So I finally started to actually read Fifty Shades of Grey. I always figured it would have been my kind of book—I would have loved Twilight if I thought for a second Edward might really kill the idiot. I’m never been of the “maintain the purity of the art form” mentality that backlashed against these less-than-literary novels, and always enjoyed diversity, having options in my libraries and bookstores.
In fact, my varying moods and tastes are exactly why—months after having bought the damn thing—I finally opened the porno. I’d been reading several much more… oh, we’ll say “intense” storylines, and this week I haven’t really had the capacity to do the whole “thinking” thing. I wanted a distraction, I wanted something pandering to my base emotions, and I wanted to just sit back and watch without actually having to figure out what the hell is going on. I wanted an escape.
Now the reason I bought Fifty Shades in the first place was because of all the bad reviews. Rather, because I’m a sucker for a good rant (my God there’s a lot of good rants about that book), and you can’t read bitching for two days straight without wanting to read the subject of mockery. While I won’t deny the criticism had its points, many of complaints weren’t things I specifically cared about—not as a reader anyway. Simple? Pandering? A superficial, cardboard cut-out of a female character? Originally a fan fiction? Blah, blah, blah. All I’ve heard is “female porn.” The rants were fun, the book seemed fun and raunchy. When I eventually got to it, I figured it would be a sure fire way to… I’m going to say perk me up.
Unfortunately, I am, as of yet, a little disappointed. Sure, the whole not thinking thing is there. Sure there are moments of pure passion and sensuality that were really… the only kind excitement I expected, to be honest. But there’s one missing factor that the one-stars complained about, that I too complain about, that is complained about so much in these sorts of books all over.
There is no reason for these characters to fall in love. At least not more than with any other pretty face that walks by.
This is the most common complaint on any love story. A complaint I originally interpreted to be just about laziness on the author’s part. I thought forcing two characters to just know they were soul mates without clarifying to the audience what the hell they liked about each other was sloppy writing—that was excusable.
My original logic was this: A book that is supposed to just pander to the base emotions, that is written to not have nuance or substance, to just entertain and make the reader feel better, can get away with certain facets of “bad writing” because the “bad writing” didn’t hurt the main goal of the book. It doesn’t matter if their love life is realistic because the story is meant to make the audience feel better, be entertained, or aroused. As long as the writing achieved the objective, then who cares that the author slouched elsewhere? Unless you’re trying to emulate them, but that’s a writer’s issue, not a readers. Sure, these details are what prevents a book from being a lasting-love, and sure, as a critic or editor I wouldn’t recommend leaving a manuscript with these neglected facets, but as a reader, if my goal and the author’s goal is congruent, then said facets are unimportant.
And the logic itself was correct. In most books I demand nuance, being required to speculate, being frustrated, and having the characters struggle with convincing conflicts. But when I am looking for an emotional and easy read, I don’t want any of that nonsense, and implementing these “good writing” techniques would just ruin the book for me. If it had more realistic and nuanced elements, it would be more likely to be one of my favorites, but it’d also not be what I’m looking for at that time. So often, the one-stars’ complaints asked for changes that would actually hurt the story’s goal. And thus I find some of their criticisms to be irrelevant.
But I was wrong when it came to the falling in love scene.
While I believed a good story would have a rich insight into why the characters fell in love, I didn’t think it was necessary for a feel-good story. I thought it made for lazy and unperceptive writers, but I didn’t actually think it hurt the book, that it mattered any more than the fact the character was named Sunshine Black or her hair was bright blonde despite her Mediterranean heritage.
But now as I read these books more and more—and accept them for what they are more and more—I’ve come to realize that the falling in love scene isn’t just a standard requirement to make a story less ridiculous—It’s the best part of the book.
Falling in love is great. It hurts, it’s uncertain, and it’s the most volatile clashing of emotions in the entire relationship. The middle is more secure, the end is mostly just pain, but the beginning has everything. Every touch exhilarates you, the uncertainty wracks through you, and the success of that first kiss, the first admission of love, that first time you truly feel confident in their feelings is so much better than any other experience. And in books, the reader is able to see both parties’ agony, feel comforted by the knowledge of how “he” feels, and get all the excitement without the pain of reality and being unable to foresee the future.
But so many books just gloss over it. They don’t feel inclined to prove that the characters need each other more than anyone else. Sure, they show the sexual tension between them, and sure many will painfully stretch out the moments before anything “interesting” actually happens. (Interesting being both an innuendo and… well, interesting.) But they don’t go into those little moments of, “Man, she’s smart,” or “God, he’s funny.” Because that would require the author to actually say something smart or funny, maybe even give that Mary Sue some personality. It’s just easier to have a whole, love-at-first-sight, destiny thing going on.
When I read a story that jumps straight to sex, that is all about their physical attraction, in which I have no idea why he likes this girl, it’s not just the issue of me needing to really suspend my disbelief, but it actively ruins it for me. Women are taught since childhood that men don’t really care who they sleep with, and so reading a story about a guy obsessed with a girl for seemingly no reason really just confirms a lingering fear for many of us. Some authors try to confront the problem by showing a behavioral change (he’s never slept with anyone before, he’s slept with everyone before), but still… if they’ve just met and he’s obsessed with sleeping with her, I might as well be watching traditional porn, and God knows I don’t want that.
Not only is the “I just really want to have sex with you,” mentality not really that sexy for… we’ll just say me to avoid my unspoken assumption about me being the voice of everyone… but those little moments of his amusement at her jokes, his amazement at her insights, their bonding over similarities, their support of each other, and all the little real-life details that make two people have a real connection, are much sexier. These details up the stakes. Knowing that she’s the only one who gets him (and seeing the moment when he recognizes that), realizing that she’s impressed with him because… or he’s fascinated by her because… makes it clear to the reader why they need to be together. Actively seeing the characters fall in love and why they love each other makes it all the more important to the reader that they do fall in love.
Characters with legitimate chemistry (platonic or romantic) is the most exciting aspect an author can create. Whether it be Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Spike and Buffy, Calvin and Hobbes, or the Potter Trio, watching real companionship, especially watching it evolve, is the most emotionally satisfying part of the story. When the author just insists the chemistry is there and the readers have to choose to believe it, it’s not just an issue of laziness, it’s dampening every sensual and romantic moment after that. The eroticism may be what we were looking for, but the chemistry is what actually gets us off.
Not all stories have to be realistic, not all stories have to be complicated. Not every book needs to be a lasting relationship. Sometimes a one-night stand with a pretty-enough story is exactly what the doctor ordered. But it’s important to remember the purpose of the one night stand, and that the most important rule to leaving a woman satisfied: It’s all about the foreplay.