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So you want to write a Buffy novel? - A guide to writing Buffy and Angel books

Novel ideas
  Meet the editor.

You have this great idea for a Buffy story: one where Faith teams up with Ethan Rayne to kidnap Dawn and will sacrifice her to the dark Hell-gods of Xanthrax - unless Buffy and Angel team up one final time to save her.

But thereís a problem. Joss isnít returning your calls, Marti Noxonís Ďat lunchí and Jane Espenson is always in script meetings for Ripper. What do you do with your idea? Write a novel of course.

Before you submit your masterpiece to the good folks at Simon Pulse (they're known as Pocket Books in the UK), however, we thought youíd appreciate a few tips from the experts that might increase your chances of success.

Lisa Clancy edits all of the various Buffy and Angel book ranges. In a nutshell, her job is to review proposals for the novel submissions that demonstrate the best grasp of the Buffy story structure: the personal experiences of a teenage girl, with a supernatural element that reflects these daily hurdles.

Clancy is constantly seeking new and interesting variations on the mythology that will help grow a series. Sheís also looking to keep some sort of continuity within the books, to select the best or most interesting storylines, and finally to edit, market and help sell those books in a crowded, competitive marketplace.

  How to get noticed.

So, what does it take for a budding author to get noticed? "A passion for the Buffy TV show is not enough," says Lisa. "It's not enough for me, for the writers or the wannabe writers. You have to be able to write.

"Writers who are used to what is called work-for-hire (where someone else owns the copyright/characters) are ideal for a series like this. They are used to immersing themselves in the continuity, looking for patterns of storytelling, highlighting particular characters, and - most importantly - understanding that someone else created, owns and controls these characters. I cannot work with someone who's going to fight the notes we receive directly from the show's production offices."

Basically then, donít mess with Joss.

"A red flag for me," Lisa adds, "is a writer who comes back and says the licenser is wrong. You can say that and you can fight it, but at the end of the day, we're going to print the book that is approved to print."

Another must when writing is to make good use of the main characters - whilst trying not to get too carried away with your own creations.

"If you have such a great story, with the most interesting new characters, and a fascinating plot, none of which hinges on Buffy, then I would suggest to that person that they should be writing their own, original fiction," says Lisa. "If Buffy is not front and centre in your story, then perhaps you aren't writing a Buffy story.

"Yes, there are exceptions - Buffy does not appear in our Spike and Dru novel, nor is she front and centre in the episode The Zeppo. But those are exceptions rather than rules, and nothing a first-time Buffy author or wannabe should attempt.

Golden advice
  Don't be a know-all.

Prolific Buffy author Christopher Golden also has plenty of helpful hints for would-be authors to bear in mind.

"[Lisa Clancyís] stable of writers is pretty much full, so the truth of the matter is that whether youíre great or not, she doesnít really need you," admits Chris. "But that doesnít mean that she wonít feel she needs you if she reads the material and itís really good. Itís a two-fold process. You have to get her attention and you have to be good.

"The best way to get the attention of any editor is to have an agent. If we assume that you donít have an agent going into it, then I do have just a few dos and doníts:

"My number one donít is - and this happens all the time - donít presume that you know more about Buffy The Vampire Slayer than Lisa Clancy. I donít care how much of an expert you think you are. Even if, by some stretch of the imagination, you do know more than she does, donít presume that you do.

"Donít say, ĎI know that this doesnít really work in continuity,í or, ĎI know this isnít something that you normally would have done, but my idea is so wonderful that I know once you read it youíll realise that itís the right way to go.í "

Give 'em what they want
  Working on the perfect pitch.

Another good way to ensure success is to give Pocket Books what they want. "If you suspect that itís not something that theyíre going to let you do, donít pitch it," says Chris.

"Pitch something that you think is perfect for them. Find the idea that is absolutely perfect, not the most outrageous thing. Donít do Ďriskyí your first time out.

"Try to come up with the best absolute strongest story that you can come up with within the usual parameters of the book series. If you happen to get involved and things are happening, maybe theyíll pay more attention to your ideas - as wacky as they may seem at the time."

Patience is also a key part of the process. Be prepared to play the waiting game. "If you are a skilled and talented writer and you know the show inside and out, write down a eight to ten page synopsis of the entire story and three or four chapters and send it in," says Golden. "Then realise that itís going to be a long wait. You may never hear back.

"The one thing you donít do is to contact anybody at Simon Pulse two weeks after youíve sent it and say, ĎHow come you havenít got back to me yet?í Because the reality is that itís going to sit in a pile for months."

Outlines and sample chapters
  Understanding characters and restrictions.

John Passarella, author of both Buffy novel Ghoul Trouble and Angel novel Avatar, explains a little more about outlines and sample chapters. "The outline proves you've thought the plot out from start to finish, and the sample chapter demonstrates you can 'write' the characters."

The Buffy booksí subtly different continuity can also affect the nature of your proposal. "In addition to basic specs, the guidelines impose certain constraints on the aspiring Buffy author," says John. "If memory serves, I started outlining Ghoul Trouble in the summer before the fourth season began. At that time, per the guidelines, I had to write in an 'alternate third season' of the show [without Faith or the Mayor]"

Bear in mind that if you do get commissioned on the basis of your sample chapter, youíll need to write a whole lot more before youíre done . A typical Angel book requires at least 65,000 words and a Buffy Ďadultí novel around 75,000 words. Youíll almost certainly have to rewrite sections at the request of Lisa, Fox, and possibly even Joss too.

Donít forget to think big if you want to. Epic special effects have to be used sparingly on a tight TV budget, but cost nothing Buffy Stuff. "One thing you constantly hear about writing media tie-in books versus writing for the television show, is that the author has an unlimited budget since his story exists only on the page as printed words and doesn't need to be produced with actors and sets and special effects," says John Passarella. "We all have unlimited special effects budgets in our mind."

Full circle
  Don't break Joss's toys.

Passarella also draws attention to another vital point to consider - by the end of the book, leave your main characters as you found them at the start. "You are playing with somebody else's toys and when you're done with them, you have to put them back in the toy box in the same condition you found them.

"The writing staff of both shows have the luxury and the flexibility to evolve and mature the characters and their relationships. The authors of the novels lack that same flexibility. Again, the constraint is to maintain past continuity. This is probably the main reason for the 'new' characters that the novelists add to the mix in the original novels. The reader knows that the 'show' characters will emerge, ultimately, unscathed or at least unchanged from how they see them each week on television.

"So the invented characters add the element of the unknown, the wild cards in the deck the tie-in novelist plays with, whether the new characters are protagonists or antagonists. The authors have the opportunity to create sympathetic characters who can be placed in 'legitimate' jeopardy and, of course, to create hideous new villains. These two areas give the writer the most room to flex his or her creative muscles."

One of the plusses of working with established characters is that there's a little bit of creative shorthand involved. "I don't have to invent the world, just learn its rules," says Passarella. "I don't have to create the main characters, just learn their behaviours. As a media tie-in novelist, my goal is to create an exciting new story in the pre-existing world I'm given while remaining true to the characters and relationships.

"Although the disciplines vary between writing original novels and media tie-ins, for a first-time novelist, the latter may be the slightly easier path to take, for a couple of reasons. Aside from the relatively shorter length, some of the world-building is already finished for you. You're working with a net. Still, you will gain experience in creating your own characters, developing plots, outlining and completing book manuscripts.

Doís and dontís
  A handy summary.

To summarise then, here are some handy do's and don'ts:

  Closing thoughts.

Weíll leave you with some final words from the experts:

Lisa Clancy: "I believe that if you have a good enough idea, and a sense of the Buffy tone, I can work with you and give you a shot. [But] telling me what a fan of the show you are is not enough. We're all fans. Watching every show is not enough to write the books."

John Passarella: "In the final analysis, I would have to say you need more day-to-day discipline to write the media tie-ins than freestanding novels. Also, you need the discipline to write within someone else's world, so there's structure and stricture there. And of course, you should love the show."

Find out more at John's Official Website

Christopher Golden: "The is no magic wand. If I had a magic wand, believe me, I would be using it on myself. And then I would go use it on my friends. Thatís the truth of it."

Find out more at Chris's Official Website

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