Excerpts—we love them, don’t we? There’s no better way to sample an author’s writing style than to read an excerpt. One entire Yahoo Group is devoted to “Excerpts Only for Romance Writers and Readers,” and many authors and readers post there on a daily basis.
However, there is a right way and a wrong way to post the perfect excerpt. Many writers have their own methods, from very long, to very short, somewhere in-between, at times concise, and at others, rambling. What is the best method of selecting a sample of your writing? How can you entice a reader to read your full excerpt? Choose one that contains dialogue or action, not just narrative, and keep it short and simple.
Consider the short story. The guidelines are: limit to a specific time, place, event, interaction, or character’s evolution. It is, in fact, a mini-novel, complete with a beginning, middle, and an ending, i.e., an abbreviated novel.
Attention span is the amount of time a person can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted. Continuous involvement without any lapse at all is as short as eight seconds. The average adult who is engaged in an interesting activity or topic will remain focused for twenty seconds. People are also capable of longer periods up to two and a half hours when they are doing something enjoyable or motivating, such as watching a movie. Researchers have found that the modern adult’s attention span shortens as time goes on. The phenomenon of instant gratification in our technological world deters the attention span even more.
Now consider the excerpt. The guidelines are perhaps the same as those for a short story: one idea, one interaction, in one short time frame, wrapped up with a beginning, middle, and an ending, approximately three hundred words—a mini-short story with a hook at the end.
Here’s a test for you. How many words are in this article to this point? (310) How long did it take to read it? (Average adult-one minute.)
From a short novel for the Wayback, Texas Rodeo Series-Title: Showdown in Southfork.
Excerpt: Cody and Marla
Smiling lazily, he looked her up and down, at her short white shorts, pink stretch T, and red flip-flops. With that salacious grin, he continued back to her hair, hanging to her shoulders in a tangled mass of curls, but right now, there was no time to brush it properly. Some day she would just get it all whacked off and stop worrying about it.
“Stop staring,” she demanded.
“Well, I can hardly keep from it since you’re standing right in front of me.”
“Oh,” she muttered, straightened, and moved to the side.
Cody kept staring at her even though she’d moved out of his direct line of vision.
He drawled, “You know, if there’s anything I like in this world, it’s a woman with red hair.”
“It is not red. And if there’s anything I hate in this world, it’s a man saying my hair’s red. For your information, it’s strawberry blond.”
“Strawberry blond. Whadda you know? Now, I like that even better.”
Narrowing her eyes at him, she said, “Well, I’m just as pleased as punch.”
This short excerpt has three parts: Beginning: Cody stares at Marla while she watches him. Middle: they have a short argument. Ending: She has the last word. It contains 260 words. Reading time: 20 seconds.
The Wild Rose Press