Well, I thought that I’d talk about vampire fiction today. Although I’ve had relatively little experience with writing stories in this genre (this short story, this short story, this short story, this other short story and this comic are the only ones that spring to mind), I’ve been reading a fair amount of vampire fiction over the past three or four weeks. Plus, I’ve seen, played and read quite a few things in this genre over the years too.
So, I thought that I’d offer a few basic tips.
1) Do your research: This one is really obvious, but it’s worth doing as much research into the genre (eg: novels, films, games etc..) as possible before you try writing a story.
Not only will this tell you a lot about the different “types” of vampire stories out there, but it’ll also help you to see what they have in common and how they set themselves apart from each other. It’ll also give you a sense of what audiences expect from a vampire story (and you can either follow this or subvert it).
And, yes, it’s a surprisingly varied genre. For example, there are “scientific” horror-based vampire thriller stories like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, a Channel 4 (UK) TV series called “Ultraviolet”, the first “Blade” film and a sci-fi/horror movie called “Daybreakers”.
In these stories, there is more of a focus on gory horror, there’s more of a focus on human vampire hunters/survivors and the existence of vampires is often explained or explored through scientific means. Because vampires are seen “from the outside”, these stories also tend to have a little bit in common with the zombie/monster genre too.
Then, there are gothic vampire stories. These tend to have a darker, bloodier (rather than gory), more complex, more poetic, more romantic/sensual/decadent and tragic atmosphere, often including elements from the thrillier genre too.
They also usually feature vampire protagonists too. These include games like “Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines“, TV shows like “Angel”, films like “Underworld” and “Interview With The Vampire” (I could never get into the book it’s based on though), novels like “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite and Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series (which I’m reading at the moment).
Of course, there are many other types of vampire stories too, such as comedy vampire films like the Tim Burton adaptation of “Dark Shadows” or an absolutely hilarious 1990s film I saw on VHS during my childhood called “Dracula: Dead And Loving It”, which seems to be very difficult to find on DVD.
And, of course, I’ve got to talk about Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” too. Although it’s been over a decade since I read it, it’s a very different novel to what films (such as the gloriously gothic 1992 film adaptation, or the inventive 2013 TV adaptation) would have you believe. So, read it! Seriously, the whole thing about vampires not being able to survive in sunlight was invented after “Dracula” was written – in the novel, Dracula can walk around during the day, but his powers are weaker.
Likewise, although I’ve only read the first few chapters of it, another good “traditional” 19th century vampire story is one called “Varney The Vampire, or The Feast Of Blood“. The first chapter of this story reads almost exactly like a scene from a traditional vampire movie (although it does contain a somewhat disturbing, to modern readers, emphasis on how young the vampire’s victim is).
2) Horror!: Again, this is obvious, but vampire stories are horror stories. Although I haven’t read or watched “Twilight”, one of the things that put me off it was the fact that it apparently didn’t contain much horror. I mean, even comedy vampire films will still include some traditional horror elements (even if it is just to parody them).
And, yes, the vampire genre is fertile ground for many different types of horror. And the best vampire stories will often use multiple types of horror.
The main types of horror that work well in the vampire genre include… suspenseful horror (think vampires creeping in the shadows), tragic/gothic horror (think about the downsides of immortality, and the limitations of being a vampire), gory horror (this tends to work best in stories where the protagonists are vampire hunters, and the vampires are monsters), moral horror (think about how often vampires have to break the law), biological horror (when vampirism is presented like a disease), bloody horror (in stories where vampires are the main characters), paranormal horror (fairly self-explanatory) and psychological horror (eg: a vampire’s need for blood, a character’s reactions to becoming a vampire etc..).
In short, there are lots of different ways that the vampire genre can be eerie, disturbing, creepy or frightening. But, regardless of which types of horror you choose to use, your vampire story should include some horror.
3) Rules: Finally, your vampire story should follow some rules. The good news is that you get to make these rules. The bad news is that you have to follow them.
The only common rule that all vampire stories follow is that vampires need to drink blood. Other than this, you get to set the rules. But, think carefully about them. The best vampire stories will often put their characters in situations where the “rules” are applied in creative ways or present some kind of obstacle to the main characters.
For example, in the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (and the spin-off “Angel”), the handsome vampire love interest – Angel – has been cursed to keep his soul. What this means is that, unlike many of the series’ other vampires, he isn’t a sociopath and he feels intense guilt about biting and killing people. So, he has to find a creative solution – which is to drink animal blood.
Likewise, the only way he can lose his soul is to experience a moment of pure happiness. Once this rule has been established, it is the impetus for a short story arc when Angel and Buffy finally spend the night together (which causes him to, you guessed it, experience a moment of pure happiness). Of course, once he accidentally loses his soul, he turns evil. So, of course, this leads to a rather dramatic little story arc.
So, yes, you get to set the “rules” in your vampire story, but you not only need to follow them – you also have to find ways to make these rules drive the story in interesting directions.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂