Today we are in for a Halloween treat with a guest post from author Skyla Dawn Cameron. After you finish checking out the Buffy goodness, be sure to check out book one in Skyla’s series, DEMONS OF OBLIVION. BLOODLINES is free until tomorrow – Nov 1!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted when I was in ninth grade; I was a year younger than the title character. This was a show geared to my age group with metaphors for things I and my peers actually lived. High School Is Hell. Mom Doesn’t Understand It’s the End of the World if I Don’t Go Out. My Boyfriend Turned Into a Monster. Just with fewer stakings of classmates.
It’s been…more years than I’d care to count since that show has been off the air. I peripherally follow the comics via discussions on Whedonesque. And yet I still watch the show on DVD, I still think about the plotlines, I still play the old Xbox video games.
Buffy endures for me, as it does for many other fans. It’s not just the nostalgia factor but the sheer brilliance of (much of) the writing. The lessons I picked up through Whedon’s work have stayed with me for all these years as I grew and developed as a storyteller.
The season-long arcs are a crash course on having an end point in mind and weaving in the threads leading to it, giving the story purpose (I’ve always been a “pantser” as a writer and run the risk of meandering without purpose; studying the structure of Buffy helped with that). There’s also the lesson (look, I listen to all the commentaries because I’m a nerd) of finding the “Buffy” in the overall plot: the episodes that work the best are the ones where the villain and theme are somehow echoed in what Buffy is going through internally. And the ensemble cast of distinct characters that play well off of one another was a huge influence on the direction I took the Demons of Oblivion series—the first three books alternate narrators and little by little the characters come together so that by the fourth book, they’re a team…of sorts.
Now, a countdown of the top Buffy episodes that had an influence of my writing. Note, they are not all necessary my favourites but they were highly influential.
5. The Body (Season Five)
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t remember this episode: it stands out for everyone who watched the show, the ep where Buffy’s mom has died (of natural causes) and the Scoobies go through grieving the loss in all their different ways. It’s starkly real with no music, a focus on the weight of how physical death truly is. It’s heart wrenching, from Buffy’s initial, girlish, “Mommy?” before the credits as she discovers her mom’s body to Willow’s obsessing over the right shirt to Anya’s plaintive question of why (as she’s a 1000 year old demon who doesn’t fully comprehend what’s happening).
Every aspect of this episode is damn near perfect and I think it’ll stand out as one of the best hours of television ever produced for a very long time.
As a writer, what struck me was how important death is in work. And how it has to remain important. On a show like Buffy, several people usually died every episode. Supernatural elements mean death isn’t always permanent either.
But sometimes it needs to be. And sometimes, as writers, we need a reminder that although it’s fiction, we’re dealing with something very real. Death is hard. It’s heartbreaking. Fiction is one of the only places where we can give it a purpose and meaning, as it’s rarely like that in reality. As a storyteller, I try to keep this in mind. That even after dozens or hundreds of death in a work, when it comes to the core characters, death must still be treated with care and respect.
4. Family (Season Five)
Though it came all the way in the fifth season, Family was one of those episodes that encapsulates all of Whedon’s work in one hour (or forty-two minutes). Tara is feeling left out of the Scoobies and when her blood relatives come to take her home, she nearly goes despite not wanting to. But it’s at the end of the episode when the Scoobies stand between her and her relatives and declare she’s not going anywhere if she doesn’t want to, and anyone wishing to take her will have to go through them because she’s family.
I was an only child. I was weird. I never had many friends for long. It was only in my late twenties (now my early thirties, omg I feel freakin’ old) that I feel I’m surrounded by family. None are blood-related, but they don’t need to be.
It’s a theme that ends up in my work as well, and I often refer back to that moment in Family when everyone stands up for Tara. The moment you realize you have friends, that they have your back no matter what, and that you’re not entirely alone—it’s an incredibly powerful one, and one that tends to smack my heroines upside the head.
3. Selfless (Season Seven)
Anya was my favourite character so of course I was pleased with any episode that featured her heavily, however, it was her vengeance demon boss D’Hoffryn who uttered a single, highly valuable line.
“Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain.”
I…kill a lot of characters. Almost no one made it out of Bloodlines alive. But the problem there is that I tend toward series-works, so when it comes to the sequel, I need to add new characters. I eased back a little on the rampant homicide and instead ponder, before killing, the big question: will this death maximize the pain? Because sometimes it doesn’t. There are often far better creative choices that can be made causing pain without necessarily murdering anyone.
Of course, sometimes you just gotta kill someone too.
2. Hush (Season Four)
I know this is on everyone’s favourite episode list; it’s not really on mine (it’s just…it’s just Riley, guys) but I learned huge things from it. Whedon, as it’s well known now, decided that since everyone praised his dialogue as the strongest aspect of the series decided to have an episode with no dialogue.
This was an incredibly valuable lesson for me as a writer to seek out my strengths and, instead of relying on them, take them away and learn to strengthen my weaknesses. (Of course, I didn’t entirely agree that Whedon’s only strength was dialogue, but the point remains.)
1. Becoming (Part 1 & 2)
The season two finale was in two parts. You all know it, you all remember it: Buffy’s lover, the vampire with a soul Angel, has lost his soul and become Angelus. And Angelus wants to send the world. As evil often does.
This has two highly influential moments for me, both toward the end of the second part of the episode. The first is when Angel and Buffy have battled and she’s lost her weapon, and he asks her what she has left with everything taken away. Her reply, most memorably, was “Me.”
That is possibly my favourite black moment in any work: when everything that makes the character is stripped away and all seems lost, and she pulls steel into her spine and rises up. Invariably it shows up in my work over and over again because I just find it so powerful.
The second is, obviously, the moment Buffy kills Angel to save the world.
It guts me. Still. *mumblemumble*yearslater*mumble*.
This is similar to Selfless and was an early lesson for me that lodged in my brain because of the sheer power of it: what hurts the most? I was fifteen when this episode aired and it both broke my heart and blew my mind. This wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful if Buffy had merely killed Angelus, or if Willow had succeeded before the portal opened and returned Angel’s soul. No, it had to happen this way, with Buffy knowing it was too late and killing the man she loved to save the world.
You know, I have a feeling that it might be time to watch Buffy again when this blog tour is over…
About the Author
Award-winning author Skyla Dawn Cameron has been writing approximately forever.
Her early storytelling days were spent acting out strange horror/fairy tales with the help of her many dolls, and little has changed except that she now keeps those stories on paper. She signed her first book contract at age twenty-one for River, a unique werewolf tale, which was released to critical and reader praise alike and won her the 2007 EPPIE Award for Best Fantasy. She now has multiple series on the go to keep her busy, which is great for her attention deficit disorder.
Skyla is a fifth generation crazy cat lady who lives in southern Ontario, where she dabbles in art, is an avid gamer, and watches Buffy reruns. If she ever becomes a grownup, she wants to run her own pub, as well as become world dictator.
You can visit her on the web at http://www.skyladawncameron.com. When she’s not writing or being glared at by cats, she’s probably on Twitter. You should ping @skyladawn and tell her to get back to work.