Thursday, May 18, 2017

5 Tips from Buffy for Writing a Book that Resonates with Readers

Saturday marks the 14 year anniversary of the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With this anniversary coming up I've found myself thinking about that iconic, cult-classic show and wondering what about it captivated its audience. The same question could be asked of Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and a dozen other stories that have held audiences captivated decades after their release.

After a movie, sevens seasons on TV, a spinoff, and comics that are still being published today Buffy has not only entertained it's viewers and readers for over twenty years but has also spawned academic courses and inspired philosophers to write books discussing it's characters and content.

Buffy found a way to resonate with its fans. So, how do you write a book that resonates with your readers? I think for most writers this is the goal. We all want to write something that creates lifelong fans. I'd love to create a book that inspired fan-art and fan-fiction.

So what makes Buffy so special that 20 years after it first aired on TV people are still watching it and talking about it?

5. It was scary and funny. Buffy explored all kinds of serious life issues from surviving high school to the loss of loved ones, along with the fear of being in real danger and averting the apocalypse, but it still managed to be funny. Life is a rainbow of emotions. If you're writing a horror story it doesn't need to be scary every second. And sometimes comedies need a serious moment. Buffy worked because it found a balance between serious and silly.

“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” - Joss Whedon


4. There was always a secret you were waiting to be revealed: Whether it was finding out about the prophecy in season one, or why Jenny Calendar warned Buffy to stay away from Angel in season two, Buffy always had a question looming overhead that when revealed changed everything. Foreshadowing and secrets are super important, and so is having a big pay off when you hit the big reveal. If you're going to tease your reader with something, it better be good. The secrets on Buffy led to death, heartbreak, and sacrifice.

3. The monsters were metaphors: Buffy may have been about vampires and demons, but absolutely everything was a metaphor for something real that the audience could relate to. Everything had a purpose. Angel losing his soul was the ultimate metaphor for sleeping with a guy who turned out to be a jerk. The truth is real life can be more terrifying than monsters. So, if you're writing about monsters or characters with supernatural abilities think about what they can represent in your story.

2. Everything came back to the characters: Buffy, as amazing as it was, was also riddled with inconsistencies and plot holes. [Ex: How strong characters were would fluctuate depending on the situation, Sunnydale's geography was constantly changing, Spike knocked out Dru once by strangling her even though she was a vampire and didn't need to breathe,  Buffy got her butt kicked the first time she fought an uber-vamp then later her human friends easily took them out.] But it didn't matter because what the viewers craved was seeing these characters interact and overcome obstacles. Buffy was empowering. So, work on filling in all those plot holes, but make sure your focus is on your characters!

1. Joss never gave the characters what they wanted: Not giving your characters what they want is what drives them -- and your readers! Buffy wanted a normal life but she was chosen. Buffy wanted to be with Angel, but their relationship was star-crossed. Have your character want something then hold it just out of reach. And, if your character ever manages to get the thing they want it should backfire on them terribly [Ex: Buffy and Angel finally sleep together and he loses his soul and turns evil.]


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