Flogometer 1055 for Douglas—are you compelled to turn the page?

by Ray Rhamey
Source link

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.

Douglas, a first-time author, sends the prologue and first chapter of an untitled WWII novel. The first 17 lines follow the prologue and first chapter follow. The rest of the narrative after the break.

Prologue

Anzio, Italy, 1944

My hair was matted under my steel helmet. I had to pee. I was in command of 26 Nurses; many were new replacement nurses, going ashore on Anzio with the third invasion wave on X-Ray Beach Red. Artillery shells fell randomly along the approaching beachhead. The spray kicked up by the landing craft fell back on us. My helmet strap under my chin hung undone as I rode next to the bow ramp. Over the noise of explosions and the landing craft engines roar the Boson’s Mate shouted: “UNDO YOUR CHIN STRAPS – A TIGHT STRAP WILL BREAK YOUR JAW OR YOUR NECK IF A BOMB OR SHELL GOES OFF NEARBY!”

Bracing myself against the bobbing of the boat, I stood, turned and faced my nurses and in pantomime gestured with my chin strap until everyone complied. It was cold water and cold weather. I wasn’t sure whether the shivers were from the cold or from the tension.

I was knocked to my knees with a nearby blast—water spraying over the boat drenching all. Water erupted from another shell-a direct hit on a nearby landing craft carrying six of my nurses 9 corpsmen and most of our equipment and supplies needed to establish a triage and field hospital immediately upon arriving on the beach. The boat crew, the nurses, the corpsmen and all cargo were lost. I had been through this before; swallowed my grief and pain over the loss—we had a job to do. The veteran nurses had been together since Norfolk and constituted a strong nursing presence for the patients as well as setting the example for incoming nurses.

Chapter 1, Oregon, 1940

The day was bright, clear and warm. A quiet breeze kicked up puffs of dust along the road from Frenchglen. The sage was in bloom, the scrub mahogany was standing a little straighter and the scent of juniper was everywhere. It was a great day for a wedding. I was there a little early to see if anything needed doin’. I reckon over half of Harney County was there, or wished they were. Harney County was home to 5,000 somewhat well-bred citizens and 100,000 better bred cattle.

She pulled her own weight on the ranch since she was ten; could ride, rope, shoot, work cattle and by 14 was doing work with the crew as a ranch hand, and she was good. She even learned to play poker almost as good as her brother. She graduated from college two weeks ago.

I knew something was up when I got to the church. The bridesmaids were gathered up like a gaggle of geese outside of the church, on the path to the nearby graveyard.

Well folks, Connie arrived, coming in from the ranch with Adele, her cousin and rollin’ down the lane, just before all hell broke loose.

One of the bridesmaids, Jenny Harper, broke the group, and come runnin’ my way: “Jasper, have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“’ ‘bout Henry and Brenda Kincaid?”

The writing is a little rough in spots, but that can be overcome. The prologue starts strong, immersing us in the character’s experience. It’s clear that there is already trouble, and more to come with a landing ahead. The narrator is sympathetic and engaging. Strong story questions raised about what will happen next.

The first chapter features a likeable and friendly voice. There’s a slip-up in the second paragraph when the narrative refers to “She.” We have no idea who “she” is since there was no reference to her in the opening paragraph. It could refer to the bride, but that’s not clear. It’s an easy fix, eg. Connie, the bride, had pulled … etc.

But this narrative stops just short of raising a compelling story question. There’s no sign that something is wrong or will go wrong for either the bride or the narrator. It turns out that her groom has been cheating on her, and the bridesmaids are just about to tell her that. If I were Douglas, I’d get a reference to that on the first page. Sacrifice a little setting description if necessary, or just put it into the narrative. For example,

One of the bridesmaids, Jenny Harper, broke the group, and come runnin’ my way: “Jasper, have you heard ‘bout Henry and Brenda Kincaid?”

Henry was Connie’s groom. “Heard what?”

“Brenda and Henry have been shacked up for the last month or so.”

With rewriting and attention to detail, it seems there’s a promising story here. Good luck, Douglas.

Ray


//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. 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.

  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that’s okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

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 © 2018 Ray Rhamey, prologue and chapter © 2018 by Douglas.


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 Gundown Free ebooks.

 

Continued:

The Boson’s Mate manned a 50mm machine gun above and behind me; bullets flew overhead and beside me. There was sporadic sniper fire from the beach. The fire intensified as we approached. Artillery fire continued nonstop.

The Coxswain called “READY!

I crouched, set to move—the LC gained speed and thumped ashore, the front ramp slammed open and I was running, yelling “COME ON-COME ON—LET’S GO—FOLLOW ME-GO-GO-GO” as I sprinted across the beach to a pile of logs that had washed up surrounding a lonely dock piling. One by one they lurched to the limited shelter and plopped to the sand. Rifle and machine gun fire was coming from every direction-some friendly but most not.

I checked my nurses—some heavy panting, some tear streaked faces but there was a quiet determination among them. God knows we were all scared. “All ok?” Nods around the group. “They are already taking casualties. We’ll set up the field hospital here”

The voices from the newest arrivals began to rise:

“We have no supplies or equipment”

 “We can’t set up here—can’t make sterile area– impossible”

 “– we’ll be shot”

I responded firmly: “Val, go find the Beach Master-he will be the one with the megaphone…” I was interrupted as a German plane strafed the beachhead with machine gun fire… “tell him we need a large tent, medical supplies of all kinds, cots, stretchers, and anything else you can think of –go-go and keep down”—she left on the dead run heading down the beach, alternating running zigzag and crawling on her knees, as the planes hit the beach again and again.

 “Viv and Martha, gather packs from the dead soldiers and bring them back here. We’ll use the medical supplies they each carry and their ponchos to spread on the ground here until the tent and supplies arrive. “

“OK Captain.”

“Sue, gather the individual packs from the nurses and begin to assemble the medical supplies. Karen and Sal, find as many corpsmen as you can and bring the wounded to us as you find them.”

The first wounded soldier arrived before any of the scavengers returned. He stumbled toward us; blood was spurting from his throat, making a horrible gurgling sound. Two of the nurses helped him down on a poncho, I grabbed a syringe and a piece of IV tubing from my own pack and improvised a pump to suction his lungs and then used the tubing to fashion an airway. We managed to stop the bleeding. Two corpsmen arrived with a stretcher. I turned to them, “Commandeer the first LC you can find and get him to the St. David.” The St. David, one of three British hospital ships riding at anchor 500 hundred yards off shore. The patient was alive and breathing when he left. Casualties were pouring in, I turned to Mary: “Find lipstick, eyeliner or rouge and mark their forehead as they arrive—one large dot for DNR, and two large dots for patients to be treated, M if they have had morphine.” We had been strafed multiple times and a lot of fire was exchanged along the perimeter. We had received a tent but had no time to erect it. We had treated 300 patients before 1800 that afternoon. We were treating patients and returning them to combat or evacuating them to the hospital ships as fast as we could. Dead bodies continued to pile up.

The flow of wounded slowed as night dropped a wet cold blanket over the beachhead.

Sporadic shelling and small arms fire continued all night. We tried to achieve some order of our situation—12 nurses along with corpsman worked on erecting the tent we had acquired and sorting what meager supplies we had been able to gather; night shift stayed with the patients and worked by flashlight, often holding the light between their teeth or tucked under their chin to leave their hands free; the remainder tried to rest for a couple of hours before relieving the night shift. At rest, we wedged ourselves into hastily scooped out slit trenches to provide limited protection from shrapnel and gunfire.

I was with the wounded. It was tough work, hands and knees in the sand, working in the dark, and trying to assess our patients, make sure they were breathing, bleeding was controlled and they were resting as well as they could. Some soldiers were in shock, some were scarred, some were scared and some were dying. Some had died. Night was always tough on patients.

Morning came with a bang. A low flying German Bomber was tracing the outline of the beach head with bombs-some fell so close, all of us patients and nurses alike were sprayed with sand. The nurses on duty fell across their patients to protect them. A number of soldiers turned up with shrapnel wounds, some critical.

By daylight we were able to take stock of our position. There was occasional sniper fire, but the main threat was large German artillery, which pounded the beach head with stubborn regularity and German aircraft attacking the beach with both bombs and machine guns. I located Sgt. Ortega, my friend and the beach master.

“Hey Sarge, what’s the word?”

“We have a beachhead about 4 miles deep and 10 miles long. Resistance is light, to this point and we seem to have taken them by surprise. Our biggest problem comes from the Alban Hills, about 10 miles away. You can see them in the distance. They are using big rail guns which are located there. Then we’ve the Goddamn Luftwaffe, shooting up the beachhead. I’ll be glad when we all get off the beach.”

“Me too—thanks Sarge. Be careful.”

“You too, Captain.” As I left, I looked down the beach at the miles of wrecked landing craft and strewn supplies; lifeless bodies restless in the surf.

I was filled with emotion; I was proud of my job, thought that we nurses belonged here treating the troops; but—there was always a but—decisions of who lived and who died were always gut wrenching not only for me but for all of the nurses. All too often it was a decision not necessarily medical, but question of available staff and resources—time spent with one patient is time and supplies taken from another who may have a better chance of survival. These decisions belonged to the nurses alone—no review, no supervisor approval, no committee, no surgeon’s musings. In a split second, a soldier’s fortunes were decided, and he lived or died as a consequence. All of us were conflicted emotionally to one degree or another, but none shirked from the call.

We continued to receive wounded through the day and into the night. One of the corpsmen retrieved two large squares of white canvas—the off duty nurses spent most of the evening sewing the pieces together and the corpsmen, in the early morning hours, painted a large Geneva Red Cross on the white field. Before they could get it installed on the top of the tent, they were strafed twice more. Ruth stood up and began throwing rocks at the low flying plane. I grabbed her and pulled her into a slit trench. Still the wounded came. When the action died down we were able to get the Red Cross canvas stretched across the top of the tent. We were safe now with the protection of all non-combatants. The field hospital tent had several near misses from bombs and artillery.

The surgeons were operating around the clock. Each of the operating tables was positioned parallel to each other, made up of four oil barrels and a hatch cover, covered by a poncho for each table. They operated into the night by feel and by flashlight. It was ugly work—we were working in an area that was slick with blood, no sterile field. The surgeons were passing scalpels, scissors, and other instruments from one doctor to a nurse who soaked them in alcohol, and passed them to the next doctor. Needed blood was transfused with no cross matching-other than blood type stamped on their dog tags.

Near midnight, the steady stream of casualties slowed to a trickle. Robert and I sat down on a log facing the sea. Three British Hospital ships rode at anchor—bathed in green lights and lanterns, with large search lights focused on the Geneva cross painted on the sides of each of the ships. A band of green paint circled the ship’s hull all in accord with the Geneva Convention rules for identifying a non-combatant.

It was good to sit. Little conversation was exchanged as we listened to the surge and slap of the water on the shore. Suddenly explosions and gun fire opened up on our right- a lot of shouting, the scream of two diving airplanes. Robert and I rolled off the log laying as tight to it as possible. Planes were attacking the beach head and more planes zeroed in on His Majesty’s medical ships, strafing, then bombing again and again. Shrapnel was flying everywhere. Robert covered me with his body. After prolonged attack, all three ships exploded and were set ablaze. The HMS St David rolled over on its side and sunk. The planes departed, strafing the remaining portions of the beachhead. I took half the staff and every available corpsman and ran for the beach. There appeared to be hundreds of heads bobbing in the ocean, gently floating shoreward. Bunker oil burned on the surface of the sea. Early survivors began to roll in on the surf—hands reached out pulling them from the water and moving them toward the hospital. Some were in shock, some were badly burned, burned skin hanging in strips, and all in agonizing pain. The life and death selection process began again. Compound fractures were simply a ticket to amputation. There was not time, facilities, nor equipment to handle repair of this type of injury safely. To proceed invited infection and complications including gangrene, often fatal.

Two Australian nurses washed ashore near me. They sat in the sand coughing up a mixture of oil and sea water; trying to catch their breath. They identified themselves as Sisters (the Australian nickname for all nurses), and asked if they could help. “Where do you need us?”

“Go up to the largest tent, ask for Gwen. She will give you dry clothes and put you to work when you’re ready.”

The medical teams worked in the eerie light cast by the burning ships, as the wounded continued ashore. The fires on the two remaining ships were contained, being successfully fought by their crews. By 10:00 am, the St. David’s survivors and wounded from the other ships were treated, and moved to the shore to await evacuation and the medical routine returned to normal—treating the battlefield wounded. Which in reality was not normal to anything other than combat. Exhausted, physically and emotionally I stumbled to my cot. I did not go immediately to sleep—Why did the Nazis feel entitled to strike civilians, hospitals, hospital ships—God, war was bad enough when it was soldier upon soldier, army vs army. But dammit why the war on civilians, patients and medical personnel? I thought of London and the German air attacks, and the conversation with Sam, Les and Robert, and the Allied bombing effort led from English air bases. The war relentlessly sucked out the humanity, dulled senses, drained emotions and generally left the wreckage of all in its wake. The veteran nurses were close to being among the wrecked, they knew it, but continued on doing what they were trained to do…I had lost track of any alternatives over the last two years. We were hardened from treating wounded on the battlefields in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and now at Anzio. I was a long way from the ranch. I laid down, listening to the continuous rounds of artillery shells and aerial bombardment. I drifted back to the ranch, family, the loss of Uncle Silas and Scott, Scott- I had not forgotten Scott or that night at Salerno… and my journey with Robert…was my relationship with him going to continue?

 

CHAPTER 1

METHODIST CHURCH-BURNS, OREGON

June 9, 1940

The day was bright, clear and warm. A quiet breeze kicked up puffs of dust along the road from Frenchglen. The sage was in bloom, the scrub mahogany was standing a little straighter and the scent of juniper was everywhere. It was a great day for a wedding. I was there a little early to see if anything needed doin’. I reckon over half of Harney County was there, or wished they were. Harney County was home to 5,000 somewhat well-bred citizens and 100,000 better bred cattle.

She pulled her own weight on the ranch since she was ten; could ride, rope, shoot, work cattle and by 14 was doing work with the crew as a ranch hand, and she was good. She even learned to play poker almost as good as her brother. She graduated from college two weeks ago.

I knew something was up when I got to the church. The bridesmaids were gathered up like a gaggle of geese outside of the church, on the path to the nearby graveyard.

Well folks, Connie arrived, coming in from the ranch with Adele, her cousin and rollin’ down the lane, just before all hell broke loose.

One of the bridesmaids, Jenny Harper, broke the group, and come runnin’ my way: “Jasper, have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“’ ‘bout Henry and Brenda Kincaid?”

“Ol’ Bill’s girl over at the Ladder 7?”

“Yeah, that’s her. She and Henry have been shacked up for the last month or so.”

“No, I ain’t heard nothin’.”

“So, Jasper, should we be tellin’ Connie or not? Whatcha think.”

“I guess do whatcha think best.” That was the best I could think of at that very time. Damn, that was a hell of a thing for a man to be doin’ just before his wedding. Jenny ran back to the gaggle.

Apparently, the well-bred cattle were better at keeping secrets than the semi-well- bred citizens. Ya see, word had gone round ‘bout Henry and Brenda.

 I guess I expected what Connie’s reaction was going to be.

I rolled a cigarette, lit up, and leaned against the fender of my rig. As Connie and Adele pulled up, the bridesmaids ran up in formation and gathered around Connie—there was a whole lot of hand wavin’ and a whole lot of cryin’—everybody but Connie. She stood there for a mite digesting the information, hiked her skirt up and marched around the corner to the pastor’s office where the groom and groomsmen were hanging out. I could hear her from where I stood around the front of the church: “Henry, come out here.” Then there was Henry: “Connie, I’m sorry. It didn’t mean a thing. It was a big mistake.”

Then here comes Connie back around the corner, walks past me and up the stairs, grabs her father’s arm, talks to him briefly and they walked down the aisle like she owned the place. Walked down to where her mom was sitting, whispered to her and the three of them get up and arm in arm started back up the aisle. At that point Henry comes through the back door, is sporting a bloody nose and a big red blotch on his left cheek. Connie and her mom and dad just kept walking. “Connie, wait….”

“Henry, you can tell them.”

There was quite a hubbub and a need for crowd control. I flipped the keys to my rig to her; Connie caught them and left for the ranch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *