongue – but I wouldn't hold that against him.

"I know," I said. "My friend Eileen's Lab once ate an entire tray of cat litter and wasn't even put off her supper. It wasn't clean cat litter either." Why did my brain present me with these images? I clenched my teeth. Morris gave me the kind of smile you give your mad aunt Mabel.

"So the man was dead when he was found?" And there it was. A twinge of envy for the corpse. No more work pressures for him. No more pretending to be competent.

"That's right. Although I've seen deader," Morris said.

"Deader than dead? Can you be just a bit dead? Isn't it like being pregnant?" 

"If there are no maggots, you're not that dead."

So he hadn't been dead long, and it probably wasn't decomposing flesh that had made the dog ill. Poison then? If it was a Labrador, it would take more than a pack of stale sandwiches.

"Where exactly is he?"

Morris swept his arm skyward. "Hard to believe but behind all that foliage, there's a house chiselled into the rock. Can you see the opening?"

There was a crack in the rock about twenty feet up, concealed by tendrils of ivy and Virginia Creeper and barely visible from the ground. Morris inched towards the cliff as if he wanted to go up again. "It's quite remarkable," he said. "A whole house cut into the rock. There's a small vein of sandstone just here, even though it's mainly limestone in this area. The sandstone's perfect for making cave-houses."

I nodded vaguely. 

"Actually," he said. "If you're interested, there's a network of tunnels and caves on the other side of the valley, below ground. They call it The Labyrinth. Very few people know about it. It's below that rock formation The Devil's Dice."

Below ground sounded good. Normally I'd have been fascinated by the idea of a secret labyrinth in a Derbyshire hillside, but I was in survival mode.

"Actually it's quite creepy." Morris was in full flow. "Apparently there's a noose in there, trussed from a roof beam deep inside, hard to find, and it's where teenagers go to commit suicide. If you can't find the noose, it's your sign you should live."

Oh Jesus, please don't talk about nooses. Morris wasn't to know but I couldn't cope with this. I turned away from him and tried to shake off my thoughts.

I took a breath and turned back. "So, people actually lived in this cave-house, burrowed into a cliff? I didn't even know it existed."

"I think it's been deserted for fifty odd years. Until our friend here found it. There's no evidence of kids hanging around in there. No fag ends, beer cans, condoms or tortured teenage poetry. It's pristine."

Could you legitimately call a place pristine when there was a dead body in it?

"OK, I'd better have a look." I edged towards the dank rock and reached out to touch it with my right hand. My left hand was throbbing and when I glanced down, the skin seemed even redder than usual. Stress always made it worse and of course I'd bashed it on the gear lever earlier.

 Rough steps were cut into the cliff face, making a path up to the cave-house. I glanced up, then snapped my focus back down. Just some steps, one at a time, don't think too hard. My bowels were feeling ominous.

I took a fortifying breath and put my foot on the first step, feeling my protective clothing rubbing between my thighs. Had I put on weight again? Although I knew there were bigger things in life to be troubled by, and there were people without legs who would be very glad of my thighs, they were a constant source of disappointment to me. At least fretting about my weight was taking my mind off what I was doing. I placed my foot on the next step. 

The vertigo started four steps up. Only a few feet off the ground, for God's sake. I stared at the rock, concentrating on a tiny purple flower sprouting from the stone an inch from my nose. Waited for the world to stabilise, breathing heavily.

"Are you all right?" Morris held his arms out awkwardly as if he wanted to help push me up.

"Mmm, yes," I said, but could feel my throat constricting. 

As I placed my foot on the fifth step, I felt calmer so carried on to the sixth, but then I had the flashback. Saw the rope and the ladder; heard myself screaming. My fingers unclenched from the rock and I swayed backwards and fell, bouncing off Morris and thudding onto the damp ground.

Add a Comment
23. Flogometer for Dai—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the 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?

Dai sends the first chapter of Wait a Minute!. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

In May of 2002 the central hallway of Gettrick High, lined with battered dark-green metal lockers, echoed to generally pointless conversation as students wasted the few minutes until first bell. Before one of the lockers stood Francesca Trask and her closest confidant, Ashley Sewick, engaged in the most popular subject of recent days, the upcoming Promenade.

The girls were something of a contrast. Frankie resembled her mother, though taller and slightly slimmer—dark-haired, blue-eyed, medium complected. Ashley, a cheerleader, was shorter, pinker and quite trim, with a long blond mane contrasting to dark eyes and brows.

She said, "So who's the lucky guy?"

Frankie laughed. "Caleb, at this point."

"C'mon!"

"The only candidate."

Ashley dropped her voice. "Such a dork!"

"We beggars can't be choosers—and he's nice."

"Yeah? Well I know what the problem is." She darted a look thirty feet down the hall, where on the opposite side a small group of young men gathered, isolated in the midst of the crowd.

"You gotta do something 'bout that, gal."

Frankie acquired a frown. She knew the problem more intimately than Ashley.

Were you compelled to turn Dai's first page?

Good writing and a confident voice, but for this reader this was pretty much a tension-free first page. What happens is that two high-school girls talk about boys. For me, the narrative raises no story questions of the what-happens-next kind. There’s no hint of a problem for either girl, no jeopardy is in sight, nothing has happened to make them need or want something, to cause them to risk something to deal with what’s happening to them. The chapter is nicely written, but I think the story starts after this chapter ends. That part I’d like to see. Notes.

In May of 2002 the central hallway of Gettrick High, lined with battered dark-green metal lockers, echoed to generally pointless conversation as students wasted the few minutes until first bell. Before one of the lockers stood Francesca Trask and her closest confidant, Ashley Sewick, engaged in the most popular subject of recent days, the upcoming Promenade. This is pretty much telling. How about showing us that they are confidants? Seems to me that the dialogue later does that and this isn’t needed.

The girls were something of a contrast. Frankie resembled her mother, though taller and slightly slimmer—dark-haired, blue-eyed, medium complected. Ashley, a cheerleader, was shorter, pinker and quite trim, with a long blond mane contrasting to dark eyes and brows. You’re using a very distant POV here, almost omniscient, then you go to close third person. I suggest trying to give us this information from a close, experiential POV for Frankie. Give us Frankie’s experience, not a report of appearances. For that matter, what does it matter to the story at this point what the girls look like, at least in this amount of detail? Their appearance doesn’t seem to affect what happens.

She said, "So who's the lucky guy?"

Frankie laughed. "Caleb, at this point."

"C'mon!"

"The only candidate."

Ashley dropped her voice. "Such a dork!"

"We beggars can't be choosers—and he's nice."

"Yeah? Well I know what the problem is." She darted a look thirty feet down the hall, where on the opposite side a small group of young men gathered, isolated in the midst of the crowd. Since what “the problem” is isn’t revealed here or on the first page, this amounts to an “information” question—including something that is unknown to the reader. Which has a tendency to make it meaningless as well. How can a reader care about or be hooked by a reference to an unknown problem?

"You gotta do something 'bout that, gal." Who says this? Going by the alternation of dialogue before this, it would be Frankie’s speech, but it doesn’t seem to be. I found it confusing.

Frankie acquired a frown. She knew the problem more intimately than Ashley. The problem? We never do learn what it is. Frustrating.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Dai

 

(continued)

The group of five boys centered on Ryan Porras. Inches over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, Porras was all-county halfback for the Gorgons Football team, second-string in basketball and starting outfielder in baseball.

He was in the process of intimidating one of his satellites—or so it might appear to a silent movie fan. Porras scowled, leaning over the other, his blunt face and muscled stature enforcing an apparent threat. The victim took a half step backwards, flapping his hands. Two other boys grinned like sycophants.

Now Porras fiercely turned toward Chris Jakobsson, the last member of the bunch, a less tall but sturdy lad who refused to quail. They mouthed and gestured at one another, Porras gradually calming while throwing a couple of looks at Frankie. One more look in her direction and they shook hands, Porras slipping something from a pocket to Jakobsson.

·

In 1995 the Gettrick Regional School System gained state school-board permission to create Volson Upshaw Memorial Middle School, taking seventh and eighth grades from Gettrick High School, and the sixth grades from four elementary schools. Upshaw—a renowned local basketball player who became a state all-star and was nearly drafted into professional ranks—could not dedicate the school in person due to premature demise while operating a motor vehicle under influence of a controlled substance.

 Although the system received generous state funding to build the middle school, it had the misfortune of failing to be eligible for a new high school. Nor were citizens of the Region eager to increase real estate taxes.

Thus Francesca Trask spent her final four years of public education in the century-old school on Madison Street suffering varied ranges of temperature from an ancient steam-heating system and poorly-balanced—albeit newer—air conditioning.

Deficiencies included squeaky wooden floors, stair treads worn down by countless feet, dark oaken trim, Vista Green hallways, meager lighting by fixtures hung from high ceilings, and lab benches stained and scarred by the misguided experiments of several generations of budding scientists.

Further, Gettrick High School was built of old-fashioned red brick—two lofty stories plus a half-sunken basement and an attic originally slate-roofed until covered with green metal of a hue to match the Gettrick Gorgons' and Lady Gorgons' (previously known as the Gorgonettes) green and white uniforms. Perhaps the roof had been painted in sympathy with the athletic teams' colors, perhaps green as a school color was chosen to match the roof's predominant shade. History gives conflicting versions.

No one but a few academic martinets ever worried that the mythological Gorgons were female demons, making the name Lady Gorgons redundant.

A simplified gray sandstone entablature surmounted the four sides of the building, continuing across a two-story half-round portico which, supported by four Doric columns, shaded the top step of the main entrance. The entrance steps, and the lintels and sills of windows and doors were of the same sandstone. All in all it was a tribute to neoclassical American architecture, and therefore despised by most community leaders, who much admired the one-story-on-grade Middle School design of undecorated yellow tile walls—inside and out—small apron-style windows, and flat roof.

A later attachment to the original Gettrick High was the gymnasium, site of the upcoming Junior Promenade. Loosely styled in sympathy with the main building, the gymnasium's brick slightly mis-matched in shade and finish, the entablature degenerated to a mere band of concrete, and the piercings showed no relationship.

Every two or three years the gym's flat roof was re-coated, and re-roofed every decade in a vain attempt to prevent leaks from warping the hard-maple gym floor. Its old-fashioned dimensions and erratic floorboards gave a slight home-court advantage to the Gorgon/Lady Gorgon basketball teams, and was therefore appreciated.

But the flaws made dancing an adventure regardless of the amount of wax applied.

The school had its legends, of which the portico took pride of place. It was believed—the reader may judge how seriously—that each succeeding principal had fallen victim to crumbling fragments of cornice striking him squarely on the head—thus accounting, from time to time, for seemingly deranged educational or disciplinary edicts. This story dated from the class of 1938—retaining its vigor across wars, depressions in trade, natural disasters and variations of the social code.

·

"They're talking about you," Ashley said.

"How wonderful." Frankie stood half turned away, giving only an occasional glance from the corner of an eye.

"Why you ever went out with him, Frankie, I don't know—he's not good looking."

Porras sported a broad dark snub-nosed face with low forehead and spiky black hair.

"Who ever saw," Ashley continued, "a teenage kid with five o'clock shadow? And his ears stick out."

Frankie laughed. "He's not Hollywood material…"

"Horror films, maybe."

"…but he has a good build and an unusual way of looking at things. Not too stupid, either."

"Eeww!" was Ashley's response. "I mean, I want to go to the Prom—who wouldn't? But I'd be afraid to latch onto somebody like him."

"Don't worry—two dates was one too many." Frankie changed the subject, wishing to minimize her relationship with Porras. "So it's Drake for you? What's Johnnie feel about that?"

Ashley shrugged. "He's frosted, maybe, but it's the Prom, for gawdsake. I mean, you don't miss the Prom, do you? Thought maybe I'd be less excited than last year, but… Anyhow, he knows Drake is only my accessory."

"You little cynic! Then it's off to the chapel and start poppin' out babies, huh?"

"I have summer work promised at Bullseye, and it's supposed to go permanent. Soon as Johnnie's job looks more secure we'll make things official, and maybe even look at houses."

"But if he's not secure?"

"His father wants him to go on the road in a second rig, but I hate that trucking life—out of town every week. What about you, though? You dumped softball, huh? How'd the Heifer take it?"

"Lecture number five."

The bell rang, giving her no chance to expand. The girls went their separate ways—Ashley to Commercial English, Frankie to Physics. The aforementioned group of boys waited till the last minute, all of them closely observing Frankie as she strode away, not unaware of their attention.

Add a Comment
24. Some “rules” to toss out the window

Sense of style coverI came across an article titled “Science Says You Can Split Infinitives and Use the Passive Voice.” It’s derived from this book: The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. This could be welcome news.

Pinker, a linguist, brings science to how we construct our verbiage and deflates what he calls “bogus rules” with “a brief but highly liberating list of glorious rule-breaking activities.”  Sprinkled with good examples, I was gratified to see that I already observe these new guidelines both as a writer and an editor. Fun to check out.

Here are some of the subheads:

  • Do split infinitives.
  • Do use the passive voice (at the right times).
  • Do begin sentences with conjunctions.
  • Do end a sentence with a preposition.
  • And yes, Virginia, you can even use the singular "they/their/them."

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
25. Flogometer for Marvin—are you compelled to turn the page?

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


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

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

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

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

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

Download a free PDF copy here.

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

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins 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?

Marvin sends the first chapter of The Wrong Guest at the Banquet. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

Visits from a federal prosecutor can go different ways. When Reggie Haskell saw a prosecutor named Lloyd Manthius standing in the snow on the stoop glaring at the front door cameras of Lupaster Investigations LLC, he hesitated. Lupaster himself had authorized Reggie, to use his own judgment at the front door, but Manthius was known to be volatile. Lupaster was practicing in the music room, or Reggie would have checked with him first. Pink blotches on Manthius’ lean cheeks were sending messages.

“Reggie, unlock this door. If I come back with marshals, Lupaster won’t like it.” The blotches were turning red. Reggie dismissed the marshals as prosecutorial chatter. Common sense said wait out the drama and keep the door shut, but drama and a fee was a tempting combination.

Reggie shrugged and opened the door. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois stepped in. His navy blue wool flat cap and a matching trench coat were sprinkled with snow. The cap and coat were heavy enough for January in Chicago, proving that it was January for federal prosecutors as well as the rest of us.

Reggie took the hat and coat and hung them in the entry closet. From the heft and balance, Reggie guessed Manthius had stowed a weapon in his right side pocket. Leaving a garment bearing a weapon in the hands of a flunkey is bad form. While Manthius’ peered into (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Marvin's first page?

Clear writing is good, and there is a little conflict at the opening to create some tension, but that was quickly resolved. What didn’t seem to be there for me was much of a strong story question. Yes, there’s the question of why the prosecutor is there, but that doesn’t seem as if it will impact Reggie all that much in this stage. I felt the overwriting was not a good sign—I wouldn’t want to read a lot more of that. As you’ll see if you read the rest of the chapter, there’s a fine story question raised at the end . . . but would you have gotten there? Notes:

 Visits from a federal prosecutor can go different ways. When Reggie Haskell saw a federal prosecutor named Lloyd Manthius standing in the snow on the stoop glaring at the front door cameras of Lupaster Investigations LLC, he hesitated. Lupaster himself had authorized Reggie, to use his own judgment at the front door, but Manthius was known to be volatile,. Lupaster was practicing in the music room, or Reggie would have checked with him first. P and pink blotches on Manthius’ lean cheeks were sending messages. The first sentence is a form of telling and doesn’t seem necessary to me. There are a lot of names here, which can be confusing, so try to limit them. I cut detail that slows the action. Cut to the chase.

“Reggie, unlock this door. If I come back with marshals, Lupaster won’t like it.” The blotches were turning red. Reggie dismissed the marshals threat as prosecutorial chatter. Common sense said wait out the drama and keep the door shut, but drama and a fee was a tempting combination. Where does the idea of a fee come in? It hasn’t been mentioned. The prosecutor could be there for other reasons.

Reggie shrugged and opened the door. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois stepped in. His navy blue wool flat cap and a matching trench coat were sprinkled with snow. The cap and coat were heavy enough for January in Chicago, proving that it was January for federal prosecutors as well as the rest of us. The first page is the time to hook a reader with story, not commentary. These micro details of clothing are overwriting and do not bear on the story and what happens next. We already know there’s snow outside, so we can figure it’s winter. You can fold in the Chicago element later if needed, we already know we’re in Illinois.

Reggie took the hat and coat and hung the hat and coat them in the entry closet. From the heft and balance, Reggie guessed Manthius had stowed a weapon in his right side pocket. Leaving a garment bearing a weapon in the hands of a flunkey is bad form. While Manthius’ peered into (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

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

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

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

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Marvin

 

(continued)

the office, Reggie kipped the Walther from Manthius’ pocket.

 “Where’s the blind genius?” Manthius said without even glancing at Reggie.

At that moment, Lupaster was tapping his way down from the music room with his stick.

“Is that Dr. Manthius, Reggie? Invite him into the office,” Lupaster said as he took the final step down to the first floor.

Reggie lead Manthius to the big guest chair that faces Lupaster, then sat down behind his own desk. The mulberry tree outside the office window was bare; its trunk, sooty black.

“I congratulate you, Dr. Manthius,” Lupaster said when he had settled at his desk. Lloyd Manthius had recently been awarded a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the university. The JSD is usually reserved for law professors; practicing attorneys need not apply. Completing a JSD requires originality and diligence, two properties Lupaster admires.

The doctor ignored Lupaster’s compliment. “Chanco, you must be familiar with intellectual property law. I have a dirty IP issue to place in your hands. There is a political side that embarrasses me.”

Not a good way to ask for a favor, Reggie thought. Lupaster does not like to dirty his hands or be embarrassed. He also rarely compliments and he has a good memory for compliments not taken.

 “Socrates ignored politics to his peril,” Lupaster replied. “But I have no legal degrees. My knowledge of intellectual property is not professional.”

 As he spoke, Lupaster stared at the right hand corner of his desk. Reggie knows Lupaster sometimes does the staring thing to annoy people. Manthius knew Lupaster’s habits well enough, but he fell for it. His face twisted into a scowl. Reggie didn’t try to understand either player’s game.

Manthius squeezed out a gruesome half-smile on top of the scowl and shook his head. “Yeah, I’ll bet you don’t know anything about intellectual property, just like you don’t know anything about the Illinois penal code.”

Lupaster had recently purchased a new model of the electronic gadget that scans text and converts it to Braille for him. It’s like a printer. Instead of squirting ink, it raises and lowers dots on a panel for Lupaster to feel. The new model has more than doubled Lupaster’s reading speed. Using it, he read and memorized the entire Illinois penal code and proceeded to needle attorneys he knows with obscure points. Manthius was not one of Lupaster’s victims, but word must have been getting around.

“Get to the point if you will, Dr. Manthius.”

Reggie had seen Manthius explode, but this time his scowl caved and the prosecutor chuckled nervously. Reggie had to revise his analysis of Manthius’ complexion. Some men turn red when they are afraid, not angry.

“Over the past three months, my office has been flooded with intellectual property issues. Instead of ten a month, we get a hundred a day.”

Lupaster yawned. “Do you think any of the complaints are legitimate? I don’t. There are more people who believe their ideas have been stolen than there are ideas.”

“I thought the same thing. I asked one of my assistants to pick out the IP complaints, file them, and forget them. It worked for about two weeks. My assistant is smarter than I thought. She brought in three documents and asked me to read them carefully.”

“And?”

“I read them. She had a point. I told her to set the three aside, keep up the file-and-forget regime, and report back in two weeks.”

“So?”

“The two weeks ended yesterday. She brought six documents in addition to the original three. Five of the six came from sources I can’t ignore.”

“You mean campaign contributors are bullying you,” Lupaster purred.

“I’ll reserve that. I’m appointed, not elected.” The blotches were back.

Lupaster was still looking at the corner of his desk.

“But you intend to run for an office someday. Think, Dr. Manthius. Idea theft has been around since Socrates. Shakespeare stole plots like starlings steal cherries. You aren’t so arrogant as to suggest that the two of us could fix idea theft today. Are you?”

“Arrogant? No. I’ll stipulate that a solution is improbable, but we may be able to defuse this mess.”

“Your mess sounds more like hysteria. Explain the mess please.”

“Important people are scared. They will do rash things. That makes hysteria a mess.”

“Lupaster Investigations finds facts. We do not spin them. Are you sure you don’t need a publicist?”

Manthius sucked in air like he was about to unleash a wagonload of bluster, rethought it and exhaled slowly. If he kept doing that, he would hyperventilate, possibly collapse, make a mess, and Reggie would have to clean it up.

“I admit I am scared. More scared than I was in the infantry in Iraq. I am carrying a side arm for the first time in civilian life.”

 “Alright,” Lupaster said. “Your fear appears to be real, even though I don’t fathom it. Potent supporters are worried: they worry; you worry. But I don’t see that you are personally at risk.” Lupaster took his gaze off the corner of his desk and shifted to a spot on the wall about two feet above Manthius’ head.

“Let’s go a different direction, gather facts.” Lupaster turned toward Reggie as he said this. Usually, when Lupaster turns to Reggie, it means Lupaster’s eyes and hands are about to get a workout and Reggie starts hoping Lupaster will not come up with something impossible for them to do.

“Dr. Manthius, let Reggie read one of the documents while you explain it to me.”

Reggie wished Lupaster had called in Theresa. She enjoys legal paper. But you don’t get to be chief operative by letting someone else do the important work.

“Let’s start here.” Manthius handed two sheets of paper to Reggie.

“The letter is from Samuel Woolley Associates. They provide legal consul to potential patent applicants. Most of their work is corporate. They help applicants draft statements for the patent court. Sam has noticed that several times, an invention description came in that looked like the applicant doesn’t understand his own invention. Then, a few days later, a different applicant sends in a much better description of the same invention. The first application has precedence, but Sam thinks the second application is the real thing.”

“Is that what it says, Reggie?”

“Chanco, I’m the one with the J.S.D. here. You can trust me,” Manthius said.

“Is Dr. Manthius correct, Reggie? I don’t want to take time to scan it yet.”

“There are a lot more words here, but I’d say that was a fair summary. Manthius missed the tone, but he got the content.”

“And what was the tone?”

Manthius’s cheeks were on fire. Fear or rage? He was not accustomed to being ignored or second-guessed.

“Threatened,” Reggie said. “Sam is afraid he has been set up. He would be less afraid if he knew who set him up and what they want.”

Lupaster looked up from the corner of the desk. “Dr. Manthius, is Samuel Woolley easily intimidated?”

Manthius’s consternation turned to incredulity. “Sam Woolley is a member of the bar.”

Reggie called and raised Manthius’s look of incredulity.

Lupaster said, “Dr. Manthius, your admiration for your colleagues is commendable, as is the crocodile’s taste for fish, but that was not my question. Think again and tell me about Samuel Woolley, not his profession.”

Reggie mentally patted Lupaster on the back. Put the prosecutor on the stand.

Manthius put on a trial face.

“Sam Woolley has been a patent specialist for twenty years. He has seen more patent applications and represented more patent litigation than anyone in Chicago. If Sam is rattled by this, it’s not business as usual.”

“Satisfactory. Thank you, Doctor. Now tell me what you would like Lupaster Investigations to do for Mr. Woolley.”

“I suppose you could find out who is behind these shenanigans and their aims.”

“Is that an effort appropriate for a federal prosecutor? I am not aware of a federal statute that applies. Mr. Woolley should come to me himself or hire his own lawyer. A civil infringement suit might result from an investigation. Perhaps that would solve the problem?”

“A civil suit like that would take years. I have days, if I am lucky, perhaps a month.”

“Well, I don’t get that,” Lupaster said. Reggie didn’t get it either. Reggie was inclined to attribute Manthius’ antics to what medical professionals refer to as the high heebie-jeebies.

“I think we ought to look at another letter,” Manthius replied.

Lupaster went over four additional letters in the same way. Manthius warmed to the process as Lupaster gradually pointed his questions more precisely.

“All right. Dr. Manthius, you’ve convinced me that there are hints of conspiracy here. But what’s biting you? I know that coming to me galls you. You didn’t come to clear up paperwork. I’ll stipulate that you feel personally and imminently threatened. But I don’t understand the threat.”

“I talk to a lot of people. Some of them powerful, others not so powerful, but knowledgeable. I’ve told them about this IP thing. Some of them are worried. I don’t know why they are worried, but they told me they are. They’re asking me to fix it. I couldn’t tell them no, even if I wanted to. But this is out of my scope. I do fine at civil rights violations and corrupt aldermen.”

Reggie raised his eyebrows at this, wondering if Dr. Manthius stood for or against civil rights violations and corrupt aldermen.

“It seems to me that the first question is whether each attack is independent, or whether there is a purpose that ties together all the attacks.”

“Someone is behind this. They’ll soon know I’m supposed to stop them. I might have ten minutes to live after they find out.”

“But you can’t tell me what you are supposed to stop? Sam Woolley, Witten Planetary, Alacabra, and Lesthian all were threatened by something tied to intellectual property. That is nowhere near proof of conspiracy. It’s not a credible threat. Come on Dr. Manthius.”

Manthius just shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Lupaster continued.

“I’ll admit I suspect that something is going on. But just a combination of circumstances, a suspicion, an intuition. I might even be able to help you, and I will be glad to do so. But forgive me for saying this, Lupaster Investigations LLC is not a charity. We close our doors if we are not paid,” Lupaster said. Reggie was silently cheering. As Chief Financial Officer of Lupaster Investigations, Reggie paid the bills. Too often, Lupaster was too willing to work pro bono. In principle, Reggie had no issue with that, but bills still arrive for payment.

“My office can hire your firm as consultants.“

“Reggie?” Lupaster threw the ball onto Reggie’s desk.

“A thousand dollars an hour, plus expenses. A billed hour represents an hour of the LLC, not any specific member. No extra hours when more than one representative works simultaneously.”

“Is that satisfactory, Doctor Manthius?” Lupaster said.

“No. A thousand an hour is piracy.”

“Very well. Reggie, get Doctor Manthius’s hat and coat.”

Reggie rose from his desk.

“Wait. Do you guarantee results?”

“No.”

“Give me a break.”

“No.”

Lupaster was back to staring at the corner of his desk. For once, Reggie approved of Lupaster’s apparent indifference toward his client.

Fellman Laveau, Lupaster Investigations LLC’s choice of free-lance operatives, chose that moment to enter the room. He is an out-of-work astrophysicist who looks and weighs in like an NFL tackle. Fellman was wearing a dark brown suit with a red pinstripe and a tie that picked up the red; the expanse of dark broadcloth looked like a mountain with pinstripes.

“Dr. Manthius, meet Fellman Laveau. He will undoubtedly work on your case.”

Fellman and Manthius nodded at each other without speaking. Fellman shifted his weight and the floor creaked audibly.

Manthius drew in his breath sharply and flipped back his head to examine the white painted acanthus bas-relief on the office ceiling.

Reggie looked at his watch, holding his arm up where Manthius could see it.

After twenty-eight seconds, Manthius yawned.

“All right,” he said. “A thousand and expenses. It will take a few days to set up. All reports will be verbal and directly to me. You will need some access to my staff, but every contact must be through me. You will have no letters of introduction. I will help where I can, but you will not be working under the wing of justice department. I’ll send over a contract day after tomorrow. You know the federal billing rigmarole?”

“Better than you, but we would like something on paper today. We should start immediately,” Reggie replied.

“Dr. Manthius, are you saying you had not thought all of this out before you came here?” Lupaster said.

Reggie estimated that the red area of Manthius’ face increased by four square inches.

“Chanco, I don’t know what I was thinking when I came here. I didn’t have time to think.”

“You came up with this plan in twenty-eight seconds,” Reggie said.

“All right. I rephrase. I lacked the composure to think it through.”

“In for a penny, in for a pound. Reggie type up a temporary agreement. Something Dr. Manthius can sign,” Lupaster said.

Reggie set to work. He had done this before.

“Chanco, I can’t see how we could work any differently. I don’t know where the sides are drawn. I don’t know anything. You may bring down my best friends, I don’t know. I have to do something, but anything I do could be a pipe bomb up my trouser leg.”

“A suggestion: Lupaster Investigations must have an operative in your office,” Lupaster said.

“Impossible. Impossible.” Manthius paused. “Who?”

“I don’t think Reggie or Fellman would due. That leaves Theresa.”

“Who’s Theresa?”

Theresa stepped in. “I’m here. Theresa Baton. Pleased to meet you, Dr. Manthius.”

Reggie has occasionally admitted that Theresa is formidable. She has flaming red hair, a strong face, wide spaced green eyes, and she dresses well, just the kind of woman a foolish man might think of as an ornament.

Manthius heaved a sigh and looked relieved. Reggie guessed that Manthius had seriously underestimated Theresa. All the better for Lupaster Investigations. No sense in terrifying clients at a grand per.

“Theresa is skilled with computer data systems. I assume the complaints are all on computer?” Lupaster said without ostensibly noticing that Lupaster Investigations had snagged a fee.

“Yes. Yes of course. We can’t handle them any other way. “

“Good, then you won’t have any trouble giving access to Theresa.”

Manthius shook his head. “I don’t have time to haggle. She will have any access she needs. I give her my username and password.”

Reggie handed him a pad of paper and he scribbled, then he got up.

“Just a minute. The agreement.” Reggie placed a single sheet of paper on the desk.

Manthius read it quickly. Yes. I’ll sign this.” He extracted a pen from his inside breast pocket and signed quickly. Reggie shoved it to Lupaster. Theresa stepped in next to Lupaster and guided his hand to the spot and Lupaster signed. Reggie produced his notary seal and sealed the document. Fellman signed as a witness.

“I can get my own hat and coat,” Manthius said.

Reggie got up anyway and followed him. He helped Manthius with his heavy coat. Then Reggie took Manthius’ Walther from his own side pocket and offered it to him, saying, “Never leave a weapon in an entry hall. You never know who might kip it.”

Instead of a noisy outburst as Reggie hoped, Manthius shook his head. “You keep it. I grabbed it from my desk when I left the office. That was foolish. I’m a lawyer. I fight with words and reason. I’ve forgotten how to use a gun. I’m safer without it.” Manthius’ eyes had no life in them.

Manthius pushed his cap on his head and stomped out the door. Reggie made sure the door latched tight when it closed. Snow had built up on the stoop and Manthius picked his way gingerly. On the last step, he slipped and almost fell, recovering himself by swinging his arms wildly.

A black Lincoln town car with a driver had double-parked outside with the engine running. The driver jumped out to help Manthius. Reggie caught a glimpse of a U.S. Marshal’s star on the driver’s chest. From the dark patch pavement under the car and the snow on the street, the car must have sat there the entire time the prosecutor was inside.

Reggie shook his head and returned to the office, wondering whether he should put Manthius’s grand an hour on the books, or wait for the contract. He decided to enter it. In ink.

Reggie had just completed the entry when they heard the boom. The town car had gotten all the way to the Hyde Park Bank when it went off. There was no pipe bomb in Manthius’ trouser leg. It was under his seat.

Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts