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8 Ways To Make A Compelling Vampire
As I said in my last article on the topic of vampires, I have been thinking about vampires for awhile because I am contemplating writing a story involving them. In my last article, I addressed the topic of why I like vampires. In this article, I will address how I believe one should go about making a good vampire character. I want to stress one thing to begin with though. This is not a critique of vampires. There will be perhaps some critique in it, but that is not the main purpose or focus. The second thing that I would like to stress is that I am more of a fan of the classical vampire like Dracula than the more modern vampire like Edward Cullen in Twilight.
I. The Sun Issue
With what my last statement contained, I can’t believe that I’m actually going to start out defending Twilight. It is quite shocking really. One of the criticisms that I have heard of Twilight though is the fact that vampires can go out in daylight. The fact of the matter is that Dracula, the quintessential classical vampire, could walk in daylight without bursting into flames. The sun was not fatal to him. That said, he also didn’t sparkle like the ones in Twilight. Now, I’m perfectly fine with vampires bursting into fire in the sunlight, and I am also fine with them not. The sun issue is overdone.
I know that some people will point out the romantic undertones of Dracula, and I will freely admit that they are there. However, I would say that there is a distinct difference in how the relationship is presented. Bram Stoker was not trying to get people to go, “Oh how romantic,” when Dracula pursues the woman. Rather he wants us to be creeped out by it.
Is Vampire Romance Creepy or Not? (please defend your answer in comments)
II. The Romance Issue
All right, here I will step into a little bit of critique, even though it is not my primary focus. I loath the vampire romance genre. I detest it because it is creepy. Now, that would be fine if the authors meant it to be creepy, but I don’t think that they mean it to be. Sadly, here I am going to have to commit what some people might view as heresy by attacking Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It is an excellent show, but the entire relationship between Angel, who was born in 1727, and Buffy, who was born in 1981, is creepy. It is a two hundred fifty four year age difference, and when they first meet, she is in high school. The issue is that this seems to be what all the vampire romances that I know about do. Edward Cullen is one hundred and four, and Bella is seventeen. It is the same sort of thing in The Vampire Diaries. All of these relationships are creepy. If one feels the need to have a vampire romance, he should either make the vampire young or make it obviously creepy.
III. The Undead Issue
This is something that I also view as not really being an issue. Most vampires in most stories are undead, but the author could just as easily have a human mutated by some weird disease. This is fantasy after all. It doesn’t need to be based one hundred percent in actual, logical science. It should be consistent with the world that one is making though.
IV. Beautiful, Cultured, and Suave versus Ugly, Base, and Rude
Either works in my opinion. In fact, why not do both. If one is building up a vampire society, one could have different types of vampires. Perhaps some are cultured individuals, nobles and the like, and perhaps others are rude soldiers. It really can work. There is no need for all vampires to be exactly the same.
I support the idea of fangs. After all, they just make sense for the entire blood drinking thing. Using these, the vampires don’t have to gnaw on the neck. Furthermore, it adds something more bestial, more savage, and more terrifying to their appearance.
This is in point of fact a problem that seems to have cropped up all over the entire horror genre at least in movies. The genre seems to have become more about grossing people out then about scaring people.
VI. Blood and Gore
Another beef that I have with the modern vampire image is the entire blood and gore that it seems must always be thrown out all over the place. This grows tiresome. Splattering blood on a person’s face does not necessarily make him terrifying. Often it makes him look ridiculous. The horror of the vampire should be communicated more through the character of the vampire. The blood and gore should be used sparingly and only when necessary to demonstrate the character of the vampire. The blood and gore should serve the story, but the story should not serve the blood and gore.
A Fear of Change?
A fear of departing from the norm is a problem in a lot of genres that I enjoy. Take for instances Elves in fantasy. They are pretty much always a derivative of Tolkien’s Elves. Dwarves and Elves never get along. Why? Because that is how it is done. Now, part of the problem here is fans, who might get upset if you change things. The other part of the problem is that authors are afraid or not creative enough to break from the derivative.
Vampires definitely should have some weaknesses. There must be a way to kill every monster so that the hero can triumph. Changing the lore or even just tweaking it can make the story more compelling. Take what Jim Butcher does with the entire holy symbol thing in his series The Dresden Files for instance. The symbol works, but it needs faith to power it. This works really well in the world that he establishes, and it is a very minor tweak. However, it completely changes what is happening. It is not that the object itself has some sort of mystical power about it. Rather it is the faith of the person in what the object represents that has power over the creature of darkness. The center of focus is moved away from an object and instead focuses on the character.
Are heroic vampires good, bad, or so so? (please defend answer in comments)
VIII. The Conscience
Most of what I have discussed here is about evil vampires. If one has read my previous article, he would know that these are the type I really like. However, it is possible to do a heroic vampire. Joss Whedon for instance does it excellently with his characters of Angel and Spike. Of course, they are the exception, not the rule in his world. There could be many interesting ways of going about doing this. One possibility is having vampires not needing to drink blood to live. Perhaps, it could just increase their power. In which case, a vampire could choose not to imbibe. It’s a thought. Overall though, I think that vampires function best as monsters, and therefore they should not be restrained by a conscience.
In conclusion, I believe that these things are good basics for how to go about making a compelling vampire. One can honor the lore about vampires without feeling constrained by it. qOne can create excellent and unique vampires while still maintaining what made vampires so great in the first place.