“Why don’t you write something like Fifty Shades of Grey?”
We romance writers get asked this question by friends and family. I have to admit this question puzzles me. Each time I’m asked I wonder:
- Do you mean, why don’t I write something about two people seeking love and connection?
- Do you mean, why don’t I write something erotic?
- Do you mean, why don’t I write something that pushes the boundaries of relationships?
I only wonder these things because me asking them aloud would draw attention to the fact that the person asking the question hasn’t read any of my books. Of course, I don’t care whether or not the person has read my stuff but …well, I don’t want to make things awkward by pointing that out. Besides, as a writer, here’s the question that makes the most sense to me:
- Do you mean why don’t I write something that sells millions of copies and creates just as many devoted readers and fans?
That one I don’t have an answer for. Nobody does. Many--many--of us writers have tried to figure out why that series in particular took off like that.
In my other life, I teach freshman composition at a college. We write essays, the standard sort that college freshman have been writing for years. Thesis statements, MLA formatting, research. All the usual stuff. One place where I get to mix things up is in the prompts. So, wondering what my students think of the 50 phenomenon, I include a prompt about the widespread popularity of the series. The prompt encourages the students to question the contrast between the book’s content, the relationship between the two characters, and the current wave of new feminism. Bottom line--why do women connect this book?
As you might imagine, the prompt generates interest. After reading several essays I've found a distinct difference between the younger, 18-20, and older, 25-30 women in regard to Mr. Grey’s relationship appeal.
The younger women find him super romantic. They are drawn to the idea of having a man so dedicated to you that he is “interested” in every aspect of your life. They don’t find him stalky or boundary-crossing, they find him devoted. These younger women write very little about the sex; they write almost exclusively about the attentive relationship. It seems that while young women view career and societal contribution as essential and validating, they still long for a dedicated partner.
The older women write about the sex. They are drawn to the idea of an extremely intense almost completely sexual relationship that has no emotional commitments. These women reflect that while they hope to have an emotionally intimate relationship in the future, they are, at present, busy with school and work and don’t have time to develop “that sort of thing” right now. This staying-single-longer, waiting-for-real-commitment life plan is on the rise, but as noted above with the younger set, this older set seeks devotion. They simply define devotion in a different way.
If you’re one of the thousands, maybe millions, of people who've had this conversation--why is 50 so compelling--I’d love to hear what you think. Give a shout in the comments.