Genre Emergence

Developments in Print, TV and Digital Media

by Alexander Brock (Volume editor) Jana Pflaeging (Volume editor) Peter Schildhauer (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 262 Pages


This volume presents a range of academic approaches to genre emergence which is representative of the currently ongoing research, while retaining a common methodological core. The articles presented here use methods from text linguistics, conversation analysis, literary studies and media linguistics. Different driving forces of genre emergence are identified, e.g. function, communication form and culture. This book also aims to cover the emergence of many different genres: It includes chapters on newspaper and magazine genres, readers’ comments, print advertisements, TV news shows and sitcom series, Wutreden, shitstorms, weblogs and erotic romance novels.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface (Alexander Brock / Jana Pflaeging / Peter Schildhauer)
  • Table of Contents
  • Print Media
  • Erotic Romances: An Emerging Subgenre Succeeding Fifty Shades (Maria Kraxenberger)
  • The Birth of the Print Ad Genre (Sonja Molnar)
  • The Development of Genres in German and French Action Sports Magazines: How Economic Interests Affect Text Types (Johannes Müller-Lancé)
  • Beyond Genre Names: Diachronic Perspectives on Genre Indexation in Print Magazines (Jana Pflaeging)
  • Television
  • The Emergence of Contemporary British TV Sitcoms (Alexander Brock)
  • Genre Emergence and Change as Indicator and Origin of Cultural Change (Martin Luginbühl)
  • Digital Media
  • Genre Theory and the Digital Revolution: Towards a Multidimensional Model of Genre Emergence, Classification and Analysis (Eva Martha Eckkrammer)
  • Doing Genre in the Digital Media (Simon Meier / Konstanze Marx)
  • Genre and Community Emergence: The Early History of the Weblog (Peter Schildhauer)
  • Emergence of Online Comments in Popular Science Discourse (John Marcus Sommer)
  • Series Index

← 10 | 11 →

Print Media

← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →

Maria Kraxenberger

Erotic Romances: An Emerging Subgenre Succeeding Fifty Shades

Abstract: The present chapter aims at getting to grips with the rise in contemporary erotic bestsellers by exploring the question of whether the tremendous success of EL James’s Fifty Shades can not only be considered an inspirational source for other authors but may have led to a newly emerging genre.

In doing so, novels that were related to Fifty Shades were taken into account by examining the network of Fifty Shades of Grey-purchases on Amazon. This analysis of meta data allowed for the identification of books that readers who bought Fifty Shades were likely to purchase as well. Based on a discussion of the shared structural, thematic and functional features of these novels, this chapter argues in favour of a newly emerging subgenre of the schematic romance in the aftermath of Fifty Shades – referred to as Erotic Romance. Based on the results of the present chapter, Erotic Romances seem to represent a combination and exaggeration of elements that are also present in different highly emotional forms of fiction, namely in (schematic) romances, in literary erotica close to pornography, as well as in (schematic) thriller and crime novels.

1.  Introduction: Fifty Shades – A Prototype for a New Literary (Sub)Genre?

Pornographic und erotic content has been popular for a long time, and due to public access to the internet, the consumption of sexual media content has increased. According to one of the scarce representative studies on this matter, literary depictions of sexual content are of rather minor importance for the pornography market (Ertel 1991; see also Rückert 2000). For the book market, however, novels that feature explicit depiction of sexuality have gained pivotal relevance, especially in the past decade. The notorious novel Fifty Shades of Grey, the first volume of EL James’s international bestselling trilogy (2011, 2012) marks the beginning of this development.

Fifty Shades, originally written as fan fiction for the Twilight Saga by S. Meyer, tells the love story of Anastasia (Ana) and Christian. The series consists of three volumes and two further spin-off novels. In the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, the 21-year-old student Anastasia becomes acquainted with the young and attractive billionaire Christian Grey by coincidence. The arrogant executive fascinates Anastasia, who is still a virgin and can be described as an intelligent and ← 13 | 14 → beautiful bookworm. Christian introduces her to his sexual preferences, which include practices like bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism, as well as acts of domination and submission (BDSM). Anastasia is drawn deeper and deeper into his world and agrees to sign a dominant/submissive contract. Over the course of the novel, Anastasia discovers Christian to be an adopted child, traumatized by his childhood memories, including neglect, violence and a drug-addicted mother. She and Christian continue their BDSM-relationship without her having signed the contract. At the end of the first volume, Christian fulfils Anastasia’s request to beat her with a belt. Devastated by this negative experience, Anastasia realizes that they are incompatible and finally leaves Christian.

The second volume of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, starts with the reunion of Anastasia and Christian and traces their deepening relationship. The volume ends with Ana accepting Christian’s marriage proposal.

In the third volume, entitled Fifty Shades Freed, Anastasia struggles to adjust not only to married life, but also to her husband’s wealthy lifestyle and controlling nature, while Christian keeps fighting the demons of this past. The book ends with Christian and Anastasia having two children and leading a happy and fulfilled family life.

In addition to this primary plotline, all novels of the series include several thriller- or crime-like subplots, as for example accounts of abduction, assault and accidents. The recently published sequels Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey As Told by Christian (2015) and Darker: Fifty Shades Darker As Told by Christian (2017) retell the first two volumes from Christian Grey’s point of view.

The trilogy sold around 150 million copies and was translated into 52 languages (see Random House 2017) – an enormous success, which even exceeds the number of Harry Potter-books sold in paperback. Interestingly, this triumph has not only led to a vast and active fan base, but has also had implications for the book market and its publishing strategies. It is not surprising that many other publishers and authors have tried to step into EL James’s bestseller footsteps, often with considerable success. Consequently, the question arises whether Fifty Shades has influenced subsequent novels and reading preferences to an extent which goes beyond mere inspiration.

Since the novel Fifty Shades of Grey seems to be the base and schematic blueprint for an array of novels, it might be considered the model for a “reoccurring type or category of text, as defined by structural, thematic and/or functional criteria” (Duff 2000: xiii) – and thus, the origin of an emerging genre. It should be noted, however, that EL James certainly did not invent an entirely new form of the novel. Rather, Fifty Shades represents a subgenre, a “type or class of text which is ← 14 | 15 → identifiable as a subclass or offshoot of a larger category” (Duff 2000: xvi). Since the concept of genre, and subgenre respectively, is further understood as a dynamic, “enabling device [for readers and authors that serves as a] vehicle for the acquisition of competence” (Duff 2000: 2), the consideration of an evolving (sub-)genre calls for the examination of recurring criteria and features from preceding, established literary categories. This is even more important since (sub-) genres “‘evolve’ because the act of belonging to a genre involves both adoption of and resistance to its conventions” (Duff 2000: 7, 8). These simultaneous processes of adoption and resistance with regard to different forms of fiction will be discussed in the next section in order to approach questions of an emerging (sub-)genre in the aftermath of Fifty Shades.

2.  Fifty Shades: Adopting and Resisting Literary Categories

Fifty Shades seems to adopt and resist several fictional forms, including schematic literature, romance, genre fiction and literature featuring explicit depictions of sexuality.

Schematic literature, also called trivial literature, denotes fiction that is simple and easy to comprehend – due to the respective language use and the content of the story, but also because elements of the plot and story line are often reused and recombined with only little variation within the genre. This leads to the narrative being highly predictable (see Zimmermann 1982). Therefore, schematic literature is also often called formula fiction. Generally, schematic literary forms are considered to be comprised of, for instance, westerns, detective stories and crime novels, as well as thrillers.

The term romance refers to novels whose main theme is love. This includes works of high literature, but also – and in particular – trivial variants on the topic of love that can often be classified as entertaining literature. In the following, these trivial variants will be referred to as examples for schematic romances. These include, for instance, hospital romances and office romances (Köck 1976: 357–377). Schematic romances represent a particularly large part of trivial literature, are mainly directed towards a female readership and can be summarized as stories about two partners (woman and man) who, having overcome a series of obstacles, live happily ever after (see Nusser 1981: 77; Thiel 1991). Interestingly, pornographic literature is also considered schematic literature, since repetitions and slight variants of the same act are not only programmatic, but also support the pornographic desire, which arises not exclusively, but to a considerable extent, from the pleasure of the repeating schema (Martínez 2011: 199–212). ← 15 | 16 →

2.1  Fifty Shades: Adopting and Resisting Features of Erotica and Schematic Literary Forms

Certainly, Fifty Shades is notorious for its explicit depictions of sexuality. Critics from all over the world focused on this aspect of the novel, classifying it often as “mommy porn” (see for instance Bosmann 2017) and, consequently, as literary pornography. Generally, literary studies classifies all literary works with a focus on bodily-sensual and sexual aspects of relationships as (literary) erotica (Wilpert 19897: 261–263). Since such a broad definition includes pornographic content or other features such as obscenity, a distinction between these elements is necessary for a better understanding of the text, its features, as well as its potential functions and effects regarding the readers.

There is a consensus that pornography primarily focuses on the sexual stimulation of its reader (see Heinzius 1995: 222). In contrast, obscene depictions aim at conscious violations of moral values and taboos that often cause a shock when first received. These violations depend upon feelings of morality and shame, potentially going beyond emotional reactions such as disgust. They are not restricted to the realm of sexuality (see Gnüg 2015) and are usually not considered constitutive for erotica (see Heinzius 1995). Pornographic and erotic elements are likewise part of erotica, without being necessary or constitutive by default (Heinzius 1995). Further, eroticism as the positive side of the sensual has been opposed to the negatively connoted pornography (Gorsen 1987: 36–53). However, this evaluative dichotomy is questionable since Sontag’s essay The Pornographic Imagination (Sontag 1969: 35–73), in which Sontag claims that pornographic works can be of positive and/or negative artistic value, independent of their explicit content. With a specific focus on literary works, Heinzius (1995: 222) suggests several selected features that characterize pornographic works. Accordingly, the main aim of the sexual depiction is the sexual arousal of its recipient (see also Martínez 2011). Further, sexual depictions in pornography are marked by frequent repetitions and mostly spare metaphors and symbols. In line with the argumentation by Rückert (2000), sexual depictions are especially direct and unambiguous, thus requiring only little effort by the recipient’s imagination. Furthermore, pornographic sexual depictions are said to be nearly as sober and numb as technical descriptions, resulting in a depicted sexuality that seems mechanized. Accordingly, performers in pornographic depictions are not portrayed in terms of their personality but reduced to their sexual organs.

Following this characterization of pornographic works, it becomes clear that Fifty Shades does not represent pornographic literature in the narrow sense: The story mainly focuses on the protagonists, their personalities and their respective ← 16 | 17 → developments. The sexual depictions are neither sober nor technical; rather they are mostly described in a highly emotional and metaphoric manner.1 Although explicit depictions of sexuality appear frequently and are vital and inevitable to the plotline, neither the wording nor the scenarios are identical.2

Thus, it seems inappropriate to consider Fifty Shades pornographic literature. Rather, Fifty Shades represents an erotic book series that does not primarily aim at the sexual arousal of its readers. Nevertheless, it often verges on pornography3 and the explicit, erotic elements are indispensable for the plot.

2.2  Fifty Shades: Adopting and Resisting the Romance and its Schematic Variants

Despite the importance of erotic elements, the personal and romantic developments of the protagonists play a crucial role in Fifty Shades. In a similar vein, based on a stilometric analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, Archer & Jockers (2016) report that topics like seduction, sex and the female body constitute in total only 13 % of the content. By contrast, topics such as human relationships (21%), conversations (13%) and nonverbal communication like smiling and other facial expressions (10%) are much more important (Archer & Jockers 2016: 77). Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that Fifty Shades, and its readership respectively, aim at a particular emotionality as a result of reading.

Likewise, the love story and the heroic / personal developmental journeys of the protagonists are, as already mentioned, very important to the plotline. The protagonists’ relationship and its development, which is challenged, among others, by sexual expectations and experiences, are most central to Fifty Shades. Interestingly, the depicted relationship between Ana and Christian evolves very similarly to those described in schematic romances (see Nutz 1999; Zimmermann 1982). In the beginning, the relationship is unbalanced and mutual ← 17 | 18 → respect between the protagonists is only established over the course of the story. The standard plot involves the young female protagonist gathering new experiences outside of her known world that are both terrifying and exciting, while the experienced and self-confident male character reveals his inner demons and learns how to trust, in order to be saved and healed eventually by the love of his life.

Such a development – along with the dichotomous gender-specific characterization of the main protagonists as, on the one hand, inexperienced, pretty and poor and, on the other, as mysterious, attractive and rich – has often appeared over the course of literary history. Very prominent examples of more classical and canonical stories that depict the love between ‘brooding heroes’ and sensitive, inexperienced heroines can be found in the romances from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century (for an alignment of Fifty Shades with Austen’s work, see Griem 2012).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
Text Type Language Change Genre Evolution Text Linguistics Systemic Functional Linguistics CMC
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 259 pp., 9 fig. col., 33 fig. b/w, 12 tables

Biographical notes

Alexander Brock (Volume editor) Jana Pflaeging (Volume editor) Peter Schildhauer (Volume editor)

Alexander Brock is a professor of linguistics at the English department of Halle University. His research interests include text linguistics, pragmatics, humour studies and media linguistics. Jana Pflaeging is a PhD candidate at the Chair of English and Applied Linguistics at Salzburg University. Her research interests are in multimodal genre studies and media/text linguistics. She also enjoys visualising linguistic theories. Peter Schildhauer is a lecturer of Teaching English as a Foreign Language / English Linguistics at Bielefeld University. His research interests include media linguistics and the interaction in EFL classrooms.


Title: Genre Emergence