Monday, February 15, 2016

The Perfect Excerpt

Excerpts—we love them, don’t we? There’s no better way to sample an author’s writing style than to read an excerpt. 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.In truth, most excerpts are too long, and some are much too long.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. The same is true for The Perfect Excerpt. 
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.) 
EXAMPLE EXCERPT: From a short story titled "Starr Bright," featured in the anthology Cowboy Cravings. 'Conrad and Starr.'
Starr laughed low in her throat. "Oh, I don't think I'll need a man to make the decision for me. I know all about stallions, or studs, as you say. However, I have asked Mr. Taylor, here, to accompany and advise me."
Conrad remained silent. You did? You asked me to advise you? He wanted to laugh, but in truth, he was enormously pleased. With no expression, he nodded slightly to her. "Be glad to help." 
There was that tiny smile again, the one that was teasing, while at the same time a little sarcastic. Truth be known, he'd probably crawl through the burning fires of hell to get to her.
SECOND EXAMPLE: From “All My Hopes and Dreams” 
After several minutes, Cynthia was decidedly uncomfortable. Not only were the clothes chafing her skin, she needed to relieve herself.
“Mr. Romero?” she called.Silence.She cleared her throat as loudly as she could, but asked in a normal voice, “Oh, Mr. Romero. Are you awake?”
Lazily, he rolled his head on the trunk of the tree toward her. One side of his mouth quirked up, and to Cynthia, it certainly appeared to be a smirk. She ground her teeth but asked as mannerly as she could, “I require your assistance, Mr. Romero.” 
He moved his head to the original position and closed his eyes once again.Cynthia was furious, and she rarely lost her temper. Why ever be angry when she had her way all the time? After contemplating her problem, she rolled to the side, placed her hands on the ground, and managed to get to her knees. After struggling with the wet clothes, she was finally able to stand. 
In a huff, she strode as fast as she could in her hampered condition and reached his side. She lifted one almost bare foot, but before she could kick his leg, he caught her ankle, quick as a timber rattler. Unbalanced, she fell once more—the third time today—but this time she had a softer landing. Ricardo had grabbed her skirts and pulled her forward so that she fell over him.Her arms flailed about. 
“Let me up. Let me go. Don’t touch me, you…you scoundrel.”She stilled when she noticed he had his hands in the air, as if he surrendered. Even with the cheroot clamped in his teeth, he still managed to grin around it. One deep dimple appeared in one cheek.
Her stomach dropped.
THIRD EXAMPLE: From Rodeo Man-- A Contemporary Romance Novella with PBRJV.
 Cody turned to her, shaking his head. “Not a good spot for your bedroll. Not good at all.”
“Why not?”
“I saw mice droppings over here when I arrived.”
Mice?” she squeaked.
“Yeah, I guess they come out over here.”
“Noooo,” she said with her hands on her cheeks. “Is that the truth?”
“Seems likely to me. That’s why I sleep back over there.” He motioned with his head.
“Then, where am I going to sleep?”
Cody looked behind her, and said, “Whoa! One just popped his little head out that hole.”
Goosebumps popped up on Marla’s arms and down her back. In one motion, she squealed, “Eeek!” sounding just like one of the mice again, turned, and slammed into Cody. 
He stood his ground while she literally climbed up his body, grasping his shirt, wrapping her legs around his hips, and moving on up to clasp her arms around his neck. After only a few moments, she noticed he hadn’t moved, except to lock his arms around her bottom and boost her a little higher. Leaning back, she looked into his face. He grinned like a Cheshire cat, or the one that got the cream, not unlike the roguish grin she’d seen earlier.The man was dangerous.
“I’ll get down now,” she said, pursing her lips and looking away.
“Well…you’re gonna have to let go of my neck.”
When she did, he kept her escape in check by allowing her to slide down his body, unhurried, holding her close. When she stood toe-to-toe with him, she make the biggest mistake of her life. She looked up into his eyes.
“You sure are a little thing,” he whispered. 
“I’m petite.” 
“You’re short and compact,” he said low and sexy.

“I’m…will you stop it?”

“Haven’t done anything, yet.”
She raised one eyebrow in challenge. “Well?” 
********Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas 
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  1. I confess, I never read excerpts unless I don't plan to read the book. This is because, years ago, I read the first chapter of the second in a series, then I thought I'd read the whole book and started reading the third. By then, I was annoyed with the whole situation and vowed not to read excerpts. When I started writing, it sort of stuck in my craw to post excerpts, but I have on occasion, just because it's my understanding that most readers love them.

    But I do read snippets. For my next series (cover reveal soon), I'm going to post snippets every day for two weeks. We'll see if that's effective. I try to stay 25 to 50 words. Not sure how that's going to work out because you can't place a character in a scene and have a hook in so little words, but I'll find out soon enough.

    1. I like Snippets, too. When I began promoting my Dime Novels..ended up with four...I used "He said, "she said,"...or vice versa..two lines, and then the title of the book. Those brought a lot of attention, and I credited them for the huge success of that series.

  2. And I sure wish blogger would let us edit. :head desk:

  3. Solid article, Celia, on the reading tolerance of adults and how best to attract their attention.

  4. This is a great tutorial on excerpts, Celia. I had to learn these pointers the hard way until I finally heard a speaker at a Carolina Romance Writer's workshop. We all have to learn these promotional details somehow, so it's very sweet of you to post this information for us.
    I've seen numerous excerpt mistakes along the way--like detailed sexual content in an excerpt that was not labeled with a rating beforehand. Ugh! And once, I saw an author post the entire first chapter of a book in a yahoo group.
    Most often, I read the logline and blurb before proceeding to an excerpt. The same rule applies to blurbs: keep them short. I just want to know what the story is about before I get involved in the excerpt to discover the author's voice and style.
    This was such a great post, Celia. The teacher in you is delightfully evident.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Blurbs are another topic that should be discussed. I've never been very good with blurbs, but a good editor can help, and Mine are almost always in great need of revising. Log-lines...these are rather new to me, but now that I have the hang of those, I do like to write them.

  5. Celia, another delightful blog as always. I enjoyed all three excerpts--what a treat. You picked the perfect scenes to grab the reader and make her/him want to order right then so they can read on. That's gold. I thank you for the refresher because I believe most of us needs an occassional reminder to keep it direct, inticing yet simple. Thanks.

  6. I like when we authors pool our thoughts on writing topics. None of us know everything individually, but a group may...and can share. Thanks!

  7. This 'newbie'thanks you from the bottom of her heart. Doris/Angela

    1. You're welcome, Doris...So glad to meet you.