Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are You Intrepid?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

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?

…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?

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.

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.


Martha Reed said...

Hi, Ramona! Yippee! I passed the intrepid writer test. Do I win some chocolate?

My fearless and persistent moment was pitching to an agent and having this person baldly reject me on the spot. Ouch, that hurt. But, intrepid writer that I am, (and modest, too) I went back to my room, licked my wounds and started a new agent search within the half hour.

I don't have a happy ending - YET - but I promise you I will soldier on. Great post! Thanks.

Gina said...

Ramona -
I did most of those things! Don't hold it against me that I left the flooding retreat early - there was a radioactive cat at home who needed me!
My most intrepid thing this year was taking inappropriate sex scenes to my critique group (see my post from Monday for details).

PatRemick said...

I love starting my day knowing I am an intrepid writer! I also am inspired to be more of one in the coming year so Ramona, you should ask us the same questions in a year (AND offer chocolate)!

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm intrepid!

Wonderful post, Ramona. We should all show it to anyone who thinks writing is easy. It should be required reading for new writers.

Nancy Martin said...

Plucky. Another word for intrepid, right? But it has a younger connotation, if you ask me. I like it better than the word "drudge," which I feel like most of the time---because I keep writing no matter what bad things happen because. That's what writers do.

Now, let's see if I can get this comment to "take." I've been too quick to give up on the verification lately . . . .

And "bad boy"--more modern than rake or rapscallion.

Annette said...

I can honestly raise my hand and say "All of the above." And I shall wear the badge of Intrepid with great pride and honor.

Probably the most intrepid (as in terrifying)thing I did this year was submit my opening chapters to a couple of professionals (and, yes, you were one of them) to get their thoughts on my work. It was also the most enlightening, beneficial thing I did.

Ramona said...

Modest Martha, I predict a happy ending in your future, and I'm not talking about the massage kind--not that there's anything wrong with that.

Gina, you get a double award. Caring for a radioactive cat is pretty gutsy, and I'll be sure to add a scarlet A to your Intrepid Award for the inappropriate sex scene.

Pat, in a year, I hope we're celebrating the results of your year of being intrepid. Chocolate for everyone!

Thanks for the invitation to guest blog, Working Stiffs!

Ramona said...

Joyce, you are the reason I am here today, so extra thanks to you. As you note, writing is not easy, but the fact that everyone here has lived to tell about it is encouraging, too, no?

Why am I not surprised Nancy had to mention bad boys? Hmmm? But drudge makes it sound like you are writing this wearing yoga pants...oh, wait, I'm doing that right now!

Annette, it is indeed brave to send work that comes from your heart to be judged and critiqued. I hope it helps to know that nothing makes me happier than to see a story grow and become stronger.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Ramona, for the great post. I'm glad that I passed the test to receive the Ramona Long Seal of the Intrepid Writer!

Martha Reed said...

Oh, and yoga pants are key. It's hard to be intrepid if you're not comfortable...

Laurie said...

Ramona, I forgot to say, Welcome! For some reason I feel that you've always been one of the Working Stiffs and overlooked welcoming you here.

Joyce Tremel said...

Pajamas also work well for the intrepid writer.

Jenna said...

Ah, yes. Plucky. The plucky heroine. Gah.

I think I'd probably just call the guy a charmer. It seems to be his overarching personality trait - she mentioned it twice - and it implies that he's got something a little less charming underneath. Sounds like it might be out of a historical, though, and in that case, rake, rascal or rapscallion are just fine. Or maybe even cad, although that's a pretty strong word.

Looks like I'm mostly intrepid, too. Between my agent and my editor, they must have turned down at least a half dozen projects I've wanted to write this year.

Nancy Martin said...

Yoga pants: Check.

Trying to give up the chocolate habit: Argh.

Ramona said...

Laurie, maybe I hang around here so much, I've wormed my way in. And I recall a session at Pennwriters when you were VERY intrepid!

Jennie, we discussed charmer, but it sounded too harmless. Cad seemed to focus only on romance, which wasn't right, as he'd scammed money from her. Those are too more good examples of word nuances.

Someone should develop a Writers Wear Daily mail-order catalog: a collection of pre-softened, pre-worn, pre-ratty outfits for the writer on deadline.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hi, Ramona!!! I'm dropping in to say hi. You rock.

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

Hi Ramona.

Nice blog. No seminars yet for me. Plenty of rejection. After my agent was fired, and the agency DIDN'T TELL ME, (Was I supposed to be working on re-writes for my non-existent agent, forever?) When Agency orphaned me, I put on my big girl panties and submitted my ms to an Indie Press that really got my comedic mystery. It will be published fall 2010.

Maybe that's intrepid.


Ramona said...

Susan!! *waves* Always a treat to see you, my friend.

Pamela, your experiences this last year earns you an Intrepid with the big I and a place in the Never Give Up, Never Surrender file. Her book is very funny, folks, and includes a rake/rascal/rapscallion you won't soon forget.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ramona, I guess I am an intrepid writer because I don't give up in spite of all the rejections. I can't stop writing and sending out those queries no matter how many rejections I get. Also, I go to conferences I can't really afford, but I keep hoping someday I'll be one of those writers smiling and signing their books. Gloria

Ramona said...

Gloria, your comment defines intrepid! You can't get published if you give up.

jenny milchman said...

I weathered another round of submissions (by my agent). And now have another coming up. Thanks very much for awarding the seal because it was feeling a little thankless this morning... :)