Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Trending this week in Speculative Fiction: #TwilightHate
Herein lies, I think, an interesting point: my students are under the impression that there are rules for vampires. As a student not only of writing craft but of British literature, I find this interesting. After all, once Byron brought the "vampyre" into English consciousness in his Don Juan reference, it seems British writers were largely making up the rules as they went. By the time Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he had a wealth of invented English mythology as well as the older eastern European tales to draw from, but that didn't stop him from taking some license in creating his own count, nor did Anne Rice feel bound to his rules when, a century later, she wrote her best-selling novel Interview with a Vampire. Yet, I don't hear my students lodging the same complaint about those. I don't hear them saying, "but, Dr. Griffiths, vampires aren't Egyptian."
Of course, they tell me that their problems with Meyer's novel are based in the poor quality of the writing, but push them on this issue and I'm not sure they'll be able to articulate exactly what they mean by that. Judging from some of the other books they love, I'm guessing the problem isn't language or characterization. The Hunger Games, for instance, is another high-interest, plot-driven book, but it doesn't thrill me on the level of insight and lyricism in the way that Louise Erdrich's or Toni Morrison's work routinely does.
The problem, I believe, lies in the expectations they have for the book. The problem with a vampire sparkling is not a "bad writing" problem. It shows no failure of the imagination. What it violates for my students is the idea of the monster, and therein lies the issue. Their disappointment with Twilight has everything to do with generic expectation: they are looking for horror, but what Meyer is writing is romance. A monster may not sparkle, a romantic lead can... at least, for millions of her readers, he can. Twilight haters may not want a literally dazzling lover, but Twilight fans do.
I heard a really interesting discussion of the sparkling vampires on an episode (and I wish I could remember which it was... perhaps world building?) of Writing Excuses in which podcasters Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal discussed the plausibility issues with Meyer's vampires. They pointed out that she had taken away the classic vampire weakness, a fatal sensitivity to light, and given them nothing in return, except perhaps a overwhelming sensitivity to ennui. Why, they asked, wouldn't such creatures take over the world? It's a great question, but I wonder if again it highlights the expectations of horror and other speculative fiction readers, with their insistence on plausibility in the worlds that their fiction creates, rather than those of romance readers, who ultimately want love to triumph over plausibility.
In the end, though, what I love about Writing Excuses is that they always come back to the same ideal in their writing tips: write what you feel is awesome. However much we may disagree with her artistic choice, Meyer did that for her romance and found a huge market who shared her desire. For those of us in other genres? Well, perhaps we won't be writing sparkling monsters any time soon, but if we too adhere to discovering what's awesome, perhaps we can learn something from Meyer's novel after all.