When picturing dynamic and powerful protagonists, I don't know about you, but Buffy Summers is always on the top of my list. The invention of creator Joss Whedon and the protagonist of film-turned-television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers is a cultural icon of my generation.
When I heard that they were adapting Buffy into a rebooted TV series, I was inspired to stroll down memory lane for another character analysis. See the video below for my full summary of the Buffy Summers character arc. Through this analysis, I have pulled out a list of specific writing strategies employed throughout the series that writers can use to enhance their own characters.
Here are the top 10 takeaways from the character arc of Buffy Summers:
Even if your hero comes from a supernatural or unusual background, give them motivations and experiences that are universal that the audience can relate to. From breakups, to friendship squabbles, to fitting into her ever-changing identify. At her core, Buffy is just like the rest of us, despite her extraordinary circumstances.
Identify what makes your character different. Buffy Summers is a dynamic character, but what makes her different is very simple. She has to kill vampires while other people don’t. The strength of a superhero inside the body of a petite young girl.
Just as you shouldn’t make your protagonist too weak, don’t make them invincible. For one, there is no conflict if the hero can’t be destroyed. Second, it makes our audience connect more deeply with a hero fighting against the odds.
Identify what your character holds most dear, take it away, and see how your character evolves. A mother, a sister, a friend. The most impactful episodes are the ones in which Buffy loses (or nearly loses) the ones closest to her: the ones she perceives as a constant in her life. Without them, she must adapt in order to survive.
Force your hero to discover new strengths and new resources to overcome the obstacle. Never rely on what has worked before. We all find ourselves screaming at the TV, "Why don't you just use X, it worked last time!" BTVS masters its ability to seek out new strategies for every obstacle, so the story never gets stale.
Put their goals in direct conflict with one another. Force them to make difficult choices. Saving the world or saving her soul mate? Saving the world or graduating?
Flip the script on supporting characters. Turn heroes into villains and villains into heroes. Spike, Angel, Faith. Each of these characters has played both a hero and a villain. Turning the tables from time to time enables the protagonist to learn a different way to see the world outside of black and white.
Give them an edge, then take it away. Repeat. Buffy gains then loses her powers, makes then loses friends, inherits a sister only to lose her mother. Just when things are looking up for the hero, they need to be reminded of why they can never have what they want. That is, at least, until the story is over. But be sure to remind them what they continue to fight for and why they can’t give up.
Give your characters moments to react and reflect. Every action has a reaction. The bigger the action, the more substantial the reaction should be. The character can’t grow and the audience can’t feel it if you skip this step and simply move on to the next action. After every tragedy or impossible conflict they overcome or fail to overcome, give them an opportunity to react and reflect.
Give your hero a distinctive, colorful personality. Buffy quotes are famously identifiable such as “If the apocalypse comes, beep me” or “I may be dead but I’m still pretty” or “Don’t worry, I’ve patrolled in this halter many times.” Buffy is a confident, resilient, and loyal optimist. Her character voice speaks to her age, her strength and her unique perspective of the world.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, check out the video below for my full recap of the Buffy Summers character arc. If you like this topic, also be sure to check out my Filmspired video playlist for even more writing tips inspired by popular films and TV shows.