Jun 12, 2012

Using and Defining Vampires in Your Work

For over a hundred years, the vampire reigned as the pinnacle of horror, the greatest and most evil of monsters. Today they're fodder for action heroes or objects of teenage desire.

It used to be that a movie could boast a vampire as the villain and audiences would flock to see the dangerous, alluring creature opposed and defeated by those mortals who refused to remain its prey. It was a big deal. Vampires were stronger than us, faster, and could resist incredible injury from all but a select few methods. You had to be smart to kill a vampire. You had to wait for the right moment, trick the beast into making a mistake.

Nowadays vampires are mocked for what they've become.

And you know what? That saddens me.

My first novel sprang from an idea in my very young mind. I grew up watching The Lost Boys and Fright Night. I decided I wanted to write stuff like that. My hero, Nathan Shepherd, started out as a loner vampire hunter who happened to drag several neighbours into a battle against a vampire and was forced to accept their help to defeat it. He's come a long way and evolved into something entirely new, but the fact remains that some of my strongest inspirations for books have come from vampires.

I've spoken about this before, but the fact remains I still have hope that vampires can become accepted as villains again. Not to say that I think every vampire should be a heartless monster, but I'd like to see vampires evolve beyond being a random monster for heroes to kill or depicted as something automatically superior to humans and presented as a romantic conquest. Neither of these depictions really look at what it means to be a vampire. They don't seem to have much to say about why they were chosen as features of the setting or what their purpose is.

Taking my own work as an example, one of the core conflicts in the Memory Chronicles series is between two ideologies. One says that we are born, live, die, and are reborn again, but remain the same essential being throughout. The other says that only memories are passed on, like the impression of a pen underneath the page you were writing on. This other faction fears death and seeks immortality. So, being arguably the most famous form of immortality, I decided that vampires would exist in this world and play a role as minor antagonists.

Why minor? Well, since vampires burn in sunlight, that means they're only at their most effective at night. Not great for acting as footsoldiers or any kind of public face for a front company. I also considered why someone would choose to be a vampire when there could be many other ways to live forever.

For one thing, it's easy to do. A vampire drains a person to the point of death, then feeds them their own blood in return. No spells, no drawn-out rituals. They're an easy way into the immortal world. They're also a lot more aestheticall pleasing than some other creatures, who might live forever, but still suffer decay and rotting flesh. My setting does have other ways to live forever and retain a human appearance, but they're complicated, costly, and often reserved only for those who have undergone trials to earn such power.

So it occurred to me that the people who want to become vampires are likely to be impatient, vain. They want immortality, and they get to have super powers as a bonus. That kind of person isn't given to successful advancement within an organisation over periods of centuries, not against more calcuating and patient rivals.

This led me to also consider the nature of how vampires feed. Most interpretations of vampires show an almost narcotic effect when they drink blood. However for the most part they still hunt individual people, instead of, say, keeping one person captive for weeks on end, feeding from them. So I figured that the hunt must be important somehow. And it hit me. If vampires remain confined to night-time activity, can't enjoy food or drink and all the other pursuits of humanity, what have they got to live for? Adrenaline.

The thrill of the hunt keeps vampires going. It's why they grab people off the street, or choose to seduce someone before feeding. The rush is not from the blood itself, but from the game they play to acquire it. This gave me a nice lead into how older vampires behave. Eventually, the thrill of simply chasing someone down a street will dwindle. The vampire needs to move on to bigger things. After a century or so of partying it up, the vampire moves into politics and social maneuvering. Acquiring more resources, outwitting rivals and snaring old enemies become the new hunt. At this stage, the vampire is old and powerful, at their most dangerous. This is the kind of vampire that will become a real problem for Nathan Shepherd in later books.

Do you ever consider how setting and role should influence the portrayal of particular character types? Do you think the vampire can be saved as an icon of horror? Do you think it should be left aside and forgotten?


  1. I totally agree with you. Vampires should not have descended to the level that they have. I enjoy reading your blog.


  2. I really feel that vampires should remain as the antagonists they have long been in many tales. I admit it, I enjoyed the Twilight series which was like eating a half gallon of pralines and cream in one sitting, but enough is enough. Vampires shouldn't be able to hold themselves in check feasting only on forest animals. Seriously!

    My current WIP features a vampire-like creature, a vrykolakas. In my tale these creatures are narcissistic seekers of their own pleasures answering only to their master who turned them. There are few little shades of grey with my vrykolakes, they are evil to the core. Even when it seems there might be a grey area, it's debatable whether or not the vrykolakas is showing some sign of true concern for someone else or whether he/she is simply feeling denied of something he/she desires to possess. It's been fun doing the research for my story.

    I enjoyed reading about your vampire and werewolf research and ideas!

    1. Thanks, Sherri. I really miss seeing vampires in their proper place as serious antagonists. I like the sound of your take on them.

  3. I have a story idea kicking around my head about a solitary, old vampire who keeps himself to himself and out of the spotlight, who is agrieved when a new band of younger vampires with little regard for the 'old ways' comes to his city and not only stirs up trouble among the population, but draws in a cabal of vampire hunters to make his little niche in the world an unpleasant place.

    So after some rebuked attempts at diplomacy, he decides to just go down and take care of the problem himself, to protect his own interests and to stop the city he's actually came to give a bit of a damn about getting damaged in a supernatural turf war.

    In another short little story I wrote, it features a vampire 'art collector', who preys on twenty-five year old men and women from various countries, feeds on them until they die, then absconds with their bodies to preserve them in formaldehyde and store them in glass-topped drawers in a hidden catacomb. His hunt for the perfect specimens of various ethnicities ires his sire, who thinks that his actions could draw unwanted attentions on him.

    (( Which can be found here - http://withthatshewrote.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/menagerie/ ))

    And of course, always fun are the genre savvy tales where a modern vampire uses the 'dark fantasy romance' genre to lure in impressionable victims.

    - Ellen J. Miller

  4. I like it better when the vampires are villains. Have you read Julie Flanders book Polar Night? She's got a good vampire villain in there. I'm looking forward to reading your books, which I haven't done yet, but I'm getting close to being able to!

    1. I haven't, no. But I'll put it on my list, thanks!