by Ray Rhamey
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Submissions sought. Get fresh eyes on your opening page. Submission directions below.
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. Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this 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.
Harlene sends a short story, Death and the Reward. Here are the first 17 lines. The rest of the story follows the break so you can turn the page.
“These are the old ways, not for whites,” the Healer said, as Chase pressed the knife deeper into the grizzled old man’s throat. Blood oozed from the cut.
Brooke said. “Wait!” She could not believe the current turn of events from this morning . . . the devil finds work for idle hands.
Brooke and Chase had been looking for something to do this morning. They’d been living in a village with their missionary parents for over a year and their day-to-day routine had gotten boring. Today, an opportunity presented itself.
Patience, their maid, had been acting weird all day. She was moody and withdrawn. Brooke had even caught Patience crying and wringing her hands. When Brooke asked Patience what was wrong, she said nothing. Having nothing better to do, Chase and Brooke decided to follow Patience home.
Instead of Patience turning right at the fork in the road as she always did, she turned left. Chase and Brooke looked at each other and grinned in excitement. It had started getting dark, so they didn’t have to worry too much about being spotted by Patience. They had walked a couple of miles when they saw a village ahead. Patience walked into the village and stopped in front of a hut that had a sign in front:
Spiritual Healer (snip)
Well, that opening paragraph has a strong hook, what with a knife being stuck into a Healer’s throat. But then one of the characters stops this intriguing action that holds a promise of serious conflict ahead. Then the story slips into backstory. The tension ebbs.
The backstory that we get on the first page doesn’t, for me, increase the tension. There’s “telling” going on—the maid acting weird—instead of showing. The motivation for the characters to follow the maid is just boredom. In other words, the only thing that goes wrong on this page is for the Healer. No jeopardy for the kids arises—I assume they’re kids, but that’s not clear. Strange things go on in the rest of the story, though the two protagonists never have a problem they need to overcome. Everything goes right for them, even the murder of a friend. But I don’t think I would have gotten there due to the opening page’s detour into backstory. I don’t feel that I’m a particularly good judge of short stories, but I think they still need to create story questions that compel reading.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that’s okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
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.
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 © 2017 Ray Rhamey, chapter © 2017 by L Rita.
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 Gundown Free ebooks.
I can solve tooth aches, madness fever, genital problems, demons, and more.
They heard Patience announce herself and wait for a response before she entered the hut. Chase and Brooke rushed to the side window of the hut and peered in. It was completely dark outside now. The only light was from the fire pit inside the hut.
Patience sat on the floor, with her legs underneath her, and a small bundle in her lap. The Healer as at the altar with his back to her. The altar was adorned with skulls, feathers, bones, and candles. A large stone bowl rested in the center of the altar. The Healer lit the candles and began chanting. He turned to Patience, who was crying now, and extended his hand to her. She shakily placed the bundle in his hand.
The Healer unwrapped the bundle and placed the contents into the bowl. Chase and Brooke caught their breath when they saw what was in the bowl — two fingers and a tongue. Judging by the size of the offerings, the offering had come from a child.
The Healer began chanting as he set the offerings on fire. The stench of burned flesh wafted into the air. The Healer took a deep drink of something from a bottle, turned to Patience, pulled her to her feet, and spat the contents into her face. The Healer started chanting again, dug his fingers in a small bowl, and smudged what appeared to be ash onto Patience’s face. Patience was shaking while he did this. When he was done, Patience paid him and left on wobbly legs.
Excited by what they had witnessed, Chase and Brooke walked into the hut. They found the Healer at the alter working on a poultice.
The Healer turned, startled.
“Why you here?” the Healer asked in broken English.
“We want to learn,” Brooke said.
The Healer shook his head. “You must leave now.”
Chase’s face turned red in anger. “You will teach us or we’ll tell the police what we saw.”
The Healer cackled before telling them to leave again.
That had brought them to the present moment where Chase had the knife at the Healer’s throat and Brooke had asked him to wait before doing anything more.
Brooke looked the Healer in the eyes and asked, “Why won’t you teach us?”
“Let us prove ourselves to you,” Chase said.
The Healer said, “Bring Lucien to me. If you do this, I will teach you.”
Chase withdrew the blade from the Healer’s neck. The Healer gave them a date, time and place to bring Lucien and they left the hut.
Chase hated Lucien, not only because he was odd looking — kinky blonde hair, pale skin, colorless eyes, a wide nose and full pink lips – but because he had a major crush on Brooke. Brooke, on the other hand, thought of Lucien as a blank canvas from which a masterpiece could be created.
Chase and Brooke strategized on how they would get Lucien to the Healer. Neither cared what would happen to Lucien afterward.
The next night, Brooke enticed Lucien into the woods with the promise of sex. When she and Lucien reached a secluded stop, Chase knocked him unconscious. They bound and gagged Lucien and carried him to the Healer.
Lucien moaned a few times, probably from the pain of his head injury, and tried to get loose, but his bindings were too tight. Chase and Brooke met the Healer at the appointed spot, an open field with a huge stone altar, on which they placed Lucien. Brooke took off Lucien’s blindfold. Lucien looked around wide-eyed in fear and began struggling again. He pissed himself. Chase laughed.
The Healer had Brooke remove Lucien’s gag and Chase forced his mouth open so they could pour putrid liquid down his throat. Lucien spat it out. Chase punched Lucien hard in the face. They tried again. This time, Brooke held Lucien’s nose closed, which forced him to open his mouth to breath. They got the liquid in him this time.
Several minutes later, Lucien appeared to be in a trance. The Healer told them to remove his bindings because he wouldn’t be able to move. Brooke stared into Lucien’s eyes – they were vacant; it was like he wasn’t there with them.
Just then, others began arriving: Men and women, young and old, with goats and chickens. They danced to the drum beats. Their movements were sexual, from slow and undulating to fast and frenetic. The dancing excited Chase and Brooke. It was so primitive.
The Healer sacrificed several chickens and goats, chanting and smearing the blood on several participants. After the Healer was done, he asked Brooke to assist him with Lucien. She took her place beside the Healer at the head of the stone altar.
First, the Healer had Brooke raise one of Lucien’s arms over his head and plunge a spout in just below his armpit. She did as he asked and dark blood gushed into the goblet Brooke was holding. Lucien didn’t scream or moan; he didn’t move at all.
Chase, Brooke, and the Healer drank from the goblet. The blood smelled coppery and tasted metallic. They liked it and felt Lucien’s life force flow into them. They felt stronger, even invincible.
When they were done, only Lucien’s torso remained and the Healer threw that into the woods for the animals to finish off.
Chase looked at Brooke as they were heading home. She had never looked as beautiful to him as she did now. They made love for the first time that night and vowed undying devotion to each other.
They would never tell Mom and Dad what they had done, but they would be closer than any brother and sister anyone had ever seen.