Friday, July 10, 2009

GuestEssay: Fandom's Red-Headed Step-Couples

The Red-Headed Step-Couples of Fandom.


I’ve been involved in the fandom for pretty much exactly a year now, and in that year, I’ve met a lot of people involved in the community. Everyone has a story, short or long, of why they got involved in the fandom. This isn’t necessarily a scientific study, but I don’t remember a single story that didn’t involve Edward and Bella in some form.

Of course , sometimes it’s just Edward—because let’s face it, he’s a handsome fucker—but almost always it’s a squeeing girl confessing that she just had to “know” more. After the nightmare otherwise known as BD, it’s usually someone who wanted to fill in those damn fade-to-black scenes that SMeyer gifted us with.

Either way, it’s always about Edward and Bella. They’re like a mobius strip—it always comes back to them.

Or does it?

Unlike my first example, I’m going to get downright scientific here—or at least as scientific as a literature nerd gets. I did a random poll of the first three “Recently Updated” pages on and placed every story into one of five categories. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results. After all, it’s a genuinely acknowledged fact that everyone writes E/B. Still. . .the numbers just don’t lie:
  • Bella and/or Edward with an OC: 2
  • Bella/Edward in an alternative pairing (Jacob/Jasper/etc): 5
  • Real Life (RPattz/Kellan/Jackson/KStew): 2
  • Secondary Canon Pairing: 6
  • Bella/Edward: 48

That’s over 76% stories that are exclusively Edward/Bella or promise to be E/B, eventually.

This article isn’t necessarily going to address both why we think it has to be all Edward and Bella, all the time. Instead I want to talk about a growing trend in the fandom that I hope will gain even more ground: secondary canon pairings that instead of being relegated to the background are the main focus of a story.

When I started talking to some friends about what I wanted to write about, quite a few of them were confused. I got a lot of recommendations for Carlisle/Bella or Jasper/Bella stories and even some Jasper/Edward stories. I had to stop and explain that I wasn’t referring to alternative non-canon pairings, but instead to the other Cullens.

The most common reaction I had to this was “I don’t read those stories—why would I? There’s no Edward and Bella.”

Yes, Edward and Bella are so interesting—I’ll admit that I read a lot of ExB myself and 90% of my stories are ExB—but just because ExB are the ultimate in awesome doesn’t mean that a Jasper/Alice story or a Rose/Emmett story can’t be just as great.

Yep, I’m here to tell you that it shouldn’t be about what the character’s name is—it should be all about strong writing and how good the story is. Because let’s face it, how many ExB stories have you read where the only resemblance that the stories’ characters had to the original Edward and Bella were the names and some physical characteristics? You’re not really reading about beloved characters at that point. You’re just hung up on a name (and maybe on the glory of RPattz’s jawline).

So why don’t we read secondary couples? My theory is this. Because SMeyer’s books are really about Edward and Bella, and the other characters got relegated to the background, it’s hard for us to break past the necessary stereotypical personalities she gave them. And because it’s difficult and requires an author to dig deeper into a character—while with Edward or Bella we still have the old standards to fall back on—I think most authors don’t even consider writing secondary couples as main couples.

Or is it possible that authors know what I found out after I started posting my Carlisle/Esme story—nobody reads anything that isn’t ExB so why bother writing it?

SO which came first? The chicken or the egg? It’s impossible to say, but it is true that there aren’t many good secondary couple stories out there. However, I’ve put together a list of stories where the authors bring the fuckawesome when it comes to the secondary Cullens.

First, Jasper and Alice. I find them an incredibly intriguing couple. He’s restrained and she’s not. This is a great example of “opposites attract,” but that’s not all of it. He’s incredibly loyal and sticks by her, no matter what, and this is an important trait to consider both in canon and AH stories. In addition, there’s a sense of fate that revolves around them that the other couples don’t have because of the single line that SMeyer gives us: “You’ve kept me waiting a long time.” Add to this the AH or canon repercussions of Alice’s ability, and there’s an interesting mix to work with.

  • You’ve Kept Me Waiting by Mandi1:
    This is the story that helped me fall in love with Pre-Twilight, canon stories that give the backstory of the other Cullens. I ended up writing my own on Carlisle and Esme ultimately because of this story and the amazing job the author did in “filling in the holes” of Jasper and Alice’s history. I love what Mandi1 does with Jasper here. She demonstrates just how much Jasper gives up—willingly—to be with Alice forever. This sort of loyal self-sacrifice in the name of love is incredibly touching and helps us understand those glimpses in Twilight of how close the two of them truly are. This story isn’t just about love though. We learn more about Maria and about how Jasper and Alice managed to find the Cullens simply through her visions. If you’re looking for Canon Jasper/Alice, this story is not to be missed.

  • A Girl Like You by Killerbunys:
    I read this story for the Eddies last year and I fell in love with it and proceeded to rec it to anyone who would listen. It’s an AH, modern day take on an exceptionally troubled Alice and Jasper. This story does a fantastic job of exploring the repercussions of what “being fated to be together” means when one half of the couple struggles with debilitating addiction. What I like best about this story is Jasper’s loyalty and how it wars with his self-preservation instinct. He desperately wants to save Alice, but sometimes she is just too much for him to handle. This story is as much about Alice’s journey through addiction as it is about Jasper discovering how far he is truly willing to go to save the woman he loves.

Rosalie and Emmett are so often seen as one-dimensional sex maniacs in stories where they are secondary couples. Honestly, every time I see this, I feel bad for them. I also feel bad whenever I see Rosalie primarily portrayed as a humorless icy bitch and Emmett as a stupid jokester who’s all brawn and no brains. Yes, I know, SMeyer is a lot to blame here for her own stereotypical characterization, but there is just so much more about these two.

  • Vanity and Patience by achelle131:
    After falling in love with Mandi1’s Jasper/Alice origin story, I’ve been searching for others that really develop the love stories of the other Cullens. This is by far one of the best multi-chaptered Rose/Emmett origin story I’ve found. I really enjoyed the twist on newborn Emmett that achelle13 gives us—he truly cannot handle anything beyond bloodlust for a significant time period, and this forces Rosalie to learn to be patient while she deals with her love for him alone. Having Rosalie wrestle with this alone and how she changes because of it makes her character layered and complex, rather than her just being the icy bitch. I appreciate how the author has also built the unresolved sexual tension, rather than having Emmett and Rose jump immediately into a sexual relationship. The story isn’t complete yet, but I am really enjoying it so far and can’t wait to see where she takes it. Already we’ve had the addition of some original characters, and I’m excited to see the part they’re going to play in Rose and Em’s story.

  • Indivisible by qjmom:
    No doubt about it, this is the epic Rosalie/Emmett AH story out there. And no, I’m not just talking about the length. From the first chapter, as Rose talks about her first anniversary preparations, we are pulled hard and fast into Rose and Emmett’s world. All the usual suspects are here, including a side pairing of Edward and Bella—who have their own issues to solve before committing to each other—but what really drives this story is the fundamental, no holds barred love that Rosalie and Emmett share. What makes all of this truly an achievement is that Emmett and Rose remained separated through much of the story, with only brief phone calls where they are actually able to talk to one another. And I have to give a big THANK YOU to qjmom for giving us Emmett the Navy SEAL. Phew. I think I may never look at Kellan the same way again.
    Blogger Note: This story is no longer available, but I would like to keep the recommendation in because I truly loved it and hopefully it will reposted someday.

  • All the King’s Men by OliviaJane:
    I decided that since my original AH Emmett and Rosalie fic was removed, I would have to find another one that I liked. This however, was not an easy task. I searched and searched, and finally one of my wonderful reviewers, OliviaJane, reviewed my own story, Eve, and mentioned in response to my AN that she was writing an Emmett/Rosalie story. Immediately, I went to check it out and I was totally not disappointed. You feel for Rosalie right away. She’s been put in a terrible position by her family, and you see the strength that she has fortified herself with so she can get through this difficult time in her life, yet she folds like a house of cards in front of a sweet, lovable Emmett. This Emmett is hands down one of my favorites I’ve ever read. He’s absolutely precious, yet undeniably hot, and he loves kids. His interactions with the child in this story are not to be missed. OliviaJane has taken the best childish parts of canon Emmett’s personality and shown us what a great father he might have been. The best part is that for the first six chapters, it’s pretty much all Rosalie and Emmett—with a smattering of a loving Jasper, Rose’s brother, thrown in for good measure. And the scene with the car? I died, bbs. LITERALLY DIED. I love a good UST scene and this one does not disappoint. Rose’s vulnerability and Emmett’s determination to win her are so adorable that you want to hug everyone in sight after reading this.

Now I’m not going to deny that I’ve got a personal stake in Esme/Carlisle stories—as I write one of my own—so I am extra super picky at how this couple is treated in fiction. NO, Esme is not just a brainless housewife. NO, Carlisle is not just a convenient doctor. There, that’s out of the way. Seriously though, just as Jasper/Alice and Rosalie/Emmett can have deeper characterizations, so can Esme and Carlisle. They weren’t always parents people! Unfortunately, SMeyer gives us even less of them than the other couples, so it’s even tougher to deepen their characterization.

  • Snapshots and When Children Are Away, Parents Will Play by Starshinedown:
    This isn’t a full-length story, like my other recommendations, but these are both worth reading. Starshinedown really nails Esme’s canon characterization and develops it from what SMeyer gives us in the original books, and in her series of one-shots, we see snapshots of what her life was like before Bella and Edward found each other. When Children Are Away, Parents Will Play is a fantastic example of a smutty one-shot with heart. We are able to see just how much Esme and Carlisle love and long for each other, despite having an entire family to care for. We see them put the kids first almost every time, so it’s fantastic to see them put themselves first in this story.

And last but not least, Jake and Nessie. Yes, I know. Nessie who? Breaking Dawn what? That book actually happened? Yes, bbs. It exists. It remains burned on my retinas. I can’t block it out like some of you are able to. But even if we as a collective fandom wish that BD was never written, there are still some great Jake/Nessie gems out there. You’ve just got to get past that pesky gag reflex—kidding, kidding.

  • In Pursuit of Normalcy by KariAnn:
    This is the story that after four books by SMeyer and countless attempts by other authors, finally convinced me that there was something redeemable in Jake. I’ll admit it, I first started this story because the gorgeous banner caught my eye in Twilighted’s Recently Updated queue and I started reading even though it was a Jake/Nessie story. After one chapter, I was completely and totally hooked. This is a smart, witty, self-aware, mildly self-loathing (she is Edward’s daughter after all) Nessie and I love her. She wants to be independent and free and more than anything, fights against the implication of the imprinting and though she adores Jake, wants him to love her because he chooses to love her. This central dilemma I think really addresses why so many of us in the fandom were initially squicked out by Jake and Nessie. Not only did this boy imprint on a half-human, half-vampire baby, he did it mere weeks after insisting that the thing be eliminated because it was killing his precious Bella. Any female slightly less intelligent and slightly less aware would have just taken Jake’s love and lived peacefully forever. But this Nessie can’t do that—and so she runs away and fights the imprinting with everything she’s got. And believe me, she’s got some real strength and guts and balls to her. This is as much of a story of Nessie as it is a love story. I read it two weeks ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. Truly amazing stuff and if you can find it in your heart to start a Jake/Nessie story, I promise you won’t regret it.

  • Will You Be Ready When It Comes? by Hopeful Wager:
    Okay I would love to say that I was able to read this whole beast, but I will confess that while reading the first few chapters, there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to finish it. I can say that it is an excellent, very well-written portrayal of Jake and Nessie and really the whole Cullen family after BD, and while I’ve only read a few chapters, I am eager to finish it when I have more time.

I’m under no false impression that this blog is going to change anyone’s opinions in any serious way. Edward and Bella are the foundation of this fandom—they aren’t ever going to stop being the focus and I’m fine with that. I love them just as much as the next girl. But once in a while, it’s nice to change it up and get a little different view of the world. For any author that is considering writing a secondary couple as a main couple, I promise that while it might not be an enormously popular story, it’s definitely a niche that’s growing and will continue to do so as more authors contribute great, thought-provoking stories.

Bethaboo, despite this article, is still a fervent ExB supporter--she is the creator of swimward, lunchward and rockward. Her own foray into the other Cullens is Eve, the Apple of My Eye, a pre-Twilight Esme/Carlisle story.


  1. I found this very intersting as I just posted something (albeit brief) on my LJ about Twilight fandom trends. I tend to agree about the monofocus on Edward and/or Bella, although I think I can name another type of story even LESS popular in Twilight than alternative Cullen (or wolfpack) pairings.

    Gen fiction (of ANY type).

    Now, first, gen is usually a less-popular story type in ANY fandom with a few exceptions (comics fandoms, for instance). But I think a LOT of this disinterest in gen has to do with the fact the source material is basically a Romance novel series with some fantasy-trappings. Nonetheless, even family-focused stories that explore "ships" (just RELATIONSHIPS, not romances) are fairly rare in Twilight ... especially longer ones. (ITHACA IS GORGES, which I just discovered a week or two back, comes to mind as a notable -- and extremely well-written -- exception.)

    Again, I understand WHY, and I also realize that a LOT of Twilight fanfic authors and readers are not just new to Twilight but new to the whole phenom of fanfic, but I hope as they stay in the fandom -- and in fandom itself -- longer, they develop an interest in stories that aren't romance-driven at all. For myself, it's actually the Cullen *family* dynamics that intrigue me the most -- and where (imnsho) the greatest potential lies for unplumbed character depth and development. :-)

  2. Thanks for the rec, Bethaboo! It's a very beautifully written article, and I'm very glad you loved In Pursuit enough to feature it. When I started writing that fic, I really had no idea that people hated BD. I knew I had certain issues with the imorinting - which are all addressed in my fic, but all I knew is that I was interested in exploring Nessie's feelings if she found out Jake had wanted to murder her prior to the imprinting. Again, thanks so much for the feature!

  3. I love Mandi's You've Kept Me Waiting! Alice and Jasper is probably my second fave canon couple ship of the series. If I could go non-cannon, it'd go Edward/Jasper, or Edward/Carlisle, and then the canon ships. It's odd. I feel like I need Edward, yet there are those exceptions, like Mandi's, that still manage to captivate me.

    I'm ngl. I can't get into Jake/Nessie. Never. Not ever. I wish I was more open-minded for it, but... I try putting Bella is Nessie's shoes, and Edward in Jacob's to make it more palatable, and even then, it just doesn't sit well with me. I shrug. To each their own, I spose.

    Emmett and Rosalie fics intrigue me. I'm going to have to give these a try. As well as Carlisle/Esme. They both have such complex and interesting pasts.

    Thanks so much for the article bethaboo! Tis lovely!

  4. Confession: The first fic I read (and I don't know how I remember this) was Alice/Jasper, in fact, it was Mandi's You've Kept Me Waiting. I'm so happy that you posted this, it's incredibly difficult to find a well written, non Bella/Edward fic.

    I'm in love with Alice/Jasper, (loving the sequel to Scotch, it's delicious), and I'm interested in Emmett/Rosalie but I have yet to find a good one, so thanks for the recs.

    Jake/Nessie is weird to me. I have to admit, I spend most of my time in AH, but Nessie is more difficult to translate to human, plus I hate her name.

    I love the Carlisle/Esme canon backstory, but it's rare to find a fic I like about it.

    Thanks for the recs, much love

  5. What I really love about the series, and I mean enduring love for it, is exactly what you wrote about. The Cullens. I adore them, and I love seeing them outside of the books, but with canon feeling. Thanks for the great list of recs. I'm very fond of Rosalie, and looking forward to some fics that appreciate her!

  6. Thank you for this article! I came into this fandom not because I wanted more Edward and Bella, but because I wanted more of the other characters. True, at first I absolutely adored the couple, just like everyone else, but now I can’t stand the two of them (I know, I know, I’m weird). They bore me to death and I have never read a canon E/B story for that reason. When they’re made human, they’re all right, but otherwise, I find them incredibly boring. So, I’m always hunting for well-written fics centring around the other couples. But, I can barely ever find them and so I end up reading mostly E/B anyway.

    Thank you for these recs, I will be sure to check some – most – of them out. I’ve read both A/J ones. In fact, I just stopped re-reading You’ve Kept Me Waiting (I am so, so happy I saved a copy on my computer!) to read and comment on your article. I love this story, I think it’s absolutely amazing and it’s one of the first twilight fanfics I can specifically remember reading. I didn’t like A Girl Like You, for many reasons, but I suppose I can understand why people would like it. I’m especially intrigued by the Jake/Nessie ones and the Rosalie/Emmett ones.

    But, since when has Indivisible been pulled?! Why’d she do it? Does she want to get published? I never even finished it but I had it bookmarked and everything! Did she finish it first? Ah, this is horrible!

    And finally, some good other canon couple fics I would recommend are: Tie Me Down to this World by Struck Upon a Star and In the Days of Auld Lang Syne.

    Thanks, Bethaboo!

  7. This is a great article.

    I am also very much a canon girl (outside of E/J or E/C) and one of the standouts showing the other canon pairings for me in fic is Poughkeepsie by Mrs. TheKing. The fic has E/B, but also focuses on A/J and Em/R. Her Jalice may have me even more enraptured than her Bellward. She captures the sense that they are instantly drawn to each other and connected so perfectly and beautifully.

    Lately I've been finding myself drawn to Carlisle and EliseShaw has written two C/E fics (with an M rated outtake fic on the side) that I found through the indie twific award round 1 voting) that are really well done.

    Jake/Nessie is hard for me personally because as a parent the idea that someone is like hanging around waiting for my child to mature so he can mate with her sort of bucks against every parenting instinct I possess.

    E/B get the concept of imprinting, however if you look at Quil who is off taking his toddler future mate on playdates - I'm stuck with thinking - who the hell is this kid's mom? Because that sends up all sorts of red flags in my head. Some 17 year old comes to my house all of the time wanting to play with my 3 year old? Ummm, no.

  8. I’m quite humbled and very flattered by such a generous recommendation by fellow fan-fiction author and loyal reader, bethaboo. To receive recognition for something I’ve done as small as this tiny story called Vanity and Patience with my mediocre writing skills, and lack of training in such a skill, is just completely awesome.

    Mariecel (AKA Achelle131)

  9. Yes, indeed, "You've Kept Me Waiting" is a wonderful piece of canon fan fiction and was the first one that allowed me to see that fan fiction could be this good.

    If I may, there is a canon Rosalie origin story, called "Rosalie's Revenge" by Consultant by Day, that goes from her origin to Emmett's to their eventual pairing. It, like "You've Kept Me Waiting," stays within canon but still breathes quite a bit of life into the few bare details we have from Steph.

    I think all the characters, including Edward and including Bella, are under-explored in the canon and generally misunderstood by fandom where archetypes replace the living breathing characters they could be and are in the canon. "Green, Red and Gold" by Segolily (where, o! where has that story gone) fleshes out Edward quite a bit, and "One Dozen Roses" takes ExB Twilight a bit deeper, "Cowboys and Indians" gives live to both Jasper and to Leah, and I'm waiting, oh! I'm waiting for a good, complete Esme story that does her justice.

    Emmett? I believe he's the most misunderstood, most misrepresented, character in fandom. And Rosalie, ditto, but the violence done to her character (either she's the cold-bitc-... Ice Queen or "Mommy loves baby Bella" or the sex maniac) is untenable given the depth of her hinted by the canon.

    We do have "Persephone's Fury," "Of Vanity and Envy," and "Cicatrix" to help us she that, yes, she is angry, but there's more to her than just that.

    One could do that for any of the characters. Case in point "Dear Diary" about Quil and Claire (told by Claire). Quil and Claire? Why, indeed, yes.

    And Angela? Where is her story? Why is she such a good friend to Bella. I make my own freshman attempt with "Bella's One Fear," but here's a character that should have her own spotlight for a time. Why doesn't she? Because she's the only normal one in the entire Twiverse who doesn't push herself onto Bella's lap, but because she is content? Happy to sit on the sidelines? Isn't this a story worth telling?

    That is the beauty of the Twiverse: one can stay in canon and pick a character and write a sympathetic portrayal. Even Demetri gets that in "Perceptions" by The EarthSong. Even Lauren ... yes, Lauren! ... in "From Where I'm Standing" by runaway-xo, ch 12.

    But Rosalie. Too many stories heap too much injustice on her, and I would highly recommend "Rosalie's Revenge" by Consultant by Day for everyone wanting to look beyond the stereotyping she's been consigned to. Also (self-plug warning), I study her quite a bit in "My Sister Rosalie" and "Rose by a Lemon Tree," but, caveat lector, these are AU studies and can be rather unforgivingly unflinching at what it means to be a vampire filled with this unquenchable want ... and still hope to hope to rise above that imperative.

    And isn't that, too, what Twilight is about? Isn't it about attaining the impossible, the forbidden, ... for hoping for the good when every spear is pointed at you, trying to kill that hope? And doesn't nearly every character have that belief and hope that good can come out of this if one tries hard enough?

    Might even cold, dead, bored Marcus feel this way? Doesn't he wait, eternally, for his Didyme?

    Isn't hope what it's about? And, as these characters hope, don't we hope along with them?

    cheers, geophf


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