Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, by Ray Rhamey

This book is a great resource for both beginning and experienced writers. While there are many books on the craft of writing, what makes Rahmey’s book stand out is his focus on making your story grip readers and compel us to read on.

On his blog, Flogging the Quill, Rhamey regularly presents the first page of a work in progress that has been submitted to the blog. He invites readers to vote on whether they would continue reading (yes/no/maybe). Then he gives his own vote and his rationale. Not only does this provide valuable feedback to the author of the page, but all writers can learn a lot from reading and voting and perusing Rhamey's responses.

This new craft book is a boon to writers. It contains specific explanations and tips for writers, all delivered in an easygoing style that makes the medicine go down easily. Rhamey, whom I met at a recent writer's conference, includes copious examples and quotes from other writing gurus. He even inserts a few cartoons to keep things lively.

Underlying Rhamey's specific advice for creating an irresistible story is a principle he calls writing for effect.

In storytelling, you’re not writing to inform the reader—you deliver information, of course, but that's not the purpose—you're writing to affect the reader. To craft narrative that creates an effect in the reader's mind—the experience of the story.

Rhamey offers sections that range from the big picture, such as how to how to create complex characters, to the smallest, such as the section on wordcraft where he demonstrates how certain words can weaken the story. He describes techniques for storytelling, description and dialogue, providing multiple examples for illustration. I especially like his description of how to handle transitions and flashbacks. These are often stumbling blocks for even experienced writers.

Best of all, there are exercises at the end where you can test your chops against some of the first pages submitted to his blog and then see what he has to say about them.

For me, the most effective use of this book is during the revision stage. It's easy for me to get hung up on revising the first chapter over and over. To do this kind of critiquing, I have to switch from my creative brain to a more analytical mindset, which is better done after I've finished a first draft. However, others may find it useful to read while still planning their opus, especially the sections on crafting characters and choosing a point of view.

I recommend this book to writers who want to keep their readers turning page after page, compelled by the story to go on.

If you want to submit your first page to Rhamey’s blog, see the directions on his website. He also provides a first page checklist, excerpted from this book, and suggests that you evaluate your first page against it before submitting.

Writers: what craft book have you found most helpful?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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