Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been around for twenty years! Sadly, I just got into the show last year, so I am still on season 6 (no spoilers, please!), but I have learned some powerful writing lessons from this amazing show. No, they are not just that Spike is the best (even though he is). Read on to discover my five writing lessons from Joss Whedon’s masterpiece.
Warning: in the spirit of hypocrisy, I am including some spoilers. Don’t read on if you want to be surprised when…well, I can’t tell you, can I? Run, don’t walk, to your Netflix account to watch it.
1. Witty Dialogue is the Best
I can’t think of a show with wittier dialogue than Buffy. Whether it is clever wordplay or mocking Tony Robbins, the show rules when it comes to snappy dialogue. As a result? It is an absolute pleasure to watch and makes me laugh so hard that I nearly fall off the couch sometimes (the culprit is mainly Spike).
Your takeaway: Witty dialogue will keep your readers turning the pages.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Hurt Your Characters
Buffy’s mom dies. Buffy gets torn from heaven. Joss Whedon isn’t afraid to take his characters from Hell and back (in the case of Angel, literally). This makes the show way more interesting than any of its less bold counterparts. Why? The stakes (no pun intended) are higher. You aren’t sure if Buffy will see the next day (and at the end of Season 5, she didn’t), so you actually watch the show on the edge of your seat because nobody is safe. Beyond that, the characters actually have to deal with real issues, such as grief and death, which makes the show emotionally resonant.
Your takeaway: Don’t be afraid to cause your characters pain. Think of interesting ways to stretch them. And also don’t be afraid to kill them.
3. Make Your Characters Complex
Willow may be a sweetheart, but she is not afraid to dabble in the dark arts. Spike may have no soul, but he has the world’s biggest heart. We don’t love these characters despite their mixed motives, we love them because of them.
Your takeaway: People are complex and have multiple dimensions in real life. Nobody is purely good or evil. Remember this as your develop your characters. Don’t make them purely bad or good.
4, Get Inspiration from Other Places
Spike is a vampire that is based on Billy Idol. The Trio is comprised of every sexist, jackass nerd you have met in your life. Punk rock and nerd culture do not usually show up in the vampire genre, but it does in Joss Whedon’s world. Not only does it work, but it makes the show stand out.
Your takeaway: Don’t just stick to your genre or novels to get inspiration. Go elsewhere for ideas. Watch a sports game. Listen to a new genre of music. Read about a period of history you are unfamiliar with. Take in new experiences and use them in your writing.
5. Do the Unexpected
An episode about death that has no soundtrack? Monsters that make the whole town a silent movie? A musical episode where the characters declare their true feelings? Yes, please! What makes these episodes so memorable (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole) is that it does the unexpected. It doesn’t have standard, run-of-the-mill episodes. It is not afraid to play with genre conventions by having its heroine sing or walk through a silent world.
Your takeaway: Think of ways you can surprise your readers. Play with your genre’s conventions.
There you have it, writing lessons from one of the most influential television shows of all time. What writing lessons have you learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Let me know in the comments below!