Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Under the Influence: Supernatural

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Supernatural. The scary, the funny, the Winchesters. But really, as a writer you could learn a lot from this show. (Warning: many, many gifs today!)

Wait..You don't watch Supernatural? Well, right some wrongs in your life, people!

Supernatural is the story of two demon-hunting brothers, the Winchesters, who go off fighting evil and generally saving the day.

They also die a lot. But don't worry, they come back. Oh, and there are angels and demons and you know, armageddon. But also horror greats, like Bloody Mary, the woman in white and even, Dracula.

But how does this show influence me? Let me tell you.

1. Relationships.

At the heart of this story, there is a brother story. No matter what, these guys are there for each other. They don't always like each other and they both make really bad choices, usually to save the other, but at the end of the day, you know what comes first with them. This is so important as a writer. Build relationships that withstand trouble and turmoil. It build tension through conflict and it will keep your readers engaged.

Lesson: The strongest relationships aren't always the romantic ones. 

2. Humor and not taking yourself so seriously.

This show is full of tear-jerker moments. I mean a lot of them. And most take place with two hot guys talking while leaning against an equally hot car, but I digress. The reason we care when we get to those tear-jerker moments isn't just because we care about the characters, it's because we know them. We have beers with them and share adventures.

We laugh with them.

I don't think I can stress enough how important this is. A little humor goes a long way. Dean and Sam face life and death every day and this show could be a total...really? if not for the humanizing humor and wit they bring to the table. And the show itself has even addressing the strong and vocal fandom, poked fun at its own self and let the boys have moments of self-awareness, where they understand just how absurd their lives really are.

And it works.

Lesson: Well, I'll let Joss Whedon tell you this lesson.
 “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”

3. Retellings are key.

I mentioned this in my GRIMM blog, but retelling a story in a way that makes it fresh is key. You already have the familiarity built in, but then the anticipation of, what are they going to do with it. One of my favorite episodes of Supernatural is Monster Movie.

It's in black and white and plays into the whole grand age of Hollywood movie monsters. There's even an Intermission title card half way through. It turns out to be a monster they've battled before, but the set-up is so unique and clever, that I never tire of watching it. Plus - Dean wears lederhosen. Yeah, you heard me.

You feel comfortable right away because you know where it's going. You are just along for the ride, and then bam! Curve ball from nowhere and you are in love.

Lesson: You don't have to reinvent the wheel, just make it roll in a new direction.

4. In a series, have a hook and stick with it.

This one is especially important if you're writing a series and have recurring characters. They should do things over and over. It let's the audience know they are back in this world and reminds them why they love/hate the characters. Supernatural excels at this. Each character has a thing. It might be awesome or it might be annoying, but it is there thing. And the audience relies on it. They love it. They embrace it.

This is key, the embracing part. You want your character to be unique enough to be remembered and great way to do that is to give them a thing.

Here are some examples off the top of my head:

Dean: "Bitch."  Sam: "Jerk."

Bobby: "Idjits."

Dean: "Awesome." "Son of a bitch."

Castiel takes everything at face value, which makes for some funny misunderstandings.
Dean loves classic rock and pie.
If you sleep with Sam, you die.

Lesson: Commit to your character. Know everything about them and show what makes them different. Because that is what makes them memorable.

5. Big arcs, small arc.

I mentioned this in GRIMM, also, but the wrapped-up small plot vs. the over-reaching arc has a perfect balance on this show.

They have weekly baddies to battle. There is a season long arc. There is a series long theme. This is a hard balance to achieve and Supernatural has done is perfectly. (Let's pretend the Leviathans didn't happen, okay?)

If you are writing a series, consider this. Can the chapter of your final book in that series draw its roots from chapter one of the first book? It should be able to. And on the sad day we see the last episode of Supernatural, I promise the parallels will be there. Make sure the series as a whole is cohesive.

Next, every ten chapters should be a section (a season, if you will), and make a point to the plot all its own. Then by chapter(episode), each should forward the plot with new information or a deepening of understanding to something already introduced.

If you're writing a standalone, these principles can still be applied, just on a smaller scale.

Lesson: Your story is an arc, not a line. But make sure you can always see where you started. It's the only way for the reader to know how far they've come.

So there you have it, how Supernatural influences me.

Oh, and this.

Also this.

And then of course, this.

Happy writing! I'll see you Friday!


  1. Confession: I looked at all the gifs THEN read the post (looking and drooling at the gifs again LOL).
    Awesome post, Angi!

  2. OMG, best. post. evar. First, I'm a die-hard Supernatural fan (which you knew, Angi). But then I agree with EVERYTHING you just said. Supernatural is one of my biggest inspirations ever for all of these reasons and move. LOVE this post!

  3. You know... I *have* to right my wrongs. I have Supernatural in Queue on Netflix forever and have yet to watch it. I want to do a marathon and have the kids as excuses... I have to watch it because 1) Yum and 2) all your tips, love it!!! Repeating to self: make the wheel roll in new direction, know them boys--ahem-- characters and my story is an arc not a line ;)

  4. Me and my daughter watched 149 episodes on Netflix then season 8 were caught up I love this show to and the eye candy don't hurt lol

  5. WAIT. Were there actual words in this post? I was stuck on the gifs, because JENSENACKLESMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM