50 Shades of Grey: To Read or Not to Read

Okay, I will not really talk about whether or not you should read one of the most controversial books published in 2011. If you want to participate in that discussion go here. I will say that I read the first third of the first book and skimmed the rest of the first book. I asked my husband if I could read it before I started, and I talked to him about what I read as I moved through the book. I say that because I want to provide a context—I have at least some experience with 50 Shades of Grey. I really want to discuss how Christians can produce books as compelling as 50. I think we might start doing that by trying the following, but I would love to hear your thoughts as well. I’ve included a lot of questions. Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comment section below.

  1. Writing Well. In the article I linked to above, Michelle mentions that she chose not to read the book because her friend did not like the writing. Honestly? The writing needs improvement. Sure, the plot moves forward, but language and fully developed characters don’t drive the book. Shouldn’t Christians produce books that compel readers to keep reading based on the beautifully written language? Shouldn’t the plot make readers want to stay up late reading under the covers with a flashlight? Shouldn’t the setting feel like home? Or if it’s an uncomfortable setting, shouldn’t it make the readers feel the tension within that particular place?  What about the main characters? Shouldn’t they feel like life-long friends?
  2. Incorporating Strong Male Characters. Christian Grey, the protagonist in 50, has a dominant personality that makes females swoon. God set up the marriage relationship with the male as the head of the wife. Obviously, that does not involve abuse, but God created the idea of headship as attractive. I love romance books (Christian or otherwise) because I swoon over a strapping male willing to make tough decisions and come to the rescue. How could you incorporate a strong, sexy male character into your novel while remaining tactful? What sort of tact is necessary in a Christian romance novel, specifically regarding the male protagonist?
  3. Incorporating Strong Female Characters. The female protagonist in 50, Anastasia Steele, doesn’t just accept what Christian has to offer in a relationship at face value (at least in the first book). She fights him on the particular details of their relationship with which she feels uncomfortable. How can you make your female characters strong in their character and conviction? Should a female character confront her husband in a novel if he makes a poor decision? What if the male that she is confronting is just a boyfriend? How do the relationship dynamics differ, and how can you keep both types of relationships interesting so that readers want to keep turning pages?
  4. Discussing Controversial Topics. Even the secular community startled a bit when they discovered 50 Shades of Grey. I doubt it would have been as popular without the controversy. Should Christians be writing about controversial issues in novels, as well?  If so, should those issues be resolved biblically, or is it okay to show that a bad decision was made and to then reveal appropriate consequences for that bad decision? As with anything, you need to pray about the decisions you make in your writing.
  5. Writing About The “S” Word. Who doesn’t like to hear about a spicy relationship between a man and a woman? How would you choose to write about a man and a woman who are in a courtship or dating relationship? How do you write about a man and a woman in a marriage relationship? How do you balance being tactful but also keeping the spice going? And, finally, should Christians only be able to include kissing scenes in their novels, or will characters ever be able to go beyond first base?

What other ideas can we glean from controversial books that sell well?