Guest Post: "Joss Whedon Took My Tropes" by Sierra Dean + Giveaway

Filed in Giveaways , Guest Post , Sierra Dean , The Charmed Lover Posted on May 6, 2011 @ 6:00 am 21 comments

Today we are delighted to welcome author Sierra Dean. Sierra writes urban fantasy and her first novel, “Something Secret This Way Comes” is being released next week, on the 10th. We were chatting on Twitter about tropes and I mentioned that she had used some of my least favorite tropes in her book. Despite that, I enjoyed the book. So when she was considering guest post ideas, the subject of tropes seemed appropriate. Please give her a warm welcome and after the article, see what she has for one lucky person.

      Whether we want to admit it or not, there’s only so much originality to be found in the idea pool for urban fantasy and paranormal romance authors. There are only so many ways to tell the genesis stories of vampires, and only so many rules that can be used to govern the behavior of shapeshifters. When Stephenie Meyer made her vampires glitter in the sun like Ziggy Stardust, some canon-crazed paranormal fans were shocked. I myself declared, “that’s just not RIGHT!” But props to her, because at least she did something new and different.

      I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to world building for a new urban fantasy series, a lot of what authors are doing is culling through what they’ve read in the past (our mental libraries are very cluttered, I assure you) and thinking “would I do it this way? If I were writing that what would I change?” What we end up with is a world entirely our own, of course, but the inevitable comparisons to writers who’ve gone before will always be there.

      Am I the first to have a werewolf king instead of just a pack alpha? I doubt it. No others come to mind, but the second this is posted I’m sure someone will be able to list 2 or 10. Is Secret McQueen the first werewolf/vampire hybrid? I sure thought so when I started writing the book eons ago. But since then it’s been done in movies like Underworld, and recently on The Vampire Diaries. Other authors have tread the territory of vampire hybrids as well. Jaye Wells’s Sabina Kane is a mage-vampire; and for awhile there were worries that Jeanniene Frost’s Cat would be an unstoppable ghoul-vampire hybrid.

      It’s all been done.

      In fact, it’s all be done so often, there are a loving set of standards that we call tropes, to cover the most oft-used plot and character devices in paranormal fiction. Upon reviewing some of the most well-loved/hated tropes, I made a startling discovery. Joss Whedon, beloved creator of all things geeky and fabulous, has used most of them. That wily bastard beat us all to the trope party and used the best bits first!  

      The top 5 Urban Fantasy Tropes Joss Did Best:

1.) Ordinary Girl Discovers Extraordinary Powers. 

      Oh Buffy Summers. Once upon a time you were just a frivolous cheerleader at a normal LA high school Once you also thought Luke Perry was sexy and bicycle shorts were acceptable and hip. Tsk tsk, the nineties were not kind to anyone. But here Joss took one of the most popular UF tropes (especially for young adult UF) and made it feel fresh. He’s often said he wrote the Buffy character so the poor blonde girl who dies in every horror movie could finally have her day. I think what he really did was make is acceptable to show powerful women in popular culture. I doubt we’d have such a huge market for female-centered UF and paranormal romance without Buffy Summers.

2.) Hilarious Sidekicks Make Stories Better.

      Buffy had her Scooby Gang; Captain Mal Reynolds had Wash and Jayne; Angel had Wesley and later Spike. Comic relief goes a long way when the fate of the world is at stake, and no one showed it better than Joss. The best urban fantasy series out there today know you need to have a little humor if audiences are going to keep coming back for more. A hairless demon cat? Check. A Mustang that eats people? Check.  A Chihuahua who can communicate with Scrabble tiles? You betcha. Humor is a must, otherwise it’s just one Apocalypse after another, and that’s no fun to read.

3.) The Big Bad as a Metaphor 

         High school is Hell. That was the major lesson Joss Whedon taught us with Buffy. We all have demons to fight and battles to win. Yes, urban fantasy is often a metaphor for something more. When a heroine is fighting literal demons, she usually has personal issues to overcome. When Buffy and Angel did the deed and he turned evil, the real world parallel was – some guys become douchebags once you sleep with them. Sure, the stakes (no pun intended) are much higher in an urban fantasy world, but in order to be relatable, the lines should get a little blurry between what could be real and what is pure fiction. The greatest works of urban fantasy are the ones where you can relate to the struggles of the character, no matter how removed they are from reality, because on some level they mirror our own problems. 
4.) Vampires Have Feelings Too 

      Oh Angel, you poor tormented bastard. Before Edward Cullen’s pensive gloomy brooding; before Bill Compton said his first “Sookie” there was Angel and his doomed love for Buffy. A monster with a soul, he was one of the best examples of how something that should be inherently evil could become a beloved hero. While not the first example of a brooding, melancholy vampire, he is probably the one most of us remember best, and made us think “oh vampires, maybe they aren’t all bad.”

5.) All’s Fair in a Made-Up World

      Let’s face it, Joss proved you can try anything once. He turned Angel into a puppet; made the whole cast of Buffy sing and dance thanks to a demon; and created a future world populated by space cowboys who swear in Chinese. 

      So the lesson is, next time you’re reading an urban fantasy, remember that Joss Whedon probably did it first. And if he didn’t, hey, that’s okay. He set a standard in popular culture that makes our favorite genre possible. I thank Joss every time I pick up a new paranormal or urban fantasy series, because I doubt we’d have as many options as we do today without the barriers he broke down.

About the Book:

Some secrets are dangerous. This Secret is deadly.

Secret McQueen, Book 1

For Secret McQueen, her life feels like the punch line for a terrible joke. Abandoned at birth by her werewolf mother, hired as a teen by the vampire council of New York City to kill rogues, Secret is a part of both worlds, but belongs to neither. At twenty-two, she has carved out as close to a normal life as a bounty hunter can.

When an enemy from her past returns with her death on his mind, she is forced to call on every ounce of her mixed heritage to save herself—and everyone else in the city she calls home. As if the fate of the world wasn’t enough to deal with, there’s Lucas Rain, King of the East Coast werewolves, who seems to believe he and Secret are fated to be together. Too bad Secret also feels a connection with Desmond, Lucas’s second-in-command…

 Product Warnings

This book contains a sarcastic, kick-ass bounty hunter; a metaphysical love triangle with two sexy werewolves; a demanding vampire council; and a spicy seasoning of sex and violence.

 About the Author:

Sierra Dean is a reformed historian. She was born and raised in the Canadian prairies and is allowed annual exit visas in order to continue her quest of steadily conquering the world one city at a time. Making the best of the cold Canadian winters, Sierra indulges in her less global interests: drinking too much tea and writing urban fantasy.  Ever since she was a young girl she has loved the idea of the supernatural coexisting with the mundane. As an adult, however, the idea evolved from the notion of fairies in flower beds, to imagining that the rugged-looking guy at the garage might secretly be a werewolf. She has used her overactive imagination to create her own version of the world, where vampire, werewolves, fairies, gods and monsters all walk among us, and she’ll continue to travel as much as possible until she finds it for real. She’s also a book lover (of course!), obsessive collector of OPI nailpolish and the owner of way too many pairs of shoes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Sierra has generously offered an ebook copy of “Something Secret This Way Comes” to one lucky winner. 
All you have to do is tell us what your favorite, or least favorite, trope is or ask Sierra a question.
(You can read our full giveaway policy here)

Please leave us a way to contact you.
(Email in blogger profile or twitter name – no way to contact you – no entry).

This giveaway is open worldwide!

Giveaway ends on Saturday, May 14th and we will announce the winner on Sunday May 15th.

                                                                    Good luck!

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Join the Discussion
  • Karen H in NC May 6, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Hi Sierra,

    Loved your discussion today because I just finished watching all 7 seasons of Buffy and now starting on Angel. I never saw the programs when they were on TV…wasn't interested in that genre at the time. Love it now. I am also a fan of 'Moonlight', the short-lived CBS program starring Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John. Now that I'm watching 'Angel', I'm seeing so many ideas pulled from that show and incorporated into Moonlight. In fact, I was beginning to think Moonlight was a re-vamped (excuse the pun) remake of Angel. But there is enough difference to disclaim that statement. But as mentioned, there are only so many original ideas going around.

    Your book sounds very good and since you are a new-to-me author, I'd love the chance to read your work. Thanks for the giveaway.

  • ClothDragon May 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I'm here with questions. Mustang that eats people. I got that one. JF Lewis, Staked, right?

    But I think I missed the Chihuahua that communicates with scrabble tiles (wait, no, maybe a little something… an otherworldly portal in the basement and a knight of something that sleeps there to keep an eye on it? Not quite enough to name it…) and the hairless demon cat. Help, please!

  • Ashton The Book Blogger May 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

    OMG!!!! I love love love this post! I am a huge Buffy fan – like the biggest nerd ever! And a huge Whedonista! Props on this awesome blog! I can't wait til your book comes out.

  • Sierra May 6, 2011 at 9:46 am

    ClothDragon – the Chihuahua is from Ann Aguirre's excellent Corine Solomon novels; the hairless demon cat is Giguhl from Jaye Wells's Sabina Kane novels.

  • Anonymous May 6, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Good article…but I think perhaps that it might be better to say that Joss did it best, not first. Because as much as I love Joss and everything that he has done, he certainly didn't do these things first.

  • ClothDragon May 6, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I thought I was widely read in UF, but I think I've missed both of those, thanks. (And yours of course, which is getting added to my acquire list.)

  • draconismoi May 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Least favorite trope? That's easy! The intended mate/spouse/breeder. I utterly loathe the plots where a supernatural creature of some kind JUST KNOWS this person belongs to them. And I say 'belongs' because they tend to treat said person as though they are a mere object throughout the story. Scowl.

    Favorite trope? The ass-kicking lady. Props to Joss. 🙂

  • Jen B. May 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Love Joss Whedon and his many tropes! The cussing in Chinese is classic! I hopped over the Amazon and added the Ann Aguire and Jaye Wells books to my cart. Great post. Thanks for the giveaway.

  • Jason May 6, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    One of my favorite tropes is "monsters have souls too, even if they are trying to eat you."

    Thanks! jason [at] jasonkivela [dot] com

  • Kaetrin May 7, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Joss Whedon is awesome – I'm still fuming and cut up about Firefly being axed all those years ago!

    I enjoy PNR and I love Whedon so it sounds like I'd enjoy your book! Best with it.

  • lingeorge May 7, 2011 at 11:04 am

    OK, I have this rant that you are allowing me to express, I see this mainly in YA, and tend to avoid those books because of it. You have a male (Always a Male) who has lived for hundreds and hundreds (or thousands) of years. Now, he suddenly finds the one and only woman for him. He has Never known love for centuries, until he meet Her. Yeah, right. It might be a good fantasy, but it is just so very unbelievable.
    Thanks for letting me rant.
    linda at gordonvalley dot com

  • QuoterGal May 7, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I'm a Whedonite going back to when Buffy first aired – what I love about Joss is that he take the familiar tropes of storytelling (used for eons) and gives them a little twist, or makes fun of them *while* using them, or just completely upends them.

    *My* least favorite trope – probably because most people including Joss don't use it all that well – is "our hero appears to have gone bad or joined the Dark Side but s/he's *really* just gathering info/chumming up with the Baddies to *defeat* the Dark Side.

    If they're our hero, you're not likely buy it, unless it's handled ohso delicately – but it almost never is… consequently, this trope almost invariably annoys me and throws me *right* out of the story.

    (I'm @quotergal on twitter.)

  • Tore May 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I always loved watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer but was upset when Angel left the show. He was so hot. I loved the chemistry Angel and Buffy had. Please enter me in contest.

  • Erica May 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    As much as I loved Buffy and Angel, I really have to disagree. In no way was Joss the first with using those tropes. Just off the top of my head, Ann Rice's vampires had feeling too & I know she was not the first one either.

    I think it's best to not compare yourself to Joss, or anyone else. Leave that to the critics. If Joss had say, been worried that Angel was as angsty as Rice's Lois, then he probably wouldn't have turned out as beloved shows as he did. Know your trope history so you can use it wisely, but don't be overburdened.

  • JessS May 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Yay, awesome article. I'm such a Whedon fan and it was weird because I didn't watch Buffy until recently when the paranormal and vampires are really popular, especially compared to when Buffy was made. Sure Joss Whedon came up with a lot of things that are common, ie tropes (though I hadn't heard the word until today) but there's still a lot he didn't come up with. He wasn't the first to have vampires but he has an interesting take on them.
    I love, love, love your description of Firefly, "a future world populated by space cowboys who swear in Chinese." It made me laugh.
    Thanks for the giveaway.


  • Silvia May 8, 2011 at 2:03 am

    I've been a Whedonite since my early teens when Buffy came out. I loved it and later watched every show Joss made.
    I love High school setting, you can do almost anything there, so that is probably my most favourite trope.

  • Mel May 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Love this post! Joss Whedon did do tropes well – whether he was the first to do them or not.

    My personal pet peeve trope is the boy and girl destined for each other. Makes it all seem like no-one needs to work at a relationship! I also hate the obviously beautiful and strong girl who just needs to take off her glasses and have someone else believe in her – Buffy was strong for herself before she met Angel – and thei relationship didn't work!


  • heatwave16 May 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I LOVE Buffy, and I miss it being on TV. I need to toss in my Buffy DVDs. Ordinary girl finds extraordinary powers is always my favorite. It gives me hope…


  • Cherie May 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Great article and the book sounds like one I would really enjoy!

    My least favorite thing in UF (and one that Joss stayed away from until the very end) is how every Big Bads up so much over the course of a series (books and shows) that I start to disbelieve that the hero could possible survive. Putting a new or different twist on something is fine, but uber-villians are boring and uninteresting to me.


  • Taliana May 10, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Thanks for that great post and giveaway! Your book sounds awesome!

    I too am fascinated by "the idea of the supernatural coexisting with the mundane". It's something I love about Buffy, look for in books & TV shows, and often incorporate into my own writing.

    One of my favourite tropes not mentioned is "Buffy speak". After years of watching (and re-watching), Buffy speak has definitely/unconsciously had an impact on the way I (and so many) talk and write.

    Related to this, I think Joss's use of language is awesome in general. Each character has his/her own way of speaking and yet it fits in perfectly with the others. Even when challenged — Once More With Feeling, Hush — it's funny and profound-y.


    Twitter: Taliana83

  • donnas May 11, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Hilarious sidekicks are totally my favorite. Nothing lightens up a mood quite like the funny joke.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

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