August 25, 2010

Twilight: Look! Up in the sky!

Twilight, pp. 58-67

So, after finding out that Edward's rescue left an Edward-shaped dent in the tan car Bella was nearly smashed against--another dent that no-one but Bella ever notices--we deal with the aftermath.

First, Bella argues with Edward about how he reached her so quickly (and not about how he stopped a speeding van with--okay, okay, sorry) until the ambulance shows up to take her away. Next, her father shows up at the hospital, filled with concern for his daughter, so she does the only appropriate thing: She 'tune[s] him out' so she can think about Edward. Then, the driver of the van is wheeled into place next to her, and he demands to know how Bella was able to get out of the way so fast. I guess I'm confused here, but after having both seen the movie and read the book, it's clear Bella didn't get out of the way at all. Edward got between her and the van and physically pushed it to a stop. Again, though, no-one appeared to take note of this, including Bella herself, despite the fact that the entire parking lot watched this occur. (Note that the van's driver saw Bella quickly move out of the way--ignoring for the moment the fact that she didn't--but failed to notice Edward stop the van with his bare hands.) The driver is apologetic, even though it was an accident and Bella was not seriously injured, so Bella responds by ignoring him as well.

Dr. Cullen puts in an appearance, and...well, I don't have much to say about him. As I noted in a previous entry, the other Cullens are pretty bland and indistinguishable, at least in this first novel. The only giggle-inducing moment is that '[h]e was young', and indeed, in the film he looks practically the same age as Edward. So a man who looks to be in his late twenties at most has adopted a bunch of high-school kids. This doesn't turn any heads, in this small town that supposedly annoys Charlie with its gossip?

They're pretty forgiving up there in Washington.

Dr. Cullen tells Bella she is free to go, so she demands to speak to Edward alone ('Your father is waiting for you,' Edward says, but I think we all know how much weight that statement carries with our Bella) to go over the 'how did you move so fast?' thing again, though at least this time she does toss in that he bench-pressed a van. To add to the hilarity, Edward, who has consistently lied to Bella about where he was standing, balks at lying to her about stiff-arming the van, instead responding with the non-denial 'Nobody will believe that, you know.' That's okay, though, because

'I'm not going to tell anybody.' I said each word slowly, carefully controlling my anger.

Surprise flitted across his face. 'Then why does it matter?'

'It matters to me,' I insisted. 'I don't like to lie--so there'd better be a good reason why I'm doing it.'

Raise your hand if you think he gives her a good reason, or any reason at all. No-one? Good, you've been paying attention. It's even funnier because we know that Bella's definition of a good reason to lie is pretty generous. Plus, and I hate to point this out--oh, who I am kidding?--but in this case, she isn't actually lying. She's choosing not to tell people what she saw, which is understandable since what she saw was impossible and she did suffer head trauma. So far, no-one has asked her, 'Bella, did you see Edward display superhuman strength and speed?' Imagine you saw your boss momentarily float in midair in the middle of the office and then decided not to tell anybody what you thought you'd seen, as none of your co-workers apparently saw it. Is that lying?

This has been such a heart-warming conversation for Edward and Bella that they 'scowl at each other in silence', a silence Bella breaks with a meta-Freudian slip.

'Why did you even bother?' I asked frigidly.

Okay, Novel. If you're going to make the jokes, can I stop reading?

Bella, 'not in the mood for chitchat' such as her father's question, 'What did the doctor say?', 'barely knew Charlie was there' as he takes the ungrateful brat home. She eventually reveals that she is 'consumed by the mystery Edward presented', and I have to admit to be a little intrigued by this mystery as well. Why is he such a colossal jerk? Why does he attend high school? What does he see in an average high school girl that he hasn't encountered in the previous century?

I was consumed by the mystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edward himself.

Oh, really? I hadn't noticed.

August 17, 2010

Twilight: When an Irresistible Plot Device Meets an Emotionless Object

Twilight, pp. 53-57

I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends. 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.

You know, as I go through this book a second time, I hate it a lot more. With the tide of badness washing over you, it's easy to miss the little things. Take this paragraph here.

First, I had no idea the phrase 'throw down' referred to eating. I know its literal meaning, and I know it's a seldom-used euphemism for fighting, but I didn't know people referred to eating food quickly as 'throwing down'. I got a good laugh, though, by my literal reading of the phrase. I pictured Bella, in a chipper mood for the first time in the story, cheerfully making a bowl of cereal and then throwing it on the floor. Then, rather than throwing the carton of orange juice down after it, she pours some juice into her hand and throws that on the floor. Go ahead, picture it. Might as well get some amusement out of this thing. (No, I didn't picture her fighting with her cereal, but that would've been awesome.)

Notice how, yet again, Bella utterly dismisses people she calls friends, who have been nothing but considerate and friendly despite her generally gloomy demeanour and cutting remarks. Maybe this is an accurate portrayal of an average teenager (though I remember liking my friends, and even wanting to see them on occasion), but it comes off as a kind of psychosis. Edward is the only thing that matters, and every other contact is all but shut out. Whenever she's not talking to Edward, she's thinking about Edward, even when other people are talking to her. I don't know how she continues to pass her classes, since she treats schoolwork the same way she treats her friends (as distractions from Edward). In fact, this is yet another point at which I can see an interesting direction the novel might have taken. (Go ahead, try it yourself.) What if Bella, the socially inexperienced girl with excellent marks, falls so hard for Edward that her grades start to slip, jeopardising her future?

But no, that would introduce some conflict into the story, since Edward would then not be perfect for Bella. It really is a mark of how much vampires have been neutered in contemporary culture. Edward can lust for human blood, but he can't cause Bella to get a B in chemistry!

I'm beginning to suspect Charlie is a very private man and is also constantly busy so that Meyer doesn't have to portray Bella shutting him out as she does her friends. Throughout the book (and, I'm given to understand, in future stories as well), Charlie comes off as the most sympathetic character. We see another example of this here:

Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck.

Chief Swan comes off as a decent, loving father, and Bella remains self-centred, deceitful, and ungrateful.

We also see also another instance of Bella's maddening contradictory traits. She breezes through all her classes, an advanced prep, straight-A student, but she is 'scared' because she is 'excited about going to school'.

And I was suspicious of [Edward]; why should he lie about his eyes?

Bella here is referring to Edward's evasiveness about his eyes changing colour--to what end, I've no idea--but I still find it amusing that his lie about not having a chance to introduce himself gets a pass. Then there's this gem:

...Mike's puppy dog behaviour and Eric's apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn't sure if I didn't prefer being ignored.

So when Mike sat next to Bella and escorted her to her next class while Eric looked on with jealousy, 'that was flattering', but now the exact same behaviour is 'disconcerting'. What's happened here?

Well you see, Oh My Brothers, now Bella has Edward, who is higher up in the food chain. So now the other two boys' desire for Bella and their rivalry with each other is meaningless, and hence their antics now annoy Bella.

Now we get another moment that made me laugh out loud the first time I saw the
Twilight film. But first, the set-up.

Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn't even have time to close my eyes.
But a lot of other people had time to hear the sound of the brakes, turn to look, recognise what is happening, and assume shocked expressions. Unless 'a sea of' people were already all looking at Bella. And surely that wouldn't be the case.

Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt something solid and cold pinning me to the ground.

I hope you see the romance in 'Edward violently shoves Bella into hard surfaces', because this won't be the last time we'll see it.

I was lying on the pavement behind the tan car I'd parked next to. But I didn't have a chance to notice anything else, because the van was still coming. It had curled gratingly around the end of the truck and, still spinning and sliding, was about to collide with me again.

A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice was impossible not to recognise. Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body.

Wow, two unnecessary adverbs in the same sentence! Meyer has outdone herself. (Plus, 'providentially' is used incorrectly, given what Bella says about the dents [sic] later.) Bella is fine, of course, and there are some words exchanged to this effect, during which Edward speaks in a 'low, frantic voice' and assumes a 'concerned, innocent expression'. Some vampire. When Father Callahan lamented the world no longer had Evil for him to confront, just evil, the vampire Barlow showed him the error of his thinking in 'Salem's Lot's most powerful scene. ('Come, false priest. Learn of a true religion. Take my communion!')* One gets the feeling Callahan's faith would be more than adequate to send Edward fleeing back to his coffin--err, crypt--err, stately Cullen manor just outside of town.

Then we get the novel's version of one of my favourite moments in the
Twilight film:

'How in the...' I trailed off, trying to clear my head, get my bearings. 'How did you get over here so fast?'

'I was standing right next to you, Bella,' he said, his tone serious again.

I'm not sure exactly why I find this exchange so hilarious, but I do. After Edward stops a speeding van with his bare hands, Bella demands to he reached her so quickly. I can't tell you how hard I laughed once I realised she was never going to bring up his superhuman strength and durability, not to Edward or to anyone else. She will pursue him relentlessly about how he got from where she saw him standing to where she was, but she never thinks to herself that it's a wee bit strange that he was able to stop an out-of-control vehicle barrelling towards him just by pushing on it. No, the reason her puzzler hurts is that he seemed to be standing far away. He mentions that she has a concussion and that's why she doesn't realise where he was (frankly, not a bad explanation), but she's convinced.

To be fair, the novel does have Bella bring up his leaving hand-prints in the side of the van from pushing it to a stop, but only later, in the hospital, and after she's harped on the 'how were you there so
fast?' bit.

I'm sorry, but I'd sooner demand an explanation of 'you stopped a speeding van with your bare hands' than 'I thought you were standing over

*We'll just ignore Callahan's appearance in the later
Dark Tower books. Should be easy to do, since after reading the later Dark Tower books, I slammed my head into the desk until I dislodged all memory of them.
**Good thing nobody notices the van has two hand-shaped dents in it, eh?

August 10, 2010

Twilight: Am I Annoying You?

Twilight, pp. 43-50

At last, twenty pages after they met, Our Heroes will speak to each other. Strap yourselves in. It's not going to be pleasant.

'Hello,' said a quiet, musical voice.

I looked up, stunned that he was speaking to me. He was sitting as far away from me as the desk allowed, but his chair was angled toward me....

'My name is Edward Cullen,' he continued. 'I didn't have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.'

Again with sitting far away from the icky girl. I guess vampires can still get cooties.

As I mentioned previously, Stephenie [sic] Meyer has a number of the bad habits of a novice writer. I hate to keep pointing them out, but really, as unprofessional a product as this deserves to be called out for this sort of thing. I noted before that Stephen King likely loathes Meyer's writing because it exhibits in spades so many annoying bits of bad writing that his On Writing warns against. This time, I won't go on about the overflowing adverbs (well, not too much). Instead, I'll go with the dialogue words.

King wrote that there is rarely any reason to use any such word besides 'said'. 'She agreed' is a word you use when you're omitting the dialogue in question, not one to be tacked onto the dialogue. Since this is a dialogue-heavy scene, Meyer's egregious misuse of dialogue words slaps you in the face with a living trout. No-one can merely 'say' anything. They must, instead, 'agree', 'disagree', 'continue', 'correct', 'command', 'challenge', 'blurt out', 'persist', 'insist', 'press', 'ask', 'answer', 'reply', 'mutter', 'murmur', 'mumble', 'admit', or 'surmise'. This is in only eight pages, mind you.

This is symptomatic of neophyte fiction writers' confusion of variety with skill. (Neophyte nonfiction writers often confuse obscure words with skill. So do many professors.) Of course, no-one wants to read repetitive writing. But writing the same old crap with different words is still repetitive. The reader should understand from context whether your characters are challenged, persisting, pressing, answering, or admitting. There are exceptions (a character just making the scene might 'bellow' rather than merely 'say' that she killed the hero's brother and is now going to kill him), but generally, less is more. Let the reader infer that a character is surmising, or pressing another character on a point. Describe characters' body language: A character admitting a point may draw back a little, while a character agreeing might nod slightly while speaking. Help the reader visualise your scene. A common mistake in writing is to think the audience won't 'get it'. Of course, being too obscure can also be a problem, but again, less is usually more. At least if you're a little on the obscure side, your reader doesn't feel insulted that you're explaining everything to her like she's in grade school. Trust your reader.

Moving on from the bad writing, let's talk about the reprehensible characters. Notice here that Edward 'didn't have a chance to introduce myself last week'. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie, since Edward had ample time to do this. He met Bella in class, and if he didn't want to talk to her during a lecture (the century-old vampire being intimidated, no doubt, by the aura of authority that emanates from your average public high school teacher), he saw her again in the embarrassing 'put me in a different class' scene. I'm not sure why Meyer wants Romeo's first words to Juliet to form a lie. Even 'We got off on the wrong foot last week' would be better, though it still ignores that Edward was a jerk for no reason. What he really should be saying is, 'I'm sorry I behaved like an utter twat before', but that would require an acknowledgement of imperfection in our Edward.

Bella, naturally, will not call Edward out on this lie since she herself is a chronic fibber. Instead, she likely files this deception away for a future passive-aggressive episode.

The soon-to-be couple then go through the tiresome Bella-Isabella rigmarole one more time and then complete a biology lab assignment together. (Well, not so much 'work together' as 'separately complete the assignment and then try to one-up each other on getting it right'.) The unnecessary adverbs come fast and thick for these two pages, and there's a hilarious bit when he grabs her hand and his fingers both are 'ice-cold' and give her a feeling like 'an electric current', which seems like it would generate a feeling of heat, if only momentarily. Our heroes finish the lab long before anyone else, without error, and correspondingly annoy the teacher, who instantly deduces from this one correctly completed lab that Bella was in advanced placement in Phoenix. Sherlock Holmes has nothing on this biology teacher!

Edward then asks Bella a series of questions, including why she came to Forks. Actually, a few times he asks questions, while at other times he makes assumptions and states them as fact. Some of these are warranted, like his brilliant 'You don't like the cold' when she says she's not unhappy that the snow melted away. Others are not, as when she tells him that her stepfather travels frequently and he assumes that her mother sent her away(!!).

Bella's stepfather is, she tells us, a baseball player. In a moment that made me laugh out loud, Edward asks, 'Have I heard of him?' Yes, Edward Cullen may drink the blood of the living and sleep in a coffin during the day, but he knows his Major League Baseball, hellish unlife or no hellish unlife! Actually, he doesn't drink human blood or sleep in a coffin or even seem affected by daylight, and his unlife, while hellish to me personally (perpetual high school in the Pacific Northwest sounds like something Satan would cook up in anticipation of my demise), doesn't seem like the fate of a damned soul. But he is a vampire. Really.

Sadly enough, that crack about Edward being a baseball fan is...well, that's coming.

Determined to make me loathe the main character further, Meyer has Bella say that her stepfather is not in the major leagues because 'he doesn't play well' (emphasis original) and is therefore '[s]trictly minor league.'

Meyer has some real cajones here, dismissing minor league athletes for being unskilled when she has the writing skills of a penguin with a concussion. Not being in the major leagues doesn't mean one doesn't play well. It means, at worst, that one isn't among the top 1% in the world for that sport. (I won't even get into the huge helping of luck anyone needs to break into the major leagues, in addition to a whole lot of talent.) Take any given player from any minor league in the country, and that person is a better player of her chosen sport than Meyer is a storyteller.

I tried to play ice hockey when I was in my early twenties. I was terrible, but nothing teaches you about any sport like playing it yourself. I played in a pick-up game with a fellow who skated circles around everyone else on the ice. Of the sixteen or so of us taking part in the game, he was clearly at the top, and no-one else was even close. He was good enough that he was eventually offered a spot on a European team. A few weeks later, I saw him go head-to-head with a player from the Columbia Inferno, the local East Coast Hockey League team. The ECHL is on the lowest tier of American professional hockey, below the American Hockey League (which is itself a minor league, below the major league, the National Hockey League). This minor leaguer made the guy from my pick-up game look like he was standing still. He beat him every time, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. The professional player was just as untouchable to him as he had earlier been to the people in the pick-up game I played it. A minor leaguer, part of the lowest level of North America's professional hockey, outclassed every amateur at the local rink by a large margin. Later he played in that rink's amateur tournament (having retired from professional play at this point), and the organisers put all the least skilled and least experienced players on his team as a handicap. His team won the tournament anyway, because he was unstoppable, even by the team the organisers put together made up of all the best amateur players so they would be sure to win.

Minor league players are no joke, and to see a hack writer like Stephenie Meyer dismiss them as untalented when she herself can barely write a grammatical sentence irritates me. Fortunately, Edward acts like a buffoon in the next couple of lines, and my irritation fades as I laugh at the idiocy of the supposedly suave vampire.

'...He moves around a lot.'

'And your mother sent you here so that she could travel with him.' He said it as an assumption again, not a question.

My chin raised [sic] a fraction. 'No, she did not send me here. I sent myself.'

His eyebrows knit together. 'I don't understand,' he admitted...

What's not to understand, you twit? Your first assumption is that a mother sent her daughter away? Sure, that happens, but should that really be your first guess? Maybe Bella didn't want to travel around. Or, as it turns out, she might leave so her mother would be free to travel around. Really, though, what's so hard to understand about 'I sent myself' in this context? Is it the best or even a sensible way to put it? No, but the meaning is pretty clear. I also got a good laugh out of the misuse of the verb 'to raise'. I'm picturing Bella's chin lifting up a giant pink fraction (that fraction being 3/4 in my imagination) against her will while she frantically looks around for someone to help push her chin back down and get the fraction off it.

More pap to make younger readers identify with Bella (that being so much easier to write than 'character' stuff):

His gaze became appraising. 'You put on a good show,' he said slowly. 'But I'd be willing to be that you're suffering more than you let anyone see.'

I swear, it's like Meyer's speaking to me.

'Am I annoying you?' he asked. He sounded amused.

We Are Not Amused.

August 3, 2010

Twilight: Guess Who's Back, Back Again?

Twilight, pp. 37-42
Edward Cullen didn't come back to school.

Every day, I watched anxiously until the rest of the Cullens entered the cafeteria without him. Then I could relax and join in the lunchtime conversation. Mostly it centred around a trip to the La Push Ocean Park in two weeks that Mike was putting together. I was invited, and I had agreed to go, more out of politeness than desire.

So we open in typical Bella fashion: pining for the missing Edward, but still keeping another guy on the line just in case. (To paraphrase Chris Rock, Mike is Bella's Penis In A Glass Case: Open in case of loneliness.) I hope you like this paragraph, because New Moon is just those four awkward sentences stretched into one awkward novel.

In the next paragraph, though, she's fine with Edward not being in Biology and feels '[m]ore comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here.' Of course, as soon as her abuser makes the scene, her heart will again be all aflutter. So she worries about having to deal with him and is happier when he's not there, but she'll be thrilled when he reappears.

I might be getting into some dangerous speculation here, but I think Bella might just be a Drama Queen.

We interrupt this examination of the protagonist's thorough unlikeability for this special look at the novel's bad writing.

Got extra adverbs you've no use for? Trying to get rid of them? Send them over to Stephenie Meyer! She'll find a way to use them, whether they're needed or not!

'I...wrote my mom a bogusly cheerful email.' (Bonus points for inventing an entirely new adverb to use unnecessarily!)
'Haven't you ever seen snow fall before?' he asked

Try to have one per page. And hey, how about nonsensical narration?

Sure, [snow] was drier than rain -- until it melted in your socks.

What does that mean? What does that even mean? Snow, which is water, is drier than rain, which is also water. Huh? Did Paul W.S. Anderson do a draft of this novel? drier than rain. Wow. I can't believe somebody wrote that. Mrs. Meyer failed grade school science, right? I mean, her degree is in English.* So she may not know that ice can no more be drier than water than a cow can be meatier than beef. But the editor should have cau--oh, that's right. I forget sometimes.

Anyway, back to the Bella-bashing.

So Bella, who is totally okay with Edward not being there, immediately checks his table in the cafeteria. (Again, why do the vampires sit in the cafeteria every day not-eating?) To the shock of absolutely no-one, Edward is now there, and Bella of course immediately flips out. (teh drama!) Her friends ask her what's wrong with her. They're asking with, we're told, 'unnecessary concern', even though she stares at the floor, refuses to eat, and tells them she feels sick. I'd say it's time for an intervention by the Drama Police.

[The Cullens] were laughing. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett all had their hair entirely saturated with melting snow. Alice and Rosalie were leaning away from Emmett as Edward shook his dripping hair toward them. They were enjoying the snowy day, just like everyone else--only they looked more like a scene from a movie than the rest of us.

But aside from the laughter and playfulness, there was something different....

Let's ignore yet another unnecessary adverb ('entirely'). Let's ignore the contrast between Bella's inability to remember the names of her supposed friends while she's in conversation with them and her ability to remember and recite the vampires' names after once hearing her friend list them a week ago. I want to focus on two things here: the laughter and *shudder* the playfulness.

Yes, these are two words that immediately spring to mind when I think of vampires. The eternally damned are nothing if not fun-loving types who live unlife to the fullest.

You know, I've had a few people tell me they enjoy Twilight because it's the first time they were exposed to vampires. Every time I hear this, I don't know whether to weep in despair or scream in rage. (Pretty much the same reaction I have to any given Lady Gaga song.) Imagine that you were a huge fan of Jackie Chan, and every once in a while you met another fan. Only these fans' first Jackie Chan movie was The Tuxedo. They've never heard of Police Story or Drunken Master, but man, that Spy Next Door was some great stuff. You're a little crestfallen. The spring goes out of your step. Because not only have these 'fans' only seen Chan at his worst, but now that they have, they may not be able to un-see his worst when--no, if--they ever get round to seeing Armour of God.

That's how I feel every time someone tells me their first exposure to vampires was this trash. Not because it's bad. Yes, it's bad, but that's not enough. No, like Chan in The Spy Next Door, its vampires are nothing like what made them legends. They're not dangerous. They're not menacing. They don't threaten your soul with spiritual destruction, a far greater horror than merely being killed. All the subtext is gone, and with it, all interest. These vamposters are boring.

Oh, and playful. Don't forget playful.

It's one thing to be a pale shadow of your former self. It's another to be something else entirely, with no connection to what you once were.

* No, really! The writer of this tripe has a degree in creative writing. The mind boggles. Now, one of those screenplay classes Charlie Kaufman had to sit through to get ideas for adapting The Orchid Thief--that I could buy. Maybe.