MCCULLOUGH: Erotic content not the biggest problem with 'Shades of Grey'

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

From the excerpts I've read, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is terrible.

Forget the content, which has been described using words ranging from erotica to "mommy porn." The writing by E L James is atrocious. To wit:

"I do it for you, Christian, because you need it. I don't. You didn't hurt me last night. That was in a different context, and I can rationalize that internally, and I trust you. But when you want to punish me, I worry that you'll hurt me."

Huh? Who talks like that? Elmore Leonard this E L ain't. But wait, there's more:

His gray eyes blaze like a turbulent storm. Time moves, and expands and slips away before he answers softly.

Wow. Was it also a dark and stormy night?

And those are the excerpts fit for a family newspaper, Most of it is not.

But what really pains me about "Fifty Shades of Grey" is not the subject matter. It's that it's poorly written fan fiction. And yet it's a best-seller.

If you don't know what fan fiction is, it's fiction written by fans -- duh -- of other works and based on the characters of those works. Instead of taking the time to create their own universe and their own characters, these intellectual property thieves decide that it's enough to dream up a new story using characters someone else created. In fan fiction, these "writers" might turn Tom Sawyer into a zombie-hunting time-traveler or have Ishmael give up whale-hunting for pimping.

I chalk it up to the everything-belongs-to-everybody attitude fostered by the Internet. It's the attitude that lets the Facebook folks think all of your information should be out there for everyone to see and gives Google the idea that it's OK to scan every written word known to man to make it instantly available to anyone. Bloggers steal from journalists and website steals from website, all under the much-less-criminal sounding monikers of "sharing" or "linking" and few call it what it is: theft.

Yet the "Shades" trilogy sinks to even murkier depths. The author derived it from her own fan fiction based on the "Twilight" series. Not only did James use another author's characters, she used characters from another poorly written series.

(We pause here for a public service announcement. I doubt many tween girls read this column, but I imagine thousands of their phones go off every few seconds alerting them to even the slightest mention on the Internet of the novels about sparkly wuss vampires and werewolves. I now speak directly to you: Before you fill my inbox with your indecipherable text-talk hate mail, save your thumbs. I. Don't. Care. I tried reading the first "Twilight" novel, and I didn't make it but a few pages. I agree with Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about best-sellers -- Stephanie Meyer isn't a good writer.)

So the "Grey" writer takes characters from "Twilight" and writes a porno novel. Then she decides it's so good that she changes the names of the characters and publishes it. And not only does the world not see anything wrong with this, but the series occupies the top three spots on the New York Times best-seller list. Ironically and tragically at No. 4 is the latest work of King, who I assume wrote the story all by himself.

It all makes me weep for the future of the book business, a business I'd like to get into one day. As the owner of a half-dozen half-finished novels, I can tell you that creating a fictional character or world isn't easy. But I would never dream of stealing one from someone else.

Themes are fair game. Feel free to write your own story about the adventures of a young boy, a whale-hunter or vampires. But creating the world in which the story takes place and the characters in that world is part of creating the story. Letting someone else do the heavy lifting and then weaving your own yarn -- and wanting to be paid for it -- is lazy and wrong, and it's the main reason the public ought to spurn these books.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.