Two weeks ago I spoke about the much maligned genre of the vampire novel for Thinky Thursdays and today I wanted to continue the thought into how to create a great vampire.
How to Write a Great Vampire
There are many vampires out there in fiction who seem to simply be clones of one another. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, when you find lots of characters of a similar ilk, it is often because that's what people like to watch and read. However, for a great vampire as with any other great protagonist or antagonist, they have to be memorable and a little different.
A lot of this can be achieved by character, but that's not the aspect I want to talk about today. What I want to look at is vampire traits. In the western tradition we tend to think fangs, drinking blood and coffins, but this is a very limited view.
The first thing we all have to understand with vampires is:
There are no hard and fast rules!
Some people seem to think vampires have to fit a certain mould - they really, really don't. Vampires come from folklore and there are as many different vampires out there in mythology as there are fish in the sea. And what is absolutely wonderful about fiction is that we can mix and match to our heart's content.
If you would like to see more details about many different kinds of vampire, I explored the subject during the 2014 AtoZChallenge with a different kind of vampiric creature for each letter of the alphabet.
What Kind of Vampire?
One of the first questions we have to ask is, what makes our character a vampire. A vampire is a parasitic lifeform, living off other beings, but there are many options as to what it is they consume:
Next we must decide what traits our vampire has that distinguish them for normal humans. Some things to consider are:
- fangs (Dracula)
- tongue that acts like a straw (Penanggalan, Malaysia)
- eye colour/shape
- claws or really long nails (Baobhan sith)
- skin colour (Xiang Shi)
- demonic additions like brow ridges, pointed ears, gnarled hands, wild hair
- body bloating (Vrykolakas)
- or maybe do they become a floating head and entrails? (Krasue)
We can go from everything from just flashing a little fang, to being or becoming a grotesque monster, depending on what effect we wish our vampire to have on our audience. Even if our vampire is the hero type she can have unusual vampire traits to make her a little more interesting.
Not all vampires have to be Dracula types. Just as they can consume more than blood, they can act in different ways. Some questions we can ask are the following:
- Is our vampire a solitary hunter (Dracula et al) or a pack creature (Vampires, Salem's Lot, Blood Sacrifice)?
- Does our vampire return to their sanctuary during the day, be that a coffin or simply a safe place? (The Lost Boys)
- Is our vampire a seducer/persuader (Fright Night II) or an attack hunter (From Dusk Til Dawn)?
- Is our vampire evil, bad or simply misunderstood?
- Does our vampire enjoy feeding (Dracula's Widow) or is it a curse (Forever Knight)?
- Is our vampire in charge of their own reactions or at the will of their instincts?
- Does our vampire even know what they are?
- Does our vampire wish to create more of their kind, or even can they?
Vampires are predators so they often have advantages over normal humans, deciding what they are can be an important part of creating our character. Too many and they may become Superman boring, too few and they may not be interesting enough.
Possible abilities are:
- super strength
- super speed
- the ability to change into one or more animals
- power to control one or more animals
- mesmerism and persuasive powers
- dream walking
- changing into smoke
- speed healing
- invulnerability to anything except specific stimulae
- super hearing
- super sight
- unnatural good looks
- spreading disease by touch
- killing just with a look
We also need to decide if all vampires are made equal or if certain abilities come with time. If we have more than one vampire in our story then it is often interesting to give them differences. Anita Blake Vampire Hunter does this well when setting up a vampire hierachy.
Of course all vampires must have weaknesses, sometimes many, sometimes just one, depending on the reaction we want when they are revealed. If our vampires are the bad guys it creates more tension to have them more powerful than the humans until a weakness is found. If our vampires are the heroes then a more obvious weakness can be useful to give them some conflict.
Weaknesses might include:
- holy items
- flowing water
- a wooden stake through the heart
- an iron stake through the heart
- pure faith (in anything)
- lemons (I know - an odd one)
- needing to count things
- decapitation (the one that is simply a flying head would laugh at this idea)
- a cross of bones
- destroying their crypt
- destroying their shroud
I could go on. Vampires are supernatural, anything can be a weakness. The only thing we need to watch out for is that the weakness doesn't turn out to be unintentionally hilarious, unless we're writing a comedy.
As with any character the key to making a great vampire is to make them interesting. Have Egyptian vampires that laugh at crosses, but cower from an Ankh; are terrified of dogs and jackals, but can turn into a cat at will. Or Indian vampires who only feed from those dying from an act of violence, giving them a merciful death; they like war zones and lawless cities. How about a Malaysian vampire who loses the ability to speak when she gets upset because her vampire form starts to manifest so her tongue starts to grow?
The possibilities are endless.
There is definitely a place for the sexy vampire with fangs and glowing eyes who sleeps in a coffin; I love that kind of vampire and I write that kind of vampire a lot, but there are other options too. We should not let convention stop us imagining.