After years of talking smack, I finally read Twilight. I have to say, I was relieved that all my smack-talking was totally deserved. It’s not a good book, guys. I’m bummed it has so many readers, many of whom are young, impressionable girls who really need a better role model than Bella. The story, however, isn’t totally unsalvageable. A vampire boyfriend? That could make for some good stories. Stephanie Meyer shouldn’t totally give up, is what I’m saying (you know, for reasons despite the millions the Twilight franchise has made her). There’s still hope for her to write a decent book. In fact, I’d recommend she go back to the beginning, back to the drawing board and make a few changes to Twilight that would make it much better.
Small, Totally Doable Changes That Would Make Twilight A More Readable Book
1. Never, ever refer to Edward as “godlike” or call him the “statue of Adonis.”
We get it, the guy’s a looker, but Steph went a little overboard on the adjectives here. It seems that she thought every time Edward was mentioned was a good time to remind us what a babe he is. I noticed this trend early on and decided to count how many times Edward is described as attractive. The end count? 55. FIFTY FIVE times. That’s 55 times that there was an adjective before Edward (his being, his body, his face, his teeth, his smile, his physical person) that meant he looks good.
Some of the adjectives commonly used by Stephanie Meyer to describe Edward Cullen:
Angelic. Glorious. “I couldn’t believe how an angel could be any more glorious. There was nothing about him that could be improved upon.”.
Godlike. “His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white skin of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at behind concealing clothes. He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.”
Statue of Adonis. “He stood in the middle of the kitchen, the statue of Adonis again, staring abstractedly out the back windows. Then his eyes were back on me, and he smiled his heartbreaking smile.”
Seraphic. Who even knew that was a word? It certainly isn’t a word that should be used to desribe a teenage boy/100-year-old vampire. A painting of a chubby baby, perhaps, but not Edward Cullen.
The overarching theme is that Edward is PERFECT. Perfect body, perfect face, perfect hair, perfect teeth. The guy even has the perfect voice. But don’t get me started on the voice, because I forgot to count how many times it was described as musical. (I did get up to eight, though, before forgetting to count, and I feel like eight is more than enough.) There is a laughable (and also lamentable) amount of weight and importance given to looks.
Take this quote from a conversation Bella had with her friend Jessica: “‘Oh well. He is unbelievably gorgeous.’ Jessica shrugged as if this excused any flaws. Which in her book, it probably did.”
Well, Steph, this is literally your book and you have literally described Edward as flawless (see above), primarily because of his rocking bod and musical voice.
Or Bella’s reaction when Edward tells her that Rosalie is jealous of her humanity: “I tried to imagine a universe in which someone as breathtaking as Rosalie would have any possible reason to feel jealous of someone like me.”
But Rosalie is beautiful! Why would she ever feel any emotion like jealousy? So she’s a vampire damned to solitude that never ends. So what? She’s pretty.
These characters are unrelatable (and not because they’re vampires!) because of their beauty. These characters are dangerous because of their infatuation with looks. Edward is flawless, beautiful, godlike, perfect. Except he’s not, because nobody is. And that’s what makes characters beautiful and likeable – their flaws, their quirks, their scars and their freckles. In my opinion, describing a character as “attractive” is just lazy character description. It’s objective and it’s a cop out. Trim it up, Meyer! Cut the adjectives.
2. Give Edward and Bella just a bit of a basis for an actual, believable relationship.
Edward and Bella jump pretty quickly from sitting as far away from each other as they can at their little lab table to madly in love. Only after two conversations, Bella is literally crying at the thought of getting out of Edward’s car. Her exact thoughts, and let me remind you, this is after him avoiding her after saving her life, one classroom conversation, and one dinner (after he again saved her life), are: “I realized my eyes were wet, and I fought against the grief that was trying to overpower me.”
What? And also why? I get feeling attracted to someone and having a crush but this takes it just a bit too far. It isn’t long before they are both making grand, sweeping statements like these:
- “I’ll hurt myself to keep from hurting you.” – Edward, their fifth conversation, the day after their first dinner date (mentioned above)
- “If I had to, I supposed I could purposefully put myself in danger to keep him close.” – Bella, in internal response to Edward’s comment about hurting himself
- “…what was my other choice — to cut him out of my life? Intolerable. Besides, since I’d come to Forks, it really seemed like my life was about him.” – Bella’s thoughts about telling her dad the truth about hanging out with Edward, less than a week into their relationship
- “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever.” – Edward, still less than a week into their relationship
- “It would cause me physical pain to be separated from him now.” – Bella’s thoughts, same day as previous two
In less than a week they have gone from not speaking at all to inseparable. And for what? A couple days of conversation? I understand that a novel doesn’t offer the time or space to detail every interaction between a couple in the beginnings of a budding romance, but it’s very hard for me to take their declarations seriously when they have so few shared experiences. After finishing the book I get that they love each other but I don’t understand why.
They could’ve spent days together chatting in class before he ever showed up to be her savior and take her to dinner. They could’ve joked about teachers and talked about classwork before she started dreaming of him and he started watching her sleep. They could’ve spent months worth of weekends in the woods and months of evenings at the Cullens’ house. Meyer wouldn’t have even had to describe them all, but perhaps mention the passing of time, the settling into a routine that never became boring because there was always another facet of Edward to discover. Then this insane “love” (which is actually an obsession or infatuation) would’ve been believable and based on something more than Edward’s good looks and Bella’s neediness.
3. Switch to either present tense or third person.
I know that writing in present tense, first person is tricky, (hats off to Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth for making it work) but it could’ve solved a lot of weird verb tense and word use situations that tripped me up. Because writing in past tense, first person is just as tricky because of stuff like this:
- “My mom looks like me.” – Present tense verb makes it sound like Bella is telling this story from a later date, a date when her mom is still alive and they still look alike. That could’ve worked as a narration style, but it isn’t the case. At least not in a way that is clear to the reader. Which makes this present tense verb out of place.
- “The month that followed the accident was uneasy, tense, and, at first, embarrassing. To my dismay, I found myself the center of attention for the rest of that week… I wanted very much to talk to him, and the day after the accident I
tried.” So, so confusing. How much time has passed since the accident? Where are we in that timeline? Why mention the month that followed if we are then going to take it a day or a week at a time?
- “He started the engine without another word, turning around smoothly and speeding back toward town.” This is something she does often, mixing a simple past with a past progressive in a way that doesn’t actually make sense. The way this sentence is written, Edward started the engine while also turning around, which is impossible. This wouldn’t have been fixed by switching tense or point of view, but perhaps by switching editors.
- “My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of tomorrow.” – I heard this same thing in an audiobook I was reading this morning and I just don’t get it. Was is a past tense verb and tomorrow is a time in the future. What would work: “My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of the next day,” or, “All I can think about is tomorrow.” What doesn’t work is a mix of past and present in the same sentence.
- “It was colder this morning.” – Same as above. Was is past, this morning is present.
4. Cut the whole thing in half.
I enjoy the challenge of a nice look book as much as the next gal. What I do not enjoy is when the majority of a book’s bulk comes from repetitive conversations and unnecessary scenes that do nothing to move the plot forward. We already talked about how many words Meyer used to frequently remind us of Edward’s beauty, but that’s not the only idea she really got stuck on. The word “dangerous” is used over 20 times and almost all of those occurrences are in reference to Edward. I read the “I’m dangerous”/”I don’t care” conversation so many times I could reenact it for you now, but I won’t because it’s boring. The whole book is just a rotation between that conversation, the “I love you so much please don’t leave me for even a second” conversation, and descriptions of Edward’s beauty. There’s a good vampire-romance story in there somewhere, but let’s cut the crap.
5. Give Bella some backbone.
I forgot the fourth conversation including in the repetitive rotation that makes up Twilight. It’s the “Bella sucks” conversation. Bella is almost always putting herself down. She is sure she doesn’t deserve Edward because he is so beautiful. Of course he points out, for her to deny, that she is beautiful, too. To which I say, it would be better if she weren’t. There are way too many beautiful people in this book. In fact I think the only people not described with adjectives associated with attractiveness are the dads, Charlie and Billy. And who cares what they look like? They’re like, forty. And mortal.
The self-deprecation starts early. Edward asks Bella about her life and after answering his questions like a normal human being would do, she accuses herself of “brainless and embarrassing babbling.” The put downs continue as we are reminded every page or so that Bella is clumsy (our girl Stephanie has a bad case of the tell-not-show, as Bella rarely actually does anything clumsy) and Edward starts in on her, too.
Edward offers Bella his jacket, assuming she’s cold because they live in Washington and she left hers in Jessica’s van, and she responds, “I’m not quite that delicate.” Then, Meyer writes: “‘Aren’t you?’ he contradicted in a voice so low I wasn’t sure if he meant.for me to hear.” Just precious. He’s muttering under his breath about how delicate she is. Every girl’s dream. Then, when Edward lets Bella drive for once, some of his first words from the passenger seat are: “Put your seat belt on — I’m nervous already.”
In isolation these comments would be easy to sweep under the rug as good-natured ribbing. Unfortunately, the character of Bella becomes one to pity, one to be saved, one to need help, one to be picked up and cradled like a child (literally and on more then one occasion). There is no strength, no personal opinion, no confidence in the person of Bella Swan and to think that so many young women have read these books and identified with her breaks my heart.
When Bella finds out that Edward has been sneaking into her house at night to watch her sleep, she is flattered. Flattered. That is not an appropriate response to being stalked, women. It brings to mind 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney, and anyone who’s seen the show will testify that Maroney is not the kind of role model we want for our girls. Maroney is heartbroken when her stalker moves on and it’s funny because it’s a TV show and it’s satire and it’s silly. But Twilight isn’t satire (I don’t think) and it’s not a comedy. Bella isn’t satire (at least not intentionally). She’s just living with such little self esteem that any kind of attention from someone as beautiful as Edward must be good attention, even if it’s actually super creepy.
She is literally lost without him. Miserable without him. (“It won’t be all right when I’m not with you.”) Consumed by him. (“You are my life.”) Uninterested by anything that is not him. (“I love you more than everything else in the world combined.”) She nearly faints when he kisses her. She practically has a heart attack at the thought of not being with him for a moment – at the mention of him simply leaving the room. This stuff is not okay. This can not be what we want for ourselves, ladies.
6. Make Edward likable.
I was Team Jacob before I even knew who Jacob was. Because Edward kind of sucks. He spends the first third of the book either ignoring Bella or snapping at her (and also climbing into her bedroom window to watch her sleep every night – charming). When they finally start chatting (and instantly fall into eternal love), he is often cold, distant, and downright unpleasant.
Let’s take a look at this conversation, a pretty standard exchange for E and B. He’s upset because she doesn’t realize how dangerous he actually is. She’s desperate just to be near him.
“But Jessica thinks we’re going to Seattle together?” He seemed cheered by the idea.
“No, I told her you canceled on me — which is true.”
“No one knows you’re with me?” Angrily, now.
“That depends… I assume you told Alice?”
“That’s very helpful, Bella,” he snapped. I pretended I didn’t hear that. “Are you so depressed by Forks that it’s made you suicidal?” he demanded when I ignored him.
“You said it might cause trouble for you… us being together publicly,” I reminded him.
“So you’re worried about the trouble it might cause me— if you don’t come home?” His voice was still angry, and bitingly sarcastic.
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the road. He muttered something under his breath, speaking so quickly that I couldn’t understand. We were silent for the rest of the drive. I could feel the waves of infuriated disapproval rolling off of him, and I could think of nothing to say… I parked on the narrow shoulder and stepped out, afraid because he was angry with me and I didn’t have driving as an excuse not to look at him… I heard his door slam... “This way,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at me, eyes still annoyed.
See all of the words in bold? See how quickly Edward jumps from cheerful to angry? She how Bella gently reminds him of things and keeps quiet instead of standing up for herself? See how she is afraid of him when he is angry? See those waves of infuriated disapproval? See why I still have absolutely no idea why she loves him?
Edward is territorial and controlling. He is moody and withholding. He forces Bella to go to prom even though she has expressed more than once her nondesire to go. Then, when they get to the school and she doesn’t want to leave the car, we get this little glimpse into abuse: “He couldn’t remove me forcibly from the car as he might have if we’d been alone.” Removing your significant other forcibly from the car is never okay. I wouldn’t think that would have to be said, but in a world where Twilight has been read by millions, I suppose it does.
Last weekend I went to see Insurgent with Christine (from women I needed to see) and Patrice. Four was being wonderful, hugging Tris and comforting and reassuring her and Christine said, “I want someone to love me like that.” Because that’s what you’re supposed to want. That’s why Veronica Roth wrote a story about Four and Tris. Because love. And when I see Four protecting Tris and seeking her best, yes, I want someone to love me like that. When I see Peeta and Katniss supporting each other and sacrificing for each other I want someone to love me like that. When I see the friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, how they’ve been through so much together and always find a way to laugh, I want someone to love me like that. But looking at Edward and Bella? Eek. I hope nobody ever loves me in such a desperate, selfish, dangerous, clingy way. And that’s the difference between Twilight and other love stories. This one is toxic.
Did the Twilight formula work on you?