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Fifty Lessons from Fifty Shades of Grey, Part III

Fifty Shades PIII [1]
photo by shayhaas; adaptation by Liam Walsh

For more on this Fifty Shades of Grey analysis, conducted by Lisa Cron [2] (LC) and Donald Maass [3] (DM), here are links to Part I [4] and Part II [5].  

Welcome back, Pilgrim. You are proving to be an eager and apt pupil. So let us now continue through to the end . . .

The Inner & Outer Journeys

  1. Anastasia is on a journey toward self-knowledge.  (“Am I submissive?”) –DM
  2. Anastasia rejects what she most wants. (In e-mail: “It was nice knowing you.”) –DM
  3. Anastasia bargains (negotiates the contract) but cannot alter the scale of the challenge (“This is who I am.”) and ultimately accepts the challenge. –DM
  4. Anastasia’s wide-eyed sexual innocence and naiveté is offset by the complete abandon with which she throws herself into sating her desire for Christian. –LC
  5. Anastasia feels no guilt—only pleasure—upon surrendering her virginity.  Shame is removed from sexual desire. –DM
  6. Anastasia’s journey shows the reader something in a new way (“Feeling pleasure, when one isn’t supposed to.”) – DM
  7. It’s Christian’s flaws – and what he went through as a small child – that endear him to Anastasia, and that significantly alter her take on what would she’d otherwise see as unacceptable behavior.  –LC
  8. Anastasia’s goal is to unearth the trauma in Christian’s past that will explain why Christian wants to dominate her, exorcize his demons and heal him. –LC
  9. Christian wants Anastasia but is not in a hurry.  He does not make his intentions immediately known—either to Anastasia or to the reader.  (The author is withholding.) -DM
  10. Christian is coy and teasing; Anastasia blushes. He wants to know everything about her.  It is a traditional courtship. -DM
  11. Christian then announces that he’s unavailable (“I don’t do the girlfriend thing.”): huge, fatal obstacle.  -DM
  12. Simultaneously, Anastasia admits her desire to herself (“And for the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed. I want his mouth on mine.”): an enormous, irresolvable conflict is thus set in place. -DM
  13. Christian sends Anastasia gifts (first edition Thomas Hardy novels) that show insight into her; i.e., he is an aware and observant man -DM
  14. Christian rescues her (she’s drunk in a bar), nurses her (she vomits) and tucks her safely into bed. He is a guardian. -DM
  15. Christian warns her (“Once you’re enlightened, you probably won’t want to see me again.”). He is a gentleman. -DM
  16. Upon bringing her to his “playroom” he makes it clear that she may leave at any time.  He makes her safe. –DM
  17. Christian reveals his innermost shame to her.  (“The woman who brought me into this world was a crack whore.”) -DM
  18. Christian’s charitable giving is motivated by both high principle and personal need.  He is both outwardly and inwardly directed. –DM
  19. Christian demands that Anastasia follow his rules (to keep him from feeling vulnerable), but because what he really wants is her love (and so, admit it or not, he is vulnerable), she’s able to outsmart him at every turn, simply refusing to play by said rules.  –LC
  20. Anastasia completes her inner journey.  (“I’ve fallen in love with you, Christian.” . . . even while, “I don’t think I can be everything you want me to be.”) Although Anastasia and Christian end up apart, Anastasia has come to know herself. –DM

So what have we learned from all that?

When a book becomes a phenomenon there’s a reason.  Hate it if you like, but the wiser course is to understand how such a book grips so many readers—then steal the methods and use them for your own ends.

As we’ve shown, E.L. James created characters whose warmth, openness and inner conflicts are close to universal. Their yearnings are ours. Spanking? The spanking is an overlay. Fundamentally, Anastasia and Christian are two humans searching for each other, healing and love.  (Not that, you know, spanking isn’t okay if it works for you.)

If you’re still having a hard time submitting to Fifty Shades of Grey, if you still hate it, you can hang onto this: The moral values beneath James’s story are age old. What does Fifty Shades of Grey celebrate–?  Purity and the one-true-love ideal.  Nothing revolutionary in that.

And that’s the point. Great fiction not only moves our hearts but makes us think.  It shakes and changes us. Fifty Shades of Grey merely affirms that which many readers believe. Its conceit is clever, but behind the gimmick there’s a simple and unchallenging message. James’s novel is popular, but popularity and greatness are two different things.

So, why not take away fifty lessons to make your fiction broadly appealing, but then go beyond that and make your fiction great?

Which of the Fifty Lessons (okay, yes, smarty pants, it’s really 74) jumps out and says “Please use me”?

About [6]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [7] and Kathleen Bolton [8] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [9] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [10] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [11] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [12], and join our thriving Facebook community [13].