Monday, March 11, 2013

Same But Different: Serial Killers

I've been perusing Save The Cat! again and was thinking about Chapter Two: Give Me The Same Thing... Only Different. To sum it up, Blake Snyder talks about how movie execs (and I'm sure publishers are the same) want to classify each script/story so they know how to market it.

As it turns out, I'm a thriller fan and I likes me a good serial killer / vigilante story. With the current popularity of Showtime's, Dexter, serial vigilantes seem to be all the rage. But Jeff Lindsay wasn't the first to cash in on this trope. From Robin Hood to Batman, authors have been handing out justice to those who escape the criminal justice system for centuries. So, in the spirit of 'Give Me The Same Thing... Only Different,' let's look at Dexter and two other serial killers / vigilantes in current 'literature' and see how I think they differ.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter Series #1)
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Dexter Morgan
First Appearance: Darkly Dreaming Dexter, 2004
Gainfully Employed: Yes - forensic blood spatter analyst
Kept in Control By: Adoptive Father's moral code
Modus Operandi: Stalk victim for weeks to ascertain guilt, then kidnap victim and take them to prepared kill site. The kill site is prepared with plastic tarps to catch blood splatter because blood is 'dirty/disgusting.' After collecting a blood sample trophy on a microscope slide, Dexter confronts the victim with their crimes, usually including photographic or physical evidence (at one kill site, Dexter had dug up all the victims of a priest and displayed them). Once Dexter's victims know why they're going to die, he begins... cutting.
Driving Force: Dexter feels he has an entity living inside him, which he refers to as The Dark Passenger. When a 'guilty' person outside the law is found, he lets the Dark Passenger take control of the confrontation.
Movie Type: Superhero
Florida Roadkill (Serge Storms Series #1)
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Serge A. Storms
First Appearance: Florida Roadkill,1999
Gainfully Employed: No - Con man
Kept in Control By: Serge has several psychological disorders and is manic and obsessive. He has drugs to keep him 'normal,' but doesn't like taking them. For the most part, he is extremely likable, only launching into a homicidal rage when his sense of justice is triggered.
Modus Operandi: Serge's victims are always guilty of hurting someone or making Florida look bad. He considers himself an expert of Floridian history and culture and despises anyone who offends his great state. When his victims are chosen, he dispatches them in a wide variety of James Bond-type death traps. Others he kills outright, although creatively. For instance, in Torpedo Juice (2005), Serge forces his first victim to swallow multiple bullets, then puts him into the magnetic field of an MRI. The police are baffled after finding a body with six exit wounds, but no entry wounds.
Driving Force: Sense of Justice
Movie Type: Buddy Love
I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver Series #1)
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John Wayne Cleaver
First Appearance: I Am Not A Serial Killer, 2009
Gainfully Employed: Yes - Funeral Home Assistant / Embalmer
Kept in Control By: John is a teenager in high school and is fascinated by serial killers and corpses. Thanks to his embalming job, he has an outlet for some of his... exploration. Coupled with a series of rules meant to interrupt his compulsive urge to kill, John has been successful in restraining himself.
Modus Operandi: John spends most of his time avoiding situations that would encourage his urge to kill. Events have led him to actually kill individuals, but because his intended victims were hunting humans, he felt that the Rules could be overlooked in their case. As a result, he turns himself loose to hunt the murderers.
Driving Force: Obsessive Compulsive
Movie Type: Monster In The House
Breaking the Mold
Notice anything different? Everything! Well, okay, all three are vigilantes that only kill the deserving, but everything else about them is different. Each character would enjoy the quality of the others work, but really, each series is the same, but different. Each even has a different feel. For instance:
Dexter Morgan - Light with comedy as Dexter fails to understand humans and fights to blend in. High levels of suspense as he stalks and confronts his victims. Extreme tension when the Dark Passenger is loose.
Serge Storms - High comedy with light suspense. As a manic, Serge is incredibly upbeat and enjoys his life. He's always exploring or trying something new and dragging anyone along (even the unwilling) for the trip. His death traps are usually so fascinating it's fun to watch.
John Cleaver - Like a Young Adult (YA) version of Dexter and sold with both YA and Adult books. Some light comedy, but great tension/suspense for the YA crowd to cut their teeth on.
Anything Different Is Good
So, writers, check out the listed tropes in Chapter 2 of Save The Cat! and ask yourself how your work will be classified and how you're changing the norm. The rest of you, think about what genres you like and what authors do to frame the same theme differently.

If you're looking for more information about serial killers, I recommend:
Howdunit: How Crimes Are Committed and Solved
Murder: A Writer's Guide to Homicide
Buy it @ B & N
Murder One: A Writer's Guide to Homicide
Howdunit: How Crimes Are Committed and Solved
Buy it @ B & N

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