We had some thoughts sent to our ask box that we did not get a chance to post, so we’re posting them here for all interested. We are not going to respond here, but if you’d like to hear what we think in response to an ask here, message us off anon and we’ll give you our opinions on the subject.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion, and if you have an idea for the next discussion, tell us here!

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i-can-breathe answered: I’ve read excellent YA novels with a weak character, that was likeable because they were portrayed as weak and not as heroes or role-models. To me the problem with Twilight for example is that Bella is weak and portrayed as a role-model at the same time, which can have bad…

Can you clarify how Bella is portrayed as a role model? I don’t mean to be combative, I’m just seeking examples for clarity. I’ve also read a few YA novels with weak protagonists, though truly weak (cowardly) female protagonists are rare, and they are certainly not portrayed as role models. 
kelltic92 answered: I never thought of it like that! We shouldn’t pressure writers to write what we want to read because it really limits them as writers.
mywholebohemiansoul asked: I don’t think the danger is in creating a weak female protagonist; of course S. Meyer has the right to do that. The worry that I have is that her story portrays that weak female protagonist’s negative experiences and unhealthy romance in a positive and romantic light. Also, the weak female protagonist hasn’t changed much at the end of the story, which, again, is fine, but doesn’t always make for interesting story-telling. It’s not S. Meyer’s job to tell a moral story, but it’d be more beneficial to society (and possibly a better story) if she showed the consequences that such a relationship or negative behavior would entail, rather than leaving everything all hunky-dory. Again, her book, her choice; however, I do think she failed to consider the implications of positively portraying such a relationship or the stagnancy of such a character.
Agreed. The question, however, is not about the plot of Mrs. Meyer’s books, but of her right to have an unlikeable, weak female protagonist. Is it Stephanie Meyer’s right to put her weak female role model character into abusive relationships and dangerous situations and call it romance? Is she doing the literary world an injustice?
This question interests me so much, especially when it comes to Twilight, is because so many of her critics use the “Bella is an unlikeable/unrelatable/flat/boring/stupid/vague character defense”. I maintain that Meyers has every right to write her characters however she likes and in whatever plot she wishes. It is the responsibility of the reader to recognize “bad” writing/plot/character development/themes and shy away from novels that include these “bad” elements.
anon asked: Stephanie Meyers is married. It’s fantasy, not wish fulfillment. It’s not like she’s a sixty year old cat lady.
It is absolutely wish-fulfillment, in my opinion. Stephanie Meyer has openly stated that she left Bella’s description vague so that readers could insert themselves into the narrative. Regardless of Mrs. Meyer’s age, marital status, or number of cats owned, Twilight is a series which uses wish-fulfillment to capture its audience’s attention. And it does this very, very well.
ryuuko13 answered: Bella is a great role model of what not to do. Young people are going to be exposed to the characters and will want to emulate them.
I give young people so much more credit than that. The girls that are looking for their Edward would have been looking for some unattainable ideal anyway. Most young readers are smart enough to know when they’re being pandered to, and they’re smart enough to know when a character isn’t a role model as well. Discuss.
pitviperofdoom answered: Actually, bad role models can make interesting characters. Bella is an awful role model, and that would be fine, IF IT WERE INTENTIONAL.
Agreed. Bad role models make for the most interesting characters, as bad role models almost always turn out to be villains, and villains are highly interesting. Bella is a bland, flat shell of a character so that readers can insert themselves more easily into the narrative. The movement of Bella through plot is terrifyingly predictable, but the focus of Twilight seems to be on the fantasy of true, undying love, not on any intricate, suspenseful plot and character development.
clintirwin answered: Why are female characters with qualities associated with maleness good role models and femaleness bad?

coralnard answered: I don’t think Bella is horrible. I think she has mental strength, even if she’s prone to depression. Most people think one negates the other.

The question on the table is not “is Bella a good person” because I think that a careful reading of Twilight will show you that no, she’s not. The question is: Is it ok to have a main character who is not a role model, especially in a YA novel?

shannahmcgill answered: I think that people dislike Twilight for other reasons. As long as a character isn’t a Mary Sue, it doesn’t matter if I *like* them or not.

I agree that readers have myriad reasons for their dislike of Twilight. Right now, we’re focusing on unlikeable characters with Bella as an example of a weak female main character, a “Mary Sue”, as you put it. I completely disagree with the entire idea of the term “Mary Sue”, but since you used it and a lot of people seem to have a shared understanding of what the term means, I’ll go along with it. I think it matters a great deal if a reader likes the main character of a book. Can you imagine how different the Harry Potter series would be if the title character was a complete douchebag? It wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be a whole new ball game.

cantwejustfuck answered: I like this point. It’s true. Female leads are good strong, weak female leads are interesting. Same with male ones.

Thank you!

corrtexiphan answered: If I thought for one moment that Bella Swan was meant to be any of those things then yes, but I don’t think that was Meyer’s intention at all

What are your thoughts of Meyer’s intention? And regardless of Twilight, what do you think of the idea of an unlikeable female protagonist in a YA novel?

hannahviera answered: I think this wouldn’t be a thing if people weren’t taking issue with the behavior the large number of fans exhibit. But, I haven’t read it.

I don’t mind her large number of fans at all. She wrong a book that struck a nerve with young girls; good for her. Even though you haven’t read Twilight, what do you think of the notion that a main character can be unlikeable, or the idea of a weak female protagonist?

nerdwantbrains answered: The fact is, Stephenie Meyer is not a clever person. She wrote the entire series purely as wish fulfillment, which is why her self-insert is a terrible person yet loved by everyone, and she gets a perfect boyfriend and no real conflict plays a part.

I was joking. Also, I’m no Twihard, but I’m not sure you can pass off your opinion of Stephanie Meyer’s intelligence as a fact here. That doesn’t seem fair since I’m willing to bet that you two are total strangers. You do not need to name-call to get your point across.

nerdwantbrains answered: No, you see the problem with Bella and Edward’s clearly abusive relationship is that Meyer GLORIFIES IT. She presents it as the perfect relationship and Edward as the ideal boyfriend.

True, but off-topic. My interest remains in whether or not she is entitled to write an unlikeable, weak female main character. Bella’s relationship with Edward (and her father and Jacob) only strengthens the reality that she is not a role model. The question is: can that be ok?

anon asked: Laci Green presents a really good argument against Twilight.

A video by Laci Green about Twilight.

anon asked: I am finding this intensely interesting, and find myself agreeing with the runner of this blog. Unrelated, perhaps, to Twilight, but who’s to say children only read books targeted at them anyway? Who’s to say fluffy do-well characters are protecting children from these beliefs anyway? Someone, I wish I could remember who, said you shouldn’t treat your audience as stupid or they will be stupid.

The YA author John Green said, “Teenagers are plenty smart. I don’t sit around and worry whether teenagers are smart.” I think that a young female teenager can figure out her own role models just fine. And thank you for the support!

watered-down-sunshine asked: I think what we tend to forget when we see characters as role models is that they are meant to be a portrayal of a real person. Real people are not perfect and they have flaws and qualities which make them unlikable, they do things that they shouldn’t. How one person reacts isn’t how another would and same goes with character. Not every character is supposed to be a role model, for example Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Yes. Well said.

alicethewallflower asked: I think reading into a book like Twilight too much is a bit ridiculous. There are some books that have inner meanings and different layers to characters, such as The Great Gatsby by Fiztgerald, which you can analyse and make your different interpretations. But books like Twilight, I see as being written purely for entertainment, which acts as a means of escape from reality. I don’t think Twilight needs to be realistic in the slightest and Bella doesn’t need to be a role model.

I tend to agree with you that Twilight is purely entertainment. It is the cotton candy of the literary world, meant to be eaten as an indulgence rather than a means of sustenance. Twilight as pure entertainment and nothing more means that Bella can be wish-fulfillment rather than a true heroine, we don’t have to take the abusive behavior of the men in Bella’s life too seriously (though we should anyway), and that the plot is secondary to the giggly feeling we get whenever Edward sparkles or whatever. Fluff doesn’t have to have some grand, deep meaning. However, the question here is broader than Twlight for me. Why is it ok to have a weak male protagonist, but not a weak female protagonist? And is it ok for a main character to fail to be a role model in a YA novel?

ad-astra-sequor asked: I think that a protagonist has to be a model for behavior, especially in books that target younger audiences. If a young girl reads Twilight and sees that Bella regularly puts up with an abusive boyfriend, they’re going to think that it’s acceptable and is the only way to get into a relationship. While protagonists don’t have to be perfect, I think the author has to realize who their audience is and what effect the character’s actions and response to those actions have on their audience.

Who targets a book? Is it Meyer’s responsibility to create characters that are appropriate to a younger audience, or is it her job to write?

papaveri asked: Also, I may add - I think Bella is written in order to make it EXTREMELY easy for the reader to identify with her. Very brief physical description and a bland, fit-in-all personality that is told but not shown (she’s reportedly “very mature for her age”, but she doesn’t act in a particularly mature way, for example).


anon asked: I don’t know if it’s that the main character needs to be a likable role model. I think people’s dislike of Bella comes from the fact that she’s /presented/ as a role model, so we have hordes of young impressionable girls who want to follow her example of being generally weak, whiny, and obsessively dependent on “the perfect boy” (who isn’t even all that great) to the point where her life literally falls apart when he leaves.

Indeed. Isn’t that all a part of what being an unlikeable main character is, though?

justanorthernlight answered:It’s not that she’s unlikeable, it’s that the narrative tells us that we should like her when we don’t. It’s the issue of show don’t tell.
Interesting take, and a great point.
mumblinginadarkroom answered: My biggest issue was that everybody in her universe liked her, when there was no logical reason that they should.
Agreed. Her character certainly existed for wish-fulfillment.
crazywordycher answered: I don’t care about the role model part; I’m more offended over how character with personality of cardboard falls for an abusive relationship.

I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s the role model part that I’m interested in discussing here. Do you have any thoughts on that?  

gravelyghoulish answered: The glorification of her character is my problem. If there was acknowledgement that she’s not that great, it would be one thing. There isn’t.
True enough. Could that be a narrative choice on the author’s part? Maybe we could take it as a clever ruse…

can-i-be-a-cynical-romantic answered: I don’t actually think you have to be a likeable role model - just a believable one. I don’t like Bella because she’s flat and unrealistic.

Fair enough. I agree that Bella is not a believable character. I agree that she is flat. In terms of unrealistic, I tend to think of sparkling vampires as more unlikely than a weak, mildly pretty waif, but I’m glad to see that you’re open to the idea of an unlikeable female protagonist, as long as she’s written well.

a-almodovar answered: i dont believe its “important” for the main character needs to be a role model. I think they need to be relatable. i honestly think bella is

Bella was written for the reader to simply insert himself or herself in. She a placeholder character for wish-fulfillment. That seems fine to me, honestly. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see why Twilight has captured the interest of millions of people. I’m glad you don’t think it’s important for the main character to be a role model, and I agree with you that the ability to relate with any character is pretty important.

papaveri asked: I think the problem is not the fact that Bella is a bad role model as much as the idea you can extract of the whole saga - that her relationship with Edward, that has some very clear and abundant abusive elements, it’s so perfect and desirable. It kind of reinforces social ideas which I find even dangerous. Also, there are a lot of continuity errors in Bella’s characterization that put her very close to Mary Sue territory (if not clearly in it). Sorry for the possible mistakes in my English!

Is it Stephanie Meyer’s responsibility to create a story that is free of abuse and that does not reinforce dangerous social ideas? A Song of Ice and Fire is a pretty cut-throat and gritty portrayal of character interaction, but I don’t think anyone read and and immediately wanted to cut off a trusted adviser’s head or something. Ok, that was a lame, example, but you see what I mean. I feel like there’s a double standard for Twilight versus other fantasy/supernatural series. As for Bella’s characterization, well, I agree that Meyer did not pen an amazing character. My question deals more with whether or not she is entitled to write an unlikeable, weak female main character.

We’re watching the discussion about Twilight on yeahwriters right now, and we can’t help but wonder:

Many critics of Twilight point out that the protagonist, Bella Swan, is an awful role model for the target audience of young female readers, and that characters like Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) and Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games) are much stronger female protagonists as well as much more inspirational to young women.

…So what?

Why does Stephanie Meyer have a responsibility to write an amazing positive female role model just because we demand it? Does her artistic integrity, her right to write a weak, emotional, clingy, abused, morbid, lying, two-faced, vague, downright unlikeable female character count for nothing?

How would you feel if someone closed the door on a possible character of this sort in your writing? Do you think that this bias against Meyer’s unlikeable female protagonist illustrates the unintended constraints we put on our writers’ depiction of female characters versus the relative freedom writers have to display the full array of male character traits, good and bad, weak and strong?

Discuss (Answer, Disqus, Ask): Why is it so important that the main character of a story be a likeable role model?