What Does Edgy Mean in YA?


Part I: Definitions

This series was inspired by a comment from my agent. He’d been shopping around my novel, Song of the Lost Clan with positive feedback, but no sale. The time had come for a conversation on how to make it a better fit into either a Mid-Grade (MG) market or possibly a Young Adult (YA) market. The comment that inspired this series was that in order for my novel to appeal to a YA market, it needed to be “edgier.”

After I stopped whining about making changes to a story I felt I’d done a good job telling, I got down to the business of figuring out exactly what I was going to do. I discovered that I really wasn’t sure what “edgy” meant, especially in a practical “make it happen” sense. It was about like having someone ask for ideas that were “out of the box” or that their web design needed look more “three-dimensional.” When you get right down to it, those expressions don’t have any practical meaning.

Following my usual modus operandi, I did some research to define the term. A web search on “edgy YA” brought up a couple of blog posts that gave me a beginning. One  defined “edgy” writing as, “writing with attitude as opposed to objectivity or evenness,” “a sense of superiority, even snobbishness, and on to arrogance and downright meanness.”

Another defined “edgy” as “high-intensity…defiant…tense…risky” and offered seven ways to cater to that including, “forget logic—focus on impact.” (Apparently this person has never been to a science-fiction convention.) “Shorter sentences,” “bold statements that express a strong point of view,” “Be ironic and even sarcastic (but not mean).”

A third suggested that an “edgy” story might “suggest something sinister. It might be socially provocative.” This person gave the example that merely suggesting sexual abuse is no longer enough. These days, we have to show it in order to have the same impact it once had. They finished off by saying that, “Edginess must produce unease.”

There was consensus in that writing “edgy” had a certain limit that couldn’t be defined, but if you went over that limit, your story would be so sharp it could cut you just by looking at it.

I decided to ask some writers who I knew (and whose work and opinions I respected) for their thoughts.

Question: What does “edgy” mean to you?

Austin Camacho Laura Shovan Tony Russo Sally Whitney
In terms of YA fiction, I think “edgy” means moving closer to adult genre fiction. Horror beyond R.L Stein, romance with a more adult view of sex, adventure with more realistic violence. It’s also more emotionally intense. There is still a big difference between what is acceptable in YA vs. adult fare, but it’s getting closer. Edgy is a label. I think its meaning is fluid. What’s edgy to one person is not necessarily so to another reader. Edgy to me has always been about topics that were once considered taboo. Today, some books cover illegal drug use and alcoholism but I’m seeing more titles about characters who must overcome sexual violence, are struggling with sexual identity, or must find a way to create their place in family groups. There seem to be more stories for YA about abandonment (youths living without parents), responsibility (youths who are the parents), terminal illness, and death. I suppose what edginess is—setting a story within the more horrific elements of life.

So the general consensus among my fellow writers was that “edgy” was a fluid label that meant dark—darker—darkest. As dark as you could get without crossing over into adult.

That last bit deserves repeating, “without crossing over into adult.” And yet, more and more adults are picking up YA books, which is one of the reasons the YA market sells so well.

Since the point of this exercise was to apply it to my own writing, I started thinking about the type of story I wanted to tell and if there could be a crossing point between that and the current marketplace. If the marketplace demanded a level of edginess that would turn my story into something I wouldn’t want to read myself, then making changes in that direction wouldn’t produce optimal results.

I decided that I needed to look at this from a different angle. Maybe my problem wasn’t so much better defining a term as better defining the market. What better way to do that than take a history lesson?

Check back for Part II: The Evolution of Edgy

What does “edgy writing” mean to you? I’d love to read your thoughts. Comment Below.

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This entry was posted by on Monday, June 15, 2015.
Filed under: Articles, For Writers, Marketing
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