I borrowed the first three books from a friend. She didn't have the fourth one, and if I never make friends with someone who does, I'll never read it. Despite all my preconceptions, I went into it ready to love it if it let me (secretly, if need be). As I explained to my sister, who gave me that "You have shamed our family" look when she saw them in my apartment, I've enjoyed a lot of bad books. I'm interested in what makes a book good or bad, but I'm even more interested in what makes us like them or dislike them beyond that basis.
So, here's what my highly scientific analysis yielded: I didn't get it. Easy reading should go by quickly; I slogged through the first half of Twilight. I didn't see the animal magnetism cited by the friend who loaned it to me. I didn't know why Bella liked Edward, let alone why the reader base did. I couldn't sit back and enjoy the ride, because the ride wasn't moving and the operator didn't even seem to be around to push the lever. Instead of a guilty pleasure, it felt like...well, let me just go ahead and coin the phrase "guilty displeasure", because I think the world needs it.
That said, I've read much worse books, and the vitriol in the counter-hype doesn't make much more sense than the hype itself. If there are Twihards reading this, I think no less of you for it, and I hope you'll think no less of me. Also, while I failed to identify the exact component that makes the vampire romance so alluring to so many, I did find a few key elements which, if used differently, could have spawned some excellent writing. (Actually, the vampire romance is one of them. It's not an original idea, but it's a classic one, played straight, and I have a vast appreciation for that.)
It makes me sad seeing good raw material go to waste. Evidently, it makes me so sad that I can't stop thinking about it until I have mentally rebuilt the story from the bottom up. Now, I have no intentions of ever writing any Twilight fanfiction, but I have to get this out of my system somewhere, and that my friends is why we have such things as blogs. Welcome to my frightfully pointless list of instructions on how to rescue a book that is already published way beyond the point of rescue.
1.) Lose the first person narrative. This is fairly straightforward. There are already enough limits on the scope of the story for us to be stuck in Bella’s head in addition to them. We’re told later that Edward can’t read her mind because she thinks differently than other people, but at that point we already have substantial evidence that this is not the case, so let’s do away with that plot hole from the get-go.
2.) Something freaky is happening in Forks. Did anyone else catch Edward joking about all the accidents that Bella is having now that she’s moved to Forks? This is a fantasy setting: why should it be a joke? Bella, clumsy all her life, now seems to be the target of a mysterious and malevolent force that wants her dead. Sure, she needs a protector. She also needs to find out what’s happening to her, and why. It’s a basic device, but an effective one: the heroine is Special, and it’s brought the attention of the bad guys.
3.) Bella meets Alice and Jasper at school, not Edward. I can actually visualize this entire scene fairly well. If Bella was talking to her completely forgettable friend while gazing across the cafeteria at two beautiful, magical-looking, and eerily matched teenagers instead of five of them, I’d actually believe the moment. We hear about how they’re friendly but mostly keep to themselves, and how they live with the doctor and there are a few more in the family too. Alice, given her powers of foresight, is giving Bella a very curious look, which is remarked upon and soon leads Bella to go talk to her.
Emmett, Rosalie, and Edward aren’t attending school. Of course they’re not. Their identities, if they even have them, are fabricated anyway, so they’re all officially over the age of mandatory schooling (as if school in America was even mandatory). When we get to know the vampires, we learn that Jasper is enrolled in school to help him get accustomed to the “vegetarian lifestyle”, and that Alice is there for support and to keep an eye on him. Of course, although Alice knows right away that there’s going to be something between Edward and Bella, she’s not the one who instigates it, so we’ll still need a way for the two to meet within the setting. This might not be a bad thing.
4.) Bella has a hobby. This is actually true for a lot of people. Those of us who aren’t athletically gifted occasionally do things with our time other than read, cook, and daydream about boys. (For the record, I’m not against Bella cooking for her dad, I just wish she took more real interest in it. Cooking is fun.) The character is already a good template for the “artist” archetype; it would be easy to give her an instrument or a camera. To make the most of her move to Forks, she signs up for a group lesson, where she meets—well, guess who?
He’s there because when you’re immortal it’s nice to pick up new skills. When he smells Bella he immediately quits. Bella, who has already made a tentative friendship with Alice, asks her why her brother is such a jerk. Things get awkward at school. Soon the accidents/rescues prompt further investigation, and Bella learns something…
5.) The Cullens are warriors. They’re part of a small, secret vampire resistance to the Volturi, who are at the very least mentioned in the first book and may even be behind the mysterious accidents. You see, the Volturi are evil. Has this gone completely unnoticed? Maybe we didn’t see the crowd of humans in Rome being herded along to be used as food?
Like many adult readers of this series, I have issues with Edward as a character. For me, though, the main problem isn’t that he’s controlling, obsessive, or inconsistant; it’s that he’s lazy. So are the rest of the Cullens. The power attributed to all of them is insane. No DM on earth would let you roll one of those. They have every resource at their disposal—time, money, influence—and they’re supposedly good, compassionate people. Is it a little weird that their top concern seems to be boredom? Did Carlisle really contemplate all the ways he could help people and come up with “doctor”?
They need a heroic mission. Bella needs a real threat to her safety. The story needs a plot. The Volturi could be the answer to all of this. Edward might have a little less time to hang out at Bella’s bedside, but on the other hand, Bella might have a little more reason to fall for him. Personally, I’ll take the boyfriend who’s obsessed with protecting everyone over the one who’s obsessed with protecting me. (One reason I preferred Jacob to Edward, actually.)
6.) Cold is okay. Hard is not. Fine, it’s an insignificant detail, but for crying out loud. Nobody wants to make out with a marble statue no matter how beautiful his beautiful beauty is.
So, in six easy steps, we’re in the middle of a supernatural romance adventure story instead of a very long examination of two characters who aren’t really doing anything. There are signatures to their relationship that I wouldn’t touch, though. Honestly? I think it’s great that Edward sparkles in sunlight. It’s ridiculous, but it’s great. And if those crazy kids want to get married before Bella gets turned into a vampire, more power to them.
I’ve seen the tale of how Stephenie Meyer had a dream, wrote it down, and worked around it until she had a whole book, and regardless of how the result came out, that’s awesome. Having that kind of passion for something that only exists in your own mind is the lifeblood of writing fiction. Also, even if my version of her book is totally better, guess which one of us is getting paid for it? That’s right.
I just hope she’s using her success and power to attack the Volturi, because someone needs to put those creeps down.