Monday, April 23, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins of Twilight (or The Only Things I Ever Talk About Anymore)

A while ago I felt like I stopped complaining so much about things like how the Twilight series is horribly misogynistic and any number of higher issues to focus on how it offended my sensibilities as someone who fancies himself a storyteller. To close out Eclipse and look at how far I’ve come, I thought I’d lay those out and say just where the most heinous examples from each book were.

I’m aware there’s some overlap here, both with the problems I’m listing and the examples I use. I’m okay with that. I’m also aware of using a couple examples from Breaking Down. I’m okay with that too.

Why don’t we jump right into how the story…

Plays it too safe.

Let’s be clear: as an author, you should strive to have your characters act in an intelligent and semi-realistic manner. For that reason, I agree it makes sense to keep the squishy Bella away from the dangerous happenings whenever possible, and use their precognitive to warn them of incoming danger. The catch is it’s also important to strike a balance between having your characters do what’s smart, and showing things that are interesting to read about. Like oh, anything but having the narrator sit around in a house or motel miles away from whatever’s driving the plot.

Just saying, it’s a not a small copout when tons and tons of effort’s put into establishing that a big battle with a fearsome force is coming, only to find out it’s going to happen someplace else while we get to listen to Jacob and Edward bickering over the affections of an unlikable ninny. Slightly less aggravating is hearing, and never seeing all of Victoria’s failed attempts to get past the Quileutes to have a chance at killing an unlikable ninny.

If you’re going to include all this conflict, all these people gathering for battle to show the depth of their convictions (or if we’re not kidding ourselves, how damn special your Sue is), why on Earth would you not show it? I don’t demand that books with superhuman beings include epic battles, but if you’re going to go that route and yet not show any of it, I don’t see why you’d go that way for drama at all.

Or maybe the author’s just a wimp who wants people to think she’s tough by using battles for drama, but doesn’t actually have the cajones to show something unpleasant. If you’ve read Breaking Dawn you’ll remember that the middle third or so is told from Jacob’s perspective. At one point he comes back from a run to find out Leah the werewolf told Bella off for continuing to string him along even after choosing Edward, marrying Edward, and being in the process of having Edward’s baby. Not only did we not see this awful harangue, everyone else thinks Leah’s just being a bitch to poor Bella. Including Jacob.

For that matter, having Alice around to foresee nearly all threats eliminates, accordingly, nearly all of the element of surprise the danger provides. It’s kind of cute, but mostly desperate the ways Meyer comes up with to weaken or phase out this awesome ability. Despite the decision to make its owner one of the most prominent characters. If you not only keep the main character out of all the exciting parts, but we have plenty of forewarning that something dangerous might happen (and usually a more-or-less exact idea of when and where it’ll happen, usually on the field where they played baseball in the first book), what exactly is meant to be dramatic about all this if have plenty of advance warning of something we won’t get to see anyway?

And it isn’t just fighting; there are indications that Meyer does have potentially entertaining character interplay too. The thing is, probably because her potentially interesting ideas usually have nothing to do with romance, none of it seems to involve Bella, Edward and Jacob.

Those potentially interesting ideas include a fairly elaborate mythology and complex genealogy of the Quileute tribe. But if the person who we rely upon to give us all our information is so focused on her boyfriend’s sparkly cheekbones the elaborate mythology feels like something merely thrown in for color, maybe it might as well not be there?

Related to my other complaints, and just as annoying, is when everyone else seems to be in on some big development, and Bella’s the last to find out. Like when she finds out Jacob’s in love with her too.
If we don’t get to be around for anything that could’ve made these books interesting, and are kept in suspense about things anybody could predict, what do we get instead? Talking. Interminable. Talking. About vitally important things like the men in Bella’s life, or how she’s not happy being a human. Or if we’re really lucky, talking about that fighting and tracking we don’t get to see.

Let me stress that the narrator of a story being largely a spectator doesn’t automatically doom it. But it’s really hard to make that work when they’re the reason for everything that goes on.

For a successful example of non-involved narrators, I’m thinking of the early Callahan’s stories by Spider Robinson, where Jake Stonebender’s usually just another guy who happened to be at the bar the night something weird happened. There were stories with him at their center, sure, but not all that many really.

The important points of distinction are that he was around to tell us about something worth reading when it happened, and the narrator was usually just another face in the crowd. Not the center of the fictional universe. Callahan’s had an ensemble cast it actually used.

Speaking of ensemble casts, it’s hard to get worked about the welfare of the…

Legions of pointless characters.

Near the beginning of Eclipse we hear about vampires murdering people in Seattle, and reading the victims’ names Bella starts to fret over how these aren’t just names, they’re people who had families and jobs and pets and Xbox Live accounts…None of them really mattered for anything other establishing that somebody was on a killing spree, but that’s the problem. It’s the tip of the iceberg of Meyer’s apparent belief that every face in her story needs a name and complete identity. No matter how inconsequential to the story they might be.

He shows up within like a chapter of the ending. And yes, his name is Charles.

Having a diverse cast of characters in your book can be entertaining. However, that needs to be balanced with knowing that you shouldn’t just have one, it should matter for something. Especially if you’re going to base major plot events on some of the smaller elements.

Yes, I’m mainly talking about the practically faceless Harry Clearwater, and how his untimely demise prompted Edward to seek assisted suicide.

That’s just the worst example. There’s a party during New Moon where a bunch of other people (from the reservation) are mentioned like their names ought to mean something. More of the same when Bella goes to hear the legends in Eclipse. Then later we might hear how such-and-such is having a rough time because such-and-such died, or because such-and-such turned out to be a werewolf. Or when Jacob talks about how stuff’s happening to his fellow werewolves, as if I know how any of them are different besides Jacob (because he’s the closest thing Edward has to a rival) and Sam (because he’s the leader). And maybe Emily (because she’s Sam’s girlfriend. And she’s ugly). Jump right off the page, don’t they?

Not the Volturi's receptionist! Why, Steph, WHY?!!!!

Or the Volturi? We meet them one time, and then we’re supposed to know who all these names are, what so-and-so wants and how so-and-so has such-and-such a power. Even though the only time we see them again before the very end of the series is when some of them show up at the end of Eclipse for no good reason. In Breaking Dawn much ado is made about a Volturi named Demetri, specifically because of his power to find people. I don’t think he gets more than a line or two in the whole series, but over and over Bella and Edward think that if anyone’s to be able to survive the Volturi’s wrath, he has to die. He wouldn’t be worth bringing up at all, if not for his power.

Incidentally, if you can remember that far back, Demetri was the Volturi member at the end of New Moon whose name I refused to remember that close to the end of the book. He was relevant to the story then for exactly the same reasons he was at the end, because he had a power that made it so hiding from the Volturi was off the table. He was literally a shiny plot device. It was one thing when he was mentioned briefly at the end of one book, but they started relying on that more toward the end of the series. It just got more transparent.

The book hardest hit by this is Breaking Dawn, when (besides leaning even harder on Demetri) the other vampires the Cullens call in to reinforce them show up. There’s about twenty of them, and aside from the Alaskan group, who got most of a chapter to themselves, they’re all introduced in the span of one chapter. Apparently that’s enough for them to be three-dimensional characters, let alone for us to be able to tell them apart, let alone give a shit about what happens to them, because a lot of the book after that is mentions of such-and-such a vampire doing something like we know who they are. There’s an index in the back, but it just lists who belongs to which group, and what name’s coupled up with what other name. Nothing about pasts, powers or personalities. Meaning like all my previous examples, it’s just a list of names. Sure the guidebook gives all those characters names and biographies, but a guidebook should help sum things up at a glance. It shouldn’t be the only place where the author gives you any reason to care about someone you’re supposed to care about.

Even the Cullens aren’t much better, what with how little involvement and depth any of them are given (even the ones we do see a lot). What do we know about them? Carlisle’s a doctor (but willing to renege on his pledge to save lives when calling in reinforcements for the sake of oh-so-special Bella and her oh-so-special kid). Esme’s his wife, and possibly mentally disturbed. Rosalie doesn’t like Bella and is obsessed with babies. Emmett’s her meathead husband. Jasper’s having the hardest time with their choice of diet and a former solider. Oh, and he’s Alice’s main squeeze, so…yeah. The only reason they’re more memorable than the background vampires is we’ve been hearing their names longer.

That’s not even getting into the teenagers who are mainly around to fill space and make Bella look good until she starts hanging out with the Cullens on a regular basis. So let’s not.

And when one of those names does something that affects the big league characters, we’re apparently supposed to have a reaction even though we barely know the character, if we even remember hearing the name before at all. Like at the end of Eclipse where it switches to Jacob’s perspective and he moans about how Leah’s bitching his ear off, like this is something we’ve seen a lot of. I don’t think Leah’d had a single word of dialogue before that. We’d been told she’d been driving the wolves crazy with this kind of thing, but secondhand info doesn’t count as character development. Which of course leads me into…

Don’t tell me what to think, show me what to think.

Every reader will put their own spin on something, true, but an author worth their salt needs to at least try to demonstrate their precepts. Twilight, on the other hand, seems to think that if it says something enough times, then people will accept it, regardless of how it shows the opposite many more times. Or flat out ignores opportunities to back up what it does say.

One of my more frequent digs during the reviews was how Bella’s billed as all smart, kind, brave, born with an old soul, etc. I’ve heard a few Twihards defend this by saying she was all that stuff. That is, before the start of the books, but goes a little insane around Edward because “love isn’t rational” and all that crap. Two things. One, we never saw Bella before she devolved into a vampire groupie, so we have no basis for that comparison. Two, if the other characters are to be believed, Bella’s still all smart, mature, brave, etc. even after going crazy over Edward. Which she isn’t.

Building on that, it’s supposed to be heroic or something how Bella’s willing to sacrifice herself. It might be, if how she didn’t go on and on about how worthless a person she is because she’s a person and not a vampire. How she’s unworthy of being called the lover of something like Edward Cullen. She’s not being humble, and certainly not being heroic. She’s just being a whiner to a higher degree, with the assumption that if she’s willing to kill herself, it’s heroic.

Again, two things. One, was it heroic when Bella took everyone’s concerns for her and flushed them down the toilet with her suicide games in New Moon? The boy who gave her life meaning was gone, and that was the only way to hold onto him (believe it or not, Meyer does have an explanation for Bella’s suicidal tendencies in New Moon, but I’ll get to that when I get to the cause of all these other problems with her style). Two, are the Cullens worth saving from other vampires? Bella tries to assure Jacob (and us), that they’re good, “to the core,” but while trying to avoid taking sentient life might make them less bad than their fellows, does it really make them good? To quote a comic strip about a six-year-old and his imaginary friend, “maybe good is more than just the absence of bad.” I amaze myself with the list of things I find more mature than these books. Actually, I don't.

Get the feeling what she loved was having incredible powers, and getting to be above the law while still being considered "good guys"...

Let’s focus more on the Cullens, shall we? Remember how early in Eclipse, Bella said the Cullens were dedicated to protecting human life? Remember how not long after Edward said the only reason they were paying attention to the killings in Seattle was it was happening so close to them? Remember how they only decided to get involved when it became clear the killers were coming for them, personally? I don’t eat tuna, but that doesn’t mean I’m actively involved in saving dolphins. I don’t hunt deer or ducks, but that doesn’t mean I’m involved with stopping them from being killed. So don’t tell me they’re saints when the only one actively doing any good’s just working as a doctor in a small town hospital.

There’s also “human experiences.” A lot’s made of that, but it’s hardly explained what it could be. Especially when the difficulties of being a vampire are so exaggerated. We hear again and again how hard it is to be a veggie vampire, how tempted Edward is to devour his true love, and all that kind of crap. I doubt I’m ruining anything by telling you that Bella shows no signs of this when she becomes a vampire; instead it’s pretty much exactly the magical experience she imagined it to be. They try to explain that, but all it really does is make you feel like it’s yet another false alarm.

And Bella and Edward’s unabiding love? That more than anything’s what I’m talking about when I mention the books trying to convince us through sheer number of vocal assurances, rather than demonstration. I’m sure that in the author’s head the vampire who can see the strength of people’s relationships had far greater significance, but in the scope of stories as conveyed by Bella, he just seemed to be another a plot device inserted to tell us how deep their love was. For realz.

Moving away from the characters a bit, just how does Volterra enjoy a reputation for extreme safety, let alone get such a huge turnout for that festival, if every year fifty or so of the people attending are never seen again? It’d be one thing if it was like in Guyver where the villains have lots of moles in politics, media and law enforcement and are able to blame their killing witnesses on terrorists or something, but it’s not. Volterra’s supposed to be one of the safest places on Earth, specifically because the Volturi live there, and yet nobody questions it when revelers never come home. Do the Volturi hunt down all those peoples’ extended families too? All their friends and neighbors and coworkers and guys who know them at the bar and church and golf course and karate class? And all the people who’d miss those people? Or did the author perhaps not realize the implications of her claim when chow time came?

Oh is that it? Thanks for making that so clear in the book, Steph.

On the other side of the coin, don’t belabor simple points. Obviously we’re talking about Bella and her almost fetishistic worship of the Cullens and their inhumanly perfectly glorious perfect perfection. Physical perfection, anyway. After a while (a little while), it stops sounding like they’re really so beautiful and Bella’s just a shallow moron who’s easily distracted by shiny objects.

Speaking of Bella and her “tendencies”…

Bella’s the drama queen to end all drama queens.

I don’t need to tell anyone Bella’s as whiny and panicky as they come. On the one hand, Bella’s a teenager, and if teenagers are known for anything it’s blowing their various issues totally out of proportion. On the other hand, well, again, two things. One, Bella’s supposed to be anything BUT your average teenager. Supposedly she raised herself while also taking care of her flighty mother, and there’s all those assurances of how mature, intelligent, and whatnot she is from other characters. Certainly I knew few girls in high school who read Shakespeare and Jane Austen for fun. And by few I mean none. Two, probably more damaging from a story standpoint is eventually Bella’s theatrical tendencies strip her recountings of all sense of scale.

Mainly this comes in when Bella refuses to shut up about Edward and how perfect he is as if that counts as development for his character and their relationship. And not just Edward, but all vampires. Or anyone related to vampires, like Nessie. Seriously, I know most parents think of their kids as little angels who couldn't possibly be improved upon and will change the world, but it doesn't sound like Bella loves her kid. It sounds like exactly what she's been saying this whole time at literally every opportunity.

But it also rears its ugly head in the form of being panic-stricken at every single unpleasant development. To Edward being out of school for a day even when she still thinks he hates her, to the vampire mafia descending on Forks to everything inbetween. Whether it’s a single vampire against numerically superior supernatural protectors, or a small army.

If this were a more traditional romance without much in the way of violent physical conflict, that might not be so bad. The drama would be coming from something other than who will win a supernatural battle to the death. It’s not, with Bella as the cause of a different battle or plot of murder in every single book. Raising the stakes as a series progresses is a natural thing for the author to do, but it only works if you can tell it’s happening. With the way Bella sounds just as distressed about getting birthday presents or attending school functions as she is about having vampires out to kill her, it’s not that long before the angsting about problems every teenager has sounds the same as the “real” ones.

One of the most annoying manifestations of this problem is Bella’s insecurities about people not liking her, or not being good enough because she's not a vampire. When everybody she meets falls all over themselves to please her, is jealous of how awesome she is, or intrigued by how awesome she is to the point of letting her be the exception to the rule of knowing about vampires.

It’s like the author thinks that hides how special she really is.

Of course, the weight of Bella’s problems it isn’t helped by how…

The author just plain sucks at showing how serious problems are.

As above, this would be less of an issue for a series that didn’t rely on fighting between super-powered beings for much of its drama. There’s no particular reason you can’t have things like that in a purported romance, but just because the super-being fighting is outside its regular genre, that doesn’t mean you can get away with trying any less hard. And it’s not limited to villains not living up to what we’re told about them, either. But that’s the main one, so let’s start there.

We’re constantly assured of how badass vampires are, by Bella’s wish to be one if nothing else. Do we ever really get to see it when it matters, though? There’s Edward’s fight with Victoria, sure, but I just couldn’t take that seriously.

What about the Volturi? We’re told how scary they are and how they’ve got no tolerance for anyone who breaks their rule, but when we actually see them, they basically say “well, guess we can let you guys go with a warning.” They’re conspicuous in their absence when vampire killings (which vampires are easily able to identify as being perpetrated by vampires) are gaining national media attention, and when they do show up they spew some crap about not allowing exceptions to their rule, yet leave the entire family of exceptions to run free. And killing someone who can’t fight back (Bree) might make them vicious, but it doesn’t make them intimidating. Any more than a teenager beating up a first grader doesn’t make them look intimidating. I have no idea what the hype’s all about. The believability of threats and scaling up might have been helped if Meyer actually watched rather than just mocked martial arts movies, or had her sons explain videogames to her.

Not that this applies only to how scary-or-not a character is. The books’ most visible problem, Bella being torn between Edward and Jacob even after taking her wedding vows (which, then again, seem to matter very little to her), neatly goes away when Jacob is snatched up by his lupine instincts to have babies with Bella’s perfect immortal spawn. He doesn’t learn to live with the fact he can never have Bella. Nope, resolution’s just a cheap plot device away. That imprinting was set up midway through Eclipse hints at just how long Meyer had been planning on that.

Not that it was much of an issue in the first place; there was no good reason for Bella to ever be interested in Edward besides his inhuman beauty. With the intelligence on display I can’t say I was much worried about her waking up and realizing Jacob was a better match for her after all. Especially with most of their meetings ending in arguments.

Did we ever really see anything lending any evidence to how hard Edward was struggling with the desire not to eat Bella? Did they ever plant any safeguards? No, because they didn’t need to. Jasper attacked her in New Moon because Meyer was in especially bad form there, and needed to get rid of the Cullens any way she could.

Hell, all Bella has to do to get through her problems, no matter how severe, is to just sit around and wait for the dust to settle. Yeah, yeah, “we can’t all be slayers,” but what is Bella, then? She’s a spectator in her own damn story who doesn’t contribute a thing until she’s finally got superpowers of her own. And when she does get to finally do something, basically she stands there and wills the Volturi to be harmless. Which is on the complete other end of the spectrum, and just as annoying.

It’s all pretty underwhelming, and eventually you stop worrying when some “terrifying” new menace appears in Alice’s head. Even when it doesn’t.

And speaking of seeing things coming…

The series thinks it’s much less predictable than it really is.

A lot of stories follow a fairly basic structure. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s how you fill the space that has a big effect on how well the story works. Twilight’s problem here is the ridiculous amount of time it spends effectively treading water, doing nothing but wasting space until it reveals something we saw coming almost as soon as the first hints were mentioned. Remember, these books are told in first person. We don’t get to see anything the main characters don’t. When it takes them so much longer to arrive at very basic conclusions, they seem pretty stupid.

The freshest examples in my mind are from Eclipse. One of them is taking forever to reveal who’s responsible for raising a vampire army close to Forks and stealing Bella’s dirty laundry. Gee, could it be the vengeful vampire they never caught? Surprise, it was! Boy, it sure was worth waiting for most of the book to have passed before that simple little tidbit anybody who’s ever read a book before arrived at immediately.

Oh, and you know how long it takes Edward to realize Bella’s immunity to vampire mental powers isn’t her brain being screwed up, it’s a power? The 32nd chapter (of 39) of the last book. You little sneak, Steph!

The other big one is how shocking it is to Bella when she finds out Jacob’s interested in her too in Eclipse. In spite of her pointing out in the first damn chapter that he was bucking to take things to the next level with her. No, I don’t buy it, and with how he only became a major character when she was left single in a fnorking romance, neither should you.

On the other hand, despite all the hoopla with Team Edward and Team Jacob and all that crap, I was never worried about who our heroine would end up with. Just about all authors think they’re creating something deep, but Stephenie Meyer wasn’t. It honestly would’ve been surprising, too, if Bella eventually decided that having a personality and being someone she can have fun with was more important than eternal youth and joining the kind of family that gives cars as gifts.

And we all believed that Edward was just going to disappear on Bella again at the end of New Moon like she thought. Right? Right?? Even though that meant the entire first book would’ve been nothing but set up for Victoria’s grudge.

My favorite examples are the ones that happen because the characters are idiots. Mostly Edward. Like when he totally fails to anticipate that an evil vampire might want to get even with him for killing her boyfriend by killing his girlfriend. And then goes and makes this already appalling oversight even worse by making his entire vampire family move away for her protection, leaving her unprotected when the evil vampire comes back.

Incidentally, my favorite example of idiocy that would’ve made the books even more predictable is a line from Breaking Dawn: “Vengeance was a common obsession for vampires, one that was not easy to suppress.” (p. 538) Bella presumably learned that from the Cullens, who took more than half of Eclipse to realize the vampire who wanted revenge on them and Bella might be behind everything.

And you know the name of the last chapter in Breaking Dawn? “The Happily Ever After.” Thanks Meyer.

It goes without saying how this story…

Takes itself too seriously.

I can hear it already. “You like those shows they make into Power Rangers! And the bug guys on the motorcycles! They take themselves seriously, and they’re stupid as hell, but you still like them!” Yes, that’s true. But what saves those is the ones I enjoy the most are usually the ones that are willing to crack a joke and put a major character in a silly situation every once in while. If you run into a dumb idea in a story that doesn't take itself totally seriously, it's easier to shrug off and keep going. If something's dead serious and has some stupid ideas, your suspension of disbelief doesn't hold up as well.

I’m just saying, some awareness and sardonic wit could’ve made some of the creative decisions in this series a lot more tolerable. But then, some awareness probably would’ve prevented a lot of them in the first place.

Let’s get this out of the way because I know we all have the same favorite example: sparkling vampires is stupid.

It’s especially stupid in a story that wants you to think they’re all powerful and dangerous and majestic and the sparkling only makes them even cooler. And Meyer acts like she has no clue. Think about it. The sparkling is what Edward plans to reveal to tourists to make the Volturi kill him at the end of New Moon. The story takes that so seriously, thinks that’s such a big deal, that it’ll get the Volturi to overlook both their friendship with his father and the usefulness of his mind-reading abilities. To compel them to dismember and immolate Edward for flouting their authority. The sparkling.

In Breaking Dawn, Bella realizes that as a vampire, she can stay standing up forever if she wants to. I get it, it’s because vampires are tireless, but I can’t think of a way to establish vampires being tireless that sounds dumber than that.

Also in Breaking Dawn, she realizes she was meant to be a vampire in life. Not a teacher or an author or a doctor or a plumber or an angry reviewer. A species. That still leaves one of my many unrelenting questions unanswered, which is what do they do with all their time? What kinds of things do they try to accomplish? They don’t have to fight crime or cure cancer, but “being a vampire” isn’t an answer. Especially not when they work so hard not to be monsters, as Bella once put it. She might as well say, “I was born to live forever and have a good-looking husband and not work.” What the fuck?

In those rare moments when we actually get to be around to witness a dramatic conflict, it seems like Bella has to fixate on a silly word that destroys the ability to take it seriously. In Eclipse it’s calling Edward and Victoria’s fight “the dance” over and over. In Breaking Dawn it’s Bella’s overuse of the word “elastic” during the showdown with the Volturi.


These are obviously big problems, but they all spring from a common source. While we’re here, summing up all the other ways Twilight fails, why not go for the jugular? I present now what may be the root of all Twilight evil…

Meyer still writes like she’s only writing for herself.

I can’t prove this one as such, but so many of the above things are indictors of someone writing something for someone who already knows what they know. That is, without thinking to make it accessible to someone not privy to the wealth of knowledge that makes it all click. This seems especially true if you read through the series guidebook, with the backgrounds of all the characters and organizations laid out bare before you. It looks like Steph put a lot of thought into the mythos and the many, many denizens of her books’ world.

As you may have noticed by now, though, it just supplies more ammo to the people still snarking at the series.

That has so much less to do with the author’s worldview than good storytelling. In all but the worst and/or most simplistic fiction, you’ll have a hard time finding “bad guys” who are bad just because they can be. Even the villain of Dino Squad had a reason for what he was doing: he wanted to retake the planet for his kind and get rid of what he considered two-legged vermin. The way he went about it was idiotic, but in his mind, Victor Veloci was the one saving the world. Having characters with motivations isn’t something to praise. It’s something that goes without saying.

Power, revenge (as quoted above), greed and flat-out insanity are motivations too, power being one of the most popular (and easiest). Power also seems the most prevalent motivation behind the Volturi and its members. So pardon me if I don’t applaud Twilight for having some kind of deep insight.

Besides, from the books alone, can you tell that James regarded Victoria as a trophy to his greatness as a hunter more than as his girlfriend? Can you tell Victoria was beaten as a child by her employers because of her hair color, and learned to “disappear” as a result? Or do they just seem like beasts who’re that way because they haven’t made the decision to be something else that the Cullens have?

Steph came up with quite a vivid world for her sparklepires. Many of the characters have long and (relatively) thoughtful backstories. It’s just, with the numerous problems I described already, it’s something you’d have a hard time telling from reading the  series. And while a guidebook can be useful in making it easy for a newcomer to jump into something long and elaborate quickly, should it be more entertaining than the work it’s trying to explain? Really, should it?

This leads into what to me is the books’ biggest shortcoming, not half because it’s one of the worst things you can do as a writer: fail to explain your world to your readers. It seems to have come about because originally, Meyer wrote the first book just to entertain herself. Meaning she already knew all the background information and character dynamics that caused things to be dramatic and just make sense in general. Because she’s the one who made it up in the first place. If you’re just writing for your own amusement, that’s okay. But if you decide to share what you write, it should be with some regard to explaining things to people who weren’t involved in the creation.

Because she already knew all that background information, it seems as if she either forgot or didn’t see the need to find ways to convey it to Bella and thus the audience. Because originally, she was the only intended audience. And when she was convinced to send the book off and it became a success, well, why change her style? Obviously it’s working.

But remember Bella’s suicidal pastimes in New Moon? Know how it makes her look all kinds of disturbed?

This isn’t a little thing. This is explaining Bella’s actions for a large chunk of the second book. Problem is, if you have to explain it in an FAQ in the guidebook, maybe you didn’t explain it that well in the actual book? Leading to people seeing something decidedly unhealthy instead of assurance of the depth of their love? Maybe that slipped through the cracks because the author knew it, but forgot to find a way to clearly convey it to the reader? Or even worse, thought it was obvious?

In Meyer’s mind, when something happened where Bella needed to be shipped somewhere safe, there were probably some terribly thrilling fights and chases going on offscreen. Maybe there were, but if I have to use my imagination every single time that happens, why don’t I just write my own story?

Meyer knew the Alaskan vampires. Knew their pain at having their mother slain for creating a vampire toddler. Knew how hard it was for them not to come to the Cullens’ aid in Eclipse because one of them was still mad. Knew the dealings between them and Laurent that caused that one member to be still mad. Knew why it was sad when the mad one got torched at the end of Breaking Dawn.

But Bella didn’t see it.

Or take all the secondhand stuff we hear about drama in La Push. In Steph’s mind this was all laid out nice and neat. She knew who everyone was, who was descended from what mythical warrior, the relationships between everyone, the different ways everyone felt about being or being related to a werewolf. So she knew what a bitch it was being mind-linked with Leah, how sad it was when Harry died, and any number of other things that could’ve been interesting to read about.

But beyond a cursory mention of Quileute heredity charts here and there, Bella didn’t see it.

Meyer knew the history of the Volturi and their predecessors. Knew how bloody the conflicts the various antagonistic vampires were involved in were, and how formidable they were versus other creatures of similar power. She knew that the Volturi earned their reputation as unstoppable enforcers of vampire law. She ought to, she created that reputation.

But the reputation was all Bella ever experienced.

And just maybe the Cullens do do good with their superhuman powers, endless coffers and ability to bypass the rules. Maybe they really were good beyond the extent that they weren’t doing one bad thing while they did numerous others. Maybe they did come up with a way to make sure Bella was safe around the entire group, despite the claims that all of them had to fight their instincts when she was around. Maybe Meyer really can explain how Edward overthinks everything when he comes across as your typical impulsive teen.

But Bella never talked about it.

I’m not Stephenie Meyer. Nobody is but Stephenie Meyer. Except for her family, friends, and the people who help get her stuff published, nobody can ask her to explain such-and-such about her books and count on getting an answer. And I’m not convinced anybody but the third group cares.

Not all of us are going to intuitively know that HallucinEdward was Bella’s subconscious working overtime to tell her what she already knew, instead of thinking she’s just a shallow idiot who’s gone around the bend over an impossibly perfect boy she can’t have.

That’s why you need to make the time to explain this stuff in the work itself.

One of the first things the teacher said to me when I took creative writing in high school was “write like I have no idea what’s going on.” Because they don’t. They weren’t involved when you came up with the characters, or the setting, or the plot, or the scale of toughness, or the decisions to make your monsters different from monsters with the same name in somebody else’s story.

This horrifies me, but the way Meyer writes, I can’t tell she knows that. And while it doesn’t matter if you’re the only audience you intend your story to ever have, if and when you share it, you’ve got to pretend they don’t know what you’re talking about until you show them. Because they don’t, until you do.

Like I said, it’s nothing I can prove, but it explains so much about Meyer’s style

I know Meyer has said she never intended any messages with her books, but if you share something with other people that relies on information only you have, maybe you’re saying something to your audience anyway?

Or maybe she did know, she was just having too much fun drooling over her imaginary dream guys to bother.

For showing us that untalented hacks can become rich and famous, the rules of good story telling don't matter, and reminding people to read something, anything else.

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