Reading as a writer: Twilight, Jacob, and my Breaking Dawn review

BDcoverI’ve been listening to the Twilight soundtrack while I work lately, and I had not listened to it in many months. I’d missed it; it’s a great collection of songs. But as I listened, I got to thinking about the Twilight story, and about all the abuse I get from others who don’t “get” why I like it (most adults who like the books are used to such abuse). It makes me chuckle.

This then got me thinking about why Twilight resonated with me—well, more specifically, why New Moon resonated and the last two titles did not—and why the current books I’m reading are resonating. And all that mish-mosh in my mind is sloshing around as I craft my own novel: I want to resonate with a reader somewhere, someday.

But I don’t think you can force resonance. I think you need to write from a “pure” place, so that you’ve got the best chance of connecting with the audience. And by “pure,” I mean from a heartfelt (as in, you’ve felt it), vulnerable place, a place that others will have felt, too. This is why enduring stories endure; readers “get” the core of the story. The trappings of the story, no matter how “silly” they seem—i.e. sparkling vampires—are not important. What is important is that the emotional core of a story hits.

People who “get” the Twilight books get that the core is about the experience of first love, which usually happens when a person is young and headstrong and without a clue as to how to handle it. If you’ve been there, you get it. If you haven’t, you don’t. And if you do, you don’t really care that much about vampires vs. werewolves and all the outer wrappings of the story…you care about the heart of what Bella is experiencing. Meyer captured that so well, despite a somewhat simplistic writing style and the use of vampires & werewolves. I’d bet that a lot of people who fell for Twilight were not, and probably still are not, fans of vampire books in general. It’s the love story that pulls in readers, a raw and true love story.

That is what drew me in to the story. When I was 18, I experienced that all-consuming love, so I got it. And into the 2nd book, New Moon, with Bella’s experience of what it’s like to lose that love—been there, done that. So I got that, too. And in New Moon, Bella heals with the help of a true friend, and someone who could be her true, adult love. As an adult, I recognize the potential of Jacob.

Had I read these books when I was still in my teens or early 20s, no doubt I’d have been rooting for Bella & Edward all the way. Because I get it. I do. They are in love. But as an adult, having gone through my own all-consuming love, I can look back and recognize what wasn’t so great about it…all the holes in it and all the things that a young person thinks doesn’t matter. I have come to understand what does matter, and I tend to think of Edward as representing young, blind, love-on-faith, and Jacob as mature, eyes-open, love-on-solid-ground (their ages nonewithstanding).

Have I thought a lot about this? Obviously, lol. Why? Because the stories resonated. They touched a very deep, very personal place. I bet if you think about the books that have really moved you, you’ll realize it’s for the same reason—that they touched a very special place in your soul. I suppose for book lovers, this is not a surprise, heh, but if you’re not that much of a book lover, you can still understand. Movies can affect us the same way. (All this is why I no longer read or watch things that bother me, but that’s a post for another day. ;) )

I want to share a book review/commentary I wrote two years ago about Breaking Dawn, the 4th book, for a website I ran with some friends. The review gets into why I did not resonate with most of BD.

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU’VE NOT READ THE BOOKS (AND PLAN TO). Just sayin’. ;)
MY BREAKING DAWN REVIEW
Aug 22, 2009

I know the world doesn’t need another review of any of the TWILIGHT books, and this isn’t a review, just my own commentary. As a relative latecomer to the series–I only finished BREAKING DAWN about 2 weeks ago–I’ve been mulling things over, and want to offer up my thoughts on things. Basically: I liked one particular part of the book.

DISCLAIMER: I am an adult and my take on the book is from an adult outlook on things. I realize that teens won’t agree with me or even understand why I say some of these things…so just remember that before you flame me for any of this. ;-) Let me say up front that I’m firmly on Team Jacob, ever since NEW MOON, and nothing happened in the books to change that for me. Yes, yes, I get it that Bella & Edward are in love. And yeah, they should be together, and I’m happy they ended up together. When I say I’m “Team Jacob,” I mean that I find the character of Jacob so much more interesting and full of potential, and given a choice for me personally, he’s who I’d want to date. Sure, movie Jacob is gorgeous and that helps, heh, but book Jacob is who stole my heart. He is fun-loving, has a great sense of humor, is sincere & honest, keeps promises, is loyal, is enticingly hot-blooded (and literally, too), and sometimes hot-headed, but I forgive him that because he’s so young. I would love to read stories about what happens to Jacob as he matures.

Given that, I have to say that the whole imprinting-on-Renesmee thing was a cop-out, to me. It negated everything about Jacob & Bella’s relationship that had come before; it was an easy way to get rid of him so that Bella could stop feeling guilty about the whole situation. I probably expected too much out of the story, since the whole Bella-loving-two-guys angle was getting too mature for a young adult audience. Not that I wanted them in a ménage à trois, but the girl had a serious attachment to Jacob, and he to her. She was also attached to Edward, but in a different way, as she herself recognized. As I and some other friends see it, her infatuation with Edward could be seen as more young lust than true love, and her more “human” attachment to Jacob could be seen as the beginning of a real, adult relationship. This is NOT to say that her relationship with Edward would not have eventually deepened and surpassed her connection with Jacob; just that as things stood at the end of ECLIPSE, the groundwork was laid for a very complex, and interesting, love triangle that needed time to play out. I was hoping that BD would more fully explore the feelings Bella admitted to having for Jacob in ECLIPSE. I expected her to still end up with Edward, but I was looking forward to all the twists and turns that would happen before she got there.

But BD just wiped it all away. Poof! Bella is married, pregnant, has baby, becomes vampire, is a gifted vampire, stares down the not-scary Volturi (doesn’t fight), lives happily ever after. *Yawn!*

Bella’s wedding and bizarre honeymoon happens–the ocean & feathers “love scene” was cute, but so G-rated that it really smacked me over the head with a reminder that I was reading young adult fiction–and then in a blink, she’s preggers, and we’re launched into the best part of the book: Jacob’s story.

Reading about his struggles from his POV made the connection he had with Bella that much more visceral, that much more real. Bella’s human death through his experience was heartrending, even though we knew Edward would turn her, as Jacob did, but by that point he was ok with her becoming a vampire. We were really given a sense of how far Jacob had come, how much he’d learned to adapt & accept & deal. He was growing up. I felt that his development, coupled with Bella’s new vampire-ness and marriage, was a fantastic beginning to an entirely new level of the TWILIGHT story, a very adult level to be sure, but one I’d have eagerly devoured.

But then he imprints on her daughter, and all the possibility of a good story is gone for me. I know that when imprinting was explained in NEW MOON it was foreshadowing what would happen to Jacob. I’d been expecting him to imprint on Bella after she was a vampire: her vampire-ness could have allowed her to still love/be attached to Edward while still feeling an even stronger pull to Jacob after imprinting. Now that’s a situation I’d love the characters to struggle through, and there would not need to be an outside threat in the story. The entire book could have just been about the three of them. But for Jacob to imprint on Renesmee, who has a part of Bella in her but is not Bella, is a cop-out. Jacob deserves to have the real Bella or to move on on his own (no supernatural forces at play). Why have him go through what he did, why have Bella feel what she felt for him, if it’s all erased in a moment?

It’s no wonder that the story limps off and dies after we leave Jacob’s POV. Big bad Volturi? They come, they sneer a bit, they leave. No fighting, no loss. Not that I wanted anyone to die, but there needed to be some kind of loss, some sense of sacrifice, so that the danger the characters had expected and that was built up to had been real. But no…when I finished the book, I felt like everything that happened after Bella woke as a vamp was just a fluffy, feel-good epilogue. I don’t mind happy endings, but I prefer it when they’re earned.

I know, it’s not my story, and it is what it is. And I do love it. But I can’t help wishing that BD had been a different book.
Back to 2011…

I still stand by everything I said in ’09. Still feel that way. My reaction to Breaking Dawn is a lesson for me as a writer.

What I find interesting is that I doubt Meyer meant to make Jacob as interesting as he became. And I doubt she meant for the story to go into such potentially “adult” themes as it was doing near the end of Eclipse. I honestly view Breaking Dawn as something her publisher told her to write; it is so disjointed, and does not at all flow from where Eclipse left off, that it must have been forced. I’m not a fan of Meyer’s simplistic style, but BD was off-kilter even for her.

But none of that really matters in the end. What matters is that the story of Twilight, so simple in its style and aimed at an audience much younger than myself, spoke to me so deeply that I not only devoured the books, but felt compelled to complain about the last one. The story hit a nerve, and when I think back to other books I connect with, they each hit nerves, too. And as a writer, that’s the key. To find the heartfelt essence of your story, to go with it, and to hope that a few people out there get it.

Here’s hoping.

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