Picking Teams

Blogging by the seat of my pants this morning, as I kind of forgot and have about twenty minutes to actually get something posted.

I missed Twilight. I was not buying books at the time, and I hadn’t really discovered the YA section as an adult yet anyway. It was college, and I was poor and busy, and it wasn’t until after I finished my MSc that I washed up on the shores of ChaptersIndigo as a bookseller who hadn’t read one of the most popular series ever written.

I put off reading it for about four months, rightly assuming that it wouldn’t be my thing, but after Christmas, when my contract was extended, I decided that if I was going to continue in the bookselling business, I should read at least the first one, so that when I steered people towards Tamora Pierce instead, I did it knowing what I was doing.

So I read Twilight. And then I thought to myself “I know people who like this without irony. She must get better.”

Then I read New Moon. On about page five, I started yelling at everyone about the treaty, and by the time Jacob’s dad showed up at the end all “SURPRISE!”, I was all “OH GOD, HOW DUMB ARE YOU PEOPLE?”

(Admittedly, I have been in training to read the fine print since I was in single digits, but MAN. DETAILS. *sigh*)

Anyway, I put it out of my mind. I didn’t really think about Twilight again until I got the job at the Toy Cabal in 2009. We had TOYS for Twilight. Barbie dolls that sparkled and t-shirts that said “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob”. This was the first time I encountered the “team” phenomenon, and I grossly misunderstood it.

For weeks, I told people I was on Team Jacob. Jacob, after all, was not half as creepy as Edward. If I had to pick one of them, Jacob would be the one. What I failed to understand is that by picking a Team, I wasn’t picking which character was my favourite. I was picking the character I thought Bella should hook up with.

To me, this is the crux of the problem with Twilight. It’s been said before, but my biggest issue with the series is that there is no Team Bella. It just does not happen.

I like my girls with futures. Theirown futures. When it comes to Alanna the Lioness for example, I am technically on Team George, but the truth is that I am on Team Alanna. She makes choices. She makes LOTS of choices. Some of them are bad. Most of them, though, are about her own destiny, outside of the three men she falls in love with, and I ADORE that about her.

After I read The Hunger Games, someone asked me if I was on Team Peeta or Team Gale. I looked at them blankly and said “I’m on Team Katniss”, and the person said “How can she hook up with herself?” I managed not to smash my head against the table, and replied “I wasn’t really reading this book for the romance.”

I understand that there is nothing like a good love triangle (or quadrangle) to get the fans involved. It’s pretty much the best thing since star-crossed lovers. But if I’m reading a book, and I can’t pick Team Main Character, I get frustrated. I avoid romance in the first pass of my own writing specifically to make sure that everyone is their own person. On the second draft, I open them up a little bit. I guess it’s the writing equivalent of not kissing on the first date. I certainly don’t think romance should be left out of books (and seriously, I love romance), I just think that if you have a main character, specifically a female main character, who cannot be defined outside of her boyfriend (or unboyfriend, as the case may be), something is wrong.

I wish there was a Team Bella like there is a Team Alanna or Team Katniss. Twilight did a lot of things right, in that it hit the magical formula for being excessively popular, opening up the doors of YA for readers and writers alike. It has other problems beyond the lack of Bella’s agency, but I’m going to be late if I start talking about how much I hated the “I take drugs to forget  you” subplot, so I think I’ll leave it for now.

How do you feel about teams? What makes you pick them? Why are they exclusively pairing related? Do you have tricks for writing them? Inquiring minds want to know!


12 responses to “Picking Teams

  1. I’m a lot like you, in that I have to like the main character and he/she has to have agency and a personality of his/her own.

    As for any shipping, I love friendships, I love trust and mutuality, I do not like bickering/severe arguments, and I like relationships of equals, where both people are made better by being in a couple, but where you get a sense that each person could exist and be a complete person on their own.

    So in Tortall sense, Alanna/George was great, but Alanna/Jon wasn’t going to work because Alanna would have to change too much of herself to be the person Jon needed as a queen. If he hadn’t needed to be king, they might have been better suited. I also love Daine/Numair and Kel/herself (or Kel/anyone who respects her awesomeness).

    • Also, because I missed this part of your question at first, I don’t oftentimes have teams that are just shipping based. I tend to choose my favorite character and then possibly ship them with anyone that I think will make them happy, or not ship them at all and just want to watch them being awesome.

  2. I think it’s pretty impressive that the first I heard of Twilight was someone posting an early production sneak peak of the first movie. I think I was in Chile at the time. There’s a lot in my life to which I ascribe the blanket excuse/explanation/blame “I was Chile at the time” 😉

    Meyer has said herself she deliberately intended Bella to be a blank slate. I think the “pick your preference” aspect of the Team Wars shows proves that she accomplished just that. It’s really not even ‘who would you like Bella to hook up with?’, it’s ‘Who would I like to hook up with?’

    Then again, my cousin says that most tweeny Twihards either dismiss or outright despise Bella, so…

    Obviously you *can* construct characters that way. No one will stop you. People may even pay you lots of money for it, with a little luck, but it won’t ever be to my writery taste.

    • There’s a difference, I think, between writing an “everywoman” and writing a blank slate. By which I mean you SHOULD be able to write a character who is relateable and likable, without turning her (or him) into…well, Bella. I mean, Samwise Gamgee (or really, any Hobbit ever) would be a good example. It’s annoying that boys get that and we get Bella Swan!

  3. It’s SUCH a fabulous point, that in essence you’re saying “I’m Team Happiness for the Heroine.” I think the problem is that “happiness” is generally defined as being with a man. Certain suitors bring out certain aspects of a heroine’s personality — though I agree the “Team” whatevers are generally fandom’s projections about who they *personally* would want to hook up with (and hoping the heroine mirrors their decision).

    I understand “teams” when you have the choice between two drastically different suitors, however. You’re essentially saying what kind of life you want the heroine to have. But I can equally see how there should be a portion of “Whatever makes the heroine happy.”

    Unfortunately, that’s generally a man.

  4. I would like to point out (without making it sound like I’m defending the damn thing) that there *is* Team Bella now. It just took a lot longer than it should have and involved people that were not screaming teenager girls in love with Jacob or Edward.

    • I do realize that, technically, there is a Team Bella. But even in The Hunger Games, where the romance isn’t the entire story, there’s still no “official” Team Katniss. The default seems to be always “Hey, love triangle! Pick which guy you think the girl should end up with!” even though that’s not the story.

  5. I admit that I’m a thorough shipper. I’ve always shipped, as far back as I can remember. I also didn’t tend to pick up on some of the problematic relationship cues that I do now, but now that I do, I find myself on Team Heroine more often than not. 🙂 (I totally reject both Jacob and Edward as suitable teams in Twilight, although I have stronger objections to the material than that.)

    I never felt like the romance in The Hunger Games was the main point of the story, unlike in Twilight–so the team question makes no sense for me from that perspective.

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