Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I'm compelled

All week--as I struggled with an old trauma and realized some wounds never really heal and make us what we are, both the good and the bad--I was also trying to come up with a post for The Great Blogging Experiment. Elana Johnson asked people to sign up to write about one subject today: Writing Compelling Characters.

I thought, “I’ve not nothing. Zilch. Nada.” But that’s not true. I know a compelling character when I see one. I’ve lost a good night’s sleep more than once to finish a novel. I’ve watched some movies or television shows again and again.

I’ve decided to pick my favorite show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only is Buffy compelling, so are most of her sidekicks.

Why? Oh, boy, this is the hard part. Buffy and each person in her circle are drawn with stand-out strengths, good hearts but deep flaws that are sometimes truly disturbing. So we care about them even while saying, “What are you doing???”

We love stories about chosen ones, superheroes, people who can vanquish evil. But the best heroes have to battle what’s inside themselves as well as external foes.

What happens to Buffy:

She’d rather be buying shoes but got tapped to be the one-and-only Slayer. Sigh. She’s peeved, reluctant, argumentative, but, in the end, not able to turn her back on evil. She’ll stomp its sorry ass and toss in a witty line while at it.

But when she learns how huge the powers against her are, she says, “I’m sixteen years old. I don’t want to die.” Can we blame her? Can we not wish to see her win?

Nothing comes easy. She falls in love--with a vampire who is cursed to suffer for his past deeds. This ends in disaster and forces her to fight her lover. When he gloats that she can’t kill him, she says, “Give me time.”

And time makes her stronger--a formidable foe who can and will face anything. But she is also the walking wounded. Like all of us, her hurts never completely go away.

Buffy sacrifices herself to save her sister and the world (she saved the world a lot as her tombstone reads). But her friends use a spell to bring her back. She is like the walking dead. She can’t tell them she thinks she was in heaven and doesn’t know why she’s had to return to hell-on-earth.

Eventually, Buffy and her friends each face the darkness within themselves and claw their way back to redemption. They do this with the help of their friends and forgiveness.

Note: The series is the creation of the fabulous Joss Whedon. The picture above is from the spinoff graphic novel/comic from Dark Horse Books.

I wish I’d had time to write this and come back to it, instead of throwing it together. But sometimes rough and raw is good. It comes from the heart.


Liza said...

I keep coming back to the word empathy, although I didn't use it in my own post. We have to understand what are characters are feeling to relate to them. Great post, no matter how quickly you put it together.

Laurel Garver said...

I love how differently each of us has approached the prompt, and I learn just as much from posts like yours that analyze a favorite character as I do from the how-tos. Thanks for a thought-provoking read, Tricia!

Donna said...

You have definitely captured Buffy and her friends. This doesn't read like a quick post. Very thoughtful and thought provoking.

Arlee Bird said...

Excellent point. We all have our own internal conflicts that we deal with, so all the better to understand the personal struggles that a character is facing so it becomes easier to inject ourselves into that character and feel greater empathy.

Tossing It Out

Margo Berendsen said...

At the time these were playing, I thought the title was so corny so surely the show must be corny, too. But I've heard so many good things about it and Josh Whedon is amazing. I'll just have to order it someday and start watching the series. Your description of Buffy was definitely compelling!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love this! You did a great job of selling character, Tricia. And Buffy is such a fun way to do it! :-)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Liza: Right. The reader needs to feel empathy for the character. Good word.

@Laurel: Thrills me to have you find it thought-provoking!

@Donna: Thank you so much!

@Lee: I really believe we must draw from that well inside ourselves. Thank you.

@Margo: As in a lot of shows, the first episodes aren't as deep as they become once the show gets its stride. This one just kept getting deeper and deeper. And still was witty much of the time. Hope you do watch it someday and enjoy.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Shannon: Thank you! That makes me smile.

Elana Johnson said...

"Nothing comes easy." I think this is the absolute truth, and when we put it in our characters, real people can relate. That's what makes them compelling. I mean who wants to read about someone who has a charmed life? Not me. Because I can't see myself in that life.

Davin Malasarn said...

This is a great subject matter to talk about. Thanks for your cool Buffy-nalysis, Tricia! I'll have to think much more about compelling characters. I feel like that's something I have a lot of trouble with.

Unknown said...

Great example! Buffy is a great role model for a compelling character, her strength, attitude, and quirks are what makes her irresistible to watch!

Great choice! Thanks for participating! I am really enjoying reading everyone's thoughts and opinions!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I've never watched Buffy but I'm impressed with how you made her into a compelling character with this post!

Michelle McLean said...

perfect example of a compelling character! Wonderful post :)

Tere Kirkland said...

Great post!

Heh, Xander is one of my faves from Buffy because of his self-deprecating humor.

It helped me connect with him, for sure!

Stephanie Faris said...

A good part of learning how to write is learning what we love to read. I read SO many books that just can't hold my interest. Eventually I start to really crave a book that draws me in and holds me there...but they're so hard to find! When I do find one, you can bet I run out and buy everything that author has ever written!

kathrynjankowski said...

". . . the best heroes have to battle what’s inside themselves as well as external foes."

That's as succinct a description of a compelling character as any I've read.

Well done, Tricia!

Char said...

one of my favorite shows ever ....ever.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Elana: Exactly. And we love to read about someone overcoming whatever gets thrown in the path, because we've got to do it, too.

@Domey: Thank you! Any time I can pull Buffy into a discussion I'm happy.

@Jen: You got it--strength, attitude and quirks, she's got it all. ;) And thanks for throwing this great fest!

@Sherrie: I'm always looking to make Buffy converts. ;) That show had such wit and depth.

@Michelle: Thank you!

@Tere: Ah, Xander--so funny, so loyal, so conflicted. The characters in that show were so well-drawn and then given such snappy dialogue.

@Stephanie: I love when an author continues to hit the mark book after book.

@Kathryn: Wow. Thank you so much. It's a lesson I've really learned this year in trying to balance storyline with character arc.

@Char: All I can say to that is :D :D :D :D :D

Janet Johnson said...

I only saw a random Buffy episode or two, but you make it sound much more interesting. And wow, I'd be totally miffed if I were in heaven and had to come back to a much less nice place. :)

Talei said...

I love your comment about 'battling what's inside themselves as well as external' - thats so true! And, great example of a compelling character. ;)

VR Barkowski said...

Great example! I'm a huge Buffy fan (TV show only, the move, meh). Joss Whedon is a genius with character. Not only Buffy, Willow, Xander & Angel, but the antagonists on Buffy were also compelling.

Tamika: said...

This is a great series, I'm learning something different from each post:)

Characters that we can make live and breathe are the ones that I want to carry with me.

I loved Buffy, because she was different in every way; she knew how to artfully break the mold.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Okay, I've never really watched Buffy, but it's been on my list for a long time. Maybe I'll Netflix it after I'm done with Glee!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Buffy was an intriguing character.
Whedon also created the awesome Firefly!

Anonymous said...

Adding the element of forgiveness gives the plot and the characters strength. I use forgiveness. An event happens that threatens to tear the good guys apart. They need to forgive, move forward, and overcome. And raw and rough is good.

Stephen Tremp

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Janet: Random Buffy might be confusing or even, gasp, not compelling, because there really is an overall arc. But if you get into it, the shows are funny, horrifying and thought-provoking.
And, yeah, she had a lot of head trouble after being yanked out of heaven.

@Talei: Thank you. I think the inner battles are the most important ones.

@Viva: Yay, another Buffy fan! And, yes, the antagonists are really well-drawn, too, which makes them much scarier.

@Tamika: I'm getting so much good advice from everyone, too. It is a wonderful experiment. I'm so glad you like Buffy, too!

@Stephanie: It will be far different than Glee! Buffy is, of course, a horror show slathered with wit and pathos.

@Alex: I know! I own both series on DVD. Joss is the man.

@Stephen: Thank you. Yes, in Buffy, they go so bad sometimes, it's hard to know how they will forgive but they do. It makes redemption possible.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I love Buffy--she's a great character. It's true--she totally didn't want to spend her life fighting demons and saving the world, but she embraced it...and totally rocked it! Therein lies her strength. She doesn't run from a fight. Makes her very compelling.

storyqueen said...

You just might turn me into a Buffy viewer yet. (As of now, I've only seen the movie and an episode or two...although I have seen the middle 20 minutes of just about every episode of Angel since it plays early in the morning when I am rowing....but never the beginning nor the end of the episode.)


Melissa said...

So... to be honest, I've never watched Buffy. Not a single episode. Ever. Despite people telling me too, despite all of that. I was never interested.

You've actually managed to peak my interest on this show. Triumphed where so many before you have failed. So congratulations both on that and the great post.

Unknown said...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great example of compelling characters. See, you had something. Thanks!!

Jemi Fraser said...

That's it! The final straw. I'm going out to buy Buffy DVDs this weekend. I need to watch this series!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@lbdiamond: Embraced it, is right, and by doing that she gained our respect as a character. Of course, in the dark moments of her soul, the road got rocky, but she pulled herself out of that.

@Shelley: Movie not so good. And it kind of takes a bit to get into the tv series, so someday maybe you'll give it a shot. There are some corny special effects, especially in the first season, but it's the dialogue and mythos that really carries the show.

@Melissa: Yay! I feel empowered. :D

@RaShelle: I could carry on and on about Buffy's virtues. ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Jemi: WOO-HOO!!!! Yay!!!

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Buffy rocks...and rolls and kicks butt. Great example of what to aim for with compelling characters.

L.T. Elliot said...

My friend ali just told me about this series and why I should watch it. I'll have to give it a try.

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Tricia, reading about Buffy brought tears to my eyes. I've never watched her but your description makes me want to. Not sure what you would've done to improve this most excellent post. And thank you so much for commenting on mine.

I LOVE Matilija Poppies. You must live close to my old home (the one I miss with every cell of my being): Ventura County. Or SB?

that rebel, Olivia

Anna Staniszewski said...

I love that you used Buffy as an example! When I tried to explain the show's appeal to my husband not too long ago, I realized it was really was all about the characters. They were funny and interesting and definitely compelling!

Mary E Campbell said...

Love the they fight what's inside themselves as well as the external foes. So true. A compelling character is flawed and deep.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Jennifer: Hi and thank you. She's my hero.

@LT: Hope you like!

@Olivia: Why, thank you! I'm not in Ventura but south. Right now I live in Riverside but have lived in numerous parts of LA and OC. Those poppies love the canyons, which is where I first saw them, near San Juan Capistrano. I noticed your writing profile mentioned Venice, that's another of my stomping grounds.

@Anna: Exactly! The characters are well-drawn and drive the story arc forward. Not to mention the amazing dialogue.

@Mary: It is that internal battle that makes us care about the outcome.

Unknown said...

I've never seen the series but Buffy does sound like a complex character - compelling. Thanks for sharing.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great job...Buffy is a wonderful example of a compelling character that draws us in. She makes us love her and leaves us wanting more.

Amparo Ortiz said...

I l-o-v-e Buffy!!! Best show ever. Hands down.

Great job at breaking her character arc down like this, by the way. Couldn't have said it better myself.

I literally bawled my eyes out when Angel left her after the whole Sunnydale High debacle in Season 3. And when she died for Dawn--total wreck.

Nice post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Clarissa: The character is complex, more than the name implies.

@Sharon: I never get enough of that show and its characters!

@Amparo: Another Buffy fan!
That show made me laugh and cry more than any show ever. The prom dance to 'Wild Horses' gets me every time.

Jackee said...

Buffy is/was a wonderful character for sure. Joss Whedon had a lot of moments of genius, but she tops the list.

Now if only I could write witty one-liners like Buffy delivers... :o)

I hope your week gets better, BTW. (Please say it isn't cancer back.) :( Thinking of you!


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I have a sudden interest in watching Buffy.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Jackee: Yup, Joss is a genius and so were the other writers on that show. It just sparkled. (No, not cancer, thank goodness.)

@Dominque: Ha! Yay and thank you!

Tabitha Bird said...

Rough and raw is often ready. I agree. It comes from the heart.

Kirsty Girl said...

Go Spike! :P

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Darling, your rough and raw is awesome! Buffy is definitely compelling! Such a kick butt character with so much personality. Great choice for a feature!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Tabitha: Hi, Tab, and thank you!

@Kirsty: Spike, yeah, talk about a complex, compelling character. I love that scene where he's singing, 'I did it MY way.'

@Carolina: Thank you! *dances*

Nicole Zoltack said...

I've actually never seen Buffy, but I have it on my Netflix list and plan on rectifying that very soon.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Nicole: Yay! I hope you fall in love with it.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I never watched Buffy (I don't have time for TV), but she sure sounds like an interesting character!

Julie said...

Best show ever! I'm still watching seasons of Buffy, when I want to watch TV. There's just nothing that I've found on TV now that can compare with the writing and the mixture of drama, great characters, and humor.

Great post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Sandra: I don't even have cable anymore. I just watch DVDs when I want something. But I watched every Buffy when it was on. That was an addiction, I admit.

@Julie: Woo-hoo! I love meeting other fans. It remains my favorite for all the reasons you list.