On Writing Sympathetic Humans

Still cogitating 😀 I keep writing and tweaking it. It occurred to me, while reading some fanfic, that the other problem I read in writing vampires is the problem that these writers are trying to combat, even in a completely crap way.

Namely, the softening of vampires in fan fiction.

I’ve read over and over the idea that Pam really wants to go to a party with presents for a baby. That so wasn’t what either Pam or Eric were talking about. Does Pam strike you as a shopaholic in the text? No. How many shopping trips has she been on with Sookie? None. How much crap does Pam buy? Not much. She’s not a stereotypical shopaholic with fangs. She has nice clothing that she cares for, but many, many nights, she’s working. On her night off with Amelia, she’s not prowling the mall – she’s watching a movie in Sookie’s lounge room.

What she and Eric were really thinking about was being showered with babies.

It’s in the show as well – “teacup humans”. They are talking about eating human children, and Eric on the show says that human children are delicious – which he would know cause he’s tasted them. While Godfrey is seen as heinous by other supes because he rapes and kills children, that’s not to say that all other vampires keep their hands off children. Bill himself says in DUD that he’s fed on children, but didn’t kill them. I do not believe that Eric is any different at all – or Pam. Otherwise they wouldn’t relish the idea of being showered with babies – thinking that would be “something to see”. Saying “something to see” is not synonymous with “I’d love to go to a party like that!” – it’s about thinking about watching babies getting showered down.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that their values mirror human ones – that’s the key to writing supernatural creatures – remembering that they are completely alien in their thinking, and only serving human purposes when they are concurrent. Nor should the writer hide from the monstrousness of some of the things that vampires are capable of.  That’s what makes the narrative more complex and gives characters a subtle menace that doesn’t attempt to humanise them.

Instead of Sookie running away from Eric because she fails to see the magnificence of his beauteous countenance and wants to be a complete dickhead; have Sookie run away from someone who would like to see babies being showered in an actual shower. Don’t bother to create artificial bits of angst, which are weaker and without any kind of support in the character’s personality. Take little chilling bits and pieces and assume something other than “goodness and love” are at the heart of it.

Motivation is key with vampires – the writer can have a lot of the same actions, but it is the motivation for what they’re doing that will help with the plot. That will give the writer vampires as vampires, and humans as humans, but without the need for creating pesky angst that is artificial in nature and almost always requires that one of the characters acts like a complete idiot. For example:

Sookie picks up Eric on the road running down to her house. Why? Because she’s a Good Samaritan, and slows down for someone in need. Furthermore, she takes him into her house and ends up keeping him. Why? Because the vampires give her no other choice despite her protestations she’ll be killed for getting involved in vampire shit again. She tries to help Pam and Chow figure out what’s wrong with Eric. Why? To help get him out of her house and back to his life.  See how a lot of Sookie’s motivations are selfish, and involve helping Eric.

Now let’s do the same thing to Eric’s character – exact same book and character seated in the same timeline and see how that turns out.

Eric picks up Sookie on the road running down to his house. Why? Because she’s his asset, in his retinue and he wants to fuck her. It’s important to note that any regular human, and Eric would drive right past. As Pam points out, the vampires wouldn’t have had to pay for all that pesky medical treatment if the Maenad had picked a less “valuable” human to deliver her message. Eric takes Sookie to a house (doubtful his own) and ends up keeping her. Why? Because of all the above reasons – asset and fuck – no matter what she’s still a telepath no matter what her memory is – he can use that.  He tries to figure out what’s wrong with Sookie. Why? To make sure it’s not going to get any worse, and to have a self sufficient asset that lives at her own house and doesn’t hassle him for things like food. See how a lot of Eric’s motivations are selfish, but involve helping Eric.

The real difference is in how the situation turns out and how you tweak it. Sookie takes it as written that she wants Eric to get his memory back and have what he himself wants. Eric on the other hand, would not take it for granted that Sookie should get her memory back. After all, if he cared what she herself wanted, he wouldn’t have ordered her into Fangtasia that first night, and he would have left her house while he was without a memory – because the danger magnet there is Eric and the witches – not Sookie. Eric is selfish and self absorbed most of the time – so if the writer were to make it too convenient for Eric to have Sookie around as a telepathic asset he can fuck, then he’s not going to go against his own interests to have Sookie fixed.

The point is not to make the vampire a violent prick, but to give those dark undercurrents to a character that seems human. That’s how you create a good camouflage for a vampire – make them seem nothing to note but if the underlying motivations are not human, then that will come out in their actions.  Little slips like talking about baby showers in a completely different context – the vampire one and the human one.

Using human motivations will also make your vampires more complex and human distrust evident and understandable to many readers. Bill comes back to Bon Temps for nostalgia. Eric needs a bullet sucked out – these are using human reasons against humans. No human would question those things at all – because of course you want to go back to your family home and of course you need to get a bullet out. You can really blindside your reader with that concept – that will create a real surprise in your narrative, rather than the predictable.

One of the principle failings that I see in vampire fiction where the vampires don’t feel like vampires is that their motivation is human in nature, and always concurrent with human needs. In a series with “Vampires First” that is just so not the case in SVM vampires.