Monday, May 22, 2006

What does it mean to write "edgy" stories?

I had a member of my online class loop ask me this question and I thought it was something readers would enjoy discussing too. So, I'm having the chat about it here.

I've been told by editors, readers and other authors that I write "edgy" books. Others give me a blank-eyed stare when I ask if they think my work is edgy. So, the first point I want to make is that edgy - like beauty - is in the eye of the beholder. An author who writes about male werewolves engaging in coitus and a reader who routinely reads that kind of book is definitely not going to think the stuff I write is on the sharp edge of much of anything. LOL However, for your average romance reader, a hero that is darkly alpha, lovemaking that can include fun stuff like hot tubs and bondage and emotions that teeter on the precipice of overwhelming can be considered edgy.

To me, our term is defined by writing on the rim of the canyon but keeping your characters from going over...maybe. It's not being afraid to delve into dark emotion, erotic lovemaking, boundary pushing plotting. Some lines and imprints specialize in edgy. Some authors do too. JoAnn Ross is an edgy writer. In different ways, so is Lora Leigh. But then, so is Jayne Ann Krentz.

When you are writing for the Presents market, edgy means writing a deeply emotional story that isn't always comfortable maybe, but is ultimately satisfying for the reader. It means telling the characters' story, not the author's idea of what would make a good story and that's not always easy to do.

This is a good time for me to remember this because I'm starting a new Presents...and yep, it's got some edge to it. But I'm digging deeper, because I want to write on the precipice of emotion so intense and deep that it sucks me over the edge and I don't mind going. If I can do that for *me*, I can hope to give the same experience to my reader.

How about you?

What makes a book edgy? Who are some of your favorite authors who write on the sharp blade of a knife and keep you coming back for more?



Stacy~ said...

Pushing boundaries, and making the reader take the journey past the safe and expected - to me, that's edgy writing.

Suzanne Brockmann writes edgy stories - they are filled with action and danger and passion, but most especially emotion. People die. Hearts get broken. Violence is committed. The good guy doesn't always win. You are so invested in the story that you couldn't stop reading it if the house was on fire (well, maybe).

JD Robb stories also fit that description. Eve is such an unforgettable heroine because she's strong, honorable, determined, and amazed by the love that has been brought into her life, but she continues to be a cop because it's who she is, and the pain from her childhood is still there, haunting her, waiting to rear its ugly head. I believe that the series will end as it began - there will still be struggles, murder, fights with her dazzling hubby Roarke, injustice, pain, and love. But then it wouldn't be right if the end was a rose-colored snapshot.

Edgy writing doesn't mean glossing over the tough stuff, instead it tackles them head-on and deals with the fall-out. That's what makes those stories so compelling.

Brandy said...

I agree that J.D.Robb is an edgy writer. There are a few more I could list that truly take the emotions present in a story and wrap them around the reader. Lucy, your books take the reader inside the book. The emotions are edgy because we are faced with character we can believe truly act the way they are written. There are situations present in your books that allow us to feel as though we are experiencing them. Edgy to me, feels "real". The characters feels real, the sitiation feels real, the conclusion feels real.

Delinda Jasper said...

I love a good "risk everything" romance. There doesn't have to be physical violence or danger for a book to be edgy to me. There has to be some real emotional danger. Forbidden loves, characters going through the hard stuff actual people go through, yet coming out on top. That's why I'd have to say Lavyrle Spencer is my favorite "edgy" author.

No crime, mystery, or danger. But her books make you FEEL.

The same goes for Nicholas Sparks. The emotion in his writing is enough to knock a person down. To me, that's edgy.

But don't listen to me...I'm an emotional writer myself! LOL! Ofcourse that's what I'm gonna think is the best of the best! LOL!

Lynne Connolly said...

Since I have the tagline "Romance with a dark edge," perhaps I can kinda sorta have a go at answering.
I take chances, and I do it purposely. I write ahead of the game, and now the genre is called urban gothic, and more people are writing in it.
I do vampires, but they're different (they can't make another without dying in the process). I do shapeshifters, but they're different (no were-anythings!)
and there's always the chance of tragedy hovering in the wings. Only the chance, though, because it's all romance!
But I don't consciously try to do it. I just see where the story takes me!

Lucy Monroe said...

This is a FABULOUS discussion. I'm enjoying each and every one of your posts.

Stacy...I loved this: "Edgy writing doesn't mean glossing over the tough stuff, instead it tackles them head-on and deals with the fall-out. That's what makes those stories so compelling."

And Brandy...I really agreed with, "The characters feels real, the sitiation feels real, the conclusion feels real." I strive for that and adore reading that very same type of story.

Delinda...I literally said, "Exactly!" outloud when I read your post...and loved your comment, "There doesn't have to be physical violence or danger for a book to be edgy to me. There has to be some real emotional danger." made a really important point for me and a lot of romance readers when you wrote, "... there's always the chance of tragedy hovering in the wings. Only the chance, though, because it's all romance!" Because, while I love edgy writing, I want a satisfying conclusion and it's not satisfying for me if the relationship isn't resolved and in tact at the end of the book.

I hope my class group is at least lurking on this discussion, 'cuz this is some very good stuff!

Thanks to everyone for posting and please...if you're lurking, join in! :)

That's what it's all about. :) On issues like this, even a quick agreement can be an, "Aha!" moment. :)

Vivi Anna said...

My favorite 'edgy' writer is Anne Bishop. She goes so deep, so close to the edge, I'm almost afraid of being seduced by the dark side...

She makes you want to love even those characters that have done terrible things, sometimes bordering on evil, but they had reasons, and are redeeming in the end...

Ha! Who am I kidding? I have been seduced by the dark side!!

Allison Brennan said...

Great blog, Lucy! (Found the link from one of your fans on the RWC loop). I've never actually thought about this. I often say I write "gritty" because I don't shy away from the unpleasant details . . . is gritty the same as edgy? To me, "edgy" implies "cutting edge" -- sharp writing, sharp emotions, something a little new or different or pushing boundaries. It also can be voice, tone, style -- or all of the above. JD Robb, to me, is the definition of "edgy" and it includes her sentence structure, dialogue, etc. It's the whole feeling of the book.

Maura said...

Edgy - I guess to me in means stories that challenge the character's boundaries - in safety, in fears, in pain, etc. but in ways that really drag the reader in and make those challenges matter and their outcomes really matter to the reader.

I really need the characters to have something on the line and although I treasure my HEA, I also consider edgy to be those stories where you get a HEA but things are not all sugar and sunlight. You know there will be issues in the future, but you know the characters will prevail but it will still take work.

Hopefully that makes some sense :)

Lucy Monroe said...

LOL, you've been seduced by the dark side, hmmm??? I know what you mean though...when a writer can make you cheer for a character who borders on bad (or even *is* bad), she's really touched you somewhere deep inside. hit on something I was thinking about, but had not gotten into words. It's not only the story that can be edgy, but the way a writer tells it. And what is RWC?

Maura...I *do* know what you mean. It's like Christine Feehan's Carpathians and Ghost Hunters...she doesn't write a Scooby Doo ending (though you know I love those), but her books are totally emotionally satisfying. BECAUSE by the end, you believe her characters are strong enough to face any obstacles (and you have not doubts there will be many) and prevail.

Keep the discussion coming...this is fascinatin' stuff, isn't it?

glenys said...

This really is fascinating, Lucy and all. Would it be fair, then, to say that edgy is when the reader isn't 'protected' from the nasties that lurk inside the story? I think Allison said 'gritty' and other people have spoken of violence, death, broken hearts. Nothing gets glossed over as we explore the impact of both emotional and physical dangers? That even HEA comes only after a price has been paid? Have I got it now? The discussion has led to a lightbulb moment on a romantic suspense I'm writing :-) Oh, and RWC is a wonderful romance writers' list run by Charlotte Dillon

Lucy Monroe said...

You know, touched on something that makes romance truly work for me. Because it is so much like life. But there *is* usually some kind of payment for happiness and an HEA cannot come free or it feels worthless. The greatest thing I've gotten from romance for real life is that living happily isn't easy and love comes at a price and yet gives back more into my life than I will ever give to it. Does that make sense? And thanks for posting!

Milady Insanity said...

I second Vivi Anna's Anne Bishop recommend.

I'd add Lynn Viehl in any of her incarnations to the list. Justine Musk and Lilith Saintcrow too.

And while JD Robb was once upon a time edgy (this applies to Brockmann and Feehan too), she's IMHO no longer edgy.

Lucy Monroe said...

MI...thanks for the rec. I think your comment brings another aspect of writing to light...just as writers change and grow, so do reader's tastes. What once was pure ambrosia becomes nonfat milk and what you once did not think you would ever try becomes the new taste du jour.

I think it's smart for any author to realize that her reader base is going to morph over time. She'll gain some readers and lose others, but as long as she writes true to her heart, she'll find joy in the telling of her stories and in discovering *new* reader friends while being forced to let go of old ones.

I think the same is true for readers...I've had to let some favorite authors go but I've gained others and ultimately, I think my world is a richer place for both changes as is the that of the others impacted by them. :)