Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 3)

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

Welcome to the final instalment of this mini series wherein I list the failures exhibited in Fifty Shades as we go through what How Not to Write A Novel. This post covers interior monologue, setting, research and historical background, theme, and … sex scenes! So, more than in the other posts so far, I’ll be talking a fair bit about the BDSM elements of the books. (If that’s a strange term see my Dictionary page.) Here are links to parts one and two.

CONTENT NOTE: This series of posts is meant to be a fun and light-hearted. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk.

Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 3)

Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 2)

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

Welcome to part 2 of the list of writing failures exhibited in Fifty Shades as we go through what How Not to Write A Novel says about words and phrases, sentences and paragraphs, dialogue and narrative stance. As I often need to do when blogging about these books I ought to give a:

CONTENT NOTE: This series of posts is meant to be a fun and light-hearted. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk. Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 2)

Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 1)

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

So, a fellow Fifty Shades critic and consent enthusiast recently gave me a copy of How Not to Write A Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. It outlines “200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published”. And as I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder whether EL James might not have produced the crime against literature that is the Fifty Shades trilogy if she had read it.

She clocks up about 50 of these mistakes. Yes, 50. So, to mark the occasion of the third and final film  being released in cinemas, I figured it might be worth blogging about it again.

CONTENT NOTE: This is meant to be a fun and light-hearted post. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel. And occasionally they use some colourful language.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk. Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 1)

An open letter to JK Rowling: nine things I can’t thank you enough for

Harry Potter and the philosopher's stone book with cinema 3D glasses

Dear Joanne,

I can barely believe it’s been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book came out. I was far from your earliest fan, and won’t presume to count myself as your biggest, but I am full of admiration both for your books and for you as a person. I have so many things to thank you for – here are some of them.

Continue reading An open letter to JK Rowling: nine things I can’t thank you enough for

The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” John 1:48 (NIV)

In recent months I’ve listened to people talk about the destructive relationships that they’ve left, whether that was with their partners or their churches. In some of them, there was a realisation that the person or religion they thought they knew and had fallen in love with, was never there at all. It left them with a cold, shaky, uncertain feeling.

In recent months I’ve had a growing sense of what might be called the opposite: that the one who I needed most was always there, even when I didn’t realise. Continue reading The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

Fairy-tale vs Erotica: Brides, wives and eternities

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Life is never going to be boring with Christian, and I’m in this for the long haul. I love this man: my husband, my lover, father of my child, my sometimes Dominant… my Fifty Shades.
Fifty Shades Freed, p531

There is something about hope that is both now and not yet.

We see hope when people are healed and reconciled, and even when they’re comforted in times of distress. At the same time though, these are but foretastes of something more, something that will only be found fully in the beyond.

Stories of redemption are, by definition, stories of hope. Their happy endings are happy beginnings that look forward in anticipation. The questions to ask are ‘What do they say about the now?’ and ‘What do they say about the not yet?’ Continue reading Fairy-tale vs Erotica: Brides, wives and eternities

Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

Jeez, I’m a quivering, mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare.
“Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly.
“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p74

Four pages later, we see how good Christian is to his promise:

“Oh, f*** the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me pushing me against the wall of the elevator.

The plot of two halves

In Choice, Commitment and Consent (Part 1), I talked about how the idea of promise is important to understanding redemption. In that post I also raised the following objection to the plot of Fifty Shades:

Redemption is about the redeemer making a single promise to the person needing redemption. In Fifty Shades it’s Christian who keeps making promises – and breaking them. He is always shifting the boundaries of the relationship by changing the terms of his promises.

It’s important to recognise that how Christian reveals his secrets to Ana (and breaks his promises to her) shifts after the end of the first book. Up to the end of Fifty Shades of Grey the focus is on him obtaining and keeping Ana on his terms, for his ends. Afterwards, however, he recognises that’s not going to work because Ana leaves him. So he begins to take steps so that the relationship is more on Ana’s terms.

In other words – and I’m not saying I agree with the following statements – there’s a case for saying that, from a redemption perspective:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey is about Christian thrashing about wretchedly in his fallen state, trying suck Ana into his darkness and failing.
  • Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are about Christian learning to relate in healthy ways or ‘learning to love’ as the narrator in Beauty and the Beast would say. In learning, Christian eventually reaches his complete redemption – being married, monogamous, a father of one child a father-to-be of another, and still having a great sex life with Ana.

The thing is, I don’t think either of these parts of the plot speak about redemption. So in this post I’ll talk about the first part, and in the next post I’ll talk about the second.

Continue reading Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)

Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame

So I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You’re a good man, Christian, a really good man. Don’t ever doubt that.”
— Ana, Fifty Shades Darker, p195

The moment when things went bad

Redemption stories tend to start with something very bad happening. After all, people don’t need saving from good things. I like to refer to this event as ‘The Fall’ – not because Jamie Dornan, the actor for Christian Grey, starred in a TV series with that name – but because that’s the phrase generally used to refer to the very bad event described near the beginning of the book of Genesis.

(Content note: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including sexual violence and childhood trauma. I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades.)

Continue reading Beast vs Christian: The Fall that brings guilt and shame

Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.

The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.

But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.

So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.

So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?

I’m going to say more no than yes.

It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.

Continue reading Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

Janeway Voyager Year of Hell

Year of Hell, Remember Nothing, & The Wish: lessons on hope

Only hope that is robust enough to engage with the reality of death is worthy of the name. [1]

I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy for its way of playing with ideas – and there are plenty that play with dystopian alternate realities from which heroes and innocents are saved.

Three such SF&F stories have stayed with me over the years: from Star Trek: Voyager, Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (And consider this your spoiler alert if you carry on reading.)

With their different qualities, each story says something about hope – a topic that I keep coming back to and whose mention was no accident in my Twitter name @hope4greyplaces. However, what is also intriguing about these stories is some of the ways in which their understanding of hope differs from the Christian understanding and the theology of Juergen Moltmann. And, I dare say, the implications are far-reaching.

Continue reading Year of Hell, Remember Nothing, & The Wish: lessons on hope

EL James is Big Brother

Grey is watching you. EL James is Big Brother in 1984. Electronic surveillance is love.
I was recently reminded of 1984.

EDIT: For a while, I have debated the ethics of employing sarcastic humour at EL James’ expense – I mean, at want point does it become a mud-slinging match? Where’s the line between being a critic and a ‘hater’? In the end I thought about this response EL James gave an abuse survivor and this one to a polite request. I also loved some of the tweets she got in her Grey launch Twitter event.

Ana’s spin cycle – the most mundane description ever?

In some respects Lord of the Rings was wasted on me when I first read it. I was after action and adventure but, although there was enough of that to keep me reading, Tolkien as an author evidently delighted in painting pictures with his words – and he spent a great proportion of his books doing just that with people, landscapes, cultures and histories.

As I read I became practised at zoning these bits out and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t remember much of Tolkien’s descriptive flourishes first time round. But, as it so happens, years later I went on holiday to Scotland… Continue reading Ana’s spin cycle – the most mundane description ever?

Is this really intellectual snobbery?

One of the common complaints about 50 Shades is that it’s badly written. Jamie Dornan was  quoted in the Guardian as saying:

“… you have to give Erika [EL James] some credit, because whatever you might think of the prose style, 100 million is a lot of people. Are the literary critics saying those 100 million people aren’t very bright?”

Now, I’m personally in the camp that says the book lack literary merit but my simple answer to Jamie is, “No, we’re not saying those 100 million people are stupid. We’re saying the books are not good examples of literature.” And here are some examples to show why:  Continue reading Is this really intellectual snobbery?

It started as fan-fiction

So this is my first post looking at 50 Shades from the literature angle, and I think the first thing that needs to be said is that 50 Shades is Twilight fan-fiction. This article on crushable.com goes into more detail.

I’m not going to say that a piece of writing necessarily lacks merit when it’s fan-fiction, but this is something that needs to be understood when putting that writing into context, and there are arguments (mentioned in the article above) that say that fan-fiction can never stand on its own merit alone. That said, I wonder whether any piece of good literature can truly be said to be standalone.