Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
Fifty Shades of Grey, written by British author E.L. James is the fastest selling paperback, outstripping both Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code with over 70 million copies sold worldwide. Originally written as Twilight fanfiction titled Master of the Universe, it has gone on to international success with book rights sold in 37 countries. For anyone not familiar with the content, Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance novel about Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey featuring explicitly erotic scenes containing elements of BDSM.
I have read all three books in the Fifty Shades trilogy, and I do have some criticisms, mostly regarding a lack of plot and pacing. The real storyline centers around the relationship between Ana and Christian is some demented he-love-me, he-loves-me-not back and forth for three books. There is an odd kind of storyline about Ana wanting to become a book editor, getting a job, and being harassed by her boss. If this storyline had been more robust, it could do a lot to improve the spine of the story. The books have a lot of interesting curves, but they still need to have a skeleton. Pacing is my other criticism. The, er, interesting scenes are all jammed up together, not spread out over the book in a tidy way. I can forgive the first book being backend heavy; the plot takes some time to ramp up. The second and third books though? I thought James could have done more outlining to better organize the, er, content. After a while you start to say “Yeah, right” in the back of your mind and wait for the relationship to implode… again. There’s also some criticism that the books aren’t a good representation of BDSM culture. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I don’t think Victorian England is really like a Harlequin romance novel either
What the books have going for them is anticipation and suspense in spades. You don’t know what is going to happen next, you have to find out, and it doesn’t matter that it is 3AM and you have to go to work in 4 hours. There’s some kind of magic in the anticipation that makes you want to turn (or click) another page. I wish I could bottle and sell it to other authors (after stocking up a lifetime supply for myself, of course). Poor structure, poor writing, poor anything else aside, these books are an engaging read, and not just because of the, er, recreational activity highlights.
Okay, so what have I been setting all this up for? When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bumped off fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, fans took pens into their own fans and continued his beloved character’s adventures, sharing stories with other fans of Doyle’s work. While there were 56 stories written by Doyle about Sherlock Holmes, there are hundreds of stories that exist about the characters of Holmes and Watson written by fans. These stories are the precursors modern fan fiction and are still setting precedence even today. On February 14, 2013, Holmes scholar Leslie S. Klinger filed a declaratory judgement suit against the Conan Doyle estate in the Northern District of Illinois, asking that the court acknowledge that the characters of Holmes and Watson are public domain , no longer protected by copyright in the US. Fan fiction is currently treated as derivative work under US copyright law.
I know nothing about fan fiction aside from what it is — stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. It is not meant to be a put down, but fan fiction has never interested me. I am too involved in the worlds in my own head to have time to mess about in someone else’s sandbox. My lack of interest aside, fan fiction is a pretty big deal and is estimated to comprise one-third of all books on the internet, despite criticisms of amatureness and indulgent attitudes. Writers of fan fiction do it for the love of the characters and worlds, not for any expectation of financial gain. Holy crap, if I put that much work into something, I want a chance to get a return on the time invested. What fan fiction does have is a whole community of fans who are just as into something, oh, let’s say Twilight, so you can expect a certain amount of readership from the fanbase regardless of content and quality.
I’m not terribly prudish, but there are still places I would not take a paperback copy of Fifty Shades, such as to the office to read during lunch. Btw, when I’m not writing at lunch, I’m usually reading. But with my trusty e-reader, I can carry all of my books with me and no one knows if I’m reading The Hound of the Baskervilles or something a tad racier. Sales for romance novels in general are at an all-time high thanks to the anonymity of buying online and reading without book covers. I believe some of the success hinges on e-reader popularity too.
So what do you think?
Is Fifty Shades a good book that is popular on its own merit, and I’m being too harsh? Or is it successful because of the explicit content? Or are Twilight fans reading it and know who Ana and Christian really are? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books, fan fiction, e-readers, or life in general. ;)