Past articles may be found here and here

Opening Thoughts

Right now, I’m waiting in the Atlanta airport to board the flight back to my anonymous hometown. I arrived in Atlanta at 4:54 PM from Pittsburgh, where I attended Confluence, the Sci-Fi convention that concludes the Alpha workshop. If you looked in my backpack, you would find the following books:

Shadowbridge, by Gregory Frost
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
In The Forest of Forgetting, a collection of short stories by Theodora Goss
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
Como agua para chocolate, de Laura Esquivel,
Like Water for Chocolate, the English translation of Como agua para chocolate
Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce
and __Pride and Prejudice and Zombies_, by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith

At the workshop I met three of these authors, (Greg Frost, Dora Goss, and Tamora Pierce), all of whom were interesting people. Then, at Confluence, I met John Scalzi,.

So, in brief, I spent the past week with a group of talented, enthusiastic teenage writers, enjoying the company of professional authors.

But I am now no longer in Pittsburgh. I am in Atlanta. The time is 5:42 PM. And as I wait for my flight, the book that is not in my backpack, but propped open next to my laptop, is Twilight.

Chapter Three: Phenomenon

When we last saw Bella, she was trying to make sense of a mysterious conversation with Edward- the first time she’d talked to him ever. Chapter three begins when Bella wakes up the next morning, oddly excited about going to school. What could have caused this? Any guesses?

If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid. (p. 54)

Well, at least she acknowledges it.

However, Bella’s spirits are dampened somewhat by the previous night’s snowfall. She nearly kills herself on the slippery driveway, but Charlie was kind enough to put chains on her tuck’s tires, so she has no problem driving to school.

On the road, Bella has a moment of introspection, which took me by surprise.

I distracted myself from my fear of falling and my unwanted speculations about Edward Cullen by thinking about Mike and Eric, and the obvious difference in how the teenage boys responded to me here. I was sure I looked exactly the same as I had in Phoenix. Maybe it was just that the boys back home had watched me pass slowly through all the awkward phases of adolescence and still thought of me that way. Perhaps it was because I was a novelty here, where novelties were few and far between. Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress. Whatever the reason, Mike’s puppy dog behavior and Eric’s Apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. (p. 55)

Let me take a step back for a moment. When I began Twilight, I knew it featured several boys falling suddenly and inexplicably in love with a shy, awkward, plain-looking girl: high-octane wish fulfillment for vicarious readers, and infuriating to everyone else. However, I thought there was more to Bella’s circumstances than appeared at first brush. In spite of Meyer’s indulgence, many girls can relate to Bella’s sudden and unwanted popularity because they themselves have experienced it. It’s all part of growing up. The sweet, innocent girl wakes up to find that she’s curvier than she used to be, and then, in English class, she notices the creepy, greasy-haired, chess club boy staring at her. Sound familiar? Developmental biology has descried that, in every girl’s adolescence, she must cope with the squicky, and often sudden realization that men want to fondle her. Some manage this more gracefully than other.

Anyway, from this perspective, Bella’s sudden popularity is not unjustified. She merely experienced the changes most girls undergo during puberty on her flight from Phoenix to Forks.

A cry goes up from my loyal readers, “Literary merit in Twilight? Surely you jest!”

Now, don’t go leaping to conclusions. I very much doubt that this metaphor intentional. The fact that Meyer tried to explain away the boy’s affection says, to me at least, that she recognized their unrealistic behavior and simply didn’t want to fix it (you know, and not writing a Sue). Humorless lampshade hanging does not a justification make. In addition, I must say, once you see for yourself the way Bella is written, the idea that she embodies the complex adolescent struggle between childhood and womanhood (the operative word there being “complex”) is just laughable. She experiences none of the confusion, none of the conflict, and none of the personal development that comes with growing up. It’s like proclaiming Star Wars, Episode II the quintessential love story.

Anyway, once done lampshade hanging, Bella arrives at school. As she’s getting out of her car, however, she receives a sudden shock: Edward Cullen is standing four cars away from her, staring at her with a look of horror on his face! Oh, and a pickup truck is about to crush her. One page of passably-written action scene later, and we find Edward kneeling on top of Bella, holding the car above her legs, and a hand-shaped dent in the vehicle’s bumper. Edward then runs away.

The rest of the students are (understandably) freaked out, but Bella seems more concerned about the unwanted attention than her brush with mortality. Ambulances show up to take Bella to the hospital and she spends most of the ride fuming over Edward.

After a brief medical exam (Bella managed to avoid injury), Tyler, the boy who was driving the ill-fated car, visits her and spends several paragraphs apologizing. To Bella’s relief, Dr. Cullen (Edward’s father) soon takes Tyler away and tells her she’s free to leave. Bella then immediately seeks out Edward and begins to interrogate him about his superpowers. Edward tries to convince her he’s just a normal (if exceptionally pretty) high school student in a manner that makes it pretty damn obvious he’s lying.

“You owe me an explanation,” I reminded him.
“I saved your life— I don’t owe you anything.”

He was staring at me incredulously. But his face was tense, defensive. “You think I lifted a van off you?” His tone questioned my sanity, but it only made me more suspicious. It was like a perfectly delivered line by a skilled actor.
I merely nodded once, jaw tight.
“Nobody will believe that, you know.” His voice held an edge of derision now.
“I’m not going to tell anybody.” I said.
“Then why does it matter?”

Really, Edward? For a “skilled actor,” you really do suck at this. Remember what’s at stake (pun intended). Your entire family could be forced to uproot itself because you couldn’t fool a stupid mortal girl. You can do better.

Anyway, in the end, Bella goes home. Renée is in hysterics and Bella spends thirty minutes on the phone convincing her that everything is fine. After that, all tired from her big day, Bella goes to bed. She dreams of Edward.

Chapter 4: Invitations

Chapter four opens with a description of Bella wet Edward dream. It involved a lot of shadows and running.

She spends most of the next month (which is mercifully summarized) trying to get everyone to leave her alone. Tyler Crowley has now officially joined Mike and Eric in Bella’s fan club (you can roll your eyes with me). After much anguished deliberation, Bella has decided not to tell the entire school about Edward’s super powers. The man himself is again giving our heroine the cold shoulder, which is horrible. And, of course, he continues to intrude on her dreams.

Let me just get this out of the way now. Bella spends most of this chapter turning down Mike, Eric, and Tyler, who all decide to ask her to the “girls choice” dance on the same gorram day. Yep. I’m not making that up. So, rather than give a blow-by-blow account of Bella blowing off her groupies, I’m going to write a loosely-relevant rant about satellite characters.

So, what is a satellite character? According to TV Tropes, a satellite character is:

A character whose motivations and overall personality essentially revolve around their interaction with another […] character with whom they really should be on an equal standing.

Now that we’re clear on the terminology, let’s look at Mike Newton. It’s clear from the instant we meet him that he’s into Bella, and, from that moment on, this defines his character. Every time the narration mentions him, he’s either hitting on Bella, envying Edward, or glaring at Eric and Tyler.

I’ve already talked a lot about how unrealistic this entire scenario is, so I’m just going to brush over the suspension-of-disbelief issues. Suffice to say, if you don’t see anything wrong with three boys and a vampire all falling head-over-heels for a dull, unattractive girl they just met, you should get your head examined.

Rather, I’d like to point out the detrimental effect satellite characters have on the story. In Twilight, the results of poor characterization are a lot of near identical scenes in which Mike tries to be friendly and Bella pretends to enjoy his company. As you can probably imagine, this gets old rather quickly. Mike’s only goal is to be with Bella, and once it’s clear that Bella doesn’t give a rat’s ass about him, nothing he does will ever add any conflict or suspense to the story. Every scene he’s in becomes a chore to read through, since basically all he does is follow Bella around, hoping for a pity date. I am forced to conclude either that Meyer did not realize how boring this is, or she couldn’t conceive of a character with interests and aspirations beyond her Mary Sue.

Now, I am not saying that stories should develop every minor character. Their actions are not central to the narrative, and trying to completely flesh them out would distract from the main conflict. Stories belong to the main characters. However, under no circumstances should minor characters acknowledge this. No matter how peripheral to the narrative, no character should not behave as if the main characters are the center of the universe unless he has a really freaking good reason to (say he’s in a lord-vassal relationship, or the main character in question has scary powers). We don’t need to know every grisly detail of Mike Newton’s home life and backstory, but there should at least be hints that he has interests outside of Bella.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at Tyler who, in my opinion, is the most tolerable of Bella’s groupies. Why? Well, first off, he has an understandable reason for wanting to interact with Bella. He very nearly killed her, and wants to make up for it. Second, we have this conversation:

“Will you ask me to the spring dance?” he continued.
“I’m not going to be in town, Tyler.” […]
“Yea, Mike said that,” he admitted.
“Then why-”
He shrugged. “I was hoping you were just letting him down easy.”

It may not be brilliant characterization, but it shows, at least, that he’s not just another boy inexplicably smitten with Bella. To me, he comes off more as a cocky opportunist looking for a date, which is considerably more fun to read about. His characterization is not particularly deep, and nor do I think it should be. I certainly don’t sympathize with him (though the fact that he called out Miss Passive-Agressive on her conveniently scheduled road trip has endeared me to him somewhat). But his character can entertain me because his motives do not, by their very nature, put Bella on a pedestal. He says things that others won’t because they’re just so damn love-struck. In my opinion, this alone places him miles above Twilight’s other minor characters (and, sadly, many of the major characters).

Unfortunately, Tyler kind of blows it later on by unilaterally claiming Bella as his prom date, putting him back in lockstep with the other boys irrationally drawn to her. Congratz, Mrs. Meyer. You almost had an entertaining character.

The other minor characters are barely worth mentioning. Eric is a basically a more socially awkward version of Mike, and we don’t see much of him. Overall, the non-vampire girls do worse than the guys. Jessica’s single defining character trait appears to be her crush on Mike Newton, meaning that, whenever we see her, she’s either gushing about Mike or envying the attention he lavishes upon Bella. A satellite of a satellite. Angela, the only other named female non-vamp (aside from Bella’s mother), has not had any speaking lines yet, and, as far as I can tell, exists only so that Eric doesn’t end up sad and alone after Bella rejects him.

Incidentally, Edward and Bella are also satellites of each other, but I’m going to save my rant on their relationship for another chapter.

Anyway, back to the story. The same day all of the boys decide to ask her out, Bella has a brief and predictable encounter with Edward, who seems to think saying “it would be best if we weren’t friends” is going to counteract the allure of those smoldering, cream-inducing eyes. Once home, Bella ponders this development for a while. (A quick aside: the ellipses in the following passage do not mark words that I removed.)

“[Edward was] interesting…. and brilliant… and mysterious… and perfect… and beautiful… and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.”_

Moving right along, the next day, Edward offers to drive Bella to Seattle. Shock and Dazzle.

So ends chapter 4. Coming up next, we find out what happens when Bella sees blood. Stay tuned!

P.S. sorry for the delay. I was out of town for most of the month.

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Comment

  1. Romantic Vampire Lover on 18 August 2009, 05:08 said:

    Wonderful article, Arty, as usual. :D

  2. Puppet on 18 August 2009, 10:33 said:

    Ditto.^^

  3. RandomX2 on 18 August 2009, 11:05 said:

    Insightful and humorous.

    The perfect combination…

  4. ProserpinaFC on 18 August 2009, 12:41 said:

    Satellites galore and all as loony as real satellites.

    I cite the Master for how to make minor characters in a romance: The Taming of the Shrew.

    It’s Kate and Petruchio’s story, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t have stories. It just wouldn’t be romance or comedy if they didn’t. And their stories are actually important! Petruchio didn’t find Kate on his own, but was brought in to woe her by a secondary character’s Brilliant Plan.

    Kate’s innocent baby sister is beloved by every man in town, so when she’s expected to wait on her husband in return, she tells him “I’m busy”. Her character and her ACTIONS contrast Kate’s growth without it even being about Kate. It’s about Bianca and her hubby, but it reflects on Kate and hers. Secondary characters, but still with enough life of their own.

    Same goes with other secondaries, who had such vivid characters for such little time on stage that scholars have written essays about them and writers have rewritten the plays to feature them as main characters.

    I don’t think anyone’s gonna remember Mike and Jessica Newton 20 years from now, not even the gushing Twilight fangirls…

    But I will always remember Fred and George! cries and holds up a candle

  5. NeuroticPlatypus on 18 August 2009, 14:59 said:

    It seems like all the characters are satellite. The main characters are satellites of each other, and that’s just sad.

    Great article. I am also reading Twilight.

  6. SMARTALIENQT on 18 August 2009, 18:31 said:

    I am forced to conclude either that Meyer did not realize how boring this is, or she couldn’t conceive of a character with interests and aspirations beyond her Mary Sue.

    Consider Bella’s relationship stalker obsession with Edward. I’m going to bet on the latter.

    Nice article! Keep this up, this is great!

  7. Ari on 19 August 2009, 08:16 said:

    [Edward was] interesting…. and brilliant… and mysterious… and perfect… and beautiful… and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.

    God, please tell me that’s not actually in the book. It’s like lame fanfiction.

    Great job and nice analyzing, definitely.

  8. swenson on 19 August 2009, 10:38 said:

    Yeah, it’s really in the book. I remember it specifically for its dripping purple-ness.

    I never really noticed Tyler before… yeah, I agree that he almost is interesting. He has a legitimate interest in Bella (he nearly killed her), wasn’t immediately attracted to her but in trying to apologize apparently built up some sort of a care for her, and isn’t just revolving around Bella.

    Unfortunately, he does sort of fall apart with the whole prom thing later. Pity. He’s like most of the book… a great deal of promise that just gets destroyed.

  9. lawzard on 19 August 2009, 16:22 said:

    I’m pretty sure the puberty metaphor is unintentional since Bella is supposed to be very mature for her age.

    Anyway, I completely agree with you about the problem of satellite characters. Back when I was reading Twilight, I was utterly put off by how one dimensional all the characters are. The fact that we get so little insight into Bella’s character beyond “ZOMG EDWARD IS HOT” when she’s a first person narrator is pathetic.

    Great article! Keep up the good work!

  10. Artimaeus on 22 August 2009, 17:08 said:

    @ ari:
    Yep, it’s there. I know how it looks. I read it the first time and I had close the book and bite my finger to stop myself from laughing.

    @ Lawzard:
    Also, I’m sure that, had she thought of it, it would be on the back of her book. “Twilight, the dark, sensual, compelling story of a teenager finding true love and facing the challenges of growing up.”

  11. Danielle on 25 August 2009, 23:32 said:

    Great analysis. I don’t know if Twilight is worthy of the word “analysis,” though….

    Anyway, for a girl who’s supposed to be mature for her age, Bella is pretty immature. When she first arrives at her new high school, she acts like some of the girls who bullied me in junior high (ignoring the girl who’s trying to be nice to you, rolling your eyes at guys who seem to like you, etc.) so I don’t know how anyone can see her as a kind, selfless character. And the way she acts around Edward? Please. If I acted that way when I liked a guy, my mom would tell me to take a step backward, remember that I’m still pretty young and she doesn’t expect grandchildren just yet. That, and there are plenty of other fish in the sea who aren’t sparkly vampires.