3 S.R. Johannes: Writing Lessons from the TV Show Dexter

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Lessons from the TV Show Dexter

I just got into the TV show, Dexter.

I never had Showtime before so I couldn't watch it and the entire 8 seasons is now free on Netflix. (woot woot! I know what I'll be doing over the summer.)

This is the. best. show. evah!

If I could write books like this - I would be a bestseller for sure!

I'm learning so many writing lessons from this show that I wanted to share:

Top 10 writing lessons from Dexter:

  1. Character arc - The character arc in each show let alone every season is amazing! Each character changes a little. in each episode.
  2. Dexter. The man perfect for this character - smart, hot, funny. So relatable that the whole serial killer thing is overlooked or accepted and you don't really know why or how it happened. :)
  3. Tension/Pace - Each chapter should have some tension or suspense. Even in books that aren't thrillers, you need to keep the reader turning the page. The suspense is killing me - every show has an amazing cliff hanger and i find myself saying "just one more episode."
  4. Voice - Each character should have his/her own voice. This is what makes each person special and relatable. Every character has their quirks, flaws and lovable moments.
  5. Character Development - Every character should be fully developed with backstory and motive. Each character from Dexter, to his sister Deb, to the "reborn cop" Angel, to the other forensic scientist, Vince. Each is unique.
  6. Villain - Your antagonist should be relatable. Not that Dexter is the antagonist but he should be. he's a serial killer yet somehow you root for him not to be caught.
  7. Setting. Your setting should invoke some emotion. Dexter is set in Miami. Everyone is always hot and sweating which adds anxiety to everything they do.
  8. Romance - Dexter started out awkward and has become more sexy as the shows go on. He's had a couple love interests but they were very purposeful in his character development which I find refreshing. It's not just love on the side. Each plays an important role in his arc.
  9. Reveals/Surprises. The reveals should be well placed and strategic. It all has to make sense in the end. So far they have done a brilliant job of reveals and I find myself going "I did not see that coming."
  10. Hook - You need a great hook as the foundation of any story. The idea of a serial killer killing bad guys is brilliant. 
You need to watch this show, esp if you are a thriller writer. The lessons are endless.

I heard there were Dexter books so I may check that out just to see how it plays out in the writing vs script.

Have you watched Dexter? What do you think? What is your favorite lesson from the show?


cleemckenzie said...

I haven't seen Dexter, but I have seen other shows that I thought I should be taking notes while I watched. There are some excellent writers for TV!

Genissa said...

I've never watched Dexter, but my boyfriend is a huge fan and has told me about the plot. All the lessons you posted are great, but the importance of a relatable villain stood out to me most. Especially since as you say, Dexter isn't the villain, but in a lot of ways he fits the description of a villain. He's a murderer, but viewers root for him. I love the idea of a villain being a protagonist :)

Shane R. said...

Have you watched all 8 seasons yet? Because while the writing was fairly good near the beginning, the final seasons are almost contradictory to what you have pointed out in this post as "good writing." I hope i don't poison the well, but the way in which Dexter ended was one of the most disappointing show endings I've ever watched; however it's terribleness did amuse me.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

im on season 3 - no spoilers! :)

Penguin said...

It is only a matter of time before your favorite TV series came to DVD. And once they did, you got to jump back into your past and enjoy series that have been off the air for years.
cartoons from the 90s

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