Saturday, November 12, 2005

Venturing out to the edge . . .


Caveat: I have a slight fever and am medicated at the moment, so I hope the following will make sense.

A bit of a brouhaha lately about "edgy" versus "safe" Christian fiction out in the blogosphere, so here I go, chucking in my two cents. Twenty-five cents, actually, because after seventeen years in this biz I have a whole pocketful of change.

Let's not narrow our focus to one or two areas--why, with an entire world to explore, has the debate about writing "safe" versus "edgy" centered on profanity and/or sexual explicitness? Writing "safe" means creating stories and plots and characters that resemble stories and plots and characters that have previously met with widespread acceptance. "Writing on the edge" means trying new forms, new stories, new plots, new techniques and new character types. The edge is always risky . . . anyone remember New Coke? (VBG)

John Grisham wrote "safe" . . . until he wrote A PAINTED HOUSE. Most authors write "safe," mirroring themselves or another popular genre, until they discover their unique niche.

What is "safe" for Ted Dekker might feel "edgy" for Lori Wick. What is safe for one publisher might be edgy for another. What is "edgy" for CBA might be "safe" for the general market . . . and vice versa. (An openly evangelical novel about the transforminig power of Jesus Christ might prove quite edgy for some general publishers.)

Tough topics? Christian writers have been addressing them for years--and doing an excellent job. Gritty situations? Been doing that, too. Taking risks? Yep, even that.

My editor recently sent me a letter with a paragraph that fits here: You take a lot of chances--both "The Novelist" and "Uncharted" throw something at CBA readers they've never seen before. You're risking a lot--readers of some of your more upbeat recent novels may be confused by the two new novels, and if they don't like them, may choose other authors in the future. That's not "safe."



I'm not unique--lots of my novelist friends are striving to try unique things, improve their craft, and tell God-filled stories in new and excellent ways. The Christian publishing houses, too, are venturing closer to the bleeding edge. We're all looking for the best tools available to illustrate the greatest story ever told.

Personally, I simply try to write the stories God gives me in the best possible format--one that allows me to be true to my convictions while respecting my audience, the craft, and the art.

So . . . before we become myopic with the word "edgy" and limit it to one or two areas, let's remember the entire spectrum. Christian novelists are working hard to tell their stories as best they can to a world that desperately needs to hear Truth.

And now I think I hear my fever calling me back to the sofa . . .

Angie "Expect the Unexpected" Hunt
www.angelahuntbooks.com

7 comments:

BJ said...

As usual, you're right on target. One of the ideas passed around so often in the blogosphere that does nothing but make it clear how little is actually understood about this issue of "safe" and "unsafe" fiction, or, especially, this thing called "edgy fiction," is the assumption that it deals only with sexual issues, or gratuitous violence. Some authors as well as publishers often lump "edgy fiction" in the same basket as more explicit writing about sexuality. That's the worst kind of over-simplification--but it definitely demonstrates the confusion and misunderstanding attached to the issue.

Frankly, I'd like to see a total abandonment of the words "edgy" and "safe" (or "unsafe")fiction. It's leading to a categorization that's faulty and altogether unnecessary.

Whatever happened to simply writing good fiction?

(Now--would you like to know how I *really* feel, Angie?)

BJ

J. Mark Bertrand said...

I agree this is very helpful stuff. Don't these discussions focus on sex, foul language and (to a lesser extent) violence because these are perceived as the taboos -- the things that can't be dramatized the way other action in a story would be? That's my take on it, anyway.

I'm all in favor of abandoning not only the words safe, unsafe and edgy but also the categories themselves, and seeing the only criteria for acceptance be that the writing is good. But that would require value judgments to be less a priori and more contextual -- i.e., not a question of what the writer chooses to show, but whether that showing serves a Christ-honoring purpose in the work.

Angela said...

And yet a lot of beginning writers place themselves in the center of the debate, and you can't think of the work as a solo effort. It's at least a trio--the author, the editor, and the reader. The partnership cannot exist without willing cooperation from all three parties. If any one of the three backs out, you have no book, or no "literary experience."

A writer must respect his/her partners in the endeavor.

So--a savvy author will know his/her market and the constraints thereof . . . ditto for the editor. So it becomes more of a challenge to depict certain situations within those constraints, and I'm here to testify that it's completely possible to do it beautifully and effectively. A little harder, sure, but what writer doesn't like a challenge?

Angie

Alton Gansky said...

Great post Angie. I get questions about edgy fiction all the time and even teach on the subject at some writer's conference. It seems to me the real problem rests in definition. For some reason, edgy has been equated with sexual content or the use of earthier language. That's not edgy fiction; that's graphic fiction. I'm not certain the opposite of "edgy" is "safe."

Paula said...

Thank you, Angie! As a new author I desire to write something that will probe the deeper issues of the heart and draw my readers to Jesus. I want to write in a way that is "real," that is honest, but that also offers hope. I wish we'd just drop the term edgy and talk about writing honestly and redemptively. I wish we'd focus on the story God puts in our heart and write it the best way we know how.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Good post, Angie.

I'm a little flummoxed by this whole issue anyway. I think the argument gets us off focus. For example, I suppose in the scheme of Christian suspense, my books would be labeled more on the "edgy" side due to their content and presentation of evil. But that's not what my readers care about. What they care about is that the book's a good story. That's what I care about, too. I know my target audience and what they've come to expect from me. They expect fast action from page one, strong characterization, and plenty of twists. The thought scares me silly, 'cause somehow I have to come up with such a manuscript every time. Egad, what if I fail?!! I've got waaay too much to worry about, filling those expectations, than to worry about being "edgy" enough. If in meeting those expectations, the story is "edgy" (whatever that means, as you so well point out), so be it. If not, so be it.

The same is true for me as to the Christian content. Where does our faith thread fit into this "edgy" argument? Does "edgy" work mean less Christian content? Let's hope that's not part of the definition--why should it be? I don't sit down to write a Christian-themed book any more than I sit down to write an "edgy" one. The faith content arises out of the story elements. Along this treacherous plotting path, God leads, and I try to listen. But again, it comes down to crafting a book as best as I can.

~ Brandilyn

Tired_02 said...

Wow, totally agreeing... I mean, the way I see it (and I'm sorry if I'm not giving due credit to the authors here), it's a novel. Work of fiction. No two are the same, and certainly there is no way to lump book into one huge big general catagory. A catagory that no two people agree on.

Which is why I just plain don't understand why everyone is so dead set on making every book fit into their pre-concieved idea of a good, all-containing catagory, then expecting everyone elses strange notions to be exactly the same as theirs.

Suddenly I don't think I made any sense... Oh boy.