Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: psychopaths

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Christmas movies, writing tips

Embrace the inner psychopath. If I could only teach ONE ‘trick’ for writing great stories, it would be this: The moral codes that make us excellent citizens make us terrible writers.

We have to remember the rules change when dealing in the realms of imagination. Fiction is NOT life, rather it is an imitation of life. It is life in distillate form.

To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, great stories are ‘life’ with the boring parts cut out. Yet, so many emerging writers forget this.

Novelists aren’t just good with words, novelists excel at using words to create a STORY. This is why so many first ‘novels’ really aren’t novels at all. Because being good with words isn’t enough.

If it were enough, then chefs could perform heart surgery because they’re ‘really good with sharp blades.’

Being ‘good with words’ has to be refined. Good with words…HOW?

Prose and description so glorious angels sing does not a novel make. What makes a novelist is how we wield those words. Yet, here’s the catch. If we want to write stories readers can’t put down, then can’t get out of their heads, then cant stop talking about?

We must embrace our inner psychopath. If we don’t have one, then we need to train one.

Great Writers Embrace the Inner ‘Psychopath’

embrace the inner psychopath, writing tips, Kristen Lamb, Christmas movies

The terms psychopath and sociopath are easy to confuse, yet they’re distinctively different disorders. Sociopaths have an antisocial personality disorder, which often leads them to ignore social and moral rules that guide an ordered society. They understand right from wrong, just don’t care.

So where does the sociopath part ways with the psychopath?

It’s believed that psychopaths are a more extreme version of the antisocial personality disorder. Thus all psychopaths are sociopaths but not all sociopaths are psychopaths.

The psychopath is, thus far, believed to be incapable of forging emotional bonds, whereas sociopaths can. Thus, the sociopath might not have any qualms about emptying a stranger’s bank account, but he wouldn’t do that to his best friend.

Psychopaths would make no such distinction and would empty anyone’s account they gained (manipulated) access to. The psychopath isn’t guided by any sense of shame or guilt. He or she doesn’t hold back, and is not hindered by empathy or sympathy.

Back to writing.

Superb fiction is an exercise in sadism. Why writers generally creep non-writers out is because we have the imagination to inflict so much suffering and pain.

The non-writer doesn’t understand HOW we can do what we do, but they enjoy it nonetheless…and they just make sure to keep their eyes on us.

***Refer to my post, Thirteen Reasons Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers.

Millions of people watch (and read) Game of Thrones knowing they are going to be tortured hour after hour…but they can’t get enough. And bear with me, because this goes for ALL great stories. We don’t have to write stories with rape, incest, cannibalism, and mass murder to still torture an audience.

Welcome to…

Christmas Chaos

For the writer psychopath, not even CHRISTMAS is safe. Think of all your longtime favorite holiday movies, the ones you watch year after year. What do they have in common?

They all involve chaos, mass mayhem and destruction.

There’s a reason for that. Without chaos, mass mayhem and destruction, there is NO STORY.

Who wants to spend an hour and a half watching a movie about a well-adjusted family getting along? #SnoozeFest

No, we want the GRISWOLDS! National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is about a man whose only goal is to have the most incredible Christmas ever…but his dream is systematically dismantled in increasingly awful ways.

embrace the inner psychopath, Kristen Lamb, editing, Christmas movies, writing tips

All of his dreams blow up in his face. His lights won’t work and when they do, he causes a massive blackout. His dream is to have the biggest best Christmas tree (good goal, noble goal), but the tree won’t fit in their house and then there is a squirrel and on and on. Nothing works.

Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong…twice. Then catches fire.

Christmas Vacation is funny, but it isn’t in my top five. I insist that Gremlins is a Christmas movie, yet Hubby doesn’t agree Gremlins is a Christmas movie (because he is wrong).

Then of course there is…

But, monsters taking over a town at Christmas and a hostage situation in a skyscraper are pretty obviously full of overt conflict.

So I decided to talk about the movies that are plenty tense, yet the conflict has more to do with people, their relationships to and with one another, and how desires and false idols collide.

My two favorite Christmas movies are ‘A Christmas Story‘ and ‘The Ref‘. I’m specifically mentioning these two because the screenwriters certainly knew how to embrace their inner psychopaths.

A Christmas Story…from HELL

A Christmas Story is all about a young boy in the 1940s doing everything humanly possible to secure the gift of his dreams, a Red Ryder BB gun. Every good idea he concocts blows up in his face. This poor kid can’t get a break.

I’d like to take a moment to mention that what separates the mundane from the magnificent has to do with VECTORS. When a writer embraces that inner psychopath?


New writers very often forget to USE their other characters as more than stage props (plot puppets). Why A Christmas Story is SO fun is because mayhem strikes from every angle. Trauma sucker-punches everyone.

When the MC is only in a struggle against a singular antagonistic force, the story falls flat and becomes tedious. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Yet, in this holiday classic, Ralphie isn’t the only one who gets smacked. Dad wins a PRIZE he insists on putting in the front window, and he’s oblivious to his wife’s mortification.

Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. ~Ralphie as an Adult

The one thing the whole family—but most especially DAD—looks forward to is the Christmas turkey and the days and days of leftovers to enjoy. But nothing is safe from a writer who’s embraced that inner psychopath. Not even the Christmas turkey.

But look how chaos and destruction hammers EVERYONE (not JUST Ralphie).

The Ref

Speaking of mass mayhem. The Ref is one of the few movies that can make even this Griffendork root for a ‘bad guy.’ Dennis Leary *fan girl moment* plays Gus, a cat burglar who robs the wrong mansion…and his partner abandons him.

With the entire city’s police force out hunting for him, Gus makes a snap decision to lay low by taking a seemingly nice family hostage.

Ah, but the tag line for this movie is genius.

They might be his hostages but what they’re doing to this guy is criminal.

Gus begins with a plan, a plan he’s executed flawlessly until it goes horribly wrong. What’s better is it just keeps getting worse and worse until the end when…catharsis. 

See, all the great movies about the holidays present us with the MC’s ideal then the STORY smashes that ideal to pieces until the MC, and those around the MC, realize they’ve missed the entire point of something (family, love, peace, holiday spirit, giving, etc.).

YET, what I want to point out is this. The characters have to endure the torment to get the golden fleece. They cannot suddenly achieve enlightenment and say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had this all wrong! The holiday season is really about X!’

If they did, we’d call foul, be supremely ticked and tell everyone to avoid this movie more than the kiosk barkers at the mall.

Don’t make eye contact. Whatever you do, DO NOT let her buff one nail.

If we watched ninety minutes of a beautifully decorated home (description) with perfect people, we’d feel cheated and ROBBED if nothing went terribly, obscenely WRONG.

Why? Because if the MC doesn’t rightfully EARN revelation, enlightenment, etc. it’s a CHEAT. The writer cheated, which is why we feel cheated. Catharsis is what great stories offer. Release.

The harder it is for the MC (and others) to get to and through Act Three, the more intense the cathartic experience…and the better the denouement.

All righty. So Psychopath 101.


Exactly my thoughts…

As my friend and mentor, the incredible Les Edgerton taught me, ‘Nothing comes easily for your characters. NOTHING. Not even directions.’ Advice I used very literally in my novel The Devil’s Dance.

When Special Agent Sawyer asks my MC where the closest tire place is located, her response is:

What do I look like? Google Maps?’

One of the LARGEST problems I encounter with emerging writers is y’all are too nice. I was, too. Still can be (which I then go back and remedy…with a hammer).

Many new writers still possess a conscience and a moral code…and that’s a problem.

Moral compasses point to the Land of Nod NOT to the Land of Literary Legends.

I cannot count how many samples I’ve read where everyone gets along. If the MC needs something, he or she finds it with uncanny (and boring) ease. If an MC discovers she has magical powers, she learns to use them flawlessly and almost overnight.

NO! We need to make everything hard and seemingly impossible or ZZZZZZZZZZ.


I know this is controversial, and is only my OPINION. Alas, one of the MANY reasons I wish the Star Wars franchise would just STOP is that, as far as I am concerned, the core storyline’ played out back in the 80s.

To keep trying to push the same storyline is making Star Wars more Space Soap Opera than Space Opera.

Seriously, the Star Wars universe is large enough to begin fresh instead of hiding leftovers in suspicious casseroles.

Why do I mention this? Because Rae learning how to use a light saber like a master with no struggle makes my left eye twitch. She didn’t have to EARN her skills. Yes, she was a master with a long staff, but seamlessly transitioning over to wielding a light saber with NO learning curve?


Which is why the training of Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2 is EPIC…

In fairness, Kung-Fu Panda got a rougher time than Rae.

The harder the MC has to work for the prize, the sweeter the victory. Even in Hallmark Christmas movies. Not even A December Bride can catch an easy break.

And yes, I did actually just write a blog that placed Kill Bill 2, Kung Fu Panda and A Christmas Bride in the same place at once.


Stop making everything too easy. Look over your WIP and search for spots where something was too simple…then throw a rock in it. Once you do that, then set it on fire.

Whatever the MC Wants, It Better Cost BIG

Humans don’t value free or easy. There’s a reason most parents have a back seat full of ‘free toys and games’ from drive-thrus that our kids have never even opened. If the MC wants something it has to COST something.

No, it has to cost EVERYTHING.

This is why writers must embrace the inner psychopath and steal, destroy or ruin everything our characters love. We’re doing it for their own good.

When we look at my opening example—Christmas Vacation—Clark Griswold has to give up his false gods/idols (what he believes makes for the perfect family holiday) and exchange them for the real deal.

In fact, this is a fairly common theme of all holiday movies. Likely why writers are constantly dreaming up new and improved ways to destroy Christmas.

The MC has a belief about what the holidays are really about…then the writer psychopath destroys everything in the MC’s life so they can see truth.

The story conflict (crucible) is what supplies our characters with insight they didn’t possess before we wrecked their lives. By the end of our torment, our MCs have new eyes and are able to tell the difference between fool’s gold and real gold.


Remember, we are embracing the inner psychopath, which means we can appear to care about our fictional friends. But we’re really using them. We only care what the characters can DO for us (or rather our story). This is one of the toughest parts of what writers—good writers—do.

We use various combinations of 26 letters to create ‘real’ people our audience loves, bonds with, and connects to…then we torment or kill those characters.

And this is tough. It’s like being a farmer who has to name all the animals that will end up on the table. It can suck. We can find ourselves getting attached to the characters because we created them from nothing.

We breathed life into letters–EVEN Q and X!—and created a LIFE. If our creations are funny, noble, kind, loving, and self-sacrificing?

It is because WE made them that way.

In life, bad things happen to good people. But, in fiction, the worst possible things happen to even better people.

If your story feels sluggish, my advice is to kill your shiny. If we don’t, the story WILL suffer.

We fall in love with characters so we start ‘helping’ them by making life too easy. Instead of tormenting our characters, misdirecting them, withholding any sort of lucky break, we butter them up so they can glide along.

This is when we’re no longer writing fiction, we’re playing Literary Barbies/Literary G.I. Joe.

If our characters exist for the sole purpose of acting out our own happy endings, we need a shrink not Scrivner. In the end it will be cheaper to hire a superlative psychiatrist than to produce and market a bad book.

Remember Storytellers Tell STORIES

*shock face*

If our job was to write amazing description, we’d be called ‘describers’ not ‘authors.’ We belong writing ad copy not novels.

Our main goal as storytellers is to tell a STORY, not have a tea party, shopping spree, dinner gala with our imaginary friends. Why? Because NO ONE BUT US (THE WRITER) CARES UNLESS SOMETHING GOES DREADFULLY WRONG.

Think of this in life. You go out to dinner at your favorite fancy restaurant. It has beautiful decor, soft jazz, top notch cuisine, and includes a room full of well-dressed, well-mannered people having a good time.


Do you really care about the other people in this restaurant? Or are they a backdrop you’ll forget as soon as the valet pulls up with your car? Will you remember this dinner for the rest of your life in fine detail?

Likely not.

Now, same restaurant, but the couple a table over escalates from a tense conversation to shouting to screams. The female suddenly bolts out of her chair, toppling the vase of roses and throws her glass of red wine in her date’s face. He’s doing his best to get her to calm down.

And since we ALL know the best way to get an angry woman to calm down is to TELL her to calm down…


But her plan for unpremeditated murder is interrupted when strange woman tackles her!

…and it is the man’s WIFE!

Suddenly hair extensions are flying as the women wrestle in an undignified tangle of designer clothing and table linens. Then, when they take a breather both women realize…HE LIED TO THEM BOTH.

The girlfriend didn’t know her beau was married and found out, which was why she was breaking up with him. Thus, the new allies (the two women) descend on the babbling cheater with…ESCARGOT FORKS!

Guarantee you, most memorable dinner EVER 😉

Embrace the Inner Psychopath Because it is FUN

We can’t care about hurting people, killing people, or even crushing their hopes and dreams. We have to embrace the inner psychopath or we don’t have a story, we have a sedative.

One of the reasons fiction IS the most widely used form of escape is because, unlike cocaine and hookers, it’s legal.

But fiction also puts us in a world where the rules don’t matter and the consequences don’t either. Fiction permits the audience to embrace THEIR inner psychopath, too.

Consequences are for reality not fiction. Which is how movies like Lethal Weapon can exist. In reality, Riggs and Murtaugh would be riding a desk, and condemned to therapy until Internal Affairs finished their investigation…fifteen minutes into the movie.

But NO!

In fiction, cops can level entire city blocks, drive the wrong way down a highway causing countless car accidents, blow up buildings, shoot at bad guys in the middle of public places and no one in the movie mentions the words law suit.

John McClane is not turned into a social pariah, and sued for damages by everyone impacted by his actions at the Nakatomi Plaza. The NYPD doesn’t abandon him and force him into early retirement because him leveling a skyscraper in Los Angeles is bad department PR.

Nope, because it is FICTiON so McClane is still around to die harder in Die Hard 2.

Why do we tolerate this bad behavior? And LOVE IT?

Because in life we have to follow the rules, the laws and moral codes. The reason we watch and rewatch the same movies, read and reread the same books is because they liberate us from the chains of morality. We LOVE these stories….

…because there’s a little bit of psychopath in all of us 😉 .

Before I ask for your thoughts, I want to make a little announcement…

Author Holiday Hotline

All the On-Demand bundles are ON SALE. We’ve saved all the best classes for a limited time for ON DEMAND. This means professional author training in your home, no pants required.

I STRONGLY recommend the gift that’s going to keep blessing you all year, all career long. We record all classes to make training accessible and convenient, but these recordings take up A LOT OF STORAGE space. Come the new year, we’re going to have to free up space on the servers and these classes will be gone for good. Some we might not offer again.

We have classes on speculative fiction, plotting, character, blogging, social media, etc. Scroll down and pick out the ones you want, then you’ll have the recording to watch on YOUR schedule.

Also, we have two more classes for December and some listed for January. If you sign up before December 24th, you can get $10 off.

GET $10 OFF ALL LIVE CLASSES. Use the promo code Jolly18.

What Are Your Thoughts?

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Do you see the theme of chaos and destruction even in classics like It’s A Wonderful Life? Which ones are your favorite and why? Do you struggle being ‘mean’ to your characters? I still do. So many times I have to go BACK and take that shiny away…then kick them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have!

A lot of our On Demand classes need to be wiped from the server to make room for more training, so if you want professional training AT HOME? While in jammies during December when calories don’t COUNT? Grab you SOME! Gift it to yourself, a friend, YOURSELF!

ALSO, I’m offering my Write Stuff Special for a LOW holiday price. 20 pages of deep edit/critique for $55 and there are only 7 slots left. If you need some outside feedback to get you on the right track? Get a SPOT, TODAY! (You can use when you are ready).

In the meantime, opinions!

What do you WIN? For the month of DECEMBER, for 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).

LIVE CLASSES! REMEMBER TO USE Holiday18 for $10 off!


Instructors: Cait Reynolds, Kristen Lamb
Price: $79.00 USD 
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

  • The Sticky Middle Saturday, December 14, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
  • NANONOWWHAT? Thursday, December 13, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (Just enough time to recover…)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off! You can also purchase each class individually.

The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

Instructors: Kristen Lamb, Cait Reynolds
Price: $155.00 USD (buy now and get that last tax deduction in before the end of the year!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

Normally, it would be $210 USD for these three classes.

With the Triple Threat Bundle ALL THREE CLASSES (10 HOURS LIVE and RECORDINGS) for ONLY $155 USD. (Three classes for the price of TWO!)

You can also purchase each class individually.

***Registration is open until an hour before the final class. If, however, you want to attend ALL THREE CLASSES LIVE, MAKE SURE TO SIGN UP BEFORE THE FIRST CLASS ON JANUARY 10th.


ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Author Branding TKO

New Year New YOU! As they say, fail to plan and plan to fail. 2019 is almost here and the Author Branding T.K.O. delivers the training you need to make 2019 a success.

In this bundle, we’re going to take on then tame the three most terrifying topics. By the end? Easy peasy! You’ll wonder why this stuff ever had you so freaked out in the first place.

Normally all three classes would be $155…as well as spread across the entire year. But now, with the T.K.O. BUNDLE, all three classes in one place (your place) for only $99.

***Get your bundle TODAY. Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018. Gotta free up space on servers for 2019….

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – The Author’s Toolkit: Go PRO in 2019

Maybe have a New Year’s Resolution to write that novel? Have you started far too many promising stories, only to get stuck and never finish? Perhaps you just want to learn how to write FASTER without compromising quality? This bundle is the training you need to be a lean mean writing machine.

The Author’s Toolkit Bundle is six hours of intensive training that will help you write at a professional pace while minimizing revisions.

SIX HOURS of PROFESSIONAL TRAINING all at the same time, delivered to your computer. $165 when purchased separately, but in The Author’s Toolkit Bundle ONLY $99.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…

Blinding them with Science: The “X” Factor Classes

Tired of writing Soylent Green? Too many unfinished books trapped in the Twilight Zone? Ready to get weird…but way faster and at a professional level of weird? You came to the RIGHT PLACE! Cait and I are professional weirdos….(that sounded way more awesome in my head).

Anyway, the Blinding Them with Science Bundle is SIX HOURS of professional level training in speculative fiction at your fingertips.

***Just promise us that when you enslave the human race, we get cookies.

Three mind-bending classes for one low mind-blowing price. $165 in classes for only $99. ON DEMAND. Meaning enjoy at home in jammies.

***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…

ON DEMAND BUNDLE – Dangerous Dames: Creating Strong Female Characters

DOUBLE TROUBLE WITH KRISTEN & CAIT! Get the One-Two BAM! Two Power Classes with ONE T.K.O. PRICE!

Dangerous Dames BUNDLE. Regardless of time, place, or planet, these classes will train you to craft legendary bad@$$ females audiences can’t get enough of.

Normally $90 for both classes. With Double Trouble Bundle, enjoy BOTH classes for ONLY $75.

These classes are pre-recorded and won’t be offered again. This is the last chance to enjoy these classes before we free up space on the servers.

About the Instructors:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.


Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her highly acclaimed debut mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.18.35 AM
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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