50 Shades started as an episodic story published in various fan-fiction websites under the title Master of the Universe. Fan fiction is a type of creative project where fans publish, non-profit mind you, their creative endeavors to expand on beloved characters. Characters they simply cannot let go off. Characters that keep them up at night, their minds replaying ‘what if’ scenarios.
The characters that kept E.L. James up at night, writing to blow off some creative steam and publishing her story for free, were Edward and Bella. Remember them? Sparkling emo vampire and terminally clumsy human. Yeah, those two. Another phenomenon that raced through our collective psyche and left critics in every circle scratching their heads, trying to come up with an answer to their popularity. They’re still working on it I think.
When comments began pouring in on the racy nature of the story, (no way would Edward Cullen do some of that stuff) Ms. James opted to take down her story from the fan-fiction sites and publish the story on her own site. By this time, she had a following and you know what folks, they followed the yet unfinished story. It didn’t take her long to realize that hey, I could make money.
Which is where it gets a tad sticky for a whole bunch of folks. Money. It’s always about the money, in the end. Fan fiction is supposed to be a non-profit thing. Something you do because you love the characters or world so much you cannot let it go. No copyright infringement intended.
Ms. James, smart girl, changed a couple things up. Like names. Kinda important. Removed the whole sparkly vampire thing out of the equation and added sex. Lots of it. She found a virtual publisher, The Writers Coffee Shop, re-titled the manuscript, let her now massive and salivating fan base know all about it and set her baby free.
I love free industry.
E.L. James was inspired by Twilight. Some authors loathe the idea of fan fiction and will sue for every drop of blood they can squeeze out of your soul if you make a penny, others don't really care and applaud any kind of creative entrepreneurship. To me, the controversy over this series being fan-fiction shouldn’t be an issue. Stephanie Meyer is not upset, therefore no one else has a right to be upset. I mean, it was her characters that were used. But the money is starting to come in truckloads now. 50 Shades has sold over 20 million books in over 37 countries. It is the fastest-selling paperback of all time, beating one of my all time favorite series, Harry Potter. ( By the way, J.K. Rowling will sue you) It has also sold the movie rights for a nice seven figures.
And now everyone and their mother has an opinion on the series. They compare the stories and the characters. They critique the writing, question the conception, the legality, the morality, the plot, the writer, the setting, the genre, the themes, argue over its erotic nature, its depiction of a lifestyle … on every aspect of this series. *shrug*
From the words of the cleric Charles Caleb Colton, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
To see an interview with Stephanie Meyer and her opinion on 50 Shades click HERE.
For more information on the history of 50 Shades of Grey click HERE.