Vampire Fiction: A Semi-Authoritative Guide
I wanted to take a minute to talk about vampires.
Some of you are already groaning. You’re thinking of Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Anne Rice if you’re my age. You’re thinking of Love That Never Dies, brooding-handsome guys with pale skin and strangely chiseled abs, Darke Perfektionne, ineptly written historical romance (vampire hunters in 1700, one of whom is a beautiful seventeen year old girl for some reason, have black powder guns that fire multiple rounds. What?). You probably have your own opinions on whether or not literary vampires should drink human blood and kill people or not (my answer: modern day, probably not. Do you know how hard it would be to kill that many people and not get caught doing it? I don’t care if you’re a vampire or the king of freaking Monaco, it’s a different kind of story, the story of a fugitive, if your vampire kills a lot of people.)
And you’re fixing to vomit all over your laptop keyboard just because I’m bringing all this up. Hey, I get it. Most of it, I have that gut reaction too. I don’t buy into the mystery and romance element of the vampire myth. Nothing bores me quite like the thought of immortal perfection–and, frankly, this thought has produced some of the most laughably bad writing in the history of horror (if it can even be called horror, when nothing horrible happens). The idea of Vampire Romance–of a handsome man eternally handsome, eternally the same, who never goes grey or gets fat or starts preferring the Pats game at the bar to your company–is wish-fulfillment fantasy, territory best governed by teenaged girls and unsatisfied wives from all walks of life.
I know, I know. I just made some enemies. Whatever. This has all been said before.
My point is, in spite of all the dirt that’s been thrown on it, there is serious literary potential in the vampire mythos. Even, perhaps, in its wish-fulfillment element–even I’ll concede there’s something powerful about the idea of Love Eternal, Love Unchanging.
But the most powerful thing might be the essential wrongness of the vampire–a creature that sleeps through the day, stays awake all night, scorns regular food and feasts on the blood of other human beings. A vampire is, essentially, an anti-human in a human body–a creature at irreconcilable odds with the rest of the human race. If you’ve ever worked a night shift, you understand exactly what I mean. There’s something powerfully disturbing to the human psyche about being awake when everyone else is asleep, asleep when everyone else is awake.
When you’re writing a vampire story (and this is something Anne Rice, at least, understood), you’re really writing a story about lost humanity, changed humanity. Louis or Lestat, after all, weren’t different people because they became vampires–they were the same people, the same personality types, only changed and warped by the necessities of their new identities. And, little though I like a lot of Anne Rice’s books, I think this is the right question to ask, if you’re writing about vampires:
How does being a vampire change this person (and his or her day to day life?)
On the most superficial level, think about this stuff:
1) This person can only go out at night. Where do they work? How do they work?
2) This person is immortal. How do they continue to get a driver’s license, SSN, etc.?
3) If your character doesn’t have to work, how the hell did he or she get so much money operating only at night?
4) For that matter–how the fuck does this person BANK? It’s a little easier now than it would’ve been forty years ago, sure–but he was probably alive back then too. How did he manage it then?
4) This person’s been around for a while, eh? How does firsthand knowledge of the past affect his or her view of the present?
5) If we’re sucking the blood from a lot of people, how’re we doing this without police getting involved?
These are basic vampire character questions. Superficial? Maybe. But here’s the thing about superficiality, kids. If you don’t have your ‘superficial’ bases covered and believable, what the fuck else do you have? The definition of ‘realistic’ should be something along the lines of ‘handles the annoying small questions in a way acceptable to the reader’. And if you’re writing about Dracula and Co., you want a little realistic in your story structure.
I know. It sucks having to deal with these questions. But they’re the questions your readers are wondering about. I know I never read Interview With the Vampire without wondering what bank these vampires went to. So, if you’re writing the next generation of Fanged Fantasy, do me the favor of leaving off talking about Benny the Bloodthirsty’s amaaaaazing amber eyes for long enough to deal with his property taxes, or at least how the fuck he affords his house.
I’m writing a vampire story. It’s, unsurprisingly, humorous. If you haven’t read it yet, here are the first few installments: