Last night my husband and I did something we said we would never do.
We watched Twilight. On purpose.
I realize that this is a dead horse at this point, and as criticism goes about as stinging as a handful of shots from an X-wing across the bow of a continent-sized Imperial Star Destroyer (Pew! Pew pew! Pewpewpew!) I also really, really don't want to be mean and cynical and petty, here or anywhere else, so please place a great big grain of salt in your cheek ahead of the bitter draught I'm about to spoon into you.
It was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD. So. Bad.
I'm not going to discount the fact that the Twilight series has an unbelievably huge fan following (can we look forward to a Twilight theme park in Forks someday?) and that clearly many millions of people have connected with the story. I would also never begrudge anyone who is so inclined the enjoyment(?) of a vampire romance novel. I know that the correct response when I don't share enthusiasm for something otherwise popular, like Snuggies, is to quietly not give a shit.
But I need your help here. I need you to make these two facts fit in the same universe:
1)Stephenie Meyer is making $40 million dollars a year off of her books and related hoo haw. 40 MILLION A YEAR. She has more money than God. She's on all kinds of important cultural movers and shakers lists. She is a demigod grown to the size of a small world and she has come to Earth to lay fiery waste to the fertile grasses and suck the riverbeds dry and choke the mouths of the cattle with dust.
2)Stephenie Meyer's books suck balls.
This is not writer envy speaking, it's pure infantile bewilderment. I don't know where my mother is and I need someone to hold me.
Once the film ended and I stopped staring gape-mouthed at the screen, I got to thinking. I was thinking about writing, and storytelling, and what, precisely, went wrong here, and what glistening fecund kernel of truth that a grovelling beetle larva of a storyteller like me might pull from the salted earth of Twilight.
What struck me most powerfully, besides the vampire baseball (Re: Vampire baseball: WHAT THE HOLY LIVING HELL?) was that her story is centered on an absolute nonentity. There is no such thing as Bella Swan. There is more character in a deflated beach ball, or a used Kleenex. I mean that.
Character traits that we know of Bella Swan:
1)She is clumsy.
3)She is a sad panda.
I do understand that a movie is not the same as a book, but I refuse to spend the hours it would take to read the novel so I can compare the two. I have read excerpts from the novels, though, and the characters seem to hold true across media, which is to say their hollow shells do not crack when pressed from paper to celluloid.
I won't even go into the dynamics of the Edward/Bella imbalance of power, or the fatalistic obsessiveness, or his stalking and physically threatening behaviors, but for two hours I watched a girl with no definable character traits exercise no agency whatsoever (this is a cultural touchstone for a generation of teenage girls: discuss) and I will say that it helped me understand one fundamental truth about storytelling more deeply.
I will now share it with you in seventh grade level metaphor.
In the jewelry of a story, characters are the gems. Those gems are given their depth and brilliance by having many facets, only a few of which you can see at a given time. It is the job of the storyteller to skilfully hack the diamond out of the rock and present it in its proper setting; you don't just hand over the stone out of the riverbed and call it an engagement ring. Or worse, you don't give someone an empty set of prongs. And then jam it in their eye.
That is an incredibly important writing lesson, and for that I have Stephenie Meyer to thank.
Watching the film wasn't a total wash. The moment when Bella enters the biology lab and Edward acts as though she has stashed three day-old roadkill in her knickers and he's going to vomit from the stench is the gift that keeps on giving. Vampires in ill-fitting striped baseball caps is a glorious treasure. The paper-thin abstinence metaphor that casts teenage boys as barely-contained powder kegs of raw sexual need (I won't be able to stop myself!) and girls as their unwitting, doe-eyed tempters (her "blood" smells like heroin dewdrops on the glittering vanilla hide of a magical candy unicorn! He wants to eat it) has kept me smiling all day.
And now that I've thoroughly offended and alienated any Twilight fans that may happen by here (truly, I'm glad you enjoy the books and/or films; things are about 75% witz und vielfalt, 20% sleep deprivation, 3% piss and vinegar and 2% thoughtful analysis around here), I'd like to add that I don't know that I could do any better. It's easy, as a novice, to think you could. For a long time I used to disparage what Joanne Rowling did with Harry Potter, because her writing, the actual, technical, word-by-word writing, wasn't stellar. But, like Stephenie Meyer, Rowling started out spring green; over the course of her seven novels you saw a tremendous progression. I have serious issues with her finale, but she created a world that you inhabited, and characters that you genuinely loved (what would we all have done if she'd killed off Ron?). The story she told, through the characters she brought to life, bounded and soared. It was a true feat of imaginative power.
As I'm learning more about writing, as I'm doing more of it, I'm coming to appreciate just how hard it is to tell a story.
It's a minor miracle when you can tell one that other people want to hear.