The success of 50 Shades of Grey is rather unsettling. It’s not that it contains strong sexual content that’s the problem; it’s that the characters are basically Bella and Edward from Twilight and that it portrays harmful relationship dynamics.
One of the most important parts of writing is to create characters. It’s just as, if not more, important than plot. Had Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter been horrible characters, their stories wouldn’t have had such success, even with spectacular plots. Poorly constructed characters are hard to read in any setting, no matter how good it is.
E.L. James wrote 50 Shades of Grey (and its two sequels) as a Twilight fan fiction series titled Master of the Universe. She slightly modified some physical characteristics and other details, but the characters are clearly based off the cast of Twilight. James’s characters are not new. Turning Edward to Christian and changing bronze hair to dark copper (is there really a difference?) is not creating an original character.
The main female character, Anastasia Steele, acts like Bella. If someone described her character to me without mentioning anything about Twilight, I’d say that she was Bella Swan. She thinks that Christian is downright gorgeous. He’s too good looking to be mortal. His movements appear irresistible from the start. His accidental brushes send her spinning. Anastasia is even clumsy like Bella!
Christian is possessive. His subordinates act just as silly as Anastasia does when he looks at him. I can’t tell you how many times in Twilight Bella commented on some stranger’s reaction to Edward’s physical appearance. He’s young, but acts older.
Even Anastasia’s mother sounds like Renee, Bella’s mom. Her friend Jose who obviously loves her but she doesn’t love back? Jacob.
Sound familiar? What’s sad is that I wasn’t looking for other Twilight characters while looking through passages.
It doesn’t matter what people think about Stephanie Meyer’s writing, characters and work. The fact is that she created Bella, Edward, Rosalie, Jasper, Jacob and the rest. They are hers. It’s wrong to make money off other people’s creative property. End of story.
I have nothing against fan fiction. As long as an author is okay with, I see no reason for fans not to write it—provided the writer doesn’t make any money off it. Fan fiction can be a great tool for honing various writing skills in addition to a fun hobby. Had James left her story as fan fiction, it would join the millions of other stories out there.
The problem with adapting a fan fiction to an original novel is that the writer and the reader are presented with the question of what is original. Let’s say someone writes a fan fiction story about Han Solo and Princess Leia defending a displaced ruler on a backwater planet. The writer decides that the plot is a great idea and to make turn it into an original novel. Instead of a backwater planet, it’s a small fictional country. Han Solo and Princess Leia don’t use blasters anymore. They have regular guns. Leia’s a blonde and Han shaves his head, but they act the same as Han and Leia. How is that original? Just because a plot is original does not mean that the entire novel is.
A fan fiction writer could successful turn the plot she used in a story into an original novel. Instead of scrolling through the document and removing references and changing names, start from scratch. Create new, original characters and use the plot. Odds are that that original plot idea with original characters will turn into something different from the fan fiction story. Personally, I’d rather start something completely new.
Other characters can act as inspiration, but a writer shouldn’t make it the same as another. Someone can use Leia’s take-charge attitude as a trait for her own original character without making a replica of Leia. The idea is inspiration, not copying.
Not all readers care. I’ve had a plethora of conversations about 50 Shades of Grey where the others participating don’t see the problem. Their focus is the sexual content, which is probably why it’s such a popular series. One woman I work with is trying to talk most of the female members of the staff into reading the series. She raves about how fun it is to read and how much she enjoys reading that type of content. If were a completely original, well-written erotic novel that didn’t read like an X-rated version of Twilight, it wouldn’t be an issue.
The setup for 50 Shades of Grey is ridiculous. Anastasia must drive to Seattle to do an interview for her friend Kate. Kate is the editor of the school newspaper and managed to score an interview with Christian Grey, the CEO of Grey Enterprise Holdings, Inc. Anastasia doesn’t even work for the school newspaper. Anyone with even a shred of newsroom experience can tell readers that this is a ludicrous idea. Never pass an interview off to a random person, especially when she isn’t associated at all with the world of reporting. In addition, walking into an interview without knowing anything about the person is one of the biggest mistakes a person can make. She blames Kate for not giving her prior information. That’s not an excuse.
Just like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey piles on horrible relationship dynamics. Christian practices BDSM because of his past, it seems. Instead of showing how the relationship between a dominant and submissive works, James creates an abusive, skewed dynamic. She takes the unsafe set up and romanticizes it. It’s not as if the information about BDSM is hard to find. It took me 20 seconds to find a website with the proper terms. Within minutes, I found all the necessary information about safe words, consent and the potential problems that can crop up that I didn’t know about before. Additional searching reveals that members of the BDSM community and others cite that what Christian and Anastasia participate in is not an accurate portrayal of the majority. Research is a vital part of writing. It doesn’t take long to start with the basic facts.
As Bella does in Twilight, Anastasia turns a reluctant, possessive man into the so-called dream man. The idea of changing a harmful partner into the perfect mate is as old as time. As important as it is to see the good in someone, when you put your safety and health at risk, there’s a serious problem. Portraying yet another female character as the virginal, innocent creature who endures her partner’s controlling behavior in favor of trying to change him is something we have had more than enough of.
If the success of the series tells anything, it’s that there is a demand for erotic fiction for women. What’s sad is that instead of good quality writing and healthy dynamics, the most popular piece of erotic fiction is a mirror of one of the most widely criticized relationships in today’s literature. Anastasia isn’t a woman to look up or care about. She’s just like Bella Swan, a tool. Given that they are one and the same, that’s hardly a surprise.
50 Shades of Grey rips of characters from an author and sends a horrible message about relationships. Both of these reasons are why E.L. James won’t see a cent from me.