I may be the last American 'woman of a certain' age who hasn't read FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James. Even with all the hype, I probably won't.
But every writer, agent, editor and blogger who discusses the blockbuster trilogy agrees it's not well-written. The funniest critiques are the word counts: Holy Crap--38, Mutter/muttered--63, Murmur/murmured--100, and perhaps tellingly, Inner Goddess (James' euphemism for lady bits)--57.
So, like any writer seeking publication, I have to ask why this book is wildly popular, while others--and surely many with better prose--languish in some agent's slush pile.
The answer may be deceptively simple. What if the quality of writing is less important than the story?
To put it differently: Am I concentrating on the beauty and flow of my words, or am I doing my darnedest to tell a great story?
Think about it. What books have stuck in your mind over the years? Were they great literary tomes, or simple ideas that tugged at your emotions.
Take Wilson Rawls' WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS.
Writing from the viewpoint of an uneducated thirteen-year-old boy, Rawls uses common phrases and easy language to put us in the Ozark foothills, chasing raccoons with our beloved red hounds. And while the book may be considered Young Adult, I dare you to read it as a grownup without crying (or completely dissolving into sobs as I did a couple years ago trying to read aloud to my son. He actually took the book from me, saying, "Jeez, Mom. I'll finish this part if you want me to.")
Perhaps Ms. James effectively tapped into readers' emotions using simple (and often the same) words. Maybe the story is better than the writing...and readers made it clear which they prefer.
So, after all the fuss over Ms. James' poorly-constructed bestseller, I must admit I'm envious of her success. But envy won't help my career, and it won't make me a better writer.
Remembering that a good story trumps fancy prose will.