|The incredibly popular E.L. James novel|
that sparked so much controversy and
interest around the world.
Well, I just finished Book One this week and, I'll readily admit, I had some conflicting personal reactions. While it had its entertaining moments, I doubt the primary appeal of this story was the prose itself. Nevertheless, it's become a runaway international bestseller, and I think I can pinpoint at least a few good reasons why.
To me, the allure seems to stem from a combination of factors: The well-documented "Twilight" fan-fiction connection. The peek inside the world of BDSM (I couldn't tell you if it's accurately portrayed, though). The familiarity we have for character archetypes like Anastasia and Christian, where an innocent but beautiful/clever heroine meets a controlling/damaged but very wealthy hero and they inevitably, and somewhat inexplicably, fall in love. In this case, they also have lots of sex on lots of surfaces.
There's that fear of missing something, too. Most of us -- writers in particular -- don't want to be left out of the loop if millions of people are talking about a book. The curiosity alone can be quite a compelling inducement to read it. It was for me. ;)
Regardless, reading this got me thinking about the attraction we seem to have for stories that are labeled "edgy" and for characters who are described as "dark." Many of us are familiar with Tolstoy's famous first line from Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." And, so, there's an ever-present expectation that novelists should write about the state of unhappiness in some form or other. I get that. But that doesn't mean grittiness and dysfunction are the only ways to touch upon it. Unhappiness doesn't require great extremes in behavior to feel genuine -- just well-expressed motivations.
So, I began to wonder to what degree the dark/edgy thing was all about shock value or voyeurism. Do we need our stories to keep pushing the envelope because we're increasingly desensitized to graphic images -- even those we create mentally? Are we collectively becoming a society of world-weary sophisticates, who are bored with vanilla sex, traditional types of conflicts and average, everyday people fighting to rise above their not-very-unusual challenges? Can a book be "fresh and original" without celebrity-ish characters, kinkiness, violence or a hefty dose of emotional instability? (By the way, these aren't rhetorical questions. I'm really asking you. What do you think?)
For my part, I'll say this: I'm fascinated by the portrayal of extraordinarily damaged characters. I'm curious about fictional lives and experiences that aren't my own. I'm interested in being introduced to new worlds and varying ways of processing information, and I consider myself to have a pretty rich imagination. I love to explore characters in my stories whose perspectives may be wildly different from mine.
|My latest digital release, Holiday Man,|
is a contemporary romance that shares
two distinct similarities with Fifty
Shades -- the hero is a wealthy
businessman & there's this one steamy
scene with a blindfold...LOL.
So, I guess, what I'm saying is this: In my opinion, familiar situations and commonplace problems in a story are valuable to readers, too. And, if you're writing one of those kinds of novels for NaNoWriMo or otherwise, please don't change your course just because of the popularity of any particular genre trend.
After I'd been married a few years and became a new mother, I read novels by authors who explored everyday experiences with a wisdom and truth that I didn't merely want at the time...I needed them. I had to know I wasn't alone in having (very normal, it turned out) fears and insecurities about being a wife and mom. I needed to read about characters who weren't larger than life, but who were a lot like me, and they let me in on their perceptions of the world, the mistakes they made, the struggles they had and, best of all, the way they eventually rose above them.
I'm still incredibly grateful to the authors who created these characters and plotlines -- among them, Sue Miller, Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler -- for bravely writing about domestic dramas, even though some might consider those tales mundane. (After all, there were no red rooms of pain or 27-year-old billionaires in them...) But, for me, those stories were lifesavers.
Maybe you've felt that way about some authors, too. Someone whose work strikes an authentic, recognizable chord in your own life. If so, please share. And to all of you in the midst of NaNo, keep at it!
Marilyn writes award-winning women's fiction and romantic comedy. Her latest trade paperback release was A Summer in Europe (Kensington, Dec. 2011), which was a Rhapsody Book Club Top 20 Bestseller in Fiction and Literature. Her newest contemporary romance is Holiday Man (ebook, Nov. 2012), a story that takes place over a year of holidays at a quaint Wisconsin inn. Hot scenes? Sure. But she admits there are no vampire-inspired characters in this book.