To be Audacious

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I literally just flew back from Mayhem in the Midlands and, after delays due to tornado warnings and foul weather, my apologies for being a bit woolly headed now that my body is telling me it’s close to midnight (even if that’s not quite the case back on the West Coast yet). The conference was fabulous, small but intimate, the way Mayhem is supposed to be. After hearing Jan Burke’s great interview of Dana Stabenow and Kent Krueger’s hilarious interview of Zoe Sharp I have come away with a new goal:

To be Audacious

Jan Burke said she thought all writers had to be audacious to be successful. Just committing something to the page and believing it was worthy of another person reading it was audacious in and of itself but, after hearing some background for both Dana Stabenow and Zoe Sharp, I soon realized I am way, way behind on the audacity stakes.

Though I don’t consider myself to be a totally boring wuss in real life, I do have to at least pretend to be the stable, serious mum to my boys (husband included) and this limits my capacity for recklessness in real life. In my writing life, however, I have the freedom to be whatever I want…and I definitely think I need to add more audacity…which got me thinking…

How does one become an audacious writer? How can I constantly challenge myself and the craft of writing? What is the most audacious thing I hope to achieve in my writing? Hmmm…the most erotic sex scene ever? craziest murder victim ever? Perhaps the most unexpected death of main character ever…(hmmm…am I getting anyone worried at this point???) No, I know I need to aim higher – but how?

So help me out here – what do you think is the most audacious thing a writer can do?

10 thoughts on “To be Audacious

  1. Gosh what a hard question to answer…and I’m only a reader. two of the most audacious books I’ve read recently were Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and Kate Atkinson’s WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS. They’re very different books in style and content but they both do something ‘over the top’ and unexpected – Larsson in terms of a central character and Atkinson in terms of a style of writing. Both could have been big failures because essentially they each broke an accepted rule of good writing but both have been commercial successes as well as (in my opinion) being good books. I can think of another book that I recently finished where I’m sure the author thinks she was audacious because she killed off a main character in the last two pages but, for me, anyway that was plain lazy. The difference between the two good books I mention and this other one is that there was still a sense of the authors loving their characters and their stories in the first two and so as a reader I was prepared to go along with them on their journey. So what does all this mean for you as a writer? That you can try something new and different but you have to provide a context for it. With the Larsson book for example he created this marvellous character who is completely unrealistic in terms of all the awful things that have happened to her and her own abilities but he does such a good job of creating a context for how she came to be that way that as a reader I embraced the character.

  2. Great question, Clare. I think that an audacious writer is one who doesn’t shy away from controversy. There’s a saying that he/she who risks, wins. A recent example of an audacious, risk-taking author is Dan Brown. Disregarding what anyone might think of his writing style or skills, not only was THE DA VINCI CODE a risky story, it produced controversy that added to its mystique and global success. I guess the best test for audacity is to ask ourselves if something feels comfortable. If it does, there’s probably no risk involved.

  3. When I want to be audacious I will sometime write in red and white checked boxer shorts, suede Tony Bahama tennis shoes and a baseball cap. And I will even use a flat carpenter’s pencil and lined tablets.

    My agent and editors have always had to rein me in as I am very prone to go over the top and on to the moon.

  4. Bernadette – excellent observations re: the difficulty with audaciousness – pulling it off with a sense of integrity and love of character and craft. Joe, I agree about Dan Brown and the controversy his books generated had a great, theatrical audacity which you have to admire. Elizabeth, I think pushing the reader is essential and boy, that can be hard within the confines of the cozy genre!

  5. John – I’m not going to even go there… Perhaps I need to get out my dominatrix outfit when I go into my writing studio and write with my whip dipped in ink:)

  6. I don’t think I’d use the word “audacious.” I prefer the word “true.” Whatever is true to the story, and that means digging deep for it, because the first levels don’t usually get there.

    If audacious is equated with some notion of “pushing the envelope” (e.g., my serial killer is worse than your serial killer) I’m not sure that’s the place to go. The more graphic, violent, erotic, etc., is not necessarily “truer.” Truth is harder to get at, and is more often than not quite subtle. But therein lies its power, which makes for a memorable story.

    It’s like what my old writing prof, Raymond Carver, did in his stories. One little illumination is worth a ton of dismembered body parts.

  7. James – I like the word true and I hope most writers strive to be true to themselves and their craft. I hope being audacious isn’t just about one upmanship:) but I do like the idea of being bold in developing the craft of writing without losing the ‘truth’ of its essence – which as you say is much harder to achieve.

  8. I’m glad you enjoyed Mayhem, Clare, and I’m flattered to be quoted in your blog. I would have responded sooner, but I had to go out of town on a family matter soon after getting back from Omaha.

    Re the Audacious —

    I don’t know how you need to define it for yourself, but when I spoke of audacity at Mayhem I meant willingness to take bold risks.

    Boldness does not necessarily require one to be outrageous, temerity, or even the breaking of a single rule.

    Sometimes the risk is merely the risk of putting a story on paper. Sometimes it’s the risk of showing it to someone else.

    Almost every published writer I know has been told on one or more occasion that trying to become a professional writer was not only likely to lead to poverty, it would likely lead to humiliation and rejection. And almost every writer I know met someone along the way for whom these sad predictions came true. And yet those writers persisted, they believed in what they were doing. For me, that’s audacity.

    Writing isn’t about tricks, and never has been. You really don’t have to dress up your book like a clown and put it in the circus. You may find that it is an act of boldness to write in your own voice, and to let the story be the story it should be.


  9. Hi Clare

    Like Jan, I did not make a straightforward trip home from Omaha, so I’m sorry to come late to this – and thank you for the nice mention.

    I totally agree with Jan – audacity is writing the story that means something to you, rather than the most exotic sex scene or gruesome murder. The quiet deaths are often the ones that are most affecting.

    Audacity is being prepared to put a little bit more of yourself out there, knowing that you may be shot down in flames.

    And anyway, in my family, I’m considered the normal one … ;-]

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