Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twilight: why even literary snobs are in the author's debt

I did not want to read it.
I am not a fan of romance.
And I generally dislike the paranormal stuff.
I have a backlog of books I'd prefer to immerse myself in.
But the intrigue finally got to me.
I had to know how one book could could enrage so many writers and, at the same time, convert thousands, at least, of people who had not picked up a book in decades into passionate readers.
So when a friend offered me a copy of Twilight, I couldn't resist.
And I was surprised.
Very surprised.
The answer to Stephenie Meyer's success is simple, but it is also quite complicated.
It's not the writing that makes Twilight a best seller. It is a combination of psychology, seductive descriptions, simple language and skilled storytelling. And that combination is too perfect to argue that Stephenie Meyer simply got lucky.
Let's start with the psychology.
Like any good romance writer, Meyer' chooses a girl who believes herself to be ordinary, who has never even had a date, who is so much like so many of us, especially when we were in high school.
She takes this girl and makes her the object of a highly desirable man's obsession. She gives every ordinary girl or woman out there hope. She feeds her fantasies. She helps her feel good about herself and feel good about her potential self.
Next, she draws vivid and fascinating portraits of these vampires.
I want to watch them walk. I want to breath their scents. I want to experience their powerful arms, their speed, their bodies in sunlight. I want to watch them play baseball.
They are spectacular and original.
Somehow, Stephenie Meyers makes me want that.
Add to that the seduction. The way Edward touches Isabella is almost pornographic.
It's hard to remember that they do nothing more than kiss. I want to find out what happens to them. Does it work? Does she become a vampire?
The plot and it's pacing are enough to pull me through.
Otherwise, I have to admit, the writing is pretty lousy.
If I had to read that a character's eyes, face or expression was "unreadable" one more time, I think I might have burned that book. I quickly grew tired of lengthy descriptions of Isabella's every mundane move. Do I really need to watch her climb each and every stair? Brush her teeth? Pee?
Over and over again?
And how quickly her characters leap to rage. I could never be friends with these people. There is no warning, no build-up. One wrong word or move and they clench their fists, turn purple and refuse to speak to each other.
Seconds later, they are best buddies again, of course.
This lack of emotional transition is the mark of an impatient writer. Someone who is too lazy, too unobservant or too lacking in literary talent to get it right. I found it unforgivable. So unforgivable that, despite the awesome vampires, I could not like this novel.
But, I'm not her market.
I'm not important and that's okay.
The elements of writing that I find annoying in Twilight are among those that make the language accessible for nonreaders or hurried readers. I don't want to be told how someone feels. I want to be shown. I want to feel myself growing angry with the character, or calmer or happier.
More readers than not don't want to work that hard.
From Twilight, they want two things: seduction and action.
The rest is irrelevant.
But, as a writer, there are two things I get from Twilight: more people who are turned onto books, people who might start off with Twilight, but then, later, become more sophisticated readers; and more money for the publishing industry, money that allows editors to take chances on novels like mine own.
So, how can I complain? How can any writer complain? How can anyone deny Stephenie Meyer the right to her success?
I felt it in the beginning, before I read Twilight, before I formed informed opinions of my own.
Her critics--the hard-core unyielding critics who accuse her of single-handedly triggering the demise of literature--are jealous.
Their complaints are, as I suspected, sour grapes.

3 comments:

Deirdre said...

This is a very insightful post, Lori. Your writing is excellent! I loved / hated Twilight. I read all four books, because I HAD to know what happened, but what torture, reading them! The writing is awful. I suspect that the person who works the hardest is the reader, not the writer. Meyers has a good story idea, but it's the reader who makes the idea come alive, by forgiving or forgetting or ignoring the crimes against writing Meyers commits. For instance, 90 year olds choosing to repeat high school year after year? I don't think so. And the dialogue is just painful. But the desire is overwhelming, isn't it?!

I grew up reading Barbara Cartland novels. In fact, that's how I learned most of my vocabulary words and European history! But gawd what terrible bodice rippers she wrote. And I couldn't get enough. :) See you in two weeks!

Michelle Carver said...

I mainly agree with you, though I admit I loved the book in spite of it's literary pitfalls. While I wouldn't consider myself a non-reader (voracious reader in fact, but all non-fiction) I do say for myself that I have a vivid and complex imagination...and I don't need a writer to spell it all out for me to be able to read between the lines and feel what they want me to feel or see what they want me to see. I can get there on my own. And I don't consider myself to be impatient either. Not well read in fiction, I'll give you that. In the past year I've listened to (iPod) the Poison Study Series, Pride & Prejudice, Twilight Series, and I'm in on Drums of Autumn in the Outlander series. Are those excellent works of fictional literary accomplishments? I don't know. I'm not a critic. I'm a fan of writing and I love it all. Like movies. There is room for both Napoleon Dynamite and The Last Samuri or American Beauty in my heart.

Michelle Carver said...

Oh by the way, Stephenie Meyer has some fans that write better than her and took her work and wrote it through the eyes of Edward and I found it to be FAR more appealing. If only it were on audio...

So much better than New Moon:

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4273193/1/Dark_Side_of_the_Moon

Vampiric transformation thru the end of Breaking Dawn:

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4551648/1/Metamorphosis

I'd be curious to know what you think of those. Are your books available anywhere to read?