What Makes a Vampire?

At this year’s GCLS, I was on a panel called “Zombie, Vampires, and Fairies, Oh My.” Along with Isabella, Linda Kay Silva, Diane DeKalb-Rittenhouse, we talked about creating paranormal characters.

One of the questions was about stereotypes—specifically, as writers, how do we keep our characters from becoming stereotypical? And the alternative question: Or is stereotyping a good thing?

My response to that was that readers expect certain characteristics and personality traits of certain kinds of characters. They must have those traits in order to be who they are. Werewolves must morph and fairies must have wings.

So, in the case of vampires, what makes a vampire a vampire? By definition, she must suck blood. If she doesn’t suck blood, she isn’t a vampire. She might be some other paranormal creature, but not a vampire (if she’s undead, then maybe she’s a zombie).twicebitten

Beyond that, though, it’s a blank canvas. It’s up to you as the writer/creator to decide what this character is and does. After all, no one has actually interviewed a vampire, right? No one really knows what they’re all about.

And the point I made was that if you stick to stereotypes, you not only do yourself a disservice by limiting your imagination, you do your readers a disservice as well by limiting their experience.

When I was creating the vampire, Fiona,  for Twice Bitten, I had no qualms giving her all kinds of human traits, such as compassion, jealousy, desperation, and a crying need for love and companionship. She sucks blood, but she has remorse for those she takes it from (unless they deserve it). She also prefers the company of humans to her fellow vampires. She is very much human, except for the fact that she’s dead. Undead.

Today, vampires come in all shapes and forms. The Bela Lugosi/Dracula-style Draculavampires are passé and serve only as a nostalgic look back at the quaint old days of story-telling and film-making. Don’t get me wrong—I love watching all those old black-and-white horror flicks, as well as the color Hammer films from the 1950s and 1960s and the cheesy monster movies from the 1970s. But we—today’s writers—can move on in our own creations. Paranormal characters are some of the most fun that you can write about because they can be anything you want.

Start with the basic elements of your “breed” of character, then create a wonderful being from there.

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4 thoughts on “What Makes a Vampire?

  1. I was thinking about this recently (but writing makes it so) and came up with different requirements for a vampire.

    My main complaint is about vampires with lots of superpowers drinking blood from bags and if/when they do drink blood it’s an act of passionate love… in other words, there seem to be few if any negative consequences to being a vampire.

    1. Yes, it does give you pause to think, doesn’t it? I’m not sure at what point vampires became super-villains/heroes with all these extraordinary powers, but it has become the norm. I have somewhat of an analytical mind (such as it is) and I take things apart. My inquiring mind wants to know HOW they do all these things if they are dead and, essentially, non-functioning. But I have to remind myself that I can’t delve too deeply into questions like that because a) there’s no answer, and b) it diminishes the impact of the vampire character.

  2. I like being able to suspend disbelief, and I can do that if the characters are strong and are carrying the plot effectively. I start questioning things if it doesn’t seem to fit. I was watching one of the Underworld movies and Kate Beckinsale’s character (vampire) has sex with that half-lycan dude and this is what I thought: 1) how the hell did she get out of the tight catsuit so fast and 2) can vampires get pregnant? and 3) do vampire ladyparts work the same way as non-vampire ladyparts in the sexual act? I know, I know. And I still wonder that. I think had that scene not taken place, I wouldn’t have been flung out of the moment. Or had it taken place differently, with a better sensuous lead-up or something. Anyway. Dang. Now we’re talking about sex…

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