Bits, Pieces, Chunks and Excerpts
Never nice to have a horror writer start out referring to bits and pieces, huh? Be thankful I didn’t keep the original title.
I use Twitter for a daily trawl of writing advice. One of my faves is Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig), who bills herself as a “laptop-wielding, mystery-writing mom” at her blog, Mystery Writing is Murder.
Today she had a link that really got me interested: How to choose an excerpt to showcase your novel, from Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel blog (Roz tweets as well, as @dirtywhitecandy). She has some great pieces of advice, but the most important one was:
“Choose an excerpt that shows off your hook.”
FAMISHED has some interesting hurdles to overcome in selecting text for a reading. I’m going to discuss the portion that applies to writing today, and then the portion that applies to the actual performance in a follow-up post.
A good portion of the novel deals with subject matter not for the squeamish, and in a public reading, I don’t want to put off my hosts or their unintended guests – visitors to the bookstore or library who wouldn’t touch a horror novel to begin with. On the other hand, it’s a dark supernatural story, and the people who are coming to hear me likely want a bit of shadow-stuff.
So how do I balance the bits and pieces?
It’s not rocket science, but this was the process I followed:
- Cut the first and last chapter from the draft – the beginning of your book is for the sofa, not the stage; and I’m certainly not handing out spoilers at my own reading.
- Cut any chapter that hits my personal “squick factor,” the scenes I’m proud of but which I know aren’t for everyone.
- Review my alpha and beta reader’s notes for their “squick factor” call-outs, and cut them. I only chose people with strong stomachs to help me finish FAMISHED.
- Cut the “surreal scenes,” the one or two places where reality and dream are blending for the protagonist. Again, those are good for sitting, not for stand-up.
That left me with about half a novel. No problem! Next I went back to the non-creepy hooks of FAMISHED: themes of isolation and familial ties.
There are a few scenes that seem attractive when viewed through this lens:
- The first meeting of our protagonist and the family of antagonists,
- The first meal at the Farm, which skirts, but does not press, the central horror of the situation,
- An interview between two isolated prisoners, or
- One of two rebellions within the family.
Each of those five scenes is thematically tied to the overall novel. They’re suspenseful without being horrific, and they each display an important shift in the rhythm of the story.
Editing’s another key. While I read the work aloud as I wrote it, I read it for a single reader – not for an audience. The beats work differently in your head than in an open room. Roz covers this well in her essay under the headings on “Abridge” and “Write an Introduction.”
The next post will cover coming at this reading as someone with a performance background. I’d like to thank Elizabeth Craig and Roz Morris again for their excellent pieces of advice which sparked this entry.
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