My husband and I have been indulging recently in last year's Christmas present... the full series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, but the show is brilliant. Joss Whedon is a freakin' genius. It is my fervent belief that if every writer watched Buffy, the quality of books would vastly increase. Here's what I learned.:
1. Witty irreverent dialogue makes characters interesting. Even the unlikable ones.
Principal Snyder is not a character you should like. He constantly causes problems for our heroine. It would be easy to cast this character as a throw away. Just a boring voice of authority. Instead, Whedon has given him some of the best lines, making him worth watching instead of a snoozefest.
Principal Snyder: That's the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten.
2. Sidekicks are almost as valuable as the protagonist.
Where would the Scooby Gang be without Willow, Giles and Zander? These characters are all essential parts of story. They add meaningful support as well as comic relief. Often sidekicks are relegated to very surface personalities. It's easy to fall into the stereotype trap. The fat best friend, the nerd, the snotty cheerleader.. you name it and it's been done. They don't grow. So take it farther, make the audience care and give your sidekicks depth. Think of the growth Willow had throughout the series.
3. Angel was the original Edward from Twilight
And Joss Whedon did it so much better. Edward comes off as too good to be true. He has no flaws. It's obnoxious. And unrealistic. Angel is awesome because he has issues. He's not perfect, we don't always like him; but in the end, we all root for him anyway. Have you ever had a relationship that was all sunshine and roses? Where the only problems between the two of you could be worked out through a little DTR (define the relationship). Didn't think so. Buys make you cry. Love makes you cry.And sometimes... true love doesn't conquer all.
4. Sometimes life sucks.
Throughout the series, Buffy goes through hell. How often do we read books where the main character is never in any real peril. Nothing bad really happens to them. Buffy got the crap beat out of her on a weekly basis. She doesn't often get what she wants, but she does what is needed. Don't be afraid to hurt your hero. If there is no true peril, the story isn't interesting. And if it's obvious that the hero will come out all peachy keen... why would we keep turning the page?
There are so many more lessons, but I think I'll leave it on just one final thought. Fun. In every Joss Whedon project I have ever seen, it is clear that he has fun. Look at Buffy, Firefly, Avengers... they do well and have cult followings because he has fun with his writing. When the writer has fun, the audience can't help but join in.
So until next week, live by my personal author tagline -- Having fun on the page