I was reading an article earlier about 8 Reasons Intelligent Writers Must Read Twilight. The author makes a lot of good points. No matter how much we might like to bash Twlight (and we all know I am NOT a fan), it’s been ragingly successful, and savvy authors would do well to try and figure out WHY.
One of the things he suggests is that “Bella’s thin personality may allow her to serve as an optimal ‘projection screen.'” Basically that she’s so totally normal, concerned with normal, everyday things (to start anyway), that she’s wholly relatable and there’s not a lot of substance there to inhibit the reader from putting themselves in her shoes.
I don’t buy this.
As a reader, I’m generally not putting myself in the shoes of the heroine. I think that simplifies the reading experience. While there is a vicarious thrill at going on adventures with characters, I’m not psychologically experiencing them AS the character. I am reading for CHARACTER. Meaning I’m interested in actual personality.
Frankly, normal people are boring.
Bella is boring. SO FREAKING BORING. I’ve read it. I can say that.
And no matter what layers are added to her over the course of the series, I fail to understand the appeal from the beginning that was enough to keep readers actually INTERESTED in what happens to her.
I am not normal. I am weird. I’m quirky. I’ve got interests and things at which I excel and things at which I totally suck. I’m a bundle of contradictions. And while I’m not the most exciting person ever, I think I can generally be interesting enough to hold a conversation with. Bella is about as interesting as watching paint dry.
This kind of…projection screen character that the author of this article suggests is not the kind of character I could ever write. Because I wouldn’t be interested enough to stick with him or her past the opening pages (and frankly not interested enough to WRITE the opening pages). Because I think normal is boring. SO incredibly boring. The people I like to talk to and hang out with aren’t normal either.
And maybe that will exclude me from ever achieving Meyer-like success (not that I think I had a chance in hell at that to begin with). But I’m starting to think that the normal people aren’t who I’m writing for.
I agree – good grief, how can one read project themselves into every character they read? How could one possibly relate to that many characters? No, of course I’m reading to see what happens to each specific character, to find out about personalities that are different from (or similar to) me, and therefore interesting and intriguing.
I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters of Twilight. I used to try to finish every book I started, but I don’t make time for that nonsense anymore 🙂
Ha! So true! Normal is the most flattened version of a person. Great post!
I can’t imagine why any writer who wants to create something lastingly worthwhile would want to read Twilight. If you want to write formula fiction that has a chance of hitting the bigtime, sure, go ahead. Otherwise? Not a chance in hell.
I agree that, if you’re going to bash something, at least read it—and I agree that, if something’s popular, why not read it and try to figure out what it did right? Because it obviously did something right—if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t be selling.
But what it did right might not be “right” for your target audience. So I don’t think every writer necessarily ought to read it.
Overall, I suspect the core of the series is the emotional roller coaster, so it’s enjoyable for folks who like experiencing or mocking drama. So if those two parties aren’t your target audience, why bother studying Twilight?
I actually enjoyed Twilight for what it was: a ridiculously sappy and melodramatic paranormal romance. I even found it hilarious, because I started off thinking Bella was self-depreciatingly ironic, and by the time I realized she wasn’t supposed to be that way, I liked my way of reading it too much to care. (Note that I started reading the series before it got popular.)
I also have a lot of respect for Meyers for allowing the plot to go in ways that 1. fit the characters and 2. would tick off a fair number of her readers. Edward leaving in the second book? The anti-climatic climax of the last book? She built up the characters and such for those things to happen (I saw them coming from a mile off) and then she followed through, despite the detail that the choice infuriated many of her readers.
Now, I doubt I’ll ever produce such a bland narrator as Bella. I’m too fond of not-entirely-sane narrators to do that. 😀
I think it’s just hard to figure out what will make a character successful or not. More often than not, though, in YA the character is relatable and yet not BORING. Harry Potter isn’t boring, Clary in the Mortal Instruments isn’t dull (trying to figure out where in the world she belongs/what’s going on), you get the point. I think Twilight just happened to hit all those freak elements that made it a sensation, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the type of character everyone wants. Because in the end I think we all want to not be normal, to some extent. Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway I’m happy you wouldn’t produce someone like Bella. It wouldn’t fit your work at all, and I love Red, so yeah. 🙂
I agree with you Kair, we should never even entertain the thought of using character banality to sell books. I would never sacrifice good writing for crap just in order to get more sales, because you write yourself into a corner and set a low standard for yourself.
I have tried to read twilight several times but never managed to get that far into it, not just because I think the writing is rather poor, and as you say, bland throughout, but because the whole romance thing is not my cup of tea, and cutesy vampired with a sould and all that jazz doesn’t sit well with me.
I think writing should be about escaping from your world, escaping reality and living as the character, not about making the character live as us. What Meyer did, according to the article, was twist the whole reading experience around… but why? One thing that is for sure is that I doubt very much that she did it intentionally.
Not only do I not find Bella relatable in the slightest for reasons you already covered, I don’t believe that was Meyer’s intention, at least not for readers. I think she wrote her own fantasy, using herself as a model for the main character.
I read all four books (it was a train-wreck type effect) and there were few moments in which I related to Bella or any of the other characters. I never understood why a 100+ year old vampire would be interested in her, which I think is supposed to be the draw of the story. Then again, I don’t know why a vampire would suffer himself to repeat high school over and over. Twilight makes no sense to me. I’ve tried to understand it, and I’m going to go read the article now, but I doubt any article or evidence of any sort will make me think, “Oh, I guess Twilight IS a good, well-developed story and I have just failed to appreciate it all this time.”
“I think that simplifies the reading experience.”
I think a lot of people who rarely read need this simplified experience in order to pick up a book and stick with it (at first). I’ll never be one of those people, so I’m not going to write to cater to those people, even if it would make me rich and famous. I’d rather read a book with complex characters, and write books with complex characters that a few people love.
I struggled through most of the Twilight series for the why. I couldn’t make it all the way through, but two and a half books of glitter and banality was enough for me to wholeheartedly agree with you assessment of Bella and the projection character concept. I don’t like that idea at all, and it’s not how I approach reading. I revel in the OTHERNESS of the story. It’s why I have friends that tell interesting stories, why I read all types of books – I don’t want to project MYSELF into a book, anymore than I’d want to live the life of someone else. And I finally, finally got my Kindle working and got up at 4:30 this AM this morning to read the 2nd half of Red. Elodie had more depth in the first 20 pages than Bella manages in the series as far as I read – I’m with you, those characters that sing are what makes me keep reading.