What exactly is "edgy" writing?

| Monday, October 1, 2012
Today's Tune: Four To Six

Ah, edginess. The age-old goal of many a writer -- to plumb the depths of the human psyche, to push the envelope further than it's ever been pushed, to walk the line between gratuity and art. Or maybe it's seeing how far you can stretch the reader's tolerance for violence and sexuality. Or maybe it's just doing something everyone told you not to do. Or maybe it's something with prose?

What does "edgy" mean, anyway?

A lot of YA writers seem to ask the question of how "edgy" they can be in YA. There have been many lengthy discussions about what constitutes edgy fiction and how far a writer can go. Over the last decade, the bar has pretty much been abandoned and the rule of thumb has become "as long as it's done well, anything goes." I mean, we have books about incestuous relationships and pedophilia and kidnapping and rape and eating disorders and drugs and serial killers and extraordinary gore and pretty much anything you can dream up at this point. Edgy isn't exactly the catchphrase it used to be.

Even so, I constantly see writers pop into YA discussions to ask if it's okay for their YA novel to have sex, violence, swearing, drug use, etc., or if that will make it "too edgy." This has become what "edgy" means to most people -- something that might be considered questionable content. In reality, this is a very simplistic view of edginess. For something to be edgy, it needs to push boundaries and attempt something risky. Sex and violence in YA is, in general, not risky. It's pretty common.

Personally, I feel like the term "edgy" has become something of a buzzword without much weight behind it. You know, like when someone in marketing throws a bunch of terms like "brand equity" and "ROI" at you in the hope that you buy what they're selling (literally). I'm in marketing. Believe me, I've heard them all. When someone's like, "I've written a REALLY EDGY book," they probably mean they wrote a book with some blood and sex and swearing in it. Not very specific. Essentially meaningless, really.

Which isn't to say I don't think "edgy" can be reclaimed. On the contrary. Instead of this watered-down idea of edginess that's just throwing some guns and marijuana into a manuscript and calling it good, we should hail back to what made the original edgy books edgy. Originality. Experimentation. Exploring difficult topics in powerful and nuanced ways.

Really, what "edgy" implies is being on the edge of something. It's like balancing on the edge of a cliff. If you're standing on the solid ground where a hundred other feet have stood, you're not on the edge. If you take a running leap off into space (go too far), you're not on the edge. It's finding that center of gravity between pushing against the expected and doing something different. Edgy isn't doing something you think will check the "scandalous" check-box and make people clutch their pearls. Edgy stretches the boundaries of the ordinary and takes balanced risks, and those risks aren't always with the content.

What do you think, readers? What does "edgy" mean to you?


{ E.J. Wesley } at: October 1, 2012 at 6:23 AM said...

Great thoughts, Steph. The term edgy, in my mind, has become something of a replacement for the phrase, "It's not for everyone." More specifically, the content is going to ruffle the feathers of certain readers, because it includes themes, etc. that some people are uncomfortable with.

And that's the problem with the term in general: It's highly subjective, just like reading tastes--and people. Sex isn't edgy to everyone, for some it would require a certain degree or approach to the subject to make it an edgy subject. For others, even talking about before the age of 18 would be edgy. All relative to the tastes of the targeted reading audience, I think.

{ JeffO } at: October 1, 2012 at 7:46 AM said...

I think edgy can also apply to style. Something like "Fight Club" comes to mind. Sure, there's some 'edgy' subject matter in there, but a lot of the presentation in that book is so different, I think it can be categorized as edgy.

{ mollymoreadsandwrites } at: October 1, 2012 at 7:50 AM said...

You're right about most of those who claim to be "edgy" really just mean there's some sex/drugs/violence in their work.

I think edgy can be more about taking risks with style, structure, or format, and I also agree with previous comment from EJ Wesley that it can mean "not for everyone" because of controversial themes.

{ Justine Dell } at: October 1, 2012 at 10:05 AM said...

To me "edgy" is something that hasn't been done before. Something that's *new* and presses boundaries.


{ mooderino } at: October 1, 2012 at 11:45 AM said...

I think it varies depending on who it's aimed at and what genre it is. Bondage in an erotica book isn't edgy, it's pretty standard. So any time you're preaching to the converted I don't think it's really edgy.

Moody Writing

{ Tamara } at: October 7, 2012 at 9:49 AM said...

Good post! I hadn't given much thought to this but, you're right, it is a term I've heard thrown around a LOT. I think edgy is a really subjective term. What one person might consider racy and extreme, from someone else's POV might be tame. I think in order to really be 'edgy' that you have to do something that impacts people in a way that makes them think. That makes them uncomfortable, but not in a bad "eewww" way, but more in a "Wow, that's disturbing, I need to give that some thought kind-of-way."

Anyhow, cool blog. I found it through Radiant Shadows. I'm a new follower btw. Nice to meet you!

{ aliya seen } at: June 28, 2016 at 12:49 PM said...

The dissertation coaching is being on the edge of something. It help you all ways.

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