Writing edgy short stories

Let’s suppose that your style will never be suited to women’s magazines. It isn’t uplifting, perhaps it isn’t PC and perhaps it isn’t truly what you mean AND you don’t want the reader to believe it’s what you mean. You may have your tongue in your cheek. You may have a cheek. The thing is, you want to write the thing and you want it read. Going against the grain means taking a risk. Risks are edgy.

It’s a shame that ‘edgy’ is now often taken to be a hairstyle with long straight bits covering one eye, or full sex in YA. In fact it’s an adjective referring to a feeling of unease, a risk-taking, which may be social, intellectual, artistic.

Let me suggest alternative edginess to hairstyles or urban sex.  Here are four images:

2012-03-25 01.03.39

stacked edges

image

layers of meaning

coastal fishing

Will he fall?

image

sinister symbolism?

Suggestions for writing edgy stories.

1. It helps tremendously if you write with a clear voice. Not yours, your character’s. It doesn’t have to be first person. You can write third person from the main character’s (MC) point of view. What matters is that point of view, the reader feeling sure s/he is standing in the MC’s shoes. The reader doesn’t have to like the MC. It is edgier if a sneaky liking for a character is uneasy or worse.

2. Short stories can’t cope with having too many characters. In any case, edginess may depend on being in the MC’s head most of the read.

3. Dialogue has to do its job extremely well and extremely pithily. This means that every word counts. ‘Whatever’ can give a totally feel for the reaction, whereas a whole sentence may not.

4.  Structure. If you are working on the 1/5 start, 3/5 middle. 1/5 end there can be no discursiveness in that final fifth. Either you are going to shock the reader by reversing all his/her expectations or you are going to let your MC cross over some unacceptable line. It may only mean stealing a neighbour’s child’s bike and pretending innocence.  However, the ‘journey’ still needs to be there, and vital that whatever is happening or has happened, is some kind of shock to the system.

5.  It’s a mistake to think that you have to use extreme sexual or aggressive behaviour to be edgy. Risk of some form is usually involved. However, the uneasiest feelings can be activated by an action closest to home, an everyday event taken for granted that suddenly appears to have a different significance.

6.  The edgy story does not have to be crime or erotica. It can suggest something sinister. It can be socially provocative. It can be funny.  It’s no longer edgy for sexual abuse to be suspected, not because it’s any more acceptable, just because it’s now been so much written about.

It is still edgy to nudge into those actions that would be too awkward to admit to a friend. e.g. the MC’s friendship is established in the first 4/5th of the tale but we worry that his mate is about to cheat him. The last fifth reveals that we are wrong and the assumptions we made only highlight our own prejudices.  Edginess must produce unease

INVITATION

Comment below if you’d like to discuss brief examples of edginess.

2 comments on “Writing edgy short stories

  1. Cherry says:

    I learnt a lot from this. Do you think “edgy” short stories have to end with a twist in the tale, at some unexpected point, or could there be more of a slow build up to a solution?

    Like

    • What matters is producing an uncomfortable feeling in the reader, for whatever reason. It doesn’t have to be a twist in the usual sense. More a twist or pinch of the reader’s sense of what’s ‘right’ i.e. socially expected, normal, acceptable.

      Like

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