Saturday, December 12, 2009

Life on the edge

I was thinking about 'edgy', as is maybe obvious from the title of this post. I'm just so unsure what to do with this concept, and frankly, I'm a little bit over the word. See, there are some things that I've read and I think, okay, I understand why this would be labeled 'edgy'. Living Dead Girl comes immediately to mind.

But beyond something so obviously 'edgy', I just. don't. get. it.

I'm going to explain why, using my WIPs to help me. * (That would be Dead and Alive, as I'm tentatively calling my WIP, even though I'm not sure it'll stick--better than untitled, though--and Unthawed, because Ignited is in that weird, "new adult" zone.)

So, Unthawed is so very not edgy. They don't really swear, no one has sex or does drugs or drinks or anything like that. None of the things that tend to win books that little "edgy" label, by my best judgement. But it is so violent. Pretty much everyone my MC knows gets killed in the first/second chapter, brutally. And then there's more death and violence after that. But apparently that's fine? That's not horrifying, not potentially scarring? At least, not compared to...

Dead and Alive has sex and swearing and I guess overall the whole concept is a little unpleasant, what with my MC having been killed before it starts. I'm not sure whether or not this would be labeled edgy. Because as this post makes very clear, I'm no expert on the subject. But it's definitely way closer than Unthawed.

But the thing is, swearing isn't anything a teen wouldn't hear every single day at school, if not at home. The sex, well, it's not like teens don't know that other teens are doing it, even if they're not. It's not like my characters are S&Ming it or something. It's not edgy, in my mind. And those things I just said are exactly why I hate hate hate when every book with one little swear is suddenly edgy, or why characters are suddenly so amazingly teen when they start in with their pot smoking and their drunken escapades.

If I were thinking about 'edge' in terms of the real world, not literature, violence (even if that violence is an animal/mutant mutilating a human) would be SO FAR above things like normal sex between two people (teens or adults) and above casual drug use or alcohol drinking (alcoholism and drug addiction are different--those for me fall into the 'I see why this might be labeled edgy' category.) Swearing isn't even on my edge radar at all.

So the use of this term 'edgy' baffles me and I kind of want it to go away. Or not go away, but be more limited! Isn't there a middle ground between clean and gentle happy place writing and edgy? Can't something be more suitable for those in the upper YA range without being 'edgy'? Why does sex=omg the shock and horror? Am I wrong for thinking enough YA has these elements now that it's silly to think of them as some sort of special category?

Feel free to agree with me, disagree with me, explain to me what big picture element I am missing in my confusion.

*Note: I am definitely not trying to label the edginess of my WIPs, because I'm honestly not particularly concerned with whether or not they are. It's just easier to use examples.


Amanda Hannah said...

I think part of the problem is the definition of edgy is constantly getting redefined. That, and geography. Regardless, I don't really like the use of the word 'edgy' alone to describe anyone's work. Truthful. Intense. Many other adjectives that can encompass the feel of a book. Readers should read the back flap. See what the book's about and decide if it would be edgy for their own reading.
Nice post Kaitlin. You're on a roll with the blogging. *slinks away to think of something for her poor, neglected blog to say*

V said...

I think the merit of labeling things as "edgy" is that it can be helpful for people who want to stay away (or want their kids to stay away) from reading about sex, drugs, and the like. Sort of like a rating system?

But I definitely agree with you about the violence thing, and I think it's mostly cultural. Why can we show brutal violence on television but not...I don't know, a butt crack or something? I think we could benefit from treating sex as normal instead of scandalous. And treating violence with the care it warrants. Someday, when I have kids, I think I'd rather them see a naked person than someone getting disemboweled.

Okay. *steps off soap box* Really interesting post. :-)

V said...

(Oh-- but not that I think sex should be haphazardly tossed around and not treated with care either. Bah.)

Amna said...

This is a great post!

I agree, that edgy keeps getting redefined and its definitely determined by geography and time.

Living in a large, metropolitan city, I am exposed to a lot and I begin to consider less things 'edgy.'

But when I took part in a student exchange, I learned that sex, drinking and smoking were all pretty taboo. Me and my partner went through a shock! But I learned so much from her, and I'd like to think I educated her too.

Most of the time, not all the time, but most.

Edgy= Real.

Michelle Schusterman said...

Hearing others say "Oh, my work is so edgy" kind of sets my arm hair sticking up too. And the reason is what you stated - no one really knows what makes in "edgy". Cussing? Sex? I'm sorry, then most of the YA out there is "edgy" by that classification.

I think it just stems from years ago when "YA" meant "BabySitters Club." We've come a long way. We don't need to define it as "edgy." Let's just say "realistic."

Chanelley said...

Personally, I don't class swearing/sex/casual drug taking as edgy in books. I class edgy as a book that goes into uncomfortable territory in an honest and descriptive way. So, like, Living Dead Girl - as you said. It's edgy because it's an uncomfortable topic. Child abduction and rape.
Other books that maybe deal with mental disorders, cutting, substance abuse in a big way, and physical abuse would probably be edgy for me.
But characters having sex and swearing? It shocks me how violence is seen as okay, nowadays, but sex is not.

Stephanie Jenkins said...

I don't consider books with swearing or sex as edgy unless the sexual behavior is dangerous (prostitution, addiction, etc). As Michelle pointed out, sex and swearing is realistic in YA, even if not all teens do that. My sister is in high school and doesn't do either; however, she reads books full of curse words, etc.

Kristin Miller said...

Interesting thought about why some things are considered edgy but some aren't. What immediately springs to mind is that the things that are traditionally considered edgy - drugs, sex, sweating - are things that our society actively advises against AND are things that the teen his/herself can proactively decide to do or not do.

Violence, on the other hand, is a comparatively rare occurrence here and is something that tends to happen passively to people - at least people in stories. I think books that are violent and from the point of view of the violent person (killer, rapist, etc) have always been considered edgy whereas the ones where those events are happening TO a non-violent MC makes it victim-fiction, instead.

I don't really know . . . those are just some thoughts that probably don't make any sense at all. :P

VĂ©ro said...

I think Kristin made some excellent points that I never considered before.

That being said though I keep both away from my children, I would be much less concerned if my children accidentally catch a sex scene on television than someone being dismembered or something...

I don't know what I'm trying to say... lol I think I should go to bed. :)