Series and Psychopaths—The Author Sadist & Why Audiences LOVE the Pain

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Mads Mikkelsen in “Hannibal”

Hubby and I are now careening through Hannibal, which is some of the most amazing writing I’ve ever seen. I would have never believed any actor could even rival Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but…? Mads Mikkelsen might actually be better. I don’t know if I have ever felt so conflicted about a character. Hannibal is a stone-cold killer, but then I catch myself rooting for him?

Wait…no, he’s the BAD GUY. Right?

I’m so confused *head desk*

Yet, this series is such a prime example of why series are superlative storytelling. Instead of containing a character like Lecter to 90-120 minutes, we now have what no movie can offer…TIME. This allows for a layering, a depth, an exploration we always craved, even if we weren’t entirely aware of it at the time.

I find it harder to make snap judgements (like I do in a movie) because just about the moment I am horrified by Lecter, he has another scene where he is kind, compassionate, supportive (um, psychopath?) and I’m back being conflicted.

Much like that guy I dated when I was 21 😉 .

Right about the time I was sure he was a jerk I never wanted to talk to again, he’d show that side I’d fallen for and I’d give another chance.

So yes, the writers of this show are master manipulators and play (at least my feelings) like a violin. They keep pushing buttons, enticing our innate human curiosity to understand WHY? Like a dangerous snake that fascinates us, we are staring, tapping at the glass and enamored (conveniently forgetting the snake just ate a cute little mouse earlier).

For me, this series is more than superior storytelling. In ways, the writers have done a masterful job of placing the viewer in the role of those who deal with psychopaths. It’s like being on a roller coaster, experiencing the thrill of near-death but without the real danger. And isn’t that what superb writing is all about? Offering a slice of danger for the audience to experience and explore from safety?

Series Are Taking OVER

I refuse to watch any show that doesn’t have at least two seasons complete, namely because, if I like a new show? Apparently it spells its DEATH for the new showThus, I don’t like getting too attached. I wait, then inhale an entire season a day.

Don’t judge. I know you do it too O_o.

I feel that series, complex series, are actually the way of the future (and have felt this way since roughly 2004). There’s a fantastic book that explains why, called Everything That’s Bad for You is Good (and I strongly recommend it). In a nutshell, popular opinion seems to be that, as a society, we are getting DUMBER, spiraling toward an Idiocracy.

In the face of Honey Boo-Boo and The Bachelor, it’s tough to argue. But those shows are mindless brain junk food, and thus we’re comparing apples to oranges when we place them next to Breaking Bad or Walking Dead. Those other shows aren’t storytelling. Don’t tell The Real Harpies Housewives of the OC.



From Big Screen to Small Screen

When I was a kid, all the best actors (acting) were on the big screen. To see an actor go from movies to television was a clear sign she needed to stop doing drugs fire her agent her career was likely over. Television equaled death. Now? We see the opposite.

I’ve all but given up on most movies. They bore me into a coma. Most are abysmally predictable or just showing off CGI skills instead of telling a great story. My opinion? Television is now where we are seeing the most successful stories and the most talent (been that way for a while).

But Again, Why IS That?

Audiences, despite what people might want to believe, have become far more sophisticated. If we had a time-machine and could transport an avid TV fan of Gilligan’s Island to 2014 and sit him in front of Game of Thrones? His head would explode.



Anyone got a squeegee?

Modern audiences love a complex plot, numerous story lines, and obscure references. We want a large cast to fall in love with or hate. 

We watch certain movies/shows over and over because there are jokes, innuendo or backstory we missed. Seinfeld is a great example. Every episode had its own plot and humor, but if one hadn’t watched the other shows there were a lot of jokes one simply would NOT get.

Shows like Seinfeld were revolutionary this way. It had never been done before. I Love Lucy was all contained to each episode. Every episode stood alone.

The greatest comedic writing out there is great primarily because of the obscure wink-wink-nod-nods to other iconic movies. For instance, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Scary Movie 5. But if you aren’t a horror fan, it won’t be nearly as funny. Same with Tropic Thunder. One has to have seen Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Tears of the Sun etc. in order to understand the movie and “get” the jokes.

The Simpsons, South Park and Pixar employ a similar tactic by threading pop culture references into the stories.

Finding Nemo has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Now, The Spawn has loved this movie since he was two. There is a level of humor that renders a toddler a quivering puddle of giggles. But, at a higher level what adult hasn’t lost it in the Shark AA Fishaholics meeting scenes? A toddler has no concept of a Twelve-Step Program, and yet as adults? WE GET the reference and so it launches the humor over the top.


These factors are why many of these movies (or series) are worth buying. We see something new every time we watch. We peel back a new layer, spot a new subplot, finally “get” that double entendre. We can rewatch Battlestar Galactica with a fresh set of eyes and see new territory. 

Modern audiences are growing increasingly sophisticated and they long for the mental challenge of keeping up. One can watch BSG and have to recall some detail from ten episodes earlier. We LOVE the mental challenge and this is why the big screen won’t last for the adult audience. The main factor working against movies is TIME.

Most people are pushing it to sit through a three hour movie. A screenwriter, director can only do so much plot or character development in three hours or less. Compare this to a TV series with a hundred hours. We have the time to get to know more characters, more backstory, more subplots and our brains crave the challenge.

How does George R.R. Martin use Twitter?

 He has 140 characters and everyone DIES 😀 . *bada bump snare*

Ah the Setback

Every setback is an opportunity for an even greater comeback. This is largely why series are becoming HUGE. With a series there is, bluntly, more time and more opportunities to 1) generate love and affection for a wide cast of characters and then 2) torture them then 3) wait for the comeback. Some of the finest series out there will wind your nerves so tightly you feel like you need a drink and a Xanax to get to sleep.


Is Starbuck alive? Dead? Is she real? A Cylon? Ok, I can sleep WHEN I’M DEAD *clicks for “Next Episode”*

The same urges that drive viewers to lose an entire weekend or night of sleep dying to find out what happens on a show (or video game *cough* Gears of War) is the same phenomena that is driving series and novellas to greater popularity.

Fiction is the opposite of functional sanityNormal human beings seek to maintain peace and healthy relationships. We are NOT NORMAL (in case no one has yet broken the news to you). Our job as good great epic writers is to maim, torture, crush and kill. We are emotional, deeply empathetic, loving and caring creatures…but we writers are also kinda psycho.

To write great stories, we have to channel some sadism. The relationship between author and audience is actually pretty toxic, but it’s the only “toxic” relationship that’s GOOD for people. We throw a rock in sanity and readers want more. In fact they punish us if we are too sane ;).

Being crazy and dysfunctional is our JOB. Conflict and problems are the heart and soul of stories. Of course, unlike psychopaths in life? Writers offer resolution and closure.

Yet, in the meantime?

Find that shiny thing. Get the protagonist sooooooooo close they almost…have….can…touch…..the edges……..


Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Original image via Flikr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Your readers will hate you, but it’s good for them. Do NOT protect your characters. Screw up their lives more than a meth-addicted multi-personality mother-in-law. Your characters NEED a crucible.

No one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, maybe I have a pride problem. I should totally work on that.” NO! Instead of that promotion they know is in the bag, they get FIRED. Worse, they get blackballed. Worse, they have to apply for food stamps.

Worse, the person at the food stamp office is the very person they were horrifically RUDE to and now they need this person’s mercy. Do they get it? NO! ARE YOU HIGH? STOP BEING A SOFTIE. Do you want to be a WRITER? Then lose that soul and sense of decency (for a bit).

Take the food stamps away! Get them a job at McDonalds and they get fired from THAT TOO. IN THE RAIN!

Run over that character with an emotional panel van, then back over them, then run over them and repeat until they are a pile of GOO.

Gee, I wonder why people feel nervous around writers? 😀

Ah, but once that character has withstood the tests…you as Author God then can give them a new shiny and a better shiny. Show them they shiny they wanted in the beginning was Fool’s Gold and let them earn the real deal.

And your readers will then forgive you for the torture.

And now you know why writers are on the list of professions psychopaths gravitate to….oooooh, chew on THAT 😀 .

Sam Rockwell in "Seven Psychopaths"

Sam Rockwell in “Seven Psychopaths”

Series are simply becoming more popular because there is an increased demand for entertainment and people are spoiled with a lot of variety. Humans are also masochists. Fiction shows us our ugliness, but unlike life? There is a resolution.

Writers are a strange breed of magicians. Humanity has always relied on us to do what it cannot. Others might be in the world, but writers notice the world. We reverse-engineer life and boil it down to its marrow. It’s the difference between the regular person who enjoys a glass of wine versus the author who can tell you (in detail) WHY you enjoyed it.

It’s the notes of dark cherry with licorice and a hint of spice…

We also start the hard conversations that people didn’t even know were there.

For instance, when watching Hannibal, Hubby and I got into a long debate about how society needs a certain percentage of psychopaths. Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are ruthless killers. Many are very successful because they gravitate to careers that reward those who can make tough decisions even when under extreme pressure (pressure that would likely cave more emotional types).

Psychopaths are devoid of natural human emotion, and for me? That can be okay. I do NOT want my surgeon getting emotional. I want him to do his JOB.

And this is a WHOLE other blog, but it shows how a series has the power to dive deeper into human dialogues (which is a HUGE part of their appeal).

***Btw, if you are interested in learning how to write a series, I am teaching my Antagonist Class (details below) where I show you how to generate tension on any scale from short-story to epic series.

What are your thoughts? Are you too easy on your characters? Do you have a tough time taking away the shiny? What TV series do you love and why? Are you losing interest in the big screen, too? What are some of your favorite characters from a series and that you might never have known intimately if it were a movie (um, SPIKE)?

Do you agree/disagree that publishing is now favoring the series? Are you a series-gorger, too? Do you kill new shows if you like them? Are you simultaneously horrified and fascinated by characters like Dr. Lecter?

Do you think writers have to have a touch of psychopathy? Come on, our browser history is already evidence against us 🙂 . I have to be careful in restaurants. He has to die. I know he is really nice, but he needs to die, only they can’t find the body right away and it has to look like natural causes. *notices restaurant suddenly quiet* *turns* *nervous laugh* I’m a writer…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  2. we’re watching the “Closer” series on DVD, and the lead character is very conflicted – that makes her real.

  3. I enjoy getting involved in a series – and especially since the invention of Netflix – now we keep the momentum going as we watch a series from season one – through ten (for the lucky ones) without interruption! The best always gives cliff hangers at the end of each episode, and you’re like ‘just one more episode tonight. Who cares that we get up at 5 AM’

  4. I love this post. I also love psychopaths (no, not in THAT way) – but before I started writing, I got a master’s in forensic psych. My hubby always catches me on Netflix trying desperately to come current with Supernatural – which is my current addiction. 10 seasons, 22 episodes. It’s a lifestyle. Seriously though, I love watching series because I love seeing how the character arcs play out. I am extremely emotionally attached to some of the characters. It helps me be a better writer.

  5. I’m losing interest in the big screen because it seems every other movie (or two out of three of them) are either reboots or remakes of existing franchises. *yawn*

    (Here there be spoilers. Be warned.)

    I totally agree about Hannibal. LOVE it. My ONLY qualm with that show is I wish they’d bump up the volume of Mads’ dialog, because I have to use the CC feature to understand him, he’s just a little too low. Yes, I know they play fast and loose with police procedure, etc.

    The original Dark Shadows TV show was good for pulling people in. Joss Whedon cranked storytelling up a notch and a half with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (He tried again with Angel but that kind of fizzled for me.) Firefly was another good one. But in BTVS, he’d drop a little two-second tidbit, maybe just a camera pan and focus before fade or switch to something else, and…BOOM the payoff might not be until the next SEASON, but yeah, he set it up.

    The Walking Dead – Absofrigginlutely. ‘Nuff said.

    And American Horror Story: Coven was my FAVORITE of the seasons, followed by AHS: Murder house. The other two seasons were good, not as good as those two, however. (Yes, I binge-watched them.)

    Breaking Bad is one I keep hearing about, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and binge-watch it yet.

    The Sopranos. (Minus the final episode *cue sound of head exploding in BAAAAD way*.) I was rooting for BAD GUYS. For mobsters. For robbers and extortionists and philanderers and murderers…ROOTING FOR THEM!

    The Blacklist. Well, minus the last two episodes, where I think their normal writers must have been on vacation and they hired in the janitors to crib together scripts that were mostly rehashes of the past storylines with a very predictable maverick judge, mostly to waste 2 episodes and create false tension to get Tom Keen back into the picture. *yawn* But James Spader…YUM!

    Which brings me to Boston Legal. Another one that yes, you could watch the episodes and be okay, but the Denny Crane jokes, you didn’t get them if you didn’t watch regularly. Or the breaking of the fourth wall, the Star Trek references, the cigar scene, the invariable monologue (which has carried over to Red Reddington somewhat in The Blacklist).

    Dexter. OMG, don’t get me started on Dexter. I came into it late, had to binge watch the first two seasons, and LOVED it…until it just started falling apart in the last couple of seasons. Another BAD head explosion at that finale. I mean…seriously. Just…seriously. It’s like the writers were, “Okay, we’re all rich, let’s start phoning this one in.”

    Big Love was another good one that hooked me in early, but as it went on, it sort of lost its way. (How sad is it I never saw the last half of the last season.)

    The Big Bang Theory is so, SO good. But I’m a little Sheldon myself and want to MANGLE the writers when they goof up continuity in the script. Do they NOT have bibles for their characters? UGH. But yes, you can watch each episode and laugh your ass off, but there are threads that wind through some episodes, and jokes that come up from time to time that are from earlier ones.

  6. OMG! Another sadist! 3:-)

    [*fist bump*]

    The more I write, the more fun I’m having tossing in plot twists and introducing likable characters in Book 1 that I can brutally kill in off in Book 5…

    [*wait until they see what happens to…*]

    And conflicted bad guys … yeah … gotta love those bad boys! And then, just when your readers think you’ve rehabilitated them, make them do something really b-a-d…


    And them have them pat the dog.

    Perhaps instead of Sharks Anonymous, we should have Writer Sadists anonymous?

    • Renee on March 23, 2015 at 11:49 am
    • Reply

    Hi, Kristen, another great post, kudos. Television is where all the fantastic writing resides today. From “Thrones” to “Mad Men” to “Justified” to “Homeland” to the series granddaddy: “The Sopranos.”

    I don’t know what it is, but to me, (in the past few years), films resemble fiction novels, in that they’re more emotionally flat and almost comic book-like. Gone are the cinematic glory days of “The Godfather” and “Deliverance.” Those were stories with three acts – like novels have to be written. TV series are episodic, which is what Larry Brooks ( and others caution writers against.

    Obviously, there are the comic book movies, and some of these are bona fide good. But “Fifty Shades” veered toward the comic book, in that a very rich man with a dark secret took an interest in an innocent girl. There is an infantile quality to some of this, an oversimplification. Whether it’s computer game special effects in a film, or the dark prince who wants the fair princess in a fairy tale, there is a childish quality to the storytelling. At a fundamental level, the characters are shallow and cardboard, and then the writers ‘force’ depth into them, when really, we know as viewers or readers that it’s a reach. The story itself is set up to be shallow.

    Outside of the fan base of “Twilight” – the “Twilight” films are difficult to watch. I think when their core audience matures, and then goes back to watch the trilogy again, they might cringe and ask, “Why was I so crazy about this?”

    Because “Twilight” begat “Fifty Shades” and because these books and movies make a ton of money, there will be more of them, and I fear the success of these force the romance novel into fairy tale territory. (more)

    • Renee on March 23, 2015 at 11:49 am
    • Reply

    (continued) I think that “The Sons of Anarchy” single-handedly helped launch an entire wing of New Adult self-pubbed phenoms. Some of stories feature instant sex, which leads to incredible, long-lasting love. Again, sort of fairy tale territory. A one-night stand rarely leads to undying love in real life.

    Some of us – (romance writers) want to produce something like “Silver Linings Playbook,” which I know has been criticized for simplifying mental illness. Still, I felt the movie was emotional and more real than “Fifty Shades,” and in some respects, a lot more romantic. But I wonder – is there an audience for such a romance novel, since “Fifty Shades” and its imitators are the bestsellers?

    So I was heartened reading that women viewers were responding to TV’s “Orange Is the New Black.” I’ve not seen it, but as I understand it, the female characters are criminals and interact in a prison setting. There was a review that suggested that the characterization has more depth, and this gives a writer like me hope, that female readers might want a different romance novel outside of the “Shades” baking pan.

    It’s not just women – we’ve talked about how men have been Homer-ized, and Judd Apatow movies are especially skilled at this. At least in “The Forty Year Old Virgin,” he grew up and matured. Apatow movies seem to almost – celebrate – childish behavior from men.

    The fact that TV has such a wide spectrum of seriously brilliant series – the first two seasons of “House of Cards” are a knockout, and I can’t keep up with the witticisms in “Justified…” — again, most people want quality. They’re smart and only watch the dumb reality shows as they might slow down for a car accident.

    1. I believe we reside on polar opposite sides of the spectrum. On one hand, we just want to STOP thinking for a while and this is where you get the cerebral junk food. But, the other side is we are YEARNING for depth and exploration and series are serving that up, too. I know when I met Ann Rice she was LIVID about “Queen of the Damned” the movie. She HATED it with the power of a thousand suns and expressed how she wished it had been made a series instead. In a series they would have had time to SHOW the emotional depth instead of redaction to caricatures.

      1. Ann Rice was spot on – that was best to keep as a ‘read the book.’ Lestat aside, you’ve hit the irony head on. We want to relax and its so much easier thinking of evil scenarios when they are affecting someone else’s life – we get to feel the tension without the real life threat. People (myself included) are strange.

  7. Firefly killed my love of TV and TV series. RIP.
    Still, a great post Kristen, thanks.

    1. ! I gotta ask – Firefly killed your love of TV, or the cancellation of Firefly?

    • Lisanne Harrington on March 23, 2015 at 11:58 am
    • Reply

    Another great blog post, Kristen. Thought-provoking as usual. One of these days, I’m going to have to take one of your classes…

  8. Finally watched Firefly this winter. No wonder everybody talks about that show! Also Veronica Mars. Loved it!

    I agree that the vast majority of movies are BO.RING. these days. I find myself checking email and wandering off. I can’t name the last movie that had me riveted.

    Now, I’m binge-watching some good tv shows with hubby that he missed (he has to go to bed too early for most shows.) That way we can watch only the shows that get a consistent amount of good reviews and raves.

    I really wish movies would “get their acts together.”

    1. Yes, I was late to the Firefly kool-aid too! The whole time I was devouring it, I already knew there was no more and it killed me. I kept thinking, “but they have to make more – they just have to!”

    • Lanette Kauten on March 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm
    • Reply

    I needed this today. My forward-thinking publisher has decided to tap into the television series model, only in book form. Once a week, a new novella will be published for an 8-9 week series. I’ve been struggling with Book 5 in the series because I have taken a novel I’ve already written and now I have to lengthen what I thought was a complete story and break it down into eight shorter books. (Cue whining) But it’s so hard to come up with new plot points to lengthen the story! (End whining) This blog post has given me an idea, and you’ve also kicked me in the pants and basically told me to stop whining and dig deeper. I know exactly how I want to torture my poor protagonist.

    Another thing I’ve been concerned about is what if my publisher re-news the series for a second season. I’ve put off the worry of not knowing how to continue what I thought was a finished story because, ya know, I need to finish the current project. But even though I’ve shoved the concern into the back of my mind, I know that corner’s there and what’s lurking in it. BUT you, oh glorious Kristen, have given me a fantastic idea for the second season, assuming there will be one.

  9. Have you ever found yourself rooting for the fuzz?
    I gave up horror many years ago, and James Patterson cured me of thrillers, almost. I loved the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though I would give her a wide arc if I saw her in life, and I read almost everything John Grisham and Bernard Cornwell write. If I want to see people hurt, I watch the local news or read the BBC NEWS. I do not want to hurt people just to have something to write about.

    • Kessie on March 23, 2015 at 1:01 pm
    • Reply

    Re: the world needing psychopaths–are they psycho, or are they the INSJ (sp?) personality type? It lends itself to crazy people and villains, but also top alpha businessmen.

    I’m with you on series, too. I’m currently watching season 5 of Grimm on TV, and it is SO AMAZING. There’s also MAJOR CLIFFHANGERS. After Hannibal, Grimm would seem like a nice, fluffy romp. 😀

    1. I LOVE Grimm, but we had caught up with the series. Then Warehouse 13 and now Hannibal. We are also balancing Vikings. Makes for some weird dreams 🙂

  10. “if I like a new show? Apparently it spells its DEATH for the new show.” – This is me. Love it? No way it’s getting past one season. Kinda sorta like it – that one will keep going and going.

    I semi-agree with you. The depth and continuity of a series are what keep me coming back. But too often the writers don’t have enough meat and so they manufacture artificial conflict, slow the character development to a crawl (or backtrack it continuously) and I lose patience with the series.

    This is why I only watch a handful of American television and have switched to mostly Asian dramas (South Korean especially). I’d rather have 9-35 hour episodes with a set plot than season after season of going nowhere.

  11. I think cultures have always loved a good story and it seems that every good story has to have some drama. As the culture ages, so do the stories. Shows like Hannibal thrill us like all those scary stories we used to love to listen to around the campfire and the ghost stories we would tell at slumber parties.

  12. I’m a huge fan of Archer. Another good example of character development over the course of a series. In the first season, the characters were relatively normal, with dysfunction most of us can relate to. They’ve degenerated to new lows with every episode and now, six seasons later, they barely resemble the people we originally thought they were.

  13. LOVE this. I love serials, stories that continue to build and you stop each with the whole “oh my gawd, why did they stop it THERE???” Both in fiction and television, you have the ability to really get inside the character’s head and find out how they tick. “True Blood” was that way the first few seasons, with the last two or so being “so, we need the money train, let’s just throw some bloody bones out there and the fans will eat it up.” Uh, NO. We took them and buried them in Sookie’s graveyard, where they should have been all along. I used to really love that show and watched it first-run. My kids got me a 4-pack of the “Tru Blood” drink and I kept them in the fridge, to drink, one per season. I have one left in there because I just lost the will to watch that last season and the spoilers I’ve read since have convinced me that I was right.

    I write series fiction. I’m on book 3. I have been criticized roundly by some reviewers because I love cliff-hangers. It makes me look forward to where the author/director is going to take us next when it’s on television or another author so I write what I love. But one reviewer told me that “nobody likes cliff-hangers, they want their “Happily Ever After” at the end of the book. You can do the next book but wrap stuff up per volume of the series so your readers aren’t left hanging.”

    Uh, what part of “cliff-HANGER” don’t you get? Didn’t you want to know what happened when Marcus finds out Lilly’s alive? Or where she’s going, or what’s up for Sullivan? I’m betting you want to know and that’s where I can smile and say “Just wait, it’s coming.”

    You can do a lot of character development in one book but there are times when you want more and that’s when the series is fun, you have things to explore, to savor slowly. 😀

      • Stephanie Scott on March 24, 2015 at 9:09 am
      • Reply

      True Blood was so, so bad at the end. I read the book series which also took a serious nosedive the last 3 or 4 books, so I wanted to see the end of the TV series to see if ended better. It *could* have but I can’t even tell you what a mess it was. Major characters dying off screen or for convenient plot reasons, non-sensical character development… though I learned a few things how NOT to treat a series and beloved characters!

      1. True Blood made me want to SCREAM. I watched all seasons but Sookie just got too dumb to live and I HATED Vampire Bill. I kept watching hoping she’d stop fawning over him, but alas, they did not consult me 🙁 . And they kept overworking characters who really had nowhere else left to arc while ignoring characters who needed to arc (Jason). Then they had some characters who just got so stupid I wanted to stab them. But, like you, I learned a lot about what TO do and what NOT to do.

  14. I get bored with the same old same old in series after about three books. Same with television. I loved NCIS and Criminal Minds for about two or three seasons.

  15. I recently fell in love with the BBC’s Sherlock. I absolutely love the wit. When Sherlock ruthlessly corrected a murderer’s horrendous grammar, I was in stitches. But the portrayal of Moriarty? I mean, wow! He is freakin’ scary – makes my skin crawl… and I absolutely can’t take my eyes off of him.

    Same thing with Outlander. I’ve read all the books and I’m watching the series. I love all the flaws in all the characters. Even the main ones, who people fawn over, are deeply flawed. And the big villain in that series is particularly dark and sadistic. It makes me a little concerned when I think about how that sweet looking petite woman came up with him… and she loves him.

  16. Oh I’m glad I’m not the only one finding myself less interested in movies and more interested in shows. Right back to the character development and longer “battle.” So good!

    I think I have a hard time being mean enough to my characters because I’m worried I won’t be able to get them out of the mess once I put them there haha. Need to forget about that and worry about realistically solving the problem later I suppose 🙂

  17. If you like shows where the characters are simultaneously good and bad (like real people) you might like House of Cards or Continuum.

      • Stephanie Scott on March 24, 2015 at 9:06 am
      • Reply

      Continuum is pretty cool! My hubs watches and I see it occasionally.

  18. House of Cards. Downton Abbey. Orange is the New Black. Any series that pulls you into a stylish little world. Loved the Sopranos. Haven’t done Walking Dead cause those zombies are just too frickin bloody. Speaking of which, my new obsession is Bloodline on Netflix. Set in my favorite place in the world, the Florida Keys. True characters. Like Dallas on crack (or possibly cracked conch). I don’t watch TV news or other negative stuff very often, and am careful about what I’m taking in, so am living a duality with the Zen-ness of my daily yoga and meditation balanced by Scandal at night. Yeah, Olivia Pope recently roped me in. Roku has completely changed my viewing habits. Which some people in my family think is good. Previously needed a Bravo TV intervention cause those Housewives fascinated the heck out of me. Now that I’ve cut the cable, I wonder what I ever saw in them in the first place.

  19. My only problem with tv series is that I have 2 boys (ages 5 and 6) and a hubby who doesn’t always enjoy the same shows that I do. Fortunately for me, he loves Grimm and Downton Abbey. We’re relatively low-tech at our house, so the most we have is On-Demand. If I don’t catch episodes soon, they’re gone, and if I fall asleep mid-episode? Can’t fast forward. UGH! I enjoyed The Blacklist for a while, as well as Elementary, but I gave up on them for the above reasons.

    I may try to wrangle Netflix and one of those USB thingys for my birthday so I can finally see what the big deal is with The Walking Dead…

    It took me years to figure out how to get a plot out of me that was as long as a novel. One of these days I’d like to see if I can do a series. 🙂

  20. Reblogged this on Sandra Easter and commented:
    Yes. Emotion is the key to all writers that wish to captivate their readers. And who doesn’t want to do that?

  21. I was married to a really seriously f*ked up guy who is also a wonderful father most of the time and a generous loving husband eight of the twelve months in a year. The sick relationship lasted twenty odd years before I had the courage to break free. I have met him when I was 17. Everything I know he mostly taught me and even though I was free of him now, he still a big part of my growing up years. Yes I know about dark sides, both mine and others. I came from a dysfunctional family, Poe and King are my heroes. My blog is a testimony of my deranged thoughts.

    • Jean Marie Bauhaus on March 23, 2015 at 5:53 pm
    • Reply

    Hannibal is hands down my favorite of all the current shows that aren’t Doctor Who. Mads Mikkelsen took a long time to grow on me, but now he IS Hannibal. The biggest surprise for me, though, was how this show managed to make me love Dr. Chilton. So much goodness. I can’t wait for Season 3.

    And Spike is the best character ever. EVAR.

  22. Great article!

    I agree.

  23. Reblogged this on Owen Banner.

  24. While reading The Orphan Master’s Son, I picked up a line from Adam Johnson. One of the characters says that when the dear leader wants you to lose something, first he gives you something to lose. I believe that this is important to multiple arc/episodic writing. Characters can’t just have it all at the beginning and then lose and lose and lose throughout the series until the climax. That’s exhausting and cruel. They need to lose and lose, then you give them something more to lose. Let them keep it for a while, then take it away. That way the tension is there, but there can also be joy in the middle of the pain. They can savor the success, until you take it away again.

    1. Fantastic observation!

  25. Hi again Kristen. This is so my kind of post so thank you. I am part way through writing my first psychological thriller. I have always been into these kinds of television series and films. We had one here in the UK called ‘wire in the blood’. It was a drama staged around a criminal psychologist and he really used to get inside the mind of the killer. What I love about these shows is that like you say, they draw us in to the nice side side of the bad guy so that when it all goes wrong it creates that ‘gasp’ moment. A theory I am using in my novel. It’s a genre that I find so addictive and clever. Nothing draws me in more and entices me to put pen to paper. Thanks again! Mark

    1. That was a great show Mark – I also liked Wire In The Blood. Another compelling dark sided story. Good luck with yours.

      1. Thanks Elizabeth!

    2. Hmmm – the Wire in the Blood. Didn’t see the series, but the book was incredible. But – she killed the girl I thought was the heroine! I was utterly outraged and haven’t read anything else by her since. I felt betrayed – but then I am an emotional coward. I still haven’t quite come to terms with J K Rawlings killing off Fred. Lupin, Sirius, even Dumbledore – but FRED!!!!! See: coward. Wimp Wuss. And a pretty unrepentant one at that. Good luck with your psychological thriller though.

      1. I must admit I struggled to come to terms with the killing of those amazing characters too! Now J K Rawlings imagination is only something I can dream of having one day. Mind you, where would we be without dreams hey?! Thanks for your reply.

  26. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    My soon-to-be-published novel KRISHNA’S COUNSEL deals with an Indian psychopath…and here’s Kristen Lamb sharing about audiences love reading about them…

  27. I am a psychopath. I freely admit it. And a sadist. And, actually, a masochist. Aren’t all writers? Would we honestly put ourselves through this agony and drudgery every day if we weren’t? Just because we love it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt! But oh, yes, it is the agony and the ecstasy! That incredible high when a scene suddenly comes clear and pristine and beautiful, when the protagonist thinks the end is in sight and it turns out that instead the end is nigh? Oh, my.

    I’m currently working on the first book of what seems will be a series of five. The genre is science fiction, but the story is an action/psychological thriller. My protagonist was on her way home, minding her own business, when she was abducted by aliens–along with about 2500 other people. And the aliens aren’t–they’re the descendants of humans who were brought from earth more than two millennia ago.Ten years ago, my protagonist was abducted by a serial rapist/murderer. More by luck than anything she was eventually able to escape, and was instrumental in his capture and conviction. So she recognizes another psychopath when she sees him on this new world, and then finds herself pitted against him in order to protect her new House and a young girl she befriended when first abducted. She must walk a very fine line between betraying everything she holds most important, while still giving her adversary what he wants.

    Like I said – I am a psychopath. Yeah, it’s grimdark. Just the way I like it.

  28. I suppose this series of Hannibal is on HBO or one of the other extra channels. I can’t afford those. I would certainly be watching this if it was on one of the channels I had. I’ve wondered about telling a story from the POV of the antagonist.

      • Stephanie Scott on March 24, 2015 at 9:04 am
      • Reply

      This is the crazy thing: it’s on NBC! Really! They pushed it to summer this year (booo) but at least we get another season. I believe it’s back on May or June.

    • Stephanie Scott on March 24, 2015 at 9:01 am
    • Reply

    I also really like the Hannibal series, though I am hesitent with who I recommend it to since it is so violent and psychologically disturbing. Mads is fantastic–he’s terrifying, and interesting, and I also feel torn each episode with wanting him caught and rooting for him. The writing is great both plot-wise and dialogue-wise; I am tense when I watch, and even though the show is based on existing material, and we know what later happens because of the movies, I still have NO IDEA what will happen next!

    The other thing that’s great about Hannibal (besides Hugh Dancey, Gina Torres, Laurence Fishborne, and the amazing Gillian Anderson!), is how artistic it is. There’s a scene in season two that was as shocking to me as some of the murder scenes–a love scene. It was shot beautifully, and very artistic. It was sensual without being overly revealing. You just don’t see that on TV anymore. (Go figure the it was a love scene with a serial killer.) Even the shows premium cable shows that can get away with more, they just show more skin.

    My other favorite character-driven series right now is Justified. Writers: if you haven’t seen it, go do yourself a favor and start at the beginning! It’s based on a short story by the late Elmore Leonard, and he contributed as producer until his recent death. The dialogue is fantastic. The casting and characters are so, so good. They do not waste lines. It’s the rare show that gets better as it ages, though it’s ending in just a few weeks!

    1. Good to know. I am always looking for the next series to inhale, 😀 .

  29. They cancelled Revolution–of course. Why? Because I loved it. And yes, I’m a series junkie. Justified is in its last season–of course. Thanks, Kristen for your analysis of the attraction of series. I had a manuscript rejected because–get this–I killed the agent’s favorite character. Sorry. It had to be done. And another thanks is due. I love Rise of the Machines. It is full of awesome, wonderful, factual info and I’m feeling confident I can now tackle Twitter. And a lot of other techno minefields in the new publishing world.

  30. Oh I am such a wuss! I hate it when characters suffer – even when it’s good for them! I like films like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which is – just lovely! Feeling utterly inadequate in the exalted company here. But then – I don’t want to write great literature or books that make you change the way you see the world; I just want to write escapist fantasy entertainment that makes you feel good and say “Ahhh, that was nice”…. And – by the way, when do you guys all have the time to watch this stuff? I’m too busy reading. May I should make a date or two with my TV and not watch historical/geographical documentaries with my hubby but some serious drama. (Smiles weakly and sits down again in the corner…)

    1. I only watch them to unwind at night and relax on weekends. I am always immersing myself in story in some way. If I read it is too easy to get lost in it and it’s what I do for my job all day. With series, it’s also “work” but I can watch and study characters, dialogue, setting, plot etc. I am a NF and documentary junkie too, but it makes it hard to get into the fiction mindset.

  31. I was feeling bad that all my characters range between ‘not very nice’ and ‘a bit psychotic’, so this article has really cheered me up. I always assume films won’t do justice to a book (as you said, they destroyed Queen of the Damned looking for a sensationalism over character and story), although I do love a good superhero or martial arts film, or some messed up Asian cinema, like Park Chan Wook’s Vengeance trilogy. Some series can feel a bit drawn out towards the end, even becoming a bit of a chore to get to the end eg. Prison Break. Loved it to start, then some of the plot lines start to feel repetitive or over the top unrealistic. Maybe the characters run out of room to grow and it descends into the action/plot twistiness of many films.

    I do love a good baddie, though. The intelligent, rational ones like Hannibal are the best, because you can understand why they are doing it, even down to the way he compartmentalises his mind (going by the books. The series is still in cellophane due to perpetually teething baby ?). Plus he always has the upper hand, even manipulating and encouraging the psychos on the outside. Magneto is another one that you see through the series of films.

    The best baddies are the ones that unashamedly accept who they are, and are just taking advantage of the superficial views the world has of them, if they’re strong, attractive, intelligent, polite etc people want to think well of them and let them get away with (literally) murder. They work better as anti-heroes than antagonists in a series, because you get to understand them better, otherwise it can come across as cartoonish when the bad guy is foiled again but escapes to come back next episode.

  32. Episodic series story-telling is certainly the big exciting thing at the moment. TV has kicked it off but the book world is taking notice. I’ve been seeing this myself. Interestingly, indie authors seem to be leading this particular charge. The idea of novella series where each book is an ‘episode’ may be a bit too unconventional for traditional publisher, but I think they are also now starting to take notice.

    I haven’t totally given up on movies, but even in the world of movies we’re seeing a lot of this episodic stuff happening. You only need to look at the DC and Marvel films to see that.

    It’s a good time to be a lover of stories.

    I loved this article and gave it a shout-out on my site at

  33. Reblogged this on Lara McGill and commented:
    Here’s an amazing analysis that, as a writer, might shift your perspective 180 degrees!

  34. Reblogged on Lara McGill.

    Kristen, you might have cleared something up for me. I’d originally thought I was doing something wrong, in that my characters always had so MUCH going on, and there were so many plot threads, and so many new story ideas.

    This made me think that I had a series of books. Okay. So far, so good. I’ve got about five books in this series. But even so, there’s SO MUCH going on in each book. I’m thinking there might even be a season’s worth of material in each book…

    My head is spinning, and I haven’t had my coffee yet.

  35. Love this post! Going to share it on Twitter, but I also wanted to say I agree with you. Yesterday I read that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are teaming up with Chris Carter again for a limited six-episode return to “The X-Files”. I got really excited for all the reasons you mention here. As a writer I definitely want to keep my readers engaged and do enjoy torturing my characters. Maybe I need to kick it up a notch now. Thank you!

  36. My all-time favorite show! The crime scenes alone spark creativity.

    • senseiorlando on March 25, 2015 at 2:31 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, great post! You need to see Luther the series. Thank me later!

    1. I will look it up 😀

    • J on March 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm
    • Reply

    I love your description of sadism… “FInd the shiny thing…” I tried to say the same thing myself when I was thinking of how to write a good story. I phrased it as:

    ‘Create fully-developed, three-dimensional characters, and then throw things at them until they die.’

    I wonder if I went too far.

  37. My only problem with series like Hannibal, where one “villain” is dominant, is that I don’t like to see that villain have constant victories over the protagonist. To me, just being honest, it starts to get old. I love the Hawaii Five-0 reboot, but the villain Wo Fat lasted into the Fourth Season. He became to invincible and unrealistic. Same with Star Trek Enterprise. I loved that show, but the “temporal cold war” storyline started to lag. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have recurring villains, but unless the writers are REALLY good, I start to get bored with the antagonist if he or she becomes a deity. It is just ridiculous.
    I want the cast to encounter new problems. X-Files is a good example. While they had recurring bad guys, they also had the characters encounter other villains in the interim. It made the main villains, such Cigarette Smoking Man, seem more sinister when I had break from him. Then when he would come back, I’d get excited.
    Does that make sense?

    • Barbara on March 26, 2015 at 9:43 am
    • Reply

    I have noticed that the trend for these long series has a fault and that it is to over prolong the suffering of the characters, especially the protagonist(s). I don’t find such constant misery very enjoyable. Endings (if they have one) are often rushed and unsatisfying as the writers seem to rather over analyse and revel in their characters’ failings, disappointments, mistakes, beatings etc and not concentrate on a satisfying and complete plot.

    This prolonged agony is also a trend of the reality and talent shows on tv; that it is supposed to be entertaining to watch and analyse why these people fail one by one, and how life can be made a little nastier for them, all for our enjoyment.

    As it’s about making money, stretching out stories should be good for writers, tv and film makers, but wouldn’t it be better to pad them out with some more action, and ups as well as downs?

  38. Absolutely agree that series are where the best storytelling is these days. I joke about my books being made into movies, and how actually, they wouldn’t be because the protagonists are too dark and complex. But a TV series? That’s a possibility…. 😉

  39. Reblogged this on H.B. Lyne and commented:
    A great insight.

  40. Kirsten; Your blog gave me the shivers!

    • Heather L. Russo on March 27, 2015 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    Just had the privilege of hearing Kristen present yesterday at a writer’s conference in PA. She completely changed my perspective on traditional publishing. I want to thank her for her direct, honest answers and explanations. Thanks so much!!

  41. Agreed that BSG is so layered one can watch the entire series then start over. But Breaking Bad is my all time addiction. The chemistry between Walter and Jesse never disappoints. I hate the inevitable ending. Ponder. Walter became a Pyscho as a result of circumstance or was from the start, incognito?

  42. Ha, series are so satisfying! Thanks for this fun post.

  43. Wow! This blog post struck your audience in many ways. Kudos to you for that reach, but even more for the excellent, lively, splendidly-written words.

    It’s near dawn; I haven’t slept. I’ve been consumed by March Madness for two weeks. I’m in no mood at this moment to read someone’s rant comparing one form of pop culture compared to others.

    But I can always find worthiness (and delight!) in something as well-written as this post. I’ll quote just a few of your many uses of language and conveyance of substance that sparkled, adding my own humble comments:

    KL: “I’ve all but given up on most movies. They bore me into a coma.”
    Me: Most new movies put me to sleep, but ‘coma’ most brilliantly captures that feeling.

    KL: “The relationship between author and audience is actually pretty toxic, …”
    Me: ‘Pretty toxic;’ nothing endearing about that oxymoronic combination; thus your intended meaning is marvelously hammered home.

    KL: “Others might be in the world, but writers notice the world. We reverse-engineer life and boil it down to its marrow. … We also start the hard conversations that people didn’t even know were there.”
    Me: You captured the need to write that I feel arising from deep within my being.

    Thank you!

    1. THANK YOU! I feel way smarter now. Feel free to comment any time! ((HUGS))

  44. HAH. This was great, I actually laughed out loud, I really enjoyed this. If you don’t mind I’m off to share this on my facebook page *busies self with sharing*

  1. […] Series and Psychopaths—The Author Sadist & Why Audiences LOVE the Pain. […]

  2. […] recently, author Kristen Lamb also wrote on this subject in her article Series and Psychopaths—The Author Sadist & Why Audiences LOVE the Pain. She shares about why we love TV fiction so much, and how writers can capitilise on this by […]

  3. […] Series and psychopaths: the author sadist and why authors love the pain. […]

  4. […] More thriller fun came in Kristen Lamb’s latest, Series and Psychopaths – The Author Sadist & Why Audiences LOVE the Pain. […]

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