Gritty Stories, What Are They?

I’ve been writ­ing this post for­ev­er. I’m slow­ly work­ing on the sec­ond part of the series and most of the time I’m stuck in that world. So I’ve neglect­ed my blog and oth­er things a bit. The good news is I’m past 10k on The Pit; the bad news is I’m nowhere near done. Oh well, let it flow. I was think­ing 30k, but it might turn out 45k or some­thing.

Now, onto the main top­ic.

I’m a native Russ­ian-speak­er, born and liv­ing in a non-Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­try (Latvia), so Eng­lish dic­tio­nary and the­saurus are my inti­mate friends. (No, I don’t read books or sci­ence papers with a dic­tio­nary; I need it to write.)

Some call my sto­ry grit­ty, so I was think­ing about it a lot recent­ly. This word was stuck in my mind for quite a bit, but I wasn’t pay­ing any atten­tion to what it actu­al­ly means. Grit­ty. It’s obvi­ous. Right? Well, not quite so.

What does the word grit­ty mean? What makes a sto­ry grit­ty?

The dic­tio­nary defines grit­ty as

1. rough, sandy, dusty, abra­sive, rasp­ing, grainy, grav­el­ly, gran­u­lar (grit­ty dust);

2. coura­geous, game, dogged, deter­mined, tough, spir­it­ed, brave, hardy, feisty (infor­mal, chiefly U.S. & Cana­di­an), res­olute, tena­cious, plucky, stead­fast, ball­sy (taboo slang), met­tle­some, will­ing to face dan­ger, able to face and deal with dan­ger or fear with­out flinch­ing (a grit­ty deter­mi­na­tion);

3. real­is­tic, hard-hit­ting, unsen­ti­men­tal, unro­man­tic (a grit­ty film); this can be fur­ther expand­ed to

hard-hit­ting — uncom­pro­mis­ing, tough, crit­i­cal, vig­or­ous, no holds barred, strong­ly word­ed, pulling no punch­es, unspar­ing;

unsen­ti­men­tal — not tend­ing to indulge the emo­tions exces­sive­ly; fac­ing facts or dif­fi­cul­ties real­is­ti­cal­ly and with deter­mi­na­tion; tough-mind­ed; tough, not giv­en to gen­tle­ness or sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty; a tough char­ac­ter;

unro­man­tic — not of, relat­ed to, imbued with, or char­ac­ter­ized by romance; nei­ther expres­sive of nor excit­ing sex­u­al love or romance; unlov­ing, not giv­ing or rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing affec­tion.

This is what we get to work with.

How does this trans­late into genre or sto­ry? Into a world the writer cre­ates? The char­ac­ters? What is grit?

Well, grit is a per­son­al­i­ty trait.

From Wikipedia:

Grit in psy­chol­o­gy is a pos­i­tive, non-cog­ni­tive trait, based on an individual’s pas­sion for a par­tic­u­lar long-term goal or end­state cou­pled with a pow­er­ful moti­va­tion to achieve their respec­tive objec­tive. This per­se­ver­ance of effort pro­motes the over­com­ing of obsta­cles or chal­lenges that lie with­in a grit­ty individual’s path to accom­plish­ment and serves as a dri­ving force in achieve­ment real­iza­tion. Com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed con­cepts with­in the field of psy­chol­o­gy include “per­se­ver­ance,” “har­di­ness,” “resilience,” “ambi­tion,” “need for achieve­ment” and con­sci­en­tious­ness.

Grit is defined as “per­se­ver­ance and pas­sion for long-term goals.” Grit­ty indi­vid­ual is a high achiev­ing indi­vid­ual, he/she also pos­sess­es “zeal” (fer­vent or enthu­si­as­tic devo­tion, often extreme or fanat­i­cal in nature, as to a reli­gious move­ment, polit­i­cal cause, ide­al, or aspi­ra­tion) and “per­sis­tence of motive and effort.” Indi­vid­u­als high in Grit are able to main­tain their deter­mi­na­tion and moti­va­tion over long peri­ods of time despite expe­ri­ences with fail­ure and adver­si­ty. Their pas­sion and com­mit­ment towards the long-term objec­tive is the over­rid­ing fac­tor that pro­vides the sta­mi­na required to “stay the course” amid chal­lenges and set-backs. Essen­tial­ly, the Grit­ti­er per­son is focused on win­ning the marathon, not the sprint.”

Grit­ty sto­ries are char­ac­ter-dri­ven sto­ries. Char­ac­ters, their moti­va­tions and actions are what make a sto­ry tru­ly grit­ty.

Ter­ri­fy­ing, bleak, dark, depress­ing, pes­simistic, gloomy or pow­er­ful­ly dis­turb­ing is not grit­ty. Nor is gore and all the grue­some detail — these are dec­o­ra­tions.

With this said, I embrace my weird­ness, because I LOVE this music video. This is also an exam­ple of a good, but not grit­ty short sto­ry. 😉

CONTENT WARNING: Kids and frag­ile adults, shoo, shoo! (No, it’s not sex. This is not a fanser­vice either. Don’t come cry­ing WTF???!!! lat­er.)

A grit­ty sto­ry is a pas­sion­ate sto­ry. It might be unro­man­tic, but it’s a sto­ry dri­ven by pas­sion­ate peo­ple, and that pas­sion for some­thing defines them pret­ty clear­ly. It’s the pow­er core of the sto­ry, or even larg­er, grit­ty might also be a mat­ter of the whole world being a cer­tain way, not spe­cif­ic to kinds of char­ac­ter or action; or per­haps a mat­ter of how events are described.

Grit­ty is the oppo­site of the lit­er­ary style of Romance. It lacks oth­er­world­li­ness, or hero­ic themes, accents and morals; it doesn’t invite you to aspire to these grit­ty ideals, like a roman­tic tale would (e.g. myths, para­bles, epics, leg­ends, etc.) It is also pos­si­ble that you, the read­er, need to be grit­ty (in sense 2, obvi­ous­ly) to endure a grit­ty sto­ry safe­ly, because a tru­ly grit­ty sto­ry might exhaust you to the bones. Pas­sion is exhaust­ing as well as exhil­a­rat­ing.

Grit­ti­ness increas­es the believ­abil­i­ty of fan­tas­tic ele­ments in par­tic­u­lar and the sto­ry world in gen­er­al.

The word grit­ty warns us that with­in the book is a kind of truth; truth in the sense of human nature and expe­ri­ence. The sto­ry and its char­ac­ters have some of the rough­ness, imper­fec­tion and com­plex­i­ty of the real world. Peo­ple change, but don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly grow or improve. Not every­thing is going to turn out pret­ty, there is vio­lence with­in and the char­ac­ters are not black, white or even grey. Some­times there’s no neat lit­tle res­o­lu­tion at the des­ig­nat­ed end­ing point of the sto­ry. Because grit­ty sto­ry doesn’t shy away from the nas­ti­er side of things. Peo­ple will­ing to do bad things, know­ing they are bad, and not nec­es­sar­i­ly for the “greater” good. The per­son­al good is good enough, no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is need­ed. It’s them or you and no one else is going to do it for you, so char­ac­ters do things with­out ago­niz­ing or lament­ing or spend­ing too much time think­ing about them.

Grit­ty is also about show­ing the con­se­quences rather than con­cen­trat­ing on the pret­ty ele­ments like bat­tles, mass-destruc­tion, love affairs, etc. We get to see the con­se­quences for all sides, includ­ing the pro­tag­o­nists. If a pro­tag­o­nist did some­thing not very moral, in a less grit­ty book this would just be skipped over. In a grit­ty book he will be hit by a truck. Twice. Maybe more. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly lit­er­al­ly.

Hope I was help­ful in some way and hap­py writ­ing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got to get back to my head and talk to myself again and put some more let­ters into the sto­ry file.

Jeno Marz
JENO MARZ is a science fiction writer from Latvia, Northern Europe, with background in electronics engineering and computer science. She is the author of two serial novels, Falaha’s Journey: A Spacegirl’s Account in Three Movements and Falaha’s Journey into Pleasure. Marz is current at work on a new SF trilogy. All her fiction is aimed at an adult audience.


  1. Holy shit I love that video! And the song is awe­some too! Hey — who’da thunk it, we have sim­i­lar tastes. 😉

    Also — you prac­ti­cal­ly described the feel of my nov­el as well in your awe­some descrip­tion of what grit­ty fic­tion means. Total high five!

    1. Aye, Vero. High five!

      I like grit­ty stuff, but I’ll prob­a­bly avoid books that would suck too much life out of me. I’m not into total mind­fuck. At least not too often. 😀

  2. Hel­lo Jeno,

    So I am in the ear­ly stages of writ­ing my own nov­el and was look­ing for a good under­stand­ing of what tru­ly makes a sto­ry grit­ty, and I am so glad I stum­bled upon this post. I sec­ond that high five. Your descrip­tion is exact­ly what I’m going for and so I just had to say thanks.


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