Last week, a friend at work recommended to me a review of Fifty Shades of Grey, the popular erotic series, for its brutal takedown of the books. Ever since Fifty Shades came out I’ve heard occasional whispers, most of them negative, about the story. I never read it myself, but that was mostly due to the negative reception. This review contained the most amount of words straight from the book I have heard to date.
I don’t know what I was picturing – bad hastily-written sex scenes and poor dialogue, perhaps, and was shocked and, at first, a little worried, to see the book actually had a lot in common with Being More Social, my first ever work. Both were clearly written episodically without a clear plan in mind, both mix sexual situations with intentionally awkward or infantile dialogue, and both feature a stream-of-consciousness writing style. By all accounts, in terms of style, from what I’ve seen so far the two are very similar.
I don’t think this is a coincidence. I bet the fact that this was my first story and Fifty Shades was Erika Mitchell’s (A.K.A. E.L. James) first story meant that we were both subject to the same novice mistakes and styles. The fact that I chose high school as a location and she chose adulthood seemed to be my saving grace – overreacting dramatic characters and awkward choppy first-person narration works a lot better when the POV is that of a naive teenager. Still, the fact they’re similar, and the fact Fifty Shades is regularly referred to as trash, should bother me.
But weirdly, it doesn’t. It’s almost freeing. If I wrote what people considered to be high art, I’d have a long way to fall if my style ever developed in a less-than-optimal way. Some people say they prefer my story-oriented style of erotica now that they’ve been reading it for a while, and that’s sweet, but the truth is that most newcomers would absolutely see my stories as trash, or at least trashy.
I prefer this to high art. There’s nowhere to go but up if people expect trash. If people read trash and the author has managed to create a believable character that makes you smile or cry, it makes us appreciate the smaller things in life. Sometimes I’ll be reading an awfully-written sex story and I’ll come across a character that reminds me of someone I knew. It doesn’t change that the story is poorly written, but I’ll usually remember the story afterwards if that happens.
It was humbling reading passages from Fifty Shades where the narrator went on and on about how terrible the writing was, and yet all I could think was, “Huh… her style looks a lot like mine.” On some level, I’m sure it’s a reminder that I have a lot to learn and need to still strive to improve years later. On another, it’s a cool demonstration that sometimes, how “good” one’s writing is won’t impact how special or important it is. Fifty Shades has its own problems, but it meant a lot to a few people. I’ve been told that some of my stories mean a lot to some people too. Maybe my stories are every bit as trashy as Fifty Shades is, but if so, I really see the value in trash. It’s nice to get caught up in overly dramatic human emotions sometimes, and to feel like you’re drowning in tea. It’s fun to feel like a naive teenager again, and get away from well-written high concept works and dive into a guilty pleasure. Whether I write trash or not is not up to me to decide. And even after you decide whether what you read is trash or not, that doesn’t mean you’ve made up your mind as to whether the story means something to you or not. I’ll talk to you all next week.
One thought on “One Person’s Trash…”
Merry Christmas! I’ve never read FSoG myself, but I do enjoy your writing.
In my experience, people getting older does not mean they deal with their emotions any more effectively than high school kids do. I’m not sure the age difference between characters in your work and in FSoG really has much to do with how characters handle those situations.
I think people tend to not examine media for what it is or what its goal is. Not every film is written to be an epic worthy of Academy recognition. Not every book is meant to create an expansive universe with thrilling sagas. Just like not every character is going to get an extensive background, or be anything more than a plot device (like Milo, in MB).
If a creator’s work serves its purpose well, it’s effective media. FSoG clearly showed it achieved its goal. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it was exceedingly successful. From what I do know, it’s actually a very toxic relationship in the book; but it was meant to be smutty fanfic, nothing more.
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