by Ray Rhamey
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.
Ron sends the first chapter of a fantasy, A Dire Onus. Here are the first 17 lines. The rest of the narrative follows the break so you can turn the page.
”The Unnamed Rune does not exist and never will. You are alone, Child of Stain. Not even The Runic Circle can help you.”
The memory of those cryptic words tormented Rucker like a maddening itch that was always there, but just beyond his reach. Even worse, the demon’s maniacal laughter echoed in his mind; a distant whispered laugh that plagued him day and night. Laughter only he could hear.
Rucker forced his thoughts elsewhere, but his effort seemed to make things worse by focusing his mind on a more immediate problem: Brogan was missing; possibly a prisoner, but more likely dead. Either way, one simple fact remained — his teacher was gone, leaving a gaping void in Rucker’s heart.
What Rucker wanted now more than anything else, was to go back home to Bieldburg; back to Lilya. They’d get married just as they always planned, and he’d stay with her forever. That’s what he longed for. However, it would have to wait.
First, he had to fulfill his promise to Brogan. He’d take Briar Wolfanger’s Hammer to the Dwarves on Blackpool Island and complete Brogan’s mission. Then he’d go home.
But right now, death stood in his way.
Rucker came to a standstill halfway across the long bridge and watched the three sellswords coming at him with drawn weapons in hand.
In my view, a story should start with what’s happening NOW in the story. Here we start with a quote from the character’s past that doesn’t even make sense to the character. Then we lapse into backstory, old promises, some kind of mission we don’t know about—all while, we later discover, three armed men are advancing with intent to kill. The character focuses on a “more immediate problem,” someone missing, maybe dead. Isn’t the more immediate problem being attacked by killers? Would you do this if you were being attacked? Or would you be dealing with the attack?
So this effort at delivering backstory and setup defuses and scatters this reader’s focus. Opening pages foreshadow the writing to come, and this is no exception. The character, even while a bloody fight commences, is ruminating about the past and other not-in-the-moment things. I suggest stripping this down to the action and then fleshing it out with the kinds of thoughts and emotions that are appropriate for the immediate scene. Your thoughts?
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 © 2018 by Ron.
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.
. . . fire of loathing remained, the consuming flames burning hotter by the second as a flicker of rage grew larger and brighter in the darkest part of his soul.
He knew he should feel a rush of fear or panic; at the very least, a sense of apprehension. But there was none of that. There was only hatred.
He stared at the three sellswords, his mind and soul seeking an avenue of release from what seemed a bottomless pit of black despair.
And the path to that release now stood before him.
His earlier despair and heartache felt like the dim memories of a fading dream. In their place, anger had taken an unnaturally powerful hold on him, feeding his bitter need for bloody vengeance. Determination to make someone pay for the loss of Brogan had been eating at him slowly, tearing at his soul, hour by hour.
Since the night before, Rucker had been overwhelmed with the consuming emptiness caused by the devastating loss of his beloved teacher — his inspiration, his hero. And as hard as he tried, he couldn’t shake it.
But with the sudden appearance of these sellswords, he now felt a renewed sense of purpose. The gods hadn’t abandoned him after all; at least not completely. They’d given him back what he’d momentarily lost ― a reason to exist. They’d given him a way to start refilling that emptiness. It was the answer to a subconscious question that had been eating at him since Brogan’s disappearance: What’s the point of all this?
Finally, he had the answer that had been waiting there all along: Revenge!
It was simple enough. That’s what he wanted; that’s what he needed.
This was a chance to purge his soul, an opportunity to vent his raw rage and his festering desire for retaliation ― a way to diminish his feelings of hopelessness.
It felt like he’d been standing here on the bridge for hours. However, no more than a dozen silent heartbeats had passed since the sellswords first appeared.
Even though the threat of death moved quickly toward him, Rucker just stared at the advancing swordsmen, his hate-filled mind not registering them as the true danger they were, but as an outlet for his rage. Despite the likelihood that he was about to die, he just stood there unmoving and oddly unconcerned.
What he’d been wishing for, the chance he needed so desperately, was foolishly walking straight toward him: three sellswords with a desire to fight.
Suddenly, Rucker experienced an odd and unexpected personal reaction — he smiled.
“Snap out of it, Ruck,” Eli shouted. “We have to do something…now!”
Eli’s urgent command jerked Rucker’s attention back to the moment. But it also allowed his grief over the loss of Brogan to consume him once again. This sudden return to full awareness was like being doused with a bucket of icy water, resulting in an instant of heart-jolting shock and confused perception.
Immediately, a wave of fear struck his consciousness, assaulting him with the full vigor of its capacity to confound. Yet, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he knew he had to steady himself and do something fast, to act responsibly, to focus on the moment, which meant he had to get control of his fear, rage, and heartache.
As Rucker’s vision cleared and he focused on the bloodthirsty members of The Raven’s Spur, he realized they had him and his four friends trapped on the bridge with nowhere to go but over the rail and into the raging, turbulent water. From each end of the long wooden span, a trio of sellswords approached with swords drawn. Their blazing eyes and cruel grins told Rucker that these men intended to kill, not capture.
The henchmen descended on their trapped prey so swiftly that Rucker and Eli had no time to string their bows. Instead, they threw aside the useless weapons and restrictive gear and drew their swords. Rucker faced one end of the bridge, and Eli the other. Between them stood Selwyn, Arabelle, and Shartha, swords in hand.
When each trio of hired swords finally came within twenty paces of their trapped prey, they stopped in their tracks. Then, one member of the group at the south side ¾ a large man with blond hair so light it looked almost white ¾ took a single step toward Rucker.
“If you throw down your weapons, we’ll be merciful and kill you quick. If not, we’ll make you wish you had. ”He flashed a contemptuous grin. “The choice is yours. ”
“You can stick your choice up your ass, you shit-faced pig. Some of you motherless swine who work for The Spur might’ve gotten Brogan,” Rucker thundered, “but if you’re stupid enough to think I’ll just lay down my weapons and let you kill me and my friends…you’re dead wrong.”
Rucker didn’t wait for a response. Holding his sword ready, he charged straight at the three men. When he made his move, the blond sellsword rushed forward as well. Rucker and Blondie came together in a violent blade-on-blade clash of bloodlust, even before the other two hired swordsmen were halfway to them.
Blondie made a powerful diagonal stroke that would have cleaved Rucker nearly in two at the juncture between neck and shoulder, but Rucker deflected it with ease. Then, with a well-executed side step, Rucker delivered a stroke of his own.
He moved with such speed and grace that Blondie was unable to regain his footing before Rucker’s blade opened his left side, spilling the sellsword’s guts and severing his spine.
The man died instantly.
While Rucker was busy with the first swordsman, the other two rushed in for the kill.
In the last second, Rucker dodged to the far side of the man on his left and feigned a low attack. The henchman took the bait and lowered his sword to block his groin. Immediately, Rucker spun and delivered a high cut that sliced through his attacker’s neck, almost beheading him.
As the man crashed to the planks of the bridge, the last sellsword leapt in, driving his sword tip straight at Rucker’s chest. Rucker’s blocking stroke redirected the lunge. In the blink of an eye, he struck the third man in the teeth with the butt of his sword hilt, and then spun to pierce the man’s throat with a foot of cold steel. Yanking his blade free, he turned and raced toward the sellswords battling his four friends.
While rushing forward, Rucker could see that one of the hired swordsmen already lay unmoving on the bridge even as Eli and Selwyn continued to fight the other two.
Rucker was surprised to see that Arabelle and Shartha had entered the fray as well, courageously attacking the last two sellswords with sword strokes of their own. Before he could reach his companions, they had dispatched their more experienced, yet outnumbered, opponents.
Relieved that his friends were safe, Rucker gave them a quick nod. Then he noticed small crowds gathering a short distance from each end of the bridge. He knew it would be only a matter of time before someone sounded an alarm that would bring the local constable. Or worse, an alarm might alert other members of The Raven’s Spur.
“Grab your gear…and hurry!” Rucker shouted. “We have to get out of here, now!” After gathering his own belongings he darted away, leading his small party southward.
Rucker ran until the bridge lay far behind him. He would’ve preferred to keep this pace for another mile or two. But when he heard his friends gasping for breath, he slowed to a fast walk.
He hoped they were out of immediate danger. However, he’d already made the foolish mistake of thinking they were safe earlier; and once a day was more than enough. That mistake was, at least partly, why it had been so easy for the six sellswords to trap them on the bridge.
Of course, it was always possible that the gods of Chance and Luck also played a part.
While fleeing Rynwyde earlier that morning, they’d taken a circuitous route through the forest to avoid the recently set roadblocks and heavily armed guards posted at every ferry landing.
They would’ve boarded a ship heading south, but the docks of this northern port town were swarming with guards; most certainly including members of The Raven’s Spur. For more than an hour, they’d traveled northward, always just inside the dense tree cover of the forest, until they finally found a fisherman willing to give them passage across the river on the smelly deck of his small fishing boat.
It took Rucker far longer than he’d anticipated in finding someone greedy enough — or perhaps, needy enough — to turn a blind eye to their odd request for passage and their inability to give a suitable explanation. But just as Rucker had hoped, the unexpected opportunity for easy income had been more than the old man could say “No” to.
After benefitting from the man’s greed, and on solid ground once again, they headed southward along the eastern side of Broken-Axe Lake. They traveled for almost two hours without encountering the slightest threat. Then, upon gaining a modest sense of confidence and safety, Rucker had let his guard down just a bit.
That’s when everything changed.
It only took him a few seconds to realize what a big mistake he’d made. He found himself and his friends trapped, chin-deep in mortal danger. And, as their leader, he would’ve been responsible if they had died on that bridge. Fortunately, the gods smiled on them and they had escaped.
Now, as they continued south, he’d had more than half a day to think about that real possibility of death, and he silently cursed himself for being so stupid. He resolved to be much more careful from here on.
During his seven years of training under Brogan’s expert tutelage, he’d often been called a quick study. But today he failed, and that failure nearly got them killed. “You have to stay focused,” Brogan had always warned, “or someday it just might cost you your life. ”
Rucker had almost learned that particular lesson the hard way.
In truth, he was angrier at himself than he was ashamed — because only an idiot would let The Soulless Reaper serve as his teacher. And although Rucker had foolishly opened the door to The Reaper, it was with a bit of luck and the effective use of Brogan’s training that he was able to slam the door shut before permanently learning that deadly lesson earlier today.
The sudden appearance of Chance or Luck is one thing — stupidity is quite another.