by Ray Rhamey
Writers, send your prologue/first chapter to FtQ for a “flogging” critique. Email as an attachment.
Many of the folks who utilize BookBub are self-published, and because we hear over and over the need for self-published authors to have their work edited, it’s educational to take a hard look at their first pages. A poll follows concerning the need for an editor.
When you evaluate today’s opening page, consider how well it uses elements from the checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling.
Donald Maass, literary agent and author of many books on writing, says, “Independent editor Ray Rhamey’s first-page checklist is an excellent yardstick for measuring what makes openings interesting.”
A First-page Checklist
- It begins to engage the reader with the character
- Something is wrong/goes wrong or challenges the character
- The character desires something.
- The character takes action. Can be internal or external action: thoughts, deeds, emotions. This does NOT include musing about whatever.
- 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.
- The one thing it must do: raise a story question.
Next are the first 17 lines of Chapter 1 for The Murder at Sissingham Hall, mystery, first of three in a bundled trilogy of Angela Marchmont stories. Would you read on? Should this author have hired an editor?
IT IS ALWAYS a very odd feeling, returning to one’s home country after a long period abroad. The countryside, the towns, the cities, people going about their daily business, even the weather, look familiar and yet at the same time strange. It reminds me of the feeling I once experienced on accidentally observing myself in a looking-glass which had been placed at right-angles to another—it was quite a shock to see a reflection of my reflection and suddenly realize that my true face was all lop-sided. When I got my first glimpse of the quayside from the deck of the Ruthin Castle, a welcome sight after the long voyage, a jolt of joy went through me, yet at the same time I felt oddly shy, like a small boy made to stand up in the drawing-room and recite poetry before a gathering of stern aunts.
‘No-one will be here to welcome me,’ I thought to myself, as the vessel drew ponderously into Southampton dock. ‘I am like a stranger in my own country. Shall I be able to settle down, I wonder?’
The gang-plank went down and I disembarked with the rest of the passengers, alone in the midst of a teeming mass of humanity. For a moment I stood on the quayside, my feet on English soil for the first time in eight years, discomposed by the bustling crowd of passengers, sailors and porters and momentarily uncertain as to which way to go. But just as I was heartily beginning to wish that I had remained in South Africa, I heard a piercing whistle through the din (snip)
You can turn the page and read more here. Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.
This offering averaged 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I like mysteries, I like British settings, I like historical fiction and this is set in the 1920s, and this is a trilogy for free. What’s not to like about that?
The writing is professional, and the voice is British, as it should be. And then there is the story question . . . actually, no, there isn’t. This is one of the most easy-going narratives for a mystery I’ve ever seen. So easy-going that there isn’t a clue that this is a mystery.
What about what happens? A man gets off a boat after an absence from his country, and he doesn’t expect to be met. No story questions at all since he’s not wondering if someone will be there, he has decided that there won’t be. I skimmed through the first chapter. No murder. The second chapter. No murder. The body doesn’t hit the floor until the beginning of chapter 7. I don’t think I’ll be plowing through six chapters to get to the story. A no for me. Your thoughts?
My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.
Writing Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling
Fantasy(satire) The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles
Mystery(coming of age) The Summer Boy
Science Fiction Hiding Magic
Science Fiction GundownFree ebooks.