In defense of TWILIGHT

Yes, I know.  But here’s the thing:  Twilight wouldn’t be as successful as it is if there weren’t a lot of readers who liked it.  A lot.

I’m sticking my neck out here, and risking the ridicule of my fellow BVC members, but I have to be honest.  I read the Twilight books—I wanted to see what all the fuss was about—and I got a kick out of them.  I was not enthralled by them, mind, but I could see that if I had come across them when I was a young teen, I would have been.  They hit all the right emotional points to appeal to a young girl.

Yes, the writing is not sophisticated.  Yes, some of the ideas are, um—not progressive.  Yes, Bella is rather a whiner.  I had similar complaints about the writing of another bestselling author (whose books I still can’t stand to read), but in a class in Lincoln City, Dean Wesley Smith set me straight about that.

The writer in question had offended me in so many ways.  I was outraged that I’d had to read the book for the class.  So were a lot of my fellow students.  Dean’s point was simply this:  that writer’s readers didn’t care about the things that were bothering me.  The writer told a good story, and the readers were willing to overlook the stuff that drove me crazy.  It was the storytelling that was important.

Millions of readers are hard to argue with.  Success is hard to argue with.  Stephenie Meyer is a winner, in ways I can only dream of.

So many critics, writers, and other experts have trashed the Twilight books.  If they’re that bad, why do they keep selling?  Do the tastes of that audience not matter?

The truth is, writers are hypercritical of writing.  We see flaws, we see things that could be improved.  We tend to obsess on details that aren’t as important to the reader as they are to us.  It’s hard for us to just sit down and enjoy a book with out the little red, horned editor sitting on our shoulder.  We get caught up in thinking how we would have written it, instead of just enjoying the story.  We can have trouble remembering that some readers like stuff that we wouldn’t write.

I’m grateful that readers have a variety of interests.  Heck, I read a lot of different stuff myself.  I probably wouldn’t try to write the kind of book that I don’t like to read (in fact, I recently declined to write such a book when a publisher invited me to), but I’ll give a lot of writers the benefit of the doubt. 

That doesn’t mean I never throw a book against the wall.  I’ve done that with some bestsellers, but not with TwilightTwilight I totally got.

I wrote my own book with Meyer’s audience in mind.  I do not have sparkly vampires.  I do have teen angst and romantic obsession, so if those bother you, Immortal may not be for you.  If you’re willing to experiment, drop a comment below and you’ll be in a drawing for a free copy.


Pati Nagle is currently trying to figure out how to throw a book against the wall now that she mostly reads on her Kindle.  She wrote Immortal for readers who have run out of Twilight.  She’s written other books for people who don’t fit that description.  Visit her Bookshelf at Book View Café to check them out, or buy Immortal if you’re feeling brave.  No sparklies.  Promise.

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In defense of TWILIGHT — 34 Comments

  1. Your argument–that “Twilight” must be OK because it has lots of fans–can be used to defend rape-based porn and, at one point, the Afghanistan war.

    Seriously: that the best you can do?

  2. I, too, read Twilight to see what the fuss was about. And I’d like to give your book a try!

  3. Abra –

    That is not my only argument for TWILIGHT. If I’d thrown it against the wall I would not be defending it, but in fact I found it to be decent storytelling. Meyer’s prose has its flaws, but she sure knows how to create dramatic tension.

    And I find the comparison of TWILIGHT to rape porn and war to be laughable.

  4. Uh, Abra, contrasting enjoyment of light fiction to being a fan of war is pretty extreme. We all might shake our heads over people’s taste — for example, I find it incredible that Two-and-a-Half Men is the most popular show on TV, since I’ve tried to watch it and find it unbearable tripe (I’m as shocked that Charlie Sheen makes millions out of each episode as I am by his behavior) — but I don’t think what one reads or watches for relaxation is on the same par as one’s decisions about political matters. We all have our comfort reading and TV viewing.

  5. Pati, I’m so glad you posted this. Over Indian food about ten years ago, I talked to an editor at a major SF house about the snottery against romance fiction. How SF authors are always beefing that romance sells so much better and “it doesn’t deserve to!” I said, Dude, they’re doing something right that we’re doing wrong. Science fiction is all about pillaging other genres and running off and doing something amazing with the loot. Why not stop snotting about the success of romance, figure out what they’re doing right, and steal it?

    I can’t take credit for the eruption of paranormal romance and romantic fantasy. It’s probably not safe to. But the point stands.

    If they sell well, they’re doing something right. Don’t be snotty. Learn.

    I had a similar experience with a Jackie Collins novel. I was prepared to be a literary snot all over it, and indeed at the beginning I had to slog a bit through her sentences, which were awful… but her storytelling was amazing. And her pacing! OMG, the pacing. She would give the ol’ steering wheel a yank on every page. I couldn’t believe it. I started watching for it. Sometimes the plot would take a twist every paragraph. This is an incredible gift, and one most writers wish they had.

  6. Nancy – I am so with you on 2.5 Men and the despicable Mr. Sheen, whose own father (an actor I admire) had to turn him in once for unlawful activities.

    Jennifer – Yes, there’s a lot of anti-romance snobbery out there. Whenever I encounter that attitude I just think of the romance writers who are laughing their way to the bank.

  7. Turn off your internal editor and just read a good story? Happens rarely with me anymore, but when I do find a book that allows me to do that, I nominate it for whatever award its eligible. Twilight didn’t do that for me. But from the gushing about Twilight I hear from less critical readers, it’s obvious the author touched a chord that resonated. Something every author strives for.

  8. Having a teenager who was the target audience when the first Twilight book came out, I read them all. I really enjoyed the first one–it’s a fast popcorn read and she does some clever things, and so what if it’s not particularly original? It was fun; I saw what my daughter liked about it.

    With each successive book I liked the series less, until I got to the fourth one, about which, as my daughter said: **headdesk headdesk headdesk**. Bella’s lack of agency started to drive me crazy.* Given my daughter-the-target-audience’s reaction, I suspect that the last book was a huge seller because readers were hoping it would be better than it in fact was.

    I don’t begrudge Meyer her success. Twilight was fun, and if the later books didn’t live up to that, oh well. I do wonder if she lost some reader goodwill with Breaking Dawn, but we won’t know that until she publishes something new.

    *In discussion with my daughter we realized that every time Bella needs something that she doesn’t necessarily want to do, “There’s a vamp for that”: Alice likes clothes, so Bella gets to wear fabulous clothes but doesn’t have to harm her emo cred by actually shopping. When she wants a little time with Edward she can always send the baby to Rosalie, who always wanted to be a mom. Bella gets to have a whole lot of cake and eat it too, which gets wearing. But that’s just me.

  9. Hi Pati. I’m with you. Any time a book sells that many copies, someone is doing something right, and I need to pay attention. And as for the comparison to fans of rape and war, . . . Yea. Moving right along.

    I read all four of the Twilight books. While I found the first book too angsty for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the story in the rest of the books. (Team Jacob.)

    I always say that everything I know about writing I learned from bellydancing. While that didn’t do much for my grasp of novel structure, it did give me the awareness that there’s writing for the audience and there’s writing for the pros. In dancing, the exacting execution of steps is not the quintessential essence of the stage presence that keeps people coming back. A book, likewise, is more than the sum of it’s technical accuracies. Thanks for a great post.

  10. Madeleine – Good point about “There’s a vamp for that.” That is a bit of a cheat – though it wasn’t enough to make me say “Aw, come on!” Might be an artifact of Mary Sue-ness.

  11. Piper – I like the dance analogy! Yes, performing for pros is different than performing for the general audience. I think some writers tend to forget that, and play mainly to the pros.

    I also found Jacob more engaging than Edward. Jacob just seemed to have more heart, whereas Edward carried a lot of self-pity baggage.

  12. Back when my youngest was in elementary school, “Goosebumps” was new and we were all hoping it would get kids, particularly boys, excited about reading. They did get excited about the “Goosebumps” books, but (a) didn’t transition to other authors; (b) lose interest after a while because the plots were so predictable.

    A while later, when Harry Potter hit the scene, I was reserved in my enthusiasm for the books as a portal to reading. I was happy to be wrong. At least as far as I can tell, HP inspired many more kids to read outside the series.

    Then, Twilight. I have no stats, but my sense is that we’re back to Goosebumps, only for young women. Yes, the books have sold extremely well, and yes, the fans are wildly enthusiastic for the series. But the books seem to hit only one cluster of notes, not the wider experience of amazing and wonderful books. It’s as if Bella et al are the only characters the readers want to know about; the experience doesn’t transfer, and may very well not follow Meyer to her next books (unless those books hit the same notes and the readers are willing to transition to a different Bella/Edward/etc.)

    I could be way wrong on this, so I’m curious whether anyone else has that same perception.

  13. Deborah – I hope you’re wrong, for my sake!

    Actually, I think Meyer may have spawned a subgenre. There are a gazillion teen vampire romances out there, and they seem to be doing well. Immortal is outselling my other books, in fact, even though it’s only been out for a month.

  14. Hi Pati,
    I found your blog about Twilight to be interesting. When i was in high school all i would ever see was girls reading Twilight and talking about the characters as if they were real. I picked up the books not thinking i would like them, but i was wrong and found them interesting. Though some parts of the books were laughable and a bit far fetched. I really hated the movies though, they weren’t how i pictured it to be if they made them.
    Thanks for the thoughts

  15. I’ve tried to make a point of reading those books that have really taken off and garnered a huge following. I’m a Harry Potter fan, and a Hunger Games fan, but while I liked Twilight well enough, I wasn’t inspired to follow up with the rest of the series. Ditto with the Percy Jackson series. And yet, I can see what it is about these latter two that’s allowed them to develop such a large fan base. They were fun reads, which, when it comes right down to it, is really the point of reading, isn’t it?

    Twilight. Pirates of the Carribean. Justin Beiber. It’s interesting how quickly we as a society move to scorn the things that become popular, as though we begrudge the other their success. We search for flaws that we can point to, and gloss over the stuff that made it successful. Is this about removing the wool from the public’s eyes? Or is it about assuaging our own jealousy?

  16. andrea – Glad you gave the books a chance. I saw the first two movies – haven’t seen the third yet. It’s so hard to make books into movies. I enjoyed them but I can see that someone who hadn’t read the books might not.

  17. Seabrooke – There’s a certain attitude that dissing what’s popular is cool. Revenge of the less-popular? Intellectual snobbery? I dunno.

  18. I wonder if all the negative reviews the books have gotten are simply a result of people with pre-conceived notions reading the books. In other words, if someone has heard repeatedly that the books are bad, perhaps subconsciously he/she has already decided that the books will in fact be bad. I myself haven’t read any of the books as well (working my way down and extremely long TBR list) and have only seen the first movie, so I really can’t comment how I feel about the content.

    By the by, I would like to be considered for a free copy of Immortal please :)!

  19. I think if I’d read Twilight at age fourteen, I would have adored it to pieces, too. Some books work best for a certain audience. Nothing wrong with that.

  20. Rebecca – you are definitely in the running!

    Sherwood – yeah. Some of the stuff I loved when I was younger I can’t go back to.

  21. (disclaimer: Not a Twilight fan at all. Read the first book, felt nothing but disbelief for Edward, but Meyer kept me turning pages, which “better” authors have failed at.)

    My only rule of thumb is “If you haven’t read/seen/listened to it, you don’t get to diss it. Period.” I don’t care if it’s Twilight, Virginia Woolf, or Jersey Shore. Know what you’re talking about or I will shred you.

    Seabrooke is definitely onto something–it’s now “cool” to hate on Twilight and its fans (the disgusted dismissal of literature aimed at and loved by teenage girls is a whole other can of worms), especially around the internet, even if people haven’t read it or interacted with people who have. What I don’t get is why anybody gives a damn, really. People have always read popular/ “bad” literature and enjoyed it, and so far the entire literary establishment has failed to come tumbling down around our ears. Someone likes Twilight? Doesn’t affect me. Doesn’t make the books I like any less enjoyable for me. Doesn’t have any kind of detrimental effect on “good” books. If they have a cardboard cut-out of Edward in their bedroom, yes, I will probably mock them gently, but they’ll parry and thrust back with “Is that Snape on your shirt? I do believe it is.”

    Let’s face it, everyone is into something that someone else thinks is a waste of space. Different strokes.

  22. I found this blog insightful. I have yet to make it as a professional author, but am working on it. I have successfully finished my BA in English. When Twilight came out I could not help, but be struck by the deference in attitude, with which it was received compared to Harry Potter et al one of my teacher’s at the time commented on how HP dealt with a lot more subplots and topics that the audience probably wasn’t even aware of. She wasn’t even sure if, J. K. Rowling was aware they were in the books, when she wrote them, and perhaps that was why they were more well received by academia.

    That does not explain to me why it has become cool to demonize one and not the other. Okay I will admit to liking the first and maybe the second book. I am not sure when I started to loose interest in the books. I finished them, I wanted to know how it ended- but they blur together.

    I feel Meyer, started something good- and dropped it. But that is just me. There is a reason some of the old cannon literature makes me want to scream.Chivalry is something I am all for, but sheesh! I cut my teeth on stronger female characters then Bella. I think she sold herself sort, and I have issues with the whole E/B relationship. But again that is a personal opinion. She must have done something right. She is popular. And I do remember enjoying it enough to want to read her other books. Just not at hard back prices.

    Created a sub-genre though? Naw there were plenty of vamp romances for teens before her. Christopher Pike and L.J. Smith were some of my faves. Revitalized though, that I will give.

    P.S. would you place me in the drawing please?

  23. Megan – you’re so right. Live and let live!

    Tabitha – interesting. Maybe because Twilight has a female protagonist? It’s true that HP has more goodies for the intellectual set (names from classical mythology, for one), and many guys don’t like romance, but I wonder if part of the backlash is gender bias.

    Both your names are in the hat.

  24. Thanks for this post.

    I had heard a lot of the love it / hate it buzz about Twilight. I didn’t think that it would have sold a gazillion copies without doing *something* right. So I picked up Twilight last year to see what was there. (I, too, wondered what all the fuss was about.) I found it to be a well-executed teen paranormal romance–one that kept me turning the pages furiously until The End. In my opinion, it’s even well written, though I can see how the style and voice may not be to everyone’s taste. Bella may not be the most forward of feminine role models, but for a shy teen girl her insecurities seemed spot-on. And she’s pretty darn competent with the way she takes care of her parents.

    But, love her or hate her, Bella isn’t an action hero. And Twilight isn’t a “vampire” book. It’s a romance, with vampires. I think that’s a huge distinction.

    I wonder if a lot of the Twilight hate out there might be because of misplaced expectations? If someone were to go in expecting a Buffy-style vampire book, for example–which would be a teen horror/action book, with romance–I could see how Twilight would fall way past flat and land somewhere near insulting.

    But that’s not the book’s fault. And I agree that the mob-mentality on the internet to diss and dismiss Twilight (and certain other best-selling books) as “crap” gets old fast. We don’t all have to like the same books. That’s okay. And just because a book is not my cup of tea doesn’t mean I can’t try to understand why it worked for other people, and learn from what it did right.

    P.S. May I be in the drawing too?

  25. Cindy – You’re right, it’s a romance with vampires. Although … strictly speaking, a romance novel has a happy ending. The Twilight series behaves like a science fiction series, not like a romance series, which are usually a set of books with common characters but a different romantic couple for each book, and each book has its happy ending.

    P.S. you are definitely in!

  26. I just saw the trailer for the last Harry Potter film, and as I was watching it (and getting goosebumps) it occurred to me that the difference between the Twilight books and the Potter books is that the Twilight books are, when you come right down to it, about one thing: the relationship. There are other tangential relationships (I really liked Bella’s parentified child relationship with her father; it was one of the things that kept me reading the series) but really, it’s all about the true love.

    But reading the Twilight books I never had the feeling, as I had more than once when reading the Potter books, of turning a corner and seeing a new vista open up, the feeling of Wow, the story is maturing as Harry matures, of Hey, she’s not just talking about wizards, here. For me, the Potter books are far more satisfying because they’re about more than just the hero’s journey.

  27. Madeleine – Yes. The focus on a single relationship weights this heavily toward the romance side. The non-romance structure is simply non-traditional, but the story is at heart a romance. I bet Meyer read more science fiction than romance before she wrote Twilight.

  28. I also read the Twilight books to see what all the hoo-hah was about. What struck me was how Bella seemed to be playing Wendy to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, aka her parents. Okay, her mother was a flake, but her father, the sheriff, apparently was incapable of taking care of his own basic needs (food and laundry) until his teenage daughter moved in with him. I thought her family dynamics were unhealthy to begin with, so no wonder she wanted to be a Cullen vampiress.

    I would be interested in reading your book as well.

  29. Bella has two and only two great ambitions: to lose her virginity and to become a vampire before she turns 20, so she’ll be a teenager for all eternity. She is absolutely desperate to shed her humanity.

    Bella’s fondness for rough sex and her loathing of her humanity make a comparison to rape porn absolutely appropriate.

    I read the entire series twice, and I’ve written several papers about them. Twilight encapsulates many of the most objectionable ideas our society has about gender and sex.

    If that’s your idea of light reading and good narrative, then it’s really not surprising you can’t see how it relates to more serious issues of violence and destruction.

  30. ” … that writer’s readers didn’t care about the things that were bothering me.”

    Exactly.

    It all bothered me so much I could not even stand to watch the movie! But so what? I’m not the audience. I generally don’t like to read YA anything anyway, which makes me even more not the audience, so I can’t get huffy about these books. The concomitant is I need not be scolded, judged, ashamed or apologetic for not liking the stuff either. It just is what it is and it isn’t for me.

    My guess is that the girls who squee endlessly about this universe probably read a great deal of various kinds of books anyway.

    OTOH, I do find adult women who squee over them a puzzlement. But, hey! it’s nice to like things.

    Love, C.

  31. It would be interesting to see how all of us participating in a discussion as to the Twilight books doing so well means they are doing something important right and then compare and contrast our feelings about the enormously selling Left Behind books.

    Love, C.