Choosing a Novel Excerpt to Workshop

Workshopping a novel is tricky. Unless you’ve got a committed writing group who will read and offer notes on the thing in its entirety, you’re going to have to submit an excerpt. What do you include? What do you leave out? 

When I say you, I mean me, because I am currently preparing my Tin House manuscript. This has meant no new words on this project this week; instead, I am tinkering, tightening, moving pieces around. Dragging fragments into and out of a new folder called “Excerpt.”

The tricky part is that your readers won’t have the full story. They will be forced to make assumptions about where you want to go and how you want to get there. You can include a synopsis but the reader will still need to imagine the execution. My goal is to piece together something that is representative of the larger whole, offers an enjoyable reading experience, and still elicits helpful feedback.

The way I see it, I have a few options:

  1. Submit the beginning. The word count max is 6k, so I could just submit the first 5-6k. I don’t want to do this, though, because my first few pages have a lot of scaffolding (words I wrote to try to get to somewhere better, which I do not intend to keep). Still, I think I want to submit something that is close to the beginning so that readers don’t feel totally lost. 

  2. Submit a chapter or two. Submitting a standalone chapter is ideal because it provides a sense of closure for the reader, but this novel doesn’t really have chapters. Oh well! 

  3. Submit a sampling from each perspective/style. I feel like giving readers the flavor of the different styles and time periods would be helpful, because I can find out which sections they are more drawn to and which they wanted to skip over. The risk is that it might not feel like a cohesive project, which makes giving feedback tough.

  4. Submit the chunk that is the best. If I did this, it would be nonsensical. Some of the best pieces I’ve written are still missing important scenes around them, so this option is out. And anyway, the whole point of workshop is to get feedback on the the things you need to work on! 

My plan as of right now is to submit a collection of fragments from the first quarter or so of the book, making sure to represent each of the different styles but weighting it more heavily toward the first-person narrated sections (because those need the most feedback) and screenplay sections (because those are quick and fun to read).

I have to make a decision soon (like today) because 1000 Words of Summer begins tomorrow and I’ve committed myself to 1000 words a day for the next two weeks. Good to luck to everyone else who is participating this year! We’ve got this.