Friday, June 19, 2009

The Meaning of Edgy

Great thoughts on edgy writing. I looked up some definitions of edgy.

The Free Dictionary online says edgy means
having a sharp or biting edge and Daring, provocative, or trend-setting.

The Online Slang Dictionary gives the following definition:
Socially dangerous or daring; intellectually provocative; tending to induce unease or stress in viewers. Especially used to describe artistic and intellectual work.

Webster's defines the kind of edgy we're talking about as follows:
having a bold, provocative, or unconventional quality.

Bold. Provocative. Unconventional. Trend-setting.

Those all sound like good things, especially for fiction. I want the fiction I write--and the fiction I acquire and edit--to be those things. That's edgy fiction I can support. That's edgy fiction that raises the bar. That kind of edgy is evocative. That's what I want to see from the writers I work with. Writing that moves and draws emotion from readers, but without slipping into the explicit. Evocative writing is powerful, emotive, and life-changing. Explicit writing is taking the easy out.

I hear over and over how villains, to be real life, need to use that kind of language. Or how that's the way people today talk, and to not have that in our fiction makes it less. And more often than not, that's one of the earmarks of what I'm seeing when someone calls their writing edgy. These manuscripts seem to fits the other descriptions of edgy:

  • having a sharp or biting edge
  • tending to induce unease or stress
  • socially dangerous or daring

What do you all say? How do you feel about Christian fiction where the writer has used obscenities? How do you feel about writing that's explicit rather than evocative? Is that edgy...or over the edge?



carla stewart said...

I'm drawn to evocative way more than something which is there only for realism or the shock factor. I also like unconventional more as time goes by--a new way to tell a story. For quite some time I've been uncomfortable with the term edgy as meaning risque, explicit, or graphic. Hitchcock, I think had it right-- innuendo is much more powerful.

B.K. Jackson said...

RE: Obscenities: Pointless. Instant turn-off (just like in real life). Just as we don't record every "um" and "uh", we don't need to use foul language to be "realistic". There are better ways to portray negative character traits. Besides, I read CBA fic so I don't HAVE to read such stuff. Same for explicit. It's one thing to evoke the emotions of the reader, which we definitely want (and I have read some emotionless fiction-not appealing), but another to get carried away and begin appealing to the baser side. It goes back to that "How are Christians different from the world?" question.

Nicole said...

Some people object to "crap". Others use it routinely in conversation and their writing. Scripture will be used in this discussion to attack and to defend the choices writers make.
Personally,I don't want to read the f-bomb and other cuss words, but I do want to see them alluded to when necessary. I know there are Christian writers who insist they're necessary to get the brunt of the characterization or the impact within a scene. They don't answer to me, and it's between them and the Lord and their publisher.
I think there are readers who need soft fiction, and I think there are readers who enjoy "the hard stuff". It shouldn't be another reader's decision why or why not an author writes what he/she writes.
Sexual graphics can be lewd, and it would take a masterful and careful writer to push that envelope into a reasonable explanation. Sexual content, temptations, seductions, etcetera do not have to be graphic to be effective. Passion cannot be ignored or dumbed down if it's crucial to the story. If it's offensive to some, they don't need to read those books.
Violence can be graphic and often is in current thrillers. Again, it's between the writer and the Lord what they incorporate into their stories. If hardcore violence repels readers, they should be able to tell by the back cover copy whether or not they should read the novel.
Edgy strikes me as potentially good or bad (often depending on the author's skill) in reference to reading material. To each his own.

Rel said...

It has been interesting to read everyone's comments on this topic :) No doubt whether something is edgy is totally subjective and therefore impossible to quantify. I do like "Bold. Provocative. Unconventional. Trend-setting." I don't like tokenism which includes a tacked on conversion scene as much as obscenities added in to supposedly make the book appear more hip, current or acceptable. Writers are like comedians - the great ones don't need explicit language, obscenities or degrading jokes to be funny. A writer's skill is often revealed when he or she can evoke the same emotions or response with great word choices and not clich├ęs.

At the same time, I am often amazed at the negative response authors can get when expressing true human feelings and emotions. Characters should not be cardboard cut outs. Authentic writing is important and I appreciate getting the balance right is not an easy task.

Lynn Squire said...

I like how you defined it, though I do believe different people will have different comfort zones. Even within my critique group I see this; yet working with them has helped me stretch to write what will edify not just "emo-tify", stimulate or cause another to stumble. They hold me accountable.

Kristen said...

I wonder how many people set out to write a story and how many set out to write an "edgy, pushing the envelope" story. I'm in the beginning stages of writing my first novel and at first I wanted it to be edgy, but now I'm focusing on telling the story well and in a way that would be glorifying to the Lord. Now that might mean I have to make the bad man say bad things but if the only words I can think of are swear words what does that say about my writing? I think it would say I'm not very creative in word choice. I've read a lot of different contemporary novels from Patricia Cornwell to Doon Koontz, Ted Dekkar to Francine Rivers and so on. The ones I enjoyed didn't have to use swear words in order to show how evil thier villians were. I do NOT like Patricia Corwell for that matter because every character was lewd and downright disgusting at times. I won't read anymore of her books. Dean Koontz can be over the top as far as the actions of his villians are but his writing is so poetic and he sucks me into the story from the first line. I have skipped parts of some books though because of the in depth descriptions of what his villians do. I don't like that part of Dean Koontz's books.

Ted Dekkar and Francine Rivers are definately Christian authors and you can tell a difference between these books and the ones I've mentioned before. While Ted Dekkar is considered edgy I find him refreshingly real. The same with Randy Alcorn. Mr. Alcorn's novels have brought me to tears and forced to look at issues I've never really thought of before. Ted Dekkar has forced me to think outside the box in my relationship with Christ thru his novels Black,Red and White. Francine Rivers is a beautiful story-teller as well and I've been moved by many of her novels. She is probably the least of the edgy writers I've just brought up but I know that in one of her books she describes a rape scene. It wasn't done with too much detail that I can remember and it didn't bother me at all but a friend of mine who had been raped found it very hard to read the book. It all depends on the reader.

I think Ted Dekkar is by far the edgiest of the authors I've mentioned but I think his edginess is what attracts readers that woundn't neccessarily touch a Christian novel. Yes, he may be too graphic for some but he has been able to cross over to the general market and reach those who haven't been reached before.

I would love to do the same thing with my novel: Reach someone for Christ. If my story is described as "edgy" I hope it is for the story line that forces readers to look outside the box and see Christ in a different way, but not for racy scenes or despicable language. A good writer shouldn't need to rely on swear words to get the point across.
Kristen Parr

Merrie Destefano said...

For me, it depends on what the obscenities were and how they were used. One of my all-time favorite writing books, "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" used the best example of profanity I've ever seen. To paraphrase, they said that there's more power in one expletive if it's the only one used in the entire book.

So, one bad word in a book. I can handle that. Although it does depend what that word is and why it's used.

AND I have to say that my favorite interpretation of edgy that you used in this post was "trend-setting."

That's what it's all about to me, to be ahead of the pack, but going in the right direction.

Teri D. Smith said...

When has anyone ever read a really great book and said, "If only it had more cuss words." Or "I'd really love that book if it only had some explicit sex." A powerful, well-written story will never leave the reader wishing for those things.

jamie carie said...

LOVE those definitions! Food for thought for me!

ConnieBrz said...

During first draft, I let my characters curse all they want. My daughter tells me they're all punks and can't cuss worth spit. No matter, I edit everything out later during rewrite.

Growing up, my mom had a fit if one of us said butt. I clearly remember having a coronary the first time I read the word, hell, used as an actual place. Things change.

My absolute favorite line of all time is from Princess Bride and includes a dandy~

Offer me money.
All you want.
Offer me power.
Yes, all power.
Offer me anything I want.
Yes, Yes! Anything you want!
I want my father back, you son of a b****!
-Inigo Montoya and Count Rugen

Never has a curse word been used with such perfect pitch :)

If one of my characters ever has an Inigo Montoya moment, I'll let him rip. Until then, all the naughties go bye-bye.