5:00 pm EDT, April 21, 2012

Jane Espenson talks writing strong female characters on ‘Buffy,’ ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Game of Thrones’

Buffy writer Jane Espenson is currently working as an executive producer on Once Upon a Time, and in a new interview she discusses her work on this show, Game of Thrones, and more.

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Speaking to Legendary Women, Espenson discusses her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and why she thinks the show has had such a long-lasting impact:

It’s the story of an outsider who is secretly the most important person.  She’s unseen and unappreciated, but she’s much stronger than she looks and her leadership is never questioned by those who really know her.  That is powerful.  Among the fans, girls and boys both identified with her and drew strength from the portrayal.  And I think the legacy is that many more strong female characters are written now because Buffy was written then.

She also reveals what characters she most enjoyed writing:

Anya.  The more extreme a character is, the easier she is to write, and Anya was a great character.  More or less well-intentioned, a little self-involved, logical in a blunt way… I loved her.  Like Cordelia, she was pretty much lacking in subtext, but her text differed in interesting ways – she saw the world in a very clear-eyed way, unmucked up by sentimentality. loved writing Cordy almost as much as Anya.  I believe the first line I wrote for her was the “I love standardized tests”/”I can’t have layers?” exchange in Band Candy, and I sort of decided when I wrote that, that I could have fun with her.

Having written for a lot of iconic shows like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, and now writing for the web series Husbands, Espenson has a lot of experience writing strong female characters. She reflects:

Like in the Battlestar world, where the characters clearly come from a culture that didn’t have the same inherited bases for discrimination that our culture does.  So Starbuck and Roslyn are just granted more automatic respect than they might otherwise have been.  And now, writing for ABC’s Once Upon A Time, I’m realizing how truly female-dominated the old folk tales are.  For as much as people talk about the passivity of the traditional Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, these fairy tales are stories loaded with women (the witches count) with names and goals, while the guys are practically faceless.  And a show like the original Star Trek, as dated as it was, put women on the heavily-armed Enterprise and sent them into danger.

Talking more about Once Upon a Time and why Snow White and the other female characters are so strong, she says:

Name a good strong fairy tale villain. Rumplestiltskin and… who? Blue Beard? Is that a fairy tale? Even the good-guy males tend to be part of a woman’s story. So that’s not so much making a point as it is just the legacy of the genre. But having three female lead characters – that’s starting to make a point, and a strong one, about what it takes – and doesn’t take – to build a successful TV franchise.

Finally, she talks about writing for Game of Thrones:

Game of Thrones has some of the best female characters ever. Wow. And they’re great because they have to be that great to make their mark in a man’s world – a great example of not letting the rules of the world become an excuse for weak characters. Arya is a great character who didn’t happen to appear in the part of the book I was dramatizing, so I added a scene because her absence was felt. George RR Martin created a girl so compelling that you don’t just look at her when she’s there – you look at the empty space she leaves when she’s not there. There was no choice but to find a way to add a scene for her.

Read the full interview with Espenson at Legendary Women, and don’t forget to check out her hilarious web series Husbands!

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