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How to Select An Enticing Excerpt by Naomi Musch

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Here at Desert Breeze Publishing, we authors are given the opportunity drop a few enticing crumbs from each novel we publish in the form of a favorite excerpt posted on the site. It seems exciting to be able to make that selection, which we hope will lead a reader into a decision to purchase the whole enchilada. But finding that "just right" excerpt is sometimes hard to do given our closeness to the characters and plot and to what we know but the reader doesn't.

Every time I do this, I find myself asking, shouldn't it be easy? I mean, don't I love my story? Aren't there plenty of scenes that made my fingers rattle on the keyboard as I wrote them? Absolutely! But without context, those scenes might not mean a great deal to a reader who is casually nibbling dozens of tasty excerpts for their next indulgent reading.

To aid me in my selection process, I've enlisted some advice written for teens from the nanowrimo.org site. The site has a nice little worksheet for selecting an excerpt, but I've taken their simple reminders and make some modifications.

To choose the best excerpt I must give regard to:

Character - I need to find a scene that gives the audience a good clear picture of my main character. To me this means I want to be able to draw a reader into a deep POV with that character in just a short section of the story. I want an excerpt that'll make my reader already feel invested -- at least a little.

Action -- Whether it's done in a big way or only subtly, a scene infused with action pulls the reader along. This also means that it should show conflict (because a scene without conflict is dead). I think a good excerpt scene should reveal that something is definitely at stake.

Language -- I hadn't previously given a lot of thought to this, but you know, the language of a scene can make or break a reader's decision to move on. I can usually decide within the first few pages of a book whether I want to hang around, because the language is compelling. It might be lyrical, simple, or outrageous. Language filled with imagery and metaphors that help me visualize the scene should do so without an overabundance of telling description.

Dialogue --This one wasn't included on the nanowritmo site, but I feel it needs to be. At the least, there should be some internal dialogue. (Careful with that! Internal dialogue is a tool to be used sparingly.) I've read some good excerpts that don't include dialogue, but I feel that if a reader is only getting a glimpse into a story, a little bit of dialogue sprinkled into the excerpt will help attach them to the characters and get a better feel for the conflict.

Length -- There are different lengths to consider depending on what the excerpt is being used for. If I was giving a reading before a room full of people, I could choose a longer excerpt, maybe as long as 5000 words (about ten pages). But for a publisher's web site or most blog posts, excerpts need to be much shorter. I personally don't like reading more than about 500 words in a clip when I'm looking at excerpts of this nature. That should be enough to make me or any reader long for more. You can always put a lengthier clip or sample chapter on your personal web site and direct curious readers there for more if they're interested. Besides, if your book is available on Amazon (which all the DBP books are) a reader can always avail themselves of the "look inside" feature.

Stand Alone -- Yes, this is a biggie. A scene is really a mini story in itself. It has a beginning a middle and an end. A chosen excerpt needs to provide a bit of its own context or readers won't really care about it. You may know what's going to happen next and why the scene is important, but if readers can't get at least a taste of that, they won't buy.

I hope these tips help if, like me, you struggle to select just the right excerpt to showcase your great American novel.

Write on! And please stop by to read excerpts, say hello, and talk more about stories, writing, family, and fun at http://www.naomimusch.com or to look me up on Facebook (Naomi Musch - Author) and Twitter (NMusch).

Naomi writes from the pristine north woods of Wisconsin, where she and husband Jeff live as epically as God allows on a ramshackle farm, where they spend quality time with their children and grandchildren. Amidst it, she writes novels about imperfect people who are finding hope and faith to overcome their struggles. The Love Coward is her sixth novel published by DBP.

The Love Coward

World War II is over. Now that Burke Delgard is safely home, Tulla Johanson can finally quit the factory and become his wife. Together they can revive her family's farm, while she cares for her aging parents. But seven years of dreams shatter when Burke backs out on their wedding day. Hiding her humiliation in the back seat of a Hudson, she is rescued by Burke's war buddy and would-be best man Steven "Van" Vandreel.

Home isn't the same for Van since returning from overseas. He feels displaced, and he certainly doesn't mean to get between Burke and his jilted bride, yet he can hardly help himself. When Tulla's friend Walt pursues her, and Burke decides he wants Tulla back, Van is forced to face his own feelings and fears. Can he commit to her any better than Burke did, or will deep scars from his past prove him to be just another love coward?

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