Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Examining the Excerpt

One of the things I love about the internet is that it has made book buying a lot less painless than it was ten years ago.  Back in the dark ages, before the internets and social media, I had to schlep down to the mall hoping that the book you’d heard about a year ago was finally in, if you even remembered you wanted it.  Most times you were stuck with whatever crap Waldenbooks or B. Dalton decided to stock in their tiny, tiny, mall store.
That’s assuming you didn’t stop on the way there and buy a cinnamon roll and iced coffee and blow half the money you had. *sigh*
One of the things I love about Amazon (yes, I know it’s evil, and as soon as Indiebound syncs to my Kindle and develops an app for my phone I will use them instead) is the wish list and the excerpt.  Mostly the excerpt.  I can have the first chapter or so of any book sent directly to my Kindle, allowing me to preview the book without buying it.  It’s something I never did in the stores for fear of the employees judging me, but something I can do now in the comfort of wherever I am.  I love that.
But I also like people posting the first chapter or so of their books online, and reading it there.  See, there are way more books I want to read now than there were ten years ago, or even five years ago (GO YA!).  And in the first chapter I can immediately tell whether or not I’m going to want to read the book.  Here’s what I look for in an excerpt:
1.       Voice-this is the way the character communicates, or the way the character is communicated in a story, if it’s third person.  I’m not a big fan of third person (unless it’s high fantasy, it’s a staple there), and I have to like the character to want to spend the next two hundred or so pages with them.  Chances are if they’re whining on page one, we aren’t a good fit.

2.       Movement-I need a plot to move.  I don’t have a lot of free time, and if what I’m reading spends three pages describing the sunset, I’m outta there.  Things have to happen, and they have to happen NOW!

3.       Logic-There’s nothing more irritating than when characters start acting CRAZY.  And I mean seriously crazypants crazy.  Sorry, folks, love is not an excuse.  You can act a little irrational, but if you throw yourself in front of a train on page one because a boy you think is cute is in danger, we aren’t a good fit.  I will allow some crazypants activity in the name of TWU WUV a little later in the book, but if your character is the Mayor of Crazytown in the first chapter, chances are it’s only going to get worse (caveat is if the character is actually, certifiably insane.  In which case, I can make an exception).

4.       Freshness-Like bread and milk, stories have an expiration date.  Some tropes have become so commonplace that even killer writing can’t save them.  If your story reminds me of a million other stories just like it, I’m going to find something else to read.  Because there is lots out there. 

5.       Too Stupid to Live Characters and Mary Sues-I’m sorry.  If your character is perfect or has a non-flaw like she’s clumsy or a little goofy (a real flaw is something like your character likes to kill people) or if your character rushes into a situation with no plan (even crazy plans are better than none), I know I’m in for a few hundred pages of eye-rolling, and the story isn’t my thing.
So what do you like about excerpts?  What do you hate?  Do you read excerpts on the internet, and do they make you more likely to buy books?


S. A. Soule, Creativity Coach said...

Excerpts help a reader decide if the "voice" is something they would like to read. Of course, I've been known to buy a book based on the cover art and back jacket blurb. :-)

But yeah, the excerpt helps.


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