So something I’ve been exposed to lately got me thinking about paranormal stories. I firmly believe Joss Whedon broke the mold for storytelling. I also believe Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the greatest TV show ever. So it’s only natural that any other story that comes anywhere near “Girl Takes on Evil” gets compared to Buffy.
But similarities can only go so far before it just feels too much like someone is taking the Buff formula far too literally. What are the aspects of a story that just scream “Buffy”?
- Blonde hair: If your MC kills beasties, and she’s a blonde, you might want to think about working on the hair color. Now this is probably the smallest issue in terms of content, but it’s the most immediate in terms of visual stimuli. If you creep into a dark night and a blonde-haired woman pulls out a weapon, I’d bet metaphorical money the reader/viewer is going to think of Buffy and then compare your story to that show.
- The trope: If you have a woman fighting anything evil, you’re probably already treading on that territory. Does this mean you can’t ever have a woman? Sure, but she probably should be … well … see #1. Still, any creator has to consider the standard against perceived imitators. If your story has that basic summary, you really need to challenge yourself. How is your story different?
A potentially evil love interest: So why did I really hate Twilight? Honestly, because Buffy did it better. Way better! If your MC is feeling the forbidden love vibe, you’re channeling that same tension Whedon used to create the original teams (Team Angel vs Team Spike). (Tangent…anyone not Team Angel never paid attention to the show.) I don’t think anyone writing a story along the lines of #2 should take this step, it’s already too much.
- A love triangle: This isn’t such a bad thing in itself. Any good story needs conflict, and attraction to more than one character is a fairly good idea, unless, of course, those two opposing suitors happen to be evil or formerly evil. Even if just one of them is a bad boy looking for true love, you’re already setting yourself up to be compared to the standard.
- A Plucky Gang: Ensemble casts are great. They really expand the scope of a story. But if that cast revolves around a blonde demon slayer, guess whose territory you’re treading in?
A Homosexual Best Friend: Whedon received a lot of criticism for Willow’s sexual orientation. Now it’s the cool thing to do. I’m not speaking about who’s out there and what they’d like to read. I’m just pointing out that a lot of shows, books, and movies are jamming in homosexual characters into their plots to meet a demand. First, if the only reason you’re putting in someone of an alternative lifestyle into your story is to cater to that audience, they can probably tell, and it’s still offensive. Second, if you’re MC is already a blonde slayer of evil things, giving her a lesbian best friend is sort of on the nose.
So why this particular post? Well, I’m looking at a story about a blonde demon slayer who’s in love with a demon who she has to kill. She has a male friend who’s more like a younger brother and a lesbian best friend.
Is this story honestly bad? No. I’m only about a third of the way through it, but it’s OK. It’s just so much in line with all of what I think of as “the Buffy checkmarks” I stopped to wonder what they were and why I couldn’t get past it (or at least I haven’t gotten past it yet). To be clear, this story isn’t plot-point-for-plot-point a ripoff. It really isn’t, but, in my opinion, it certainly seems far too much like Buffy than not. (Maybe a touch of Ghost Whisper thrown in.)
Stealing like an artist isn’t encouraged, it’s necessary. But those great stories should be launching points for new visions rather than templates for reproduction. This is the main reason I don’t like the slew of remakes out there in the world. We creators should challenge ourselves to push the stories we love in new directions. Change the dynamics. So as I type this, I also want to challenge myself (and other writers) to make sure they’re brutally honest with themselves.
How is your story different?
Thanks for reading,