The Art of the Excerpt

The thing about sharing bits of your work with people is that it draws your attention to it. If the thought of sharing makes you paranoid, good. Because that feeling is going to make you a better writer.

The beauty of posting an excerpt is that it draws your own critical eye to it. People will be reading this! People will be judging you. And if you don’t think your own work is good, then this is a perfect opportunity to find out what you need to change. If the thought of people seeing the last two sentences of your Chapter 3 makes you cringe, you might just want to go ahead and take those sentences out. Because guess what, if you pursue publication, people will see it then.

Since I’ve started sharing more of my work, I’ve noticed this feeling of “someone will read this” has bled over a little onto my writing. Sometimes I’m drafting and I think about someone reading it over my shoulder or posting the current page on this blog. Maybe it sounds crazy, but it’s really helping me weed out some nuancy things that don’t need to be there. I imagine it’s kind of like what singers do when they’re practicing. They imagine they’re in front of an audience. Anything I don’t want anyone to see has to go.

Another great thing about excerpts is that you might can get a tiny bit of feedback that lets you know if what you’re writing is interesting or not, to at least the majority of people. Because it’s not going to be everyone’s thing. (Believe it or not, I know more than one person who read Harry Potter and didn’t love the crap out of it. Weirdos.) So tastes vary, but I find that you will usually get a consensus on these things. Now, some things are not going to make sense out of context. This is when you use your own judgment and post a different bit.

My brain thinks like this because I know how I am. If I open up to some random page and roll my eyes, I give the book the benefit of the doubt and try another page. Roll my eyes again, the book goes back on the shelf. What are the odds that I would turn to the only two bad paragraphs in the book, right?

Now the goal isn’t to freak yourself out, become a perfectionist, and dive into a hole from whence you never emerge. No. It’s to help you realize that sometimes what you write is bad, and it’s not okay to just leave it there.

I had this problem back in my vampire obsession days (as if I’m not still obsessed) where I would have to explain the “rules of vampirism” to a character in a story. This bored the crap out of me, because come on! I do know my own world like I know what side of my face my birthmark is on. (The right) But I would tell myself, it’s a necessary evil. Parts of a fantasy story are just going to drag and there’s nothing you can do about it.

WRONG!

You can always do something about it. Never just let it be okay. Find a more interesting way to get this information across. One thing you can count on: if you’re boring yourself, you are most definitely boring someone else. The good news is, this works both way. If you’re rocking your own world, you will rock someone else’s. ^_^ We are ultimately writing for an audience after all.

This applies to query letters as well. It’s one thing to just read it to yourself over and over again and then show your brother. If the thought of people (your peers, not agents) reading your query letter makes you want to trash it, then that’s a pretty good indication that you might want to go back and tweak some things before you play show and tell. Granted you don’t actually have to show anyone your query or your story if that’s not your thing (it isn’t really mine), but think about it. Really think about showing it to someone you don’t know. Are you still confident? Do you still like the way you ended that chapter? Do you still think your query letter shines like the northern star?

So go forth. Share. Be merry. Get yer head out of the dirt.

story of my life

8 Responses to The Art of the Excerpt

  1. I definitely agree with the “explaining” while writing fantasy. These days, I find a way to show it, not tell it (I was actually planning to write a blog post on that, but probably when I’m more organized).

    Glad you enjoy the excerpt sharing we do in WIPMarathon! It’s helped me question my endings too!

    • There have been lots of times lately when I’m thinking about someone reading it and I pause and think, “Ugh, I don’t want anyone to see that.” Lol! I get attached to my words sometimes. It’s helping me let go. 🙂

    • I do that all the time! Sometimes I do think they’re bad, but sometimes I’m just being paranoid. One thing’s for sure, it’s getting me over my stage fright. Sometimes we just need to post something so we can see that it’s okay. Our stories don’t actually explode when exposed to the sun. Lol!

  2. The main things I obsessed about when choosing what excerpts to post were (a) Is this interesting on its own? and (b) Does this give away any of the plot points I want to keep secret? 🙂

  3. Yep, I still get anxious when posting excerpts. In addition to all the usual worries about whether or not it’s GOOD, I try to pick something that is interesting and makes sense out of context as well.

Hi! ^_^