In 2008, Wired ran an article about Leland Chee, the guy hired by George Lucas to be the Star Wars “continuity cop” and make sure that, between the series’ films, comics, novelizations, and cartoons, the facts were straight. As any fan knows, the Kessel Run must always be the same distance: invented universes, be they near or far, only truly work if they stick to a firm set of laws and logic.
Sadly, older myths don’t have a gatekeeper like Lucas, which makes for many frustrated nerds, sub-par entertainment, and, well, vampires that sparkle, werewolves that are actually panthers, and zombies that run a four minute mile. And that’s not usually good. So here is where I put on my Leland Chee hat to make some basic rules for fantasy writers going forward, starting with the most maligned and overexposed of fictional creatures, the Vampire. Hello, wannabe fiction writers: these are the “new vampire rules (OFFICIAL).”
First of all, immortality has a high price—just because they technically can’t die (again), you need to put as many obstacles as possible in their way or they become both undead and totally uninteresting. That means no daylight, no exceptions. Having your vampires sparkle in the sun instead of burst into flame makes no sense—vampires are the soulless undead, not sleek speed boats owned by Miami coke dealers.
The garlic thing may seem silly, but hey, any little challenge helps, so garlic stays, as do crucifixes. True Blood has added silver to the mix, which isn’t traditional, but the bottom line is, the more weaknesses you give your vampires, the better. (And besides, even True Blood manages to get most of this stuff right, and it’s softcore porn whose main sexy vampire archetype sounds like Foghorn Leghorn.)
They don’t have to wear black/goth it up all the time, but the Johnny Cash look at least makes sense given that an interesting vampire is one who struggles with his/her brutal instincts. Also, as a personal favor to me, I would love someone to try writing vampires as not-especially sexy. There was the occasional schlubby vamp on Buffy, but I mean, if someone could do Dracula as the ultimate boner-killer, I’d be forever grateful.
The underlying goal should be keeping your vampires fallible instead of just sexy, sulky, and “old,” because it doesn’t just make them more compelling to watch, but creates so many more interesting story opportunities. Having to work around the creature’s hours, inhibitions, and moral issues, especially in a modern context or through interactions with even more complex mortal characters, is what keeps the myth fresh.
So please, respect the vampire rules. Otherwise, if you’re writing about an undead bloodsucker who also has a day job, love of the Olive Garden, and a strong moral center, that’s not a vampire, just an immortal bro on a paleo diet who get laid a lot. You’ve been warned.
Next time: Go speed zombie, go!