The audience of a book is something that most writers have in mind. We usually set out to write a children’s book, or a YA novel, or adult fiction, and the writing reflects that. There are things that I can get away with in YA that wouldn’t fly in middle grade, but there are also things that I can’t do in YA due to the fact that it’s essentially the PG-13 of the writing world.
The audience of a book can also dictate themes. Several people disliked the moral relativism that was being discussed in A Series of Unfortunate Events, particularly at the end, because they thought that it wasn’t appropriate for children, while GRRM enjoys the ability revel in moral relativism.
Stephenie Meyer set out to write her book with a very specific audience in mind. She tailored her book to appeal just right to that audience.
The only problem was that it wasn’t the audience that the series was marketed to.
Teenagers weren’t the intended audience
“MTV: Did you purposefully plan out the demographic you were writing for?
Meyer: The surprise was really the young adults, because when I wrote “Twilight” it was for me, and I was 29. So it was for the moms who still remembered what it was like to be 17. But then it really caught on with the 17-year-olds, and I’m not surprised at all by the 30-somethings. I love them all! [Laughs.]”
In all honestly, this makes tremendous sense in context. People have wondered just why it was that Bella never seemed to work with the technology that existed in 2005. There seemed to be no cell phones, no DVD’s, or anything else of that nature everything seemed stuck somewhere in the nineties. This also explains why there are quotes such as ‘adolescent laughter’ that just sound like an older woman looking back and remembering things.
Stephenie Meyer wanted to write a romance, but at the same time, she wasn’t particularly interested in writing the sex scenes that often seem necessary for adult fiction. As such, she decided to write her book and then declare that, given the ages of the protagonists, it was something for young adults. However, the audience, the people that Meyer honestly thought were going to be interested in the book weren’t people like me when the book came out (AKA the actual twelve through twenty-year-olds) they were the people like I am now, women in their mid to late twenties who still enjoyed YA.
This was a wish fulfillment fantasy, but it was one for older women, who were looking back and dreaming of their glory days in high school. What was more, this was a book for older women to dream about how high school SHOULD have gone. Where the quiet student managed to have all the guys interested in her, have the ‘dangerous’ relationship that she knew that she shouldn’t have, and put everyone who she didn’t like in their place.
Bella’s friends also avoid doing things that are considered more normal in this day and age. For instance, you hear about ‘Chess Club Erik’ because that was something that was considered ‘smart and nerdy’ at the time, back when D&D was something that no one admitted to, and girls just weren’t thought of as being capable of being nerdy.
In reality, the Twilight Saga is mired in Meyer’s own childhood, and it makes sense. Meyer admits to have written for an audience of one, and maybe other women who are like her.
And in reality, this should change how we look at this series.
When we consider that the books were not written for teenagers, it means that there are a lot of things that need to be approached differently. Even the romance between Bella and Edward takes a completely different light. One of the biggest critiques about the series is the Meyer wrote what was honestly an abusive relationship, and one that the target audience of twelve to seventeen year olds might not really even realize was abusive. However, when the target audience is older women, then things change.
Suddenly, we’re dealing with an audience where this is the risky adventure that they never had because they were too smart, but they’d always fantasized about having. They should know that Edward isn’t someone who in reality they should date, but that doesn’t stop them from sort of fantasizing about it.
At some level, it’s the same internal logic as the bodice ripper. Yes, it’s bad, and they wouldn’t necessarily want someone to watch them when they sleep, but they’re adults, and they’re fantasizing about the things that they’d known better than to do.
It also explains Breaking Dawn. Almost entirely.
The biggest problem with Breaking Dawn, other than the lingering specter of Forever Dawn that I’m going to need to talk about, is the fact that the story was something that the teenage reader isn’t going to want to read. They don’t want to read about being a mother, or having the perfect child. That’s ages away for many of them. The idea of pregnancy is still categorized under ‘don’t do it’ for most of them. But for the older reader, this is more of the same.
When writing for teenagers, most romances end with marriage, because usually the younger reader isn’t interested in going beyond that in fiction. Having a baby is a little like going to the moon. Also, most of the time, YA romance is actually supposed to be, at some level, instructing. They’re talking about what to do and not to do and what constitutes a good man. At some level, the Twilight Saga isn’t doing that. And it isn’t doing that because it doesn’t think that it has to.
It’s not supposed to be used as a way to find a perfect (or even a good) guy. It’s there for older women to fantasize about the forbidden romance that they’d wanted to have with that guy that they knew was sort of bad news.
So, why is this a big deal?
First of all, if Meyer didn’t have a younger audience in mind, then she’s not going to worry about what would or wouldn’t be appropriate. This means that many of the themes of the book exist because this was essentially Meyer’s version of writing her kink out for other women her age and seeing if her sin was the sin for them. The idea of whether or not this showed a healthy relationship probably never even entered Meyer’s mind when she was writing, because she, and most of her intended readers, were already married and presumably happy enough. When it moved to YA, things that needed to be changed weren’t, turning it into the mess that we’re so familiar with today.
The themes are terrible because they were never really even considered. Meyer never really thought that she’d have someone reading her books who was impressionable enough for the themes to really matter. Most people who enjoy bodice rippers don’t really consider what the story is actually saying about relationships between men and women because they’re not reading the story for a depiction of a healthy relationship.
They’re reading it because they find it sexy.
Next, it’s the reason the Breaking Dawn was the messed up thing that it was. Again, Meyer was writing for herself, and for women like her, and so far, this formula had worked fine. She had no reason to think that maybe, just maybe, something that she found attractive or interesting wasn’t something that the majority of her readers weren’t going to find interesting.
She never had to think about the fact that readers weren’t reading the story for Bella. Most readers weren’t even all that interested in Bella. They were reading the story for Edward. This had nothing to do with the readers wanting to recapture their glory days. They were living high school. They were dreaming about meeting a perfect man. As such they were hoping for resolution that Meyer didn’t understand. They wanted the love triangle resolved, the Volturi defeated, and marriage. They even had wanted Bella to struggle with being a vampire and see just how the change affected her.
But Meyer didn’t really understand this, and the reason is because, in the end, the book was never meant to be for them. From the beginning to the end, the young adults reading this book weren’t the intended audience.
This story was for Meyer and for people like her.
In some ways, the fact of the matter is that the Twilight Saga was set up from the start to fail in the end.
Writing for yourself and for your audience
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m saying that Meyer only should have had her audience in mind when she wrote, and it should have been the majority of people who were reading the book. That’s not necessarily true. Writers often tend to write the things that they themselves would like to read. Particularly in regards to plots, types of characters etc. However, there comes a point in writing when an author has to look over their work, particularly if they intend to sell it and ask themselves, ‘who is this book going to be marketed for, and are they going to be interested’?
This is one of the many reasons that literary fiction sneers at genre, but it’s a fact.
There was nothing wrong with Meyer originally writing out her dream, and writing the most self-indulgent crap ever to grace print. The problem was when the time came around to revise, and she didn’t look at what she was doing and think ‘Ok, I’m going to keep this really fun copy for myself, but I need to be ruthless and sell this thing.’
There was nothing wrong with Meyer’s first audience being herself, but there comes a time in writing, particularly when a story is starting to sell, that she needed to sit back and look at her work. There was never a point where she needed to wonder if she should save the first draft, which was maybe closer to what she wanted, and then work with the editors to see what was going to work for young adults and what wasn’t.
Edit your stuff with a target audience in mind.
Ask yourself questions about things that might cause trouble. Is Edward watching Bella sleep in the first book really something that I need to have in order to show his character? Is there something else that could be done in order to show how protective he is over Bella? Is Jacob’s forced kiss appropriate? Do fifteen-year-olds actually care about a perfect baby who you never need to change the diapers of? Is imprinting going to come off as creepy?
Listen to the fans and the things that they really, really want. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them, but it might help with some ideas for just what is actually important to them verses what you think is important. If Meyer had at least listened to the things that the fans wanted from Breaking Dawn, the book would have been different. At the very least, there would have been an actual confrontation with the Volturi.
A book, once it is going to be read for others, is not just something that the author writes for themselves. While that doesn’t mean that an author has to write what other people demand that they write, it means that an author must take their readers into consideration when they write.
Even though Meyer honestly thought that no one other than other people in their late twenties, early thirties would be interested in the book, the fact that it was marketed towards young adults meant that she needed to consider that young adults would read it, and in failing to do so, it contributed both to the problems with the story and to its, and Meyer’s, eventual loss of fame, name, and fans.
But that wasn’t the only factor, not by a long shot.
The biggest specter that haunted Meyer and eventually caused her demise is going to be subject of the next Everything Wrong with the Twilight Saga.