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Not to bury 50 Shades, but maybe learn from it

June 25, 2012

Author MJ Rose is in my Facebook feed and she’s annoyed at the abuse being heaped on writers EL James for the quality of writing in the 50 Shades of Grey series.

Clearly, there’s merit in what she says. If EL James is selling that many books, someone’s enjoying her work. In fact, they’re enjoying it some much that rope sales are up at some of the nation’s hardware stores, but that’s a different story for a different kind of blog.

Pretty cotton rope. Next year’s Valentine’s gift of choice?

The success of this series, and the Twilight series before it, along with some of the criticism attached to the quality of both series, begs the question: would you rather be good or successful?

And before you reject the premise, sometimes one doesn’t lead to the other. If you wander around the Internet enough, you’ll find people who know who say that there’s far better erotica than 50 Shades–not to mention far more graphic erotica. But they aren’t being parodied on Saturday Night Live and changing America’s rope-buying habits. There’s clearly something about the story that resonates with readers.

So maybe the question needs to be asked another way: in our quest for literary perfection, are we sometimes focusing on the perfection more than the story? Are we sometimes trying so hard to get the dialog tags just right that we don’t spend the time making sure the dialog jumps off the page? Are we sometimes focusing so much on genre rules that we forget the reader?

In other words, rather than denigrate 50 Shades (I read some of it on my Nook at B&N; it’s easy to do), maybe there’s something to learn from it.

One thing that jumps out at me are the number of comments I’ve seen that say 50 Shades is tame compared to other erotica of its type. Maybe that’s part of the point. Maybe most suburban moms don’t want harder-core erotica. Maybe whatever Christian Grey does to Anastasia is enough for them. And maybe they’ve read Twilight and like the familiarity with the characters and the situation.

Maybe EL James is true to her own voice and passions (meant in a non-carnal context), and didn’t try to dress them up for the agent sitting across the table from her at the writer’s convention.

Whether you like 50 Shades or not, it worked. That’s the caveat attached to all the don’t rules in writing: unless it works. The trick isn’t to see what’s wrong with 50 Shades, it’s to see where it worked and determine whether that applies to what you’re doing.

  1. June 25, 2012 9:24 am

    I think you nailed it…it’s what people want to read…to escape their otherwise humdrum lives.

    But it isn’t about worrying over the detail and missing the big picture. All of it is important. Some are just better overlooking the glitches than others. Unfortunately, those of us who HAVE to worry about the detail, will always get annoyed over those glitches. Rightly so. We all should strive for perfections. Right? *smile*

    – Mac

  2. June 27, 2012 7:22 pm

    I don’t know why people are getting so hyped. Isn’t it a good thing? Suddenly erotica is getting an airing that it doesn’t normally. Its getting a massive readership and exposure, and people are recognising that its ok to be turned on and titillated, its fun, and quirky, and beats Jane Austen or Eyre anyday. So maybe it is a little tamer, but thats why people can read it, its not so in their face that they’d feel ashamed for someone to see them reading it, or glance at the page they were on and catch a glimpse of the words….

  3. Ela permalink
    October 9, 2012 2:03 am

    Some of it I didn’t want to be caught reading. Some of us come from sheltered backgrounds. It’s true, what is said here, some of us don’t want hard core erotica. Also, remember that 50 shades was her first ever book. 50 shades darker read better than the first novel, and 50 shades freed, read better again. So, even E L James learnt while writing. Life is all about learning. That seemed to me to be the essence of the trilogy, in all it’s forms.

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