Why don't you? The appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey


“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.

50 2

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 seve50 3ral 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–we’d love to hear what you think. Give us a shout in the comments.

And – follow us here at Lady Smut. We’re always here to inform, entertain, and keep you up to date.

Isabelle Drake writes erotica, erotic romance, urban fantasy, and young adult thrillers.

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No Comments

  • Kel
    March 10, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Passion is compelling. People find different things about it compelling (although I wonder if it’s because younger women have not yet received that level of attention from someone they *do not want it from* that they find it attractive instead of horrible at first blush).

    I don’t personally actually find 50 Shades compelling, but I can tell you what I find compelling about the sorts of relationships that 50 Shades tries to portray and misses for me. I find pursuit compelling, play is compelling, competence is compelling. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so someone who can deal with the fact that I have scars and demons and am more likely to dance while the world is on fire than scream and cry and hide under a bed… that’s compelling. Someone who doesn’t shy away from blood – mine or their own, that’s compelling because I’m going to just keep trying to do whatever was doing and grab the first aid (or suture – it’s happened) kit when I’m done. Someone who is attractive to me, and that’s complicated, as well as compelling. There are lots of authors who write parts of that, and I love reading them – most of those characters aren’t flawed in the right ways, though. We’d end up hating each other the first time they realized that I meant it when I said no and I realized they thought I was kidding.

    • Isabelle Drake
      March 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      I think you’re spot on about women who haven’t experienced unwanted attention.
      Yeah, no means no for me too.
      Thanks for the comments

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