A while back, a writer friend sent me an SOS that went something like this:
“Help! I need the perfect word to describe a character who is handsome and charming, but maybe not 100% honest; he likes women and booze and cards but he’s not a skeeve; he’s not exactly dangerous, but he’s not Mr. Trustworthy, either; he can be playful and fun even though he’s not terribly dependable; and did I mention he’s handsome and charming?”
After stewing a while (and realizing that I once dated this guy, or maybe several of these guys) I came up with three choices: Our man could be a rake, a rascal or a rapscallion.
We spent a little while discussing the differences between rakes, rascals and rapscallions. We decided that a rake is the most negative, and brazen, of the three—he’ll love you and leave you and clean out your bank account in the process. A rascal is more mischievous than dangerous; he’s young and, in my mind, Southern; he’d probably break your heart and steal your wallet, but he really did enjoy your company while he was doing it. A rapscallion is a combination of the rascal and the rake—he’s not blatantly using you and he’s not forgivable because he’s just so darn cute, so he’s kind of a bum but also kind of irresistible.
If you are a writer, you’ve probably had a dilemma like this one. Words have nuances and multiple meanings, which makes them fun little buggers, but frustrating, too.
So when you read a truly perfect word, it’s a moment. I had a one of these perfect word moments while reading a post in the SinC Blog, when the poster described her sleuth as having an intrepid nature.
Intrepid is great word. According to our friends at Microsoft Encarta, to be intrepid means you are “fearless and persistent in the pursuit of something.” Isn’t that a definitive definition of a mystery novel’s protagonist? Can there be a more succinct description of a sleuth?
I wrote this in the SinC Blog’s comments and ventured to propose that a mystery writer should be intrepid, too. Think about it. In order to craft a mystery, a writer has to sit in a chair and write and outline and plot and write and plan and edit and write. Then he or she must throw out parts of it and sit in the chair some more and rewrite and rework and cut and delete and rewrite. That’s the persistent part.
The fearless part means sending it out to a beta reader or a critique group for constructive criticism. It may mean hiring an independent editor. It means recognizing what’s not working, chucking parts (or all) of it, and sitting in the chair again and writing and rewriting.
But if writing the story takes fearlessness and persistence, working towards publication is where being intrepid really counts.
On Monday of this week, I gave myself a little anniversary party, celebrating my first year blogging as an editor. It’s been an eventful year, and I realize as I write this post how many writers I have seen be persistent and fearless in their pursuit of publication. But if I asked, I doubt many of them would see these acts as extraordinary. I doubt many of them would call themselves intrepid.
Why is this? Why don’t we see the bravery in sending out our writing?
When you join into a community of fellows, you bond over what you all have in common. You know so many other writers being persistent and fearless, your own actions don’t seem all that intrepid.
So, let me ask a few questions. This past year, did you…
…write a chapter and send it to a critique group?These are brave acts that require persistence and fearlessness, and no one else can do them for you. That’s the key to being an intrepid writer. Only you, and you alone, can see your story to your goal.
…stand before an agent and give a verbal pitch?
…cut sentences or paragraphs you love because they weren’t right for the story?
…write a character you liked, and then made something bad happen to them?
…attend a workshop and ask a question?
…send some of your writing to an editor?
…query an editor or agent?
…sign up for a Face book page and describe yourself as a writer?
…pass up TV shows, movies, or other hobbies to work on your novel?
…wake up early or stay up late because a scene was driving you batty?
…spend your allowance on the works of other mystery writers?
…email a fellow writer asking for a perfect word?
…attend a retreat and refuse to leave, even in the face of a flood?
So, if you answered yes to all, or any, of these questions, congratulations! I hereby grant you the Ramona Long Seal of the Intrepid Writer.
But before you run off with your award, I’d like to hear some testimonials. What did you do this year that was fearless and persistent in the pursuit of your goals?
Also, if you were a rake, a rascal or a rapscallion, feel free to tell us about that, too.
Ramona DeFelice Long is an author and independent editor who grew up in the bayou country of south Louisiana. Now she lives and works in the teeny tiny state of Delaware. She’s had some short stories published, won some grants, edited some anthologies, led some retreats and taught some workshops, all of which she posts about on her very own blog. She enjoys editing WIPS in all shapes, sizes and genres. Her favorite food is crème brulee.