We’re pleased to have with us today WU’s long-time contributor Ray Rhamey to share insights on his new writing craft book, and we get to flog the first page!
WU: How does your new book expand upon your first craft book for writers, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells?
RR: Those who have read the first version (now out of print) will recognize most of the material in Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, but they’ll find that the content has been rewritten, updated, and expanded. Additional examples clarify and aid in comprehension. There’s a new a chapter on “filters,” wherein I talk about “action” filters (She noticed . . . ) and something I’ve dubbed “body-part filters” (His eyes searched . . . ). You’d be amazed how much crisper and more effective a narrative can be when filters are weeded out
The content has been informed with insights into what works to get concepts across that I’ve learned doing workshops at writers’ conferences in the years since the first book. An example is the first-page checklist that I created for my UnConference workshop.
The format has changed, as well—it’s now a trade paperback size instead of the old letter-size, and also available in a Kindle edition. And I’ve added to the graphics. As before, I use cartoons, artwork, and photos to illustrate points and chapters, and I’ve included more. If you’d like to see what it’s like, there’s a PDF sample here.
WU: What’s your favorite chapter, and why?
RR: I think it’s the one on experiential description. As far as I know, that’s a term I coined, and I think it’s a fairly unique exploration of how to lift description from ordinary exposition about a place or action to a level where it characterizes the character instead of simply painting a picture. There’s some fun to be had with the examples I created, too—there’s a vampire and her victim, a man walking across a floor cluttered with shrunken heads, and more.
WU: What advice do you think might surprise your readers?
RR: Something that runs counter to the notion promulgated by Elmore Leonard and others to avoid using adverbs—but, let me add instantaneously, not to use them in the usual way. In self-editing my fiction, I came upon an insight for using adverbs to add nuance to description that can’t be achieved any other way. I’d give you an example, but I’d rather you bought the book. : )
WU: What advice do readers/writers need the most?
RR: I think it is to truly grasp the critical difference it makes to put energy and focus into self-editing to create what I call “writing for effect.” Good writers with a strong grip on craft can, fairly easily, put a strong narrative on the page at the first pass, and then refine it. But I believe my coaching can lead to an even deeper and broader awareness of how to craft narrative in ways that more effectively deliver the experience of a story to the reader. It’s not a single thing but many little things that add up. If I may, here’s a quote about the book from Writers House literary agent Dan Conaway, who is also a former executive editor:
“Learn the critical art of ruthless and rigorous self-editing from a man who understands the art better than most. Ray’s practical, sensible advice really can help you become a better writer.”
WU: Care to share your first page? Because you know we want to see if you pass the test.
RR: But it’s nonfiction!
RR: Right. Here you go, the first manuscript page.
DONALD MAASS, literary agent representing more than 100 novelists, author, teacher, blogger, and all-around fiction guru says this about what you’ll find in Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling:
“Ray makes you make you think about what you are putting down on the page.”
That might seem to be de rigueur and of little import, perhaps even damning with faint praise . . . but when it comes to the craft of compelling storytelling, it’s what’s on the page that gets your story into your readers’ heads.
And even if it does, will they turn the page?
And then keep reading?
There’s the rub.
To achieve a page-turner (in the literal sense; no turning of the page, no reading of the book), you have to think about and deal with many aspects of what you put on the page. I take Don’s assessment as a high compliment from a pro.
Wait a minute, you might say, I’m a good writer, I have a knack for prose. Perhaps you’re even published in one way or another. You put good stuff on the page.
As literary agent Kristin Nelson says,
“I think writers assume that good writing is enough. Well, it’s not.”
WU: Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?
RR: How about one from my fiction WIP?
WU: Okay, that’s fair.
R: The first manuscript page from my sequel to The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles. There’s a poll after the page.
I hate to admit this, but there are times my natural cat modus operandi—you know, I-am-an-independent-entity-who-doesn’t-give-a-meow-what-you-think—is, shall we say, less than helpful. Like tonight, when Meg opened the door to let me out for a prowl. She ruffled my fur and said, “Be careful, Patch. They say a coyote never met a cat it didn’t like.” What did I do? I rolled my eyes.
So now, an hour later, I’m hunkered down behind a scrub oak beneath the H in the HOLLYWOOD sign, straining to hear movement from over by the W where I last saw the coyote. I wouldn’t be worried if it was a dog—who worries about a creature that has devoted eons of evolution to mastering tail-wagging and drooling?
But a sharp-toothed killer with fillet of cat on its mind? That pretty full moon up above has turned into a spotlight and there’s new meaning to the words “snack attack.”
Oh, I’ll have my revenge if he eats me—noshing on a vampire kitty-cat will give him a terminal case of indigestion. Unfortunately, by then I won’t be in any condition to say gotcha.
Will I end up an immortal lump in his belly after my vee virus turns him into a vampire, thereby giving hairball a whole new meaning? Disgusting. Not to mention really, really creepy.
Yeah, being undead isn’t much of a life, but I’d like to hold onto what little I have.
If cats ever apologized, and they don’t, I would say I’m sorry to Meg. In lieu of that, I slink low, belly to the ground, and peer beneath a branch.