In defense of E L James: I’ve read a number of articles about a twitter Q&A with EL James which seemed spiral out of control, largely because of trolls and the anonymity of a forum whereby anything can be said as long as it fits into 140 characters.
Not everybody is a fan of her books, and not everyone appreciates that a best-selling book series can be written in a style which would not place it among literary masterpieces. That’s fine. Everyone is allowed to disagree, and it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree publicly if that is so desired. But attacking the physical qualities of a person just because you disagree with them is bullying. Expecting a work of fiction to parallel reality without any deviation lest it ‘offends’ is unrealistic.
Fiction is fiction because it is made up. It is make-believe. I’m surprised by the lack of acknowledgement there is to this concept. Fiction can be based in reality and can be inspired by reality, but in the end it is a story (or sequence of stories) living inside the author’s head which they choose to share with the world. And in this case there were enough people loving the work that they propelled it onto the best sellers list.
It’s also a film. Yet there are many offended by the subject matter and want an explanation of why someone would write about a subject that hurts another person. But, and this might sting, writers don’t generally write things with a view of taking everyone’s feelings into account.
Just as an example, I am deathly afraid of clowns. I read the Stephen King book It, which is probably where the fear of clowns came from. I watched the film (don’t ask) and now if I see a clown I have a physical fear wash over me that is so intense, it’s what I imagine a heart attack feels like. But is that Stephen King’s fault? Should he be called out for writing things that genuinely cause distress and upset among his readers? No. Because as adults we have a choice about whether we read them or not.
It is our responsibility as free-thinking individuals whether a book about clowns, or serial killers, or BDSM might cause us distress and upset, and with that independence of thought it is our duty to ourselves to choose whether to read them or not, and deal with the consequences thereafter.
I’m deeply sympathetic to those who read the Fifty Shades books and were affected by the type of relationship that was portrayed because it triggered things in them. I have a genuine, heart-felt sadness that there are relationships and events which happen to people whereby they are scarred so deeply the pain can be released from reading or viewing something traumatic.
I’m not here to belittle any of those feelings or emotions. I am, however, here as a writer to say that it is not our responsibility to coddle you in our writing and change the story in our hearts just because someone may be saddened or upset by it. Our job as writers, or actors, is to pull from our own imaginations and experiences to create realities that suck people in and let them feel what we feel.
As Ernest Hemingway said: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.
So let me end with this: I’m sorry that a piece of fiction caused you physical pain. I’m sorry that you saw a BDSM book and decided to read it, and the consequences included revisiting a trauma deeply personal to you. I am not, however, sorry that a writer created a piece of fiction which didn’t conform to your version of reality or that it did not end in a manner which gave you closure. That’s not our job. Our job is just to write the story in our hearts. What you do and what you feel after that is up to you.