Lots of people might scoff at the idea of “watching” a story instead of “reading” a story for inspiration, but for visual learners like me, it’s a great option. I love television and film just as much as I love reading. And these days, you have to admit, there are just as many bad television shows as there are bad books.
I love reading—honestly, I started reading full-length children’s books (i.e. books with at least 100 or so pages that were full of words, not pictures) by the time I was six or seven—so this is no discredit to books. Rather, it is merely a broadening of the term “reading” to include other forms of media.
I had an English lit teacher my sophomore year of college who asserted that you could “read” any form of media—music, movies, television shows, etc. The point was that you can find a great story in other places than just in the form of the written word.
What makes a good television show or film? It goes back to the old adage, “Show—don’t tell.” It’s easier to do that with a movie than with a book, but the point is the same. Whether you’re writing a book or a screenplay, your goal should be to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. A book that is more vivid and descriptive is a lot more engaging than a book filled with a lot of big words that a reader may have to look up in a dictionary as they go.
Getting back to the main source here, how exactly did Buffy help me write better? By showing how a story could develop over a 7+ year period. Characters grow and change. They face difficult decisions, and don’t always choose the right path. It always goes back to how the characters deal with the monsters and special effects rather than making the effects bigger and the monsters scarier.
Watching those characters, especially my favorites, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Faith (Eliza Dushku), evolve and transform into the unique and incredible women that they become over the years was a good way to see how a person can really set her own path.
From the perspective of a writer, that’s exactly what you want a character to do. They will make decisions, each of which will lead them down different paths. As a writer, you discover that one decision is always going to be more interesting and create more conflict farther down the road for the character to contend with later. The important thing is to have your characters’ choices propel the story towards a conclusion rather than have them make one decision after another merely for cheap thrills.
Not only did Buffy give me my primary source of background and information for fantasy and supernatural legend and folklore, but it really is a great example of a well-rounded story told in seven chapters (seasons). It keeps you guessing, and things don’t always happen the way you expect. Characters live and die, they move away and come back, and they grow from naive teenagers trying to figure out how to save the world into adults learning how to cope with their responsibilities and callings.
We don’t all have to save the world from evil every day, but we could definitely all learn a lesson about telling a good story from Joss Whedon.
Make sure to check out my new book, monsters and all, A 21st Century Fairy Tale! Available on Amazon and Kindle.
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