Monday, March 14, 2011

What I Learned About Writing From

Joss Whedon

If you don’t recognize the name, you will probably recognize his work.  Joss is the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Doll House, Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog and Firefly.  After that list, I may not have to say anything else.
But I will.

1)      Write strong characters

And I don’t just mean physically strong, although Joss does tend to like his characters to have some sort of physical strength.  Even the characters who don’t have a particular physical prowess have other strengths—intelligence, humor, tenacity, sympathy, healing, teaching.

Every protagonist in the Whedonverse is surrounded by a group of friends, or colleagues, or crew.  Each one of these supporting characters serves a solid purpose within the group.  Take any one away, and the group suffers.

I’m not there yet with my cast of characters.  But I’m trying.  Reruns of his shows help.

2)      Be original

Yes, there was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie before the series.  Joss Whedon was the writer, but not the director or producer.  The movie didn’t quite live up to what he had in mind, so he penned the series. 

Let’s look at a few of Joss’ creations:

--A teenage girl with superhuman strength, born to kill vampires and demons.
--A vampire who was cursed with a soul by gypsies.
--A girl whose mind is wiped clean and replaced with memories and personalities of another person
--A spaceship captain with criminal tendencies who ends up saving people
--A wannabe mad scientist who really just wants to get the girl (set to music)

One of these creations would be a coup for me, but Joss just keeps churning them out.  One great character after another.

3)      Well-placed humor can both relieve and heighten tension

Joss Whedon’s shows are full of action and suspense.  And humor.  Quirky, often unexpected humor.  Smart humor.  Things like "If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock"

Then there are the quips mid-action.  After watching a few of the shows, the viewer realizes that a character who cracks a joke during a fight may just be the next victim. 

Do you use humor in your writing?  Is it used to relieve tension?  Build it? 

4)      Sometimes it’s okay if your protagonist isn’t very likeable

Buffy is a teenager.  A teenager with a huge responsibility.  Occasionally she gets a bit cranky.  Especially when her vampire boyfriend gets all evil and stuff.   Or if she’s trying to protect someone who won’t listen to her.

Angel can switch to the evil Angelus at time.  Even with friends all around him, he keeps secrets.  Secrets that can be dangerous to those friends.

Captain Mal is often sharp-tongued, saying mean hurtful things to his crew.

Yet, we love these characters, because they are flawed.  They work all the time to be better, do better.  But they aren’t perfect, and never will be.  Just like us.  

Are your characters too perfect?  What unexpected flaw could you give them?

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