Monday, June 15, 2009

Mentor Monday: My Deep Dark Secret

My name is Muriel and I'm a Twilight-aholic. I know what you're saying. You think you know someone... Then you learn something about them you wish you'd never heard...

Stephen King led me to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. He was quoted as saying something like, "The difference between Stepahine Meyer and J.K. Rowling is that J.K. Rowling knows how to write." I was intrigued. I would be giving a workshop on analyzing manuscripts and so I thought, if King was right, Twilight might be a good example of what not to do. A friend lent me the book on CD and, as I listened, I did find myself getting thrown out of the story by some of the writing. However, you can't take good notes when you're riding around in your car listening to a recording. So, I bought the book.

I read it again, Post-it page markers in hand, so I could mark what I perceived as weaknesses. I found a lot of them. Twilight began to look like a college student's text before the final exam. Dozens of orange Post-its floated from the edges of the pages.

So what bugged me? Meyer's preface has a dynamite opening: "I'd never given much thought to how I would die... The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me."

If this is the climax of the story, wow! What kid wouldn't want to read on? But...

The first chapter takes us back to the beginning of the plot. This is a love story. Meyer has taken the familiar nice-girl-falls-for-bad-boy plot to a new level. The Bad Boy is a vampire. A complicated vampire. A GOOD vampire. And our heroine is the only one who knows about this duality.

Eventually, following the dilemmas that only this sort of romance can cause, our heroine, Bella, faces death. But the author never brings us back to that moment on page one. The circle is never completed. I felt that the preface was tacked on after the rest of the book had been written.

The young lovers are compelling characters. I believe this is why Megan Tingley, the editor, might have seen promise in this book. Meyer didn't do as well with her minor characters. They spend a great deal of plot time in the high school cafeteria, staring into space. We learn little about their personalities and yet they all become integral to the climax of the story.

What bugged me the most, however, was the out-of-date style of much of the dialogue. It's perfectly sensible to make a 100 year old vampire speak like it's still 1918. Bella, however, does not sound like a modern teenager. Granted, she's a gifted student, but I've known lots of gifted students and they did not act like walking doctoral candidates. Meyer also makes the beginner mistake of trying too hard with her attributions. Here's an example:

"He's been too modest, actually," I corrected.
"Well, play for her," Esme encouraged.
"You just said showing off was rude," he objected.
"There are exceptions to every rule," she replied."
"I'd like to hear you play," I volunteered.

This whole sequence would have been a lot smoother if the invisible word "said" had been used or some other actions had been included. Here's how I might have fixed this section:

"He's been too modest, actually," I said.
Esme pushed Edward towards the piano. "Well, play for her," she said.
Edward grinned. "You just said showing off was rude."
Esme rolled her eyes. "There are exceptions to every rule."
"I'd like to hear you play," I said.

I don't blame Meyer for these weaknesses. She was a newbie with this title and the next 3 books show that she took critique and worked with it. Megan Tingley shouldn't have let these things go by. When we write for kids, we want to model good technique. The Twilight series is so popular, that I worry that young readers will emulate some of the style issues in the first book. Teachers may not be able to address these issues in class because the books deal with vampires and some conservative parents will not want them used in a classroom setting. It's up to us and our editors to give kids well-written books.

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