Buffy and the modern BSG are my top two, all-time favorite television series. Both created cohesive worlds and compelling characters that I couldn’t help but watch and felt totally invested in.
I often wonder, though, what made those worlds seem so real and engaging to me? Both series relied on absolutely ridiculous plot twists and disbelief that took an industrial crane (literally in the last episode of season 5 of Buffy) to suspend. So why did I never really question what happened. And why did I never walk away feeling let down by the twists and turns and revelations the writers came up with?
I don’t have a good answer. And what happened with series like Lost or (brace yourself) The X Files? Both series went to places that I felt were completely unbelievable and offered revelations that seemed counterintuitive and ill planned on debut. Why did Starbuck’s final scene in BSG seem magical and powerful while Lost’s strange twists and turns seemed hackneyed and corny?
I don’t have an answer to these questions, and I’d love one. Because I think that if I knew the answer, it would make me an invincible writer. As an author, I want to surprise my audience and keep them guessing. But I also want to satisfy them and never leave them with a puzzled “Why did that happen?” feeling when I pull the rabbit out of the hat.
To whom does a fantasy world belong? I was thinking about this recently when reading about the (now seemingly abandoned) possibility that there could be a Buffy movie without Joss Whedon.
At first blush, this idea seems ludicrous. How could you separate the Buffy-verse from Joss? But then I thought about all those characters and fantasy universes that have both found success surviving past their original creators’ contributions and also fallen flat when left in the hands of creators who have long since moved past creating them in a way that pleases the fans.
Marvel’s a clear example that comes to mind for me of the first idea. Stan Lee created the X-Men and Spider-man–but some of the most iconic characters and story lines associated with those fantasy franchises weren’t his. Wolverine, Emma Frost, Black Cat, Venom were all created by other talents who took over the fantasy world Lee gave us. And what would those franchises be without those characters?
Star Wars seems like a good example of the second concept. Before the original trilogy had ended, thousands of fans were already creating fan fiction and participating in a shared experience of that galaxy far far away. When Lucas returned to the galaxy more than a decade after leaving it, he rewrote and reimagined many key concepts and pieces that really rubbed many of the fans who had taken ownership the wrong way. Didn’t Han shoot first?
Can the creation be separated from the creator? Though we may think the author of a work of SF&F has the definitive authority over what is and isn’t part of that world or story, isn’t it true that sometimes ownership does and should pass to the fans and writers who follow him or her?