We all know, here in ambitious-writer-land, that the wildly successful “Twilight” series of books and movies is “bad”, and it’s easy to get furious about that… but that’s a trap . In fact, though you, as a person, may loathe the message that it sends out, there’s no reason for you, as a writer, to resent the success of that series.
There’s a difference between “Wow, this person can’t write!” and “This person is writing for an audience that doesn’t include me.” It’s very easy to read something that has an annoying tone, or a certain set of affectations, and say, “That’s just bad writing,” but there’s a chance that this writer has identified an audience who craves that tone, and those people will eat it up.
(And for that audience, the fact that that tone annoys you, Mr. Snooty Reader, might actually be a big plus. They love that these stories are for them and just for them. If you don’t get it, then you can’t be in their club.)
When the success of a series like “Twilight” infuriates you, the danger is that you’ll end up saying one of these three things:
- “Twilight” is poorly written, and yet it sells, therefore there’s no point is learning how to write well, since it’s all a crap shoot.
- OR: “Twilight” is poorly written, and yet it sells, so therefore all I have to do is write something that I think is much better than “Twilight” and I’ll sell even more copies than Stephanie Meyer did!
- OR: “Twilight” is poorly written, and yet it sells, so I should stop writing for my audience and start writing for her audience instead, since they’re obviously less discerning.
None of these things are true. Just as you have to work hard to learn to please your audience, Meyer had to work hard to learn to please her audience. Pay no attention to lies in the press about “it came to me in a dream and I just started writing it down.” Press agents love to claim that the writing of a book was effortless, because then the audience can believe that these are somehow real characters who simply spoke to the author from another world. If the press agents admitted that writing was a lot of work, then audiences would start to realize that the author, like all authors, is trying very hard to manipulate their emotions.
Instead of the self-destructive statements above, it’s far more useful to say to yourself.
- “Twilight” sells, despite the fact that it’s deeply annoying to me and seems to do everything wrong, because it focuses on pleasing a specific audience, rather than a platonic ideal. Rather than worrying about what every audience should want, how can I focus more on what my audience does want (even if my audience is very different from Stephanie Meyer’s)?
- AND: Is there a way to push more pleasure-buttons in my own work without sacrificing the subtlety and nuance that my audience desires?
Most importantly, do not convince yourself for a second that Stephanie Meyer herself thinks that “Twilight” is bad, and that she’s just cynically exploiting the low standards of the girls who love her books. It never works that way. Successful “bad” art, whether it’s Stephanie Meyer, or Thomas Kinkaid, or Michael Bay, or Seth McFarland, is always made by true believers, who are making their own favorite type of art for their own audience.