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.

1 comment:

  1. I give you 2 LOLs this time. Bravo!

    First LOL: Of course, no-one wants to read repetitive writing. But writing the same old crap with different words is still repetitive.

    2nd LOL: 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.

    And I learn a new word today.