On Writing: Whedon Drives

What’s a “Whedon Drive?” It’s something I talk about a lot when talking with other writers. It comes from an interview that someone did with Joss Whedon, the famed director of movies like “The Avengers.” He also directed the TV series “Firefly” and the movie “Serenity.” The interviewer asked how fast the ship “Serenity” could fly. Whedon’s answer should be enshrined in writing folklore forever.

“She flies at the speed of plot.”

Wow. Think about that. Think about what that says about how Joss Whedon thinks about story telling. Think about what it means for story continuity, plot twists, whatever. When I read that, I had one of my epiphanies about writing. Before then I had obsessed about details of my stories to the point that I would write pages of exposition for objects in my stories, trying to be sure that I never, ever, EVER had the slightest continuity or logic problem in my stories. I would lay out exactly what my characters WORE, and would even try to list out what they had in their pockets so that I didn’t fall into the trap of just hand-waving things so that they appeared when they were needed.

“She flies at the speed of plot.”

Wow. Joss Whedon, the brilliant mind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer never once worried about how fast Serenity could fly.

It was a blinding moment of clarity for me. It was perhaps the final incident that made me realize that story telling wasn’t about ninth decimal place internal accuracy. It was about telling stories that people wanted to read. No matter where Serenity was, when the plot called for Serenity to be somewhere, she was there. That simple. That clear. That brilliant.

That’s not to say that I hand-wave everything now, it is still important to maintain verisimilitude and if you say your protagonist only has five bullets left, they better not shoot six in the next battle. But how hot is dragon fire? It’s as hot as the plot needs it to be. How fast can the hero get to the big battle? Fast enough to be there when the story needs them.

There are few quotes in my life that have made that much impact on me as a writer. Instead of using the entire quote, my shorthand for this concept is to call something a “Whedon Drive.”

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About seandgolden

Husband, father, author
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