If you’ve never seen Supernatural, shame on you. Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. Now.
If you have seen Supernatural, then you are one tough son of a gun. Supernatural is known for a lot of things—creative monsters, the world’s hottest main cast, hilarious dialogue, unapologetic Fourth Wall breaking—but the reason it was recommended to me by my writing sensei was because it had a lot to teach me about writing. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. People love to be emotionally gut-punched. And boy, Supernatural does NOT pull its punches. It introduces you to an entire rainbow of interesting, three-dimensional characters, makes you care about them, makes you bond with them, and then snatches them right out of your hands like a bully grabbing a kid’s lunch money. The relationship between Sam and Dean is Emmy-worthy because there are so many layers to the boys’ personalities. They are constantly bickering, constantly arguing, constantly not trusting each other, and yet they will die for one another at the drop of a hat. Several times, mind you. Supernatural is addictive because it barges its way into the watchers’ hearts and then proceeds to detonate like an atom bomb. This is something that all writers should strive to do. Even if your main character is an unrepentant a-hole of epic proportions, the readers should still find themselves attached to them and want to know what happens to them down the road.
2. You cannot please everyone. Supernatural is also infamous for its loyal but rabid fanbase. Half of said fanbase is hilarious, thoughtful, and creative. The other half is full of angry, petty, self-righteous jerks. The Supernatural writers have done a lot of things over the course of the show’s eight seasons to appease the fanbase, but it is still impossible to make all of them happy. There are several examples of the writers trying to keep their fans happy. It’s no secret that the fanbase and the writers favor Dean over Sam after season five. He gets the better storylines, the better girlfriends, the funnier lines of dialogue, and is usually characterized as being “right” when the two of them are having an argument. He is also inexplicably popular because majority of the fanbase insists that he’s madly in love with Castiel. The writers have been playing to this angle ever since season six, and while the fans clearly enjoy the Dean-heavy emphasis, they still complain unrepentantly about Dean/Castiel (dubbed “Destiel”) not being “canon.” If anything, this has taught me that no matter what I write, someone will have a problem with it. Even if I acknowledge things that the readers want to see, I will still piss someone off. The key is to find balance. Find a way to write that makes both me and the readers happy. It is hard to accomplish, but many novels and shows have proven it is possible.
3. Variety is the spice of life. Supernatural gained its popularity largely through the first four seasons. Its premise captured the interest of the audience because it adopted the idea that almost all myths, legends, and monsters exist within the same universe. The writers did their homework and dug up literally dozens of types of mythical predators and brought them into the real world with fantastic results. This is something I have tried to take to heart with my own writing in terms of the setting, the imminent threat, and the villain of my stories. No one wants to read the same novel with a different name. Even if it’s in the same series, the plot and storyline should move, evolve, and develop over time.
4. Know when to quit while you’re ahead. Okay, this is going to be controversial so let me just get it out of the way. I personally think Supernatural should have ended a couple seasons ago. God knows I love Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard and company, but in my opinion, the last two seasons have been rather poorly done, particularly season eight. I feel this way because Supernatural has covered so many stories, so many monsters, and so many conflicts between the brothers that they have honestly run out of ideas. For instance, season eight had a lot of recycled plotlines and moments between the brothers, and it also ended up casting them in an unflattering light. Sam not looking for Dean because he wanted a boring girlfriend and a dog was absolutely idiotic writing and completely out of character. They didn’t even attempt to justify his actions. He just…didn’t look for him. The seasons prior showed Sam’s desire to eventually quit the life of a hunter, but this season made him look like a total jackass. It worked in the other seasons because Sam knew Dean could take care of himself. With Dean in Purgatory, Sam knew he’d be in constant danger and yet he still didn’t do anything about it with no true explanation as to why. Then when Dean found out, he lorded it over Sam and acted as if Sam hasn’t saved his life a hundred times and died for him at least twice. To make matters worse, he starts treating the generic vampire Benny like his actual brother because he’s “never disappointed him” and basically acts like a stuck up, self-righteous douchebag for most of the season. Granted, all of this is subjective and many people will disagree with me, but the concept is what has taught me a lesson. It has made me examine my writing and decide if certain stories are going to be one off, have a sequel, or have the potential to become an entire series. One should know ahead of time if they have the fuel to go the distance of Alex Cross, Harry Dresden, or Sherlock Holmes before they accidentally stall out and end up stranded.
5. Don’t fear the fairer sex. There are a bunch of ladies in Supernatural whom I completely adore—Pamela, Cassie, Meg, Ellen, the list goes on and on. Yet, have you noticed something? The show has been on for eight freaking seasons and there is no female main cast member. That chaps my Bat-briefs. I do not understand why Supernatural is so unwilling to have a female main character who is a regular. Granted, it took them four seasons just to add Misha Collins as a main cast member (seriously, what the hell) but I don’t understand. They also have a bad habit of mistreating all recurring female characters by killing them off just to make the Winchesters feel bad, but it still makes the writers seem like they don’t quite care for the fairer sex even though they clearly can write them competently. Now, my current theory is that the fanbase has a hand in the lack of ladies sticking around. As I mentioned before, the Destiel fangirls will cry bloody murder on any of Dean’s love interests but this female lead wouldn’t need to be a love interest. She could just be another hunter, or if they were smart, they’d make her a monster with a heart of gold who wants to help them. I actually would have liked Meg to join the main cast because she is so entertaining and she was starting to turn a corner before season eight ruined everything. I keep this in mind when I write. The main character of The BlackParade tends to have a lot of male counterparts because the story is loosely based off of Paradise Lost, but I still make sure to find time for other ladies in her life. The first novel is still male centric, but the second and third ones depart from that. It can be hard sometimes, but I think it’s important for every writer to portray both genders equally and with all three dimensions intact.
Overall, I’m actually happy my writing sensei talked me into partaking in Supernatural. Even though I have problems with the current seasons, it has definitely taught me a lot of do’s and don’ts, and I believe I am more rounded writer thanks to them. Here’s to you, Winchesters.