Hannibal TV show. Why I love it and how fiction writers can learn from it.

WARNING:  Images are NOT suitable for all ages.  They are NOT real, but still may cause nightmares in young children.

Hannibal is by far one of my favorite shows on TV.  The writers behind the show are wickedly creative.  The murder scenes always amaze me:  a body engulfed by a tree; a body mingled with the skeleton of an ancient dinosaur; a totem pole of bodies; several bodies that when viewed from above form a collage.


Totem pole

I aspire to write these types of crime scenes.  How amazing would they be in a book?  They’re pure art, IMO.

The characters are amazing too.  Whoever cast the actors for those roles– nailed it!  When the first episode aired I wasn’t sure I’d like Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter.  I’m happy to say I was wrong.  He’s perfect!  His strong accent, the way he presents himself, he has become Hannibal Lecter.

Hannibal 1

Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter

In fiction, crime writing especially, it’s important to create an antagonist that is dastardly evil AND justified in his actions.  What’s better than having your reader secretly root for the antagonist?  They know he needs to be stopped, and yet, part of them wants him free.  That’s how I feel about Hannibal Lecter.  I know I should root for the FBI, but I don’t want Hannibal arrested.  Without revealing too much, for those of you who haven’t seen the show, when Hannibal gets into an altercation with a “good guy” I find myself hoping he wins.  It will break my heart to see him behind bars.  Maybe I’m just weird.  But I think that world, the TV world, is a better place with him in it.  At the very least a more fascinating one.

Would I want to meet him in a dark alley?  NO WAY!  I don’t think I could even handle meeting Mads Mikkelsen.

Hannibal Lecter has many good qualities, too.  He’s creative– no one can argue with that.  He’s a phenomenal chef, regardless of the main ingredient.  He’s polite, well-dressed, a brilliant (albeit manipulative) psychiatrist, AND he has a soft side.  That was a shocker to see his tender side revealed, but it worked beautifully and added depth to his personality.

It isn’t easy creating a character like Hannibal.  In order to do it properly you have to get inside the head of a person who’s willing to kill, and most times they enjoy it.  To quote James Scott Bell, “Writers need to go where angels fear to trip.”



I read an article James Scott Bell wrote about tips for creating memorable antagonists.  In it he suggests picturing your antagonist on trial for his crimes.  What would he say in his defense?  Would he talk about his fractured childhood?  How would he justify murdering all those people?  Did he only kill people who he thought deserved it?  Had they done him wrong in some way?

By putting ourselves in our antagonist’s shoes we can only write a more believable character, and the story will be stronger for it.  The best tip I’ve ever read was:  Never make your antagonist ALL bad.  That’s boring and stereotypical.  Round him out with good qualities too.


This post wouldn’t be complete without the original. These are words to live by as a writer.

Who are your favorite bad guys on TV?  What shows are you drawn to because of the writing?  I know some of you will agree with me when I say The Following will be a close second.  And I doubt there’s a writer out there who doesn’t love Castle.


Care to share your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.

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