A Writer's Journey

June 15, 2012

50 Shades of Grey: My 2 Cents

Filed under: journey,off topic,writing — mackenziew @ 12:35 am
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I give. I was hoping the popularity surrounding this would die down quickly, but it seems to be everywhere.

So, I’m going to talk about it.

For those of you living under a rock, here’s a rundown: 50 Shades of Grey was a self-published series written by British author E.L. James. It tells the story of virginal university student Anastasia as she enters a sexual relationship with the rich Christian. He’s dominant while she is submissive in their sex games. And there’s not much else, from what I can tell.

I’ll make something clear: I have not read the story. I have no plans to read the story. Everything is from other sources. You can try to convince me that 50 Shades of Grey is the best novel ever and saved your marriage, but I am still not going to read it.

The first I heard about 50 Shades of Grey was in a New York Times article about its rise in popularity, especially amongst soccer moms. There was a comment about it starting online in a Twilight community. So I went online to check the validity.

And it was true. 50 Shades of Grey had started out as a Twilight fanfiction called “Master of the Universe.” Apparently, James had done a find-and-replace to chance Bella to “Anastasia” and Edward to “Christian.” She had changed a few details as well. But it was still similar to her fanfiction. This is coming from a trusted internet friend, but that’s pretty much what E. L. James did. She found every instance of “Edward” and “Bella” and replaced them with “Christian” and “Ana.” That’s not doing much but sadly, it’s enough to argue against a copyright violation.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

From 50 Shades:

Holy shit. Christian’s mother.This is so much more than I bargained for. Perhaps meeting her will help put a little part of the jigsaw in place. Might help me understand why Christian is the way he is… Suddenly, I want to meet her. I pull my shirt off the floor, and I’m pleased to discover that it has survived the night well with hardly any creases. I find my blue bra under the bed and dress quickly. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s not wearing clean panties. I rifle through Christian’s chest of drawers and come across his boxer briefs. After pulling on a pair of tight gray Calvin Kleins, I tug on my jeans and my Converse.

Grabbing my jacket, I dash into the bathroom and stare at my too-bright eyes, my flushed face – and my hair! Holy crap… just-fucked pigtails do not suit me either. I hunt in the vanity unit for a brush and find a comb. It will have to do. A ponytail is the only answer. I despair at my clothes. Maybe I should take Christian up on his offer of clothes. My subconscious purses her lips and mouths the word ‘ho’. I ignore her. Struggling into my jacket, pleased that the cuffs cover the tell-tale patterns from his tie, I take a last anxious glance at myself in the mirror. This will have to do. I make my way into the main living room.

“Here she is.” Christian stands from where he’s lounging on the couch.

His expression is warm and appreciative. The sandy-haired woman beside him turns and beams at me, a full megawatt smile. She stands too. She’s impeccably attired in a camel-colored fine knit sweater dress with matching shoes. She looks groomed, elegant, beautiful, and inside I die a little, knowing I look such a mess.

“Mother, this is Anastasia Steele. Anastasia, this is Grace Trevelyan-Grey.”

Dr. Trevelyan-Grey holds her hand out to me. T… for Trevelyan?

“What a pleasure to meet you,” she murmurs. If I’m not mistaken, there is wonder and maybe stunned relief in her voice and a warm glow in her hazel eyes. I grasp her hand, and I can’t help but smile, returning her warmth.

From Master of the Universe:

Holy shit… Edwards mother This is so much more than I bargained for. Perhaps meeting her will help put a little part of the jigsaw in place… might help me understand why Edward is the way he is… hmmm. Suddenly I want to meet her. I pull my blue blouse off the floor… it has survived the night well, hardly any creases. I find my blue bra under the bed and dress quickly. But if there‘s one thing I hate… it‘s not wearing clean panties. I rifle through Edward‘s chest of drawers and come across his boxers. I pull on a nice pair of tight Calvin Kleins in grey and pull on my jeans and my converse. I dash into the bathroom and stare at my too-bright eyes, my flushed face – and my hair! Holy crap… just-fucked pigtails do not suit me either. I hunt in the vanity unit for a brush and find a comb… it will have to do. A ponytail is the only answer. I despair at my clothes… maybe I should take Edward up on his offer of clothes… My subconscious purses her lips at me… and mouths the word ‘ho’ at me.

I make my way into the main living room.

“Here she is,” Edward stands from where he‘s lounging on the couch. His expression is warm and appreciative. The sandy-haired woman beside him turns and beams at me, a full megawatt smile. She stands too. She‘s impeccably attired in a camel-colored fine knit sweater dress with matching shoes. She looks groomed, elegant, beautiful, and inside I die a little, knowing I look such a mess.

“Mother, this is Isabella Swan, Isabella, this is Esme Cullen.”

Mrs Cullen holds her hand out to me. “What a pleasure to meet you,” she murmurs and if I‘m not mistaken there is wonder, and maybe stunned relief, in her voice and a warm glow in her amber eyes. I grasp her hand and I can‘t help but smile, returning her warmth.

Now there is some confusion about “Master of the Universe” and its origins. Some claim it was written as a Twilight fanfiction then changed. Others claim that she first wrote it as an original story. Unsure about it, she then rewrote it to make it like Twilight and posted it as fanfiction. I’m not certain which is true but neither situation is excusable to me.

I deal with the fact that it started out as fanfiction on my other blog. I am not thrilled with the idea that someone wrote something based on another work (in this case, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight) and then when it got popular, did a find-and-replace job to get around copyright violations. Yes, I have admitted on this blog to taking down a fanfiction in hopes of turning it into an original story. But that is different. A friend pointed out I was working in a public domain fandom (Phantom of the Opera). But I do not plan to do a find-and-replace. I have new names picked out and I may even dump everything but the time and place.

This is probably something others have said before. Scratch that, I know others have said this before me. It may seem like the rants of jealous wannabe writers who are bitter over Ms. James’ success. But you have to understand why this has stuck in our craw.

Here’s a sad truth about fanfiction: The more popular the story, the worse it most likely is. I’ve learned that when people say a fanfiction is a must read, it is generally mediocre. From what I’ve heard, that’s the same thing with 50 Shades. I gather it got popular from Twilight fans who saw the names “Edward” and “Bella” and that was enough for them. And that it had actual sex scenes that the YA series lacked. So the Twimoms who were reading fanfiction liked that. And so the story was recommended amongst themselves, getting an audience. Then James decided to self-publish it as an original novel. Her original audience—at least the ones not turned off by this decision—bought it. They spread the word and soon others were buying it.

There’s another truth: Sometimes when something gets popular, it seems better than it actual is. There are other people who insist that it is bad and they are considered wrong just because popular opinion says otherwise. Then later, when the buzz dies down, we realize that those people were right—or at least had valid points. It seems different once we separate from the crowd and look at it more objectively.

And the truth is that it’s poorly written. Weak characters with weak writing. As writers, whether we’ve been published or not, we agonize over all of this. Over each word we write. Over our characters. I keep a notepad file full of my characters’ backstories. Information that may never make it into a novel, but is needed by me anyway. We don’t just sit down and write.

I’m a big fan of Murder, She Wrote. For different reasons, but the one I keep bringing up is this: Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) often spoke about her research. Or showed her doing it. She doesn’t get her information for her novels by making things up or going on a basic idea. No, she tries to make it accurate. And most writers strive for that.

Who is to know if it’s not accurate? Well, actually, a lot of people. The BDSM community is not as underground or small as the media seems to believe it is. This novel isn’t the first to write about it. In the erotica genre, BDSM is an established subgenre. It is written by people who may practice it, may only have researched it. But they have done the research, knowing what is safe and what isn’t.

You may wonder why this matters. Because the media is making a big deal about it. Experts say it can help a person’s marriage. And the BDSM community is outraged and concerned. Though they agree there is little that qualifies at BDSM in the books, what is there reflects unsafe practices. Here’s an article about it.

So why is it being declared so “hot”? As I said, I haven’t read it. But from what I gather, it’s because it’s being labeled “mommy porn” like it’s this new idea. Like Harlequin only got its reputation because of Fabio’s covers. That generations of women haven’t been hiding books under their beds to read at night in private. As if erotica is something new (It’s not). Those who have read erotica, though, have said that the sex in “50 Shades” is actually quite vanilla.

Here’s an excerpt:

The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion. The pain is so sweet and sharp I want to close my eyes, but I’m hypnotized by his gray eyes staring fervently into mine. Leaning down, he kisses me. His lips are demanding, firm and slow, molding mine. He starts unbuttoning my shirt while he places feather-like kisses across my jaw, my chin, and the corners of my mouth. Slowly he peels it off me and lets it fall to the floor. He stands back and gazes at me. I’m in the pale blue lacy perfect-fit bra. Thank heavens.

“Oh, Ana,” he breathes. “You have the most beautiful skin, pale and flawless. I want to kiss every single inch of it.”

I flush. Oh my…Why did he say he couldn’t make love? I will do anything he wants. He grasps my hair tie, pulls it free, and gasps as my hair cascades down around my shoulders.

“I like brunettes,” he murmurs, and both of his hands are in my hair, grasping each side of my head. His kiss is demanding, his tongue and lips coaxing mine. I moan, and my tongue tentatively meets his. He puts his arms around me and hauls me against his body, squeezing me tightly. One hand remains in my hair, the other travels down my spine to my waist and down to my behind. His hand flexes over my backside and squeezes gently. He holds me against his hips, and I feel his erection, which he languidly pushes into me.

I moan once more into his mouth. I can hardly contain the riotous feelings or is it hormones that rampage through my body. I want him so badly. Gripping his upper arms, I feel his biceps, he’s surprisingly strong… muscular. Tentatively, I move my hands up to his face and into his hair. Holy Moses.It’s so soft, unruly. I tug gently, and he groans. He eases me toward the bed, until I feel it behind my knees. I think he’s going to push me down on to it, but he doesn’t. Releasing me, he suddenly drops to his knees. He grabs my hips with both his hands and runs his tongue around my navel, then gently nips his way to my hipbone, then across my belly to my other hipbone.

“Ah,” I groan.

That? That’s what is considered so erotic? I’ve read better in other fanfictions. Diana Gabaldon’s sex scenes are better than this—and appear less than this series! Here’s one thing I didn’t touch upon in my sex post. Pacing is key. (It’s key to a lot in writing, not just sex scenes). That’s just words thrown on page with little thought to creating a rhythm.

So, ladies, if you think the above is erotic, do yourselves a favor. Go to your nearest book store (or go online) and go into the romance section. Pick up a book. Chances are high you’ll get one with a sex scene. If you shop online, check the reviews. They’ll tell you if there are sex scenes and how good they are.

So why does this make us so bitter? Because of all the hard work we’ve done. Of every word we’ve agonized over. Every page we’ve discarded as crap. Characters we’ve had to lose. Or characters we’ve argued with. Characters we’ve tried to make 3 dimensional. The histories we’ve written up. The scenes we’ve wanted to write but realized it was unfeasible.

Let’s look at another excerpt:

The candle flame is too hot. It flickers and dances in the over-warm breeze, a breeze that brings no respite from the heat. Soft gossamer wings flutter to and fro in the dark, sprinkling dusty scales in the circle of light. I’m struggling to resist, but I’m drawn. And then it’s so bright, and I am flying too close to the sun, dazzled by the light, fried and melting from the heat, weary in my endeavors to stay airborne. I am so warm. The heat… it’s stifling, overpowering. It wakes me.

I open my eyes, and I’m draped in Christian Grey. He’s wrapped around me like a victory flag. He’s fast asleep with his head on my chest, his arm over me, holding me close, one of his legs thrown over and hooked around both of mine. He’s suffocating me with his body heat, and he’s heavy. I take a moment to absorb that he’s still in my bed and fast asleep, and it’s light outside – morning. He has spent the whole night with me.

That’s someone trying a bit too hard to be poetic. A note to writers: just let it flow, don’t force it.

From what I’ve been told, a lot of the books (especially in #2 and #3) is filler. What is filler? Glad you asked! It’s when there are parts of the story that serve no real purpose to the plot except to inflate the word count. This is very prevalent in fanfiction. And as “50 Shades” started as fanfiction, it suffers from it as well. There is a chance 50 Shades may not be a series if the filler was taken out. I’m not saying it’d be better, but it’d be a tighter story. You can’t just throw in any plot point you want.

In the end, though, I can’t tell people to stop reading it. I wish I could, trust me. All I can do is explain why there are people—especially writers—who don’t like it. And wait for the buzz to die down because I know it will.

Edited at 3:28 AM because for some reason, I felt the need to pluralize the title “Master of the Universe.”

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18 Comments »

  1. I don’t understand why you’d talk about something you didn’t read, it seems kind of rude and pointless.

    Comment by GG — June 16, 2012 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

    • I agree.

      Comment by Elda — November 28, 2012 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  2. Why don’t you read it? The author has always stated it began as FanFic and I am sure Stephenie Meyer isn’t complaining about the extra publicity. I have read them and whilst they are not fine examples of literary writing, they are fun and provide an escape. Each to their own and this book has meant some people who would never normally read, have found enjoyment in the printed word. Surely that is something any author would want.

    Comment by Louise Wormwell — June 21, 2012 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

    • I have read excerpts from it (and this goes to the commenter before you as well)–I didn’t pull the examples from the internet. And I determined that I didn’t want to read it.

      I have read them and whilst they are not fine examples of literary writing, they are fun and provide an escape.

      And if they just remained escapist guilty pleasures, I wouldn’t mind. I have guilty pleasures of my own. But everyone is acting like no one has ever pursued writing such a book when there are hundreds of examples out in the publishing world. That is annoying me more and more.

      The author has always stated it began as FanFic

      I cover this on my other blog. I personally find it wrong to pull a fanfiction, change a few names and details around and publish it as your own. Even if there is credit. Which really comes from the internet. The disclaimer in the book, which I’ve seen, just states that it started as fanfiction. No mention of Stephanie Meyers or “Twilight.” But yes, my other blog has my issues with the fact it started as fanfiction.

      Comment by mackenziew — June 22, 2012 @ 4:04 am | Reply

  3. It is obvious by the comments that they don’t understand the perspective of a writer. To us, it is a slap in the face. It is lazy and crude. It is utterly insulting. If it was just a poorly written book simply because she couldn’t write, we writers would not be so incensed. But because the lack of effort is so blatant, and she stole from someone else’s work, we are upset. There is work to be done when writing, an art that is sorely under appreciated in this culture, and it is obvious that James didn’t do the work.

    Comment by blewskymoon — June 22, 2012 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

    • If it was just a poorly written book simply because she couldn’t write, we writers would not be so incensed.

      I believe that is true. We would’ve just shaken our head and hoped now she was using traditional publishing methods, things would improve. But she did what I think a lot people think writers do–sit down and just write. That’s why they wonder why it takes us so long to write one book. It’s harder than they realize.

      Comment by mackenziew — June 23, 2012 @ 3:47 am | Reply

    • “She stole someone else’s work” – whose work? Surely not Twilight because I’m pretty sure Twilight wasn’t in any form about BDSM but about vampires which are not even present in this story. EL James wrote the fanfiction which got turned to Fifty Shades. So no she didn’t steal anything. If we’re going to say she stole something from Stephenie Meyers we could say she stole her audience but not her work.
      Yes, it sucks that she didn’t have to work very hard to get published and that she already had an audience to sell to when she did publish and I’m pretty sure being an author wasn’t what she planned for herself so i understand why writers would be peeved about that. But here’s the thing – life isn’t fair so get over it.. And you do realise that the more you harp on about this book the more popular it becomes and things don’t have to be great to be popular and be consumed.
      Just let it go people.

      Comment by GG — June 23, 2012 @ 5:53 am | Reply

      • I’m pretty sure being an author wasn’t what she planned for herself

        True. Judging by comments from within the Twilight community, it seems Ms. James wanted money and fame. Well, she got it so good for her.

        And you do realise that the more you harp on about this book the more popular it becomes and things don’t have to be great to be popular and be consumed.
        Just let it go people.

        I do realize that, but you ever have something that eats you until you talk about it? I did that and now I’m focusing on other things, like finishing my own manuscript. I just have a compulsion to answer my comments.

        Comment by mackenziew — June 24, 2012 @ 12:26 am

  4. I also agree with the author that this “book,” and the others in her series give real fiction and those who work damn hard to write it a bad name. For all of the reasons that were listed. I’m frankly tired of people insinuating that I’m bitter or jealous. As an educated person, it’s insulting to me that others suppose my feelings and thoughts are that petty and trivial. As a writer, I toil away, learning the craft and slaving over every word that comes from my imagination. I study others’ work and use it as inspiration, not as source material! I constantly seek to hone my skills, revise, improve and take criticisms as opportunities for learning. Yet Ms. James never did any of that. She opened the proverbial How To Write A Book for Dummies guide, read the first line of the introduction, then promptly skipped to the last page to learn the ending. And was rewarded for her lack of effort. That is a slap in the face to anyone else who’s been trying to get published for years, or who is working on a book and wants to eventually be able to say, “Hey, I wrote a book and got published!”
    She didn’t research. She didn’t give credit where it was so clearly due. Hell, she didn’t even think out the plot. A story about a virgin who enters into a supposedly-BDSM contract with a “damaged” hot, rich guy? Please. And people wonder why we won’t read the books. I’ve read better material on the walls of a bathroom stall.
    Call me bitter all you want. I still won’t ever pick up that crap, and I’ve got a library full of quality, well-written novels by many different authors who put her poor excuse for writing to shame. I’d be happy to recommend titles to anyone. But then again, never mind.

    Comment by Loo Laa — June 22, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

    • I second everything you said. Thank you.

      Comment by mackenziew — June 23, 2012 @ 4:01 am | Reply

    • Why is everyone so quick criticize EL James just because of her success? Even moreso, how can you legitimately criticize a book that you haven’t read? Rule #1: Never judge a book by its cover. If you haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey from cover to cover, then zip your lips and stop bashing her books. No need to get livid, jealous, or upset over her newfound fame if you don’t have the courage to read her books at all. Secondly, I’m typically not a fan of fanfic. I read all four Twilight books. I liked the first book, but the rest of her books are crap. However I would not consider 50 Shades to be plagiarism. EL James may have been inspired to write Twilight fanfic, but she wrote her own fanfic, not Stephanie Meyer. Lastly, do readers pick up a book just to read good writing? No, because readers read books to be entertained. That is the bottom line. All that really matters in the end is whether or not a book can sell. I’m sure there are writers out their who spend years to get published only to sell a few copies and go out of print. It’s because they don’t stand out nor do they deliver a satisfying read. Out of all the books I read, I never read a character that is as unique and enigmatic as Christian Grey. I can see why female readers are drawn to his character. Anastasia Steele is a character who’s easy for many women to relate to. EL James doesn’t need to be an English professor before writing a best seller. It doesn’t matter if it’s good writing or bad writing. A book is popular because it leaves a hook for readers to want it more.

      Comment by Elda — November 28, 2012 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  5. I was self published and it cost me a fortune and was an expensive lesson. I am now trying to get an agent so i may eventually be published without the cost. It seems so unfair that this story is one that has been written by someone else and is gaining all of thr glamour and glory, i would usually say good luck to anyone who is published after a lot of hard work but this just seems so unfair .

    Comment by Tracy Scarlet Marsh — July 5, 2012 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

    • I’m sorry you had a poor experience with self-publishing, but it is becoming a more and more viable option. Especially given the rise in popularity of e-readers like the Kindle and the NOOK. I wish you the best in your search for a literary agent and I agree it does seem very unfair.

      Comment by mackenziew — July 5, 2012 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  6. I wrote about this today. I actually used my e-reader to break down the words. All the words like “murmur” and “blush” and “inner goddess” are broken down by number of times they are said. My blog is humor/satire so if you want a good laugh, check it out.

    Comment by rebecca2000 — August 15, 2012 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  7. This… is a best seller? I just found out about this today. And. I am depressed. Why… WHY!? WHY!???!?

    Comment by Anya — September 16, 2012 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

    • Many people have been asking that question. There are many answers, most of them depressing. Be grateful you managed to remain in the dark this long.

      Comment by mackenziew — September 17, 2012 @ 1:47 am | Reply

    • Because it provides an escape from reality and does a good job doing so. People escape to movie theaters, football games, amusement park, etc. Nothing wrong if a book can provide a great escape.

      Comment by Elda — December 3, 2012 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  8. I used to read you blog habitually, I’m sorry I ever stopped! Now I remember what got me enamored hooked to begin with.

    Comment by Kashika Vohra — June 1, 2013 @ 3:04 pm | Reply


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