Friday, June 12, 2009

Edgy Writing: What Is It Really?

As an editor, I'm constantly wrestling with the issue of so-called "edgy" writing. It used to be called "pushing the envelope." Now, it's edgy. I hear it all the time from writers or agents:

"This is one is bit edgy."
"This may be too edgy for the Christian market."
"Are you open to edgy fiction?"

I'm always interested to find out what that means. Before I jump in with my thoughts, though, I want to know what you think. What does it mean when someone says a Christian novels is "edgy"?

Look forward to your thoughts.


P.S. Yes, we'll get back to first lines. I promise...


Nicole said...

I can't speak for others' definition(s) of "edgy" when they use it, write it, or even when they hear it. One reader referred to The Famous One as "edgy" so I had to decide what a suitable (to me) definition would be to clarify the story. This is my definition of edgy when referring to my novels: Portraying sinful behavior without judgment.
Some writers might write "edgy" to purposely "push the envelope", believing it needs to be pushed to be real. In some cases I would agree. However, my intent was not to write "edgy" fiction. It was simply to write "real" from what I've seen, known, experienced, observed.

Lori Benton said...

"Unflinching" is the word that first sprang to mind. Which means to me that a writer doesn't flinch from showing the consequences of sin in the lives of her characters, and also doesn't shy away from allowing her characters to commit sins and make the mistakes that real life people make, if that's what the story or theme or character arc demands in order to be true.

However, I believe writers have to take seriously the challenge of presenting such story situations both truthfully and in a manner that isn't crossing the line into gratuitousness or even graphicness. That can be tough. That line can be fuzzy. What's too graphic for one isn't for another. What stumbles one, another can shrug off.

I think this is a case by case, story by story (shoot, scene by scene) sort of issue that requires writer, agent and editor to have a relationship with the Lord as such that they're each going to hear about it from the Holy Spirit when/if they've crossed the line. Or conversely, when/if they haven't been honest enough, or courageous enough in storytelling.

And there's my two shillings' worth. :)

Connie Brzowski said...

Interesting topic. Short answer?

I dunno.

I'm told my stuff is edgy because:

a)My hero kissed his girl and enjoyed it too much

b)The critter read the first 1600 words and couldn't tell I'd written a 'Christian' novel.

c)None of my characters went to church

d)Or (my personal favorite) in first draft, one of the characters said 'holy mother of mercy'

Heavy sigh. . .

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Karen, this is one of my pet peeves. What Christians mean by "edgy" (whatever that might be) is so far from what society at large would label "edgy," it seems silly for us to use the same word. It puts our characterizations in question.

Besides, I don't know that there can be a consensus "edgy" when we're discussing Christian fiction.

If by "edgy" we're talking about what offends a Christian, I'm of the mindset that we shouldn't be offended by the sin sinners are wont to do. Instead, we should be offended when Christ's name is disparaged.

Unfortunately, when I hear Christians use the term "edgy" in relation to Christian fiction, it seems to refer to an intentional inclusion of things that Christians "should" find offensive. That makes no sense to me.

Should we be offended by Rahab because she was a prostitute, rather than glad that she recognized God was with the people of Israel?

To me, no topic is edgy as long as it is handled from a Christian worldview. What I find sad is writers wanting to be "edgy" for the sake of pushing some perceived barrier just because they don't like barriers.


Lynn Squire said...

Karen, this is a question I am constantly wrestling with. I believe "edgy" has come to mean the writer is pushing the reader's imagination on the edge (or over the edge) of what that reader is capable of imagining without reacting in an unhealthy or sinful way. Our emotions are connected to how our flesh/bodies respond to situations (stimuli). In creating the ultimate emotional experience, I believe it is possible for a writer to take a reader across what a literal interpretation of scripture would suggest is appropriate.

The reader's emotional reaction to a scene may cause her to react in a physical way that is sinful. (Jesus said a man who looks at a woman to lust after her commits adultery in his heart - such is the physical response of pornography). Women respond to men via the emotions - it is possible for a woman to read & react with a physical excitement to a scene of passion - would that not be consider adultery as well, even as a man would respond at a peek at pornography?

The same physical/emotional response can be true for violence and other edgy aspects of fiction.

The question is can the outcome of the story or the message of the story justify creating these physical/emotional reactions in the reader that are contrary to a Christ-like or Christ-honoring behavior? How accountable are we, as writers, in evoking this wrong physical/emotional reaction?

Yet, some of the most powerful writing of the past has successfully tackled tough issues without evoking these physical/emotional responses (though you can't account for everyone). How? By mere suggestion - not so much detail.

I struggle because I want to write life-changing fiction - I want to write stories that evoke a reader's desire for redemption. But that can't come unless they see the need for redemption. They can't see the need for redemption unless they see sin for what it is.

So how do I then create a story where sin is revealed for what it is, felt by the reader to be horrific thereby leading them to recognize their own desire & need for redemption and finding it in Christ? (recognizing, of course, the Holy Spirit's part in all this).

Merrie Destefano said...

Gosh, tough question, Karen!

I think this is so subjective. For me, edgy Christian fiction would include more books like those written by Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, and John Olson. Somewhere in between speculative and supernatural.

I think when it comes to "the edge" we all look at one edge in particular. Speculative fiction is my favorite edge.

I don't want to read about rape or incest or blood and guts--unless there's an alien involved. (grin) Now if there's an alien involved, or time travel, or an alternate universe, then I'd be really happy.

christa said...

Sometimes I think edgy depends on which part of the mountain you're climbing.

Ginny Yttrup said...

My hope when hearing the term "edgy" relating to Christian fiction is that an author is introducing something "cutting edge"-dealing with a topic that hasn't been dealt with or was, perhaps, difficult to address within the confines of what CBA deemed marketable at one time.

I believe Christian authors have a responsibility to present real world issues and address them in a way that gives the church a blueprint for how to extend God's love, grace, and mercy to a fallen world. With Scripture as our foundation, we write stories, or tell parables, as a means of embracing those who, like all of us, struggle with sin.

Graphic details or sensationalism are without purpose. But portraying real issues assures the reader they are not alone in their struggle.

Prayerfully, our parables will lead the reader to the loving arms of our gracious Abba.

Teri D. Smith said...

I attended a seminar led by Steve Laube over the weekend, and he was asked this question about "edgy". He said that what one person considers "edgy" the next won't. He also warned that the problem with being edgy is the possibility of falling off the edge.

Maybe it's one of those things that we ought to commit to the Lord in prayer and follow His guidance. While its not something I write, I do know of one young lady who turned to the Lord after reading a book that I consider edgy.

B.K. Jackson said...

BTW - when we're done talking about "edgy" fiction, could we define what constitutes in CBA a "gentle read" as well?

Bambe Wrought said...

Karen - I am not an author like several of your commentors are. I do like to read fiction. After reading comments, I agree with Lori Benton and also with CJ Darlington.

We want to read about the person's real life so that we know they are about a "real person," but not so much that sex, sin, torture, etc. are the main things that you remember. The main thing is that this person has been through some tough times, but the Lord prevails and other people/experiences help that person realize that life can be better knowing the Lord and doing His will.

Sometimes even just a mystery is very good. The people may be Christians, but have somehow become involved in circumstances beyond their control. We like to see how they work through this and solve a mystery.

Hope this is understandable.
Love you, Bambe

Stevie Rey said...

Edgy to me, Karen, means going somewhere that no one has gone to get someone that no one has gone after. I always say my book is edgy because you have to go to the "edge" of the boat to rescue folks who are overboard. That's my take anyway.

Stevie Rey
Author of The Hillbilly Bible

jamie carie said...

Great discussion, Karen! When writing a story I focus more on letting the characters come alive and tell the story, praying (begging sometimes!) that I will be lead by the Holy Spirit. Then, if I've crossed a line, I know that my wonderful, lovely, gifted editor :-) will kick me in the seat of the pants and ask for edits. There is something to be said about the team effort in putting out fiction. I take great comfort in knowing that the gatekeepers of my publishing house (go B&H!) will help me be honoring to God. I know my weaknesses, and I know I can err on the side of flesh. It's like living in community in business - when you trust the people God has put you with, the material can be sifted, the dross burned off and hopefully, when the book gets into readers' hand, God will be glorified.
Umm, speaking of edits, I better get back to work! :-)