FIFTY SHADES OF FICTION

April 13, 2015

Sammi Taylor

Valentines Day 2015 brought with it the usual flowers, chocolates, and the release of one of the most hotly anticipated films of the 21st century.

Fifty Shades of Grey, the BDSM-filled romance flick, opened to record-breaking numbers at the box office, raking in more than $500 million globally, and claiming top spot as Universal studio’s highest grossing R-rated film of all time.

While half of the film’s success is due to the ways in which its plot is besieged with erotica, the other half might be because we’re familiar with the characters. Anastasia Steele and the alluring, “handsome” (and totally creepy) Christian Grey, are in fact almost direct duplicates of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, the romantic protagonists of bestselling young-adult series Twilight. This is because Fifty Shades of Grey was initially a fan fiction: a story posted online by E.L James (known then under the pseudonym ‘Snowqueens Icedragons’) about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight characters in an alternate, far more sexual context.

Fifty Shades of Grey has since sold over 60 million copies on Amazon, more than the entire Harry Potter series combined, while the film adaptation (released this recent February) had the highest grossing opening weekend for any R-rated film ever. Nowadays, fan fiction has not only the potential to be popular online, but is also financially and commercially promising. After, a story published on story-sharing site Wattpad, is an immensely popular One Direction fan fiction, featuring band member, Harry Styles in the role of the romantic protagonist. It has spurned three sequels, clocked up over a billion hits online and has just been optioned for a movie with Paramount Studios. While it seems unlikely that Mr. Styles himself would play the lead role, or that his name would be used due to copyright reasons, there is no disputing that After is set to become just as, if not even more popular, than Fifty Shades.

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But what makes fan fiction so popular? Aicha Marhfour, a Melbourne-based freelance writer currently researching fandom and online culture, says it’s due to how easy fan fiction is to share online: “Sites like Wattpad and Fanfiction.net make it really easy to share fan fiction and get in touch with a community of readers and creators”.

“Fan fiction offers a lot of things. The first is escapism: reading a good book is always a way to tune out of your life and into someone else’s. Community is another great part of being involved with fan-fiction…if nobody at school likes what you do, there’s someone online who will probably read along and want to talk to you about it.”

Fifty Shades of Grey and After have both been criticised for their poor writing styles, but amateur fan fiction isn’t necessarily something to denounce. “There’s often an idea that fan fiction isn’t as “legitimate” or worthy as published fiction, but it definitely is” says Aicha. “It’s a great appetiser, and can lead you into many happy and creative hours. You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to creating fan-work. There are no rules and that’s very freeing”.

While Fifty Shades is sexual in nature, not all fan fiction takes place in the bedroom. Aicha Marhfour deems it “limiting to stamp fan fiction with labels, to think it inappropriate or smutty”. Fan-fiction isn’t tainting the minds of today’s youth: it’s empowering them to read, write and be involved in a community of like-minded people. Whether reading, writing or sharing; young people have found a creative and healthy outlet in fan fiction.

– Sammi Taylor

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