Writing Lessons from Joss Whedon

With the frankly wild and unexpected success of The Avengers, Joss Whedon has never been held in such high esteem (not even when he was helming Buffy). But he’s long been the king of the geeks and I swore fealty a long time ago. He’s one of the few TV writers that I will always follow, and therefore worth paying attention to. So here’s what I think writers can learn from Joss Whedon.

Kill the one they love

One of Joss’ staples and yet it works every time. Loveable supporting character are never long for the world. And it’s always supporting characters, perhaps because they’re easier to love; it’s more permissible to have a two-dimensional, all-good supporting character. But killing this character off ups the stakes and increases the tension; if the writer could kill that awesome character, they could kill anyone!

Make dialogue a strength

Whedon’s true trademark is zippy dialogue, usually with plenty of banter but also laden with character and exposition without being dry. Dialogue is by far easier to read on the page and it’s more natural for people to talk about what’s going on than have pages of deep, info-dumping thoughts. Remember, too, what the characters don’t say; that can speak volumes.

It’s easy to get dialogue wrong, so listen to other people’s conversations and take notes (try to be discreet or you may lose some friends).

Challenge yourself

After hearing for the umpteenth time how much someone liked his dialogue, Whedon wrote an episode of Buffy where everyone loses their voice. After making his name in supernatural dramas Buffy and Angel he made the sci-fi space western Firefly. It’s easy to stick to what you know and what people love. But stretching yourself keeps your work from becoming staid and repetitive; two words no-one wants to see in their reviews!

What else can writers learn from Joss Whedon? Or do you think they can’t learn anything at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment!

4 thoughts on “Writing Lessons from Joss Whedon

  1. M. Latimer-Ridley

    Joss is brilliant! I’ve been a fan of his since the Buffy and Angel era! Used to love Friday nights, with both episodes playing one after the other on Sky One, I think it was? Brilliant!

    Reply
    1. James

      Hi guys, thanks for commenting. I think I discovered him at the end of season three of Buffy, so catching up meant I wasn’t tuning into Sky until season five. But I enjoyed every minute of it! I can see why some people get annoyed by how much adulation he gets, but the man is pretty awesome. What’s your favourite Joss “product”?

      Reply
      1. M. Latimer-Ridley

        Think it has to be Avengers Assemble. It was quite funny, not something I was expecting when I went to go see it!
        Though I always did love Angel.
        How about you, what’s your favourite Joss Whelan creation? R.

        Reply
        1. James

          Hmm it’s a tough one. Buffy was my first love though I feel Angel managed to surpass it. But then Firefly surpassed that. So I suppose it has to be Firefly. Avengers is a very close second, but Firefly was just shinier.

          Reply

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