Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thoughts on Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown

I was watching an interview with Stephenie Meyer on YouTube today, and also simultaneously reading a blog entry from another writer that essentially labeled Ms. Meyer as a, to paraphrase, poor writer who wrote a horrible book. With no further explanation on why he/she thought this was so.

I see comments all the time about Twilight along those lines, and it frustrates me more and more each time I see them. I can understand if readers are simply posting their thoughts about the book, and legitimate reasons why they didn't like it or weren't drawn into it. After all, readers are the customers. They have the right to dislike things and blow them off. But it's somehow irritating when professional writers simply flip their hand at Stephenie Meyer and brush off her success as somehow being just luck, or that she has absolutely no talent, or that her writing is 'horrible' without even giving a thought to what they find so horrible about it.

I'm not saying that Twilight is on par with, I don't know, Shakespeare, or whatever is considered literary genius. Then again, maybe it is. Who's to say. But clearly Meyer did something right with Twilight, because there have been plenty of other books that publishers have thrown tons of money behind and have just sunken like rocks to the bottom of the industry pool. You can't have the sort of success Twilight has seen without having the support of millions of readers. And those readers are not buying her books and telling their friends to buy her books because they think she's a horrible writer. Something has clicked with them inside those pages, and naysaying writers would do themselves a great service if they would just admit this and try to study how Meyer managed to capture her readers' imaginations. It may not be your cup of tea, but obviously it's the cup of tea for a lot of others, and if the tea is really that popular there must be something delicious in it.

I'll admit that I'm not a huge paranormal reader. But I do read it, especially the ones that garner critical acclaim or popularity with the public, because I want to see how they did it. For Twilight, imho, Meyer hooks you in the first 50 pages because she introduces Edward and Bella and their attraction to each other, and then withholds Edward from Bella for an agonizing amount of time. Bella's fascinated by this guy, and then he disappears for days, leaving her to ponder in growing anxiety. When will she see him again? the reader wonders. And why does he react to her in the way that he does? Even though Bella might think he hates her, we obviously know better by the subtle things he does, how he takes notice of her in an understated way (at least in the beginning). That's what kept me reading when I picked up Twilight. Meyer uses this device again in New Moon--separating the star-crossed lovers for agonizing lengths of time. And although there are parts of the books that didn't resonate with me (i.e. my connection to Bella as a character went up and down, and I am much more attracted to Jacob's earnestness than to Edward's emo-ness), I do see and respect the parts of it that have hooked so many others.

The same goes for Dan Brown. Writers, especially writers-who-want-to-make-it, don't diss Dan Brown. Look at what he did right. The man is a genius at creating fascinating conspiracy theories (possible alien microbes in Antarctica, or government secret? did Jesus have offspring? did Da Vinci really hide secrets in his paintings? etcetc) as well as chapters overloaded with active conflict. That's his strength and the drawing power of his novels. If you're a thriller writer, look at his weaknesses (i.e. oversimplified, weak characters, imho) with a thoughtful eye, then write a thriller with an equally fascinating premise and make your own characters deeper and more fully fleshed out. Draw on his strengths. Avoid his weaknesses. Don't diss him.

Yes, luck did play a role in the wild success of some of these writers. But they couldn't have gotten there from writing horrible books. Meyer and Brown write highly commercial novels. Their books are full of the things that big blockbusters have--forbidden love, conspiracy, plots that are not too hard to follow (for the most part), and conflict conflict conflict. If you're a writer who only wants to write glittering prose full of well-turned phrases, all the more power to you. But if you want to be commercially successful, don't sit there taking cheap shots at more successful writers that you secretly wish you could be standing on their podiums with. We're all writers trying to create the best entertainment we can for our readers. What's to hate?

Anyway, just wanted to get that off my chest. :)

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