• strict warning: Declaration of FeedsImporter::copy() should be compatible with FeedsConfigurable::copy(FeedsConfigurable $configurable) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/includes/FeedsImporter.inc on line 94.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsNodeProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsNodeProcessor.inc on line 319.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsNodeProcessor::setTargetElement() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::setTargetElement(&$target_item, $target_element, $value) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsNodeProcessor.inc on line 319.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsFeedNodeProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsFeedNodeProcessor.inc on line 227.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsFeedNodeProcessor::setTargetElement() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::setTargetElement(&$target_item, $target_element, $value) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsFeedNodeProcessor.inc on line 227.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsUserProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsUserProcessor.inc on line 195.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • You must include at least one positive keyword with 3 characters or more.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_display::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_display.inc on line 1877.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_display_block::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin_display::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_display_block.inc on line 193.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_field_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_field.inc on line 641.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 82.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 585.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 585.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 609.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 128.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_style_default::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_style_default.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of content_handler_field::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/cck/includes/views/handlers/content_handler_field.inc on line 208.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument::init() should be compatible with views_handler::init(&$view, $options) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 745.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 770.

The Editor’s Clinic: Editing Opening Pages for Instant Involvement

Ray’s post today is part of the “All the King’s Editors” series, where an editor from the Writer Unboxed contributor team edits manuscript pages submitted by a member of the WU community.
Each participating editor approaches a submission in a unique way, and speaks only for him or herself.
Remember, editing is as much art as science, and your take on the passage may differ. If so, feel free to join in the discussion at the end, but above all, be kind.
If you’re interested in submitting a sample for consideration, click HERE for instructions.
But what about Flog a Pro? This post takes the place of Ray’s regular Flog a Pro column, but his lash gets testy if not regularly exercised, so he’ll be here flogging a pro on SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25th.
The author tells us this about her submission:
“My first novel is an historical fantasy. What I’ve sent is the beginning of the sequel. One of my challenges is working in the information from the first book so that those who haven’t read it will understand that my heroine had a time-travel experience several years earlier and that her child is the result of a romance that took place in the 15th century.
“At the beginning of this second book, her son Dickon has disappeared, along with her friend that was caring for him. In the succeeding pages, she will discover that they have gone back in time and she must go back again herself to rescue them.”
I agree that the protagonist’s time-traveling is key, not only for orienting a reader in the story but also to raising strong story questions that will deepen and compel the reader’s involvement with the story.
The way I see it, the objective of opening pages is to profoundly engage readers so they keep turning pages, and I believe that a character dealing with trouble is key to raising strong story questions. In your case, the opening needs to not only raise story questions but also include an aspect of time travel that clues the reader in to the special nature of the character and the story.
Your prose is strong and you have a fine voice, so I’m not going to do any line-editing. But, while your opening pages do raise story questions, there’s one major problem: the protagonist’s time traveling is not revealed until the last sentence of the last page of the chapter, 600 words after the story opens.
For me, far too late for this key component of the story and the world.
Here’s the original first page.
I’m used to lying. For the past five years, I’ve responded to questions about the identity of Dickon’s father with evasive half-truths and downcast eyes, giving what I hoped was the clear impression I’d rather not discuss the subject, even though in my heart I longed to describe his sweet smile and piercing blue eyes. If pressed, I said he was a Brit I’d met while on the archeological dig at Richard III’s gravesite, but I never shared his name, even though I still whispered it, all alone in my bed at night. If they asked about his involvement in Dickon’s life, I told them he wasn’t aware he’d fathered a child, and then even the most curious moved on to other topics. But this was the first time I’d lied to the New Haven police.
“So you don’t know Richard York’s current whereabouts?” Detective Vernon asked, rubbing a hand over his bald brown head.
“I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t have taken him,” I said. I almost told them Richard was dead, but then they would have asked me more questions. When did he die? How did he die? The truth was not an option.
“You can’t know he isn’t involved, Ms. Lyons. We have to look at anyone who might have an interest in the child, and the boy’s father certainly fits that description.”
I couldn’t bear to spend more time on this useless line of questions when my son and my best friend had already been missing for two days. I closed my eyes and willed myself to be patient.
The protagonist’s first concern seems to be about lying to the police. Really? With her child missing? This opening page does finish by raising a strong story question, I’ll grant you. On the other hand, I don’t get the sense of despair and panic that a mother whose child is missing and possibly kidnapped would feel. She seems quite calm.
Has this opening done all it can in terms of establishing a gripping story? Not as long as the time-travel element isn’t included. I think that’s the clincher for letting a reader know that a fascinating story awaits.
With a little trimming and the inclusion of a few transitional words, what follows is an alternative first-page narrative using various parts taken from the chapter that, in my view, serves to better establish the problem, the protagonist’s feelings in this terrible time, and the intriguing aspect of time travel. The rest of the material in the chapter can be woven in as the story continues. Oh, one little nitpick: you refer to seeing “film” from surveillance cameras—I believe it would be video, not film.
An alternative opening:
My son and my best friend had already been missing for two days. My living room was still strewn with Becky’s books and papers; she hadn’t expected me home from Georgia for several days. Her phone was gone, and her purse, but her clothes were still in her carryall in my bedroom. She didn’t leave them behind on purpose. And Dickon’s little bed was neatly made, so Becky must have helped him straighten his Jedi knights comforter before they . . . before they left? Were taken?
Detective Vernon said, “Can you think of any reason she would abduct the child?”
“She’d never steal my son, and she wouldn’t abandon him, I’m sure of that. Wherever they are, they’re together.”
“We’re talking with her co-workers at the museum. As far as we can tell, that was the last place they were seen. And we’re checking out the video from the surveillance cameras.”
I put my head in my hands, too horrified to cry. Would the video show my friend struggling to save my son from some monster? Would it be the last time I ever saw him alive?
He checked his notes. “You don’t know the father’s current whereabouts, Ms. Lyons?”
“I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t have taken him.” I almost told him Richard was dead, but then he would have asked more questions. When did Richard die? How did he die? The truth was not an option. He’s been dead over five hundred years.
In this version, the opening line gives the reader a strong hook immediately—the disappearance of the protagonist’s son and best friend, a sentence that raises instant and meaningful story questions. The first paragraph goes on to set the scene and deepen the mystery with what is there and what is not.
The detective’s questioning creates suspicion about the best friend in the sense that readers “know” that a protestation of innocence in a story often means possible guilt. So another story question is raised—despite her faith in her friend, has Becky betrayed her?
In the dialogue about the museum we see some of her emotion, her horror at what is happening and what may have happened. This part of the narrative raises the stakes by voicing the possibility of her son’s death.
Then the father with whom she had an affair in the 15th century enters the story, first as a possible suspect in the detective’s eyes—raising a story question—and then that story question is answered by disclosing that the father has been dead for 500 years. Which ends the page with another gripping story question. For me, this first page is truly compelling.
Moreover, I think this opening creates a continuing foundation of tension in the reader that will take you through doing the setup and action that further establish the story.
For what it’s worth.
Hope to see you Sunday, November 25th for a pro flogging.
Ray

Wish you could buy this author a cup of joe?

Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!

About Ray RhameyRay Rhamey is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com.Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

"I'm astounded by people who take 18 years to write something. That's how long it took that guy to write 'Madame Bovary,' and was that ever on the best-seller list?"
Sylvester Stallone

Random picks

  • In the 30 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 16 announcement of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle award winners, NBCC board members review the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Kerri Arsenault offers an appreciation of autobiography finalist Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House).  A book can be an act of resistance even if the threat of persecution is not acute. Libya, the focal point of Hisham Matar’s book The Return, was not necessarily kind to writers under Muammar Gaddafi’s...
  • December wasn't kind to comic book legends. Joe Simon died only a few weeks ago. His work encompassed superheroes, romance, horror, and satire -- but as every obituary headline reminded us, he was best known as the co-creator of Captain...
  • Since I began publishing e-books three months ago, I've discovered that the most annoying part of the process, hands down, is marketing and publicity. The most fun part? Easy: cover artwork. I love designing covers, and I love working with artists like Vince Larue and Goodloe Byron (who's working on a cover for a new book I'm particularly excited about, which is coming out in August). For my latest book Chiaroscuro: Assorted Literary Essays I went digging into my own archives, and I thought I'd share with you what I found. You see, when I was a teenager I spent a whole lot of time doing...
  • Fourteen hundred years ago and more, the poet-prince Imru’ al-Qais was banished by his father. The king exiled his son, or so the legend goes, in part because of the prince’s poetry. Thus it was that, when the king was killed by a group of his subjects, al-Qais was traveling with friends. Al-Qais returned to avenge his father’s death, but afterward spent the rest of his life in exile, fleeing from place to place, writing poetry and seeking support to regain his father’s throne.…...
  • There are three misconceptions about philosophy that I'd like to clear up today.  The first is that it's an academic discipline, carried out by professors and graduate students in quarterlies and journals while the rest of us breathlessly await reports of their findings.  Actually, many people like me who care about philosophy don't pay any attention to the back-and-forth of insular academic journals.  If anything useful emerges from one of these journals, we figure, we'll eventually read about it on a blog. This doesn't happen, we notice, very often. It is a fact that many professors call...

Recommended sites

Most recent titles

Fast fact about writing

Fiction writing is any kind of writing that is not factual. Fictional writing most often takes the form of a story meant to convey an author's point of view or simply to entertain. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types (though not the only types) of fictional writing styles.