Angry Writing Style
What constitutes an angry writing style? Is it a good idea to make anger part of your brand?
I remember searching the internet about “angry writing style.” Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, name the engine. Pouring over results like a hydrochondriac, I found a few articles which proved I am not alone.
One of the results was On Susan Sontag: “she was always an angry writer”. I hadn’t heard of Susan Sontag, a sign of my uncultured upbringing. After reading the internet’s praise of her style, I read her collection of essays On Photography. While reading them, I discovered my spirit animal (er, spirit writer?)
There is Charles Bukowski. Gritty. Contemporary. Transgressive. He wrote a prose-poem “The Most Beautiful Woman In Town”.
There is a blog called Angry Asian Man which is about social issues. I guess there are people out there who are unapologetically angry and smack boldness onto t-shirts.
But what does this mean? What makes an angry writing style appealing? We live in an age where social media threads easily derail when a commenter ventures into the territory of the personal political. People swear to delete their social media apps and go on a mental detox. We try to promote mental health awareness and self-care reminders. What benefit does an angry writing style have in this day and age?
Both Susan Sontag and Charles Bukowski have punchy writing styles, and arguably, they also have angry writing styles. However, I don’t know if “punchy” is the only way to categorize a style as angry.
What is anger? #
In university I attended a screening of Angry Inuk, a documentary about the Inuit seal trade and social media backlash. It also introduced me to the idea that anger management is a skill.
Inuit culture teaches toddlers how to quietly deal with anger. When a toddler throws a tantrum, the parent mocks the bad behavior, either by copycatting or responding in a playful manner. When the toddler is confused, the parent uses this opportunity to explore their feelings.
As adults, the tradition continues. If you have a vendetta against someone, then you go to your enemy and arrange a theatrical showing. Both sides bring out their drums and rap at each other. Not exactly rap, but you get the point. A battle of emotions rather than violence. Imagine a civil settlement where the jury plays instruments and you’re chanting torts.
In a tundra where survival is difficult enough, it makes sense. “Blowing up” puts you and the community in danger. How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger describes more details about an anthropologist’s takeaways.
Indulging in your anger and “letting it out” only reinforces rageful catharsis and trains you to lash out more often. Anger can be addicting.
Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.
The same APA article also says, “There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn’t always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.”
Anger that is quiet, delayed, and kept frozen until the time is right for the thaw. It accumulates into a shit show of the funny variety. Storytelling, satire and parody are the tools used to control it. This paints a very different style of anger from what southerners are accustomed to.
This article written by Neil Gaiman talks about how Terry Pratchett, the author of a fantasy satire series, was an angry person.
Terry looked at me. He said: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.” I thought of the driven way that Terry wrote, and of the way that he drove the rest of us with him, and I knew that he was right.
I’ve always had the idea that satire is a manifestation of anger. Comedy also. Yet, at the same time, they might just be effective coping methods. The angrier you are, the funnier you are?
Processing our anger is the key to defeating it.
Anger as coal, not fire #
As much as cultural influence has an impact on our values and coping methods, some people are born hotheaded. Even if they trained to keep a tight lip, we as humans like to judge and assess each other, and some people just expect more out of life and get frustrated when they can’t or refuse to lower those expectations. I wonder if entitlement and anger are related? Anger and disappointment?
Outrage is such a common occurrence. To have a book which features no outrage whatsoever might be decried as unrealistic—or a relief. Actually, that sounds interesting for a story. What would subdued anger look like over the course of a novel? The “cold protagonist” is scary because they have their shit together. When they don’t, the situation must be really bad… It’s a popular trope: to watch the iceberg collapse.
What is so appealing about anger? Of course, I don’t like the outrage that is all too common on social media, the traumadump that is all too common in editor slush piles (I am guilty of both).
If I read a piece with an angry writing style, what am I looking for? The kind of anger that crawls under you skin? How? Do the sentence structures have an erratic cadence? Is anger found in the diction, or in the subject matter?
Is angry writing actually effortless and just a lazy button to trigger emotional response? Because written words usually have no tone of voice, many readers interpret neutral text as aggressive. It’s like how loud people think quiet people are snobby. Extending strangers the courtesy of small talk is polite and thoughtful, so how dare someone else randomly hate you before you’ve even met! For gregarious folks, avoidance is an expression of dislike. Those quiet snobs! They’re right, of course. I’m picky and I hate everyone by default.
Wait… there’s a difference between aggression and anger, right? Even if they’re similar concepts? Our Talons can Crush Galaxies has an aggressive title right from the onset. The story’s writing isn’t the most beautiful, but it’s definitely pointed.
Can aggressive writing be beautiful? Some readers find beauty in the little gross cavities of our lives.
Transgressive fiction? Transgressive means marginalized. Found on the edge. Taboo. It could include anger, but it’s not the main purpose… unless you’re Inuk writing about the cultural taboo of expressing anger.
Anger is ugly. There’s nothing beautiful about it. Anger is lip service to the human condition. What’s the point of depicting anger if we get enough criticism and pain from real life? I too want to write inspiring, gorgeous literature that swallows easy like butter, but I have not been blessed to have a beautiful outlook. Maybe this endeavor will end in disappointment.
Like most of my ramblings, long after I’ve written down a few thoughts, I continue to ponder this topic endlessly. Should I purposely seek out different types of anger and how to express it? Is this even a good idea? Do I want to be known as an angry writer? If I tell you, “I’m an angry writer,” you’re going to have preconceptions. Reverse psychology doesn’t work here.
I still have no idea how to answer, “What does anger accomplish in literature?” Does focusing on anger make a story better or worse? Is it beneficial to read angry literature? Surely, some literature has to spark from anger, but anger and passion are not to be mistaken as the same things. Is writing angrily just the easy way out? Maybe you can comment and chime in with your thoughts.