October 7, 2012

Twilight: Paging Mary Sue

Twilight, pp. 127-128.

Now that Bella has had the plot explained to her (the plot being "Edward is a Good Vampire"), it's time to get back to her favourite activity that doesn't involve Edward: humiliating Mike!

"There you are, Bella," Mike called in relief, waving his arm over his head.

"Is that your boyfriend?" Jacob asked, alerted by the jealous edge in Mike's voice. I was surprised it was so obvious.

"No, definitely not," I whispered. I was tremendously grateful to Jacob, and eager to make him as happy as possible. I winked at him, carefully turning away from Mike to do so. He smiled, elated by my inept flirting.

You know, with all the big bad going on in this book, I find myself continually surprised by how much the little things get to me. Relief? What, he thought he'd lost her? She and Jacob walked along the beach for all of 20 minutes! Mike could still see them from where he was. It's not like they disappeared into the woods. And if he really did lose her, he can just call or text her. Oh wait, he can't because Bella apparently doesn't have a mobile. In 2005. It's inexcusable. Again, maybe I could buy this if Bella grew up in Forks, but are we to believe Bella almost finished high school in Phoenix without a mobile?

Of course, the reason Bella doesn't have a mobile is that Stephenie Meyer didn't have a mobile when she was in high school. This goes back to a writer's need to think about what a character would do, not what she would do. Novice writers are often told "Write what you know." Like a lot of simple, commonsense advice, it's misleading. What it ought to mean is "Don't write about stuff you haven't taken the trouble to learn about beforehand." That way you won't be embarrassed by having people or events in your story that are utterly unbelievable. However, it's often used to mean "Write about experiences that you yourself have had", the idea being that this will make your writing sound authentic to the reader.

But that only works if you're pretty much fictionalising your own life. This approach worked for Oliver Stone, whose Platoon is a fictionalised version of his experiences serving in the Imperial military during the Vietnam War. He was writing about his own life, and Platoon does carry an air of authenticity. What Stone couldn't have done was set Platoon during the Persian Gulf War, because everything about it is different. The Vietnam War was a protracted low-intensity conflict fought primarily in the jungle and primarily against guerillas. The Persian Gulf War was a short, high-intensity conflict fought in the desert against a conventional military force. Not to mention the character of military service in the Empire had changed quite a bit, as the army serving in Vietnam was a mixed volunteer/conscript force, as against the Persian Gulf's all-volunteer military. If Stone had thought to himself, "Well, I was in the military during Vietnam, so I can writing authentically about the Persian Gulf", he'd have looked like an ass. If Stone ever decides to make a film about the Persian Gulf War--or the Iraq War, which in some ways resembles the Vietnam War--he'll start out by doing lots and lots of research on that war.

That's right, research. Fiction writers--well, the good ones--do research. A lot of it. That way, when their doctors start talking, they sound like doctors. When their firefighters need to do something, they do what actual firefighters do. If you don't research this, if you just wing it on what you've picked up through cultural osmosis, your lawyers will sound unprofessional, your business people will make decisions guaranteed to make them fail, and your scientists will be wealthy eccentrics who do Science! by pouring coloured liquid from this beaker into that beaker. And your readers will know you're lazy, because even if they aren't cops themselves, they can tell if a character sounds like a real cop or not. Those readers who actually are cops will be laughing uproariously at everything you get wrong.

So Oliver Stone would do research. He wouldn't just assume his own experiences from 20 years earlier will suffice. Meyer, on the other hand, couldn't be bothered to put any effort into writing this novel. Research? P-shaw! Ten years ago, she was a high school girl. Write what you know! I know what it's like to be a high school girl. Authenticity!

That's what's going on here. Meyer didn't bother to find out what a teenager's life is like now, and so Bella is firmly trapped in the magical land of early '90s angst.

I've got it! Twilight is My So-Called Life fanfiction!

Meyer is also lazy with her first-person narrative, telling us matter-of-factly why Jacob did something. Bella doesn't have access to Jacob's mind. All she can do is guess that he's asking his rather odd question because of how jealously Mike says, "There you are, Bella." (That's quite a feat, by the way. How do you make such an innocuous statement sound jealous?) But it would've been harder to write this scene if it were actually confined to Bella's perspective, so Meyer just breaks the fourth wall and lets her fauxtagonist know what she knows. Beats the heck out of that "writing" stuff.

Also, it's rather appalling that Bella is so grateful to Jacob and so concerned with making him happy that she doesn't stop flirting with him. Which makes a crock out of her next lie...err, statement:

"You should come see me in Forks. We could hang out sometime." I felt guilty as I said this, knowing that I'd used him. But I really did like Jacob. He was someone I could easily be friends with.

Not guilty enough to stop using him, I guess.

The Forks kids are leaving, so it's time for Bella to depart. Jacob taunts Mike over Bella's flirting with him instead of Mike (what a guy!), and Bella makes sure to sit with people who won't talk to her so she can be think about Edward, despite her claim that she's trying not to. (If you're really trying to avoid brooding, how about, I don't know, talking to your friends?) And with that, Chapter 6 comes to a close.

1 comment:

  1. Well, if she was really wanting to look like the 90's, she would have given her a "bag phone" for emergencies. Haha
    I can see how someone would get lost on a beach, I mean there are so many thongs to hide behind. or maybe she got buried in the sand. she would need someone to be thinking Bella maybe in trouble , let's check in case she's buried in the sand or stranded behind a sand dune.