Sunday, February 12, 2012

Edgy Fiction

OK, so what is meant by Edgy Fiction anyway?

When I attended the YA Fiction conference last month, I sat in on a discussion about Edgy Fiction lead by two authors who write edgy fiction.

Since I am venturing into YA Fiction, I thought I would post about what I learned from the discussion...

Writing About Taboos

Writing edgy fiction pretty much comes down to writing about taboos. What are some of those taboos out there? Here's some:

Pre-marital sex
Homosexual tendencies
Self destruction

These are just some of the ones mentioned in the panel discussion. I tend to agree with the list especially when it comes to writing Christian fiction! The list isn't even comprehensive!

But what the panel of authors was trying to explain was that a writer picks one of their own taboos and writes it into the story...and that's what makes it edgy fiction. Doing this forces you out of your comfortable box and changes the direction of your story. 

Why Add Edginess?

When writing for a teen audience, you must add some sort of edginess to it since teens today are dealing with so many issues. Having a protagonist dealing with difficult issues can draw your readers in because they can relate. 

Of course, with most teens, just getting up in the morning is melodrama! Bad hair days, acne, weight gain, lost homework all can ruin a teen's life...we know, we've all been there. So maybe add some teen angst to your character so your readers can say, "Hey, I know exactly what you're going through!"

Right Here, Right Now

Adult fiction tends to be nostalgic. The protagonist is mature and self aware and tends to look back on life. 

With YA fiction, everything is immediate or just happened. Readers are put in the action right from the start. Think The Hunger Games. We meet Katniss and are immediately placed in a dangerous situation with her. That grabs the reader and takes them for a ride. The situation you put your protagonist in must be dangerous and edgy. Katniss must kill or be killed in the arena. That's some situation for a teen girl!

Don't be nice to your protagonist. Put some tough obstacles and challenges in her path. Give her internal and external conflict that she must deal with. In Lisa McMann's book, Wake, her protagonist is able to be inside other people's dreams. This can be embarrassing when she is inside a teen boy's dream! But she must deal with this obstacle and come to terms with why she has this ability. 

Stay True to Yourself

But you mustn't add edginess just for the sake of adding it. For instance, in The Warfare Club, my character is a Christian teen dealing with some pretty big issues. If I suddenly have her go out and get a tattoo one night, well, that's not adding edginess, that's just plain silly. Readers can spot fake edginess and it turns them off. 

Instead, perhaps my protagonist meets a girl who does have tattoos all over her arms and neck along with piercings. Perhaps this girl befriends my protagonist and confides that she once had an abortion. Now my protagonist has to deal with this BIG issue. I've added edginess without compromising my main character. 

You must stay true to yourself. I don't use profanity (well, unless I stub my toe...) in life. So writing profanity makes me uncomfortable. If I did write it into my book, my readers would be able to spot the insincerity a mile away. If writing profanity comes natural to you, maybe add a character who feels the same way. Some YA writers don't hesitate to add many of their taboos into their stories, while others consider their books to be G rated. Both books sell!


So, now you have some tips on how to add edginess to your YA Fiction and when not to add it into your story. I hope these tips help you as they have helped me. I have added some edginess to my book and feel it does add some realism and depth. But I stayed true to myself and to my characters. 

Give it a try! Try adding some of your personal taboos to your story. Force yourself out of the box and see how it feels. You can always use the delete button!

But most importantly....just write!

Your turn:  What are some of your personal taboos? Ever thought of adding them to your story? Why or why not?



  1. I really like what you said about fake edginess. We have to go deeper and touch on the real issues that real people deal with. And in our world, tattoos and body piercings are pretty common, so I don't think that would have the same effect for sure.

    I'd have to work at adding my own taboos into a story though. I'm such a creature of comfort!

  2. Yeah, it takes some guts to go "there" you know? Adding a teen struggling with homosexuality in a Christian YA novel might be too edgy for some readers...but it is real. It is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    Adding that edginess to a story can make it more believable for the audience!

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. While I think it's important to write about people who deal with these real issues, it works much better when the story is about the character who happens to have the issue and isn't a story "about ______." It ends up feeling very canned, sermonized, and simplified. I respect Melody Carlson for dealing with difficult subjects in her "Color Me. . ." series, but at the same time, i found the stories lacking real power because they seemed more about the "issue" than about the person. (I'm contrasting her books with ones like "Impulse" by Ellen Hopkins.)

    So, if you want to write "edgy" it comes across a lot better when you remember you're writing about people and not "issues."