‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – A Rant off the Beaten Path

Apologies for promising so much in the prologue and then dragging out the deliverance of the follow up post for an eternity. But it is here. I hope you’re prepared. I heard James is unleashing a follow up book from the point of view of Christian Grey. If I was religious, I would ask for mercy from the respective deity. Instead I’ll hasten the advent of my rant to soothe and placate myself.

As mentioned in the prologue, this piece will not be a rehashing of rants (some that have been turned into books of their very own!) regarding S&M, feminism, violence against women/misogyny etc. What would that achieve? Nothing, well, for myself at least. In my reading of quite a few of the more popular rants, I noticed something missing. Something missing from the many arguments, all of them valid, but still lacking the most crucial point. Why weren’t they all lamenting FSoG’s contribution to the downfall of the once sacred art form that is the written word? Honestly, berating James for choosing to write about what she did is downright wrong in my book. This is because the writer should have freedom to write about whatever she wants, even if it’s written horribly. Take Lolita for example. This entire book is written from the perspective of a pedophile. It has been indoctrinated into the literary canon because the way in which Nabokov spins the tale of Humbert’s thoughts is timeless and oh so well done. Do you see my point?

In order to highlight this calamity, I have chosen to compare the first 300 words of FSoG to my latest piece of creative writing (shall we say) that I am still agonising over. Due to the unfinished nature of my short story, I won’t post it. Actually, forgive me, but it won’t be posted on my blog, ever, because well, I would rather it was published by someone else! So, dear reader, you will just have to trust that it does exist.

I have also used an application called ‘Phraseology’ that calculates Flesch Kincaid etc. and reports well on a number of elements such as number of sentences etc. that can be used to demonstrate quality of writing.

Let us examine the Gunning Fog index score. This score calculates the ease of understanding and the size of the audience that can understand a piece of writing. To be universally understood, a score of less than 8 is needed.

With these facts, and examining the picture evidence, FSoG scored 10.7 and I scored 6.9. As an afterthought, I’ve decided to include the scores for the first passage of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well. Austen scored a 6.9.

These scores do not take into account the vocabulary used because I am sure all three texts use vastly different language to each other. What I take away from these scores, not to compare my writing to that of Austen’s timeless prose, but the way we, Austen and I, have structured our pieces, in regards to sentence length and number of sentences, both these factors have contributed to making our pieces easier to understand. Even though our vocabulary may be a tad more complex than James’.

As there is no chance of FSoG being indoctrinated into the literary canon and I personally consider myself unworthy to be mentioned alongside Jane Austen, I shall leave the comparisons to Pride and Prejudice there. Okay, after this last witticism; it is a truth universally acknowledged that Austen and I are in fact both universally understood. Couldn’t help myself.

Fifty Shades of Grey

                                                                         Fifty Shades of Grey

My Piece

                                                                                        My Piece

Pride and Prejudice

                                                                            Pride and Prejudice                                                                                               

According to our Flesch Kincaid and SMOG scores, both texts can be understood by 13-15 year olds. Of course I must mention the words I use have been carefully chosen (thesauruses/i (?) is your friend) and are more uncommon, shall we say, than the language used in FSoG.

To interpret these results, my piece has comparatively shorter sentences, but much thought put into the words used as I have very little room, a short story as opposed to an apparently fully fledged novel, in which to convey character, environment, ambience etc. So, for example, take this sentence, “China cheekbones were cast in relief as she clenched her jaw against the cold.”

This story, I see it as an oil painting upon which I add layer after layer, to get it right. I endeavour to utilise literary techniques such as sibilance and alliteration in particular to help convey my vision. This also affects my choice of sentence structure. Every word of a short story is crucial. I let my sentences flow naturally, but usually edit heavily if I deem a sentence too long, overly verbose or seems to be telling more than showing. I trust my experience and level of skill to produce flowing prose and only stunted on purpose when I need to exaggerate mood. Each brushstroke is deliberate after all.

FSoG is part of a trilogy so James has more room to ramble. I don’t agree with waffling in novels simply to meet length requirements. This should be a clear indication of poor writing and editing skills. Now that I have clarified that being classified as a novel does not exempt you from getting to the point or having the courage to erase unnecessary text, even if this will lead to determining whether said piece of writing should just be discarded altogether. So to put this into perspective. I deduce that FSoG scored less in readability because sentences are quite long and strung together with multiple commas. For example, I won’t waste lines with a quote, you will have to trust my word for it, I will condense the first 131 words instead. It’s about Ana’s hair. That’s it. Okay, so we find out what colour it is, how unruly it is and the extent of Ana’s vain yet onset of some type of body dysmorphic disorder where she sees herself as unattractive and uses every chance it seems to be self deprecating while others fawn over and praise her beauty. Oh and there is mention of her mate Kate and something about exams, but it’s about her hair after 131 words.

Aside from the highly irritating, introduction to the protagonist as a self doubting, ‘poor me’ female which I cannot grasp as a self respecting woman, but of course if I delve into that…well, the intense loathing for these two dimensional female characters stops me from even going there, so shall we discuss quality of her writing instead? Yes, that induces much less anger.

FSoG is written entirely from Ana’s POV, so I credit the novel-length internal monologue to that choice of person used. Good on James for having a crack at first person, I’ve always disliked using it, but then I know it takes great skill to be able to convey elements of story in this way as opposed to the unlimited scope offered by third person. FSoG does not pull off first person. I am left neither immersed in the story nor interested in reading further, but for the sake of the written word, I did. It is a brave move, but in this case, ends in folly. Writers who attempt first person subject themselves to greater scrutiny. Writers who foolishly meddle in things they know not of reveal plainly that they are unable to comply with even basic creative writing 101 techniques such as showing instead of telling. As mentioned previously, this is a rule I am acquainted with. FSoG has no choice but to fall back on generic and mundane story and language purely because James wrote in first person. I shall leave contemplation on the hypothetical situations if perhaps FSoG was told through an omniscient entity to others. In this way though, FSoG should technically be easier to read due to simplicity of language (or inane babbling of a 12 year old girl trapped in the body of a woman in her twenties, as I like to call it) than my piece. Also, if you are a skilled reader, you may skim over these sentences and not miss any crucial information of which I didn’t find any.

I labour over constructing perfect wordcraft and sentence structure and length, while also taking into account direction of story, brevity and relevance. Needless to say this takes many years of cultivation. My piece is scored as being more readable than FSoG because of the mostly excruciating process of producing even a single sentence that I am completely satisfied with. I am insulted by the evident lack of skill displayed by the author. In my mind, FSoG is a disgrace to female writers who have had to work harder than their male counterparts to produce equally eloquent prose. These female writers, Austen and Shelley pioneering the way forward for fiction written by women to be held in highest regard as examples of engaging and enduring literature. I do understand that FSoG is not meant as a work ordained to be included in the Canon, but is it an excuse to expose yourself, a middle aged woman, as less capable of stringing a clear sentence together? As someone who values their intelligence and abilities, I hope the answer is no. It makes us look bad. I class myself in this because, as a writer (it is so!) I could not imagine publishing anything that doesn’t even adhere to the most basic “rules” of writing. I take offence when FSoG is called a novel and James is referred to as an author. Both do not apply. I wish to relinquish any association with people who clearly do not have any pride for their own work, those that do not view writing as a form of art and those who convey themselves as unintelligent.
I confess I have written some horrible, teenage tripe, but those stories will never see the light of day because I was still learning and still am. I put forth that perhaps FSoG should have been one of many experiments of a budding young writer, forgetting for the moment that James is not of that age bracket, and buried inside a box and stowed away forever, to collect nothing but dust. Before you interject, I am aware of more unsavoury reasons such as the trappings of fame and fortune, regardless of praise or notoriety, that does and will continue to produce pathetic excuse after excuse for writing. Please do not refer to James as an author. I would prefer dabbler in creative writing. I am not saying that all writing should be held under the standards of high literature. All I ask is that you do not contribute to the greater decline of intelligence among the populace and do not undervalue the power of a story well told.

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7 comments

      1. and your utter slamming of such brain-dead drivel is enough for me, keep on keeping on, I wanna know your next target? fingers crossed for “Twilight: a retrospective… what the fuck is wrong with today’s youth??”

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  1. Thanks for stopping by my post so I could find this– yes, badly written books making a ton of money does make you wonder, who is reading this? What sort of worldviews and reading tastes do they have?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used a similar (although free online version) of these writing analysis tools after reading this post. I had to see how the metrics were for my own writing. It was no surprise how poor Fifty Shades was (it’s erotica! The worst writing I’ve read has always been erotica. It’s as though people who barely mastered basic literacy decided to write about sex. Perhaps that’s accurate…). In any case, thank you for this. It was very interesting to delve into the nuts and bolts of words in Austen alongside Fifty Shades of Poor Writing.

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    1. I’d be interested to know which scores you received. I don’t know how well I explained the formula behind it; my brain stopped working that way a long time ago when I gave up on anything mathematic! I added Austen in at the last minute…I could not resist. Now I am glad I did! Thank-you.
      By the way, the writing I referred to that I did as a much younger me, some of it may have been some truly horrible erotica, but inspired by Anne Rice’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ series. Which is why I hesitate to call FSoG erotica simply because all I have to go on is Anne Rice’s (what I thought) fantastically written erotica.

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