#303 – The Art of Story with Lisa M. Lilly

In this episode, we spoke to Lisa M. Lilly, author, lawyer, and fellow podcaster! Lisa M. Lilly hosts Buffy and the Art of Story, a podcast wherein Buffy the Vampire Slayer is discussed and analyzed for its storytelling techniques and how those techniques can help writers improve their craft.

In this episode, we spoke to Lisa M. Lilly, author, lawyer, and fellow podcaster! Lisa M. Lilly hosts Buffy and the Art of Story, a podcast wherein Buffy the Vampire Slayer is discussed and analyzed for its storytelling techniques and how those techniques can help writers improve their craft. We talked to Lisa about her podcast, how she prepares for the show, her writing process, and her work regarding Writing As A Second Career, a site focused on advice for those pursuing writing careers and more.

Being huge fans of Buffy AND well-crafted stories here at KWL, we hope you enjoy this enthusiastic episode. We had so much fun talking to Lisa and hope this has inspired at least a few of you to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  • We learn about Lisa’s journey to becoming a writer, and where her passion for stories began
  • Lisa discusses the connections between being a lawyer and being an author, and how she feels there is a lot of crossover in these careers
  • We ask Lisa how she plots her mysteries and thrillers, and the shifts that often occur during her writing
  • Lisa discusses why she chose Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a starting point for discussing elements of effective story writing
  • We learn about her podcast creation process, her transcription process, and how she transforms her podcast into a book format
  • Lisa talks about her favourite episodes of Buffy, and how to get a reluctant viewer into the show (great tips for all you Buffy fans out there)
  • She also tells more about Writing As A Second Career, Lisa’s website focuses on advice for authors who also working full-time jobs or are full-time caretakers
  • We ask her for her best piece of advice for writers, and what to take away from that advice
  • And much more!

Useful Links

Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Lisa M. Lilly’s website

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast

Lisa’s books on Kobo

Writing as a Second Career

Lisa M. Lilly writes mysteries and supernatural thrillers.

In the Q.C. Davis mystery series, Chicago lawyer Quille C. Davis, haunted by an unsolved crime in her family’s past, seeks justice for other crime victims by looking into murders where police come up short.

But are some truths too dangerous to uncover?

The series includes novels The Worried ManThe Charming Man (a 2019 Wishing Shelf Book Award Finalist), The Fractured ManThe Troubled ManThe Hidden Man, and the novella No Good Plays. All are available in paperback, ebook, and large print editions.

Join the author’s Reader’s Group to download a copy of No Good Plays free.

The Awakening supernatural thriller series features a young woman who faces a powerful cult certain she and her future child will trigger the Apocalypse. Books in the series have been downloaded over 100,000 times.

Lilly also is the author of two works of horror. When Darkness Falls, a standalone paranormal suspense novel set in downtown Chicago, and The Tower Formerly Known As Sears: 3 Tales Of Urban Horror.

In addition to her fiction writing, Lilly hosts the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story. The show is for anyone who wants to learn more about plot, character development, and other story elements by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The material is also available in book form.

Also, under L.M. Lilly, she founded WritingAsASecondCareer.com. There you’ll find articles on writing, publishing, and time management, as well as Lilly’s non-fiction books on writing. Those books explore story structure, character development, and the writing life. 

Join her Reader’s Group to receive bonus materials and notice of new releases.

Episode Transcript

Transcription by www.speechpad.com

Rachel: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” We bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Rachel, Promotion Specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Vanessa: And I’m Vanessa, Kobo Originals and Kobo Writing Life Content Coordinator. On today’s podcast, we spoke to Lisa M. Lilly, an author of mysteries and supernatural thrillers, featuring smart, determined female protagonists. In addition to her fiction writing, Lisa also hosts the podcast, “Buffy and the Art of Story,” and is also the founder of writingasasecondcareer.com.

Rachel: We had such a fun conversation with Lisa. Vanessa and I are both huge Buffy fans. So we had an absolute blast digging into the nitty-gritty of her podcast from what her process is like preparing, why she chose Buffy as the show to investigate story. And hopefully, by the end, we will have inspired some of you to watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” We also talked to Lisa a lot about her writing process, how hosting this podcast has changed that, and what inspired her website, writingasasecondcareer.com. So, we covered a lot in this podcast. And like I said, we had an absolute blast talking to Lisa, and we hope you enjoy. All right. We are joined today by author and podcaster, Lisa M. Lilly. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lisa: Oh, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Rachel: And we are very excited to talk to you today. Before we get into everything, however, can you just kind of kick us off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Lisa: Yes. Under Lisa M. Lilly, which is my real name, I write fiction. I have one series, “The Awakening” supernatural thriller series, which also loosely fits in fantasy. It’s about a young woman, a college student who mysteriously finds herself pregnant and has to face off with this cult of powerful men who think that she and her future offspring are going to trigger an apocalypse. And for those who remember these books, it’s kind of a cross between “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Da Vinci Code.” And I have an ongoing series, more traditional detective crime novels, the “QC Davis Mysteries.” And this follows a lawyer, Quille, who is driven by an unsolved mystery or unsolved murder in her family’s past. Her sister was killed before she was born. And she looks into crimes that the police won’t investigate or can’t solve to try to bring justice for other families and that closure that she did not have.

My nonfiction under L. M. Lilly is the “Writing As A Second Career” series. And I cover writing craft and other aspects of the writing life. I also founded the website “Writing As A Second Career.” And I do a podcast, “Buffy and the Art of Story.” And that’s where everything kind of comes together because I look at every episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which is my favorite series, and I think is so well written. And I look at the story elements of it as I break down the episode to see what works occasionally, what doesn’t work with plot, character, structure. And that’s available in book form as well, including on Kobo. You can get season one and season two, which is in two parts. But I’m a little behind because the podcast is into season five now. So I’m a little slow on that. Oh, and I’m a lawyer, too. And I’m adjunct professor of legal writing and research, so just a little bit busy.

Vanessa: So a lot going on.

Lisa: I feel like I needed some water to tell that.

Vanessa: So could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author.

Lisa: I started writing… I’m one of those people who started writing when I was a little kid because I loved, loved, loved to read. And I can’t remember when exactly my parents got me a typewriter. It was a manual typewriter, and I would sit in the backyard and, like, type out stories. And I would scribble them in my spiral notebook. So, I loved writing. As far as thinking about seriously doing it as an adult, when I was in college, I was looking for what could I major in. I didn’t have a particular career path I had in mind, and the school I went to had a program that was writing in English and it was entirely creative writing. So I took that and I feel like that solidified this is where I want to go. I wrote my first novel the year after college, never published. Wrote a number of them, never published, partly because just as I had done in fifth grade, I didn’t know how to write a plot. So, eventually, I feel like I sorted that out. And that was part of what prompted me to want to share what worked for me with other writers in case it would help them.

Rachel: One thing I always find so interesting, and I think you and I discussed this before when I was a guest on your podcast, but the intersection between writers and lawyers because we’d speak to a lot of authors who are also either former lawyers or still practicing law. And why do you think there’s such a crossover between these two careers?

Lisa: I hadn’t really thought about that until you mentioned it other than I, too, know a lot of lawyers who are writers and vice versa. But I thought that was more just, “I’m a lawyer, so that’s why.” But I made the most friends through law when that crossover happened. And I think it’s for a couple reasons. One is to get through law school and do well, it really helps to be a good reader and it’s probably even more important to be a good writer. It’s essay exams, if you can’t express what you are analyzing and figuring out, you’re not gonna do well. But it also draws, I think, law school draws people that have a liberal arts background partly because it’s in the U.S. law is a graduate degree. And you could do it with any background, you can have any four-year degree in any subject and go to law school. So I feel like it’s sort of a default for some people. It’s, like, well, I didn’t take science, I didn’t take this, a few did, but it draws that liberal arts type of thinking.

And, I think, creativity, as well, because you have to, depending what kind of law you do, you have to do a lot of thinking ahead, and sorting out, and strategic planning, and you’ve gotta tell a good story. I used to joke with… I represented a lot of large corporations in class actions. There’s tons of writing in that. I mean, that was the first thing that clients would say to me is, “Oh, you know, I love your writing. I don’t have to change hardly anything.” And when they found out I wrote fiction, they’d say, “Oh, this makes total sense because your briefs are also easier to read.” And you do have to tell the story. So I used to joke if I could tell a compelling story about a big insurance company and its troubles, I could make anything interesting and sympathetic. And there really is that element to it. And if you’re a trial lawyer, storytelling is a huge deal. But I think at any stage of it, it is. So I think that’s who you draw.

Rachel: Makes a lot of sense, and is an excellent answer to the question of what do you do with a BA in English, which is something I was asked a lot while I was pursuing my BA in English. But you talked about the, like, meticulous planning that it takes to create a story. And I’m curious, because you write mysteries and thrillers, are you a plotter? Do you have your whole thriller, whodunit, solved before you dive into the writing process?

Lisa: Usually, I at least know the ending. I don’t always know who did it. Sometimes that shifts as I write. I used to think I was completely a plotter, because I do plan out some major plot points in advance, and then how much I plan in between them varies on the story. But then I looked at some plot structures that are so detailed and complicated, and I thought, “Okay, I’m not that much of a planner.” Because there are things I like to work out as I write, so I’m somewhere in between, but probably, as you said, with a thriller, for me, a thriller or mystery, I like to know where I’m going. So I have a lot of it planned out, and then figure out some things along the way. That being said, I do know there are writers who write that kind of book who just dive in and write. And, for me, that doesn’t work. I end up throwing out just so much of what I’ve written, which is very painful to me.

Rachel: I can barely, like, plan a day without having a schedule, let alone, like, a full…

Lisa: Oh, yeah, I have a schedule every day, every week. Yeah. I mean, some of it, I think, is how does your brain work? That’s how my brain works.

Rachel: And is it the same for your supernatural series? Because I imagine, like you mentioned, it has, like, a “Da Vinci Code” element to it. So that’s a lot of worldbuilding. Did you have a lot of that figured out ahead of time?

Lisa: I did a lot more of that in advance. In fact, I had forgotten how much and I came across some handwritten notes I did for the last book, especially in this series where I in detail, and for a number of them I used the hero’s journey plot structure because it really lends itself to fantasy. So, yeah, I did much more detailed planning with that. Although, in the middle, I didn’t actually know where it was gonna end. So that was interesting in that book one, and two, and three, because it ends in four. And I’m, like, “I gotta figure this out.”

Rachel: Okay, so you host the podcast, “Buffy and the Art of Story.” So how did that podcast start? How did it come about?

Lisa: The first podcast I ever listened to because I wasn’t that familiar with them, and a friend who listened to a ton knew I loved Buffy, and she said, “Oh, you’ve gotta listen to this podcast.” And it was by a husband and wife, who were both story experts, and they would go through every episode and just talk about the things they liked and didn’t but from a perspective of, “Oh, why is this working?” And I learned more from, “Why is this not?” And that was the first time it hit me, which sounds weird, because I’d watched this series any number of times by then. But that part of what I love so much is how well written it is. It’s kind of obvious, but I hadn’t thought about how do they do that. But I think I was learning from it all the same as I kept rewatching and I would watch the commentaries.

So that podcast, the hosts divorced, and the podcast went away. And I did listen to others. But I never found that same level of how much I learned. So, the more podcasts I listened to, the more you guys might be familiar with, you start thinking, “Oh, I’d like to do that.” So the obvious choice was Buffy. And I wanted to do something that would talk about plot structure. I did actually kick around doing a different movie every week and going through these seven major plot points. But I thought about how much work that would be to watch something different every week. And I thought, “Oh, Buffy,” I’ve already watched the series through probably seven or eight times by that time, because I saw it when it first aired on TV, and it seemed to make the most sense. And once I started it, it’s so much fun to do. And I have met so many great people because of it, which is the other thing. I mean, Buffy fans are amazing. So it’s been a wonderful way to connect with people as well, especially during the pandemic. Like, that was such a big thing.

Rachel: Now, Vanessa and I are both huge Buffy fans. We know this is an audio only medium, but Vanessa and I showed up today wearing, not planned, matching Buffy sweatshirts. So when you say, “Like, Buffy was the obvious choice,” that makes so much sense to us, because we understand just how great the show is. But for those who aren’t familiar with the show, why is Buffy such the obvious choice when it comes to a podcast about plot and writing?

Lisa: Because it does two things. One, it has one-off episodes that nonetheless start to move the season arc even in season one, but because it has those episodes that are self-contained, you can really look at how do you go from the opening conflict, which always has a conflict to open, even if we’re in Buffy’s ordinary life. And then it builds to this climax where you have this confrontation. And yes, every story should have that. But it is pretty easy to pick out because it’s almost always it’s Buffy and her friends on the side of good and it’s the villain or the antagonist. So there’s that aspect, but then it also starts doing full season arcs. So you get to look at this interplay, if you are thinking about writing a novel. A season on TV, even if it’s only 12 episodes, but especially in Buffy is 22 most seasons, is much more like a novel than a movie is, because a movie it’s the reason almost everyone’s disappointed to when they go see the movie from their favorite book because you just can’t cover the character depth. You can’t go into everything in 2 hours, but in 22 episodes, it is so much like the arc of the novel, you get plots, you get subplots. So there’s that aspect. And then the characters are really well developed. The dialogue is fun, and funny, and smart.

And also, the show does something that I’m sure no one who was just watching for fun thinks about. But it does a wonderful job of exposition, which is really hard to do, getting in the backstory that you need about these characters, but in a compelling way. And I didn’t even think about that till I started doing the podcast and realizing how much this dialogue that is so much fun on its own really tells the viewer what’s going on and catches them up to speed in a line of dialogue, where another writer or show might have a long clunky, like, “As you know, Joe, last year when you got kicked out of school, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And instead we get conflict between Buffy and the new principal or Buffy and her mother, and it feels very natural. And you don’t even see all the work that writers are doing to make this work, and that’s part of why it’s so amazing.

Rachel: I’ve never thought about the amount of exposition in Buffy. And, like, I’ve watched this show more times than I would care to admit. But even, like, right from the jump when you have Giles walking out with a book that says vampire on it, and you’re right, like, within two seconds you are caught up if you did not watch the film version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which is a whole other beast.

Lisa: A whole other thing. Right. Yeah, for especially the pilot, it’s so good to watch for that. Because right, you do not have to have seen the movie. And a lot of people I’ve talked to only saw the movie later or not at all.

Rachel: I am one of those people.

Vanessa: Me too.

Lisa: Really, you never? Oh, I think you should.

Rachel: I’ve seen it.

Lisa: Oh, you’ve seen it.

Rachel: I’ve seen it but I think I watched the show probably two to three times before I ever got around to watching the movie.

Lisa: Is that true for you too, Vanessa?

Vanessa: Yes. Yep.

Lisa: And I almost didn’t watch the series because of the movie. It wasn’t that I hated it. I thought it was kind of fun and campy, but it didn’t grab me. And I had heard about the series and I was kind of like, “I don’t know.” Buffy and I had seen Sarah Michelle Gellar, the lead, on “All My Children.” That’s the one soap opera I watched. And she was great, but I could not picture her as Buffy. And a friend of mine who is a screenwriter, he was working at Warner Brothers, not writing, doing kind of a day job there. But he did something in the script department. And he called me and he knows what I like to read and write. And he said, “You’ve got to watch the show. You’re going to love it.” And I thought, “Really?” And he’s like, “No, just watch it. Just watch.” And I am so glad he did. And I happened to catch… They had played it as a midseason replacement here and they were replaying it, I think, in the summer, and I happened to catch the pilot. I didn’t even know it was the pilot. I just turned it on and I obviously was hooked. I say obviously, because anyone who watches it would have to be hooked. But, yeah, I was very glad he said that. And I don’t know if I would have ever watched it otherwise.

Vanessa: That’s good catching it on the pilot. That’s good luck, because actually, like, I’ve never seen the pilot.

Lisa: Yeah, it was very…

Vanessa: Never seen a pilot play on just regular cable.

Lisa: Oh, really? Interesting. Maybe you just never happened to catch it. Yeah.

Vanessa: I feel like it’s always, like, season two episode. Like, I never feel like it started from the beginning when I watched it.

Rachel: The first episode I ever saw was in season six. So, like, I watched it wildly out of order.

Lisa: Yeah. That’s so amazing to me because it’s hard for me to imagine coming to season six without seeing the previous episodes, which says again, a lot for how good the show is at doing that and being aware that maybe someone’s coming into it right now.

Rachel: Well, in the first episode I watched was “Tabula Rasa.” And for our listeners who have not seen the show, is an episode where all the characters lose their memory. So I was so confused. No idea what’s going on. But I was like, “Okay, I need to figure this out,” which just goes to show, like, how gripping the story in the show is.

Lisa: That really is because so much of “Tabula Rasa” is that we, as the audience, know these things that the characters don’t. So when I get to season six in the podcast, that’s great, because I’m going to think about that. What would it be like if this was your first episode of Buffy. In fact, maybe we have to talk again for that.

Rachel: We should have another conversation.

Vanessa: So diving a little more into the episodes, do you have a favorite episode, both as a fan or as the storyteller, just maybe they’re different, maybe they’re not, but what’s your favorite episode?

Lisa: Yeah, there’s so many. But probably my favorite is “The Wish,” which for those who don’t know it, is an alternate universe where Buffy never comes to Sunnydale because we see so much. It is such a good story from a plot standpoint, but also so much about these characters because seeing Buffy if she never had met her watcher, Giles, what her life would be like, who she would be as a character. And I looked at… I hadn’t thought about it till I looked at it for the podcast, but we see some interesting things that make her more like Faith who is another slayer who has gone down a very different path. So that’s interesting. And then seeing the other people in the universe and how they might be, and it is one of those I think would work even if you just came into the show, but you wouldn’t get as much of those layers. But there is something about it and the ending of it, the almost ending of it where all is lost. It makes me cry every time. So good. So I would put that for both, viewing and storytelling. Nothing is wasted in there. I don’t think you could go through and find a single line that does not need to be there, that doesn’t belong there.

Rachel: I agree wholeheartedly with this answer. I feel like “The Wish” is always overlooked in, like, best of episodes. You always get “Hush” and “Once More, with Feeling.” But kind of along the lines of both “Hush” and “Once More, with Feeling,” which have kind of a storytelling gimmick, do you have an episode that jumps up as utilizing, like, the coolest storytelling gimmick?

Lisa: It probably is “Once More, with Feeling,” which is the musical episode, because until you see it, it’s so hard to imagine how that’s going to work. And what I admire most is there’s a reason for the singing and dancing. It’s not just, “Oh, everybody sings and dances for no reason.” So that’s one thing. And the other is, these are… I love the songs, they’re great songs, and they fit the characters, and they advance the plot, which I won’t say the name because I don’t wanna say anything negative. But I saw a musical recently, and it’s one that’s been around for a long time, it was revived. And you listen to the songs and they were completely did not move the plot at all, they were just there to, okay, we’re gonna interrupt everything and have a song. And it’s so amazing to me that in this musical episode, every single song, it moves the plot, it reveals the character, it has its own conflict. And yet, also, they’re not just singing their lines. It’s not something where someone said, “Okay, we’ll just take an episode and everyone will just sing their lines.” So, it is, to me one of the best just musicals I’ve seen, and I love musicals. And yet, it’s a great episode of Buffy. So it manages to be both and it really changes things going forward. It shifts the entire season. So you can tell I didn’t think too much of it, really.

Vanessa: I feel like I’ve struggled since watching that musical to find a show that has done a musical properly with its own original songs as well. Because I feel like, I mean, I feel like I could drop a bunch of TV show names, but I won’t. But, like, that have struggled to do a musical episode that does push the plot like Buffy. I’ve been searching for something like it, but yeah, you know, it’s very…

Rachel: “Grey’s Anatomy” musical episode was bad, you can say it.

Vanessa: That’s what I was gonna say. That’s what I was gonna say.

Lisa: Oh, so funny that was in my head because I am only now watching “Grey’s Anatomy” and I saw the musical episode maybe a month ago, and I thought, “Okay, they tried to give it a premise, a reason.” But, yeah, you could take the, I don’t know, if you could take the music out, it wouldn’t really matter. And it did have some of those just singing lines. I could see it was interesting that they tried doing it. But I imagine that’s often the case. Like, it’s not easy to do something like that.

Rachel: Well, I think what I love most about the Buffy musical episode when compared to a lot of others shows that try it is, like, so continuing with the “Grey’s Anatomy” example, Sara Ramirez, like, they’re a singer. And so, the episode was built around the fact that you have a cast that is super musically talented, like Chandra Wilson is also a singer, the guy who plays Owen, whose name is escaping me, also a singer.

Lisa: Oh, yes.

Rachel: Buffy, like, yes, there are some talented people like Anthony Stewart had 10 out of 10 voice, James Maurice had, like, love it. But that’s not a cast built of musicians, which makes almost, I think, like, the musical work better in a weird way because it both fits the plot. And it’s, like, yeah, it’s a gimmick, but it’s not a gimmick trying to show off a cast member. It’s so, I don’t know. That’s just my…

Vanessa: When Alyson Hannigan has her famous, “I think this line is mostly filler,” because she’s not a singer…

Lisa: Yeah. And I feel like that is part of what, to elaborate on your point, Rachel’s point is, that’s part of what makes it feel like a real episode of Buffy because, right, everybody isn’t great. Like, Sarah Michelle Gellar, she’s pretty good but she is not a trained singer in the sense. This is not how she makes her living. And the dancing, some people are way better at dancing than others. And even Anya and Xander number, she’s a great dancer, you can tell he’s doing his best. But that fits because these are people being forced to sing and dance when they don’t necessarily want to do that. And, yeah, I agree with you. I think it makes it work better because you don’t feel so much like, “Oh, this is just this gimmick imposed on this world where it doesn’t belong.”

Rachel: I feel like Vanessa and I specifically could talk to you for, like, hours, about “Once More, with Feeling” alone. She’s gonna hate me for telling the story, but we were recently in a car together. And a song, a duet, from the musical episode came on. And without even thinking about it, we started harmonizing, and it was just such a wonderful moment.

Vanessa: It was beautiful. Beautiful.

Lisa: Oh, that’s great. I love that. I have never tried to harmonize with a musical. Now, that is on my list.

Rachel: That’s great.

Vanessa: So, have you learned anything about Buffy or storytelling through this journey that has surprised you?

Lisa: Hmm, I have to think about that. Well, the part about the exposition surprised me that that was such a big deal. Also, doing the podcast, I have been amazed at how they built on things from the beginning, when often from year-to-year, they didn’t know if the show is gonna continue. And yet, you would think as you watch, that they always knew what season seven was going to be. Now, maybe Joss Whedon had an idea about it. But I don’t know how certain you can be when you’re never sure from year-to-year. So, it surprised me how much when you look at those early seasons, how much is woven in there, or Spike’s character arc, when they didn’t even know that he was going to be a continuing character. And I think that is a great example of how you can, in your writing, you could do it either way.

You might plan out that whole character arc, but writing well is also about looking at what you have and going with it and building from it. And I think someone on the KWL Podcast mentioned at some point it just in time worldbuilding, where you figure out the world as you need it. And that’s more when I do worldbuilding, I do more of that. But you’ve got to really pay attention to what you put in before, and you can really write yourself into some corners. Yeah, that forces creativity. So, I have been continually surprised in a way by how well that is done, including with characters they didn’t know would stick around, or something else that happened external to the show that now they had to adapt to.

Rachel: And I’m really curious about what your episode preparation is like, because you’re going through Buffy episode by episode and really deconstructing the story. Like, in your most recent episode, you were talking about the Buffy bot versus real Buffy, and how real Buffy doesn’t feel like she can love but the… Sorry, any spoilers to people who haven’t seen the show and don’t know what the Buffy bot is. But the Buffy bot is built for love. So, like, you’re really digging into the nitty-gritty of the story. And, like, you’re obviously a very busy person. So, I’m so curious as to what your episode prep is like.

Lisa: I do spend a lot of time. So I watch it twice for each time. And now, because I have watched it a lot and because I’m also trying to practice my French, I watched the first time in French. And I gotta tell you, if I didn’t already know the story, that would not work because my French is not great. But it helps me learn vocabulary and words, and I take notes on the major plot points that I look for and a couple things in between. Then I watch it again in English, which I, obviously, I know much better. And I type as I’m going. So I’ll take my notes from the first time and I’ll fill in the blanks, because I’ll break down the whole episode. And as I’m doing that, is usually when some of those things like you mentioned, start gelling for me, because I’ve basically reminded myself of what the story is with that first watch. And now, I’m thinking about it more as I add in specific dialogue lines, and fill in the blanks, and I give what time things happened at.

And then right before I record, the morning before, I sit down and I go through that whole outline. It’s all pretty much, not completely written out, but a lot of it is written out. And I go through it and I see what I spot in terms of themes. And that’s what becomes my three or four things that I say I’m gonna highlight. And sometimes that’s where everything clicks, the one with a Buffy bot. That’s when it hit me how much the bot parallels Buffy and those differences and similarities. And I found if I don’t… In the beginning, I didn’t do that last time through. And yeah, I went through the episode, but there just weren’t as many layers to it. And I also rambled more and didn’t stay as focused, so I had to edit a lot more. So I partly started doing that to cut down on my editing time, but it ended up being so helpful because that time through is where everything gels.

Rachel: Now, it’s a giant point of contention on the Kobo Writing Life team that Vanessa and I are the only two who have watched Buffy and no one else has. So if you were to recommend an episode to the rest of our team that would illustrate both how great Buffy is as a show but also as a storytelling medium, what episode would it be?

Lisa: It would be the pilot, the two-part pilot because it’s just so well written. Now, they’d have to commit to both episodes. So, if I had to think of a single one…

Rachel: I’m putting Lilly on the spot here.

Lisa: …I don’t know. You’d probably want something in maybe “Angel” in the second season where… How much spoilers are we gonna deal with? Buffy discovered the truth about Angel, that would be a good one for a single episode because there’s so much that happens and yet, you don’t have a lot of backstory filling in but I think that you could come to that episode and not know Buffy, and it just pulls at your heartstrings. And it does some really interesting things with… When I broke down the episode, there is essentially the same story, but we get it from Buffy’s point of view and Angel’s point of view. And their plot turns intersect. But the themes are different, and some of the other, like, they intersect in the middle, but some of the other turns are different. And you don’t, again, you don’t see that if you’re just watching it, but it has so many layers to it and encompasses so much of Buffy’s conflict with her personal life, and being a slayer, and how hard that is. And you get some tension with her friends, too. You really get to know the friends and Giles. It’s an amazing episode.

Rachel: All right. Team, you have homework.

Lisa: Yes, that’s it. If you want one episode, “Angel,” two episodes, do the pilot.

Vanessa: I found it very interesting trying to make some of my friends watch it from the beginning because their attention for some of the one-off episodes, it’s just not there. Whereas, I think, because I know the story and I know everything about it, watching it from the beginning it’s such a joy to me because I love those one-off episodes. But for them, they wanna just skip, they wanna skip to the newer episodes and the more, like, story arc episodes like you were saying before. So it is really interesting watching with people who don’t know.

Lisa: Yeah. I’ve talked to so many people who say, “Well, season one, you just have to get through it.” And maybe, yeah, I love them as well. And I loved them the first time through but when they were on TV, it was on that cusp of everything was complete one-offs back then. So even Season One had more through lines than you typically got and more character growth than you typically got in a series. But I think now there’s so much more of an expectation that you would have more of a story that goes through a whole season. Oh, the other good one to watch… Now, I’m gonna keep throwing in ones, would be “Prophecy Girl,” the finale of Season One, that’s another great one, I think, to come in. And partly because season one is a lot of one-offs, I think you could come in to “Prophecy Girl” and not know anything else, and still find that to be a fantastic episode because Buffy faces such a huge choice. And that goes to why is it such a good show to look at writing? Because so much comes down to the choices characters make. And a lot of the flaws in whether it’s a story, or a novel, or a TV show is when the protagonist is not active enough, is not making enough choices, and the characters are not making enough choices and things are just happening to them. And with Buffy, almost always it comes down to a choice, and it’s a hard choice. And that’s a great episode for that. It is a really hard choice she has to make.

Vanessa: So by this podcast’s journey, have you noticed any changes to your writing or your approach to writing?

Lisa: I feel like it has made me much more aware of not just the plot turns but the intersect of plot and character. That idea of a choice, I always look for at the middle of a story, you almost always have a protagonist suffering a major reversal, or going all in on the crest, throwing caution to the wind. And I knew that and I would try to do that, but watching Buffy, almost every episode does that so well. And I feel like that has helped me… I’m gonna do a pun here, but I use it on the show, “up the stakes.” It has helped me see, don’t go with your first thought about what would be the hardest choice for Buffy to make or what would be the biggest reversal, and it doesn’t have to be her. Some episodes are, you know, focused on others, but to really make it a impossible choice almost and raise things to another level. So that’s one thing I feel like looking at Buffy critically has helped me do.

The other is weaving in that backstory, how you don’t need nearly as much as you think you do. But also when you do have to fill in, Giles is the one who always get stuck with the exposition and explaining, whatever the cult is or the demonic thing is. And one, it helps if you can have Anthony Stewart Head do it. But also the different ways the show does that, whether it’s by it’s in an interesting setting, or he’s moving around, or the other characters are pushing back against him, even if it’s just Xander cracking stupid jokes and Giles’ getting irritated, there is something in there in the best scenes that keeps tension high. Or there’s a whole crowd of vampires threatening everybody or demons about to converge on them and he’s gotta give them this information. And that has helped me too. I don’t literally think, well, what would the Buffy writers do? But it’s in my head of, okay, what are some ways I could keep the tension high?

And I also think it has helped me to be more willing to cut unnecessary scenes. Those times when an episode doesn’t work as well for me is often where, I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing, the episode came in short and they needed to add some filler. I watch the DVD commentaries, sometimes those are the best scenes. There’s a few times when the writer or director has said, “Oh, yeah, we had to fill that in.” But other times where the next scene repeats a lot of the things you already covered, I can see that and it makes it easier for me to see it in my own writing. And I think they have to do it because they had to come in at a certain length. But I remind myself, yeah, that is not true with a story or a novel, you should be roughly in a certain word count range. But generally, if there’s one scene and nothing is really happening in it, you should just get rid of it. So it’s made me a little more willing to just cut things out, which is always hard, I think, for any writer, especially if you love the scene to say, “This doesn’t need to be there.”

Rachel: Now, you mentioned off the top that your podcast or the information within is also available in book form. And I’m just so curious, what is that? Is it a transcription process that you’re doing or are you restructuring the episodes to a nonfiction book form?

Lisa: So first, it’s an arduous process, which is why I’m behind, because it’s both those things. I do a transcription of it, but it needs, one, a lot of editing because it is just a different format. It is very conversational when you read it. And I say in the intro, this is from the podcast, but I also, I cut it back, I add a lot of headers to organize it and then each chapter, each episode is a chapter. And at the beginning I have, here are the things that are covered. And it’s often different from what I said in the podcast because as I read the transcript, I’ll realize, “Oh, this also does a great job of dialogue or demonstrating this or that.” So I highlight that and I include headers that match that. And at the end, I do questions that people can apply to their own writing.

So, essentially, what it prompted me to do, what Buffy prompted me to do. So it might say something like, “What kind of choice can you have your protagonist make? Or what can you do to up the stakes at the first major plot turn? How could that spin things in a new direction?” So I’ll give people guidance, and that takes some time, but it really, it is the editing of that transcript to give it more structure, really. But if people have listened to the podcast, I think some people like to get the book because they like to have it in print and they like to have those questions there and those guides. And then I’ve had other people who never have listened to the podcast but they found the books and were really excited about that.

Rachel: So shifting from our Buffy gears for a second, you are also the founder of writingasasecondcareer.com. So can you tell us a bit about that?

Lisa: I started that because, when I began, I had written for years, I’d had some short stories published, and I’d gone to a lot of writer’s conferences. But around 2011 is when I decided to self-publish a novel, “The Awakening.” And the advice out there for writers at the time, one, it was a little bit hard to find advice for writers in terms of how to self-publish your writing because that was not as common. But the other thing that I found as I continued to write, and publish, and at the time, I was running my own law firm and working probably 50, 60 hours a week at that. So I’m trying to fit in all these things, and I found two things with the advice out there. One was it was more aimed at people who had a regular schedule. So that classic advice, write at the same time every day. That doesn’t work if you have the kind of either career or profession where something can happen at 4:00 p.m. and you have to stay till 9:00 at night and deal with it. Or, you know, let’s say you have a job and you have a child, they aren’t on the schedule or you’re caretaking. So I wanted to address how do you fit writing in and give writing tips for people who were trying to write novels but along with something else that was full-time or more than full-time.

And the second part, which I think has changed, but even up through, like, 2015, 2016, if you went on YouTube to get advice or you attended a writer’s conference, in my head, because I’m a lawyer, when someone’s presenting at a conference, they show up in a blazer. And, you know, if it’s a woman, she’s got her hair done, or if it’s a guy, maybe he even has a tie on, and they’ve got a professional looking presentation. And back then, I remember watching a video and it took real effort to get past the guy who was presenting was in a wrinkly T-shirt and his backdrop looked like he was in his parents’ basement. And my initial thought… It was a free seminar and I’m like, “Why am I gonna spend an hour watching some guy who’s, like, talking from his parents’ basement?” But I learned a ton about copywriting from him and later… I won’t say who it was, but later on, he turned out to be this big marketing guru who everyone listens to. And my thought was, yeah, for people who are in another profession where they’re kind of grafting those views onto it might not learn things because it’s presented in a way that makes that they have to get past that. And there weren’t as many people who were presenting things that way.

So my other thought was, here I’m gonna do this site and I don’t have videos on it or anything, but it will be aimed at that group of quick information and how do you do this around a regular job. And speaking to, basically, the people who would call me, because I got a lot of calls from lawyers who would say, “I am thinking about self-publishing a book,” or, “I’m thinking about writing a novel, can you give me advice?” And I could send them to, you know, three different sites and be like, this has great information. And they’d say, “No, no, I wanna talk to you because you know what this is like.” And enough people did that that I thought, “Okay, I am starting this for these people.” Now, I’ve found lots of people find the books helpful and, you know, the books are not specifically aimed at that, they’re writing craft, but they’re very quick and kind of high level, and what can you do in the time you have.

Rachel: And just kind of along the lines of what can you do with the time you have, you are a little busy as we’ve established. You have a couple things going on. How do you fit everything into your schedule? Like, what are your time management tips?

Lisa: There’s a couple. The biggest ones, one is that a lot of fiction writing happens before you put your fingers on the keyboard, at least for a lot of writers. Or it can happen that way. So when I had my own law practice, for one thing, if I had time that I had to sit, I’m waiting in line or I’m waiting at court, they never show you on TV how much time lawyers spend just sitting in a courtroom waiting to go up and tell the judge what’s happening in the case for five minutes and then leave. So I might have 40 minutes, I would have a legal pad and I would scribble a scene or I would write about my character. If I was standing in line, I would just be thinking about, oh, what, what scene might I write next? But there’s also, I tried to use my unconscious. So before I went to sleep at night or maybe before I left for the office in the morning and I had a really busy day, because lots of times I didn’t have that half an hour at court, I was working from the second I got in. But I would ask myself a question, it might be, what should happen in the next scene, or how could things be harder for my protagonist, or something about a character? And then I would forget it. I would just ask the question, forget it. But I would ask it a couple days in a row or a couple nights in a row and things would start popping into my head as I was doing something else, but it would pop in my head. So when I got that 20 minutes to sit down and write, my fingers would just fly across the keyboard.

The first time I had trouble getting the words on the page was I had wound down my law practice, which took a few years, and I had about two months when I was not doing anything else. I didn’t have any law projects. I wasn’t teaching, and I thought, “Oh, I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna write so much more.” I thought 10 times more. And, no, because I hadn’t done all that while I was doing other things and now I had to pace my living room and ask myself questions. So that’s one, is if you are super busy to find those ways that you might be able to be thinking about your story, and worldbuilding, and sorting through things. And the other goes to any kind of time management or work-life balance. We all have this idea that we’re gonna find that and then we’ve got it down and now that’s what it’s gonna be like. We’ll write these nights, and we’ll take care of our family these nights, and we’ll work this time. But things always change.

So I find it helpful to think of it more like seasons. And there might be a season which could be a few months, it could be a couple years, maybe you have a new baby, or you’re caring for your aging parent, or you’ve got a promotion and you’re working like crazy. And that might be a season when that’s the thing you need to focus on most. So your writing, maybe it is all in your head, maybe it’s spare moments here and there, but then you can think long-term of, “Okay. Can I rearrange some things so that a different part of my life will be a season when I can focus on writing more and are there things I can scale back?” So it can help to really think longer term about it because sometimes in the short-term, there’s a limited amount you can do.

I am a big scheduler. Now, I have much more control over my time, so I also do a schedule every week. But back when I was a lawyer, I could make a schedule all I wanted, but my whole day, or weekend, or month could be, I thought of it as hijacked. If someone on the other side of a case suddenly filed some motion or did something I didn’t expect, or a judge who’d been sitting on a case for a year suddenly set a hearing for three days from now, well, I’m not taking that weekend away. So it was a mix then of I could try to do a schedule, but I more just had to fit in what I could when I could. So I thought of writing as my break, it was my fun, that was my vacation. And thinking of it that way really helped rather than kind of making it a chore I had to schedule. Now I make it on a schedule because I have much more control over my time.

Rachel: I think that’s great advice. And I think a lot of people forget how much of writing is actually just thinking, like, it’s not only putting your fingers on the keyboard. And so, I don’t know, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure that if I’m not putting words on a page, I’m not writing. When, in fact, if you’re just ruminating on an idea, that will then make it easier to put the words on the page, like, that counts.

Lisa: Yeah, and it’s harder to quantify. So, I understand. And I felt that way a lot, too. I’d be like, “Oh, I’m not writing. I’m not writing.” Yeah. It was only that experience of suddenly having all the time in the world for a while to write that, that hit me. Yeah, and if you have more time, you might do more of it in writing. When I had a 9:00 to 5:00 job, I would do a lot of that. I would sit at my keyboard and just type out, well, what do I think about this character? What if this happened, what if that happened? And I would do it at the keyboard, and that felt better, but it’s not like I’m accomplishing less if I’m doing it in my head. And maybe you could argue it’s more efficient use of your time.

Rachel: Now, I know we’ve kept you for almost an hour now, so I’m just gonna ask you real quickly, no pressure question. If you had one piece of advice based on your experience as an author, storyteller, marketing books, publishing, what would your big piece of advice be?

Lisa: Oh, no pressure.

Rachel: No pressures, low stakes.

Lisa: Wow. One piece of advice. I think it would be to focus on what you love about your writing because that’s why you’re doing it. Writing, yes, some people are doing it to make money at it, and that is important, if you need to make the money from it. But don’t lose what you love because it’s easy. I think especially in the self-publishing world, there is a lot of focus on how do I make my advertising pay, how do I come out ahead, and those things matter. And same thing if you’re trying to pursue traditional publishing, you’re submitting to agents, you’re submitting to publishers, you’re probably getting rejections. There was one day I got 100 rejection letters back in the day, like in my mailbox on paper. So it can be very discouraging, and that’s when remembering what you love about it matters.

The more it can be the thing, whether it’s, I love the act of writing. I’m one of those people who loves fiction writing. But someone else may love, you know, they don’t love the process so much, but they love the idea of holding their book in their hands or seeing it on a shelf. So when you’re stressed and frustrated or you’re trying to fit things in, maybe remember that and really get in touch with that, whatever it is that drew you to writing. Or if it’s getting a message out, what is it that makes you really care about doing this thing? Because if it’s, you know, making money, there are lots of easier ways to do that and in less time, but there’s something about it that makes you really wanna do that. So, I feel like it’s kind of easy to lose track of that. So that would be my one piece of advice if I can only do one.

Rachel: So what can listeners expect next from you/will you be doing the “Angel Podcast” by any chance? Would you be following “Angel” series, because doesn’t get as much love as Buffy?

Lisa: That’s true. It doesn’t. I’m not planning on doing all of “Angel,” but I am thinking of after Buffy ends, doing the last season of “Angel,” because spoiler, Spike crosses over, and I really love that season, so I am probably gonna do that. And I’m also going in a non-Buffy direction, but both my co-host and I agreed that we had no time to do this and we could not possibly fit it in. And then we set a time to start recording a podcast about “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” So we just started recording. I don’t know when it will come out because we thought, all right, we’ll just record and then we’ll figure it out. So, that, I think, will probably start releasing sometime next year. So that, in terms of podcasting, those are the things that I will be doing next. But we’ve got a little over two seasons of Buffy left, so I’m excited about that.

Rachel: And season six is such a joyful romp from start to finish.

Lisa: Oh, yeah. It’s so much fun. I am really looking forward to that because a lot of it, I didn’t love, and that sometimes is more interesting for me to go through. And then there were episodes that I loved very much. So it’s probably the sharpest contrast for me versus what I loved and what I didn’t, which can make it so interesting.

Rachel: I have to agree. I loved season six, but I’m very curious to hear your thoughts. And where can our listeners find you online?

Lisa: You can find my fiction and links to the “Buffy Podcast” at my author website, lisalilly.com, that’s L-I-S-A-L-I-L-L-Y. And writingasasecondcareer.com has articles on fiction writing, time management, you can find my books there, and you can get free story structure worksheets there, writingasasecondcareer.com/worksheets for the worksheets. And “Buffy and the Art of Story,” you can find on any of your favorite podcast apps or on YouTube if you want to listen there.

Rachel: But we will include links to all of that in our show notes to make sure everybody can find you everywhere. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us. Like I said, Vanessa and I could talk about Buffy with you for hours, so this was an absolute joy.

Lisa: Thank you. I had a great time. And yes, as you can tell, I could also talk about Buffy forever, and I do. So, hopefully, we’ll find another time where we could pick an episode and really dive into it.

Rachel: I’m in and I’m sure Vanessa is too.

Vanessa: Absolutely.

Lisa: Thank you so much.

Rachel: Thank you.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you are interested in picking up Lisa’s books or checking out her podcast, “Buffy and the Art of Story,” we will include links to both in our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, subscribe, tell your friends. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com, and be sure you’re following us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram. This episode was hosted by Rachel Wharton and Vanessa Salemi with production assistance by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our music is composed by Tear Jerker, and a huge thanks to Lisa M. Lilly for being our guest today. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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