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Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Arizona

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Would Bella and Edward's love story have been more aptly set in Arizona?
Would The Wildly Popular Twilight Series Have Benefited From Being Based In The Grand Canyon State?

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 8, 2011 — So I was sitting in a movie theatre the other day waiting for my feature to start and the trailer for the newest Twilight flick hit the screen. Between all of the trees and crying and vampire baby nonsense, I began to think about Stephenie Meyer and how she went about writing the series that inspired these films.

What would you say if I told you I was going to criticize Meyer's writing? My guess is you would probably tell me to join the club. The list of people who have labeled Meyer's work pedantic, juvenile, idiotic and incoherent pales only in comparison to the list naming the masses of sexually-frustrated automatons that patronize her books and the films they inspired.

Luckily, I am not here to rehash the same old argument. I am not here to say that Meyer's grasp of the English language is elementary at best. Blah, blah, blah. What would be the point?

No, my mission is to point out a lesser-known flaw present in Meyer's work — or, more accurately — in her approach to creating a story. I am frustrated by the way Meyer quickly exports her story out of Arizona and into a generic and bleary setting, leaving the unique culture, perspectives, and paradoxes inherent in the Arizona environment high and dry.

I simply cannot stand it when writers who live in amazing and complex environments fail to recognize the beauty that surrounds them and instead choose to create another story in a long line of retreads in a cliché and used locale (such as the Pacific Northwest). This problem is only magnified when the resulting story lacks any sort of depth or self-awareness because the author's lack of familiarity with the setting is made more noticeable.

There is nothing wrong with Washington; it is a beautiful place. But when it is utilized as a setting simply for its convenience, all of the depth and beauty inherent in the place seems lost and it is rendered as little more than a prop. Leave writing in those rain-soaked forests for those who know them intimately. Only when you feel a place deeply, when you breathe it in and know it, can you express in a way that will benefit your readers.

I am not trying to say that by utilizing a setting that she is more familiar with, Meyer can all of a sudden become a great writer. But that is not the point. The popularity of her books will affect how struggling writers in the future approach the craft and she has shown them that one way to get popular is to make use of time-honored clichés ad nauseum.

The writing process should not start with the search for conventions that will easily draw readership. It should start with an organic association with your environment. Not just the physical place you live, but all of the surroundings and people and feelings that make your writing happen. Using this sort of natural process is noticeable even in lackluster writing because the authenticity brought about by the relationship between an author and a setting with which they are familiar can masks certain shortcomings, especially when it comes to discovering a unique voice.

I am not saying that every project written by a person from Arizona must take place in Arizona. But that should be a starting point. If a story develops and does not belong here, then let it develop. But don't write a story that takes place in New York City because you have been there once and it is a totally hip place.

I don't know how many times Meyer visited the forests of Washington, nor do I particularly care. What I do know is her writing portrays no sort of connection between the author and the area. The setting comes off as nothing more than bleary place for bleary things to happen.

And that is a problem. The setting should pop. It should be a character. Like any other element of a story, it needs to serve a specific function. If it is just sitting there awkwardly like Robert Pattison's hair, then why have it in the story in the first place? Why not create a completely fictional environment that perfectly serves the needs of your lackluster character development?

Meyer gives the big f*** you to Arizona at the beginning of the first Twilight book and hardly looks back. The rest of the series is spent wallowing in the dreary Washington darkness and bastardizing the vampire archetype.

And the setting really lacks any substance. It is nothing more than a vehicle to allow the vampire characters to logically exist. It could have been any rainy place. Nothing about the story screams that the setting had to be there.

And this is where I think sticking to what you know can benefit writing. The unique problem of trying to create vampire characters that exist in the desert would have undoubtedly improved the story behind Twilight, or changed it completely.

When a place is sunny all of the time, you can't very well have dudes shimmering all day. Maybe she would have found a less ridiculous way to fit the vampires into the story and written something that wasn't generic and vapid.

The vampire motif, as tired as it is, provides many interesting opportunities in a desert setting.

The desert in this state is so rich with character. There is the dichotomy that exists between the expanding city and the forbidding wilderness. The glut of life trying to sustain itself in an environment devoid of traditional nourishment.

I mean, come on. I almost want to read what she could have done with that.

Almost.

Even more to the point, the use of an environment that Meyer is more familiar with would help her have a unique voice in the novels. As it stands now, the writing in those books lacks any sort of genuine voice. They read as if a technical writer took her notes and scrawled them down. No voice. No passion. Just the methodical tick and tock of sexually repressed literature.

In my honest opinion, she will never be a decent writer, anyway. But, by abandoning the desert environment she knows, Meyer is writing off one of the innate tools every writer in Arizona is privy to.

And even worse, she is perpetuating a dangerous trend.

The writing community in this state is weak as it is. We do not need the few locals that reach national prominence, whether their talent merits it or not, dismissing the complexities of the desert. Because it sets a bad example.

If writers in Arizona think that the only way to get noticed is by writing something trendy, generic and altogether un-Arizona, then we are in for a wave of bullshit. A mass of poorly written genre pieces that have no ties to this place outside of the bodies that wrote them.

Like I said, I make no promises about the effect this use of Arizona in setting will have on the quality of literature written here on the whole. But what I do know is, the mystery and dynamic quality living within our very special home is not something to ignore. The unique quality of this place, along with the authenticity writing about your home will bring, can only help writing improve, regardless of the quality at the outset of the endeavor.

This place deserves more than a brief mention at the beginning of teen vampire romance novel. It has too much to offer to be thrown by the wayside.

Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer from Phoenix.
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