Twilight Week: The Appeal and The Obsession

Today: The Appeal and The Obsession

Tomorrow: The Truth

The next day: The (My) Opinion

Everyone knows the tale. Once upon a time, a writer had a dream about a vampire and a young woman. Like all good writers, she wrote down her dream — and then wrote it into a novel. Got an agent. Got a publisher. The first print run was 75,000 copies.

Now she’s sold 45 million copies in the U.S. and 40 million copies outside of it. How does a random first-time author leap from 75,000 copies to 235 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list?

It’s controversial. No one seems to agree — while hordes of preteens swoon at Meyer’s god-like vampire hero, hordes of writer-types puke at her descriptions of him. But as I have both been a preteen and read all four Twilight books, I’m going to take a shot at figuring out why these books are such huge hits. Because (face it) we all want to be huge hits, too.

The Appeal in Three Simple Sentences:

  • Edward is hot. So we all know that maybe RP doesn’t necessarily live up to the average girl’s mental image of EC. At least — he doesn’t live up to mine. But all that aside, Edward is hot. HOT. HO-OO-OOOT. The hottest guy alive. Skin: perfect. Muscles: like chiseled rock. Face: blindingly beautiful. Eyes: entrancing (when they’re not creepy and reddish/dark/hungry). Mouth: well, Bella thinks about his mouth a lot. Who can resist all this hot-ness?
  • Bella is anyone. When you think of Bella, what major character traits jump into your head? I can think of clutzy. Clutzy and… clutzy. Maybe kind of obsessive, too, but definitely clutzy. Point is, Bella has no characteristics. She is anyone. She is you, she is me, she is your crazy preteen neighbor who walks the dog with books in hand. While some authors might say this is bad, it actually can be good. Because:
  • Edward likes Bella, so he likes anyone, aka The Reader. When you think about it, Bella’s lack of characteristics make it easy for The Reader to inhabit her. If she had an anger problem, most of us wouldn’t be able to relate as much. If she had specific personal baggage, we’d be able to relate even less. But we are all clutzy and obsessive, all attracted to hot people… Therefore (at least according to my theory) we are all Bella when we read Twilight. Which is good. Because if we are Bella, then Edward is in love with us. And Edward wants to kiss us/suck our blood/marry us/be with us for all eternity/etc. The story is that much more powerful — because what girl doesn’t want a sizzling-hot bad-boy with a mysterious past chasing after her?

The Obsession (fun facts):

  • Amazon reviews: +/- 10,000 reviews for all four books
  • Google hits (Edward Cullen): 8,510,000
  • Google hits (Bella Swan): 3,910,000
  • Stories on fanfiction.net: 116,637

A couple questions for you:

  • What (if anything) in Twilight appealed to you?
  • What else makes the books so addicting?
  • Could repeating (or attempting to repeat) SM’s successful techniques boost any book to stardom — or is this a one-time phenomenon?
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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Twilight Week: The Appeal and The Obsession

  1. Honestly, I collect vampire stories and films so it is hardly surprising when a friend lent me the first one I was willing to give it a try.

    Seems to me the strength of these books is not the prose style nor the plot but the characters and the dynamic between them. Thinking of Bella, plenty of adjectives come to my mind — brave, kind, perceptive, (very) private, un-interested in self, forgiving, etc. The exact combination of this came vividly to life from Book One. Likewise, Edward feels “real” to me, as do most of the others. Together they form a genuinely interesting mix set in a not-uninteresting world.

    A lot of the saga’s popularity methinks comes from a successful rendering of idealized love, set to a constellation of tropes that appeal to many at the moment. One of these is the way sex was made unthreatening, paradoxically by making it supremely dangerous.

    Could it be replicated? Probably not, at least not deliberately. Stephanie Myers, like J.K.Rowling before her, wrote about what fascinated/inspired her. Others shared her sensibilities. So methinks writers should write what they love.

  2. Nice post (;

    I read the first three books in one week when I was 14. I was pretty much swept away by Edward and the insanity of it all.

    I went to the midnight release for Breaking Dawn with my friends, read the whole thing in one night, laughed my butt off, then went to B&N to return it the next day. No way I was paying $17 for that thing.

    I tried to re-read New Moon earlier this month, and I couldn’t get past the first chapter. Everything was so awful, LOL. I have so many qualms with the whole thing now, they’d take forever to list… but I wouldn’t call myself I hater. I love to laugh at it all, especially the movies (YEAH THIS WEEKEND!).

    It could be repeated. Who knows? But the Edward element is pretty important, and anyone who tries to copy that nowadays is labeled, well, a copycat. Maybe another “element” will come along.

  3. I think you nailed the reasons for its appeal. I personally love them, though I can never really explain why. Every girl can picture herself in Bella’s shoes and who wouldn’t want the hot, mysterious, dangeous – but willing to do anything for you – kind of guy? Is it healthy? Nope. But it’s great in a fictional sense!

    I think people try to overanalyze it. It’s just one of those fun reads. What’s wrong with that, right? 🙂

    I’m not sure if it can be repeated, but I think pieces of her formula will work again. I guess time will tell? The problem will be keeping it from being too parallel, ya know?

  4. I really like your take on this. Personally, I’ve always thought Twilight broke out because it was really, at it’s heart, a great story told in a great way. According to Donald Maass, that’s why she would have likely suceeded.

    I’ve only ever read the first Twilight book. On purpose. And when I read it, I did, I loved it. The original premise was new and very good — what if a vampire fell in love with a human? You have an incredible amount of conflict right there, and the idea has that instant “cool” appeal.

    That’s always been my opinion. Before Twilight, there weren’t too many YA vampire books, and none of them stood apart the way Twilight did.

    I guess I kind of ranted about that, but anyway, I just meant to say that I like this post and am looking forward to the other two 🙂

    -Mandy

  5. JennW

    Great post. I think you nailed a lot of the reasons the book was so popular. It’s also the element of danger and the idea of the “perfect” guy. Plus, vampires are hot.:) All that aside though, the writing isn’t good, but they are page turners, so she did something right. When I started reading book 1, I read the first three lines and turned to my husband and said, “This is awful.” (Granted, I had just finished Russo’s Bridge of Sighs so the transition was pretty dramatic). Then I proceeded to read all four books in a week or so, not being able to put it down, reading while I cooked dinner, reading at red lights or when traffic was slow, reading while I gave my kids a bath. I could not put it down, seriously. I have no idea how she did it (and I gather she doesn’t either), but good or bad writing, her story was compelling so kudos to her for reaching so many people and getting them to read! I never ever read stuff like that so I have no idea how I was so pulled in, but I was, like so many others.

  6. writerkirsty

    I am the luckiest blogger in the world — these comments are novels themselves! Thanks to everyone for input/thoughts/rants, etc. I really enjoyed reading what you’re thinking.

    The element of danger is a huge appeal — Bella and Edward HAVE to be together but they CAN’T == monster problem.

    Obviously everyone has different opinions about prose style, etc., but no one can argue with the Stephenie’s crazy fame. She did something right…

    And (@Emilia) I can’t wait for this weekend. In fact, I am STOKED.

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