A while ago, edgy writing was on the rise. Agents and editors were looking for it. Authors were trying their best to write it. Plenty of others were arguing about it. Since there is no one definition for edgy, it is instinctively controversial; when you try to scout out a definition, the controversy grows.
Sometimes edgy is a good thing. It emphasizes mastery in writing, an avant-garde way with words, powerful themes, stunning plots. More often, edgy stands for the dark and provocative, for stories that unsettle or leave you on edge. In YA (Young Adult fiction), edgy can stand for something else entirely – stories that deal with drugs, sex, or teen violence. Each kind manifests in different ways.
You can have an edgy theme – This is often the provocative, controversial type of edgy that takes people out of their comfort zones. Edgy themes could be racism, abortion, life for an inner city gang.
You can also have edgy content – This is similar to an edgy theme, in that they both deal with uncomfortable issues. But content takes the theme to a higher level. For example, take Songs Without Words, versus Thirteen Reasons Why. They both deal with suicide – the influence, the act, it’s effect on other people. But each impacts you differently.
In Songs, you’re left thinking, “How sad. How true.” In Thirteen Reasons you’re left thinking, “Whoa.” Both are very good books, but Thirteen Reasons is edgy, and Songs is not.
Some people believe that edgy can’t be taught. And it can’t—you won’t be edgy at all, unless it develops from your own personal writing style, using your own distinct voice. It’s about skill and cultivating these skills. That’s the gist of growing as a writer – you can’t force methods or rules, but you can grow through them.
Here are some techniques to make your writing edgier.
When writing a scene, think about what kind of mood you want to set, and what kind of mood you want your readers to feel. Getting your readers emotions involved can really make them connect with a story. Learn to use settings that amplify your desired mood, but don’t overdo it –if you put your victim in a dark alley, and he gets attacked, readers will roll their eyes. Better to put your victim in a stairwell, or in the library during closing time.
Also learn to filter settings and situations through your characters emotions. If a character is wearing rose-colored glasses, he’s going to see roses no matter where he is. So choose your descriptors to emphasize the desired emotion.
A brooding character may see “flickering shadows on the pavement, like hands trying to warn him of something, only he couldn’t hear the words.”
A happier character might see “shadows that danced, sprite-like, so that light glittered off the gutter, and the wind laughed overhead.”
Suspense is simply a withheld outcome. The art of suspense is learning how long to withhold an outcome, and how much to reveal, how soon. Don’t withhold something so long that it looses its importance. Don’t reveal it as soon as readers begin asking questions. And don’t jerk them back and forth so long that they become thoroughly confused – it just leads to frustration and indifference.
Wait until they’re uncertain, but still suspicious. Wait until the answers are most necessary. Then give readers some – not all – of what they want. And whenever you reveal one thing, ask two more questions. This will continue the suspense, while still satisfying readers.
Be careful to make your answers worthwhile, and make sure that they don’t blindside readers. You want readers to be surprised, not upset.
Once a beta-reader told me not to get too literal with my metaphors. It sounds silly, but we do this sometimes. We worry too much. It’s a metaphor – let it be a stretched metaphor. Because then it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. If it works, or not. You were just messing around.
The best way to come up with something original is to experiment. Go overboard sometimes. Write something you would never write; write something you stopped writing. Be different in as many ways as you can. Stretch your metaphors, dramatize your settings, and in a word, be bold.
Contrast is using two different ideas to compliment certain aspects of each other, and to highlight other aspects. Example. Say you have two mob-heads meeting in a church, where some old lady is lighting candles. The poignancy of the old woman compliments the grimness of the meeting. At the same time, her act of reverence and grieving stands out against the men’s dark, shallow intentions.
Reading books or watching TV, it’s easy to start taking fictional death or violence casually. You see it all the time. It looses it’s meaning. Contrast can snap readers back to reality. Incidentally, this ups the stakes.
Really, the “whoa” factor is what defines edgy at it’s core. It’s not just good writing, or shocking writing, or dark, eerie writing – it’s writing that blows you away. Even if your work never takes on the other aspects of edgy writing, learning the techniques can help you develop your own “whoa” factor. Agents look for it. Editors crave it. Readers love it. Because everyone wants to have a “whoa” moment.