Opening thoughts:

For the past week I’ve been counseling at a drama camp, supervising and generally helping the teachers put on a production with a cast 20 or so young children. This Friday, during snack time, I pulled out my new copy of Twilight and began to read. Several minutes later one of the girls walked up to me and said with a slight smirk, “You’re reading Twilight?” She looked maybe ten or eleven years old.

I confirmed that I was, and when she continued to smirk I told her, perhaps a little defensively, that I was reading it for educational purposes only. She took this to mean that I was reading it for school.

“No,” I said, “my teachers aren’t making me. I was just curious about the book.” I didn’t want to go to the trouble of explaining that I want to be an author, that my current story-in-progress is a parody of Twilight, and that I was writing a blog. I asked her what she thought was strange.

“Nothing,” she said, “boys just don’t usually read Twilight.” Then she walked away, still smirking.

Even now, I’m not sure what that encounter meant.

Chapter 1: First Sight

The book proper begins just before Bella leaves (narrator) her hometown of Phoenix. We get a quick summery of her family’s history: her mom and dad divorced each other shortly after her birth and she has since lived with her mother in Phoenix. Now that mom has remarried, Bella is going to live with her father in Forks, Washington so her mom and step-dad can go honeymooning. And apparently, Forks is the most insignificant, god-awful town on the planet.

There’s nothing much to talk about in this section. This passage manages to convey a lot of information quickly. It’s still a little info-dumpy, but it’s short and easy enough to read through, and that is a virtue.

After the background is established, Bella has a conversation with her mom about leaving. It’s very melodramatic heart-wrenching. Here are a few quick samples of the prose.

I felt a spasm of panic as I started at her wide, childlike eyes. How could I leave my loving erratic, hare-brained mother to fend for herself?

“I want to go,” I lied. I’d always been a bad liar, but I’d been saying this lie so frequently lately that it sounded almost convincing now.”

I could see the sacrifice in her eyes behind the promise. (p. 2)

This entire conversation is trying to convince me that Bella is mature and selfless: a girl who, for most of her life, has taken care of her mother, and now must exile herself to an insignificant, god-awful town so mom can be happy. Isn’t it noble? The problem is that Bella completely undermines her appearances of nobility with her despairing, “woe is me” attitude. A little complaining is perfectly natural, and shows the audience that the character is suffering. Overdo it, however, and the character begins begins to appear bitter and weak and unable to stand up for herself. Selflessness is an attractive character trait. Self-pity and depression are not.

Bella’s informed misery continues on through the chapter. She meets her dad at the airport (she calls him “Charlie”). He drives her to his house. She finds out that he bought her a car. In between their dialogue, we learn about Charlie and relationship with Bella. It’s fairly typical; he’s gruff and aloof and has trouble expressing his feelings, but cares none the less. The exposition here I thought Meyer managed fairly well. It coveys the family dynamics briefly and effectively, and flows naturally in and out of the dialogue.

It would be nice, though, if Bella’s default reaction to everything wasn’t something to the effect of: “‘That’s really nice, Dad. Thanks, I really appreciate it.’ No need to add that my being happy in Forks was an impossibility.” (p. 7)

We get it. You’re unhappy. You don’t want to be in Forks. You know what would make me more sympathetic towards you? If you did something besides complain about it!

This a lesson all of us should remember: keep the angst in moderation. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can put your characters through hell. Murder his parents, rape his sister, drown his best friend, infect his puppy with leprosy. Make him suffer. But always remember that suffering and angst (on their own) do not create interesting stories or compelling characters. Anyone can be the victim of circumstance. Anyone can suffer. What will make your character special is the way he tries to cope with his circumstances and overcome his suffering.

I don’t mean by this that you should make light of your character’s hardship, quite the opposite. One cannot know the strength of a gale until he tries to stand against it. You character’s resistance needn’t be dramatic, successful, or even explicit. You just need to show that the character is trying to overcome the problems facing him, even if it’s just by subtly changing the way he perceives things. Give your reader someone to root for; not just someone to pity. The problem with angst is that it’s essentially passive. A little can be justified; even the best of us can be brought down by misfortune, but laying it on too heavily will quickly make you character appear whiny and pathetic. This is especially the case if, like Bella, the source of you character’s angst isn’t all that dreadful (Oh woe, I must go live with my loving father in a town populated by friendly peers and undead sex gods. However shall I endure?). It’s hard to be sympathetic towards someone who views her misery as a foregone conclusion.

Anyway, in brief, they reach Charlie’s house. Bella begins to unpack, noting that her dad still hasn’t gotten over the divorce. After a little more moping and exposition, Bella cries herself to sleep.

Bella wakes up the next day no more cheerful. She looks in a mirror so she can describe how tragically unattractive she is and generally continues to acquaint us with her apprehension.

Facing my pallid reflection in the mirror, I was forced to admit that I was lying to myself. It wasn’t just physically that I’d never fit in. And if I couldn’t find a niche in a school with three thousand people, what were my chances here? I didn’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate well to people, period. […] Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain. (p. 10)

You get the idea.

Bella apprehensively drives to school, apprehensively talks to a receptionist, apprehensively goes to her classes, and apprehensively eats lunch. English is boring, of course, because she’s read all of the books before. She talks to a few of her classmates, including Eric, who she describes as an “overly helpful, chess club type” (which, roughly translated, means “I will shit a vacuum cleaner before I have romantic feelings for this guy”).

Then, at lunch, she sees the Cullens for the first time. And it begins.

I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were the faces you never expected to see, except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard to decide who was most beautiful—maybe the perfect blond girl or the bronze haired boy.

The girl spends three long paragraphs describing how ridiculously beautiful the five Cullens look. Bella, naturally, is curious about the her super smexy classmates, and asks Jessica, one of the normal girls, about them. She spills some juicy gossip. Bella, of course, decides that Jessica is a jealous eater of sour grapes, and looks continues to gape at the Cullens’ beauty. In other words, our plain-looking, socially awkward, desperately-worried-about-fitting-in narrator is giving the elitist sex gods a more sympathetic treatment than her friendly classmate. Favoritism, Haruhi. This is author favoritism.

Anyway, Bella goes to biology and sits next to (gasp!) Edward Cullen. He spend the entire class alternately glowering at her and retching into his palms. This does not stop Bella from telling us how toned his arms are. After Edward storm off, we meet Mike, who has a cute face, and is therefore given a mildly sympathetic portrayal. They talk for a while, and he seems rather friendly. “He was the nicest person I’d met today.”

After gym class (have I mentioned how clumsy this girl is yet?) our intrepid heroine runs into Edward in the guidance office, where he is desperately trying to change out of their biology class. Could Bella be the reason for Edward’s hissy fit? She seems to think so, and drives home on the verge of tears. Because, among all the agreeable people she met that day, the sexy one didn’t like her.

Chapter 2

The next day Bella goes back to school, and it looks like, in spite of everything, she’s fitting in just fine. Mike and “Chess Club Eric” are competing to see which one can be nicer to her. Mike seems to already have fallen head-over-heals for our heroine, and she’s already trying to find the best way to put him down. Edward, however, is nowhere to be found, which Bella is upset about for some reason. (Really, Bella? The guy who seems to hate your guts disappears, and you’re unhappy about it?)

That night, she cooks dinner and does domestic stuff.

When I got home I unloaded all the groceries, stuffing them wherever I could find an open space. I hoped Charlie wouldn’t mind. I wrapped potatoes in foil and stuck them in an over to bake, covered the steak in marinade and [bla bla bla cooking bla]. When I was finished with that, I took my book bag upstairs. Before starting my homework, I changed into a pair of dry sweaters, pulled my damp hair into a pony tail, and checked my email for the first time.

This is bad prose. I realize that Meyer wanted to show Bella’s interests and add depth to her character, but this is not done by listing the stages of dinner preparation. I did this. I did that. Then I did this. I hoped this. Then I put this in the oven. It reads like a dull girl’s LiveJournal. There are some who say that having a girl who enjoys domestic tasks is sexist. I’m not one of them, personally; if an activity is important to a character, I don’t mind if it doesn’t push against gender roles. But in this passage, there is no sense that cooking is important to Bella. It’s just something that she does. This makes the allegations of sexism legitimate in my mind. Nothing indicates that this activity is an integral part of Bella’s character, and including it does nothing but complement a stereotype.

Anyway, Bella emails her mom. Over dinner she asks dad about the Cullens. Of course he thinks they’re amazing.

The next week passes without incident, and so the narration skips it. When the narration picks back up again, snow is falling at school and Edward is back, glaring at Bella from a cross the cafeteria. Then, in biology, Edward sits by Bella, and introduces himself. “‘Hello,’ said a quiet, musical voice.”

Here goes.

Bella looks up and spends a paragraph describing how ridiculously beautiful he is. “His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips…” and so on. This continues through the rest of their conversation. I’ll spare you the experience. Suffice to say, every laugh is enchanting, every contortion of his face dazzling, every look smoldering.

Anyway, they talk mostly about Bella. Edward probes her (not like that) with questions about her past, why she’s in forks, how she likes it there, how she likes her mom’s new husband. I’m pretty sure that this is some sort of female fantasy.

bq.His gaze became appraising. “You put on a good show,” he said slowly, “But I’d be willing to bet that you’re suffering more than you let anyone see.”
“Why does it matter to you?” I asked, irritated. I kept my eyes away, watching the teacher make his rounds.
“That’s a very good question,” he muttered, so quietly that I wondered if he was talking to himself.

You get the idea. I’m actually surprised by how well done the dialogue is. By that, I mean that it does what it’s intended to do: make Edward appear mysterious and perceptive. Why is he so very interested in Bella? How does he know that she hates the cold, or that she doesn’t like to be called “Isabella” (a mistake that every Muggle normal human has made up to this point). What is the significance of the smoldering sparkle in his golden eyes, or his ultrawhite (yes, ultrawhite) smile? One might almost think that he’s trying.

Of course, to one who’s seen the movie, read ahead in the book, or absorbed the information elsewhere (I’m guilty of all three) Edward’s dialogue really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. One would think that, after over a century of being a (conspicuously beautiful) vampire among humans, Edward would have picked up a little bit of discipline and subtlety. Even if the man is (spoiler) burning with curiosity about the mind he cannot read, I sure he’s able to converse with this girl, you know, as if he couldn’t read the minds of her classmates.

I suppose what I’m getting at here is a deficiency in Edward’s character. As Christopher Paolini would put it, he’s a character of necessity. He behaves the way he does, not for his own reasons, but to fulfil the demands of the plot and of the audience. Girls like to fantasize about mysterious guys, and so Edward acts mysterious, even though his character has every reason to act inconspicuous and dull. Is he concerned about blowing the cover for his family? Is he worried that he’s losing his powers? Has he been working on a project? There are thousands of considerations that could give depth to Edward’s character. Unfortunately, the only ones apparent in his actions are the ones that directly involve Meyer’s Mary Sue.

I’d also like to point out that this conversation only works because Bella immediately treats Edward differently than any of the other boys interested in her. This isn’t a profound or original observation, but it’s worth making. The moral of the story? Pretty people get the better half of double standards.

And so ends chapter 2.

In unrelated news, I’m going to be at the Alpha Workshop for the next week and a half, so unless I have a lot more free time than I’m expecting to, this series will go on hold until I return. Thanks for your patience.

Tagged as:


  1. Puppet on 18 July 2009, 13:39 said:

    Great article, it will be a miracle if you finish the book. ;)

  2. sansafro187 on 18 July 2009, 15:49 said:

    Man, Bellagon is going to be my OTP. Looking at Bella’s behavior here, they’re pretty much soulmates.

  3. Dan Locke on 18 July 2009, 17:01 said:

    I edited this article at Artimaeus’s request, but this is the original draft. Weird.

  4. Millefiori on 18 July 2009, 20:54 said:

    Great article! I hope you finish the book. :)

  5. SMARTALIENQT on 18 July 2009, 21:08 said:



    Great job, Arti! Here’s to your continued success! downs chocolate milk I need a pick-me-up after reading Twilight, even by proxy…

  6. DrAlligator on 18 July 2009, 21:20 said:


    I wrote a comment ages ago when this was first posted but I must not have pressed submit.

    Anyway so I guess I was saying three thumbs up and stuff. And I was all, “Puppet it wouldn’t be a miracle but it’d be damn awesome”. And then I was all “Your commentary on Eddy’s character deficiencies was inneresting”.

    So that’s the barebones of the relatively longwinded comment I cba to rewrite, but before I hit preview and submit this time, I’ll throw “I found the opening very amusing” into the mix too.

  7. Steph who is looking for Jeremy! Dang it, swenson! on 19 July 2009, 09:28 said:

    “Nothing,” she said, “boys just don’t usually read Twilight.” Then she walked away, still smirking.

    Even now, I’m not sure what that encounter meant.

    She thinks you * like * Edward…

  8. RomanticVampireLover on 19 July 2009, 16:14 said:

    Nice Arty. ;)

    Selflessness is an attractive character trait. Self-pity and depression are not.

    This was very well put, I think. Over all, wonderful article/review. Good luck with getting through the whole book! ;P Have fun at your workshop. :D

  9. NeuroticPlatypus on 19 July 2009, 20:42 said:

    Great article. I like the conversation with the little girl at the beginning. Steph is probably right about what she meant though.

    “(…)maybe the perfect blond girl(…)”
    It annoys me that she used the masculine form of “blond” to descride a girl. Even when writers just use the same one for both sexes they usually use the feminine form, “blonde.” This jumped out at me.

    I like your summaries of the endless paragraphs of whining.

  10. sansafro187 on 20 July 2009, 00:23 said:

    @Neurotic Platypus

    You think perhaps Meyer is subtly beginning Rosalie’s(that’s her name, right?) character arc by using the masculine form of the word, and hinting at some kind of connection to her sterility(that’s her deal, right?) and childbirth’s inherent relation to femininity?

    …Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

    Somebody tell me how to use the damn block quotes.

  11. NeuroticPlatypus on 20 July 2009, 19:05 said:

    Lol. That would actually be deep.

    To do block quotes, put a space between the lines, type
    bq. then put a space and type what you want. Click textile help, and it will tell you how to do different things.

  12. Steph the Sue on 21 July 2009, 10:17 said:

    You think perhaps Meyer is subtly beginning Rosalie’s(that’s her name, right?) character arc by using the masculine form of the word, and hinting at some kind of connection to her sterility(that’s her deal, right?) and childbirth’s inherent relation to femininity?

    …Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

    I wouldn’t get it, but then again, I don’t think that would work in any case because its not grammatically correct. Then again, when has that stopped her?

  13. SubStandardDeviation on 21 July 2009, 22:31 said:

    ARGH the grammar mistakes in this article…

    Come to think of it, on a third(?) vicarious reading of this book, I’m not surprised at Bella’s reaction to school. Possibly the very reason she “doesn’t fit in” and that people “don’t understand her” is that she scorns the nice, normal people while pining after the unattainable elitists? ‘Course, in combination with her utter stupidity and obsessive, one-dimensional crushing on Sparklepoo, it makes her a thoroughly unlikeable character.

    Self-deprecation can work in small doses, but only among people who are already friends with you. In other words, not the first chapter of a novel.

  14. Steph the one who sucketh at lurking well. eth. on 13 August 2009, 08:06 said:

    AURGH, a grammar mistake in my last post!




  15. Musiclover on 17 January 2010, 15:23 said:

    Well, the girl who was smirking probably meant that the fact is that it’s from a girls’ point of view and so it wouldn’t make sense to someone if a boy was reading a book from a girls’ point of view. That’s just what I think.