Thursday, 23 May 2013

Why it Sucks Being a Twilight Apologist

I hated some of the casting in Breaking Dawn, but I comfort myself with 
the fact that vampires aren't supposed to be totally convincing as humans.

Back in December, I wrote this piece for Thought Catalog. (I thought they'd be a pretty good home for my work as they seemed to have some interesting articles. However, the quality of the writing there was somewhat... mixed.  I ended up unsubscribing from their twitter and FB feeds; my life is infinitely better now I don't have a constant barrage of articles written by 22-year-olds about all the wisdom they've accumulated "in their twenties".)

But what of Twilight? Regarding the "badly written" claim – I have heard this so many times from people who obviously haven't read the books (or many books at all) but are repeating something they have heard in the hope of sounding intelligent. I had come across the Reasoning with Vampires tumblr (in fact, I quoted from it in the original piece) but I'm afraid I was rather dismissive at the time. It seemed to be full of stuff like this: 

This looks like the complaint of a person who has never read a book before. Even without knowing the context, "trying" to watch TV while "waiting" for something is clearly a way of showing the narrator's anxiety. If you edited it as above, "I went to watch TV", you lose the entire meaning of the sentence. It's WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

However, I've been re-reading the books and it inspired me to have another look at the site. I was chagrined (as Stephenie Meyer would say) to find that it's actually an erudite look at what is wrong with the books (as well as some slightly churlish criticisms). 

So, what do I agree with?

 Yes. This is just silly.

Really surprised a professional editor didn't pick up on this.


A leeetle bit pedantic – it's obvious which he bit. But it's 
still a valid point. (Yes, I started a sentence with "But.") 

Yes. Meyer tends to be overly-wordy.

This "character-telling-a-story-in-the-writer's-voice" thing happens in many books – pretty much any time a character in a novel tells a long anecdote. It's something which gets on my nerves, although I recognise it as one of those times when you just have to embrace your suspension of disbelief. If every character told stories the way real people do, they'd be "So, like, I said to him, 'No way!' and he was all, 'Yeah...' and it was like, you know, weird." 

  I really wish that the Reasoning with Vampires author was 
an English teacher. we need people like her in our schools.

Although much of the blog is commendably accurate, there was plenty more which had me chuckling darkly (Edward style). There is such a thing as being TOO precise, and deliberately misunderstanding stuff  to make a point is an obtuse way to go through life. 

So nobody is allowed to be devastatingly handsome, à la Ferris Beuller?

OK, so it may not be technically correct, but I prefer the line as it was written...

Read the Twilight excerpt. It makes perfect sense.The long 
explanation of what's "wrong" just doesn't work for me...

How can the word be wrong if it gives you a better picture of the scene?

Because humans' veins are visibly blue and vampires look like humansThere are a lot of things that don't make sense in Meyer's universe (how thirsty vampires can go to a school in which girls presumably have periods, or how Edward can kiss Bella without getting venom in her mouth, for instance) but this isn't one of them.

I don't see anything wrong with this line, so there.

This seems to me like an effective way of showing that 
Edward is musing to himself during the conversation. 

Then there are the "corrections" which sound far more awkward than the original writing. Stephenie Meyer is all about the flow of the sentence (rather than abrupt full stops).

And a criticism of the "blank page" trick Meyer used to signify Bella's empty existence when Edward left. This was actually one of my favourite parts of New Moon – I thought it was innovative and effective. 

Lots of people seem to have issues these days with speech tags which use anything but "said". As Dana of Reasoning with Vampires puts it: 


And she finds plenty more examples: 

I strongly disagree. The way speech is described can have an enormous impact on the meaning of the words. Let's try it: 

"But I love you," he said.
"But I love you," he murmured softly.
"But I love you," he screamed hysterically. 
"But I love you," he yelped defensively.

See? It changes the story. 

This, too, seems to be an overly-strict criticism. 
"Let's pretend that "hysteria" is a really 
unusual word nobody ever uses!", ok?

It wasn't suicidal, she was doing it for fun. Why
 doesn't anyone ever seem to understand this?

This is true, but I actually think using the word "hissed" is fine. It's a bit of a sneaky trick, but it's not synonymous with "Spat" – that sounds like a far more aggressive word. Meyer often uses "hissed" in situations where the person speaking is more frightened than angry.

This is one of my favourite lines. I don't care.

Ditto this. I think it's effective and evocative writing, and is 
particularly moving if you know the context of the scene.

Needless to say, I am now somewhat paranoid about my own grammar and punctuation, and painfully aware that I make mistakes all the time (I definitely write long rambling sentences). I'm thankful for the lessons I've learned from Reasoning with Vampires (even if I don't agree with all of them). 

Stephenie Meyer's writing is by no means perfect. Her stories have massive plot holes (which we fans politely ignore) and she does say "chagrin" an awful lot. She also tends to tell, not show. (We only know Bella is "incredibly mature" because we're told that; if we watch her behaviour, she's a pretty average teenager.)

The first time I read the books, I found Meyer's slow, loquacious style annoying – I thought it was "filler". Afterwards I realised that all the "unneccessary" description serves a purpose: firstly, the tendency to skim the Quilete histories, the details of school and the patterns of raindrops falling on the roof, in order to get to THE GOOD STUFF (eg Edward) actually makes you FEEL as if you're in a breathless rush, turning the pages ever-faster.

It's only when you take the time to read it slowly and absorb all the details that you see how evocative the writing is; at any given moment, you know exactly what the characters are seeing, hearing, and feeling.

Interestingly, Meyer also sticks pretty closely to the standard "how-to-write-a-novel" rules – there are very few moments when characters are NOT mired in conflict, and there will always be a disaster (about 3/4 of the way into the book) which seems insurmountable. (Before the obligatory happy ending, obv.)

Twilight has brought many people happiness, whether it's from the Ugly Duckling / Beauty and the Beast-style fairytale and visceral writing, or the entertainment found in poking fun at the books. I'm one of the lucky few who enjoys both. I ALWAYS appreciate hilarious snark (not a word) which I shall leave you with now. Thanks, Reasoning with Vampires!

And if you're a nerd who likes grammar jokes:    

Two ladies are sitting next to each other on a plane. One is a Yankee and the other, a Southern Belle. 

The Southern Belle turns to the Yankee and asks,  "So where y'all from?"

The Yankee turned her steely gaze to the Southern Belle and replied,"I am from a place where we do not end our sentences with a preposition."

Silence ensues and the flight continues until a few minutes later when the Southern Belle again turns to the Yankee and asks,

"So, where y'all from, bitch?"

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