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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Stephenie Meyer, Redux

If you riffle through the archives of this blog, you’ll find that Aaron and I both have mentioned Stephenie Meyer at least in passing.¬† If you peruse the articles in which we make said references, you might pick up on the fact that neither of us are necessarily favorably disposed toward her writing. Today, for my part, I’m going to expound upon my opinion a little bit.

In my first WILAWriTWe with Meyer in the title, I mention getting “sucked into” (Oy vey — the puns! The puns I could sink my teeth into in this post!) the Twilight universe when I saw the preview for the movie. I didn’t even know until a few months later that the film was based on a book and that this book had three sequels. So I started reading; devoured the whole series; and then turned right around and read it all over again.

As I indicated in that previous WILAWriTWe, I had the following reactions to Meyer’s novels:

  1. I wanted to take a red pen to the manuscripts, because they contained more grammatical errors and stylistic problems than I could stomach.
  2. Meyer’s writing clearly improved from one book to the next, which is exactly what should happen when a writer is doing her job.
  3. The adventure of the stories hooked me completely and would not let me go.

After 16 months of pondering the Twilight novels, I would now add this thought to my list: I think the relationship between Bella and Edward is dangerously unhealthy for the self-esteem of any teenage female reader. And of some adult female readers. But that’s another story; if you want to know how I came to this conclusion, ask me in the comments; I’ll gladly discuss.

Now, fellow Twilight fans — and yes, I do say “fellow,” because I still count myself among you — I want you to sit back, take a few deep breaths, and bear with me. I’m about to say a few more things that you aren’t going to appreciate. Just keep in mind that I do believe Meyer has a fantastic imagination; I do respect her creativity and her drive; and I do acknowledge that she has made something unique that has brought a lot of joy to a great many people.

I’m noticing that I’m quite given to the use of semi-colons in this post; I don’t know why.

Anyway, let’s move on to my latest Meyer read, upon which I shall expound posthaste. The book in question is The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (affiliate link). ¬†This novella tells the story of a minor character in Breaking Dawn (fourth in the original series), a teenage vamp girl named Bree. Not to spoil anything for you, but Bree dies in Breaking Dawn. And she dies for good, not just for undead. That’s just what happens when the ruling class of vampires gets ticked off at you and you’re nothing but a redshirt.

But when Meyer was writing Breaking Dawn, she apparently did a pretty detailed character sketch of Bree, because Bree was a “newborn” — a newly-created vampire — and this was a class of vamps that hadn’t come up in the stories before. So Meyer decided to explore the character a bit, so as to get a better feel for how newborns in her universe act and react to their environment.

This, by the way, is an excellent thing to learn from Meyer: Take a side character and give her a detailed backstory. It’s a terrific exercise in character development, and it can’t help but improve your relationship to your characters. It can’t help but make you a better writer. No matter what we might think of Meyer’s writing, this is a valuable lesson to take away.

But that’s not the only lesson. Meyer didn’t just leave it at a character sketch. She wrote pages upon pages of detail and backstory until she had not just a collection of notes but a collection with potential to become more. And now, her readers get the pleasure of revisiting the Twilight universe they love so much, as well as a glimpse into a part of that universe they haven’t seen before.

Inklings, take note: If they really fall in love with your universe, your fans will never get tired of relevant tidbits, references, and tangents. They’ll drink whatever you give them to drink of your universe. They’ll glut themselves on its lifeblood, if you’ll pardon my French.

So, where do I go from here in presenting to you The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner? I could tell you about some of the characters — who had some great backstories and some fascinating traits. (I’m a sucker for Meyer’s vampiric superpowers, I’ll admit it.) I could tell you about my empathy for Bree and my reader’s-wish that she could’ve survived as a character. (It’s odd to start reading a story with the knowledge that the main character is going to be dead at the end.)

But what I really want to tell you is this: I had less of an urge to take a red pen to Bree Tanner than to the Twilight novels. Meyer has made some changes in her writing style — and it’s encouraging to see a writer gaining in craft skill. That’s what we’re all supposed to be doing.

I found fewer grammatical errors in Bree Tanner. Instead of dialogue tags like “murmured,” “hissed,” or “exclaimed,” which are so very distracting to the reader, there were more “said”s (which don’t break the flow of dialogue). Although I do still think Meyer overused sentence fragments, I saw fewer of them in this manuscript.

(It’s also worth noting that Bree, the female lead, has a far healthier self-esteem and sense of self-preservation than Bella Swan.)

My conclusion, my darlingest inklings, is that no matter where you are in your writing, you’re not *there* yet. You haven’t arrived. You cannot rest on your laurels and think to yourself, “I’ve gotten where I want to be, and I need go no further.” Even if you’re famous, getting fabulously rich off your books and off the movies based on them, you still have to put in your time at learning and improving.

I don’t know what Stephenie Meyer is working on right now, and I have no idea what her plans are for the future. But in The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, she proves that she’s honing her craft. And that’s something we all must needs do.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

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