Tag Archives: dexter

It Takes a Village to Create a Good Monster

Beguiling Serial Killer Dexter, image property of Showtime

Beguiling Serial Killer Dexter, image property of Showtime

Most of my adult life I have not signed up for cable TV. It’s been a time sucking temptation I didn’t need or want. But that’s not because I’m some kind of stuck up puritan deeming the viewing of comedies and dramas on the small screen as sinful or wasteful. I just know myself – I love the distraction of a tale well told or a meal well cooked. In consequence my viewing of popular series has been as a customer of Netflix. I tell you this to explain the next part: I watch TV series after everyone else as seen them because I watch them on DVD.

I’m a big fan of the hit Showtime series Dexter and gobbled up Season 1 & 2 with avidity of appetite that left me with a very long wait for Season 3. I had to fill that time somehow. Dexter, serial killer with a code, is such an engaging and fascinating character that when I discovered that he was actually inspired by a book I was delighted. I’m one of those who love to read and believe that most books are better than the shows/movies made from them. I understand that it’s hard work to adapt a book to a totally different medium and realize that the result often diverges enough from the original that the reader is left unsatisfied: their imaginative take on the events and characters far different than the script writer and director’s. So to say that I was excited to find that Jeffrey Lindsay was the creator of one of my favorite television character was possibly an understatement. These were not books based on the hit series, but a hit series based on popular books, bound to be as good at the show if not better. I must be in for a treat so I bought all three extant books at once.

Here is where I’m going to offend Jeffrey Lindsay and all his fans. These were definitely the worst three books I have ever read as a series. I confess that I hated the first trilogy of Thomas Covenant by Stephan R. Donaldson nearly as much but for very different reasons, but in main if I have bothered to read three books by the same author about the same subject I’m probably hooked. I was not hooked; I was desperate. I wanted to be in Dexter’s world and this was the best I could do while I waited for the series to return (thankfully they were both short and easy to read). Lindsay created an engaging character, a bold premise, and a convincing setup, and for that I will always be grateful. But after that he let me down with pedestrian writing and cheap tricks.

One huge mistake: his sister Debra finds out he’s a killer in the beginning of the first book, but she loves him anyway in the second book. Where is the alienation that so defines the character? Doakes gets all his limbs cut off but clumps into the office anyway? Was that mean to be humorous? And the third book… I’m rolling my eyes at this one. In the third book Lindsay blows away his own brilliant premise by making Dexter possessed of a demon, rather than the interesting psychology that is hinted at (not actually explored because Lindsay is not that good of a writer) in the previous novels. The device of Dexter’s inner monologue has its source in the books, but whereas it is very interesting and well done in the TV series, after three books you’re tired of the boasting and whining:

“Gosh I’m a smart guy without any human emotions, why can’t I do my normal brilliant analysis of this challenge right now?”

That was a paraphrase because I can’t access the books anymore. Disgusted that I read all three I passed them onto another Dexter fan – who then did precisely what I did – read them all in disgust and then dumped them off somewhere like a dead body that needed disposal. I have googled around the web for evidence that others viewed Lindsay’s hack writing the same way as I did, but I have not found it. I believe that Dexter is so arresting as a character in fiction that Lindsay is easily pulling the wool over the eyes of his readers, but the glamour can’t last forever.

What is the point of trashing Lindsay’s books in my blog since this is not intended as a review? I think, for me, that it’s that the collaborative effort that took flight from Lindsay’s brilliant starting point shows that the artistic process, even for crafting stories, doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. We all know that movies and TV shows are the result of the work of a lot of people, but we always think of them in terms of a ‘a writer’, ‘a director’, or ‘a star’, but the fact is that all those people and more work together to produce a show like Dexter. Every link in the Dexter chain, from Lindsay’s premise, to the uncanny performance by Michael C. Hall, is part of a greater whole of people coming together to create something unique in the world. At least that’s how I like to think of it when I collaborate on my fiction projects – that we are bringing something unique into the world through our collective creativity and vision. Lindsay conceived Dexter, but it took ‘a village’ to raise this monster.

Advertisements

Writing the Good Guys: Give Them Black Hats

A casual exchange in #writechat, Twitter’s Sunday writing discussion, led me to think a little bit more about writing the good guy in fiction. I stated that I found writing a hero more challenging than writing about the villain. Villains are fun. They are people I don’t need to make likeable, honorable, or virtuous, and yet we are all a little predisposed to get a vicarious thrill out of that bad boy doing what we wish we could. The hero might have flaws, even fatal flaws (one that leads to her demise), but we still need to be relating to her and rooting for her.

A good writer friend of mine at Pan says: “People adore Dexter. He’s a serial killer. How can you like him or hope he doesn’t get caught? Because he fights his insights and sticks to his code.” Dexter is a good example of the hero role turned upside down, or an anti-hero because even though he seems to be a prime example of a bad guy, he has an unshakeable code of conduct.

But what about a good old-fashioned hero?

Clementine Proulx (a nom de plume of one of our excellent Pan Historia writers who is also a published author in the real world) advises: “Readers have to care about your “hero.” She doesn’t have to be lovable or even likable, but she has to have something that makes them want to invest in her.”

I write the historical character of Wyatt Earp. I use the historical record to provide him with the flaws needed to make him a believable human being and not a TV show stereotype. The controversy surrounded Earp supplies me with plenty of ways to show that my hero is not just a nice guy. He was a gambler who consorted with prostitutes, but he was also a fearless lawman who was prepared to crack a few heads along the way. He even arrested a judge. His brother Virgil arrested Wyatt once. That kind of single-minded adherence to duty is both honorable and a flaw. Rigidity is not a likeable character trait.

Back to Clemetine Proulx:

Almost all the best heroes are essentially not so nice people overcoming their not-so-niceness. They do it throughout the story which in Hollywood is a character arc. Really “nice” people or “good” people are rather uninteresting heroes unless thrown into a plot driven story. I think of a Stephen King—The Mist—where the decent dad faces unbelievable situations. A hero is always reluctant at first, has character flaws, but eventually makes the satisfying choice. The more flawed the hero, the more he struggles, the more we care for him…so yes, Dexter could be called an anti-hero (like Hannibal who only eats rude people), but he is still a hero because he can’t help who he is, formed by one of worst childhood experiences I can think of, but he struggles against it to do – ultimately – good. Sure we all want to kill bad guys. Actually we all want to kill people in our way. But Dexter follows a code that is essentially the code we all follow…only his is obvious and spelled out.

Clementine really knows what she’s talking about. In the collaborative fiction novel FLESH she writes a character that is notable for being everything you don’t expect in a heroine. She’s old, ugly, pudgy, a fanatic fan of Tom Jones, with few social skills who was overjoyed when her mother was consumed by flesh-eating zombies, but her wit, spunk, and ingenuity gets the reader rooting for her nonetheless. In fact it is her flaws and her history (she was picked on mercilessly in school, had a sad and lonely family life) that causes the reader to love her with a passion.

In the same novel FLESH we have started a new chapter and my personal challenge is to create a hero that is essentially pretty unlikeable and yet, in the end, it is my hope that the readers are rooting for him to succeed. Michael is proud, pompous, prejudiced, and overly rigid in his thinking and actions. He’s about to be thrown into a situation where he has to help the very people he’s been alienating for years: his neighbors. You can check out my writing for this character here on my writing blog. I would love feedback, as the story progresses, about how well I’m doing at creating a flawed hero that you might hate to love.