Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CharacterExploration: Fictional Bella - Whateverthefuck We Make Her

Fictional Bella


In order to define fictional Bella I needed to decide what was widely considered canon Bella - then I realized one of the biggest problems in dealing with any Bella. Everyone views her differently.

As women I think we are particularly harder on other women than we are men. Attributes we have no tolerance for in a woman we will let slide in a man if he has other redeeming qualities. Make the dazzling Edward Cullen exactly the same, but a woman in the Twilight series and he’d become an overbearing bitch who needed to take some Midol.

I’ve heard canon Bella referred to as weak, overly dependent, indecisive and basically the poster child for the anti-feminist movement. However I can (and have) made strong arguments against each of these characterizations of her.

The way I see it, the most defining characteristic of canon Bella is her low self-esteem. She can’t possibly be good enough for Edward; he is so much more beautiful, so much smarter, so much better than she is. When Edward admits to her that he can read minds, but not hers, she immediately looks for fault in herself. Remembering back in the dark ages to my 17 year old self, I can understand where the girl is coming from, self-loathing is a huge part of the teenage years. This isn’t to say I find it any less annoying, however.

Then there are the other canon attributes, not wanting to be the center of attention, she is accident prone, she hates to be given lavish gifts and she is stubborn. Above all else she is madly in love with one Edward Anthony Masen Cullen.

So these are the characteristics I’m using to define canon Bella and as such I’m exploring where she deviates from these characterizations. While some of you may disagree that these Bellas are truly non-canon, I can promise you someone else will think they are her exact opposite.

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!

(aka Bella the self-confident)

When I harassed questioned everyone I knew about their favorite Bella’s a common theme emerged almost immediately. My gchat buddies all proclaimed their love for a self-confident Bella.

One fic stood out above all others – Behind Enemy Lines by
. Sadly, this is no longer online, but I needed to mention it because at least half of the women I polled picked this fic as their hands down favorite. BEL-Bella is strong, smart, and self-confident in spades. Her man gets captured by a ruthless dictator? Pfft. She doesn’t go catatonic and curl up into a ball in the forest - she makes a plan to save him and does what it takes to bring him home. Certainly there is a parallel with canon Bella in that she goes to another country to save him, but the methods she uses and the way she carries herself is altogether different.

However there is a very fine line between making Bella admirable and making her an overbearing bitch. One of the biggest keys to making this characterization work is how Edward is portrayed. In Behind Enemy Lines Edward is equally as strong, stubborn and self-assured. They work because they are evenly matched in spirit. In almost every situation an assertive Bella needs an equally matched Edward for the characters to be likeable. Let’s face it - no one wants Edward’s balls being stomped on every time the toilet seat is left up or his bait and tackle held in a glass case on the mantle by Bella. We like Edward’s goods firmly attached and being put to good use.

Another fic that stood out to me (and others) for this type of portrayal is
Kissed the Girls and Made Them Cry
. Edward wrongs her and instead of turning the other cheek and quickly acquiescing to his dazzle, she stands firm and tells him exactly how and why he hurt her:

"You didn’t treat me like someone you cared about. You were an asshole, to put it nicely. I understand why you were angry. But now you’ve raised a lot of doubt."

And with that Bella fired the shot that splits the fandom in two - she dared to call out Edward for being an asshole. Upon reading chapters such as these half of the fandom does a mental fist pump and says “you go girl” and then the other half sneers “what a bitch”. I often read other peoples reviews and I can tell you nothing draws a line down the middle like Bella having the audacity to stand up for herself. I’m often left baffled in some of these cases because the reviews are like this “I know Bella just caught Edward fucking twins in their bed, but he SAID he was SORRY! Geesh. She just needs to calm the fuck down.” This is due to the known phenomenon of Edward-Cullen-can-do-no-wrong. His simple apology for any wrong should have Bella falling to her back, legs spread, waiting for the hot make-up sex - most definitely NOT standing up for herself.

I like to use the following as a Bitchy-Bella litmus test. If Bella stands up for herself, what would I think if I were her friend in real life? What if I didn’t know Edward could do no wrong? Would I, like Kate in
Kissed the Girls and Made Them Cry
take her out, get her drunk and praise her for her fortitude? Or would I listen to her and think “Overreact much?” If I treat her as I would a friend, I can’t fault her for standing up for herself in a case like this. He embarrassed and humiliated her publicly. I can think of the choice words I’d have if I were her friend. However, there are also times that in this same spirit, the author takes it too far and makes her Bella the ball-stomper – at this point you know because even if she were your friend you’d think there was more to the story than just what she was telling you because her strong response doesn’t seem to be warranted. Again, it is a very fine line and so the authors who do it well deserve much praise.

Other fics I recommend for a Bella with a strong sense of self-worth are:
Only Human
Amethyst Jackson
La Canzone della Bella Cigna

Because I’m broken when I’m open and I don’t feel like I’m strong enough

(AKA Bella the broken)

There are quite a few of my favorite fics that have a broken Bella. The presence of this in the fandom is entirely expected given that since we were young girls we have been read fairy tales where the handsome prince comes in to save the damsel in distress. We want to believe that no matter how broken we may be, that someday our prince will come and save us.

The broken Bellas that work, in my opinion, aren’t so cliché that they magically get their happily ever after at the mere appearance of Edward Cullen (like Sleeping Beauty), but yet you see the light of hope. You believe that if anyone can save her, it has to be Edward. Our culture surrounds us with this fairy tale idea since birth and I still think, when done right, it is among my very favorites in the fandom. Edward isn’t always a prince and sometimes he may be equally as broken, but the basic premise is still there.

One of my favorite new fics is
. This Bella has quickly climbed my list of favorite Bella’s first and foremost because she has such a strong inner voice – reading this feels like being inside of her mind as she tries to stay invisible. The author is also keeping this fic entirely in Bella’s point of view, which is both rare and difficult.

I just really didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to talk at all. I didn’t want to tell them that I wasn’t even a victim. I couldn’t even be considered a victim. I was just stupid. Dumb. It was completely my fault, no matter what anyone said. And everyone said it wasn’t my fault. Well, they were all dumb, too. Because it was my fault. It was all my fault.

The bold repetition of thought - which I feel is exactly the way your inner voice screams at you when you feel have fucked up - instantly connects you to Bella’s mind and soul. From chapter one you want her to find some peace and happiness, so when Edward Cullen steps up his presence in her life you can’t help but hope that he can be her knight in shining armor.

This Bella works for me because Edward is far from perfection. He has also made mistakes and sort of fumbles around like an idiot; but that connection, their devotion, is only strained, not broken. You hope against hope that Edward can pick up the pieces and put her back together.

Bella may be broken, but she is not completely pathetic or weak. The writer transcends that label by connecting you emotionally with the character early on and as you watch it unfold, it is never clean, neat or easy for the characters. Yet there is always that light of hope that someday there can be happiness.

Another one of my favorite Bella’s who fits in this category is from
Salacious Behavior and Earnest Speaking
. The way the author conveys Bella’s emotions is poetry and you see how easily a woman can remain in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling her needs. As the fic progresses you watch Bella gain strength and her self-worth again with the help of Edward. As with Fault, it isn't a "Edward is here and everything is perfect", there are many stumbles along her way, moments in which you aren't sure if there even CAN be a happily ever after, but you still read on pulling for it, willing her to find happiness. I only care about her happiness because the author has written her in such a way that makes me care.

I also highly recommend the broken Bella in
Dearly Departed

It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah

(AKA Bella who isn't with *gasp* Edward)

Before you just scroll down to the next heading, Team Edward lovers, let me state unequivocally that I am 100% team Edward when it comes to Bella. Therefore to recommend anything that is a non-canon pairing outside of slash means that it's stellar.

The two most common non-canon pairings when it comes to Bella are Bella/Jacob and Bella/Jasper. Bella/Jacob certainly has its roots in the series, we can see how Team Jacob was born even if we completely disagree with it.

Given that I know close to nothing about Jacob/Bella pairings, I went to the only person I knew to be firmly entrenched on team Jacob, DQRC/Rialle. She happily provided me with many links and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with enjoying reading most of them.

The first author on her list was the story that stuck with me the most. It was a drabble that
had written for the Twilight 25 challenge, but it said so much with so few words I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. In
with only 340 words she managed to sell me on Bella believing she made the wrong decision. It was incredibly moving and to do that with so few words is simply astounding. I read many other well written Jacob/Bella fics by this author, but
was the one that I took with me, because of the power conveyed through its simplicity.

Another Jacob/Bella pairing that also sold me was
A Thin Line
– once again it is Bella looking back on her choice and knowing it was the wrong one and once again it had me believing it could happen. While this believing thing may seem like “whoopee” to you, I am 100% on team Edward. I believe, unequivocally, that Edward was Bella’s true love, so to have me think for even a minute, let alone all day long that either of these stories could possibly happen is masterful by the authors. That
A Thin Line
has so few reviews is nothing short of a travesty.

These fics are only one-shots and are short ones at that, therefore there is no reason why you Edward lovers shouldn’t be reading them. Expand your horizons a bit, if you can read about an OOC Edward you can read about Bella simply wondering if she made the wrong choice.

The other pairing we see a great deal of in the fandom is Jasper/Bella. Unlike Jacob, there is no canon basis for this pairing. In the character exploration for Jasper the reasoning behind the popularity of Jasper/Bella was explored.

There is one and only one non-canon non-slash pairing on my favorites list. It is
Someone Else’s Memoirs
a certain slant of light

The music soothed her, lulling her until she could have fallen asleep, were she still swayed by her own humanity. She rested her head against his shoulder, going back, side, forward, side. Her eyes closed, the other dancers disappearing with her self-consciousness.

Here awareness woke with a jolt when the song ended. Immediately she realized her fingers, tangled in the hair at Jasper’s neck, and his arm around her waist. There wasn’t enough space between them for a strip of paper to slip through. She waited to hear her pulse race, until she remembered she didn’t have one.

Jasper broke from her, bowing. “Thank you.”

This fic made me a believer that was possible that Bella could love someone other than Edward and that person could be Jasper. Beautifully written and achingingly heartbreaking it should be required reading in the fandom. At only three chapters in length this should be on your to read list.

Edward and Alice were murdered by the Volturi for revenge. Bella was left living and needed to be changed by Carlisle or risk the entire Cullen family. This is the story of how she healed and perhaps found comfort in the person who was suffering along with her. There is a line at the end where I believe it is simply impossible not to cry upon reading it.

Another Jasper/Bella fic that came highly recommended from Team Jasper is
, which much like Someone Else's Memoirs is about Bella picking up the pieces when Edward is taken from her and seeking solace in Jasper. In these two fics, I find it entirely plausible that Bella would find love again in the arms of Jasper even beyond that, they are both so well written and hauntingly beautiful that it doesn't even matter to me by the end that Bella isn't paired with Edward.

There are two other pairings that I come upon fairly often in the fandom - Bella/Angela and Bella/Carlisle. I'll admit, I'm not entirely well read in either. I think Bella and Angela is the most natural femmeslash pairing outside of perhaps Bella/Alice given the closeness in which Bella shares with the two women. I think Bella/Carlisle is popular mainly because of Peter Facinelli's portrayal of him. When he walks into that hospital room with that swagger, we were sold on Carlisle and we didn't want to read about middle aged married sexytimes between he and Esme, because that makes us think of our parents and well, that isn't sexy. Two fics I recommend for these pairings is
Kay Cannon
for Bella/Angela and
The Hummer
for Bella/Carlisle. Both are one shots that are worth reading. Something to dip your toe outside of the canon waters.

H is for Human, That's Good Enough for Me...NomNomNom

(AKA Bella the Vampire)

I'll be the first to admit that I have not read a lot of AU where Bella is a vampire for the majority of the fic. However in the few I've read, the difference between canon vampire Bella and AU Bella is striking.

One of my issues with thefourthbookthatmustnotbenamed was that Bella got all of the benefits of becoming a vampire (beauty, fuckhot sex with her husband, power) and none of the detriments. She had perfect control over her urges, she was no threat to the Cullens, Charlie, Jacob or Nessie. She was able to harness her powers without difficulty. I wanted some angst, some drama with her conversion. Not the "OMG look how perfect everything went, why did I ever worry about turning you!" pretty little package we were given.

I think a fic that really nails what could and perhaps should have been some of the issues addressed in Breaking Dawn is
Beautiful Beat
. In this Bella truly struggles with her self control, specifically around her half-human daughter. The bloodlust she feels around humans takes her over completely, as it does all newborn vampires. All of the drama that occurred before her conversion was nothing compared to the self-loathing and pain she felt after it. It was more real and accurate than the "look how easy this vampire thing is!" that we had in BD.

One of my favorite Bella as a vampire scenes happened in
Creature of Habit
. One of the biggest hurdles Bella faces is that she can't seem to use a pencil without snapping it in half with her vampire strength. This captured the essence of the rebirth as a vampire: you have to re-learn everything you know how to do, including the most mundane of activities. It is frustrating and difficult, but as in real life, there is generally a reward for such patience and determination. In time, the control and fuckhot sex makes you happy that Bella has it, because she fought so hard and went through so many #2s to get to that point.

One of the most interesting takes on Bella as a vampire I've seen is
Sleeping to Dream
, which was published before BD came out. In this Bella was turned but not by Edward, she wakes up with her power and urges, but no one to guide her through it. Her power manifests in a sort of Heroes-esque way and the Volturi still very much want to add her to their collection of special people. It was interesting to see what could have been Breaking Dawn, but with very different results. Because she was not turned after the ommnomnom of her uterus, she was feral and wild, struggling to figure out even what had happened to her.

Umm, Haven't We Met Before?

(AKA Bella the Mary Sue)

One of the most common complaints I hear is that fictional Bella is nothing more than a Mary Sue of the author herself. Honestly, this concept isn't entirely out of canon is it? Take Bella's physical description:

"In my head, Bella is very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face is heart-shaped - a wide forehead with a widow's peak, large, wide-spaced eyes, prominent cheekbones, and then a thin nose and a narrow jaw with a pointed chin. Her lips are a little out of proportion, a bit too full for her jaw line. Her eyebrows are darker than her hair and more straight than they are arched." - Stephenie Meyer

Umm, oh hai there Stephenie Meyer... I mean sure, there are subtle differences, but clearly Bella's physical appearance is based on SMeyer herself. I also think that
had the right underlying concept in
Midnight Desire
, that the vampirism in the novel is really just a substitute for sex. In Twilight you have a young woman who tries not to give into her lustful urges because he is unwilling to take her soul by transforming her and fears for her physical safety during sex. It isn't a huge leap to know that Meyer's Mormon upbringing is clearly at play here, as a young teen she had sexual urges, but feared indulging them because she feared the loss of her eternal soul or the possible pain from sex or even being discovered.

This isn't to say I haven't heard plenty of people complaining about the Mary-Sueness of canon Bella, but my point is to say that it isn't entirely uncommon for a writer to give her female characters similarities to herself. I think it makes her seem 'real' to me and as such more relatable. I think it is best summed up by this quote:

"I would say subconsciously, we all tend to keep Bella on the canon side. We like her curiosity, her devotion, and her selflessness. Her 'average'ness makes her universally relatable. We like that she is attainable." - EJ Santry

I think writers often write what they know and that means that Bella's clothing choices are often inspired by the pile of laundry sitting next to her, that her language is reflected by the way the author speaks, her flaws are sometimes amplified from the author herself and, by the same token, so are her strengths. I think the reason this is a sticking point for some is because, much like in real life, when we encounter a personality trait that we find annoying, any time we find it in someone else, be it real or fictional, we have no patience for it. It starts to fester and grate and we then project all of the issues we have with the owner of said personality trait onto the person displaying it.

Personally I enjoy seeing bits of an author in their Bella, because I think that it shows you how much of their writing is truly a window into their soul.

Yes Sir, May I Have Another?

(aka Bella
The Submissive

When I was discussing putting in a submissive Bella as a character type for fictional Bella, I was told that the concept of Bella wanting to please Edward is not entirely out of canon. I disagree, canon Bella often disagreed with Edward, especially when it came to pushing the boundaries of their sexual exploration or changing her into a vampire. She may have not stood her ground over smaller issues, but more often than not canon Bella stood her ground and did not simply do what Edward told her to do.

I believe the Dom/sub relationship is so popular because, well, a Dom Edward is usually prone to to the dirty talk and I know I have a thing for a loquacious Edward in the bedroom. There is a trilogy of fics that perhaps you have heard of
The Submissive
The Dominant
The Training
tara sue me
that I think brings home the fact that a large part of the fandom agrees that pairing the Domward with a Subella is a good thing. The thing that works with this trilogy is that Bella is also very self confident and strong. She utters the fateful word “turpentine” simply because Edward was not treating her in the manner in which she felt she deserved to be treated.

You Just Got Your Asses Whipped, by a Bunch of Nerds... NERDS!

(aka Bella the Geek)

I also have a personal fondness for a geeky Bella, it makes my little mathlete heart proud. One of my favorites is
How My Life Was Ruined in 14 Days
because Bella is so wacky with her planning life in such a methodical and systematic way that she forgets to actually LIVE life. You want to smack her upside the head with her crackberry so she can figure out with all of the brains in her head, she isn't seeing what is right in front of her. This fic hit home for me because of how well the author nailed a supergeek. I went to a high school that was chocked full of nerds and this Bella-with-a-plan was not entirely uncommon. This fic makes me feel like I'm 16 again and in a good way.

So often we encounter a genius Edward, which is of course part of canon, but I like a bright, even geeky Bella. I love it when it is clear she is Edward's intellectual superior, but not because I feel that she needs to lord it over him or stomp on his ego, but simply because I like the idea that it doesn't matter. There are certainly many times when a woman eclipses her significant other in salary or education, so I can see why this is cropping up more in fics. In my other current favorite story -
A Rough Start
- Bella is a teacher and Edward is a blue collar guy. I love how the roles are sort of reversed from Twilight making Edward the insecure one seeking validation and Bella bright and knowledgeable.

In Summary...

I think that a good fictional Bella sticks with us simply because in canon Bella mainly blended in - her biggest attention drawing attribute was she was the arm candy for Edward Cullen. In fic she can be made into these rich and vibrant characters which celebrate the wide array of personalities that we see in the fandom. We like to see her as being more real, more mature, more self-confident and entirely capable of picking out her own clothing and walking upright. This diversity in perhaps the most common character in the fandom is the reason that fanfiction stays interesting and fresh, because we never know just which Bella we are going to find this time.
Thanks to
Beth/EJ Santry
for reading this over and making me sound like less of an idiot, angstgoddess003 for asking me to do this (I still think you are crazy for doing so), the ladies in my gchat for allowing me to pick your brains and the ladies over on
for the lively conversation about this topic helping me fill out some of my categories.

About Me:
can be found contributing on to the
blog as well as reviewing on She is an longtime lover of all things vampire - swooning over them since 1989 when she first picked up Interview with the Vampire at her brother's insistence. Lestat, Spike, Angel, Edward, Eric, Damon, Simon and Mick St. John are among her favorites, but basically anywhere there is a broody vampire with a swagger, you'll find her.
Archived Explorations:


  1. Awesome job Shannon! I ♥ you so much girl!

  2. Thank you SO much lovie! I like how you broke all of this out for us. This is great! *hugs*

  3. commenter/long time lurker. Love this article. You guys should read "Just Wait" by InstantKarmaGirl. It is WIP and the relationship is a slow build kind of deal, but she writes one of my truly favorite OOC Bellas. Incredible story. Anyhoo, love what you do here.

  4. (Another new comment from a long-time lurker.) Fascinating. I really enjoyed the discussion and investigation into non-canon Bella. I have long since been frustrated by what canon Bella portrays and have enjoyed the numerous stories that take the character and move it in so many different directions (mostly in the AH universe). One of the major trends in non-canon Bella that I have seen recently is the uptick in the number of "bad ass"Bella" stories.
    This characterization would probably fit well under "Bella the self-confident" but I think there is a distinct difference between the 'standing up for herself' and the bad girl image portrayed in many stories. Bad girl Bella is usually a high school student who is a bit of a loner but sometimes has one or two close friends - she's often incredibly smart but refuses to jump through the high school academic hoops - she smokes, drinks, and sexes whoever she wants too and she's hotter than hell doing it.

    Like so many stories the "bad girl Bella" stories sink or swim on the quality of the writing but for me, the consummate good girl, there has always been something attractive about these types of characters (I like bad boy Edward stories as well... but that probably goes without saying....).

  5. rachel - thanks for the recommendation, I'll check it out.

    Kate - great characterization choice! You are right, she is different from self-confident Bella and is becoming prevalent in the fandom.

    I have a good bad girl Bella recommendation - Loneliness by Over by pixievamp08 (I can't link here for some reason but you can find it on I'm not current on it, but I remember she'd like toke up with her new friends sitting outside of her house, lol. She isn't a sex fiend though. I loved this Bella! I know when I originally read it, I had thought "I have to find a place for her in my article" and then by the time I got to finishing writing it, I had completely forgotten as I didn't add it to my outline.

    Scotch, Gin and the New Girl Bella is also sort of fitting into this category too. She isn't a goody two shoes by any stretch and certainly doesn't jump through the "fit in to high school" hoops.

    There is a J/B AU fic where Bella is a badass vamp hunter. The Air that I Breathe by journey2002 is the name of it.

    Thanks for your comment.

  6. This was awesome! I really liked this! Thank you so much for not only delving deeply into the characterization in its various forms, but also sharing some witty insights. Very enjoyable. Thank you for taking the time.

  7. So my alias is caffeineaddict13 on, and seriously, y'all, what is up with the freakin' recs?

    I'm entirely at odds as to how blue and I somehow became the J/B authors that E/B-ers rec. But I love it. Good article, and thanks. =)

    P.S.: If you are daring enough to check out some more J/B, DO NOT HESITATE to come over to sortofbeautiful on LJ. I promise there is a plethera of drabbles and stories that will make you think by some incredible authors. And also, we won't bite. I swear.

  8. I absolutely loved this article. After obsessing over Edward for so long, I have finally found an appreciation for Bella and your recommendations sound absolutely fascinating. Currently, I'm loving the heck out of a sweet, virginal, self-doubting Bella in "The University of Edward Masen". She's certainly vulnerable but she has this inner steel that just intrigues me to no end. You just know that she's been stomped on yet she continues to "get off the canvas" and go in for another round against life's vagaries. What a champ!

    I'll never get within 5,000 miles of the Bella/Others recs because...ewwww!!!!!!...but the remaining recs look very promising, indeed -- at least the ones I haven't already read.

    And I understand your despair that some truly amazing writers will never get the hits that they deserve simply because of the subject matter. As amazing as their writing may be, I would never willingly read a Bella/Jacob writer's anything (story, drabble, vignette, etc.) because I detest the character so thoroughly. The writer could be Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway all rolled into one and she/he would NEVER be able to convince me that Jacob would be good for Bella. I guaranD@MNtee it.


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