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Selected bits from Joss's Q&A

11th April 2012 (00:56)

So, Joss Whedon just posted an 'Ask Me Anything' on Reddit, where he answered a couple of dozen fan questions about, well, anything. Though I did notice he also carefully avoided a few of the questions, like "What did you think of the recent Buffy movie revival project"? Unfortunately, the format of the Q&A was kind of hard to understand... I ended up cutting and pasting together a few of the more interesting questions and his answers, and thought I'd share.

So, go on. Guess who's Joss's favourite character to write...

Which of your characters was your absolute favorite to write? Why? Conversely, which of your characters was the most difficult for you to write?
Favorite characters? Jeez. Spike, Andrew, Illyria, River, Captain Hammer, Loki, the Cheese Man... hell, I love them all, or I wouldn't write them. But I tend to the left of center. The hardest was always Angel. How to make a decent, handsome, stalwart hero interesting -- tough. Angelus, on the other hand...

You've been said to encourage fanfiction. How do you feel about scholarship about your work and the fact that academics tend to delve quite deeply into it, perhaps to the point of publishing interpretations you did not intend?
All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet -- it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.

So Joss, if cavemen and astronauts got into a fight, who would win?
Do the astronauts have weapons?

Would you have brought Fred back if Angel hadn't ended with season 5? Any regrets as far as stories, character developments that you were unable to do with any of the Buffy/Angel characters?
Season six of Angel would have kicked all manner of ass. And Illyria would have manifested as Fred often enough to become very confused about her identity. And now I'm sad again.

I'm sure that killing off a character you've invested a lot of time in can be tough. Have you ever found that doing this to a particular character has had a profound emotional affect on you? Who was the toughest kill?
I actually find it refreshing... delightful.... vaguely arousing....
Actually, I'm, no offense, very tired of being labelled as "the guy who kills people". Shakespeare (he's this hot new writer) does it way more than me, and everyone's all excited about how he, as it were, holds a mirror up to nature, while I'm like the Jason Voorhees of the writing community. Unfair.
Also, probably Buffy's Mom.

What is your personal favorite work of Science Fiction? And what inspires you to continue to create?
Dune. (The book). And what inspires me is Dune (the miniseries). (Actually, I don't think of myself as being inspired to create. I can't imagine doing anything else. It's like breathing.)

You love stupid people.


Posted by: ms_scarletibis (ms_scarletibis)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 01:00 (UTC)

Man, I wish I'd had the chance to ask a question.

Thanks for posting these. Love that Spike's name came out first for favorites, and his thoughts on s6. Gosh, I wish they could just do a movie :/

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 01:22 (UTC)

I was a bit surprised he mentioned Spike first. :) (Though to be fair, he was asked favourite character to write, which I can certainly see.)

What interested me most, though, was his reaction to the "killing your characters" question. I sympathise; I do think he's actually done it a lot less than you'd think from the way fans (and haters) talk about him.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 02:47 (UTC)

The difference is you know Shakespeare's characters for an hour or three. You know Joss's for weeks, months, years. People get much more attached.

Posted by: Ruuger (ruuger)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 07:42 (UTC)

I was a bit surprised he mentioned Spike first. :)

I guessed that he'd say Spike as his favourite to write because he keeps writing the same character in his other works as well - Emma Frost in his X-men comics was basically Spike with boobs :D

As for the deaths, I think the problem isn't so much the number of deaths as the fact that he tends to use character death as a tool for extra emotional emphasis in a way that has become very predictable. I guessed that he would kill Wash and Book in Serenity long before I had seen the movie because it's the kind of thing that he would do.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 21:43 (UTC)

You've sparked a thought here... I think there are several reasons to kill off characters. Because it's dramatically appropriate to the plot (Macbeth, Bonnie and Clyde, The Gift). Because it shows how high-stakes the game is, or it's genre-approriate (Saving Private Ryan, Serenity). Or as you say, to add emotional emphasis and give characters extra motivation (Passion, Seeing Red).

The thing is, Joss's early works (up to 2003) relied on that third trope a lot. I think he now realises it's become predictable, and stopped using it as much (not to say entirely) - but it's become ingrained in fandom's minds so much, they assume he's going to do it, and even if characters die from reasons 1 or 2, they'll assume it's because of 3.

If that makes sense. :)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 22:00 (UTC)

I see what you mean, though I'm not sure you can draw a clear line - at least not before season 5 of Angel. :) Dollhouse and Dr Horrible weren't exactly free of dramatic deaths (it was arguably even the entire point of Dr Horrible). There aren't quite as many examples after 2004, true, but then there's considerably fewer episodes to work with too.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 22:42 (UTC)

Well, I meant up to the end of Angel S5. :)

it was arguably even the entire point of Dr Horrible

Sure, but for me that puts it in my first category. Penny's death wasn't just thrown in for emotional exploitation: it was as integral to the narrative structure as the deaths of Romeo & Juliet in their play.

I don't think the usual argument is about Joss killing off characters when it's dramatically appropriate: it's that he has the reputation of sadistically killing the most-loved characters at their moment of greatest happiness, because he enjoys inflicting pain on his audience. :)

Posted by: Lonewulf04 (lonewulf04)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 16:54 (UTC)

I think Joss tends to, as it is said in comedy, drops his pants too often.
In live comedy, a comedian would resort to "dropping his pants" if he started to bomb in a "tough room". This meaning the difference between comedy and "blue" humor (sex jokes).

The problem with "dropping your pants" by old comedian's thoughts is; once you've dropped your pants, where do you go?

As Joss describes killing off characters as "vaguely arousing" I am sure he said this more for lampooning his own image. But in another way, I think he tends to not "love" his characters as much as fans do, so when he kills them off to go in a different creative direction, he doesn't think of it as importantly as fans do.

And besides which, I mean think of it, each episode of BtVS and Angel had some baddie being killed. I mean, hello, vampires? In that way Joss killed off MUCH more than that new writer, Shakespeare, ever did.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 18:22 (UTC)

My impression is that what Joss loves most is telling stories that affect the audience emotionally, or make them think, or laugh or cry or whatever. The characters he creates are means to that end, not an end in themselves. Sure, he's happy if the viewers become attached to them: but thayt's because if they're emotionally committed they'llcare what happens to them.

Also, he's famous for making fun of himself and being sarcastic, as that quote demonstrates. :)

Posted by: Lonewulf04 (lonewulf04)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 18:49 (UTC)

I think you rephrased what I was trying to say. I just meant that because he has this emotionally unattached view of the characters, he doesn't think much of killing them off.
However, I DO think he likes his baddies more than the goodies, because the baddies are "more interesting".

Yes, I know, I've listened to him talking in commentaries often enough that I can tell he has a very self-sardonic wit. One might even say sarcastic.

Though the words are nearly the same in meaning, did you know sarcastic means "sharp", "cutting" and referred to as "flaying of the skin".

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 12:09 (UTC)

I do think he's actually done it a lot less than you'd think from the way fans (and haters) talk about him.

Well, if you look at Angel, they might have a point. By the end of the series, he's killed off Doyle, Cordelia, Wesley, Fred, Lilah, Lindsey, Darla, (pretty much) Gunn, and both Spike, Connor and Angel have been killed in-story several times even if it didn't quite take. Leaving... well... Lorne and Virginia, pretty much. (OK, maybe a couple of others.) (And that's not counting that time Lorne got his head chopped off.)

But generally, yeah, he doesn't kill off characters as cavalierly as some do. Which is why when he does kill them, it tends to hurt. Quality above quantity. (Well, for the most part.)

FANS: You don't want to do this.
JOSS: I don't? But I'm so *good* at it.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 21:44 (UTC)

See my reply to ruuger for more detail; but I do think that's a trope Joss used a lot in the early part of his career, and now the reputation is sticking to him even when he's moved on.

Posted by: Lonewulf04 (lonewulf04)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 17:07 (UTC)

Not really surprising he mentioned Spike first, to me. He admits that Angelus was more interesting than Angel. Why? because Angelus was the Big Bad. But Spike was the Big Bad before Angel. Why? Angel didn't become Angelus until after Spike showed up.

To touch on this again even though I just stated much the same elsewhere, Joss, I think, tends to like his "big bad" characters more than the "good" characters (because they are more interesting). Though, he reasons that fans like to see the bad guy lose, so he doesn't feel bad about killing them off. However, because he loved his "big bad" characters more than the good characters, he rationalizes it as "okay, I killed off the characters I love, now I'll kill off the characters YOU love."

Heck, even the actors during the show have stated "Joss loves angst" and death is one of the highest forms of anxiety...

Posted by: GingerWall (gingerwall)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 02:39 (UTC)
Spike worried

Also, probably Buffy's Mom.

I love how he just threw that in at the end.

Also, JOYCE!!!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 21:46 (UTC)

I've also heard him say killing Tara was the hardest - especially given that he put it off for about two years after coming up with idea because he couldn't bear the thought. But I'm sure Joyce is up there too.

Posted by: Lonewulf04 (lonewulf04)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 16:37 (UTC)

from what I understand time-wise, Joss killed off Joyce Summer's at about the same time Joss's mom died. In the DVD extras, he talks about this and connected Joyce's death with his own mother and used the story to work through his own emotional issues.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 18:18 (UTC)

I had to look that one up - but no, his mother died in 1992, long before the TV show. He definitely drew on that experience when writing 'The Body', though - you're right that he talks about it in the DVD commentary.

Posted by: Lonewulf04 (lonewulf04)
Posted at: 17th April 2012 18:38 (UTC)

Really? hmm. The way he talked about his mother's death in the DVD commentary was like he wrote Joyce's death just after his mom had died.


Edited at 2012-04-17 18:39 (UTC)

Posted by: Chani φ (frenchani)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 08:18 (UTC)

Joss is right. I have thought on death and tv shows lately (have a little meme going on) and others have killed more characters than him.

I obviously like his pick concerning SF book but I'm surprised he didn't mention BSG as the tv show that inspires him the more...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th April 2012 21:50 (UTC)

I think part of the reputation he's gained is because Buffy sounds like it's going to be a light, fluffy show for teenagers, so you don't expect horrible death. It stands out more by contrast.

I obviously like his pick concerning SF book

I confess to my shame it took me a few seconds of puzzlement before I remembered where your LJ username comes from. :)

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