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Fifty Shades of Grey: Is The Writing Really That Bad?

I’ve never read 50 Shades of Grey, nor do I intend to, and I think most of you feel the same.

And from the few small excerpts I’ve read, E.L. James is no Hemingway. Her writing often gets criticized for being sub-standard, and I would agree with that criticism.

However, are we being fair?

The Grammarly team recently sent me this infographic that shows some of James’ most frequent grammar mistakes, and they give examples of those same mistakes in more respected novels.

And I totally missed the drawings of the authors when I first looked at the infographic. Pay special attention to Ernest Hemingway in a wife beater, holding a whip. Hilarious!

Take a look:

Grammarly: Fifty Shades of Grammar

Now let’s be honest. They’re nitpicking on Fitzgerald. We all know he’s a perfect writer and never makes mistakes, at least I know that.

But what about James? Are we being too hard on her?

And what does this say about my ongoing critique of Ayn Rand’s poor writing?

Source: grammarly.com/grammar-check

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59 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on OWL☆WONDER and commented:
    Love this infographic!

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  2. I love the books

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  3. I haven’t read it and have no intentions to, but if it’s anything I assumed it is like the problems I had with Stephenie Meyer: lack of diversity in word choice, over-use of adjectives (4-5 at a go) or even just bad story telling. As annoying as small grammatical errors are a lot (like contractions and the oxford comma :-D) are nuances/choices.

    Liked by 4 people

    March 26, 2015
  4. I don’t usually comment on these, but I think I disagree with every suggested ‘correction’; some because they are unnecessary and some because they are incorrect. Anyone else with me?

    Liked by 11 people

    March 26, 2015
    • I get that. Like I mentioned, the Fitzgerald example is nitpicking. I think #4 is wrong too, and are contractions really colloquialisms? Everyone uses contractions these days.

      #9 though…I hate passive writing, whether it’s EL James or Jane Austen. I think that example is spot on.

      Like

      March 26, 2015
    • I don’t necessarily disagree with the corrections, but neither do I think the examples are errors. Grammar is awesome at keeping a standard of quality in writing, but the best writers understand the rules and then know when to break them for the good of the manuscript.

      Liked by 2 people

      March 26, 2015
    • Almost all of them can be chalked up to creative license. For example, passive voice isn’t always incorrect—”my feelings will not be repressed” is much more poetic and shows how the feelings themselves have agency separate from the character. “I will not repress my feelings” means something entirely different.

      Also, since when is Nicholas Sparks a good writer? The rest of the writers on there, sure, but I’d hardly call Sparks’ work any sort of literature. At best he’s one rung above James.

      Like

      March 26, 2015
  5. Well, these aren’t really errors. They are stylistic choices.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 26, 2015
    • Some of them are errors of using poor style. 🙂

      Like

      March 26, 2015
      • That said, it’s also contextual. Grammar and style change over time, so it’s hard to apply today’s standards to books written 50 to 100 years ago. But I think they’re doing this all in fun too.

        Liked by 1 person

        March 26, 2015
        • Maybe, but to compare E. L. James to Jane Austen is just…it’s not even apples to oranges. It’s like apples to dump trucks (James being the dump truck).

          Like

          March 26, 2015
      • Still, subjective. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with them…but to label them as grammatical errors is not quite right.

        Liked by 2 people

        March 26, 2015
  6. I wonder what Grammarly would ‘say’ about Naked Lunch – or would its software crash because of all the smutty language. Was thinking of Shades of Grey when you wrote your post on Naked Lunch the other day. The question is, is the imagery/language in this book any worse than in Naked Lunch. Or is it because the subject matter in that book is not laced with references to drug use and homosexuality. Just a thought.
    PS. I do like your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2015
    • I’m surprised that Fifty Shades made such a splash in today’s world. As you suggest, we’ve seen the subject matter before.

      Like

      March 26, 2015
      • Anything can make a splash these days if some celeb says it’s good. That’s why there’s so much crap out there.

        Like

        March 26, 2015
    • I never finished Naked Lunch, but I can tell you the writing is better in Naked Lunch. (I only read Fifty Shades as I was criticizing it without reading it first.) At least Naked Lunch is creative.

      Like

      March 26, 2015
  7. I read a random two pages of this book – it would be interesting if someone could count the number of times “murmur” is used. He murmurs, she murmurs, he murmured, she murmured – bleh.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  8. Reblogged this on jojomarkojo.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  9. I’ve only read the first book, and the grammar didn’t bother me as much as everything else. The repetition, over use of adjectives and adverbs, flat characters, a nonexistent plot. If grammar was this book’s only problem, it might have been good, but since it wasn’t, it’s not.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 26, 2015
  10. While I find the graphic entertaining, I have to agree that we cannot apply today’s language to something written decades ago. We are not the same people we were 100years ago. And they are going after contractions? Really? Who actually says Did not, does not etc in their everyday speech?

    Liked by 3 people

    March 26, 2015
  11. I feel some of the corrections are not necessary. Some of them changes the meaning altogether. Perhaps that was the way the author intended it to be. On cannot simply alter the meaning of another person’s writing.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  12. The comma, writing’s grey area. Throw them in where it feels natural, and hope for the best.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  13. There is the debate that reading any book is a bonus, especially in our Internet-driven world. But I certainly would rather people read authors who actually have a decent command of our language. I agree with comments that say: we cannot apply our current rules to those of past centuries.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  14. sally1137 #

    In writing, if you know the rules of grammar, you can choose to break them for a certain effect. E.L. James just broke them because she didn’t know any better. Not the same thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    March 26, 2015
  15. Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, can do anything he wants since he invented the English language. So there, Grammerlies.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  16. SharonM #

    I think if you are gripped by the story then you can overlook grammar and editing problems but if you’re not enjoying the book they can seem worse. I did read the first 50 Shades book because my daughter dared me to and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it didn’t shock me and was just bland and a bit silly!

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2015
  17. Would “Fifty Shades of Grey” be popular if it was a regular romance and not one about deviant sexual behaviors? Is it the “Peyton Place” of our day?

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  18. Stephen McDaniel #

    With others, I disagree with almost all those corrections. The intent of all punctuation and grammar is to make the language the author uses understandable. Any writer worth his or her salt will use many stylistic devices to convey images and create texture. Grammarians always fall at this fence because they want everything written in ‘Dick and Jane’ style. People reading novels are adults – they don’t need to have every comma and semi-colon inserted to understand what the author is saying. George Orwell once gave some rules for writing. The final one was: Break any of these rules rather than write something avoidably ugly. Good writing is about the use of language to create images and emotional reaction, not to see if the author followed someone’s (arbitrary) rules of grammar.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  19. I would contend that some of these grammar mistakes help make their writing more popular.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  20. I’m sorry, but if you have to gain vindication or validation from a writer like Nicholas Sparks, you’ve already lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2015
  21. Reblogged this on Fonte da arte.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  22. They didn’t measure the level of purple prose, cliché use, stereotypical characters, plot believability (yes, there must be one), etc…the things, in addition to poor grammar, that turn me off when reading.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  23. I do not believe that the individuals drawn to such novels are concerned about punctuation. It does appear that modern writing (by that I mean in the last three years) has become one step up from texting. I enjoyed reading the examples of highly respected authors who took poetic license with the written word. Thanks.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  24. Hmm, there’s some i’d disagree with there for sure but then my grammar has never been onpoint. I think a lot of its down to perspective. (And from my perspective Gray is still poo)

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  25. nedgehunter #

    Reblogged this on anime ga suki desu and commented:
    This is very amusing!

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  26. alpharuna #

    Reblogged this on Alpha Female, Mainstream Cat.

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  27. You can break the rules when you understand them. I highly doubt E.L. James understands them!

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2015
  28. From the little that I did ever read, it strongly reminded me of fan fiction, which duh is its origins anyway. Not poorly written one either. Just fan like. I actually thought she was better than Stephanie Meyer but I am not about to start a rumble on that one!

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  29. This is the second blog I have read about exactly the same material from the grammarly team including another reference to the 50 shades book – even if it is negative it is still publicity. What a narrow-minded world we live in when we have such great books at our fingertips. One page of those is deserves more publicity than the entire 50 shades of poop book. Keep it real!

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  30. Great post, but I’m not changing my mind about these books. For me it was the deadly repetition and as another commentator pointed out, the overuse of adjectives that got to me. I won’t even get into my dislike of both characters! 😦

    Like

    March 26, 2015
  31. I don’t think the real issues with those books in the grammar mistakes/choices. I don’t even think the issue is with the content of a BDSM lifestyle. The issue is with poor writing and story telling. I’m slightly unable to say this, as I’ve never read all of the books, but I’ve read parts of them, and ultimately that’s why I wouldn’t read more of them. From what I’d read, the writing just seemed… bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 26, 2015
  32. I shouldn’t comment on books I haven’t read, but that’s not going to stop me. I’ve worked as an editor and copy editor, and I’m prepared to testify that lots of writers couldn’t pass a grammar test without the a copy editor whispering in their ears. The people I know who hated the book hated it not because of bad grammar (her publisher should’ve paid someone to clean that up, so take that problem up with the publisher) but because of bad writing, which is a whole ‘nother level of problem, and not one a copy editor can fix.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 27, 2015
  33. I really do not understand why we think we have the right to challenge what other writers do. Irrespective of all the ‘rules’. Most of the examples shown here, actually read better the way the author intended, including Shakespeare.
    I don’t think books are good or bad. You either like a book, or you don’t, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t rip it to shreds.

    Like

    March 27, 2015
  34. Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes.

    Like

    March 27, 2015
  35. Reblogged this on RMS Creative Writing Club.

    Like

    March 28, 2015
  36. Nice infographic indeed. And educative too. I bet it’s the most useful and intelligent post on 50 shades of grey so far! Way to go! (but please don’t write about 50 shades any more – not worth it)

    Like

    March 28, 2015
  37. Wow…where to begin? Shakespeare should have said, “We are such stuff on which dreams are made on”? Seriously, does that sound like an improvement?

    “To-night” is incorrect? It didn’t used to be…sorry…it used not to be. Furthermore, “to night”, “to-night”, and “tonight” were NEVER different words. How could they be accidentally confused?

    As for the rest, well, the author should either have drunk deeper of the Pierian Spring, or tasted it not.

    As for Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s assume that they ARE all errors. That’s not bad writing. It’s bad editing.

    Like

    March 28, 2015
  38. As for Ayn Rand, people who complain about her as a novelist are legion, but they pretend to overlook the fact that she was writing works of philosophy, which she presented in the form of novels to gain a wider audience. The dialogue is irremediably awkward because it’s ALL expository. When I see someone dissing her chops as a writer, what I hear them saying is “I disagree with her political philosophy”.

    Consider: have you EVER heard anyone sneer at the believability of the characters in Nietzsche’s _Thus_Spake_Zarathustra_? (They’re not, BTW.) People are too busy engaging with the ideas ever to critique it as a work of fiction.

    Like

    March 28, 2015
  39. Noelle #

    Wait, what now? Most of the authors on this list are intelligent and in some cases brilliant writers who know when a grammar rule can be broken for stylistic effect and how to break it. I’ve read snippets of 50 Shades (most of the dirty bits and some of the narrative, before I couldn’t stand it anymore), and it’s clear that James isn’t breaking the rules on purpose; she just doesn’t understand them. Why no one suggested that she work with a competent fiction copyeditor is beyond me.

    So to answer your question, yes, the writing is really that bad. And if I hadn’t already lost respect for Grammarly, this post would’ve done it. They should stick with memes and stay away from literary criticism, which is clearly out of their depth.

    Like

    March 29, 2015
  40. You seem to imply the writing is not that bad – the novels sure are.

    Like

    March 30, 2015
  41. Good post. Nice addition to Naipaul’s seven rules of writing.

    Tom

    Like

    March 30, 2015
  42. Reblogged this on steffidenys and commented:
    Juist de eerste 2 boeken gelezen, en ik vind ze echt goed.

    Like

    April 22, 2015
  43. penonpapergirl #

    Very good way of comparing things…using an infographic. Thanks for the effort! 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.

    Like

    July 6, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey: Is The Writing Really That Bad? | Inko
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey: Is The Writing Really That Bad? — 101 Books | steffidenys

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