I’ll admit I only made it through a quarter of 50 Shades of Grey. It needed an editor, but more importantly, it needed to be free. It needed to be free of the patriarchal misogynistic stereotypes that are so easily embraced and overdone by romance fiction writers, but also, it needed to become its own book. Writing fan fiction is like writing a Hollywood script and labelling the characters as famous actors, or in this case, as “played by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.” It steals backstory from other films, and leaves a void of storytelling so that new audiences are lost and feel something is missing.
I’ve read the Twilight series and enjoyed it. As a romance reader, I appreciated the uniquely insurmountable barrier between the two lovers. It was a well designed difficulty: if you kiss, you die. Nice problem. Romance is all about love overcoming obstacles, and romance readers want to see that love conquers all, even vampires. But 50 Shades of Grey is fan fiction that tries to stand on its own feet and fails. Granted, it has been a huge commercial success because sex sells; but behind the titillation there’s no substance.
Because 50 Shades lost the vampire problem it has much weaker obstacles than Twilight. It has a less interesting barrier with a messed-up male protagonist/antagonist (I’m not sure which he really is). After a few more tinkers down the road, the weakened plot and weakened characters have become so watered down that they are fifty shades lighter than the original.
Writing fan fiction can be a fun chance to play in someone else’s universe. It can also be excellent practice for honing your craft. And like any craft, writing takes practice. After all, most composers learn to play other people’s songs before they create their own masterpieces. However, make sure your borrowed characters face obstacles that are at least as interesting and challenging as those created by their own author. Otherwise you’ll just be writing fifty shades of bland.