Showing vs. Telling: Twilight Invades My Writing Class

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Kiefer-Newmanby Kat Kiefer-Newman

It was bound to happen in one of my classes. I knew that sooner or later I would be confronted by the fanatical devotion fans have for the Twilight books and movies. Twilight, for the three people in the United States who don’t know, is the first in a series of novels and movies about a young woman named Bella Swan. As the series progresses, she must choose between two different young men with whom she has fallen in love. The first is Edward, the outsider who comes from a wealthy and prominent family; the other, Jacob, is everyone’s favorite town son. The twist that makes this more than a standard teen romance novel is that Edward is a vampire and Jacob is a werewolf.

These stories have captured the attention of so many people, from all different age groups. Christine Seifert, writing for BitchMagazine.org back in 2008, explains that this multigenerational reader infatuation with Bella and Edward’s smoldering romance was even the focus of a fan “engagement” party at the Sandy, Utah, Barnes & Noble store on the night before the fourth book was released that year. Participants wore formal wedding attire in honor of the happy fictional couple. It was a big night for romantics, one and all (“Bite me, (Or Don’t!“).

With so much overexposure, I should have realized that at some point a student would bring up the books and movies in a class discussion. We were talking that day about “showing” versus “telling” in writing. I was giving examples about word choice, word placement, sentence choice, and using examples. One young woman lovingly brought out her copy of the second or third book and, in a rush of breathless exclamation points, told the class that she wanted to write like Stephanie Meyers, the author.

Quite the controversy exists around these works and this author. Early last year, horror writer Stephen King, in the USA Weekend Magazine, stated that while Meyers does speak directly to her audience, “Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn.” Her lack of polish and talent dogs her as she continues to write for fans who are so avid they call themselves Twi-Fans and Twi-Hards, or Twi-moms if they’re of the older variety. They don’t seem to care that literary critics pan her work, they just keep buying her products obsessively. And, with the second movie just out on DVD, and the third movie scheduled to arrive in theatres at the end of June this year, fans everywhere are in a frenzy.

Here I was in my college writing class faced with just such a dedicated enthusiast and I was caught off-guard. I am not going to spend this entire post outlining the failings of Ms. Meyers’s books. Not when gifted bloggers like Eric Boyd Vogeler have already done a superb job of it here. And the Monkey See duo at NPR have also done a series well worth your time here.

But I was at a loss as to how to manage the spellbound student. I barely had to. Not all students, it turned out, were in the thrall of this pseudo-gothic-vampire love story. A heated debate broke out. One contingent believed that Twilight was a poor substitute for such literary classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Another didn’t care about the literary merit because readin’ is readin’ and that’s what these books caused people to do (people who normally weren’t bookish). Still another rallied in support of the writing in the Twilight books, sticking with their dogged belief that it was good. What’s an instructor to do?

In the end, I allowed all sides to state their views. Then I took lines from the book and used them as examples. Sadly, they just didn’t hold up to scrutiny and the student-fans were forever awakened to that fact.

I seem to be breaking ever more hearts in my classroom…

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