Recently I started paying attention to the TV shows that book people find fascinating. I normally don’t watch TV, but I decided that with the profusion of TV on DVD it would be easy to catch up on entire seasons at my leisure.
And how does this relate to writing? It’s the storytelling, baby. Thought the mediums differ, the principles are the same: hook your audience with a great story.
One of the best of these TV storytellers is the cult icon Joss Whedon. The creator, director, and writer of such shows as Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse, and the recent Emmy-winning Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is frequently touted as a storytelling genius, and for good reason. If you’ve watched any of these shows, you know that the plots are fascinating, the dialog witty, and the action intense.
But telling a great story isn’t the only thing to consider. He said, “Star Wars . . . really was the first movie that I can think of where it was based entirely on existing movie structures. It was one step removed. It was a story about stories. And obviously, they all are, to an extent. But I feel like, to me, that’s kind of distancing; that’s not what I want to be doing. What I want to be doing is just using the medium to communicate.”
Communicating. That’s it then. The key to storytelling is communicating with your audience, sharing something with them and then listening to their reactions. That’s how Joss has built a cult following—by creating stories that speak so clearly to people that they obsessively watch everything he creates.
But that isn’t all. Joss also said, “The story is in charge, the story that keeps on speaking to me, that says there is much more to tell about all these characters.”
Joss is one who doesn’t run after trends or strive for mass appeal. He told the stories that spoke to him and in turn people seek out his stories. It’s a lesson writers—whatever the medium—should learn.