On Writing Vampires

This is a mini-rant while I’m cogitating on a much larger post. I’ve heard it said that if a reader doesn’t like a particularly violent storyline, it’s because they’re forgetting that the main character is a vampire. Or that they don’t like vampires. Sure lady – that’s why they’re in this fandom, because they don’t like vampires. Or that they don’t understand vampires.

Dude, that is so not me.

I can assure you, I read, like and know vampires in fiction and in real life. But I don’t like those storylines – and I’ll tell you perfectly why they make absolutely no sense.

Unlike some other readers, I came from the fantasy/horror genre. I never would have picked something up that was a mystery or a romance. I would have gone for something that was fantasy or horror. It was when I watched the first episode of True Blood that I got intrigued, and then before the second episode aired a week later, I’d read up to FDTW.

I’ve watched a metric shit-ton of vampire movies from “30 Days of Night” to Hammer Horror with their numerous permutations on the rest of the series “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”; to “Blade” and “Van Helsing”; to Andy Warhol’s “Blood for Dracula” with the rather memorable Udo Kier who features in “Blade”; to “The Hunger” which had David (yum) Bowie as a vampire; to Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 (brilliant) and Dracula 3000 (complete crap); “Love at First Bite” – my first ever vampire movie at the drive-in at age five and the genesis of my vampire love affair;  to “Nightwatch”; “Underworld”; to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and the original film “Nosferatu”; “From Dusk till Dawn” and “The Lost Boys” and “Interview with a Vampire”. And that’s just stuff I liked so much I’ve watched it more than once and can think of off the top of my head.

I’ve read a metric shit-ton of vampire books too. I’m going to choose some of my favourite authors – which are behind me as I sit and type – they’ve written more than one book on vampires so listing titles is a waste of time. Richard Laymon (the splatter horror genre), Charlaine Harris, natch, Anne Rice (up to and including Memnoch). In my bookshelf is Terry Pratchett (the fantasy genre), Graham Masterton (the horror genre), Kim Wilkins (fantasy-horror), Marion Zimmer Bradley (fantasy-scifi), Neil Gaiman (fantasy), James Herbert (horror). I’ve read Stoker’s “Dracula” and Polidori’s “The Vampyre” and would love to get my hands on “Varney the Vampire” – the penny dreadful equivalent.

I’ve read the myths about vampires – from all over the world. I’ve read about the psychological underpinnings for how vampirism is a manifestation of some desires and fears. I’ve studied real life inspiration such as Countess Bathory, Vlad Tepes, Peter Kürten, The Rudas.

Do I believe that Eric would and could throw Sookie across a room and bite her and rape her and generally grind her into small pieces if he wanted?

Why yes I do.

Do I believe that Sookie would like being thrown across a room, being bitten, raped and grinded into small pieces?

Why no I don’t.

The fundamental problem with this sort of storyline is not what I believe vampires can do, but rather what kind of shit humans can and will take and still consider themselves the friend of the vampire. It’s all very well to write about vampires as if they are cold things that will be incredibly violent and nasty. It tests believability that the person being mistreated would bother to have vampires in her life. It also tests believability that they would want any relationship with humans whatsoever in order to be around these fragile creatures they find so contemptible.

When writing vampires, I find that the real problem readers are complaining about but cannot articulate is that they have seen the writer set up the predator-killer-enemy vibe for the vampire, yet set it up in the manipulator-killer-user story with human interactions. The writer has failed to understand vampires to the point that they have failed to question such things as to why Eric has a business, or a house, or chooses to look twice at Sookie. The value of a telepath is only for those who want to use less violence to get what they want in a more legitimate manner. It is not valuable to the killer who would take things by force, and lives a day-to-day existence.

Consider – if you think yourself a vampire aficionado – take the vampires from “30 Days of Night” and tell me about their friendships with humans. Oh wait! They don’t have any!

The writer cites to blame my misunderstanding, when in fact it is lousy understanding of character and violence on the part of the writer that is to blame. The writer thinks they’ve pinned down, in a rather wide genre what they think all vampires would do. Fine. They want to make them violent vampires who don’t care for humans – don’t write them as in a relationship with humans.

It’s important to remember that vampires can be written as violent creatures – it wouldn’t be the first revelation by any means – but that completely disregards the reason why they are engaging in human activities with their food source. Few people rooted for the vampires to win in “30 Days of Night” – because they were completely and utterly unsympathetic to all but those who didn’t understand they were really killers or the mentally ill.

A good writer sets it up so that the protagonist has at least some human values – and that’s how Anne Rice changed the vampire from the villain into the vampire with fangirls – by giving them human goals and activities, and spicing it up with some blood drinking.  That’s how you write convincingly from vampire viewpoint, but still have readers identify with the vampire – they have to have human goals and activities – keeping “vampire” values to a minimum. SVM is the same – the vampires want to interact with humans – engage in their financial system, their political system and in relationships with humans. For “pure” vampires, they have an incredible amount of human interaction. Furthermore, they do not bite Sookie and walk away – they are not the pure predator archetype of vampires – they develop relationships with her that are further than a fuck and feed.

As Eric says “The lion does not want to caress the antelope” – and in turn, the antelope doesn’t flirt with the lion – it runs away. So if you think you’ve written the vampire portion well, do try to remember that the character is interacting with humans who have more “human needs” than just taking a piss and eating a meal every so often. So don’t forget you’re not just writing vampires, you’re writing about humans interacting with vampires.