Writing “Edgy” Fiction

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Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music.

ASK THE AUTHOR: Jim Keane via aarongansky.com: If you can only afford one type of edit (developmental, line by line or proofreading ) which one should I pick before submitting to publishers/agents?

AARON: As for recommending editors, I’m afraid I’m low on suggestions. All my old stand-bys are getting out of the game in favor of their new writing. I might suggest Alycia Morales and/or Ben Wolf. Not sure either of them qualify as “affordable,” as I don’t know what kind of budget you’re working with. You can find out more about Alycia here: http://thewriteediting.blogspot.com/p/meet-authorseditors.html and more about Ben here: http://benwolf.com/editing-services/. In terms of what type of editing is most important, that’s a tricky question. It really depends on what the project needs. You might be able to have someone close to you (friend, family, fellow writer) give your work a quick read and recommend one type of edit to you. Really, I wouldn’t worry about copy edits (sometimes called line-edits, the proofreading stuff). As long as you’ve got a firm grasp on the language, a few errors here and there are not going to disqualify you. If, however, you’ve got all kinds of grammatical errors, no publisher will take you seriously. How much work do you need on that? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. If, however, you feel that your story or novel is going off the rails, you may want a more substantive (developmental, as you call them) editor, one who can look at the story and make some solid recommendations for finishing strong.

POPS: Just so our viewers/listeners are clear, let me give a quick definitions of the types of edits a novelist is likely to encounter.

Substantive/developmental/macro edit. It goes by different names but this edit focuses on the big picture, continuity, storytelling, consistency, etc. In traditional publishing, this is done primarily to make sure you’ve delivered the book you promised to deliver. This editor focuses on story more than semicolons.

Line edit (the kind of editing I usually do when working for a publisher on writer) focuses on the writing. A good line editor will notice if you switch up a character’s name, if you’re prone to certain misspellings, if you’re using too many dialog tags, etc. The line editor will make changes to your manuscript to improve it. Of course, you get to review those changes (usually).

Proofreading/copy editors dwell on the grammar and usage. They also correct the manuscript to make it comply with the inhouse style guide.

The publisher does all of these. If, however, you’re self-publishing or just want to turn in the cleanest copy you can, then I suggest a good line editor. He/she will correct grammar and punctuation as well as strengthen the writing over all.

Molly: My gut reaction is comprehensive. This is the type of editing I do. It’s pretty much the whole enchilada. Of course, it depends on what you can afford and what your project is. Since this is Firsts in Fiction, I’m going to assume you’re talking about a full length novel. After you’ve self-edited as much as possible, a first professional edit is helpful to make sure everything is good to go. Publishing houses have their own managing editors who will finish the polish, but as Aaron and Al says, you want to submit a sellable product, not a first draft.

Firsts in Fiction

Writing Edgy Fiction

As a student at a liberal university where the mantra was “write what scares you” and “social justice,” Aaron read a lot of what might be considered “edgy” fiction. Sensational novels and memoirs seem to gather headlines and create an influx of more writing that challenges the norm. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but like all writing, there’s a good way to handle it, and a not so good way. Here are some tips and tricks to writing edgy fiction.

WHAT IS “EDGY” FICTION? First, let’s tackle what we mean by “edgy” fiction. It’s a wide term that can be used to describe non-conventional subjects. This is especially relevant in the Christian market, but it’s not irrelevant in the secular market by any stretch of the imagination. These non-conventional subjects are usually somewhat controversial. This might be sensitive subjects like rape, or sex trafficking, or genocide, mental illness, suicide, etc. These subjects are often taboo. Think of the Game of Thrones series, which deals with incest, infanticide, even patricide. Not what you normally see in a fantasy series. Because of his portrayal of these subjects, the artistic merits of the GoT series is widely debated.

MJ: What are other examples of edgy fiction?

SHOULD YOU WRITE “EDGY” FICTION? Only if you can’t not write it. Pardon my double negative, but I feel it’s important to avoid writing something simply because it’s considered “edgy.” If you’ve a story to tell, and it’s edgy, then by all means, tell it. But avoid sensational writing about sensational subjects simply because they’re sensational. If you’re writing a social commentary, you can tackle some of these subjects, but you’ve got to do it the proper way. These types of subjects are inherently divisive and risky. Some people choose not to read these books simply because the subject is uncomfortable to read about.

MJ: I think also, here, because it’s edgy, readers expect more from it. They don’t want just salacious details, they want it presented in a well-written way. If you can’t write without sounding like a gossip columnist, you’ll have a better chance of being well-received. The argument for most edgy fiction has always been not “I can’t believe he/she wrote that!” but rather, “It has these tough themes, but it’s so well written.”

IS FICTION THE PLACE TO BE “EDGY”? Fiction has long been a vehicle for social change. Think of novels like the Grapes of Wrath and Slaughterhouse Five. Both have had profound impacts on how popular culture sees particular issues. Of course, you can simply write a memoir. Non-fiction is a tool for change just as much as fiction. But with fiction, you can reveal certain truths that non-fiction doesn’t always tackle. You can use it as a vehicle for change. Think of Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone (non-fiction) and The Things they Carried (fiction). Of the two, the latter is widely considered to be a profound anti-war book, and it seems to reveal war for what it is in a way the non-fiction account of war couldn’t.

MJ: What I’m hearing here, Aaron, is for newbie terms, nonfiction “edgy” writing could be equated to an expose, whereas fiction “edgy” writing is just that.

DOES WRITING EDGY FICTION INCREASE MY CHANCES OF BEING PUBLISHED? Sometimes, a particularly relevant “edgy” subject might increase your chances of publication, if it’s the right subject at the right time. Normally, writing “edgy” fiction can complicate your chances of publication, as it’s more of a risk. Still, publication should not necessarily be the deciding factor of whether or not you write about an “edgy” topic. Again, the purpose for writing your novel should be because you have story to tell, not because you want to convey a particular message.

MJ: I agree with Aaron here. If you feel compelled to write something edgy, do it. Don’t not do it because you think the world’s not ready for it. The world may never be ready for it. But if you have to tell this story, then tell it.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN HANDLING “EDGY” TOPICS: The first and last rule for “edgy” topics is empathy. Handle the subject with dignity and grace. If you write about sensitive subjects without empathy, then you’re no longer writing for change, you’re writing to be offensive.

Secondly, have a purpose. Don’t include something for the sake of including it. It should serve a purpose in the story (other than saying, “Hey, look at me! I’m writing “edgy” fiction!”). It should be integral to the plot.

Readers like to see characters overcome. This is not to say you can’t have an unhappy ending, but just know that readers may be unhappy with you, if you do. Then again, if you’re writing to evoke social change, sometimes it takes an unhappy ending.

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