So my friend and c0-conspirator in crime Susan Roddey had a blog post the other day about the popularity of anti-heroes and showcasing “bad” characters in fiction. This got me thinking. This also makes sense because we both have stories in the upcoming anthology The Big Bad, and that’s pretty much the theme. I have to admit, I had a blast writing the story that’s in that anthology for a variety of reasons. One, it gave me a chance to let the snarky, cursey, gore-happy bad girl side out (For those who know me, no, that is not my usual personality and yes, it does get much worse). Two, I got to write a vampire story…and those who know me know how much I stinkin’ love vampire fiction.
However, because of the theme of the anthology and apparently I go about things in an unconventional way, this got me thinking. What makes a good vampire story? Now I’m not necessarily talking about vampire romance or vampires that just show up as one of a myriad of creatures in urban fantasy. What makes a good modern vampire story? (Not that I’m assuming mine is brilliant, though John Hartness seems to like it alright, so there!)
For me, you have to know right away what your character’s strengths and weaknesses are. This will set the stage for the whole story. Are you following conventional folklore? If so, how does that affect life in the modern world? If not, can you make the changes make sense or at least feel like they make sense? In my case, I tend to strike a middle road, and since an anthology submission doesn’t give a lot of room for explanations, I’ve learned to do more showing than telling.
What’s the hierarchy and political structure of vampires in your world, and does it matter? In my story, it very much matters. The two vampire characters are on the run from someone who can very much affect their future in many, many ways – none of them pretty. Where they end up may seem boring for urban fantasy/horror, but it’s a safe place for them to hide.
How was your vampire turned? This will affect the character’s personalities. For instance, my characters love being vampires, but they have no love of how they were turned. They took a potentially crappy situation and made it suit them. They have no regrets, but they’re still being haunted by something (or someone) that was pressing them into being turned.
How do your characters feel about being vampires? Can you make their feelings interesting or not more of the same? For me, emo vampires have been done. I’m not interested in writing characters who are questioning their life choices or existence. Besides, my two characters are sixty years old – they’ve had time to deal with all of that and they’re still kickin’, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to hate what they are. They LOVE being vampires. It’s as natural to them as being human. They still may think about how things are different between species from time to time, but it’s more logistical stuff to pass themselves off in the normal world. They don’t mind killing – it’s like ordering out or going to the store for them. And dating…well that’s an interesting topic, heh.
Now these things are important, but there’s something else that I feel isn’t handled well all the time. Vampires don’t start off as vampires. They start off as humans. What are the characters’ non-vampire personalities? Unless you’re talking about the mindless vampire, original personalities do affect things. I think sometimes people are so intent on doing the vampire thing, they miss a lot of chances to do interesting twists. My characters have very distinct feelings about family based on past experiences. The older of the siblings is headstrong and doesn’t want to be told what to do. He wants to live his life and not be tied down. He’s a rebel with a protective streak towards his younger sister. She, on the other hand, is flighty, manipulative in a girly way, a fashionista, and a girl who wants to settle down and lead a comfortable afterlife. These things affect all the decisions they make – the vampire thing just adds to that.
So yeah…you can make your vampires sparkle, you can have them fall in love and sex up everyone, you can make them impotent, you can make them close to zombies, you can set them in the desert or in space or in the city, but at the end of the day, that’s only part of the equation. In my opinion, too, you can only change what it means to be a vampire so much. I get that different people like different aspects of the character, but at the end of the day you’re talking about a dangerous creature. While I get the allure of vampire romance, at times it seems like keeping an exotic pet but having it declawed and defanged so it can’t hurt you. I get the sex appeal and the allure, and I’m not saying vampires can’t have relationships…but to water them down and focus on that deprives a story of a lot of possible plot points, too. This is an argument I get into all the time. I get that some readers don’t want huge amounts of gore, and I get that. You don’t necessarily need that, but at the end of the day, you have to face facts. Vampires are vicious, and while they have their human personalities, they definitely use those to their advantage whenever possible. The very definition of what a vampire is is a creature that kills others to drain them of their blood. There’s not much left to interpretation there.
So yeah, if I’m reading a vampire story, I want to see the human side, but I want to see how these characters kill or lure their prey. I want them to get into trouble. I want them to be vampires. It’s the same thing if I’m writing vampire fiction – that’s a chance for me to let it all hang out. And believe me…in my story you definitely get both the personality and a lot of vampires acting like vampires. I think it’s highly possible for them to act out while falling in love. Oh, did I mention this is my sundry interpretation of vampire romance? That’s right, there’s a romance subplot…though it’s definitely put through the Selah filter, so there’s a major twist. Let’s just say my vampires want what they want, and they’re not afraid to do what it takes to get it.
And definitely keep your eyes peeled here for more information on the anthology The Big Bad!