How Buffy Was Written
Copyright 2016 by Gary Pullman
In Dusted: The Unauthorized Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy writer Jane Espenson explains how the series' team of writers wrote the show's weekly scripts.
First, Espenson says, they'd start with the emotion upon which a particular episode would be built.
Then, they would create a metaphor expressive of this emotion.
Using “The New Man,” an episode that she wrote, Espenson says the team decided that Rupert Giles feels alienated from Buffy and her friends, who are now enrolled at the University of California, Sunnydale, pursuing lives and interests of their own. He feels left out, almost as if he is estranged from them, because, during high school, as the school librarian, he saw them frequently and was more central to their lives. To prepare for this emotional experience, Espenson observes, previous episodes of the series had marginalized Giles.
The writers decided that Giles' transformation into a demon would be the metaphor expressive of his feeling alienated.
After deciding upon the emotion and the metaphor, the show's creator, Joss Whedon, and the writing team determine the “emotional high point,” or cliffhanger, that is to occur at the end, or “break,” of each act, Espenson says. In “The New man,” these incidents occur during the episode's four act breaks:
Act I: Sorcerer Ethan Rayne appears. (It is he who casts the spell that transforms Giles into a demon.)
Act II: Giles is a demon.
Act II: Buffy, believing that demon-Giles has murdered Giles, threatens to slay him.
Act IV: Despite his demonic appearance, Buffy recognizes Giles as she is about to slay him.
Prior to Act I, a brief “teaser” captures viewers' interest in the story to come.
After the emotion, the metaphor, and the act breaks are identified, the writers, working “scene by scene, from the general to the specific,” Espenson explains, break each scene of the episode into beats. (Espenson defines a “beat” as the smallest dramatic moment, which expresses an emotion or presents an action, and, according to her colleague, writer Tracy Forbes, each scene contains from seven to nine beats.)
Then, an outline is constructed.
Finally, with feedback from Whedon, between each draft, the writer responsible for writing the week's episode's script—Espenson, in the case of “A New Man”—writes one or two preliminary drafts, depending upon the time available, before writing the final draft of the script.
Forbes points out that every Buffy episode is built upon three elements: “emotional arc,” “metaphor,” and “monster.”
To sum up, Buffy episodes were written according to this process:
- The emotion upon which a particular episode would be built was determined.
- A metaphor expressive of this emotion was created.
- The “emotional high point,” or cliffhanger, that is to occur at the end, or “break,” of each act was identified.
- Working “scene by scene, from the general to the specific,” from seven to nine beats are created for each scene.
- An outline is developed.
- One or two preliminary drafts are written, with revisions involving feedback from Whedon.
- A final draft is written.