Top Six Things We’ve Learned About Writing From E L James’s “Fifty Shades” Series

Posted on March 13, 2013 by


As was mentioned in yesterday’s post, E L James is releasing a new book designed to help aspiring authors with their writing.

Inner Goddess, which includes Fifty Shades of Grey branding on the front, is a journal to help writers come up with their own ideas. Peppered throughout the book you’ll find advice from James. The aforementioned excerpts will help (?) new writers start their own stories.

Being the leading experts on E L James’s craft as we are, we’ve decided to share our own list of what we’ve learned about writing from E L James. We write gooderlier now.

#6: Tell, Don’t Show (Matthew)

“But wait,” you might say. “I learned during my period of compulsory education that the rule of good writing is show, don’t tell! What is this malarkey?” Well, I might say, that malarkey is E L James’s bread and butter! Why have subtlety when the narrator can just explicitly tell you things? Wonder how someone feels? Don’t wonder, just know! Want to know about the greater implications of an event? Fuck that “wanting” shit! We live in the future! Because it’s so important that the reader thinks exactly what the author wants them to think, the author should just tell the reader what to think!

Let’s apply this logic to a novel of my own that I’m (slowly) working on! Don’t write things like: “Gary slowly fell asleep while watching the stars, however beautiful, never do anything different.” Write things like “Gary fell asleep while watching the stars. As much as he admired the visual beauty of the stars that made him happy, it also made him sad when he considered how similar their unchanging status was to his own feelings about where he currently was and how he felt like he was going nowhere in life, much like the stars, that are also going nowhere. Like Gary.”

The more you can make your writing sound like Dick and Jane, but for the nonthinking regular person, you’re good!

#5: The Only Plot you Need is Love (or, You Don’t Need a Plot When You Have Love) (Ariel) 

Sometimes when I try to sit down and write a novel that will capture the heart of millions, no, billions, of people, I think to myself, “WWJD?” No, not Jesus, James. All I know is, my girl E.L. James wouldn’t let herself get bogged down by silly concerns about plot. Instead, just write about the mundane. Focus on what two people who own a jet ski would do, and then when you wear that subject out, throw in some sort of car chase. It’s also okay to resolve a seemingly huge plot point in three pages. If a main character appears to have died in a plane crash, it’s totally fine to have them walk in the door unscathed five seconds after this concern was introduced. Readers don’t sweat these sorts of things! In fact, they love it! Readers love LOVE.

So next time I sit down to try to write a book, I’m going to write about two people who go to the deli to buy a sandwich, but then one person orders onions and his or her breath smells really bad and causes the other character discomfort. But then two armed men come in to rob the deli, and then they get the money (and sandwiches) and leave after a couple minutes. Boy, I’m getting chills.

#4: The Best Way To Get Into The Main Character’s Head Is Through Unacknowledged Mental Disorders (Matthew)

E L James understands the importance of the reader really understanding the main character. You know the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”? You can’t see the narrator’s eyes in a book, that’s stupid! Take the voice in the back of the narrator’s head, and then personify the absolute shit out of it! Readers will appreciate the clarity of being told that your main character feels guilty because another separate character living in their head is literally telling them that they should feel bad! It’s all about clarity!

#3: Always Use Surprising Words When Describing Orgasms (Ariel)

Basically you gotta be memorable in your writing. I know I will personally never forget the time Ana “detonated.” Or all the times she basically sounds like she’s having a seizure as she convulses. I mean James is almost never repetitive in her writing, so she instinctively realized that readers would get tired of orgasms being described in simple, straight-forward ways. So much learning!

#2: How To Copy/Paste (Matthew)

I’m gonna level with you guys. Books are long. Nobody has time to write all those words. So just keep reusing the same stuff again and again! Let’s look at how this works in Fifty Shades. You can use the same word over and over again (Ana’s orgasms are frequently “explosions” or “eruptions”), use the same sentences over and over again (Christian tells Ana that she’s very attractive, asks her if she knows how attractive she is, tells her when to orgasm, etc etc in every single sex scene across three books), or even entire scenes! How many of the sex scenes in Fifty Shades follow the same formula? How many of Christian and Ana’s fights are caused, continued, and resolved in the exact same way? Every single time! That’s the joy of copy/paste, aspiring readers. It’s like making computers write for you, because writing fucking sucks!

#1:  If Your Character Doesn’t Have Memorable Catch-Phrases, You Aren’t Doing Your Job (Ariel) 

Well, okay, James knows when to be repetitive when it counts! Whenever I say “Holy shit” or “Crap,” I always think of Anastasia Steele! Readers will remember your characters if you have them react to a situation in the same exact way all the time. There’s no need to actually think of a real reaction from a character when you have a stock phrase that you can fall back on! It’s such a simple yet effective writing tool.

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