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Earlier this month, I came across a post thread in a writing forum commenting on the release of Stephenie Meyer’s new book, the gender-reversed Twilight, Life and Death.

The original poster implied that this was nothing more than ‘a lazy way to make more money of an already successful idea’. Before I say anything further, let’s make one thing clear: I love Twilight, but I have long been an avid reader of all types of literature, and as a reader, and a writer, I am fully aware of the flaws in the Twilight series. I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘Twi-hard’ fan (whatever that means), but I enjoyed the story—also, obsessive perv or not, I had, and still have, an unhealthy crush on the immortal Edward. That said, this post is not a defence of Twilight; it is an observation on the criticisms writers face, and my two cents on the subject.

All jobs are tough in their own way; in the case of those in the creative industry—namely, the writer—the writing itself, as simultaneously joyful and irritating as it often is, is only the tip of the iceberg. The ridiculously frustrating journey from brain to page is nothing compared to acknowledging the personal experience your book might bring a reader. Personally, I love reading or hearing about multiple interpretations of a single story—it’s fascinating how much our values and social differences influence the way we perceive many things. You can read my post on the perception of ‘stupid’ characters here. 

Equally fascinating is the way these individual perceptions are received by others. 

Have you ever truly enjoyed a book, and like the proud nerd you might be, gushed about it to someone else, only to be ripped to shreds because the book, according to them, is just ‘utter crap’?

Or maybe you didn’t gush about it. Maybe you overheard a discussion about a certain book, and recognising the downright vicious criticism of it, decided not to mention your initiation into said book’s fandom…

If none of these apply–great.

It means you haven’t been subjected to someone whose concept of book standards goes something like this: ‘I didn’t like it; therefore it must be crap. Everyone, listen up: this book is crap. If you are seen reading it, I will assume you are an idiot.’ 

THIS ↑↑↑ is idiotic.

 
Case in point: I happen to hate exercise, but we all know that despite my intense hatred, exercise is, and will continue to be, a positive part of a healthy lifestyle (of which I am not at all familiar with, btw). If a percentage of readers hate a book, this does not—and should not—equate to the standard of the book. The remaining percentage who might love the same book will often speak for itself. 
This brings me to that forum post I mentioned. The original poster of the discussion—a writer—implies that Stephenie Meyer was milking the idea—trying to squeeze more money out of fans. Several follow-up comments even wondered how the book made any money in the first place.
 
Here’s the thing, though: 
No one is forced to buy a book—any book. Readers choose books because they happen to love them, or at least, think/hope they will. Assuming they don’t, there will be plenty of writer-bashing from reviewers without fellow writers having to chip in. When one writer calls another writer lazy, it makes me want to crawl under my desk and stay there, binge-eating ice-cream. We, as writers, are all in the same boat—okay, Stephanie Meyer has a much bigger boat, sure—a luxury yacht, probably, whilst we have a raft made by Tom Hanks and Wilson—but dammit, we KNOW the joy of finishing a manuscript… and we ALL dread the awful, inevitable backlash of bad reviews or bone-crushing criticism. We expect it from reviewers, editors, agents… from READERS. So why on earth would we want to add to all this dread, and start doing it to one another?

 

I can’t say whether I will ever read the new Twilight, but I disagree that re-writing it is just a ‘lazy way to cash in’. I don’t believe there IS a way to ‘cash-in’, and if there is, by jeebus—please let me know what it is. Maybe I’m naive, but I feel a story has to actually be good to create a fanbase, whether through luck, marketing, or the actual storytelling. In this case, the interest of the fans speaks for itself. 

The bottom line? 

If an author WANTS to rewrite their OWN STORY from the perspective of a bloody tree, it’s their call. Others may love it, hate it, buy it, or burn it—but more power to the writer for writing what they love regardless. 

Love or hate Stephenie Meyer—on this occasion, I salute her. 

Characters are important, if not the most important aspect of a good story; great characters have to be fully developed with appealing qualities, true to life flaws, and a host of inner desires, conflicts, motivations and goals. Just like all real life folk. Recently though, a statement from another writer brought up the question of judgment of character. Stupid characters in particular.

So. Many. Stupid Characters.

He claims that ‘so many books are filled with stupid characters making stupid choices’, and I can see the point of his statement. On some level, I’m inclined to almost agree—almost. What stops me agreeing is this:

What exactly, in the eyes of the reader, makes for a good character?

Is it strength, and integrity, and intelligence? Quick wit, feistiness, charm? Does physical appearance play a part, if at all? And to what extent? Does the rise-of-the-underdog score more points with you, or do you prefer to witness the shallow-but-popular ass evolving into a relatable 3-D hero? Does a heroine have to be the typical Mary Jane with an unknown destiny awaiting her, and lots of obstacles to rise above?

These are all common themes/tropes within stories (if a little limited).

Whether the book focuses on the main characters themselves, or whether it is driven by plot, every story will have a protagonist with at least one goal, and, as far as the author is concerned, a vast number of motivations and means by which to meet this goal. Authors are human too though, and they write the story they want to write, and read, (which is exactly as it should be.)

In doing this, they can often, unfortunately, piss off the reader. Getting from point A to point B can be done in so many ways that it is impossible to please every single reader; a character choice may seem poor or even dumb to one reader, yet may appear perfectly reasonable to another.

Let me give you a (ridiculously basic) example:

stupid characters snow white
Stupid characters and their stupid fruit.

Snow White in Walt Disney’s animated film
Source

Snow White

The princess has fled for her life knowing someone wants her dead. She then sets up home with seven little men, and when a scary old lady offers her an apple, she accepts it and immediately takes a bite, no questions asked despite the fact that she is on the lam, and the woman is hideous beyond belief.

Some would call her stupid, and naive; a little clueless. On the other hand, Snow is an innocent fourteen-year-old girl, with (apparently) a heart as pure as her namesake, thus she trusts easily, and wants to see the good in everyone. She doesn’t for a second believe that this little old lady would want to harm her.

stupid characters bella swan twilight
Stupid characters and their stupid hiking trips

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan in
The Twilight Saga: New Moon Source

A more recent example is… (dare I?)

Bella Swan

Bella is an (apparently) average teenager whose love for Edward is all-consuming, and upon his leaving in New Moon, she all but gives up on normal life for several months at a time.

Some would call this stupid, and weak; a little melodramatic. On the other hand, Bella is a teenager, and we all know that fully grown adults are capable of drama, much less a seventeen-year-old. A breakup is tough on any one of us, and Bella is no exception. Her love for Edward was written to be of such an epic scale that losing it would be like losing a part of herself; anything less than that would make the reader doubt the scale of their love in the first place.

If you’re thinking: ‘What a lame bunch of lame examples!’, first: get yourself a thesaurus; and second: let me offer up a third and final example—one who is not a teenage girl, nor a central character of a fairy tale / young adult romance saga: 

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

stupid characters doctor faustus
Stupid characters and their stupid inability to read the small-print

Illustration from the 1620 edition of The Tragical History
of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus Source

Doctor Faustus is smart; he is highly accomplished in the arts and sciences to the point of feeling dissatisfied with the mediocrity of what little there is left to learn. He is a fully-grown man, a well-established social figure in his time—yet what does he do? He makes a deal with the devil! Pretty stupid, yes? Or no? It could easily be assumed that voluntarily signing a blood-contract with a messenger from the depths of hell pretty much ‘puts the stu in stupid’ (technical term). Yet, whilst there is no question that his choices leading up to—and during—his deal did indeed lack judgment, Faustus was, on the whole, not stupid; self-centred, frivolous, arrogant to the point of self-destruction, and clearly prone to ‘silly’ decisions—but not stupid. His discontentment with life, his initial search for greater meaning—even power—are all too common in the real world, in some form or another; it may not justify his decisions but it does shed light on the reasoning behind it.

Snow White, Bella, and Faustus (jeez, weirdest dinner party ever!) demonstrate that regardless of character traits, flaws, and intentions, every reader is likely to interpret a character in a different way. What is dumb and weak to one person is to another, completely understandable, even to an extent, realistic. We all appreciate and admire smart people and smart choices, fictional or otherwise, but how drab would it be to always be faced with these know-it-all smart-asses, with their excellent lives, rubbing our Average-Joe noses in their success?

Certainly, despite good decisions, a smart character can have things in life go wrong for them as a result of an external source, but can you honestly say you’d enjoy reading the riveting account of how easy it was for them to overcome the obstacle thanks to yet another predictably smart choice? Shortest book ever—and not particularly entertaining; entertainment being the whole point of writing and reading in the first place.

My point is this: despite what appeals to us on a personal level when it comes to our preferences in the characters we write or read about, one thing we all are likely to have in common is that we want our characters to be as real and relatable as possible.

AND HERE’S THE THING…

Real people, smart or otherwise, sometimes make stupid choices, and despite judgment, whether from other writers, readers, or haters, books with outwardly stupid characters making stupid choices will continue to sell, because if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a reason for a character’s moment of idiocy; and more notably, this moment of idiocy amidst the chaos of life is real and relatable.