Let’s Get Edgy (or, How Far Is Too Far?)

So, maybe you’ve noticed that I describe my writing as “edgy romance and speculative fiction”. Maybe you’ve wondered… why?

Well.

It’s not about being explicit/graphic (though sometimes, sure, I’ll consider going there); that’s just called erotic romance, or “hot” or “spicy”. And naughty books are so popular right now, even mainstream — moms outside the preschool chat about their favourites and check out each other’s Kindles and Kobos — that there’s no edge in it, not even with a little bit of kink thrown in for titillation (this isn’t the 1950s: we’ve all heard of bondage and threesomes by now, no one is shocked).

It’s not about profanity, though my voice goes where the characters want it to go, and sometimes that includes teh swearz. Lots of books have swearwords and gritty language of varying forms; that’s nothing edgy, and nothing to do with romance. Obviously, there are some places readers don’t expect to find, well, words a kindergarten teacher wouldn’t use in class (e.g., sweet romances, particularly faith-oriented romances where a wedding is de rigueur before the happy couple gets even an off-screen naked snuggle), but I don’t think most people classify a few $h!ts and f^*ks as particularly edgy these days.

Walking on the edge, for me, is going as far as I myself feel comfortable, and then taking a step or two further. Pushing myself into uncomfortable territory. Going into mindspaces where I don’t have the answers, and seeing what my characters will do.

So I take the classic “nice girl meets a rock star”, and she’s a virgin and he’s a stud, and she’s grown up with the white-picket-fence life while he’s been on the road… and I say to myself, let’s make him a heroin addict. Let’s get onto Erowid and learn everything we can about what that looks and feels like, and think about the risks and damage he’d be carrying. Where does that put the girl? Can she take that on?

I take the classic “just dumped and vulnerable” situation, and put my protagonist/heroine in the path of a delicious rebound dude… and then I say, let’s make him polyamorous. Yes, as in, he already has a girlfriend, and she’s all fine with him having a new lover alongside her. Let’s check out Polyamory.com and find out what that really means for real people living it, and think about how a traditionally-brought-up woman might react to what her new temptation is offering.

Now, I’m pretty sure many — most? — readers aren’t going to be into addicts and polyamorists. But I don’t want to write about just another red herring obstacle, and I actively look for challenges that make me think, damn, I don’t know if I could handle that. So for me, it’s more about the emotional/psychological edge than anything sexual or verbal, exploring the shadowy area just outside of the furthest edge of my own comfort level.

I know that’s how/what/where I want to write, to explore. But… how far is too far? At what point do I cross from just being edgy to going over the cliff and splatting onto readers’ repulsion? Where is the hard line between raised eyebrows and disgust? I really do worry about this — how much is too much? — but I just can’t seem to dig into novel ideas where the problems could all be solved with an hour or two of honesty and good communication and some sensible decision-making.

I don’t know. I suppose at some point I’ll find out. I hope I haven’t put everyone off already…

But “edgy” is my warning label. Not for language, not for spice, but for “don’t expect normal and don’t expect nice”.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Get Edgy (or, How Far Is Too Far?)

  1. It’s only too far if you find yourself in a story you can’t write to a “logical” and compelling conclusion. Good for your for not staying neat and tidy- there’s certainly enough of that!

    • Thank you, Deborah. That’s a really good point about the logical and compelling conclusion providing its own limit — and in fact, thinking back, I realize that I’ve abandoned a few stories over time because I couldn’t resolve them in a satisfying way… maybe that’s because the content had gotten too weird/dark for me to sort out in a realistic way.

  2. Katie Cross says:

    I think if you find yourself asking, ‘Can she (the character) take that?’ and/or ‘Could I take that?’ in any given situation in your writing, then you’re doing the right thing.

    That kind of question is what drives reading, right? And I think, it most cases, it also fuels good writing. Because in the end, we, as the author, have to KNOW if that character, who is us in some form or another, could handle that situation.

    I love this so much.

    • Exactly! Oh, I’m so glad you understand, Katie! I always worry that people will think I’m some kind of sick chick, dreaming up the kinds of guys sane women would really rather NOT date and then throwing my protagonists in their paths. But yes, it’s that “could I handle it?” question — gets me every time.

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