The twilight saga is poorly written. Everybody says so. Even the non-writers are aware of this. The movie versions have yet to come to an end, but the books are already becoming a joke, as awkward, weird, or creepy stories we find online draw the comment, “Well, it’s still a better story than twilight!”
Yet somehow, in spite of everybody agreeing on how bad they were, those books managed to top the bestseller lists for quite a while. Edward and Bella were a hit. And although the novelty of the series has faded somewhat now, it was big enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if someday cultural historians used it to help define these past few years. But the question remains, if these books are really so very bad, then how did the “twilight phenomenon” ever happen?
I know for a fact that it’s NOT just Edward and Bella’s obsessive love for each other, like some people think it is. When I read the first twilight book, I was slightly older than Meyer’s target audience, and even at my worst, I’d never been a gushy, romantic teenager who expected to faint in a guy’s arms. Consequently, I never did fall in love with Edward. I had a hard time picturing someone who had circles under his eyes all the time but was still attractive, so I found him a little weird. Also, he seemed kind of distant at first, not particularly romantic. Then I found out he was stalking Bella, and that was weird. Then his conversations morphed into discussions of vampire back story, and that was also weird. Then Bella almost died, and I was glad she didn’t, and then she told Edward she wanted to be a vampire, and I thought, “Are you crazy? No you don’t.”
But in spite of being aware at the time of some of some flaws in the book I was reading, I could not put it down. I read the entire book nearly in one sitting, only stopping when my relatives I almost never see came over (I was on vacation at the time) and maybe once to get some food. And after I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. During the next week I stayed at a sort of camp, so I had plenty of fun and distractions, but whenever I was walking to or from somewhere, I was thinking about twilight. Half the songs I heard made me think of twilight. I scarcely thought about my own stories at all, only how I would have re-written the ending of twilight. I kept thinking how this one girl in my group looked like she might be a vampire. I felt like a twilight zombie.
At the end of the week I came back to my relatives’ house. They also had New Moon.
It was the same story all over again. I saw flaws in the story. I saw inconsistencies between books two and one. I was convinced by the end that Bella’s relationship with Edward didn’t make nearly as much sense as the one she now had with Jacob. By the time I finished it, I was getting pretty sick of being obsessed with vampires, so I didn’t dare read the first chapter for Eclipse because I knew if I did I’d read the whole thing.
It took me a while to completely purge my system of twilight, before I was safely back into my own stories again rather than trying to figure out ways they could make Edward back into a human. I even thought that maybe he should kill himself so she could forget him and be happy with Jacob, because he’d at least had it figured out at one point that she’d be better of with someone else.
Looking back on this time of my life, I’m amazed at how someone like me, who was not the type to swoon, could still so swept in by such a poorly plotted story. How did that happen to me, and to everybody else who read those books? And how was it that years later, when I picked up Meyer’s spinoff novela, which had a much more gruesome and twisted plot than the other stories I’d read, I still couldn’t put it down? I read through nearly all of it and skimmed to the end in one sitting, and then felt thoroughly disgusted with myself because I’d just read almost two hundred pages from the perspective of a vampire serial killer who even killed during the story. That wasn’t like me. I don’t even like vampires. So how did that happen?
The only conclusion I could come to was that, along with all the other things Stephanie Meyer had done “wrong” that I could point out, she must have done something else very right. Whatever it takes to write the addictive story, she had it in there, and it didn’t matter how much else she messed up on, we readers were hooked.
Someday I will read twilight again. I will go through it and see if I can figure out what it was that didn’t let me stop reading, so that as a writer, I can learn from it. My current theory, not having read the series in a while, is that Meyers did it by reminding us that Bella didn’t know what would happen next. If I had one word to describe Bella at the beginning of her story, it would be “unsettled.” She didn’t know what living with her dad would be like, or what her new high school would be like, and she worried about it. She anticipated what would happen next, and a part of me just needed find out whether she was right.
That need lasted throughout the entire story. When she began thinking Edward was different, she didn’t know what would happen next. When she went into the woods alone with him, she didn’t know what would happen next. And although at the time I was thinking, “Wait, what are you doing. If this doesn’t work out, you do realize you’ll be DEAD, right?” I had to go into the woods along with her. I had to see what would happen next.
So, that’s my current belief about what makes twilight so popular. But if anybody else would be willing to share other ideas for what made twilight so addictive, I’d appreciate that very much, because I’m still trying to figure it out myself.