5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

Let's say you've written a vampire novel, and just hypothetically we'll say it's called Last Rites and your name is Kevin R. Given. Vampires are still riding high on a giant wave of popularity, and though it shows signs of slowing down, there are still a lot of people out there tapping away on their word processors on the subject.

Hell, one of the biggest-selling self-published authors of all times rode a fanged wave into $2 million dollars worth of sales based on a young adult vampire romance with an urban setting. Her name was Amanda Hocking and she was averaging 9,000 sales a day at one point less than two years ago. Last year she signed a four-book publishing deal for another $2 million dollars. All because of vampires.

Still, vampire fiction is like hair metal. It started out strong with some original voices, but as soon as there was money to be made, people began cobbling together whatever they could to fit the mold enough to cash in. The result is some very, very shoddy work. We don't know for a fact that this was Given's motive to write Last Rites, but we do know that we threw up our hands in frustration after reading roughly 50 pages. Here are the sins you need to avoid when writing about the nosferatu.

Thou shalt not use old horror actors' names
5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

One of the first clues we got that we weren't going to like Last Rites was that the main character was named Karl Vincent... clearly an homage to both Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. You can't even get through the second chapter without meeting Don Chaney Jr. (That's even lazier) and Frankie Langella (Oh, come're not even fucking trying, are you?).

We know what the mind-set is, and it is just as annoying as a person who goes on and on about the time they met Johnny Cash. You're hoping we will associate your work with other famous scarefests, but trust us, that association has to be earned. Or perhaps the goal is simply to harness the power of those names. Well, if you want a guide, go read 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. His antagonists are Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker. Do you see how King's used just the right combination of stress and switcheroo to make you think of Boris Karloff and Bram Stoker? It's subtle, but it's there.

Of course, the other thing you might be doing is showing off your knowledge of old horror movies, in which case you need to get way more hipster douchebag and obscure. These names are total mainstream, and it makes you look lazy. Either pull King's trick, or if you can't then just skim through a phone book until you find a good name.


Thou shalt not use old gods

An even greater sin than co-opting legends of Hollywood horror is going through mythologies like you're putting together a Magic: the Gathering deck. Again, this is just plain laziness. Rather than coming up with your own pantheon, you simply take gods like Kali and Set and claim that the stories were based on the real vampire figures. Of course, "They got it all wrong," which is exactly as annoying as that friend we all have on Facebook who never lets a status update go by without taking the opportunity to point out how deluded and uninformed you are.

The thing you have to remember is that authors have been doing this for a long time. Most likely, your average paranormal reader already has a vague knowledge of the best-known figures from Egyptian, Hindu, Muslim, Norse, and Greek theologies due to their appearances in fiction. These beings all have Wikipedia pages, so your trying to gain cachet with "obscure" gods to give your vampires some umph really just makes you look like you have no idea how to create an original character.

Finally, the following figures are prohibited from being used as vampires for the next decade: Lilith, the Marquis de Sade, Jack the Ripper, Osiris, any figure that appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, Cain, Elizabeth Bathory and Elvis. They've all been done better, done to death, or both.

Thou shall remember how mystery novels work
5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

Vampire novels are as varied as any other subject. Christopher Moore writes comedic ones. Anne Rice wrote memoirs. Stephen King went for straight horror. That being said, the paranormal mystery is king right now. Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison and who knows how many else feature vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. in their works, but at heart they remain mystery novels.

Here's how a mystery works, going back all the way to Sherlock Holmes. It opens with something weird and scandalous happening, then your main character spends the rest of the book chasing false leads, trying to piece things together, running from those that don't want you to know, and then revealing it all in the last 30 pages or so. It's as simple as it could possibly be.

You don't spend the first 20 pages randomly bouncing back and forth between random events without any chance to get to know the characters at all no matter how weird. Only George R.R. Martin gets away with that kind of thing, and it's mostly because by the time you've gotten through Game of Thrones, you're willing to put up with an opening chapter that makes little sense and usually kills off its narrator.

Take the road traveled by Sookie Stackhouse, Mercy Thompson and Rachel Morgan. Ease into your hero so we'll get to know them as they guide us through the mystery. The rest can wait.


Thou shalt not shortcut thy plot like a bad TV show
5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

The first time we had to set Last Rites down was barely ten pages into it. A vampire who was turned in Vietnam blames Lyndon Johnson for his condition, and seeks to kill him in revenge. He breaks into the former president's home (No trouble), attacks Johnson while he's alone, bites him but is driven off by gunfire (What?) and escapes (Again, no trouble).

Okay, where to begin. This was Kennedy's freakin' vice president, and he left office under a hail of accusations that he was responsible for all the deaths in the Vietnam War. Those two facts combined should've made him pretty damn well protected in his post-presidency.

Of course, Johnson rises at the morgue, and without even missing a beat the attendants agree that rather than calling attention to the fact that the body of the last president is now missing, they take a convenient John Doe who looks sort of like LBJ and say it's him. Okay, believing in vampires is easier than believing that simplistic series of decisions is even remotely plausible.

It's exactly like the Family Guy episode where Peter becomes Lando Given, and fakes his death. Although no body was found, the police "decided not to ask questions and just let everyone get on with their lives." Except, of course, Family Guy was being ridiculous on purpose.

Thou shall do something original
5 Ways to Keep Your Vampire Novel from Sucking

Example: We've been working on a short film with Ibis Fernandez and Sophia Vassilakidis which is a Western starring a teen-age, three-armed sheriff who rides her trusty vampire into battle against an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult. With all modesty, that is thinking outside the coffin.

Much like zombies, vampires have reached the oversaturation point. If the genre is going to survive, and we hope it does, there are going to have to be some new ideas out there. No more werewolf vs. vampire, no more coming-out analogies, and no more seduction of the innocent, nubile human to the dark glories.

Authors make characters vampires the way '90s movies made people hackers. They were trying to cash in on something with a buzzword, and it was usually pointless. If you're going to vampirize your cast, make sure there's a reason beyond... "And they're vampires." Just because vampires are empty husks that survive on the blood of others doesn't mean their art has to be that way.

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