Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How much is too much?

As writers we ask how much is too much all the time. How much X is too much in genre Y? It’s typically questions about sexual content, violence, sexual orientations, etc. But really do the specifics matter? It’s literature. In fiction, shouldn’t the limitation be our own imaginations? In short, the answer to the question how much is too much, should be nothing. Nothing is too much. So why do we keep asking these questions?

Because publishing is a business. We are constantly worried about what will sell, what people will think, how people will react, if we can do it justice and on and on. We know there’s a line. There always is. The world is full of boundaries.

The problem is, if we write to that line, we are limiting ourselves right out of the gate. We aren’t stretching our imaginations, we aren’t stretching the limits, and we aren’t stretching ourselves. If we put an imaginary line out there, we will never know where that line really is, and we never have the opportunity to challenge its current location. We will also never challenge ourselves and never know what we are capable of.

We should be writing the books we want to write. Plain and simple. We should be true to our stories and our characters. It goes back to the Ernest Hemingway quote “Write drunk; edit sober.”  Write like the lines don’t matter. In fact write like the lines don’t exist. Don’t limit yourself.

When we write we shouldn’t be worried about what will sell or what people will think. In reality, there is always going to be someone who has issue with your book regardless of what you put in it, whether you follow the "rules" or not. There will also be people that love it regardless. In fact, there may be people who love your book because you pushed the boundaries, because you broke the "rules". So why are we as writers so worried about what’s too much for our books?

We shouldn't be.

Write the book you want to write. Be true to yourself and what you think needs to go on the page. Honor your characters and their journeys. Worry about whether or not it’s working for your story when you edit. You might surprise yourself. You might just push that line further than you ever expected.


  1. Interesting topic. I would add that if you step over that line and submit to a mainstream market you are also limiting yourself. Too much can limit your readership. Stretch the limits of any new idea but be careful to form your story so that it casts the widest net.

    1. Thanks for the comment!. In terms of stepping over the line, I think some of that is what editing is for. In the drafting phase you shouldn't limit yourself but maybe as you refine, reign things in a bit. I know some authors will put stuff in their manuscripts just to see how much they can get away with. I think most publishing houses and agents would be willing to work with an author if the story is something they want to see. Heck I know YA authors that have had to remove things from their books that went "too far".

      I think as with anything when you write the story you want to write you are taking a risk. That risk can have rewards but it can also have consequences like you said. But you never know what works (or doesn't) until you try. I hate to bring this up as an example but look what happened with 50 Shades of Grey. Who would have thought a book like that would have sold so well? In that case the risk paid off, and I'm willing to bet not many people thought that kind of story would get that kind of interest. Not saying risks will always pay off but sometimes you have to take them.