When I think of Twilight, I think of the book and the movie. Both of them have served an important role in modern media, even if so many people have fallen out of love with them. I’m not going to say that I vehemently hate these books. I do dislike them. They are poorly written for the most part. But I do not hate them.
When I read, I often find myself turning towards ‘trashy’ books. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a product of what my brain wants to try and consume. It also doesn’t have a lot to do with the fact that I am a writer. My writing self and my reading self are very different. Although what I read informs my writing, the inverse is not really true. I may try to search out specific books in specific genres because of writing that I am doing, but these are still books that I would love to read.
So why am I writing about the Twilight series?
Well, to be honest, I haven’t finished a lot of books lately, so I needed to fall back on something that I already know fairly well. And why do I know the Twilight series fairly well? Because I loved the first book when I was in elementary school. I loved the second book. When the third book was poised to come out, it was suddenly hip in my middle school to hate the series. I still read them and carried them around, but I knew that they weren’t that cool. I was reading them to finish the story. I was invested in that much, at least.
I would like to emphasize that I haven’t reread these books in a long time so some of the points that I hit on may be clouded by the past. Twilight is a series that many people will agree is poorly written.
There are several arguments for this:
- Stephanie Meyer seems to have used a thesaurus along the way in her writing for no explicable reason.
- Bella, for all intents and purposes, seems to be a bit of a Mary Sue. (This is a type of character that many, many people try to avoid when it comes to writing.)
I will give the audience these. There are some word choices that I found odd even when I was in elementary school. There were words that would trip me up. When I looked them up, they were just larger, fancier words for terms that I already knew. Bella is indeed a broken character, as well. In fact, there are many ‘too perfect’ characters in this series.
And this is where I want to focus my reflection. Of all the characters that were involved in Meyer’s vampire story, there were some that truly stood out. Jasper and Alice, part of the main coven from the story, have incredibly interesting pasts. These pasts come to light in the last (and second to last, I believe) books. They are incredibly important stories for the characters as well as the world.
If Meyer had written a whole book about those two characters, I’m sure that we would still be talking about the story. Twilight exists in our minds as a relic. Even the people love it don’t seem to be talking about it all that much anymore.
But had we had characters that were so entwined with the outer world and not the insulated world of Forks, this might have been different. When you build stories, you want to create something that we can really interact with. Twilight’s story is a pretty PG romance novel. I’ve read racier novels that follow the same general plot. You have the man that she can’t be with and her stubborn and sometimes unintentional way of getting closer to him. Overall, this story isn’t unique. It isn’t new. The newest aspect to it was the paranormal aspect. But even that wasn’t completely new.
Alice and Jasper, on the other hand, weren’t a love story. They were a story about tragedy and war. There’s still enough unknowns that it was interesting. It engaged me. It invited me to think. The opposite is true of Bella’s story. Hell, even Rosalie’s background story invoked some strong emotions in me. And I know that I wouldn’t have been so affected had Rosalie not been such a bitch earlier on in the story.
So why is Twilight popular?
Well, you can think about how 50 Shades of Grey is popular. Even though Twilight and the 50 shades franchise are arguably intertwined, there are some parallels that you have to look at.
Twilight, the lighter and PG series appealed widely to young women and women that already loved romance novels. It is a love story that is full of taboos and conflicting emotions. This is a plot that a lot of people love. Hell, I love it. I love that sappy romance (although I find that since I grew with Japanese manga, my romance is more in line with those storylines). And it is arguably just another series of trashy, albeit PG, romance novels.
Fifty Shades had a similar trajectory. The taboo of BDSM culture is alluring to so many different people. It is a trashy BDSM erotica, but it is attractive for many of the same qualities. It’s a romance with taboos and challenges.
So how did these series make it this far?
When it comes to popularity, it’s hard to tell sometimes. Obviously, when the movies came out, it was the image of the actors that drew more people. But when it started, it wasn’t the storm that it turned out to be. Twilight was just a romance story. People read it, suggested it to friends and moved on. Paranormal romance wasn’t that common. The only paranormal romance that I had read at that point was Holly Black’s series of modern faerie tales. At that point, I don’t think there was even a separate category for paranormal romance.
Twilight hit just as it was getting popular. It was broad enough to be appealing to all sorts of people. It started an unstoppable wave of vampire books for years. We’re seeing similar things with Fifty Shades. While writing erotica is harder to get out there (because there is a lot of it out there), people are writing more about BDSM. A lot of the writing is actually reactionary and writers are trying to offer better views of BDSM that those portrayed in Fifty Shades.
Writing books isn’t always about being good at writing. Writing books is sometimes about luck and timing. I’m sure that Stephanie Meyer didn’t think that she was going to get this far when she started. She probably dreamed about it, but never considered it as a real option. This isn’t a bad thing.
So those are some disjointed thoughts about Twilight years after the fact. I still don’t think of the series as inherently bad. It’s flawed, but I have honestly read and written stuff that is so much worse than that.