Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Falling in Love with Edward Cullen... What Writers can learn from Twilight.


It’s taken me awhile to get around to reading Twilight. Jealousy? Aw – probably. Plus, I’ve never been super big on vampire books. But love for Twilight seems to keep growing and growing among the females of our species (females of all ages, mind you, not just teenaged girls). So finally I decided I should read it and see what all the fuss is about.

And you guessed it. Now I am a fan too. I borrowed the first book from a 9th grader friend of mine, and sat down to read it one evening before bed. Bad decision. I should have waited until the house didn’t need cleaning, no laundry needed doing, and there was no job to go to… Because by two days later, (thanks to staying up until 4am, reading in bed on the night before a workday,) I had finished that first book and run to the bookstore after work to buy the next one, and the next one. Of course I knew that a number of my friends owned the books, and would gladly lend them to me. I just didn’t want to wait a couple of days to see what became of Bella and Edward’s prohibited and dangerous love…

Now, several weeks later, I own all 4 of the books and have read some of them twice – trying to figure out what’s so addictive about them. (And nope, ya’ll, I’m not in high school anymore!) I’ve also gotten several of my friends to read them – friends in their teens, in their 30s, in their 40s… mothers and teen daughters who are now eagerly sharing the books… And, what the hey, I bought the movie too…

Clearly, this is a book for females, as author Stephen King (who apparently is not so infatuated with Twilight,) has pointed out. But what can writers learn? What is it that draws women to this book? Is it the plot? I don’t think so. Sure, there’s some drama – a near assault, a lot of secrets that people are keeping, a mystery to be sorted through – I mean, who are these Cullens, anyway? And why are they so different?

But no… I think the thing that draws readers most to twilight is the emotionality of the story. The most important scenes in these books are not the action scenes. Nope – they are the scenes where Bella and Edward, the Cullens, Jacob, or some other character is feeling strong emotion – and quite often these characters are just sitting around talking about it.

Usually, it seems, many of us writers want to describe physical movements to show emotion (“She fiddled with her hair…” to show boredom or nervousness. “He sighed…” to show sorrow, frustration, or longing…) And of course we’ve heard writer after writer (excellent, well-published ones,) indicate that this is the best way to show emotion. (Show don’t tell… remember?) : )

But sometimes I struggle to describe the emotions I’m trying to portray clearly enough through showing. Sometimes I feel that I’m saying “he sighed, she giggled, I raised an eyebrow in shock…” over and over again. Yuck! God help me! How can I describe these people’s actions in a way that more clearly shows that what I am really describing is emotional re-actions?

And now along comes Stephanie Meyer, with books whose primary strength is emotion -- (the longing for something that the characters cannot have and cannot live without, and the passion and fear and confusion that goes along with that).

So I looked at how she described their emotion so convincingly to my heart, and the hearts of all these women -- she did it so effectively that we cannot put the books down. We’re right there in the story too. And so, what did I see? Lots and lots of lines like these:

Telling and Adverbs?
1.) He gave a sarcastic smile that matched his tone.
2.) It was a self-congratulatory smile
3.) “It’s all right,” he answered, unimpressed
4.) He chuckled. Even his laugh sounded exhausted.
5.) “You’re early,” I said, elated
6.) “You were listening again?” I was horror-struck. All traces of my sudden good humor vanished.
7.) I kept my expression polite as I waited.
8.) “How’s your head?” he asked, innocently.

Of course there are examples of “showing” too.

Showing?
1.) “It’s a BMW,” he rolled his eyes.
2.) “You’re unbelievable,” I turned, stomping away in the general direction of the parking lot.
3.) He sighed. “Will you forgive me if I apologize?”
4.) “Bella, I think you should go inside now.” His low voice was rough, his eyes on the clouds again.

The combination of the two?
1. “Really?” He was unconvinced. His eyes shifted their focus slightly, looking over my shoulder and narrowing.
2. “That was the plan.” I grimaced, wishing he hadn’t brought it up so I wouldn’t have to compose careful half-truths…
.
Hmmm...
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So, whether this is helpful to anyone else, or just to me, I am not sure. But Twilight has been a good reminder to me. “Everything in moderation” seems to be the best rule when writing descriptions of emotion. Thanks to Stephanie Meyer for creating a book full of emotions to give me that reminder.

7 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Oh there's hope for us yet!

C.R. Evers said...

I so need to read this book! Yes. I admit it. I'm probably the only person in the world who hasn't.

Janelle said...

Yes, indeed, Bish!
And Yes, Christy, you really should read Twilight. : )

Craft Write said...

Very well put. I do get into vampire novels, but not always into so much romantic angst; however, I was the same way once I started reading the books. I couldn't put them down. That's really the mark of a book that's "got it" though, isn't it? We all wish we could write the one people can't put down.

Janelle said...

Yes we do, Craftwrite! And I always feel there's so much to learn as our writing gets better and better (Or we hope it does!). That's why I love to learn from the writing of others.

Edith said...

Oh wow, great post! Yes I think that show don't tell thing is excellent advice, but IMHO, occasionally you have to tell or the book will be 800 pages long. Also, I would say the popularity of Twilight has to do with one thing: Great sexual tension. ;)

Janelle said...

So true, Edith! Sexual tension but very limited actual sex. How stealthy!