Twilight: A Classic
My book of choice will forever be Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For me, this book is magical. Before I found Twilight, I rarely read and when I did it was theme-packed literature commonly known as literary fiction.
Then my husband rented a vampire flick he heard a lot of girls liked. His slasher flick sparkled, shined, and left me wanting more. I tore through the YA section of B&N. I wrote a horrible NA paranormal romance about the redemption of Judas before NA was a thing. I didn’t let anyone read it, but I kept writing romance. (And Judas is being redeemed through an MFA).
Most readers will have a strong emotional response to a classic. Twilight can claim that. It inspired me, and it inspired a generation. A quick Google search lists pages of Twilight inspired blogs, weddings, tattoos, wedding cakes and fan-fiction including 50 Shades of Gray. A lot of people hate the book. That’s okay, because when they tell you how much they hate it, they get very detailed. They might not be willing to admit it, but the story and/or characters struck a chord or they wouldn’t be so vehement in their hatred of it.
The best reason to look at this book as a romance classic is because it “changed the landscape of romance.” (Regis pg. 107). As a middle school student reading YA, I loved The Face on the Milk Carton. Janie had a really good boyfriend and I wanted him. While I don’t think The Face on the Milk Carton was genre romance or even romantic suspense, it was the most romance filled thing my school library owned. So much so that they refused to order the sequel. After Twilight hit the market and sold well, YA romance exploded first in paranormal imitations followed by YA contemporary romance. Adults were reading YA romance, some stated it was more emotional because the emphasis was on the romance not the sex. In other words, it was sweet with strong emotional tension at a time when adult romance was not as sweet and filled with sexual tension. The Huffington Post slide show The Top 5 Reasons Women Love Twilight cites the Austenian feel in reason number one. The YA romance market bloomed so remarkably that NA grew out of it. Regis claims the author of a romance classic “innovated or perfected a main romance subgenre.” (Regis pg. 107). Meyer turned YA into a main romance subgenre.
Two other things stood out to me in nearly every book we read this semester: the characters were memorable and details were filled in so intricately we began to refer to it as a “slice of life.” As for memorable characters, the heroine was usually very strong and able to stand on her own. The heroines were so dynamic they could have easily been put in a non-romance and still survived the journey. I’m not convinced Jane Eyre didn’t survive a non-romance journey. The heroes were strong, emotionally closed off before falling for the heroine, protective, and committed. Though the protection and commitment displayed itself in different ways from Darcy who tracked down his arch enemy and paid him off to marry Lizzy’s sister and secure her standing in society to de Valmy who cruised the entire French countryside in search of Linda and her charge to Skimmerhorn who was physically protective of Dora. But actions made it clear the earlier men would have been physically protective if the need arose.
While each story was unique, they were almost the same story of a wounded hero healed by a caring woman who would confront her own demons to be with him. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether Bella Swan is a strong heroine. Interestingly enough, many of the arguments used to say she is a weak heroine aren’t in the first book. (Later in the series, she allows Edward and Jacob to battle a vampire army for her, and she refused to terminate a pregnancy with her life on the line. I found that last choice very strong and a choice I hope I would be strong enough to make. As for allowing the men to fight her battle, it took a pack of werewolves and a coven of vampires to defeat the newborn army. Bella cut herself to change the direction Edward’s final battle was going, and I’m not sure what else she could have done). In Twilight, the first book of the series, a tracker vampire happens onto Edward’s baseball game and smells Bella. Edward’s protective reaction is a challenge to the tracker and he’s determined to hunt Bella down and drain her. Edward sends Bella to Phoenix with his brother and sister to protect her while he hunts for the tracker. But she thinks the tracker has her mom so she evades her assigned bodyguards and rushes to meet him alone, putting her life at risk. A bold move. The tracker nearly kills her, but Edward finds them and destroys the vampire. Edward is immortal and refuses to get close to people outside of his family both because he can’t risk the temptation of draining them and because they will die. He’s very similar to other heroes we have read. And Bella is strong enough to face a vampire while knowing she’s a tasty treat.
Then there was the “slice of life” element that played through many of these books. The world of these characters and their typical day was so well portrayed that we could imagine ourselves in their lives. We could see their lives. From the dreariness of Rochester’s estate to the eccentricity of Dora’s theater company family, and the stylishness of her antique shop. When I chose this book for the final essay, “the slice of life” is what I hoped to learn how to write. As a reader, I tend to skip details. And many of the classics we read this semester were too detail heavy for me. I want dialogue, action, and kisses. I don’t care what color a dress is or how big an estate is. Twilight managed to give us these things without the details becoming cumbersome. Each character has vividly described unique traits that live off the page. And the haze of a constant cloudy overcast and bitter cold of a place that snows even in June is hard not to notice. Yet it never becomes overpowering enough to detract from the story.
Some of the things that define a classic are outside of a writer’s scope of control. There is no way to know if a book will withstand the test of time until it has done so, although addressing universal themes and steering clear of time-marking technology might help with this. Likewise, we often mix elements of other genres in our work because most writers have more than one interest. Sometimes those things catch on. When this happens, elements of that work start to appear in other books of the genre. The work has expanded the genre. There is no way to predict that. The other alternative is that the things we mix fail or go unnoticed. While these are distinguishing characteristics of a classic, it’s important to focus on things we can control. That leaves us with the emotional reaction, memorable characters, the “slice of life” feel, and using familiar tropes.
As mentioned earlier, my thesis is about the redemption of Judas. In the first chapter he is at a strip club with his friend. A dancer falls and he comes to the rescue. She’s sassy and stubborn and he will protect her from that point on. Judas feels unworthy of affection and incapable of really loving because he knows he’s a traitor. His relationship with Reese/Rebecca changes all that. Rebecca is a runaway trying to graduate high school without anyone learning she’s an underage dancer at a strip club living on a stolen identity. She’s wanted for murder and smart enough to have avoided arrest so far. This plays on the tropes of an independent heroine and a protective hero and with redemption being a huge part of the story plays on a universal theme as well.
However, in the early chapters Judas (who lives under the alias of Jacob) doesn’t come across as likeable. I’ve found that neither Darcy nor Edward Cullen come off very well in the opening chapters, but those books are limited to the female point of view, and Edward in particular is as mysterious as rude. His disdain for sitting by Bella and his effort to keep a distance is noticeable, leaving Bella to wonder what she’s done to offend him or what his problem is. Making Jacob’s internal dialogue more ambiguous may help some of his actions become questionable rather than absurd. It may also add suspense. Part of what keeps a reader engaged in Twilight is the desire to learn what is going on.
As far as the emotional reaction, I’ve got mixed feedback. Some people have found the story very emotional. One person said she couldn’t emotionally connect to the story because she hated Jacob. However, she used very emotional language to tell me how emotionally lacking it was. But I think making early internal and external dialogue less harsh and more ambiguous could strengthen the emotional impact.
The thing I need the most work on and something Meyer does so well is the “slice of life” embedding the right details at the right places. There are pages of description in the first chapter of Twilight. Most books would lose me after a few paragraphs of description, but phrases like, “It was there, sitting in the lunchroom, trying to make conversation with seven curious strangers, that I first saw them.”(Meyer Ch. 1). This sentence sparks the question who is them? And lets us know something will happen soon. A paragraph later comes the line, “But it was none of these things that caught, and held, my attention.”(Meyer Ch.1) This line adds suspense because we know we haven’t found the real focal point yet. Intertwining lines like these will allow me to flesh out settings and situations I’ve been afraid to due to a lack of action.
Twilight expanded the terrain of romance and will withstand the test of time but the most important thing we can learn from it is to weave suspense into our description and to use the right details to brighten the worlds we build.
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Hatchette Digital, 2005. Ebook.
Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007. Ebook
Weight, Rachel. HuffPost Women. The Huffing Post, November 17, 2011. Web. May 4, 2016.