A Vampire Boyfriend is Better Than a Real One?
27 May 2009
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed a few sidewise digs at the Stephanie Meyers Twilight series. Writer-to-writer digs are unbecoming (as evidenced by the recent Oxford chairship ugliness), especially sidewise ones. So I’ve been meaning to write about Twilight straight on.
In writing classes, a cardinal rule is to start with positive comments when critiquing. So let me say that I’ve been to Forks, WA, and it’s a lovely place.
Ok, seriously. My Twilight problems began when I took on a group of undergraduates, almost all young women, in a fiction class. When asked what they like to read/are currently reading in fiction, most cited the Twilight books. Most cited only the Twilight books.
Naively, I gave the students free reign on what to write for their first round of short stories. The first few came back as vampire and/or young-love stories. During the mid-class break (it was a 3-hour weekly session), I heard a few students congratulate the writers on how much the stories reminded them of such-and-such scene or character from Twilight, or, alternatively, how smartly the writer had both simulated and departed from Twilight. Clearly, Twilight was hovering and echoing in these students’ imaginations.
The basic weaknesses of these first stories were as follows: repetitive/unimaginative language, cliche descriptions, flat (too-perfect) young male characters.
So even though I’d never read Stephanie Meyers’ books, I immediately developed a prejudice against them. I felt I had read them.
My prejudice became a little too apparent in class. And when I confessed I’d never read the books, my students — justifiably — called me out on it. So. I asked one of the most enthusiastic Twilight advocates to bring in for us her favorite chapter, so that we could all read and discuss the quality of the writing, since that’s what we were there to study. She happily agreed.
We had our discussion during our last class — after 15 weeks of studying and writing and workshopping. We’d learned about characterization, language, plot, point-of-view, and dialogue. In their peer critiques, the students had begun writing comments like “cliche!” in the margins, and were recognizing where characters were not credible, dialogue sounded forced, language too vague, plot arc too flat. They were “showing, not telling” me their characters much more in their stories and exercises. They were reading and discussing Chekhov, Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Tobias Wolff, Mary Robison.
The gist of our Twilight discussion? Repetitive/unimaginative language, cliche descriptions, flat (too-perfect) male characters.
But we also talked about the brilliant premise of the series — sexual tension, in a nutshell (the more the handsome vampire loves the girl the more he both wants to bite her and struggles to resist biting her – talk about conflict and rising action!). And in the end, the students decided that the books are highly entertaining and emotionally absorbing; just not terribly well-written.
(For the record, the one male in the class hated the excerpt.)
So there you have it. Life is hard sometimes, entertainment lightens the load. That said, there’s no reason why art and entertainment should be mutually exclusive. Looking for a salacious page-turning romance teeming with sexual tension? Try Henry James, Edith Wharton, Tolstoy. No kidding, you won’t be disappointed.