WANT TO WRITE A BESTSELLER? Have you heard about Fifty Shades of Grey?
Blush, blush. Everyone’s talking about this trilogy and it’s simply gone viral. This is not just erotic sex, my dear colleagues and friends. This is pure unadulterated S&M. And feminists like Marlo Thomas and Ellen DeGeneres are reading it.
What’s up? Erotica novels have been around since ancient Greece and Rome. There’s been controversy in every era. Think Marquis de Sade, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Jacqueline Suzanne, Erica Jong. But this is, well, it’s shocking. And the three-book trilogy has been on the top of the NY Times Best Seller list for ten weeks and counting.
As the story begins, Anastasia Steele, a college student interviews businessman tycoon Christian Grey for the university newspaper. The predictable transpires and Grey becomes captivated with the beautiful, young, virginal woman. What’s not so predictable is they enter into a contract defining a dominant/submissive relationship. Anastasia is intrigued by the erotic play in the bedroom but maintains control of their relationship outside that arena. They fall deeply in love and over several months (and three books), Ana’s love achieves for him what years of therapy and a loving adoptive family could not: It heals the wounds from his cruel early childhood and teaches him to love and accept love. Talk about a character arc.
No doubt, British author, E.L. James has the ability to elicit sympathy for the protagonist. The reader wants to find out what happens to Anastasia, and that lends the story a compelling, page-turning quality. From all accounts, James’ writing is clunky, adjective-ridden and repetitive. Does anyone really care that this first-person narrative set in the state of Washington is filled with Britishisms. How many American college students talk about "prams" and "ringing" someone on the phone? My critique group would have a field day.
So what can we learn from this bodice-ripping best seller, as aspiring writers who hope find a share of the market? Develop an original concept, fascinating characters, and the ability to keep readers turning the pages. Women readers are always suckers for a great love story. Hot sex doesn’t hurt, (well it might in this case). Outrageous is the common denominator. The public clearly wants some escapism from the boredom of their humdrum lives. Think Anne Rice, Steig Larsson.
While I’m not suggesting you give up writing your great American novel, I’m just pointing out that the public’s interest in suspended reality appears to be what’s happening these days. And note: 50 Shades of Grey was originally marketed as an e-book and print-on-demand in June 2011. Write on.
Laura Resnick-Chavez is an author of novels and screenplays. Her novel, THE GIRL FROM LONG GUYLAND will be available this coming Labor Day.