Twilight vs Harry Potter: Leaving Space

This was recently posted on the website Learn from my Fail:

“I got into an argument with this at school. She was of the opinion that Twilight was better than Harry Potter. Her reasoning? Harry Potter’s characters had too much personality, while Twilight’s characters were blank and boring enough that she could put herself in their places.”

Space available?

Now, before you say anything snarky, consider this, from best-selling (and in my opinion, genius) writer Elmore Leonard. In his ten rules for writing, number eight is:

“Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, what do the ‘American and the girl with him’ look like? ‘She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.’ That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.”

Now, my question is, are we dealing with the same thing?

Because really, the Twilight reader has a valid point, and probably one of the best explanations for Stephanie Meyer’s success despite the critical drubbing she’s taken from the literary establishment. Her characters are so basic, so lacking in the details of what we normally consider personality, that it probably is easy to insert your own personality in their place. Writing classes and most professional writers would call this “bad,” but is it something from which the rest of us ostensibly “good” writers could benefit?

Excessive complexity?

I confess, allowing readers to insert their own personalities into my characters is not a priority in my writing. I try to make my characters believable, understandable, and interesting; if I get that right, I assume readers will be able to both sympathize and empathize, which are similar but not quite the same thing as inserting yourself into the story. If anything, I (and scads of other writers, all less successful than Stephanie Meyer) try to make our characters as detailed as possible, if not physically than certainly psychologically. One of my favorite writing comments, by director/screenwriter David Koepp, is (and I’m paraphrasing) that the more specific we make a character, the easier it is for the reader/viewer to see the universal aspects of it.

So are we going about this all wrong? Are we not leaving enough space for the reader?

I don’t think so, but then again, I wouldn’t, would I? What do you think?

3 Comments on “Twilight vs Harry Potter: Leaving Space”

  1. This is an interesting post. I love Harry Potter- always have, always will.

    My daughter wanted to read the Twilight books. And since she is younger, I decided to read them first to screen them for appropriateness. (Is that a word?)

    Anyway, I started the books dubiously. I hated how weak Bella was in most of them, but I have to admit to you that that aside, there is something about Stephanie Meyer’s writing that is compelling.

    I don’t know what it is, but I don’t agree that it is bland. She uses too many adverbs- something that I can’t point fingers at because I do it too.

    But there is something there that makes you feel as though you are in her world. I’m not sure what it is- maybe it’s just her voice. Teens aren’t going to want to read Hemingway, but they will read a book with a relatable MC and voice.

    So, whether her style is ‘correct’ as a writer or no… it is compelling enough that teens the world over love her work enough to actually read it rather than wait for the movies to come out.

    To me, that is the work of a ‘good’ writer. Or at least, the work of a good Young Adult writer- because the whole goal of a YA author is getting teens to read. 🙂

    Happy Friday!

  2. Some writers are sparse on character descriptions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their characters are bland and boring. I don’t necessarily insert myself into Hemingway or Steinbeck’s characters when I read them–the characters have unique personalities in their own right, detailed description or no.

    I think the fill-in-the-blank nature of Twilight’s characters contributes to its success, but they don’t satisfy me because I don’t read to have my dreams fulfilled on the page.

    You mentioned that you want your readers to empathize and sympathize with your characters, and one of the reasons I read is to understand people better, to empathize. Sure, I read for some escapism, but I don’t need the author to give me a role in the plot for that to happen.

    The “winner” in the Twilight v. Harry Potter brawl depends on what you’re looking for. If you read or write for wish fulfillment, then maybe the blank canvas character is a better option. If you have other motives, it’s probably not a good way to go.

  3. Interesting post. I’ve never read the TWILIGHT books or watched the movies. My wife and adult daughters read the books and though they mostly enjoyed them, they all said Meyer is not a very good writer. I’ve also never read the HARRY POTTER books. I know, I know–shame on me! I tried, but I didn’t care for Rowling’s style. I just couldn’t get into the books. And part of the reason was because it was too descriptive. I don’t really like, in fiction, to read long descriptive passages: Not of the way people look or dress or what the weather is or their environment. This usually just becomes rather boring to me and makes it seem like the author is simply padding the story. And as far as a character’s personality? A few brief strokes, like a charcoal sketch, will do. No need to go all photo-realistic on us! As with any “rule”, there are exceptions to this, of course.

    Sometimes I think I have become this way because I’m an actor and director. Rehearsing a play is all about communication (talking) and action. Of course character, personality, intellect–all this (hopefully) comes out as the play progresses. But we don’t have to spend a lot of time on description because the audience SEES everything. So over the years, I have come to prefer dialogue and behaviour. I think this tells far more about your characters than any delving into their subconcious minds might.

    Soooo…I guess I *sort of* agree with the person who said she didn’t want too much “personality” in the characters. Although I think what I really mean is that personality is better revealed by what the characters SAY and DO than by ascribing strong traits or quirks to them. I feel like I can always see the hand of the author when this happens.

    Man, this feels like a rambling post!! Hope it makes some sense.

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