In recent years, there has been an influx of the word Vampire. Nowadays, it’s everywhere. Pick up any teen romance novel and there is likely to be a vampire somewhere. Frankly, many people are beginning to think that it’s all getting very old. The vampires seem uninteresting, in many cases unbelievable. They follow the exact same formula, and sometimes, they are simply an excuse for the impossible. Today, we will rediscover vampires and we will make them our own.
To understand where we are, we must know where we have been. Traditionally, a vampire is a creature of death and the undead, a living corpse. They are described as hideous, vile, sometimes rotting, and murderous. They have only one drive: to drink the blood of mortals. In some legends, a vampire is born from the corpse of a mass murderer. In others, it’s the body of a person who was not buried with proper burial rights. In others, a vampire is born from the body of one who is killed by another vampire. Many legends have them as corpses that rise on a certain night and attack helpless individuals. In some, they are almost zombies, unable to walk in anything but a straight line and unable to cross running water. Other legends say that they are the fully reanimated body of the dead unchanged by death except in the unnatural pallor but return to being a rotten body during the day. The number of legends is almost countless and is (mostly) found in European countries, although there are some cases of legends of vampire-esque creatures elsewhere in the world.
These ancient tales give a fairly good base to work with but lack that all important suave attitude of the modern vampire which moves us onward to the present.
What is a modern day vampire? They are described as beautiful, unearthly, and perfect (at least physically). They continue to have the pale white skin which is usually described in the first paragraph of the vampire’s entrance into the novel. Sometimes a great deal of detail is given to their eyes, lips, face, hair or some other feature. Rarely are they described as their disgusting legendary counterparts of history. In romance novels, they are often described as almost angelic but undoubtedly darkly evil. Angst is sadly something that many of them have going for them. In horror they are described as vicious, inhuman, but still tantalizingly beautiful. Most need blood, though some writers have been experimenting with spiritual energy draining vampires, experience draining vampires, and vital energy draining vampires. Blood, though, is still the most common. They are almost super-humans with increased power, speed, and ability. Sometimes, the bloodthirsty monsters take a backseat to night-restricted super-heroes. This is a trend which has caused many to give up on the vampire entirely.
What is needed is a balance. Today, we will find that balance. This article is both for people who already have a story containing vampires, who have a fairly established world but feel it needs some more originality and for people who are playing with the idea of dabbling in the vampire/horror genre. So let us begin.
First: What is a vampire?
As read above, there are many interpretations but most tend to have the same elements in common. Let’s make a list. (Cue for you to brainstorm. If what you have is not on the list, that’s great!)
• Need blood to survive
• Afraid of sunlight/burn in sunlight
• Fear holy objects
• Cannot enter buildings uninvited
• Pointed canines
• No pulse/dead heart
• Stronger than humans
• Improved senses
• No reflection
• Stakes through the heart
• Repulsed with garlic
• No breathing
Right, now we have our list. If you put these all together, you have your typical cliched vampire that few could stand to read for more than ten pages.
Now, for those of you who have a vampire or vampires in their story, write down their traits. Be absolutely honest. This article will not help you if you’re not honest.
For the rest of you who are either here because you want to write a story with vampires but are unsure of how to go about it and those of you who are reading this out of simple boredom, take a look at the list again. Start juggling ideas about what you want your vampire(s) to be able to do. The important part of this is do not pick everything. This simply won’t work if you pick everything.
Hopefully now those who were writing have finished their list. Compare your list to the earlier list. Check off how many things are similar. These are what we will be working on today. You won’t be throwing the whole lot out, though. No, you will be making the vampire believable. Those of you who are creating a new story and have chosen what you really want your vampires to have, write them down on a sheet of paper (or type them up). Those of you who are wasting time, I have nothing to say to you.
For example, here is my list:
• Drink blood
• Pointed canines
• Improved senses/stronger than human
• Burn in sunlight
• Fear holy objects
• Cannot enter buildings uninvited
• No pulse
I want my vampires to be original, but they’re not very original right now. Why do they fear holy objects? Why do they burn in sunlight? I’m writing a modern vampire so how is a lack of pulse or unnaturally long teeth going to go by unnoticed (unless they’re hermits. For those trying out something new, try hermit vampires who get away with everything because they live in the middle of a mountain range. It could be fun). There are an awful lot of things on this list that really don’t make any sense.
The most important thing that will lead you toward your own original vampires is the setting. Are they medieval vampires? Renaissance vampires? Victorian vampires? Modern day vampires? How about Industrial Age vampires? Or futuristic vampires? If you have your setting more historical, like medieval, you can get away with a lot more as the characters that surround the vampire will either chalk it up to magic or the devil/other evil deity. If you have it set in modern day…that’s where you are going to have problems. You need a vampire that answers both spiritual but also scientific explanations. Why would a Cross or Star of David cause the vampire pain? Is it demonic? Is it allergic? Is it rejected by the gods? Why do they burn in sunlight? Originally, they burned because the sun was considered God’s holy light and so flambeed vampires because they were evil. Modern day people know that the sun is just a star, so why the burning?
This was where I chucked out the “‘holy items burn” bit. I simply could not come up with a logical reason for it. I also threw away the staking business, as it really didn’t work in the world I had the story set in. I did keep burning in sunlight, writing it down as my vampires have very sensitive skin which blisters and burns under the UV rays of the sun.
Think about your list. What parts of the vampire can be explained scientifically? What parts can’t? Make two columns for each and write down the traits to their respective columns. Now open up a new window for your internet and start researching. What would explain each of the scientific traits of your vampire?
For those of you who are simply bored…look up Greek pedestals and their creation.
Alright, now you will have some extra things you cannot explain. Look them over. Look them over hard. Do you honestly need them? Do they advance the story at any point? Will your writing suffer so greatly without it that people across the world will hear it scream? If not, get rid of it. It isn’t helping.
Now, onto the “cannot-be-explained-scientifically column.” We will now trim this column down. Look at this very carefully. Find what you will actually need for your writing to make sense. If you are aiming for a more “magical” vampire, you can keep more of these. If you are trying to write a scientifically “proven” vampire, the less of these you have the better off you are. Shapeshifting is one of those things that cannot really be explained (to use as an example). If you are aiming for a realistic vampire, get rid of shapeshifting. People will ask that all embarrassing question about “where did the clothes go?” or “where did the excess mass go?”, especially if you’ve taken care to envelop your readers with logical explanations for everything. If your vampires are more magical or maybe demonic, shapeshifting can be one of those things that makes them more inhuman. Perhaps they start to become their animal shape the more they reside in it. Perhaps that’s a constant threat.
I managed to explain the blood drinking, the pointed canines, the improved senses, the fear of sunlight, the dislike of garlic, and the hypnotic abilities. I threw out the holy objects bit and the lack of a pulse as I was trying to define my vampires with science rather than magic. I also removed immortality, replacing it with “they live a very long time, but they will eventually die.”
Now we have a trimmed down vampire. So that’s it? Hardly. We have much, much more to do.