Previously, I have posted about the benefits of writing (and reading) fanfiction, both for fans and for fans who like to write. The practice at writing, for those so inclined, plus the chance to revisit beloved characters make the genre of fanfiction an inviting place for all fandoms. Rarely, though, have stories that originate as fanfiction made the transition to general consumption – until now.
Two examples of fanfiction turned mass consumable fiction are the Fifty Shades of Grey series by E.L. James and the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren. The first books in each series started out as Twilight-based fanfiction and each are a part of the erotic romance genre, but these are most definitely not the same book and both make the transition from their original characters to new characters in different ways. In the end, even though James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series may be more famous, the Christina Lauren team’s Beautiful series is the better written and more enjoyable of the two.
The Fifty Shades of Grey series
E.L. James, the pen name of Erika Mitchell, wrote the original fanfiction that became Fifty Shades of Grey, the series’ first book, after becoming a fan of the Twilight series. She read the books multiple times and, then, admittedly going through a midlife crisis of sorts, was inspired to turn her own fantasies into a story called “Master of the Universe,” starring Edward Cullen as an overbearing and controlling CEO who falls in love with Bella Swan, a young woman inexperienced at love in all of its forms. He tries to make her his submissive in a BDSM relationship and instead falls in love with her as she falls in love with him. The original fanfiction came out around 2009, but was pulled, revised, and published as the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011.
I’ve read all three books in the series more than once, though I have yet to read the newest book, Grey, which is the series’ first book from Christian Grey’s perspective rather than Ana’s. While reading the series the first, I was so enthralled with the story that the issues with the story and the writing didn’t set in until the second (and then subsequent) readings. If you’re looking for a rehash of the Twilight series, you’re not going to get it. While the characters might be vaguely familiar in terms of description and even personality to some extent, James’ revisions to her fanfiction have eliminated many of the ties to its origins and free the story she wants to tell from those constraints.
However, while the erotic aspect of this erotic romance is strong, the relationship between Christian and Ana hits the same notes over and over and that can turn the read off faster than anything else. Certain elements become almost repetitive: Ana bites her lip, Christian is cranky about something, climaxes abound, and then the cycle begins again. The books are a fun read the first time around, but it doesn’t hold up under subsequent readings.
The Beautiful Series
Another series of books that originated with Twilight fanfiction is the Beautiful series by writers Christina Lauren. The pen name is the combination of the names of this writing team: Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. They have written a number of books together already other than the Beautiful series, including the YA books Sublime and The House as well as another erotic romance series, Wild Seasons.
The Christina Lauren team met while writing fanfiction and collaborated on the fanfic “The Office,” a story that depicts Edward and Bella as tough and demanding boss and ball busting intern. The two begin a not-really-romantic sexual relationship that they realize – after swearing off a physical relationship multiple times – is actually love. Later, they turned the story into the book Beautiful Bastard, which is currently in preproduction as a feature film, and then spawned BB into a series of books using characters introduced in that first book. I was introduced to Beautiful Bastard after reading Fifty Shades of Grey and immediately found that Christina Lauren’s book was better. Perhaps it is the team’s writing experience, which seems to be greater than that of E.L. James, or it’s that their style is more appealing than James’s, but the Beautiful series remains one of my favorites to read over and over again (other than Outlander and Twilight, of course).
Unlike Ana and Christian, Bennett and Chloe are both strong personalities; where Ana would come off as meek or a pushover, Chloe clearly can push back when Bennett tests her, only limited by her role as his intern. Bennett demonstrates the ability to operate on a multitude of levels emotionally, whereas Christian Grey comes off as the same person in every situation. The origins of Beautiful Bastard disappear with the revisions that Christina Lauren has undertaken to create the books. In fact, I read the fanfiction “The Office” after I read Beautiful Bastard and, other than the obvious similarities in physical description between Chloe and Bennett and Edward and Bella, had not connected who the original characters had been with their counterparts in Beautiful Bastard. Another lovely thing about this book is that it’s spun off others using the characters that the authors have built in the first book and then seamlessly expanded that cast of characters in the those later books. While Fifty Shades of Grey might be a fun read the first time or two, the Beautiful series holds up under multiple readings. Each time I go back, I go for a different book or for a different character, but I’m always going back for more.
Finally, a Recommendation
If you’re looking for a fun, sexy read with geeky beginnings, I highly recommend Christina Lauren’s Beautiful series. The writing is absorbing, the characters are fun, and the times these characters chare, both in and out of the bedroom, are worth reading and experiencing over and over again. Sure, you can read Fifty Shades of Grey to see what the big deal is, but the leap from fanfiction to ‘real’ fiction goes farther with Christina Lauren’s books than it does with E.L. James’s series.
What do you think about fanfiction? Have you ever read a story that you wished could be turned into something more? Have you read either of these books? Which ones do you like the best?