Alexis Feynman's Guide To Writing Better Vampire Fiction
There are many, many vampire stories out there, but most of them are just terrible - they're bland, poorly thought-out, rely on too many tired cliches, and squander tons of potential that could have made them stand out from the rest. If you're thinking about writing your own vampire fiction, here are some ways you can avoid these problems.
Table of Contents
- Pick the type of vampire that works best for your story.
- Explore settings and themes that have not been heavily used.
- Put extra effort into your turning/feeding scenes.
- Get outside the world of vampires, too.
- To recap!
Pick the type of vampire that works best for your story.
Anyone who's spent some time researching vampires knows that there are many variations on the vampire myth. They run the gamut from "bloodthirsty monsters who mindlessly prey on humans" to "tragic figures in need of redemption", with just about any option in between.
Almost everyone has an opinion on what a "real" vampire should be, but it's just that: an opinion. In reality, if you dig into the history of vampire myths and lore, you'll find something to support almost every variant you've ever seen. Brooding and tragic? Lord Ruthven, of the nineteenth century, is a classic example. Resistant to sunlight? Dracula had no qualms about walking around in broad daylight.
With that in mind, when you're deciding which claims to draw from in your story, the only thing you need to do is make sure they fit the world you're trying to create. If you want to tell a story where vampires have taken over the world, it might not be the best idea to have them confined to nighttime. Likewise, if your protagonists are vampires with consciences who fight to protect humanity, you should avoid claiming that vampires are soulless monsters without feeling. Generally, if you find yourself having to make exceptions for your vampire good guys to act the way you want them to, you should probably go with a different kind of vampire.
Explore settings and themes that have not been heavily used.
In Fictionland, vampires always seem to have a few favorite haunts. The classic ones tend to lurk around Romania and Transylvania, while more modern vamps prefer to party it up in big cities like New Orleans or Los Angeles. This is all well and good if you know the place you're writing, and can bring it to life with all the pomp and verve of Anne Rice, but otherwise they can quickly become dull.
The same is true of a story's tone. Vampire fiction is heavily inundated with stories where vampires manipulate humanity from the shadows, or spend copious time angsting about their cursed immortality. This isn't to say that these elements can't be done effectively - they can, and have been, but they should not be your go-to defaults when coming up with your story. Remember, just about any kind of story can involve vampires, and there's really no limit to the kinds of things a vampire could potentially do in a story, so think outside the box!
When choosing a setting and a mood for your story, once again you need to ask yourself what you want your vampires to be doing. Writing a romance story? Your protagonists could meet anywhere from a convention centre in Boise, Idaho to a small town in rural Finland. Or are you looking for something a little more action-packed? The characters might be deployed overseas during wartime, or working as hitmen in their own back forty. When you're writing in the real world, you have the whole world available to use.
If you're having trouble thinking of new and different ideas, you can play a game with yourself. First, assume that the typical vampire conventions (having covens, secretly controlling the world, turning people because they're lonely or to save their lives, etc.) don't have to apply. Then ask yourself: "What would happen in a vampire story starring/written/directed by...?" Try this with anyone and everyone you can think of, no matter how odd or silly it might seem. What if it was about the kind of character Amy Poehler plays? What if it was a movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki? What about a story written by L. Frank Baum? Try this, and you might surprise yourself with the variety and originality of ideas you come up with.
Put extra effort into your turning/feeding scenes.
Turning and feeding scenes are often the linchpin of vampire fiction. That may not be the case in your story, and if so, feel free to skip this section. However, if you do plan on putting emphasis into these scenes, read on.
People often read turning and feeding scenes because they're looking for a thrill. Not necessarily a sexual thrill, but something that will excite their imagination and help draw them into the world you've created. It doesn't matter if that world is soft and sensual or dirty and dangerous, as long as you draw your readers into it.
When writing these scenes, it's important to feature additional detail. What kind of place is the main character in? What can your character see, hear, and/or smell? What feelings does the bite or transformation evoke, and how do these feelings evolve throughout the scene? Again, the route you choose to take is not as important as how you navigate it.
Pay attention to the circumstances around the event, as well. Too many stories resort to bland staples like "we hooked up in a nightclub and went back to my place" or "I was walking home and got jumped in a back alley". There are many ways and places that one could meet a vampire - on the Internet, during a firefight, at the dentist's office, and so forth. Likewise, there are just as many ways to be turned, intentionally or accidentally; someone might steal a vampire's blood in order to turn themselves, or accidentally ingest spatter during a knife fight. Your readers are far more likely to remember the scene if it's something they haven't already read a dozen times.
Get outside the world of vampires, too.
It's probably a given that someone who wants to write vampires needs to know a lot about the subject, or at least enough for the type of story you're telling. However, while a lot of writers meet this requirement just fine, they often fail to recognize another important aspect of writing: knowing about the world outside of vampire fiction.
Unless your vampires are literally living in outer space, chances are they don't exist in a vacuum. Typically they live in a world that's fairly similar to ours, with varying degrees of distinction depending on the writer's personal preference. This means, that, in addition to all the supernatural struggles they're likely to have, they have to deal with living in the real world.
What does this mean, exactly? Well, if your vampire is an ambitious politician, it means you should do some reading into how real-world politics work. If your vampire is a filthy rich stockbroker, you'll need to have some idea of what that entails and how they managed to pull it off. If you've got vampires running around killing people and leaving bodies everywhere, read up on serial killers.
When depicting human characters, avoid taking on a perspective of vampiric superiority. Many writers fall into a trap of thinking of humans as uneducated, ignorant, or "cattle." In reality, humans have been behind exactly 100% of every major innovation and hideously inventive crime ever committed, and they deserve credit for those achievements. While we all like to take a poke at "useless" cops and doctors and politicians, the fact is that they most of them have those jobs for a reason, and that is because they're actually pretty good at what they do. All those skills don't just stop working because you add vampires to the mix.
Lastly, remember that vampires themselves are human to a degree, and they're going to have to deal with human stuff. Maybe they don't have to go to the bathroom or worry about B.O., but they're still going to have to hold down a job and participate in society to some degree, unless they plan on being naked vagrants who live in the woods. Sure, being a vampire can be distracting for a while, but like all major life changes, your characters are going to get used to it in time. Eventually, their lives are going to go from "bluh bluh my life is darkness and suck" to "dammit, it's too early for another Steam sale," and you have to be prepared to write that side of them as well.
- Vampires across fiction and throughout mythology have many different traits and attributes, so don't be afraid to diverge from whatever constitutes a "traditional" vampire in your mind. Instead, build your vampires up around the traits that would work out best for the kind of story you want to write.
- You can set a vampire story anywhere you like, so consider setting them outside of the usual haunts (EG, Transylvania, Los Angeles, etc.) if they aren't actually necessary for your plot.
- If turning/feeding is going to be a big thing in your story, put some effort into detailing the scenes to make them feel more real and evoke the right emotions from your audience. Also, avoid tired old scenario standbys like "got turned at a bar/club by a vampire I just met."
- Remember that it's important to know how the real world works, because odds are your vampires are going to be interacting with it, or at least something that's supposed to work very much like it at some point.
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