Flog a BookBubber 121: A.J. Aalto

by Ray Rhamey
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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 the first chapter of A Closet Full of Bones. Would you read on? Should this author have hired an editor?

She had the dump site picked out before she’d made up her mind to kill him. Not that she’d ever admit it aloud, but if she was honest with herself, the idea of his death began squirming like a night crawler in the back of her mind the moment he’d crossed her invisible but inflexible lines of impropriety.

An imperious pre-dawn text. Such a small thing to become a death sentence.

Such a small thing to most people. A pebble in a shoe. A minor nuisance, best forgotten. But it wasn’t the only pebble, and it wasn’t forgotten, and she wasn’t most people. Involving her had been Travis Freeman’s biggest mistake.

The text came early enough to wake her from a paralyzing sleep, the type that always followed one of her savage, day-long migraines. Though the master bedroom was darkened by heavy blinds and drapes, she knew by the weight of her limbs that it must still be nighttime. She’d been dreaming of red wine, dark chocolate, and a man without a face, but this slipped away, the pleasant blur marred by electric rattling; hard plastic against oak and brass, the phone vibrated against the lamp’s metal base. Her hand shot out from under the pillow and fumbled for it, yanking it off its charger. Assuming it had to be an emergency of one sort or another, she felt for her glasses, knocking them off the nightstand, and they went skittering under the bed. She squinted at the phone’s bright backlight and tried to read the text through blurry eyes, cursing her (snip)

You can turn the page and read more here. Did this writer need an editor? My notes and a poll follow.

This novel earned 4.7 stars on Amazon. Strong writing and a professional voice start us out well, and the opening paragraph introduces a strong story-question hook. So far, so good.

But then, in the fourth paragraph, we wander into overwriting—excessive detail about how she answers the phone—feeling for her glasses, glasses skittering under the bed, her squinting at the phone, etc. Who cares? And it doesn’t affect the story. We just don’t need this at this point. Get on with the story because your writing suggests it will be good—but your overwriting suggests it will be a trudge at times. I may venture a little further, but my vote is for some editorial help with the overwriting. Your thoughts?

My books. You can read sample chapters and learn more about the books here.

Mastering-60WWriting Craft Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling

Front Patch 60WFantasy(satire) The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles

SummerBoy-60WMystery(coming of age) The Summer Boy

Hiding-Magic-60WScience Fiction Hiding Magic

Gundown-60WScience Fiction GundownFree ebooks.

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