Yes, it’s true. We’re talking about Bella Swan today.
Hey, where are you going? Get back here!
Look, I know that Bella Swan isn’t a very interesting character. She’s pretty bland, and pretty passive, and—from a writer’s point of view, at least—obviously designed as a self-insert character. She’s a whole lot of nothing, which means that the reader can mentally erase her and put themselves in her place. (This is not to be confused with the other kind of self-insert character, which is when an author deliberately and obviously writes themselves into the story. That’s a topic for another day.)
Which, when you think it about it, is sort of a weird way to approach character-building. We mostly worry about making our characters nuanced and powerful and compelling. We want them to leap off the page and shake the reader while screaming “NOTICE ME!!”
Self-insert characters are the opposite of that.
Self-insert characters like Bella are all over the place in fiction, and to be honest, I think there’s some skill involved in writing them. Have you ever tried writing a character with no personality? It’s weirdly difficult. To be honest, it’s a big part of the reason why none the Twilight fanfiction I wrote as a teenager had Bella in a starring role. I knew everything there was to know about her and it wasn’t enough to work with, so I turned my attention to side characters like Jasper and Rosalie—characters about whom little was known, and who therefore had room for greater depth and complexity.
what no I was totally surprised that I turned out to be a writer
In terms of character construction, Bella’s not that interesting. She’s no Starr Carter or Severus Snape. But for me, Bella is interesting in the reaction that she garners. There is so much hate for Bella Swan and the Twilight series in general. They’re stupid books. They ruined vampires. Bella is the literal worst.
And I just have to say…there’s a lot to unpack here.
that’s academic code for “holy sh*t” btw
Yes, they’re stupid books—but there are loads and loads of stupid books out there, and none of them have heralded the downfall of literature or civilisation. And as for ruining vampires…is the vampire canon really so weak that one forgettable book series can ruin them? Come on, guys, vampire lore has been around for thousands of years. The headcanon where they sparkle in the sun is going to be as much of a footnote as the headcanon where they’re obsessed with counting stuff.
The truth is, Bella isn’t the literal worst. She’s just…forgettable. She’s just boring. She a punchline. I won’t go into the complex stuff about Bella and pop culture and strong female role models, but if you want to ruminate more on Bella Swan and Twilight hate in general, I really recommend this video essay by Lindsay Ellis.
And that’s it! That was the character study on Bella Swan. Not so bad, was it?
Have you ever written a bland self-insert character like Bella? Can you think of anything good about Bella Swan or the Twilight series? What other stupid books have you read?