Monday, January 3, 2011

Push The Edge But Don't Cross The Line

I am asked frequently from writers how far they can "push their novels." This recently came up with a question on Twitter asking how far a writer can push the romance in her YA. The answer is simple. You can push it until you have crossed the line and made it something the market can't tolerate. Sure the market might change later but we are talking about the present day market.

If you think back in the history of publishing and the movies, people have been pushing the envelope. What you will notice though, is that they don't shove but nudge the envelope. Think Gone With The Wind. When the producers decided to leave in Rhett's famous line, they were pushing it. One word and there was a controversy. They didn't have him ranting and raving with the lanugage of a sailor. They allowed him the one word. Yes, I know there was a financial price, but we have to remember it was just a nudge.

When it comes to your writing, you can push the envelope. Editors and agents want to see you try new things and give us something to think about. Don't just give us carbon copies of what is already out there. But, with that said, you don't have to be shocking and push it that far. Just a nudge.

The other thing to consider would be the guidelines of the publisher or agent you are submitting to. This is especially true with the YA's. If the publisher says to do it one way and not another, then don't cross that line. They have a reason for it. I can promise you, the publisher will not consider your manuscript if you don't follow their guidelines.



  1. Thanks for the information. I'll have to keep that in mind during my writing and revising. I'll have to see if there is anywhere in the story that I can push to the next level.

  2. This is often a topic of discussion in the YA critique group I belong to. It's easy to question the lines when you know your book will be in the hands of a young, impressionable group of readers.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  3. Great advice. I love the idea of a nudge.

  4. The smartest bit of advice on this subject I've ever heard is from one of the senior editors at Harlequin.

    She said that, as far as editors are concerned, a very successful writer can get away with pushing over that line when few others can.

    And just because Famous Author has done this, doesn't mean that you can. Instead, you should notice what the newer published authors are doing to give you a sense of where that line is.

  5. Along these lines I'm having a problem with "pushing" in characterization. The woman has angst, and wanders into that moral middle ground, but how far can you push your character before you loose the sympathy of your audience? What is the key to making the wrong side of a moral dilemma likeable?