I had been successful in avoiding the Fifty Shades of Grey madness for years, and I admit I wore that badge with honor. I’d never seen the films or read the books, nor did I have the desire to indulge. Partly because I couldn’t figure out the fascination with being abused in the bedroom, but mostly because I’d heard over and over (and OVER) again how poorly written the story was.
Well, this past Valentine’s Day, I must admit I saw Fifty Shades Darker, and this was after I’d spent the day before watching the first film. And after watching both, I must say… the poor reviews were spot on.
As I sat in the theatre trying to ignore the heavy panting of the person in the seat behind me, I cringed as the story unfolded, but not for the reason one might assume. As a writer, I’ve come to embrace the fact that story is happening all around us, and I have an aversion to the mediocre ones.
Honestly, I think the Fifty Shades series had some good elements, but the story fell flat in many other ways. Here are some story writing don’ts authors can learn from E.L. James’ series (as shown in the films).
**Warning: The following contains major spoilers**
- Don’t tell a convenient story; tell a compelling story (Click to Tweet!)
One of the biggest annoyances about the story is the heroine, Anna. She is aggravating, whiny, and incredibly helpless. I didn’t want to cheer her on or be her friend or get to know her. I realized the longer I watched the film that the reason why her character annoyed me was because the narrative focused more on her when it should have been focused on Christian Grey. Christian is the most interesting character with the most intriguing past and complex flaws and behavior. I wanted to know him, even when his flaws made me want to turn away from the screen.
Choosing the character through whose lens you tell your story will make or break your novel. (Click to Tweet!) Don’t tell the story from the character who is most convenient or easiest for you to write. Sometimes you have to push yourself to tell the story through the person you dislike the most or with whom you have the least in common. I’m sure it was much easier for James to write from Anna’s point-of-view than Christian’s. Ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” Although, Anna is the heroine, the story I most care about is Christian’s. He’s the dynamic character with a character arc, and he’s the one I was rooting for.
- Don’t include scenes that don’t advance the plot
There were several times during Fifty Shades Darker when I wondered, Why is this happening? Is this scene necessary? When I got the end of the film, I left feeling unfulfilled and confused about why certain things happened when it didn’t matter in the end. And if it doesn’t matter to the plot, you’ve just wasted your audience’s time.
Some people like to write exciting scenes to create a shock factor because that’s what we’re told will hook readers. Car chases. Explosions. Bank robberies. A dramatic catfight. Or, in the case of Fifty Shades Darker, a pointless helicopter crash.
When this scene occurred, I shook my head. This event did not advance the plot, nor did it serve a purpose other than to add unnecessary drama. It happened out of nowhere with no warning and felt forced.
Make every scene in your novel meaningful. Allow excitement to form from your plot organically. Throwing random, pointless scenes into your plot for the sake of shocking the reader is easy and amateur writing. However, creating memorable characters and allowing readers to go on a journey with them is sure to leave your readers feeling satisfied and fulfilled with the story. A reader’s time is valuable; always write purposeful, significant scenes. (Click to Tweet!)
- Don’t lose control of the story
Fiction writers know that once our characters start talking to us, they will take us on a winding, topsy-turvy ride that we never expected possible. It’s the most exhilarating experience and my favorite of all time. I imagine that E.L. James had a great deal of fun with Anna and Christian’s story; but the problem is maybe she had too much fun.
When I walked out of the movie, I told my husband I felt like I’d seen three episodes in a television series rather than one movie. So many different things happened that I lost count! There were three villains, an attempted murder, an attempted rape, a helicopter crash, and an engagement. While I enjoyed the storylines surrounding each of the villains, I thought having them all in one storyline was overdone. Each encounter felt episodic and didn’t flow as one narrative.
Recently, my mentor and my writing boot camp class critiqued the outline for my upcoming novel and she gave my project a similar critique. She noted that I had good material, but I had to narrow down my focus so that I didn’t lose the true story I wanted to tell. This happens easily: our characters have these exciting lives and we want to share it all, but we should know what’s beneficial to advance this particular story and what should be used in another book or for another character in the future.
It’s okay to deviate from your original story idea because it will most certainly evolve as you write, but don’t have so much going on that your readers have no idea what your book is about or they can’t keep track of all the different characters. Producing a tight, well-written story is the best way to make your readers fall in love with your characters and your ability to weave a tale together.
What are your thoughts about the Fifty Shades of Grey series? Do you enjoy the story? Why or why not? Comment below!