Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Edgy - Should Christians Write on the Edge?

As you move through the process of presenting your work, you'll be bombarded by the typical industry 'lingo'. Some might come in the form of a rejection letter or others in conversations making suggestions regarding your writing. Before succumbing to the lingo you need to take time to understand what the terms mean and how they will affect your book - or if they even will.

Perhaps the most used catchphrase today is edgy. The tide has been turning against classic, solid timeless storytelling to edgy. But what exactly does edgy mean? Edgy is different for adults than young adults, though some are heavily pushing more adult material into young adult, juvenile and even little children's books. Certainly edgy in secular fiction is quite different than in Christian novels. Or is it? Have the lines blurred so greatly between secular and Christian fiction that the distinction is barely visible?

To an editor, edgy means to push the envelope, to take people just to edge of improper and pull back. In short whet their appetite and go a little further next time. Is that really what we’re called as Christians- or even authors - to do? Bring people the edge of sin and pull back? To entice them into wanting more darkness and then satisfy induced curiosity with further edginess? Where does the author’s responsibility come into this trend? All publishers are in the business of making money and will follow current trends to help their bottom line – profit.

Fortunately, in my experience, despite the push toward edgy, people aren’t biting. I’ve encountered many who are rebelling against the trend. Parents seek suitable substitutes for these edgy books on school reading lists in favor of what they feel is more appropriate for their children. Even kids want fun stories. In the Christian market the Amish books dominate. Some of the most popular secular kids books are Narnia, Percy Jackson, and oh, yes, the ultimate of edgy - Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

So when an editor, publisher or agent throws the term edgy at you concerning your manuscript, ask them what exactly do they mean? How will it help your book? Does their suggestion compromise what you want to say in your story? Don't go edgy for the sake of publication. Just like trendy fashion fads come and go but classic styles remain, so fiction styles change, but timeless, well-told stories live on. Do what you feel is right for your story, your peace of mind, your readers and ultimately, the impact and legacy your books will someday leave behind.

Shawn Lamb is the author of the epic Christian YA fantasy series Allon, along with The Huguenot Sword, and once wrote for the animated series BraveStarr, produced by the same studio that did He-Man and She-Ra. She has won several screenwriting awards including a Certificate of Merit from the American Screenwriters Association. This year she is among The Authors Show - 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading 2011.
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  1. Thanks for the post!

    I am an author currently working on a YA Fiction/supernatural series. It is my first time writing for teens.

    Because I am writing about the supernatural, I want to be more edgy. My characters are Christian, yet flawed: dealing with some serious teen issues.

    If an editor advised me to stay away from such issues because they are "edgy" I feel I just cannot abide by that advice!

    A writer must stay true to themselves and their story. I write with a purpose: to help teens work through these issues.


  2. I'm getting so confused as to what "edgy" means. Some authors want to portray the truly sinful life of their MCs, then show their salvation. They call that "edgy." Some consider language and mild sex scenes to be "edgy." Some just want to rebel against the strict requirements of their publishers--which really can be strict. So your advice to "ask exactly what they mean" by edgy is smart.

  3. I've ended up having to write Christian novels for the secular market because my books are apparently too edgy for the Christian market. Believe me, I have a deep concern for holiness and would never sink so low as to try to be edgy or to add salacious material to anything. I have chosen to remove all profanity from my characters, even from the ones who in real life would no doubt swear. But life is not always sanitized and tidy. While I understand how the Christian market works and likely must work, it really is a shame, in my opinion, that writers try to push the envelope and equally that publishers must not publish anything that might shock or surprise. Since you have raised the question of Narnia, I would question whether such a book would ever be published by a CBA publisher today. There is a witch, a hag, and so much more. I suspect it would meet with a polite rejection letter. You raise good issues. Thank you.

  4. When I think of 'edgy,' I think of something that's sharp-edged or daringly original, something that willingly strays from the the status quo (I'm thinking because of the merits of the story, not because one wants to be seen in a certain way). Frank Peretti's angel warfare novels were edgy back in the day, but times and tastes change. I'd read the same thing today without changing a thing. Whether it is as edgy today isn't the important thing, the thing is whether it's a great story.

  5. Thanks for sharing with us today, Shawn! "Edgy" is definitely a buzz word these days. It's a trend of sorts, so lots of authors are claiming "edginess" for their work, sometimes without having a good grasp on what that means to others or even themselves. You raise a good point in that it's important for us to define the word - for both our reading and writing habits.

    I would relate "edgy" to "gutsy." As both a reader and a writer, I want gutsy fiction - fiction that takes risks, fiction that's not afraid to portray difficult situations and morally compromised people and then ask hard, incisive questions about both. Although I think some writers may certainly define edgy by the number of curse words or sex scenes they include, for me "edgy" - the good kind of edgy - is all about what's implicit much more than what's explicit.

  6. Dad says that my writing is edgy because I say exactly what I think and don't care if people disagree with it...Does that count as "edgy" or is there a different word? Thanks!

  7. Shawn, thanks for being here today to share your thoughts with us!

    I think, like some have said above, the problem with the word "edgy" is that is can mean something different to each individual, depending on what their center of "comfortable" is. Then anything that pushes the edges of that would be "edgy" to them.

    I do agree that it saddens me when Christian romance authors (which I happen to read a lot of) push the limits in romantic scenes to be explicit. There is one Christian author that I often here is such a wonderful writer, but I won't read her books anymore because of that very reason.

    On the other hand, I don't think everyone who labels their work "edgy" is thinking along those lines. To some, it might simply be the fact that there is realism in their story. (My first book, Rocky Mountain Oasis, was rejected by a major Christian publisher because, and I quote, "We aren’t looking for “real” as much as a believable but engaging inspirational story that is enjoyable to read. An escape from the very painful realities we face each day." It had too much realism in it. And some have later labeled that as edgy.) To some, it might be because a book contains violence. To others it might be because it explores hard-to-talk-about-subjects-without-bringing-discomfort. (Surely there is a better word I could have used there, but it's not coming to me! lol)

    Anyhow, So I guess if I had one little beef with your post here, it would be with your definition of edgy. I think it can mean what you said, but I also think there are more definitions than that.

  8. Kate, without seeing your work, I wouldn't be able to define what you write. However as a writer, it is a very good thing to know your own mind and not care what anyone else thinks - because, once you write something and make it public, it will be free game for everyone to give you their thoughts about what you had to say. :) Keep writing, girl!

  9. Wow! So many great comments, I'm flattered.

    Lynnette, my definition of "edgy" is diving into sinful places Christian authors shouldn't go. I totally believe in making the story 'real' and believable, but not crossing an immoral lines - as you pointed out with your Christian romance author.

    For your hyphenated words I'd suggest "challenging the comfort zone". Those stories are find also, within the bounds of decency.

    Kate, saying what your think or feel I would call 'bold'. If you don't take your audience into places that cause people to sin, speak away.

  10. I think of edgy in terms of position within the CBA. Books on the edge are those not readily adopted by mainstream publishers, or "hard sells." The reason these books are on the edge can be a decent into worldliness, but genre also dictates this. I, as an example, write Christian allegorical fantasy in the genre created by George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Because of this, my writing is on the edge of mainstream Christian literature, which is controlled by sales based on the tastes of the average CBA reader.

    While "edgy" (or even "speculative") isn't my favorite term, your definition of "edgy" as based on morality lumps together books that fall into that category and those labeled edgy because they lie outside mainstream reading tastes. With all respect, that seems a bit too narrow.

  11. I'm going to the chalkboard to write "descent" 20 times. :o)

  12. Good point, Janalyn. Edgy then would be perhaps a book that a publisher might be "taking a chance" on. Edgy as in "we're not sure how readily this story will be accepted by our target market."

    Lots of great definitions here today.

  13. Personally I don't think it really matters whether you feel you "should" or "should not" be writing on some subject matter or in a particular way. Being "edgy" is ultimately just another way of engaging people and evoking emotions by taking them just a little out of their comfort zone, and while I agree that being edgy for the sake of edginess may not be the best strategy, ultimately all that matters is that the story is a good read. How you accomplish that is up to you; I'm not religious by any stretch, but I'd enjoy a book with a gripping Christian storyline and relatable Christian characters just as much as I would any other book - with a gripping storyline and relatable characters. You could also give me a book that's as morally upright as you like, but if it doesn't draw me in then I'll put it down.

    On the other hand, if one were to flatly refuse to write anything that neared "edgy", they could miss out on some great opportunities to enable the literature to flourish. I used to avoid using profanity in anything I wrote because I just wasn't keen on that type of language, but that rule got quashed as soon as I required a specific type of narrator: it was from the first person and I think "bitchy" is the one word that would sum up her personality pretty perfectly, and I found that using stronger language -in the context she would have used it- massively helped to put across the persona in the way that I wanted it.

    I think by all means write in the style that works for you and your story, and if a certain aspect benefits the narrative then keep using it, but I wouldn't discount "edgy" because it could be considered "un-Christian". The real world is full of real people having real experiences, and it may be that describing the reality of the experience in all its guts and glory gives the narrative a bite, if it needs it, that holding back might not be able to achieve.

  14. The meaning of "edgy" seems to differ depending on who you ask. There's always that "push the envelope" aspect, but you can push out of someone's comfort zone without losing "propriety."

    A CBA book could display things like the high divorce rate even within the church, being "edgy" because people don't like thinking about that. Or a marriage struggling because their teenage child runs apostate.

    Aren't books of the Bible like Genesis and Judges "edgy", or at least "dark"? Are they "un-Christian"?

    No. They aren't. They address wicked things that happened, as examples of how "desperately wicked" man's heart is, so we don't get comfy and trust ourselves.

    "Dark" and "edgy" stories have always made me better appreciate how good my life is—and they're reminders of how gracious God has been to me. They keep me from getting comfortable in my cozy life.

    I need that.

  15. Herbius, A good analysis. Each story could/should be geared to a specific audience and the author needs to decide what the best way to reach that audience is.

    Carradee, I couldn't agree more. Some of the darkest stories I've read have the greatest message of light.

  16. You said, "Fortunately, in my experience, despite the push toward edgy, people aren’t biting."

    I don't know about biting from a publishing standpoint, but from a reader's standpoint, it seems like readers are definitely biting. I can only judge from my experience as a book blogger and reader though.

    I think there has always been an outspoken, vocal group of readers who like super sweet Christian fiction (not bashing, I'm a fan too). But recently, there is a growing group of readers looking for edgier titles, and I couldn't be more excited about that fact. I love the fact that CF is broadening it's scope.

    We all have different definitions about what constitutes edgy. In my opinion, I have never found anything immoral in an edgy CF title (and I read them a lot).