Flog a BookBubber 129: Catherine Lea

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 prologue of Child of the State. Would you read on? Should this author have hired an editor?

Amy knew she should have gone to Stacy the second she’d opened the box. All night she’d lain there in her cot, listening to every sound, frightened they’d come after her, and wondering who else knew. Because somebody did.

Why she’d even gotten stuck in that stupid job was anybody’s guess. She’d applied for the prison sewing program. Would have helped if she knew how to sew, but others on the same work scheme didn’t know how to sew when they started, either. They got lessons.

Amy still couldn’t make a buttonhole worth a damn so she got stuck in dispatch, sending out boxes of garments in the truck that turned up twice a week. Her job was to pack the boxes, check the details on the packing slip, seal the boxes up. Most boring job on the planet—or it was until that particular box came back, returned from wherever and marked Attention Dispatch Department. The only person around with any authority to accept the box was Trish Tomes, the prison officer overseeing the project.

Amy had been going through the box, looking at every item. She was just holding a silk blouse up to the light, checking she wasn’t imagining things, when Officer Tomes appeared behind her. Amy just about peed her pants. She yelped and pressed the blouse to her chest to try to slow her heart down. The woman had the stealth of a cat. Didn’t matter how hard you listened, you’d turn around and there she was, standing right behind you.

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

This mystery earned 4.4 stars on Amazon. Writing is good, voice is fine. There are hints of mystery here, and questions raised. But are they story questions? Or what I call “information” questions? For example, she should have gone to Stacy. Okay, but who or what is Stacy, and why is she the go-to person for Amy? Go to her for what? What are the stakes if she doesn’t go?

Instead of pursuing that, we delve into backstory about her sewing abilities and then the box with clothing in it. She examines a silk blouse, wondering if she’s imagining things—but what things? Maybe the blouse is too fancy for what they do there, but that’s not clear. So what actually happens is that a woman opens a box, looks at a blouse, her superior takes the blouse away and looks at the box’s contents. Not riveting for this reader. I passed. What do you think?

So, should this writer have hired an editor?

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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