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Friday, 12 February 2016

Women Are All Kinds of Strong - my guest post on Louisa Klein's blog

Since it was one of my New Year's resolutions to complete Vexed to Nightmare for summer release, I've been a bit busy with the nitty gritty of final draft edits.

Turns out if you spend all day talking about writing, you don't get much actual writing done. Who knew?

Amid the chaos, I wrote something for a fellow urban fantasy author's blog on a hot topic, different kinds of strength in female characters. Urban fantasy is dominated by strong women both on and off the page and as an author of this genre I'm fascinated by the question of what makes a woman 'strong'.

You can find my thoughts on this issue at the link to Louisa Klein's Lost In Fiction site below.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Brevity Problem

I have a problem. I can’t stop overwriting things.

This problem applies to virtually everything I write, but in particular I’m talking about my novels. With the best intentions I set out to write a tidy 100,000 word manuscript, but before I know it, it’s a 190,000 word epic. I can’t help it.

Moreover, I’m not entirely sure why my word count is so high. I don’t write lengthy descriptions of the surroundings every time my main character walks into a new set. I don’t include pages-long odes to the male physical form every time my protagonist’s love interest shows up. I’ve weeded out all those malevolent adverbs, cut back on the sugary adjectives, and my protagonist spends a lot of her time alone, so the dialogue is sparse. I don’t allow her to go off on tangents willy-nilly. As far as I’m concerned, there is very little clutter, and no entire scenes that needn’t be there.

 So what’s going on?

I was recently told that I should divide the book in two, that there is just too much happening for one book. But is my book really a jumble of too many different plot strains, or is it just unconventional for an urban fantasy to be so long, and thus unacceptable? In this day and age, we are all deeply constrained by our genre and we might not even know it. We tend to write what we love to read, so we follow those conventions without even knowing it.

For urban fantasy, there seems to be only really one option lately. A series. Virtually every urban fantasy book becomes a series of five or more books, unless the author or publishers pull the plug. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever read a standalone urban fantasy. Have you?

My book was supposed to be part of a trilogy. This was my first mistake, apparently, because it seems trilogies belong to fantasy or possibly sci-fi. Trying to write an urban fantasy trilogy in this day and age is daring to the point of audacity. This is because trilogies, by nature, are more epic as they have one major overarching story told in three stages, whereas series are often formed of individual stories linked only by the characters and the world they are set in.

As series progress, there are often more loose ends left between each instalment, and they will probably build toward a big finale in the final two or three books.

But the story I want to tell isn’t a series. It isn’t short, separate stories – it is one woman’s journey from good to evil and back again, from loneliness to belonging, from ignorance to knowledge she cannot unlearn. Along the way there are murderers to catch, a revolution, and the Second Coming to deal with, which is why the story breaks down well into three longer books.

So what’s wrong with longer books anyway? Some of my favourite books are in excess of 150,000 words. Three of the Harry Potter books were in excess of 190,000.
The first Book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series, Game of thrones, by George R. R. Martin is 280,000+ words.  Longer books, done well, can consume you in a way that a series of shorter books never will. You can get wonderfully lost in a long book as you immerse yourself in its world and characters.

And isn’t it annoying when a book you find yourself loving ends all too soon? There have been many occasions where I’ve enjoyed a book but felt it was too brief, or found it finished prematurely, the story not really complete, in order to end on a cliff-hanger and entice me to buy the next book.

Brevity can be a bad thing too. It’s in the details that great characters are born and raised, after all. Some writers seem so concerned with a fast pace or the right word count that the plot zips along so breathlessly you barely have time to remember the characters names and before it’s done.

How unsatisfying it is to reach the end of a book and feel it was an opportunity wasted? Good characters, nice ideas, but just not fleshed out enough. Because, after all, when you really love something, you cannot get enough of it. If you love characters or the fictional world they inhabit, you would read an entire book about those characters just doing the laundry, or about a postman’s observations of that world as he goes on his daily rounds.

I think the modern publishing necessity of brevity is linked with the fashion for showing, not telling. Yes, this is a fashion, a trend borne from modernism and cemented in postmodernism I suspect. Telling tends to lead to lengthy exposition, particularly in fantasy, which is why finding novel ways to show the same information often ends up taking fewer words.

There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes writers go to such lengths to show the nature and history of their supernatural creatures, for example, that instead of just including a straight-to-the-point paragraph telling the same information, they end up including entire extra scenes in order to relay it through actions and speech.

Consider the Prologue of The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Rings. That chapter is so long, it reads like an encyclopaedia entry, and I have to tell you, it was a slog to read. But I’m glad I read it, because it added so much to the story proper. If Tolkien had tried to show all that instead of telling it, he would have had to write another trilogy just to do so.

But I’m not Tolkien. I’m not delusional; I know the limitations of my writing, the strengths and the weaknesses. And I’m not writing fantasy, I’m writing urban fantasy, remember? Part of the appeal of urban fantasy as opposed to traditional fantasy is its accessibility. It isn’t supposed to be so fantastic that it needs so much explanation; it’s supposed to be a least in part ‘urban’, modern, recognisable.

So if I can’t write the epic trilogy I wanted to write, and the story won’t fit into the accepted series format prescribed for urban fantasy, what options are left? I see only one, and for this I incline my head in thanks to Stephenie Meyer for her popular (albeit critically slated) example - the four part saga.

So apparently I’m now writing a four part saga, not a trilogy. Half of me is delighted to have found this happy compromise, but the rest of me is just overwhelmed at the prospect of redrafting and re-planning not one but all three of the original books.

What have I gotten myself into? And why does the word ‘saga’ make me want to cringe?

As always, comments welcome. Follow me @H_Y_Malyk on Twitter

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

From Buffy to Anita Blake: The Characters Who Inspired My Writing

I’m currently writing urban fantasy about a dysfunctional but powerful woman who must fight demons both literal and figurative in a dystopian future London. I say currently because the epic trilogy is a work in progress, but it’s been progressing for the last decade – which is the entirety of my adult life.

Over the years, my vision of the story I want to tell and the characters who inhabit that world have inevitably been influenced by the fiction I’ve come into contact with. Below I discuss just a few of the most notable examples.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Faith

Chances are you’ve heard of this one. It was a show that captured the imaginations of a generation, combining, for what I believe to be the first time, the high school drama with elements from the horror genre. Who didn’t love the lead character Buffy, a cute and spunky heroine who broke the blonde victim stereotype?

However, it was the character Faith that intrigued me most. The idea of the slayer gone wrong, the anti-heroine, a figure of good corrupted, not by magic, but by insecurities and temptation, was an irresistible source of inspiration for my writing. From the first episode featuring the rebellious slayer, I never wrote a heroine with a clear conscience again.

The character’s descent into ‘evil’ and subsequent journey to redemption that crossed over into the show’s darker counterpart, Angel, captivated me. To this day, I’m drawn to characters who fall from grace and then struggle to atone.

Gaia Moore

This one is slightly less well known. The Fearless series, by Francine Pascal, is a twenty-plus book Young Adult saga that tells the story of a genetically modified teenage girl who can’t feel fear and has enhanced physical abilities. To help her stay safe, her father trains her in martial arts, but then abandons her.

Throughout the series, Gaia Moore becomes embroiled in in the machinations of her murderous uncle, an American spy, and balances an angst-filled social and love life with vigilantism.

 She is strong, reckless and fierce, but socially awkward, riddled with insecurity and the pervasive loneliness of never quite fitting in. Where Faith was always confident, brazen even, Gaia taught me that heroines could be pensive and unsure of themselves too.

Anita Blake

Anita Blake is, in my opinion, the first heroine of modern ‘urban fantasy’. I discovered the books by Laurel K. Hamilton as a teenager and it felt like my eyes had been opened for the first time.

Anita’s world is brutal and often genuinely disturbing, but she weathers any storm she’s thrown into not with (at least in the early books) any special powers, but with good training, experience, and an unflinching trigger finger. In many ways, she is comparable to Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider games, another inspiring female character.

I also really appreciated Anita’s style as a character (again, mostly the early books). Where most TV shows and books had beautiful, glamorous women in lead roles who wore the latest fashions and styled their hair and makeup just so, Anita had wild hair and wore sneakers and t-shirts.

To this day, I prefer a heroine who wears sensible footwear and doesn’t go out to confront the big bad wearing leather and a crop top. There’s something about a female character who not only kicks ass, but does so in designer heels that makes me…well, jealous.

Parrish Plessis

The Parrish Plessis trilogy by Marianne de Pierres (Nylon Angel, Code Noir, Crash Deluxe) will forever stand as some of my favourite fiction.

If you haven’t read the books, they are a blend of harder sci-fi with fantasy in a dystopian Australia, which makes them a little different from most urban fantasy out there. I’m far from a sci-fi fan, but Pierres’ prose is so sparse, yet so evocative, so unique, so hard-hitting, that the books swept me into her world and didn’t release me until the end of the third book.

On the other side, the main character, Parrish, stayed with me. Ballsy to the extreme, she is not a delicate female, being neither slight of build nor very pretty, but she kicks some serious arse (and she does it with an ‘r’ – yes!!). Some of the concepts in the book blew my mind, and since reading them I have always tried to pack more punch into my prose.

Jill Kismet

In my humble opinion, there are no better written urban fantasy books than the Jill Kismet series by Lilith Saintcrow (Night Shift, Hunter’s Prayer, Redemption Alley, Flesh Circus, Heaven’s Spite, & Angel Town).

I love urban fantasy, but some of it can be a bit fluffy, with superficial Mary Sue characters and prose that relies more on snark than thoughtful language choices. The Jill Kismet books break the mould in terms of how dark and gritty the content and characters are as well as in terms of the writing style.

Saintcrow’s prose is lyrical and mesmerising at times, visceral and devastating at others. The main character wrestles with demons and her conscience throughout the series as she helps the local police department fight supernatural crime.

She's gloriously conflicted with a fairly screwed up past, but she always manages to do the right thing, and in the process finds a partner who stands by her through all the horror and gore. And there is a lot of gore. The stories are so vivid, bleak and compelling that I even forgive her the leather pants.

If I could write a book that comes even close to being as stunning as those featuring Jill Kismet I will consider myself very successful.

What all these characters have in common, apart from being physically strong/powerful, is that they are all a somewhat damaged, disturbed even, constantly straddling that fine line between good and evil, right and wrong, and while they always manage to save the day, they cannot always save themselves.

The darkness within us all excites my muse in a way straight-laced heroes like Superman never will. We all know conflict is the driving force of all fiction, but it is inner conflict, complex and unpleasant though it may be, that makes a good story great.

As always, if you liked what you read, why not leave a comment or follow me on Twitter @H_Y_Malyk

Sunday, 17 January 2016

5* Review of Dirt On Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones

The Dirt On Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson series #9)

Warning: this book is fucking amazing. Buying it will result in loss of sleep and/or serious distraction from so-called important things like work, school, housework etc.

 I admit I’m a harsh critic; I give five star reviews very sparingly. But this book deserves the uncommon, five stars.

If you like character-led urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance that makes you laugh and makes you cry, then you need to read this book. Of course, as this is the ninth in the series I would recommend starting at the beginning with number one. I should say that the first couple of Charley books were not quite as good, in my opinion, but it wasn’t long before they evolved into something magic.

As with the previous 8 books, the number one reason why I loved this is the characters. I have said it before and I will say it again, there is no more likeable character in all of urban fantasy than Charley Davidson. She is hilarious, humble, compassionate, and the best friend anyone could have. In this book, which had a nostalgic quality to it (more on this later), I found myself wishing to be Charley’s best friend Cookie Kowalski for the umpteenth time.

You hear a lot of reviewers say that the characters in books are so real and believable but I have never cared about the fates of any character cast like the one Jones has crafted. She expertly combines character building asides into the ongoing plots and juggles several familiar characters effortlessly. Her characters are never two dimensional, never clich├ęd, and you can’t help but love them as much as she clearly does.

This book follows the events that occur when Charley loses her memory after the trauma of having to give away her baby daughter. As it becomes clear that she is not going to regain her memories until at least the end of the book, I found myself a little bit frustrated at first. There was something slightly implausible in the way all the people from her real life had insinuated themselves into her new amnesiac life and in how she kept overlooking their deceptions, but after the initial surprise at the direction Jones had chosen for this book, I got over it.

 Yes, the book is a bit of a filler, in which not much happens to advance the greater plot and instead actually stalls its progress, but as long as that means we get more Charley books, who cares?

As the book went on and we get to see all the familiar characters through the fresh eyes of amnesiac Charley, it began to feel like a nostalgic return to the earlier books, before the epic gods and demons backstory began to propel the story towards its no-doubt cataclysmic conclusion (hopefully in the far distance future).

After the birth of Charley's daughter, who is prophesied to be the one to end Satan, the days of Charley and Cookie investigating cases with the help of ghosts are numbered. How much longer can Charley continue to live her ‘normal’ life now that she knows she is a god? In this book, we the readers get to revisit the halcyon days when Charley was mostly ignorant of her true nature and powers, and I for one am thankful.

Because it was always in the smaller, human moments that these books excelled. Sure, the fantasy elements are great. Gods, demons, the son of Satan, alien superbeings, ghosts, hellhounds, it’s all there, and it’s thrilling and surprising, but the truly moving aspects of this series have always been the subplots about human darkness and light and the evanescence of human life.

 Jones is a skilled storyteller who manages to weave several smaller plot strains together with the overarching story of Charley trying to regain her memory amidst an interdimensional conflict, every one of them compelling and emotional reading. I was moved to tears repeatedly during this book, but as usual what prevented it all from becoming melancholy was Charley’s quirky, upbeat personality.

As always, the hilarious moments made the darker moments more touching, and left me craving more of the uniquely riveting highs and lows that these books bring. The only question now is, what on earth am I going to do until the next one comes out??

As always, comments welcomed. Follow me on Twitter @H_Y_Malyk.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Why First Scenes Work - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the dystopian young adult fantasy that launched a thousand dystopian young adult fantasy ships. What sets it apart from a lot of similar books is the high standard of writing, which is very mature in tone and never patronising as some YA can be. It pulls no punches in its depiction of a revolution in a brutal alternate world where materialism and corruption rule over justice.

The title tells us this book will be one of jarring conflicts – hunger is not supposed to be a game, but then games are not supposed to be deadly. This story is a powerful one, but heavily conceptual as it asks the reader to imagine a world severely different from our own and one that is, for most of us, too extreme to be conceivable. For this reason, the story had to be told through a first person narrative. We had to see the personal, human impact of this dystopia close up, and who better to show us than Katniss Everdeen?

Essentially, Katniss is the everywoman, someone just normal enough that any teenage girl reading her story can relate to her, who just happens to have the particular skills that get her noticed, and then used to represent a campaign. She is also someone whose life has been warped more than others by the world she lives in. Her father was killed in the mines, which led her to become the provider for her family, a role that forced her to develop the hardiness, resourcefulness and archery skills she needs to survive the Hunger Games.

The first chapter starts with one of the most important ideas of any book: the protagonist’s motivation. Through the horror and madness of the Games and rebellion that follows in the third book, Katniss’s family are her reason. In fact, it is her love for Prim that is the catalyst for her journey since she takes the place of her sister as a tribute.

Collins could have chosen to start the book with the reaping, and worked the backstory in after that. She could have started the book with Katniss already entering the arena, but instead she chose to show Katniss at home first, to establish what it is she has to lose. After all, it is never just Katniss’s life at stake. It is her family, her village, even her entire society that hangs in the balance.

Katniss’s status as the everywoman begins in the first line ‘When I woke up, the other side of the bed was cold’. This sentence is neither particularly unusual nor striking. It could apply to any character, in any fictional world, but it immediately implies a sense of loneliness. The domestic normalcy that follows as she describes her sister and mother is quickly undermined by the sinister and grotesque details used to describe their cat. In these few first paragraphs Collins establishes a life of familial simplicity within a harsh, ugly world where death is never far away, neatly presaging the story to come.

To increase the sense of foreboding, the reaping is mentioned several times before we come to learn what this term means. This is a technique used often by writers to increase their reader’s anticipation and keep the pages turning. As the chapter continues, Collins explains the details of Katniss’s world from the nature and dangers of the districts to the fact that they are ruled from the Capitol with a light descriptive hand, revealing just enough detail to pique the reader’s interest but not so much to bog us down.

As well as introducing the motivations and settings of Katniss’s world, we meet main characters such as Gale and Effie Trinket and find the underlying theme of rebellion in Gale’s quiet suggestions that he and Katniss could run off and live in the woods in defiance of the laws of the land. Katniss states that she would rather get shot in the head than die of hunger, which foreshadows the future political unrest and her role in it.

Interestingly, we don’t meet Peeta in the first chapter. Although we later learn that Katniss and Peeta already know each other, they only become close because of the Games. The Games create their relationship, just as they create their relationship for the games, which is why he is all she has left when everything from home is destroyed or irreparably altered.

The first chapter ends with the reaping – the event that launches the story, the end to Katniss’s status quo. Every story has one, but by including that event in the first scene we have a complete arc from a difficult but loving domestic life to an alien, inhuman event in which people, like crops, are cut down in their prime at the command of an unseen callous ruling force.

 In that first chapter, we meet our heroine, learn enough of her upbringing to sympathise with her and cannot help but admire her for her bravery and self-sacrifice. This is a story all about sacrifice, the sacrifice of lives, and the refusal to sacrifice conscience and humanity to succeed. Ending the chapter on a shock cliff-hanger, Collins compels us to continue reading in order to find out how Katniss Everdeen will survive against the odds.

As writers we should remember that the first chapter of our books must encapsulate the book as a whole and that, ideally, we should treat each chapter as a story in itself with a clear beginning, middle, end, and driving force or antagonist. How do the first and last lines of the first chapter compare or contrast?

 Think about how you can establish what your main character cares about and their motivation in the story, and then sit back and enjoy getting in their way. :)

If you liked what you read, please leave a comment. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @H_Y_Malyk

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Sorry, this isn’t porn. Feel free to leave this site now if that’s why you were thinking. I’m talking about sex in books, and why I think there’s a bit too much of it lately.

The old adage sex sells remains true, but, like violence in the media, we the consumer have become desensitised to it to the point that writers and artists are having to go to more explicit extremes to get the same reaction.

This is true of the content of books as well as in the cover art. After the success of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James, erotic fiction has seen a popularity explosion and this trend has rubbed off on other genres. These days it seems there are more book covers featuring naked male torsos or bare female legs than not. However, Fifty Shades itself has a rather more demure cover, which didn’t seem to negatively impact it’s sales, and proves the point that it isn’t necessary to cover your book in naked flesh to garner readers.

 Of course, part of the purpose of a book cover is to give your potential readers some indication of the content so that the know what they’re in for. More cynically, the purpose of a cover is to get people to judge your book by it and buy it even if they don’t end up liking what’s inside.

Using naked models on the cover is a sure-fire way to get people interested, but in anything but erotica this technique makes me cringe. Is the most important or interesting feature about your book really the chiselled abs of your hero? In some cases, authors are likely selling themselves short by suggesting so. They also risk patronising potential readers by suggesting that readers are only interested in the sexy male love interests.

Personally, I think that only erotica warrants nudity on the cover. In some cases, the content of books is also so explicit that it belongs in erotica. Of course, sex does have a place in fiction, but there is a big difference between sexual realism and gratuitous sexual content.

 Young adult fiction tends to skirt around the issue of sex and is often deliberately unrealistic in its lack of sexual content. If the characters have sex at all, it is usually off page, which is appropriate for the audience. In new adult fiction, there is also a trend for less sex or less explicit sex, and I have heard of people distinguishing new adult from full adult fiction by the level of sexual content, i.e. if it’s about a twenty something and there isn’t much sex or swearing, then it’s new adult not adult.

 This definition is troublesome for me because not too long ago the majority of adult books did not feature explicit sexual content. Those that did had a distinct reason for it (more on this in a minute), and often intended to shock their reader. In recent years, however, it seems the majority of adult books include detailed sex scenes, to the extent that it is virtually demanded by the reader and some writers feel pressured to include more sexual detail in order to sell more copies.

But why is there so much sex in modern fiction? Writers are taught to only include events that further the plot or are essential to character or thematic development. Anything that doesn’t serve a clear purpose in the story should be cut. It is for this reason that sex scenes used to be included only if the sex acts were pertinent to the plot, characters, or themes.

 In a romance, the first time a couple have sex it is often depicted as the cementing of their relationship, thus it can be an important part of the story. If there are tensions in a marriage that are going unsaid, these could manifest in an awkward sexual encounter. A character’s secret sadistic or masochistic side could be uncovered in a sex scene. Rape scenes are clearly integral to the plot and characters involves, and could require more graphic detail to emphasise the violence.

However, apart from in some select cases, it is not usually important to show a high level of detail in sex scenes. Even in romances, why do some writers dedicate four or more pages to a graphic play-by-play when all the reader needed to know was that they had sex and enjoyed it?

 If the same writers spent four pages describing the two characters sitting at a table eating a meal at the end of each day, smiling and exchanging only few words, it would be considered pointless and would be edited out. So why aren’t sex scenes considered pointless clutter, particularly when the feature more than once within the same character’s story in a book?

Overall it seems that, in some cases, sex scenes are used to distract the reader from problems with the plot or characters, filling in gaps or breaking up lulls in the action, or just generally trying to add bonus points to an otherwise bland story. If this is the case, then I for one am not fooled.

If you think I’m being harsh here I have two words for you. Anita Blake. Enough said.

If you liked this post, please leave a comment.
As always, you can find me on Twitter @H_Y_Malyk

In Defense of Bella Swan

Bella Swan, of the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, has been on the receiving end of a lot of negativity. I’m not talking about the Twilight Saga books or movies; I’m talking specifically about the character Bella.

 While many teenage girls relate to her as a normal, average girl who quite literally stumbles into a stunning, threatening world of fantastic creatures and superhuman peril, a lot of others have given her a hard time for being ‘weak’.

People have analysed her relationship with Edward and declared it abusive, and say she just passively accepts the abuse. People have called her shallow, and poured scorn on her for fawning over her beautiful, sparkly man. People have even condemned her to literary purgatory for being clumsy. In this post, I would like to explain why I think that Bella Swan is a worthy heroine.

Is she ‘weak’? Only from a narrow definition of the word. Yes she is physically weaker than Edward and the other vampires, but that is realistic for a human female. Yes she is a klutz, a characteristic which Meyer included, no doubt, to emphasise her human frailty as well as to mirror her social awkwardness and the feelings she expresses of having never quite fit in.

However, being accident-prone is not the same as being weak. Any story about a human falling in love with a vampire will inevitably make contrasts between the fragility of human physicality versus the indestructible immortal physique. Part of the appeal of vampires in fiction is the element of wish fulfilment in their physical features – they are typically powerful and beautiful, representing ideals we can only dream about. Meyer deliberately emphasised Bella’s human condition to make her vampires more appealing.

Bella is not weak because she looks after her dad in a domestic role, either. If doing domestic chores and caring for others is weak, then half the world is weak, and if they weren’t the other half would be a lot hungrier and dirtier.

In fact, by showing Bella in the role of carer, effectively filling the void her mother left when she separated from her father, Meyer demonstrates that Bella is not only independent and capable but responsible and mature as well. She attends school, does reasonably well there, weathers a tumultuous relationship, and looks after her dad – we should admire her, not belittle her for this.

Within her relationship with Edward, it’s true that he exhibits controlling behaviour, which she tolerates. However, it’s Bella who urges Edward to cement it further by being intimate and by turning her into a vampire so that they can be together for eternity. Despite Edward’s feelings against Jacob, Bella does not submit to his preferences and continues to maintain her friendship with Jacob. Bella even shamelessly kisses Jacob in front of Edward in Eclipse – proving that she is hardly the downtrodden victim of Edward’s controlling abuse.

In the first book, despite Edward admitting to being a monster, Bella openly says she doesn’t care. In the face of such a strange, predatory creature the vast majority of men and women would sensibly be afraid. But Bella is not sensible – she is wilful and stubborn. She knows what she wants and she relentlessly pursues it, almost to the point of recklessness. She insist on being with Edward despite his protests that he is dangerous and she’s making a mistake, on carrying her unborn baby to term in spite of the risks to her body, and on becoming a vampire in spite of the risks to her mind and soul. 

It could be argued that Bella’s only true weakness is loving Edward. Falling for a vampire is never a very good idea, but Meyer carefully avoids her seeming like too much of a masochist by making the vampires ‘vegetarian’. The point is supposed to be that she loves him despite what he is, not because of it – that others are attracted to him for superficial reasons but that Bella can see beyond them.

She is a heterosexual teenage girl - she is allowed to appreciate Edward’s physical features (and in doing so theoretically inspires the same feelings in the reader, since it is a first person narrative). Some have asked, if not for the way he looks, why does she love him? They say they can’t see anything between them except PG rated lust. But you could ask the same question of a lot of real life relationships and never come up with an answer. People have loved each other for no decipherable reason since the dawn of time.

In New Moon, I wholly sympathised with Bella’s reaction to Edward leaving. As a confident adult reading it, a young girl falling apart and sinking into a deep depression over a boy seems silly, but Bella is not a confident adult and neither is the intended audience of the books. Teenagers are typically less self-assured, more self-conscious, and more fraught with insecurities than adults.

As someone who suffered with depression for most of my adolescence, I could relate to how Bella felt she wasn’t good enough for him and how she felt in his absence. So her behaviour wasn’t aspirational, but is it weak to grieve the absence of someone we love? Bella’s strength is in how she doesn’t let it defeat her. After all, no one drags her out to spend time with Jacob. She eventually goes willingly, coping the only way she can (some take prescription meds, some turn to drink, Bella becomes an adrenaline junkie – each to their own.)

Ultimately, Bella marries Edward and becomes a mother. It might not be a popular life path these days but the choices she makes are not to be scoffed at.

In the end, she gets everything she wanted through her own perseverance and unflinching resolve in the face of incredible danger. Against the odds, she not only survives, but thrives.