Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Buffy Factor

I call it the Twilight effect. Happens to many of us who write YA with paranormal romance elements. A reviewer will comment that this character or that character or this plot development or that one is influenced by Twlight. Write a love triangle? You're just trying to cash in on the Team Edward/Team Jacob thing. Have a character who's immortal or invincible or some such, even if he's not a vampire? Edward. You're trying to make him be Edward. Yup. No doubt about it. Girl character torn between her normal life and the paranormal craziness that she's stumbled upon? Bella wannabe. You hack, you.

This is the power of Stephenie Meyer. Her readers often assume that there was nothing before her. And possibly nothing original that can come after. I get it. I really do. And I'm cool with it. I love the Twilight books, too, although Bella is sometimes too passive for my tastes. Now if she attacked her dad once she turned into a vamp? I'd be on board with that. It would put a little muscle into the journey toward that HEA.

The problem with this line of thinking is that books take years to get onto a shelf. A novel that hit the shelves this month or last year, or even the year before, most likely came from an idea developed four or five or more years before that. That is - pre-Twilight. Or at most, concurrent with the first book's release. Any similarity is just that whole "good ideas float through the air and a bunch of us catch them at the same time" theory.

Except - here is something that I have noticed. Many, many of us who have broken into the business in the past few years do have something in common. Buffy. As in BTVS. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

For the uninitiated, here's the basic blueprint: One girl chosen to slay the vampires and save the world. Mentored by her Watcher, Rupert Giles. Supported by her Scooby Gang -brilliant, funny and loyal Willow, goofy guy pal Xander, Queen Bee cheerleader Cordelia (who is braver than she knows). And in a heart wrenching star-crossed lovers relationship with a 200 year old vampire with a soul named Angel. Add in some star quality baddies like Spike and Dru and creator Joss Whedon's unique and memorize-worthy dialogue and you've got the show that I lived and breathed for seven years. And so, it seems, did about every other author over 25 that I meet.

So here's the question: Does it resonate in our writing? I'd say a resounding yes. The campy movie came out in the earlier 90's but the show began on the fledgling WB Network in the spring of 1996. I found it during the episode in which Buffy was attempting to balance going on a date with a normal guy and perform her Slayer duties. All in one night. It was funny, scary and poignant all rolled into one. I was hooked. And over the years, it was like a tutorial of storytelling - of how to mix pathos and humor and horror, how to hit the right funny beats, how to arc a series and characters and make it all blend.

Not every episode worked. (The Zeppo was lost on me) But the two parter in season two where Buffy gives in to her passion and sleeps with Angel only to discover that this "moment of true happiness" has a loophole of causing him to lose his soul, return to his evil vamp ways and start killing all her friends - it's two of the best hours of television ever. When it came to Buffy, Joss Whedon was the master of giving the viewers what they wanted most - in this case for Buffy and Angel to seal the deal - and then ripping it away from us in the most emotionally horrific way possible. This was, after all, a show that for the first three seasons was a metaphor for high school as hell. The end of that same season topped that perfection: Willow returns Angel's soul to him, but Buffy has to kill him and send him to hell in order to save the world from the demon Acathala. "Close your eyes," she tells her poor bewildered re-souled lover. And then she stabs him with a sword.

So what do you think? Notice any Buffy parallels in current YA? Let me know what you think.

Grrr. Arrgh.


Natascha De Marco said...

I am a die hard Buffy Fan. There is nothing better in the universe! I converted my roommate... now I want to watch it again, for the 10th time (I even bought all freaking seasons from both Buffy and Angel series).

That ending was devastating... T_T

But I'm on the Spike Team, ooooh Spike....

Joy Preble said...

Yes, I know... Spike. So many favorite Spike moments. But the seasons 1 and 2 parts of the Buffy/Angel romance are still my faves.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I'm an unabashed "Buffy" fan, and it's had a huge influence on my writing. I say this in all of my talks.

My favorite episode is "The Zeppo" because it took on the series' own tropes with affection and at a slant. It also had a terrific growth arc.

Apart from "Twilight" and for that matter "Harry Potter," the nothing-has-come-before-my-experience analysis of books does worry me. Is our arts education really that bad?

Joy Preble said...

I knew you loved Zeppo, Cyn. And I do agree with your observation - I did like the idea of Xander's world while B&A were saving the world yet again. As for your other comment, I think there are probably lots of factors at work - but I do see these reviews a lot for many paranormal romances, mine included. And more rarely do I see the 'hey, you're paying homage to the Whedonverse, aren't you?' Possibly I'll be doing a blog series of "Pop Culture Influences that You Absolutely Must Know" :)

SJ Kincaid said...

I loved Buffy. It was truly fantastic television-- one of the few shows that could suck in even my father (who is not much of a TV watcher, and certainly not the target demographic for a show about a teenaged girl.) Not to mention, Buffy was a remarkably layered TV heroine. I miss those days.

I do certainly see shades of Buffy in certain shows, but I don't mind it. Actually, I think the idea of a 'chosen one' has been around quite a bit longer than Buffy, but Buffy was one of the first large pop culture phenomenons to really make that chosen one on a heroic mission a female.

Mrs. Darling said...

BTVS is the best television show, EVER! I am watching it all the way through again, in preparation of reading the graphic novel Season 8. I tell my 2-year-old that there is no need to be afraid of monsters b/c Buffy will kill them all, LOL. It helps, I swear. I've noticed lots of parallels in writing since then, but I absolutely love when characters refer direclty to BTVS. If you quote anything Giles said, I will be a super fan and rec any books you've written to my patrons.